Friday, October 18, 2019

Fatigue - An Example

So there's this fairly memorable scene in the first Game of Thrones season (also in the first novel) where Tyrion ("the Imp") is captured and taken to the Eyrie (one of the "seven kingdoms") where, in order to escape execution, demands a trial by combat. The sellsword, Bronn, offers to champion him against the knight, Vardis Egen. Despite wearing only ringmail armor (disdaining even a shield), Bronn manages to best the plate-and-shield armored knight by dint of being younger (about fifteen years) and faster and fighting in a craven-like fashion that tires out Ser Vardis. Finally wearied by chasing the spry mercenary around the battle chamber in his encumbering armor, the knight slips to one knee and is wounded by Bronn...after which the end (from weariness and blood loss) is all but inevitable. In the eyes of the attending nobility, the sellsword fights without honor; and yet, it is his canny choice of tactics that allows him to prevail with ease where he might otherwise been hard-pressed to achieve victory. Bronn was never interested in a "fair" or "honorable" fight, only in winning and being rewarded with Tyrion's gold.

I find it difficult to model this with AD&D. And it bugs me.

Unless I am completely missing something (entirely possible since I'm semi-new to this "AD&D thang"), there aren't any specific rules regarding fatigue; Gygax explicitly writes in the DMG:

"No rules for exhaustion and fatigue are given here because of the tremendous number of variables, including the stamina of the characters and creatures involved...Fatigue merely slows movement and reduces combat effectiveness. Exhaustion will generally require a day of complete rest to restore exhausted creatures. Always bear in mind that humans inured to continuous running, for example, can do so for hours without noticeable fatigue, i.e. those such as Apache Indians, Zulu warriors, etc. Do not base your judgment on the typical modern specimen."

This is written with regard to pursuit and evasion and is incredibly frustrating, as what I am most interested in is fatigue with regard to minutes (i.e. one minute rounds) of hand-to-hand incredibly stressful and tiring exercise even for the most hardened warrior.

B/X doesn't hand wave fatigue; it has specific rules (including penalties to "combat effectiveness") in two different places (page B19 and B24). These are an adaptation of the rules found in OD&D (page 8 of Book 3) requiring a ten minute rest break in every hour of activity, and a "double rest period" after any bout of flight/pursuit (B/X changes this to ten minutes after three turns, with a double penalty the consequence for failing to rest). Still, this doesn't address combat fatigue per se...though this is mitigated somewhat by B/X shrinking combat rounds to ten seconds with any encounter being considered "to have lasted one full [ten minute] turn. The additional time, if any is spent resting sore muscles, recovering one's breath, cleaning weapons, and binding wounds." (Moldvay, page B23).

Yes, yes...I'm aware that hit points are (in part) a model of fatigue and the ability to withstand fatigue in combat. And that makes perfect sense in the abstract: a trained fighter should be more resistant to the rigors of melee than a spindly thief or wizard, and an experienced one even more so. But hit points don't take into account encumbrance...nor movement/activity that has occurred before. And hit points are famous for not diminishing character effectiveness even as they're depleted: a character may be down to half or a quarter of her stamina (hit points) but that doesn't slow her sword arm (there's no penalty to attack rolls).

What's particularly maddening here is that CHAINMAIL actually had the most comprehensive rules for fatigue. Under the Chainmail rules, a model becomes fatigued after any one of the following:

1. Five consecutive turns of movement.
2. Two consecutive turns of movement, followed by a charge, and a round of melee.
3. One turn of movement, followed by a charge, and two rounds of melee.
4. Three rounds of melee.

A fatigued combatant faced the following stiff penalties:

- Attacking and defending as "the next lower value."
- Morale dropping by one point (using a 2d6 roll, much like B/X).
- Slowed (to one-half) "uphill movement"

"Next lower value" is a pretty beefy penalty in Chainmail, but modeling it to AD&D it works out to about a -2 penalty to AC and (probably) attack rolls.

