Looking over The Complete B/X Adventurer (as I put the new book together), I am of course struck by the awesomeness that sometimes spews forth from my brain (duh) and the creativity that spews from the pens of my artists (double-duh). It’s a nice little bit (or bunch) of “extra stuff” to throw into anyone’s B/X or Labyrinth Lord campaign…heck, it would probably work with BECMI or the RC or even the LBBs with minimal fuss and muss...and it’s neat enough to make me want to break out the ‘ol B/X books again and stop messing around with all these play-testing shenanigans.
But, but, but (isn’t there always a “but?”)…BUT then I went and opened up my old D&D Mine documents to look through my own “5E Variation” rules I’d been working on a couple months back. And the reason I was doing that was because I had a fantastic brainstorm of how to make the combat system into a simple, yet cinematic, D6 base system that still utilized levels and Hit Dice while cutting out all the extra dice rolling that goes into combat. And I wanted to see what I’d done with the combat system before so that I had something with which to compare the new idea…and, well, I couldn’t well remember what I’d thrown in the ol’ D&D Mine book previously.
[yes, yes, I’ll explain how this relates to the new book soon]
Let me take one more step off into a blue tangent before pulling this back and tying it all together.
I’m kind of tired of D&D combat. I know I’ve written about this before (to varying degrees) and certainly planned several blog posts (that I haven’t had a chance to write) on the subject, but I’ve been finding the base mechanics of D&D’s combat system unsatisfying of late. And I’m talking about the base system, found in pretty much all editions:
- Roll Initiative
- Roll D20 to attack
- Roll damage
- Subtract damage from hit points
- Rinse and repeat ad nauseum
Without active narrative, the system is pretty gutless. Against larger (or large numbers of) opponents, it can become tedious in the extreme…just a long series of dice rolling to see who wins the war of attrition. In the old days, fights could be sped up with judicious use of morale rules; later editions rely instead on critical strikes to help finish fights quicker. But those are just patches on a system issue.
Why should it take me 10 or 20 minutes to fight an orc? As we strive to get initiative from each other and then roll-roll-roll until we finally hit and then subtract a couple points and then roll-roll-roll, over and over hoping our luck (with rolling) will overcome our opponent’s armor class…just for the sake of a few coins in the creature’s belt pouch.
Recently, I’ve been participating in a play-by-post game using (slightly modified) Labyrinth Lord. As people who’ve tried PBP know, it can be sloooow going, even with the DM making the dice rolls. Our characters are 1st level, we’re in the middle of a dungeon delve…the usual fare, in other words. And I have found the only thing that makes the combats short enough to be bearable is A) the hefty attack/damage bonuses we receive (using the standard B/X ability adjustments) coupled with B) the very low (3-5) hit points (and AC) of our opposition. My character has a 16 strength and gains a +2 to attack and damage bonuses, meaning he hits AC 6 (average goblin) 50% of the time, often killing the suckers. But if I miss, then Ope! Got to wait till next round. And my character has one of the higher strength scores. Via PBP, a combat with half-a-dozen sprogs takes a couple-three days to play out.
And that’s just too long. I mean, heroes in stories (or movies) mow through runtlings like they’re reaping wheat, even when they’re not using “magic swords.” Even at mid-levels this kind of scene isn’t really possible in D&D, unless your character is ‘roided out (huge strength bonus) and/or armed with magic gear. Even then, if your opposition is “scaled up” (say, a handful of ogres) you get bogged down in the same tedium of attrition, unless your party contains spell-casters sporting beefy area-effect spells.
[which aren't very Sword & Sorcery might I add? Just as an aside...]
Look, I’m sounding harsher than I probably mean to sound…but when my imaginary character FINALLY hits someone in the game, I want the opponent to go down with a crushed skull, not hang around taunting me to hit it again. Assuming we're not talking about some sort of giant troll or dragon or something.
Which is why I started thinking up a whole new method of combat.
But then (as I wrote earlier) I started reading through my beautifully scripted Book 1 of my "new edition" of D&D and the very nicely written combat rules and I realized, gosh, not only would I have to over-haul everything to include this new “D6 system” in the book, but:
1) The already written, close-to-B/X-rules are pretty well done as is, and
2) If this really IS supposed to be “D&D,” shouldn’t it resemble D&D?
In other words, shouldn’t it include an Initiative roll, a D20 attack roll, and a damage roll (with said damage being subtracted from a hit point pool)? Isn’t that what D&D combat is all about?
And THEN I was thinking: wow, even though I do NOT plan on publishing my D&D Mine for any type of monetary gain, wouldn’t it be appropriate to make it at least moderately B/X compatible? Not just so other people will use it, but so that it can be used in conjunction with my other B/X books like the B/X Companion and The Complete B/X Adventurer?
[see, I told you this all tied together]
And now I come to the point of this post, in the form of a question: How compatible do you want your D&D “stuff” (i.e. books, supplements, retro-knock-offs) to be with your preferred version of the Original Fantasy Role-Playing Game?
I mean, you don’t need to use “kits” when playing 2nd Edition AD&D…you don’t need to add non-weapon proficiencies to early editions. Monsters in earlier editions are nearly all covered in 3rd and 3.5 edition books (with the possible exception of that three-headed monstrosity from module B3)…it’s not hard to convert back-and-forth between most editions. Plate mail and shield comes up AC 3 in all editions with descending armor class and a +3 dwarven thrower is always a +3 dwarven thrower.
Do you need your D20 roll to hit? For that matter do you need dice of unusual sidedness? Certainly it’s fun (and novel) to play a game requiring dice of different sides, but is it NECESSARY for the game to “feel” like D&D and not, say, GURPS Fantasy?
Those are not rhetorical questions: I'm looking for feedback.
Hmmm…for a moment there, I thought I was going to end this post with my queries, but I decided I wanted to bring up one more bit of thought to consider:
When D&D was first published (in the format we now call OD&D, consisting of three Little Brown Books or LBBs), the rules presumed its participants would be using the Chainmail rules to resolve combat, though it presented an “alternate system” of combat. Over the years, the alternate has become the standard, all the way down to the 21st century (with a lot of add-ons and doo-dads). It wasn’t always the form of “roll D20 to hit, roll for damage” and who’s to say that is (or ever was) the best method of resolving small-scale skirmishes? At the time, it allowed players to use those neat new dice (Chainmail only rolled D6s) and the level of simplicity in OD&D allowed it to move pretty swiftly (roll, check table, subtract D6 damage from characters/monsters whose hit points had not yet been terribly inflated). But since then, those two (small!) pages of combat rules have suffered the most amazing amount of “rules bloat” I can find in any RPG published in multiple editions. How many pages are needed in 4E to provide a primer on combat in comparison to the game's original form? That’s kind of disgusting.
Okay, end last aside...now, back to the compatibility question (and thanks for your indulgence).