Thursday, October 21, 2010

Explaining D6 Damage

[this one's a little long folks...]

The default damage of all weapons in B/X play is 1D6; that is, every weapon does from 1 to 6 points of damage plus bonuses (if any). This is what I’ve been using in my games for the last year or so (with occasional variations), and it’s easy to see why:

- It’s fast/easy.
- It’s Rules-As-Written.

That’s the PRACTICAL aspect of it. However, even more than that I prefer the PHILOSOPHICAL aspect of D6 damage, and that bit can be tough to explain to folks.

This post is going to give it one more shot at doing so.

[by the way, some of this is going to sound familiar to long-time readers as it will reference things I’ve touched on elsewhere…however, I hope to bring many different posts together in one succinct essay; we’ll see how it goes!]

Before we begin, let’s establish the foundational damage rules of B/X play:

1) Per the Basic set, all weapons of adventurers (not monsters) do 1D6 damage, whether it’s a dagger or a two-handed sword (variable weapon damage is simply an “optional” rule).
2) Per the Expert set, an unarmed adventurer does 1D2 damage with his blows.
3) Strength bonuses add to melee damage done (+1, +2, or +3 for Strength scores over 12).

Defining the (Normal) Human Condition

Remember that all Normal Humans have 1D4 hit points, “normal” meaning non-heroic, non-adventuring, non-combat-worthy people. Hit points are the number of damage points a character can take before being killed. So what does 1 to 4 hit points look like?

1 hit point – these fragile individuals are living on borrowed time, and should never get into a scrap if possible. Infants and toddlers, the very elderly, the Bubble Boy, people with extremely bad luck or who are present for comic relief. The “big strong man” with the glass jaw or who is so casually inept, he runs himself onto your sword. Any damage will take this person out of combat.

2 hit points – the average (maybe slightly below average) human, most of us (in real life) probably fall into this category. A solid punch to the face will knock us 50% of the time (roll of a 2 on the 1D2).

3 hit points – a human in good physical condition. A solid punch to the face from an average strength (9-12) person will cause us to shake our heads, and a second one will punch our clock. A strong (13+) human can still knock us cold if they catch us with the right uppercut.

4 hit points – an exceptionally tough, big, and/or strong human being. In D&D terms think of a blacksmith or (big) longshoreman in the prime of his life. Can take several punches to the face before being knocked out, unless fighting someone who is exceptionally strong and/or lucky.

Now what do these four types of individuals have in common? They can all be killed, fairly easily, by the single blow of a hand weapon. A dagger stab in the kidney or jugular, a sword thrust through the torso, a hammer blow to the head…so long as the character attacking has an average strength, even the toughest (non-combat-trained) human can be felled 50% of the time (a 4,5, or 6 on a D6 dice roll). Such a blow might not spell INSTANT death, but they’d certainly be “out of combat,” mortally wounded and unable to move, fight, or take other actions (besides whimpering).

Adventurers (like ALL PCs) and some exceptional, heroic or combat-worthy NPCs (like Nobles in the basic book) have a lot better conditioning due to the type of careers/training they’ve had. They’re like Bruce Willis in Die Hard…they can take a helluva’ beating and somehow find the strength to keep going. They also have the luck and skill (even the wizards!) to turn what might be a killing blow into a negligible laceration or bruise. This is, of course, represented by their larger number of hit points.

The Nature of Weapons

All weapons used by adventurers are designed to kill. The dagger, the axe, the arrow, the greatsword…all have been forged and feathered with the intent on inflicting mortal injury. They just do so in different ways. Braining a guy with an axe or war hammer certainly looks different from piercing his eye/skull with an arrow or spear, decapitating him with a sword, or slitting his throat with a knife but the effect is the same regardless.

No weapon has better killing power than another. They just have different styles of killing. Certain styles may be better suited to one individual over another (for example, what guy may be a power hitter who can really swing war club, while another guy is a light-on-his-feet fencer) but if you’re not inflicting pain and suffering the fault lies with YOU, not the weapon. No one is going to chop off someone’s arm with a dagger blow…and no one’s going to stab through the eye into the brain with a battle axe. Different weapons inflict harm in different ways…but all with the same aim.

In the past (and in my B/X Companion) I offered the idea that certain classes were better at using weapons than others, and thus damage dice were increased (or decreased) based on class. I see now that this has already been modeled in the D&D game with different classes having different chance to hit (a chance to hit is simply a “chance to inflict damage”). Changing the dice types based on class, while still better than changing them based on weapon, is still fairly redundant.

A weapon inflicts 1-6 points of damage. The number rolled gauges how effectively a weapon was wielded towards killing an opponent. Combat is CHAOTIC, especially a pitched battle with multiple individuals. While any helpless individual (someone sleeping, tied up, paralyzed, whatever) can be slain with a single blow, in a MELEE, opponents are actively trying to resist you. Blows are blocked. Blows are rolled with. People lunge away from a blade and take only a long scratch or laceration.

Using a larger weapon does not change the fact that opponents are trying to resist your attacks. Using a larger weapon does not help one to kill a helpless opponent any easier.