[why -2? Because an "armored" represents a figure in plate-and-mail, a "heavy" represents a figure in chain armor...which in D&D is only a 2 point difference in armor class]

All penalties are removed after the character has had a chance to rest one full turn...the turn in the Chainmail game being one minute long. A "round" of melee in Chainmail is an exchange of blows (one side attacks, then the other side attacks) and is contained within the standard "turn" but, as no more than one such round may be fought in a turn, it can be presumed to approximate an OD&D (or AD&D) round with regard to engaged figures.

Thus, it would not be a great stretch (if relying on Chainmail, the basis of OD&D and, thus, the basis of AD&D) to give characters an AC and attack penalty after three rounds of continuous fighting (or after two rounds for characters that charged), perhaps mitigated by a high Constitution score, and perhaps adjusted by encumbrance. If one wanted to add an extra level of complexity to their game.

OR...we could just ignore the issue altogether and simply allow tireless combatants to beat each other senseless for hours, perhaps fueled by adrenaline alone. In which case, why would you never carry a shield and the strongest armor available when offered? Right?

Pop goes the weasel.


  1. I think the way to model this in D&D is going to be all in the interpretation and description.

    Bronn's makes attack rolls and hits, but describes just ducking and dodging around the arena. The damage caused by Bronn's attacks gets described as exhaustion.

    I realize that's unsatisfying though, because there's nothing in D&D's rules that would let a fighter with lower hp and a worse to-hit bonus actually win a fight this way, nor is there any actual disadvantage to wearing heavy armor.

    So you can describe a fight playing out that way, but the rules work against you in terms of the "reversal of fortunes" where the weaker character bests the stronger.

  2. Runequest. The answer to D&D's shortcomings since 1978. You can even get the best version of the game that's not tied to the setting in Mythras.

  3. Runequest didn't add fatigue rules until the Avalon Hill edition and it was one of the things most hated and discarded. I don't think I've really seen fatigue rules that I liked.

    You could house-rule something like "A shield must be splintered" in which a target temporarily takes damage to their level instead of HP when struck (thus they attack worse and all that until they can rest).

  4. I also never found a exhaustion/fatigue rules that I liked also.

    But I'm starting to think that this problem is finer than our coarse abstraction of D&D. You will have a hard time trying to abstract this because they have different granularities.

    I may be wrong of course...

  5. @ Everyone:

    I appreciate the feedback, but there is another aspect of the issue to consider: is it of value to the players?

    Moving to an “advanced” game of course means adding more complexity and minutia, but it’s not All Complexity All the Time. Gygax purposefully left out hit locations, crits, and injuries, finding them to add little value to the game IN PLAY while slowing down pacing.

    On the other hand, some of the complexities that AD&D players encumbrance and weapon vs. armor bonuses...are mostly “downtime” calculations (figured and noted between adventures) and are either INTRINSIC to the game’s theme (loot portage/acquisition in the case of encumbrance) or of benefit to the players (small bonuses to attacks in the case of weapon selection).

    If I had to guess, I’d figure Gygax didn’t find the idea of tracking fatigue IN PLAY to be all that worthwhile...though he might include specific rules for characters in heavy armor entering a desert or jungle setting (with a choice presented up front to players...with ramifications...during the downtime that precedes actual play).

    I may just be barking up the wrong tree here.

  6. I was writing about this sort of thing a while ago and reading the same sources (except for chainmail), and also think fatigue/exhaustion should have greater impact in D&D, but I disagree with your focus on combat fatigue. This isn't from simulationist concern, though I think they exist - GGRM's GURPs game written up as a novel and then made into a movie shouldn't isn't any more true to medieval combat then the Conan stories, and who knows if orcs and ogres even get tired? No, I remain unconcerned with combat fatigue because I don't want to pour more rules, more details and more effort into D&D combat - that way lies 4E, and AD&D's problems largely stem from this. As a system written to add complexity, seemingly for tournaments, it focuses a lot on combat and begins that trend towards tactical combat that makes more contemporary editions tiresome.

    Rather, and this is my current take on dungeon crawling TTRPGs, direct combat should remain as it is in OD&D: vague, deadly, swingy as heck, and a risky "fail state"... but over fast. That is to say when the party finds themselves locked in direct combat it should almost always feel like a dangerous appeal to contingency, a potential sacrifice to the dice and randomness. The locus of play locked into puzzles and exploration, with combat another puzzle (how to gain advantage so the dice don't matter as much?).

