Wednesday, June 17, 2009

B/X Companion: Combat

There is a lot…A LOT…that I like about Labyrinth Lord. I love its spirit. I enjoy its artwork. I think its lay-out is great. The consolidation of the B/X game is great. I even like the purple cover.

But it has some irritating aspects that will prevent me from making it my game of choice. Not the monsters, or the new spells (which, from what I’ve read, are excellent). But certainly the combat charts…what the hell?

One of the great things about the original B/X rules, carried on in the admirable Mentzer BECMI, was the simplicity of the system. Character levels go to 36. Normal Men hit AC 0 on a 20, 1st level PCs at 19. THAC0 is lowered 2 points in increments…fighters every 3 levels, clerics and thieves every 4, magic-users every 5. What could be simpler to remember?

I think the LL mish-mash comes about from having un-defined level limits for human characters. Gotta’ keep the level 36 max in there…for my money, it sets everything up.

Now, B/X doesn’t address multiple attacks, while both BECMI and LL do. It was speculated in the Cook Expert set that fighters would receive multiple attacks at higher levels. I believe they should as well…what’s the point of having additional “high levels” if there’s nothing that further defines your character? Certainly spell-users will gain more spells and thieves will gain additional abilities...fighters should attack better.

But what exactly is an attack? What do multiple attacks represent?

I previously wrote that the abstract nature of D&D combat means ALL characters (not just fighters) are making multiple strikes during a combat round. I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I don’t consider myself any higher level than a Normal Man (certainly, I haven’t even reached Level 2 Blogger status), but I can swing a bat more than once in ten seconds…depending on my energy level, I could probably throw a combination of kicks, punches, and blocks in any given 10 second period.

Would those punches and kicks do anything to my opponent? Maybe against a feeble one. Probably not against a professional boxer or U.S. marine.

So the to-hit roll is the chance a character has, given a particular opponent’s armor class, of doing damage. As posted earlier, I think the amount of damage done has more to do with the class attacking than with the weapon that is being used.

A fighter of high level has the opportunity to do damage MORE THAN ONCE in a given round. That’s what multiple attacks mean. It’s not just the ability to swing more than once…it’s the ability to place a blow in such a way that it will do multiples of damage…kind of like a critical hit in D20. Except better, ‘cause it’s not D20.

I realize I’ve strayed from canon B/X as soon as I start giving magic-users greatswords and letting fighters do D6 damage with daggers, but for the sake of consistency, I will abide by the Cook set’s suggestion that multiple attacks for fighters don’t begin till 15th level. So how to scale it after that?

Well, a 15th level B/X fighter is going to have 960,000 experience points…nearly 1 million. Getting the opportunity for two attacks (effectively doubling damage output) is a pretty good bennie for reaching such a lofty figure. Obtaining ANOTHER 960,000 XP will get the fighter to level 23…and that’s where you give fighters their next “upgrade” to 3 attacks (3X damage). The fighter will hit 2 million XP sometime in the middle of level 23.

Using this logic, the 4th and final attack of a fighter should come sometime around the level 31 or 32 mark. 960,000 three times is 2,880,000…which is only level 31. 3 million even is level 32. Personally, I’ve never seen a character go past level 24 or so, even in BECMI play, but for my money, I’d give ‘em that last attack at level 31…a character should get some sort of honor for breaking the 30 mark!

Since no player character can advance beyond level 36, a fighter will have “topped out” before ever reaching 3,840,000 (the next multiple of 960K), let alone such a figure as huge as 4 million. Four attacks per round (the potential for 4X damage) is THE maximum potential of the fighter class.

Still working on what elves, dwarves, and halflings are going to be doing with all their additional XP. Hmmm…hopefully, I’ll figure something out soon.


  1. I had this discussion with someone recently at DF, about hit probability. Go back and figure out the increments and bonuses and you'll see you remember it wrong. There are arbitrary increments in there when you combine some class level ranges and number increments, so to create an algorith it had to change for LL. All in all I don't see the big deal.

  2. Um...I did look at the increments and bonuses and as far as I can see I remembered it RIGHT. Unless you mean that LL is the same as the old Expert set? I'll go compare that in a bit. The Cook and Mentzer Expert sets are nothing if not consistent.

  3. What I mean is that they do not improve by a steady 2 points every three levels for fighters. It goes in a pattern of (if you start at normal man in Cook's X set) 1, 2, 3, 2, 2. Of course, everyone prefers something different.

  4. Dan...had a chance to pull out my Expert set and I see what you're talking about...the PC combat matrix has a typo on it. However, reading the text is explicit about how the attack matrixes are supposed to read (the page following the classes...where it talks about the upcoming Companion set; don't have the page number but I believe it is the last paragraph of the first column).

    The typo is corrected in Mentzer's Expert set matrixes. SInce I have two copies of the Mentzer book, I generally use it for reference, unless I need something Cook specific (like the crowbar! How could they have left the crowbar off the equipment list!).

  5. The whole table is set up that way, so I don't necessarily agree with you that it's a typo, but you could be right. We're not talking about a mix up in only one column. You're right that what they talk about for further levels doesn't match the attack matrix. They say a 16th level fighter should need 7 to hit AC 2 but according to the chart it would be 6.

  6. As I said, the chart is rectified in the Mentzer edition.