“But a larger weapon can beat through an opponent’s defenses!” B/X is an abstract combat system…it assumes that you are already using your weapon to the best of your ability. If you are wielding a two-handed sword, you ARE bashing aside your opponent’s defenses to land a crushing blow. If you are wielding a dagger, you ARE trying to get inside your opponent’s weapon space and stab them through chinks in their armor. The roll of 1D6 for damage tells just how good you were at using the optimal tactics for your weapon of choice.

The Matter of Strength

In B/X D&D, a character with high (13+) strength receives a bonus to both hit and damage rolls. What might assume this is due to “extra oomph” being put into the force of the blow. As such, some may feel that it is silly to add a strength bonus to certain weapons. “Sure, an 18 strength fighter can clobber someone with a two-handed sword but what’s he going to do with a dagger? Stick it in someone to the pommel?

This confusion is caused by a misunderstanding of what melee is and strength’s impact on it.

A melee attack roll does not represent a single strike, or stab, or blow. An attack roll represents a player’s chance to inflict damage in a single 10 second round. Think of your 20-sided dice as a tiny set of percentile dice working in 5% increments. If the combat matrix says you need a 16+ to hit, it means your chance to inflict damage is 25% (5 in 20). If you need a 14+ to hit, your chance to damage your foe is 35%. A “natural 20,” fun as it is, represents nothing more than 1 more number within the potential needed to achieve a telling blow.

That damage inflicted by a successful attack roll could be caused by a single scratch, or multiple stabs, or one heavy, skull-crushing strike. The extent and type of injury is determined by the damage roll. In B/X play, damage is rolled by the DM who is responsible for narrating an appropriate result.

Melee is a matter of strength.
This is not fencing, but MORTAL COMBAT…in a life-and-death struggle, rules of engagement are shrugged aside and individual fighters do whatever is necessary to kill their opponent without being killed. Tripping, punching, kicking, body blocks are all part of the fight…as is grappling your foe’s weapon arm and twisting it out of the way so you can head butt or stab home.

In such a fight, strength is nearly as great a factor as skill. Skill is already represented by a character’s chance to hit (which is determined by class and experience level, as is appropriate). Skill outweighs strength, but strength can be an equalizing factor in two opponents of near parity, and a decided advantage in when all skill is equal.

Each skill tier increases the chance an opponent’s attack will succeed by 10%. Skill tier break points are determined by class, so a fighter (for example) improves every 3 levels, a cleric every 4 levels, and a magic-user every 5. Characters with high strength increase that chance to attack by 5%, 10%, or 15%, but except for the occasional rare character with 18 strength, the strength bonus can never improve the chance to inflict damage by more than a single tier, and no strength bonus can ever shift a character (up or down) by two full tiers or more.

The strength bonus to damage does not just represent the force of blows, but also the ability to strive against one’s opponent in hand-to-hand combat. If my character with a 16 strength is fighting with a dagger against an armored knight, my additional damage represents knocking him down, stepping on his shield arm, and driving my dagger through his helmet’s visor with one hand while I hold his sword arm with the other. It takes STRENGTH to be effective in melee. Training (class) and experience (level) provides technique and know-how, but strength can (literally) drive the point home.

Conversely, a lack of strength (8 or less) carries penalties to both attack and damage in melee as a physically weak character is at a decided disadvantage in the scrum of melee. However, note that only the weakest of invalids (Strength 3) have 0% chance to kill a 4 hit point normal human with a single blow of a hand weapon (the -3 penalty to damage means the maximum damage such a character can inflict is 6-3= 3 points). Of course, against a helpless opponent the Strength 3 individual could still get an instant kill by drawing a sharp edge across his foe’s throat.

Two-Handed Weapons

In B/X, two-handed weapons always strike last in combat. Why is that? Well, first we must examine the poorly named mechanic of “initiative.”

Rolling a D6 at the beginning of a round allows your character to “take the initiative” for the round. This simply means your character will have the first opportunity to do damage in the combat round. That’s all. It doesn’t mean you’re faster than your opponent; it doesn’t even mean that you attack first, or that your strike is so quick you catch your foe napping. Combat in D&D is abstract. A high roll of the D6 simply means you get the first possibility of damaging your foe.

Two-handed weapons ARE slower to use and, against an opponent using a more maneuverable, one-handed weapon, the opponent has the first chance to do damage. They might not manage it (i.e. they might blow their attack roll), but they have the first opportunity.

The real question is: why would anyone want to wield a two-handed weapon?

At least in a man-to-man, duel or skirmish setting, the tight confines of a dungeon would appear to be the last place anyone would bring a large weapon. On the open battlefield, a two-handed weapon enjoys the advantages of reach, intimidation, and increased damage penetration (from leverage). This is why the Danish pole axe was such a fierce weapon on the battlefield. This is why pike and halberd were wielded well into the 16th century. This is how the Scottish highlanders used their two-handed claymores.

The standard B/X rule books provide no mechanical advantage to the use of a two-handed weapon, only disadvantages (expensive, heavy, slow). But the Basic rules only provide combat procedures for dungeon encounters, and the Expert set defers mass combat rules to Swords & Spells. As it stands, two-handed weapons remain expensive, heavy, and slow without anything to recommend them save the optional “variable weapon damage” chart, and even that is no help for the two-handed battle axe (which continues to do the same damage as a one-handed sword).

