Once again, I find myself marveling at the elegant simplicity of the D&D combat system.
It's just so lovely how two fighters, equally armed and armored, will have a (roughly) 50-50 chance at killing each other. Certainly, one might get lucky (or unlucky)...in fact, luck will (in such circumstances) be the deciding factor in their battle, assuming neither chooses to withdraw. And having more experience simply prolongs their struggle, as well it should.
But how does D&D model combat against non-fighters? Pretty good, in my opinion.
Mail armor...what most D&D books refer to (redundantly and incorrectly as chain mail) was really, really good stuff. Nearly impenetrable to most weapons of its time, requiring both specialized tools and tactics to harm a human so armored. Is an "armor class" of 5 sufficient to model this? Even an untrained combatant (what B/X calls a "normal human") can land a successful attack against a veteran (1st level fighter) in mail with a D20 roll of 15, 16 if the vet carries a shield. 16? That's a 25% chance to hit (1 chance in 4) with a decent probability of the blow being a killing stroke!
But let's talk law of averages here. Played "by the book" a first level fighter has an average of 5.5 hit points (1d8 roll, discarding 1s and 2s). Assuming average damage from the untrained opponent (3.5, average for a 1d6 roll), it will take the guy on average 6.3 combat rounds to finish a veteran dressed in mail and using a shield. How much damage will the veteran inflict upon unarmored opponents in six rounds? 11.55 on average, enough to kill nearly five "normal" humans. And that's assuming you're using 1d6 damage and no bonus for high strength; a 1d8 damage sword coupled with 13 strength (+1 attack and damage in B/X) pushes the damage output up enough to fell nearly eight (7.92) normal men whose average hit points are 2.5 each.
Of course, being B/X, you can't kill say than one peasant per round.
Still six men dead in sixty seconds...not too shabby for a 1st level fighter, and a testament to the fighter's training and equipment. And adding extra armor, beefier weapons, and more combat experience simply increases this lethality.
"But D&D is so deadly to low-level characters!" Sure it is...if you're entering the lair of a manticore or a nest of orcs with naught but a couple buddies at your back. Yes, getting mauled by a tiger or bear will probably mean the end of our poor veteran, mail dressed or not...and that seems pretty true to reality, no? It would take a pretty high level hero (and/or one armed with magical equipment) to face such a foe and live to celebrate victory. As it should be.
Against non-supernatural horrors and the majority of gentlefolk met in the streets, however, the armored warrior is the Angel of Death, and should command a similar amount of respect, awe, and/or fear. Here's what's NOT realistic: law-abiding communities (especially towns and cities) allowing armored, be-weaponed slayers to roam freely and unchallenged through their streets. No such individual should be allowed entry to a temple (unless a sworn member to the church's knightly order or some such). No such individual should be granted access to a guild hall or the home of a nobleman or town official. No such individual should be allowed to shop at the public market, unmolested by local militia (who are similarly armed and armored for the express purpose of dealing with threats like the character). Assuming the town has any sort of wall at all (as nearly all medieval communities larger than a village would), it's unlikely a strange warrior...or a party of them...would even be allowed to pass the gates girded for war.
Dude's a one man army, after all.
|"Superheroes" get eight|
attacks per round.
[yes, it probably looks fine in a cinematic scene...wizards in Thundarr doing all sorts of instantaneous, high-level hijinks. But then, cartoon sorcerers tend to shoot lasers at will, like 4E/5E cantrips, and I find THAT particular practice disgusting...]
But regardless. I like the simple fighting-person and "basic" combat system. That was the point of this post.