Monday, June 29, 2009

B/X Two Weapon Combat

So much to blog and so little least today. Had three or four things lined up for my day off, but then ended up running errands most of the day.  Well, did some reading, too, but mostly of the political satire variety, and nothing to post on a RPG blog.

(well, I could, but I may very well offend some readers with my rather strong opinions...perhaps another time)

Anyway, I wanted to get SOMETHING down, as I think I've managed to get at least one post a day since starting this blog, and I don't want to blow my streak.  So here's a little something-something: 

Dual weapon fighting (i.e. fighting with a weapon in each hand) is a fairly common staple of fantasy literature and gaming.  Honestly, I don't remember what first inspired me to love the whole "two-fisted" fighter thing...all I know is that my oldest and earliest AD&D character was never without a weapon in his off-hand.

Since I didn't read Lieber or Moorcock (Mouser and Moonglum respectively) until years later, I don't think there was a particular character of literature that got me into this.  If I had to guess, I would imagine it came about from playing a bard character (no shield use, remember) coupled with reading the DMG (I was the main DM of my gaming group for years) and reading the rules on two weapon fighting. Like, "oh, you mean I CAN fight with two weapons? Well, I wasn't doing anything with my off-hand anyway."

Once I started doing it, several other players began sporting characters with two weapons (apparently, few people were into shields...I guess our Armor Classes were plenty tough). But definitely no one was in the campaign was as munchkiny as, I never owned Blackrazor, but at one point I was wielding a hammer of thunderbolts with a vorpal short sword in my off-hand.  Though, this was many, many levels after I'd started with a long sword and maine gauche.

In the 2nd edition, my one character, "Ball Sack," only ever used a battle axe.  I'm not sure his testosterone level would have allowed him to use a case of rapiers. 

But he was just about the last character to NOT use two weapons.  In DND3 I had a bard with two weapon fighting, a dwarven duelist (fighter/thief) that used a rapier and dagger, a wood elf (barbarian? ranger? one of the two) that used two hand axes, and a halfling knife-fighter that guessed it...two knives (his name was "Sticker").

B/X never addresses two weapon fighting, of course, and when we were kids none of us ever considered two weapons an option (as I said, no role-models in this regard).  BECMI does address it in the Thyatian gazeteer; basically it states anyone can use a weapon in his or her off-hand, but still only gets one attack per round unless allowed to make multiple attacks.

Honestly, I think that's pretty fair (admittedly I've come a fair ways from my munchkin days).  As already explained elsewhere, the abstract nature of D&D combat means that a single attack roll determines whether or not a character does damage in a given round...whether slashing open an opponent's belly, bashing him with a shield, or kicking him in the groin.  The initiative roll simply determines whose damage gets applied first...not necessarily who swings first. A guy with two swords, may be parrying and cutting with one (say, on a successful roll for 3 or 4 points of damage), or stabbing with both (say, on a successful roll for 8 points of damage).

However, it would be nice to model some sort of benefit for using two weapons...after all, you ARE giving up the use of a shield or more powerful two-handed weapon.

Previously, I posted my variable damage rules for B/X as dependent on class.  To summarize, I suggested dividing melee weapons into Small, One-Handed, and Two-Handed categories with categories generally varying by one size of dice (so a cleric does D4/D6/D8, a fighter does D6/D8/D10, and a magic-user does D4/D4/D6).  Here's how I would model two-weapon fighting in D&D.

1)  To use two weapons effectively in combat, a character must have a minimum Dexterity of 13.  A character may wield two weapons without the Dexterity but gains no special benefit for doing so (though the character has an extra weapon in case something happens to his primary one).

2) Unless a character has a Strength of 13 or better, he may only fight effectively with a Small weapon in his "off-hand."  Strong characters may use One-Handed weapons in their off-hand.

3) On a successful attack roll, the player may roll damage dice for both weapons, and choose the best result of the two.  For example, a fighter using a sword and dagger may roll a D8 and a D6 on a successful hit, and use the better of the two dice rolls for his damage. 

4) If a character has a damage bonus from a high strength, the damage is added to whichever dice is chosen (i.e. it doesn't matter whether or not the character is using an off-hand weapon to inflict damage, the strength bonus in melee is due to the character's might allowing for better muscling/maneuvering in addition to a stronger blow).

All, right, now THAT'S out of the way, I can go to bed.  Tomorrow, I'll try to post an adventure idea I had....