I offer the following possible house rules for two-handed weapons:

Reach: in the outdoors, in open terrain, a two-handed weapon always strikes FIRST against opponents wielding one-handed weapons, EXCEPT mounted foes using lances.

Intimidation: individuals carrying two-handed weapons suffer a -1 on Reaction rolls.

Leverage: individuals wielding two-handed weapons add +1 to damage on a successful attack roll.

[I am currently using the last rule in my on-going B/X games]

Final Thoughts

Many, many RPGs have tried to model mortal (life-and-death) combat in many, many different ways. For me, the thing I look for in a game is “do the rules as written contribute to the play of the game itself?” Does the way in which combat is modeled fit with the overall theme and design of the game?

B/X is a simple game, designed to allow players to have imaginary adventures and overcome challenges in a fantastic setting. As such, combat needs to be a part of it. However, while all adventurers in B/X are “combat-worthy,” few of the character classes are “combat focused.” As such, combat should be present, but not necessarily the focus of the game.

For me, I feel that the combat rules, as written, do everything I need without additional requirements…no variable damage types, no armor penetration, no segmented rounds, and (Lord knows!) no super-kewl “Feats” are scaling “Powers.” People get hung up on combat “realism” but personally I think the ONLY way to model combat “realistically” is to model it abstractly, as B/X does.

Really? Yes. The more you add on to the game, the more you try to model “real life,” the more artificial and “UN-real” the game becomes…calculating fatigue and pain and anxiety and weapon tensile strength etc., etc. is still just throwing a bunch of arbitrary numbers together, and is not any more reflective of “real” combat than the rules of B/X.

And at what cost anyway? To slow your game down? To make every combat encounter take an hour? Look at Wizards of the Coast: they started down this road with 3rd edition (average party size: four, average game session: four hours, average number of encounters per session: four) and have sunk to the point where “D&D” (as they still have the gall to call this game) is little more than a number of set piece encounters linked by a flimsy “plot.”


D&D isn’t just about fighting…at least it wasn’t prior to D20. But writing monster encounters is easy (choose monster, roll number appearing, roll hit points…bam! Instant encounter) compared to writing clever challenges. These days, I’m try to keep the fights in their proper place; i.e. about on par with all the other challenges.

D6 damage for all weapons helps me do this. Players ask “what’s the difference between weapons?” And I say, “Not much.” They ask what they should use. I ask them what they want their character to wield. I tend to get a lot of daggers and war hammers, strangely enough…as opposed to EVERYONE wielding a damn long sword. It helps players personalize their character without worrying about mechanical advantages of weapon choice.

To me, D6 damage and abstract combat fit the type of “realism” I prefer…the one where knives are just as deadly as heavy flails, just used differently. Hit points and experience level provide plenty of heroic “edge” to player characters…I’m not interested in modeling video game reality.
; )


  1. A fantastic and MUST READ old-school post for GMs and Players alike!

  2. It's good enough for WFRP so I have no problems with it.

  3. I think this is just about the best argument for using d6 damage for all weapons I've read.

    Ed Green

  4. A +1 to-hit bonus isn't equal to a +5% chance to hit. It's more complicated than that.

    If you need a 19 - 20 to hit, you'll hit 2 in 20 times. If you get a +1 from magic, str, or level you'll hit 18 - 20 or 3 in 20 times.

    That's a +50% chance to hit in that situation.

  5. From the start of my B/X career, I've always been a fan of variable weapon damage.

    But this is the most cogent and well-presented argument for d6 weapon damage I've ever read--thanks very much for the thorough explanation.

    One question: given fixed weapon damage, do you still enforce class weapon restrictions? Seems that the only reason to do so would be for campaign flavour. Just curious. Thanks again.

  6. Another excellent post, JB!

    I am a fan and full supporter of using Normal Men as the base line to evaluate mechanics, base world building, and developing scenarios.

    I like the 2-H weapon houserules but I might change the intimidation to a penalty to morale checks instead of reaction rolls.

    Fumers: Both saying the same thing but JB is talking relative while you are talking absolute. Yes, in your example it is an increase of 50% but it is an increase of 5% in probability.

  7. Sorry, for the double post...

    Erin: While class weapon restrictions would seem to largely irrelevant, magical swords are by-far the most common magic weapons which are largely the domain of the fighter (with the sulky thief sneaking in) which, in my opinion, is important for the fighter's niche.

  8. @P_Armstrong: ah, good point--I hadn't considered magic weapons. IIRC, B/X gives "swords" their own slot on the Random Magic Table, yeah?

    Still, no hot Gandalf-on-Glamdring action in this model?

  9. Excellent post. I like the idea of the elegant simplicity of d6 for all weapons, but it doesn't work for me when you get to two-handed weapons. Maybe if there weren't rules for shields giving an AC bonus in the game and everything was at a very abstracted level for armor: none, light, medium heavy. Still, it's worth giving more thought to the standardized d6 and (like you have) look at other ways to differentiate the weapons instead of damage dice.