    Because of this, exhaustion for me is most importantly tied to encumbrance and environmental elements. A wet party that's carrying too much treasure should be vulnerable - the risk of combat infinitely greater, and the players wrestling with the questions of caching treasure or forting up around a fire and drying out vs. dashing towards the safety of the outdoors/a haven. Anyway, yes more time spent thinking about exhaustion is good.

    Here's the post that thinks about exhaustion:

    1. @ GusL:

      I don't disagree terribly with anything in your comments, but hold on just a damn minute:

      You have a new blog? And it's been up since December? And you haven't mentioned it before now?!

      Jeez, know that I *still* read and reference your OLD, closed blog as one of the best, inspirational sources on the internet, right?

      Come on, man...throw a brother a bone here and let me know you're writing again!

    2. I agree with JB. This is a first-heard for me, and welcome news.

    3. J.B. Not so much a blog as a series of long essays occasioned on playing a fair bit of 5E.

      I think a lot of the confusion about classic gaming is cultural. Old TTRPG style Dungeon crawling came out of a very different place then contemporary TTRPG culture which takes its cues from video games - a medium that I enjoy, but which has very different strength and weaknesses. I'm trying to write the remedial documents on the why's and how's of risk/reward focused exploration TTRPGs. To codify the culture of play and recognize that it's different then modern D&D - without claiming superiority or special knowledge.

      Not sure if I succeed, but I think the project stands on its own.

  7. Ars Magica (5e) has a fatigue mechanic modulated by both encumbrance and stamina that appealed to me on reading, but I've never played it. Perhaps it would only prove at least as cumbersome in practice as the other systems mentioned. (The rules as written also say to ditch that in combat, in favor of an alternate mechanic by which one can choose to exert oneself, gaining a temporary bonus to either attack or defense in exchange for an additional fatigue level.)

    1. Mmm...I found 4E Ars to be a great version of the game and never bothered to get 5E. Might take a look at that...

  8. It's been a long time since watching season one... why didn't the armored knight just stand there waiting for the nimble rogue to attack him? Running after him and getting oneself exhausted seems counterproductive.

    Also, I mentioned exhaustion equals disadvantage in Cha'alt Ascended. But what leads to exhaustion aside from casting too many spells? I suppose it would be up to the GM. Low level combat is hard enough with OSR - or it should be, at least. Why add unnecessary complexity?

    Of course, almost no one wears armor on Cha'alt because it's a desert world with 2 suns.

    1. I *do* have the Cha'alt PDF open on my laptop...have had it open for more than a month now. Still haven't had the chance to read it, though.
      : (

    2. One of these days, the mood will strike you. :)

  9. I'm sorry, JB. I don't understand.

    You write a full post explaining in depth why you're going to embrace AD&D, and how you don't want to spend all this time house-ruling the game because that would get in the way of "the design of settings, adventures and campaigns."

    THEN you spend an hour writing a post quibbling about a rule that isn't there, that you think should be there, because it was there in the game you're discarding, when obviously the answer is to house rule it.

    Excuse me, but isn't this nitpicking Monopoly because the car doesn't have to pay for gas, which ought to be an expense, or because the armies in RISK don't need to be fed, even though there are 55 armies trapped in Western Australia? If you're going to search for details that AD&D doesn't provide, then what was all this falderal about rules as written? And how you didn't want to waste time you could be using for other things?

    Are you going to write a series of posts now about how AD&D doesn't have rules on bone spurs, night sweats before a raid and the colour of a character's hair? All to PROVE that you really care about settings, adventures and campaigns?

    Face it. The REAL reason you chafe at this nonsense is that you're finding excuses not to make a setting, design an adventure and start a campaign. As long as you are able to continue to futz around about this petty jazz, and get pats on the back from your readers about its importance, the longer you can find excuses to disparage AD&D and thus avoid the real meat of being a dungeon master.

    1. There's certainly truth to that, Alexis (the procrastination bit). But this was a post I started writing BEFORE my last one, and I just wanted to get it up on the blog...kind of as a placeholder so that I don't (later) go back over the same ground.