  1. Your rules look fair and measured.
    I might be prone to throw in an extra -1 AC penalty becasue folks fighting with 2 weapons generally have to get in close to use both well. deterent.

  2. Mmm...I don't see a need to give a penalty to AC. A character using only a dagger would have to "get in close" and doesn't take an AC hit...and I would argue that a person with two daggers can present a better defense than a person with only one.

    A shield in B/X tends to be of greater value than in AD&D and later editions (especially a magic shield), and the loss of one means clerics and fighters (or demi-humans) will take more hits. Thieves, of course, lose nothing with regard to shields...but then they are the ones most often portrayed as using two weapons in both film (Conan the Destroyer) and literature (Gray Mouser, Gord). And even in B/X there are no demi-human thieves, so thieves are often the torch carriers or the 10' pole users (since they'll be designated as "scout") so wielding a second weapon does cost them some of their versatility.

    Magic-Users are only getting a re-roll of a D4 so there isn't much benefit there, though I suppose if you wanted you could say they need at least one hand free to cast spells....

  3. That's pretty fair all things considered.

    The big difference when it comes to two-handed weapons vs two weapons is the two-handed fighter always goes last regardless of initiative. I've noted how painful this can be with my current level 2 fighter, Torvull Ragespitter. When the party rolls a good initiative, they go, then the monsters go, then I go.

  4. The "last in initiative" can seem like a raw deal considering you only gain a potential extra 1-2 points of damage, lose the shield, and have to pay more money.

    However, since the initiative roll models "who-applies-damage-first-in-the-melee" it makes sense, EXCEPT on the first round. One of the reasons longer, unwieldy weapons were invented was to give a fighter the ability to "do unto others" before they did unto him. You put a score of pikemen in a mob, and at least a few are going to hit and take down an enemy before the enemy gets to you.

    That's why I'm in favor of allowing the two-handers to always go first IN THE FIRST ROUND ONLY (see the earlier entry on variable damage). They still don't get shields and can be taken down by missiles at a distance. Once embroiled in the swirling melee they still have a more difficult time maneuvering and getting elbow room. But in that FIRST ROUND, they get a chance to do unto their opponent before he totally closes the distance. That's a nice option for the dopplehander.


  5. Just a question...
    I love the one roll mechanic. How would you handle a character who has a +1 weapon in one hand and a normal weapon in the other? Would you give the player +1 to attack and then whichever roll is higher for damage?

    1. @ Angry:

      Hmm! An excellent question and (interestingly) one that's never come up before.

      I suppose the "fair" way to look at it is to look at the result of the D20 roll. If the roll is high enough that the attack would have "hit" with either weapon, then the player receives the double damage roll/choose best option. If the D20 result was only good enough for the better weapon, than you would only roll damage for that weapon.

      Now, I say that with THIS system (from 2009). My personal feelings these days, after watching a lot of fighting demos, is that the real advantage of wielding two weapons (if one is proficient), is the ability to strike at two areas or, rather, the ability to strike at a target your opponent leaves open trying to defend your other weapon. As such, I simply give a +1 bonus to attacks when a character uses two weapons, and damage is the same (1D6) with no worries about which weapon actually hit. In THAT case, if one weapon has a greater "+" than the other, whichever weapon had the greater bonus would be used with the attack roll, and probably for the damage roll as well, unless the defender was specifically focusing on defending against the more dangerous blade (which presumes the defender knows enough about the opponent to make that determination).

      I should probably revisit this subject in a new post. *sigh*

  6. Thanks for the response. That is sort of what I was thinking. Roll the attack on 1d20. Add the magical bonus to the attack. If there is a hit, roll both damage dice. If the magical weapon damage die is the highest, add the magical bonus to the damage. If the non-magical weapon die is highest, do not add the bonus. So a magical weapon (even a +1 dagger) will aid in the attack, but may or may not aid in the damage. Again, I like this two-weapon system. It is simple, and it allows me to roll 3 dice at once (always fun!). Thanks again for the response. Love the blog and your supplements.

    1. @ Angry:

      Thanks for the kind words. And yes, I think your solution is far more elegant than checking multiple target numbers.
      : )

  7. At the end of the day does that not simply equate to something like +50% damage?

    1. @ Tamerlane:

      Hmm...I don't think so. But I may be wrong.