  10. How about...

    Weapon plus shield: d6 damage, +1 AC.
    Two-handed weapon: d6+1 damage.
    Two weapons: roll 2d6, keep one.

  11. more important to me in that equation for 2-h weapons is the ability to strike first. I'd take that over the damage boost, actually. It models in some of the tactical reasons people used things like spears and pikes, but still keeps it abstracted.

    do you allow the "grounded spear vs. charging opponent" bonus, or was that an AD&D rule?

  12. Or...
    1-H weapon + shield: 1d6 dmg, +1 AC
    2-H weapon: 1d6+1 dmg
    two 1-H weapons: 1d6 dmg, +1 to hit
    ...which I also like.

    Iron Goat: I believe that the only charging rules in B/X is with regards to the lance and a mounted charge which does double damage (in the Expert rulebook) and the slightly connected swoop attack of flying monsters (also in the Expert book).

    Initiative is just a guideline for resolving the order of actions. I think a DM should adjudicate the order of actions based on circumstances. One just has to read through some of the examples in the Basic rulebook to see that the strict order of initiative and the order in which actions are taken during a round to see that they are not stringently followed.

  13. Given that armor penetration is a factor of the attack roll in D&D, maybe the 2-handers should be getting a +1 to hit instead of a damage bonus?

    1. Talysman pointed this out as well, and this is how I rule. 2-handers are +1 to hit as befitting their intent to penetrate armor.

  14. Thanks JB. I was wondering what the logic was behind this rule, and I think I can get behind it now (or at least understand where it comes from).

    I picked a battleaxe +2 for Borgnine before knowing this rule; I may have picked something else if I had known 2-H weapons were disadvantage-only, so I'm glad to know you're using your +1 dmg house rule.

  15. Good article.

    I tend to do things a tad differently (4d6 drop low for stats, Greyhawk Average Hit Points, 2e style NPC hit points) but the basics of your article still hold true.

    I'll also note there is another advantage you overlooked. Style.

    yes style. Having all weapons equal really facilitates concepts. Want a fast Knife Dancer with Ibari Steel Dagger and a Bracer? No Problem. Its identical in play to the Arming Sword and Buckler guy. This allows players to play whatever they like without concern over optimization or weapon F/X having to be taken into combination

    I do think though that Fighting Styles have a place in the system and I don't mind that level of complexity so long as all 2 handed weapons, and all one handed weapons are the same.

    Akrasia's version works well IMO

    and there are of course others.

  16. This is fine post, but i think that everyone needs to find their own way when it comes to this stuff. For some that way is RAW. For me it all breaks down when it comes to three things:
    1. Missile weapons. snipers are feared for a
    reason, King Badass or not, an arrow through the eye or throat is going to take you out- and is really hard to dodge.

    2. I think that no mater how tough you are entering combat should always know that death can come with a single lucky blow. Sometimes in the first round.

    3. Healing. Given the nature of the abstraction- it takes too long to regain hit points.

    Furthermore, with the proper application of imagination, modeling these things does not necessarily add a whole bunch of complication. I've added critical hits and changed the missile attacks work, and both add an occasional extra die roll- but that is more than made up for by the higher rate of fatality. Dead men roll no dice.

    Changing the rules just a little to make snipers really, really dangerous added an entirely new element of fun to my game.

  17. Color me unconvinced and unimpressed.

    Is it really such an imposition to roll damage on d4 for daggers and d10 for Zweihänder?

    I'll tell you this much: if I were in a duel to the death with somebody, and between my opponent and me, one of us had to wield a sword and the other a dirk, I'd bloody well race for the sword.

    A sword is an objectively superior weapon than a dagger in mortal, hand-to-hand combat. If the game you want is too simple to model this uncontroversial fact, that's fine, but again I'm forced to ask, is it really such a big deal to just have the better weapons roll damage on a larger die? There's a good reason that this became the default method in AD&D and later versions of the classic game!

  18. Interesting take! I use the variable weapon damage when I play B/X, and I would never do otherwise, but you have made a good defense of the 1d6 damage rule (even if I entirely disagree with it).

  19. No argument from me against 1d6 damage for all weapons, although I argue for it from a slightly different perspective, perhaps because I've played LBB rather than B/X D&D. And yeah, if weapon size is going to add any kind of bonus, it should be "to hit" rather than damage. Give large one-hand weapons a +1 vs. mail or lighter, and two-hand weapons +1 vs. any armor.

    1. Agreed with bonus to hit instead of damage. The purpose of two-handers is to open armor. Leave the damage for all weapons as d6.

  20. Great post. I'm going to have to give my preference for variable damage some serious thought.

  21. It may be RAW, but as others have said, the point remains that for 2H weapons you only have penalties and no advantages unless you houserule. And if you start houseruling, you might as well use the Variable Damage system.
    And even if you use the Variable Damage system, you can still kill a normal human with a "puny" dagger, so the issue of lethality of "knives vs. flails" as JB puts it, is moot.

    A note: it's true that WFRP uses d6 for damage, but it includes meaningful distinctions where they matter, e.g. 2-handed weapons, weapons with reach etc.