      However (and as I said) there's truth to what you say...I'll try to STOP the futzing around with my future posts.
      : )

  10. Gary’s response to that GOT scene would likely be to scoff at the ahistorical myth of plate armor being so encumbering to become a disadvantage in combat, which he specifically railed against in the AD&D DMG.

    That said, if you match someone with a slow weapon against an acrobat with a fast weapon (or, even better, two fast weapons) and you might get a similar dynamic with the acrobat making 2 (or 4) for 1 attacks, whittling away at the slower combatant’s hit points while evading many of the counter-strikes.

    1. If this were true, obviously heavy armor would have been lightened to ensure a counter-strike. In fact, it was.

  11. I picked up Chainmail to remember things and I have found that it has Fatigue rules for troops. If you don't have it the rules are kind of:
    Do one of a list of things (ie "move 5 consecutive turns") and the troop is fatigued which means worse to hit, AC and Morale. One turn doing nothing removes fatigue.

    1. Um...I *did* reference this in my post, G.B.
      ; )

    2. Back around the turn of the century I tried using the Chainmail fatigue rule in OD&D games. I even added extra granularity (1 extra action for units in chain, 2 for those in leather or no armor, 1 extra for Con 15+, 1 less for Con 6-). It slowed down play and didn’t make things any more fun or interesting (usually both sides became fatigued at the same side +/- 1 round so the penalties canceled out and didn’t really make much difference besides extra bookkeeping burden) so I dropped it pretty quickly and considered it a lesson learned in what is or is not worthwhile additional detail.

    3. Ops... I forgot the pretty big reference and didn't checked before commenting. My bad.

    4. @ G.B.:

      No worries, man.
      : )

      @ Trent:

      That's about what I figured (not much gain compared to playability loss). Plus, how do you model fatigue for inhuman monsters? How long can an ogre fight before tiring? How about a hydra? Undead, I assume, are tireless.

      Yeah, it's probably just best to leave the subject off the table. It's part of the hit points, nothing more.

  12. If you consider it abstracted in the Hit Points, a simple addition would be to have fatigue take effect when a character's Hit Points drop to a certain level **while in combat** (so the ongoing expenditure is the difficulty, not the simple fact that you're tired).

    An easy way to do that is to add a -1 to -4 (or just a flat -2) "to hit" penalty if a character takes a certain amount of damage while fighting. For example, if they lose half of their Hit Points (based on their max, not on what they currently may have at the beginning of combat), then they suffer -2 to hit going forward during combat.

    You can leave out AC adjustment (armor doesn't get tired) and may want to offset the penalty using their Strength bonus adjustment (to hit).

    Monsters are simple: use the same criteria for all humanoid types. Animal types don't suffer fatigue; they get mean when they're hurt. Mystical types (ghosts, etc.) don't suffer fatigues at all. Just my thoughts on a simple system for it.

  13. I didn't read all the comments so forgive me if someone already listed DMG p38 wherein PCs are required to rest 1 turn in 6 and 1 turn after any combat or similarly strenuous activity.

    DMG p49 offers the normal penalties incurred by failure to rest: namely animals dropping dead and temporary level loss, which can likewise be used for the dungeon parameters listed above. Regaining lost levels is a matter of extra rest after the forced-march (or forced activity). This also implies that you could drain the PC's levels if they were forced to fight two back to back battles without rest. Tis fiat and up to you.

    1. Hmm...nope I don't see that info in the earlier comments. I appreciate the reference.

      Temporary level drain for exhaustion is a strange concept, one that I don't recall using in the past (though I don't remember ever needing "forced marches" in past AD&D games). When I think about it, it actually models the effects of fatigue pretty well: people get dog tired and start forgetting how to do normal things effectively (remember spells, perform thief skills, etc.). We're far more likely to blunder into stupid mistakes...especially in situations that are already dangerous.

      Yes, all things considered this is a pretty easy extrapolation, even if it doesn't really work for my original question (modeling the effects of fatigue withIN combat). But probably my original question wasn't very good.
      ; )