  22. A very good argument. I have been a supporter of d6 damage for all weapons from an OD&D perspective (my current system of choice) and would previously point people to this argument for it:

    But I think I might start using yours instead.

  23. @ Everyone: Hey, thanks for the feedback! I threw this post up in the morning and was busy all the way till bedtime (when I was too tired to respond coherently). I'll try to address a couple-few things:

    @ Erin: I no longer use weapon restrictions in B/X. I'm a fan of sword-wielding sorcerers (a la Elric) and consider clerics to be the archetypal paladins of B/X. Strangely, all my players continue to abide by standard weapon restrictions anyway...weird.

    @ Kelvin: My personal method is exactly as you wrote:

    1 Handed: D6, Shield adds +1 to AC
    2 Handed: D6 +1 damage
    Two weapons: 2D6, take best roll

    @ Iron Goat: the "set spear versus charge" is not present in B/X, though lance combat is (and is not restricted to fighter-types). Set spear IS part of Mentzer's BECMI rules.

    @ Pat: You have an excellent point about Initiative being a "guideline." I could post a bit on this... ; )

    @ Drnunch: Personally, I feel any bonus to hit (from damage penetration) is offset by a lack of maneuverability (in the underground setting). The damage bonus is enough for me, rather than increasing actual hit stated, I feel the game takes into account characters using their weapons to their best ability and this is subsumed in the combat roll.

    @ Aos: There's no reason to model missile combat any different. D6 will still fell even the tough "normal" human 50% of the time. As for adventurers...well, they ARE the protagonists of the story. For some games, you might want something different. The D&D game system is modeled off a LITERARY fantasy theme, and in fantasy literature, the protagonist doesn't generally get offed by the first arrow that comes their way. Is that "realistic" (as in "true to real life combat")? No, of course not. D&D characters are cinematic and heroic...but that's in aid of the game as designed (i.e. models stories of heroism).

    Anyway, sniper fire is still plenty dangerous in D&D without "add-on" rules.

    As for healing, I've addressed this before in other posts. A non-combat-worthy character is as likely to take a mortal wound as a scratch (and will either take one or the other) and thus, if not killed by a blow, will recover in a couple days. Adventurers (with LOTS of hit points) are better at avoiding mortal wounds, so instead take tremendous amounts of punishment. And resilient as the human body is, it takes time to heal...but it doesn't take a high level fighter any longer to naturally heal all his hit points than it would take someone to heal a broken limb or something.

    @ J.D. Um...if there's a "reason" it became "the default method" in AD&D, it's because it was Gygax's choice (in Supplement I) that bled over into Gygax's AD&D PHB. After that, I would chalk it up to "no one considering what this damage stuff really means." But that's just my take.

    @ Antonio: I would note that MY house rule (+1 damage for 2-Handed weapons) is a bit more simple...AND consistent...than variable weapon damage. Otherwise, from a gamist perspective, why would anyone ever use a battle axe?
    : )

  24. "What this damage stuff really means" ought to be an abstraction. On that count I agree with you completely.

    But saying that a wound from a dagger is just as deadly as a wound from a sword or a mace or an arrow, ergo all weapons should deal 1d6, is a not toward simulationism, not abstraction.

    An abstract combat system would take into account the fact that a warrior with a longer or bigger weapon will likelier wear down his opponent faster, never mind any wounds that result. Hence variable damage dice.

    Just my take. But then, I'm of the school that thinks HP represent "the ability to avoid getting stabbed," and not "the ability to get stabbed and not die from it."

  25. If I were going with straight d6 damage, I think I'd want to regularly build in situations where different types of weapons would gain a situational benefit. Daggers gaining a bonus (or avoiding a penalty) to hit in a tight tunnel; blunt weapons against skeletons or similar, etc. I could also see allowing the Reach benefit to apply more frequently for two-handers; maybe do similar to what AD&D does- where the weapon with the greater reach strikes first when charging, or in the first round.

  26. Playing it pure-RAW using just the White Box rules was a really fascinating and, in many ways, liberating experience. It led to the memorable experience of a PC deciding it would be cheaper to sharpen the edges of copper coins and hurl them as weapons (since all weapons do the same damage). (That PC eventually died when a giant wolverine snatched one of the coins out of midair and plunged it into his larynx).

    Re: 2-handed weapons. The 1974 booklets basically didn't differentiate weapons at all. Which neatly alleviates any concerns for why two-handed weapons are penalized without any advantage. One can see how the (often misguided) quest for realism can lead one far astray: "Shouldn't bigger weapons take longer to swing?" (ignoring the abstract nature of combat and the advantage of reach) leads to the need to make two-handed weapons more powerful on the damage front (or vice versa).

    OTOH, in our White Box-only game there was a definite and persistent demand from players to differentiate between the different types of weapons: There's this list and they cost different amounts of money, right? Shouldn't there be differences to account for the differences?

    Which led us to use a house rule that I think I picked up from Grognardia: For small weapons (daggers, knives, etc.) you roll 2d6 and keep the lower; for two-handed and over-sized weapons you roll 2d6 and keep the highest.

    We've found this skews probability roughly equivalent to a +1 or -1, but without changing the actual range of potential damage.

    @Fumers: In increasing you to-hit target numbers from 19-20 to 18-20 you may have increased your odds by 150%, but you have still only increased your chance to hit by 5% (from 10% to 15%).

    Re: D20 encounter length. I've found that 3E encounters designed using the old school methods tend to take pretty much the same amount of time that pre-3E encounters take. The converse is also true: Design encounters for pre-3E using the fetishized My Precious, Precious Encounter method of encounter design and you end up with lengthy combats.

    (4E is a whole 'nother kettle of fish, having been designed from the ground-up for My Precious, Precious Encounter styles of play. It's also a whole 'nother game at some pretty fundamental levels, so that's perhaps unsurprising.)

  27. @JB- certainly, there's no reason for you to model missile combat or hit points differently.
    As I said in my original comment, everyone has to find their own way to this stuff. I've been playing since '78 and I've never liked the way hit points and damage work RAW in any version. EVER. Really, my view is more nuanced than I really want to go into here.

    However, I'm always interested to see how someone else justifies the abstractions they use, especially when said abstractions are well thought out.

  28. A note: it's true that WFRP uses d6 for damage, but it includes meaningful distinctions where they matter, e.g. 2-handed weapons, weapons with reach etc.
    Weeeeeell sort of. There are differences, but they're clearly marked as optional. The default is d6 for everything.

  29. I'm with J.D. Higgins on this one. Not an impressive argument.

    For starters, if getting one's throat slit = getting cut in half by a sword then why does getting *bitten* in half by a dragon cause more damage? You did state that monsters have variable damage so why the insistence on d6 only for weapons? After all, while they may look different, the guy halved by the sword and the guy bitten in half sure feel the same...

    The main problem I have is that, as J.D. put it, certain weapons ARE objectively superior. Let me expand a bit:

    Every weapon has one or more "tactical niches" that it occupies. Daggers primarily have one niche: CQB. Swords can handle more than one niche, and can even (albeit clumsily) provide service in a CQB situation. Put another way, a sword can be pressed to do a dagger's job (though not as well), but a dagger cannot do a sword's job *at all*.

    Also, there is the *quality* of damage. A dagger through the heart will kill your foe - in about 15 seconds... More than enough time for him (or her, or it) to kill YOU. On the other hand, a sword blow can take a head clean off, ending the fight instantly. A dagger *just can't do that*.

    Another consideration is ability to deal with armour. A dagger, or even a sword, is of limited utility against an armoured foe. On the other hand, a halberd or morningstar can at least ring their bell, and maybe quite a bit more.

    Finally, there is the *probability* of inflicting serious/lethal damage. A man with a dagger facing off against a swordsman is VERY unlikely to inflict more than a scratch or two before being decapitated/dismembered/ etc., which will be very easy for the swordsman to accomplish. Anyone who doesn't believe this is welcome to come by my place and put that theory to the ultimate test - you can pick any dagger you want and I'll take my Albion Regent. Not only will you die, in all probability *you will not even scratch me*...

    Note that I am not advocating for variable weapon damage per se. Rather, I am for weapon differentization, with the realization that in some circumstances certain weapons will have advantages (sometimes very significant) over others. Variable weapon damage is merely one of several tools that can be used to help accomplish that goal. I also oppose the unimpressive arguments raised in defense of the poorly thought out, throwaway d6 damage rule.

    In the end, if simplicity is the only goal of consequence, perhaps one should consider abandoning the D&D model and use the Dungeon/Chainmail Fantasy Supplement as a basis for the game. This would abstract combat out almost altogether, and allow you to explore, solve puzzles, or whatever, without being bothered by what you perceive to be the complexities and non-value added nature of combat.

  30. A dagger in the eye will kill you as quickly as being beheaded with a sword.

    A dagger is small and nimble enough to get in the places between armoured plates, the places a morning star can't reach.

    I don't see the problem.

  31. Weapons are objectively not equal to each other. A pencil through the eye will kill you like that dagger, but a pencil is not as effective a weapon as a sword ( a pen is another matter)

    I think people are confusing effectiveness of weapons with zero hp being the same regardless of how you got there.

  32. I don't know. You've killed the opponent with the pencil, so how is that not as effective as a sword? It has had the same effect -- killing the opponent -- so it is literally just as effective.

  33. To expand a bit, what the d6-for-all system emulates is a situation in which a competent combatant -- like an adventurer -- is going to have the ability to get the best out of a dagger, making it just as effective a weapon as a honking big sword.

    For example, Jason Bourne killed some mooks with a gun, but he also killed that one guy with a book.

  34. I don't know. You've killed the opponent with the pencil, so how is that not as effective as a sword?

    They had one hit point left. 1 dmg is as effective as 1-8 dmg at reducing someone by at least 1 hp. :)

    (If a player in my game wanted to attack an enemy with a pencil I might allow it to do 1 hp damage.)

    a competent combatant -- like an adventurer -- is going to have the ability to get the best out of a dagger, making it just as effective a weapon as a honking big sword

    I think this is a matter of genre. For my games I'd tell a player who wanted to kill people with books and spoons to play a Monk and we'd make that part of their unarmed attack.

    I don't want every character in the game to be a Wuxia style Kung-Fu master who can kill someone as effectively with uncooked spaghetti as they can with a sword. :)

  35. You miss my point. I'm not talking about emulating kung fu flicks, I'm talking about how a combat system which is based on abstraction -- rather than simulating individual strikes -- means that the bloke with the dagger -- or pencil -- is slipping it through gaps in armour, sticking it in vital areas and nicking tendons and arteries, resulting in the same overall damage as the brute with the battle axe plunging it deep into his opponent's shoulder.

    (This is all in JB's original post.)

    If you want to emulate individual strikes, then yes, there is an argument for varying weapon damage, but this is balanced out by varying weapon speeds, combat bonuses, etc. You get this in AD&D2 as I recall, and there are optional guidelines for something similar in the d6-for-all WFRP too.

    The thing is, we're not talking about emulating individual strikes. It's an abstract system. In the time it's taken Ugluk the barbarian to get a hit in with his tree branch club, Feston the thief has stabbed his opponent six or seven times with his trusty dagger, Eviscerator™, and so they both roll 1d6 for damage.

  36. How about this one:
    Instead of variable damage, give some weapons a small to-hit bonus. I think that models that it is just easier finding a way to kill somebody with a better weapon. Getting into stabbing reach with a knife is more difficult than trying to kill somebody with a shortsword (or even two of them).

  37. @ Stuart and Agantyr: Kelvin has the right of it folks. But maybe I should explain in slightly different terms:

    - Human WEAPONS (not spoons or pencils, but weapons designed to fighting knives and war hammers) do D6 damage. This is the range of damage a human can inflict assuming their training (class) and experience (level) allows them to inflict any at all (attack roll).

    - A ten second round is NOT simply one blow with a sword or one stab with a knife. It's individuals doing their best to kill each other with the weapons they have in ten seconds. If I'm using a hand axe, I may be knocking someone's weapon aside, clocking him in jaw with haft, and then bringing the head down twice in quick succession...ALL in one round. Assuming my damage roll is a 6, that means I did everything the best I could, and only luck and skill from my opponent (i.e. high hit points) or sheer beefiness (i.e. a monster's hit points) are going to save him. This can be extrapolated to whether you are wielding a dagger or a longsword or ANY weapon,

    - Monsters do different damage because they are MONSTERS. They don't have D4 hit points...they are large creatures with crazy-ass hit dice and natural weapons designed for destroying things. A dragon is more than the length/sharpness of its's the sheer bulk of the monster itself, the power of its jaws, the whip-strike of its neck, the acidity of its saliva...whatever. It gets three chances to do damage in a single round and has three different rolls...fortunately for adventurers, only one roll (the bite) is really nasty.

    Humans (and elves and dwarve and halflings) do D6 damage based on their weapons. Better weapons (for example, magic ones) have the ability to do more.

  38. I play in a completely home-brewed system that standardizes weapon damage as well. My argument stands that objects with heft or a sharp end can kill a goon.

    The argument that someone with a sword could hack up a dude with a dagger seems as over-simplified to me as standardized weapon dice are to you.

    You character's skill with a weapon should trump its construction. If you gave *me* a sword to fight against some knife fighter, I'm dead. I'm not that *skilled* and I'll bleed out before I can hit the dude effectively.

    I handle damage differently, too. While all weapons deal d6, a multiplier is tacked on. If I attack with a result of 15, and my rival defends with a result of 9, I'm rolling d6 x 6 damage (15 - 9 = 6). My group calls these successes.

    Ever since I've standardized weapons, I've had gadgeteers that use big wrenches for weapons, an intellectual theif that blow-darts her victims, and a crazy dual-mace warrior. What I've lost in some form of accurate representation of mortal combat I have gained in the variety of character styles.

    And why is everyone hung up on bonuses? Is not playing the character you *want* to play a bonus enough?

    I mean, I could role-play that I went out of my way to make sure my water was extra clean and crisp and my food organic, but should I get a +1 bonus to all actions for a couple hours?

  39. It seems pretty obvious to me that if a character with a weapon and shield gets +1 AC (or whatever) then, if you want some sort of equivalence, a character with a two-handed weapons should get +1 to hit. You trade offence for defence in equal measure and call it a day, never having to worry about variable damage. Of course, that makes no effort to address fighting with two weapons in the more general context of Fighting Techniques.

  40. I don't buy the argument.

    The only argument for standardized damage that makes any sense is "I prefer it".

    Long-winded justifications that attempt to base the idea on what ultimately is a claim of realism - that any weapon can kill you therefore all weapons are as dangerous as each other - are spurious.

    1. No, but your argument against it is an opinion.

      This is an abstract system where the deadliness of the weapon us subsumed in the characters attack bonus. It is also assumed that the characters are using weapons which rate a damage of d6.

      Reduced damage should be limited to the non-weapons (pencils and books and other weapons of opportunity).

      D&D is an AC system, so a bonus to hit is justified for weapons.

  41. I think if you're working with a pure d6 system like that it's really to an advantage just to treat 2 handed weapons in the same fashion. They act exactly the same as 1 handers. As for the speed/mass arguement, the weapon can just as easily be choked up on to use and has substantically more leverage using 2 hands. (Halfsworded, Yagyu etc.) Likewise, it takes little to deflect an incoming blow offline enough to counter that the speed issue is honestly irrelivent if the combatants are at least somewhat skilled.

  42. I've always liked the idea of 1d6 damage for all weapons. I also subscribe to the belief that ANY weapon can deliver a killing strike. I also like having proficiences/restrictions be a factor. So, any weapon that a PC is proficient in does 1d8, any weapon a PC can legally use does 1d6 & any weapon a PC cannot legally use does 1d4. I see no reason a Magic User can't pick up that short sword a felled NPC just dropped...he just won't do as much damage with it compared to a weapon he's more comfortable wielding. This is life or death combat we're talking about. I've never fired a crossbow before, but if my @$$ is on the line, I'm gonna try...

  43. Bravo. Nicely argued. But Moldvay has 1d4 hp for humans!? That's silly, I'll stick with OD&D 1d6.

    Strength Bonus. I don't really buy it as a general concept. Finesse is at least as important, but maybe a strngth bonus makes sense for some weapons, not for others. As it stands, I think its best just to ignore it.

    Nagora: Nonsense. The arguement is that the combat system was originally designed - as published in the 3LBB's - around the concept that all weapons are equally deadly in the hands of a wielder skilled in thier use. Variable damage was a tack on to that system, and it doesn't fit the original system design.

    Angantyr: You make naturalistic arguments on what you imagine to be real "facts" but research in to the matter contradicts the idea that "weapon size" is related to killing effectiveness. If you look at the forensic anthropolgy of war dead from the medieval to ancient periods, (the Visby analysis is one you can easily access data from but there's a good few reports out there) there is no clear distinction in terms of deadliness of large weapons over others. There are plenty of spear, arrow, and hammer/mace fatalities. Large weapons tend to show up more in limb damage, and there are very, very few examples of severed heads.

  44. Here's some comments from the website of old time wargamer T. Shiels

    "After my Army tour, I lived a bit too wild and got involved in too many scary episodes. It seemed like wasted talent, but when rewriting wargame rules it came to work for me. There is a way people fight, and it should be reflected in games. My problem with re-enactors is that their mock fights are bound by rules for safety and fairness. In a real situation where bodily harm is likely and safety rules do not exist, it gets very different...

    Chainmail came up short. I figured that the writers had never been in so much as a fistfight, never mind a brawl with polearms and axes. I had been in a couple of brawls that involved bats, barstools and other "field expedient" medieval weaponry....

    One thing we realized was that the writers of "Chainmail" had gotten too interested in weapons. Their rules gave certain implements a distinct advantage in hand-to-hand, man-to-man combat. The morningstar, mace, two-handed axe and two-handed sword were overwhelming, while the spear and sword came up short. In actual accounts of medieval close combat, the spear was favored. Dismounted French knights preferred to make spears of their lances than depend on maces or broad axes. The favorite battlefield weapon of the Samurai was a spear. The sword only came into play in situations where the spear was impractical. So why would "Chainmal" regard a spear as a weak weapon? Obviously, the writers were impressed with their idea of busting out armor. As with tanks, it is not armor penetration alone that makes a kill. One thing I learned from jujitsu, the Army and some other arcane studies (never mind!) was that weapon skill was personal. A warrior had his preferences, so a man who was good with, say, a mace would be the equal of a man who was skilled with the hand axe. The weapon was not as important as the man behind it. We dropped the idea of adding or subtracting for each type of weapon.

    A man going into a fight will take the weapon with which he is most secure. This goes for everything from bar room brawling to Indian raids. A man who is good with a chain will take it. The fellow who prefers a club won't want a chain. Though outsiders may view the chain as more effective because of its appearance and weight, you can be sure that a ghood club man will be equally effective with his choice of weapon. All the "Chainmail" weapon rule did was fuel the fires of those with a fascination for odd medieval fighting instruments.

    Another thing about weapons was environment. A chain is not very good when fighting in water or in thick brush. You need room to swing it. A club is fine provided you have room to swing it. In close quarters, a thrusting weapon would be better. Fighting in a tight hallway, swinging weapons are at a disadvantage.

    Hand-held weapons drop an enemy either by impact / concussion or cutting. A concussive weapon tends to be more effective in a very close fight. A sword, though it cuts, also acts as an iron bar. An axe is like a sharp truncheon. Pole weapons give that extra second or two to drop the enemy, hence most are for cutting. Though a cut is more likely to be fatal, it is less likely to drop an enemy instantly. Cuts take a few seconds more than impact... "

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  52. Had a s string of repeat posts there for some reason.

  53. Good convo guys. One thing I would like to point out is that, as a boxer, I can tell you that "one good, solid punch" will definitely not knock the average person out 50% of the time. even professional heavyweight boxers can't consistently knock people out with a single punch, even regular shmoes like you and me.

  54. Great post. Two points I would give my alternate opinion on.

    Class-based damage: I’ve come to think of damage & hp as the real factor in D&D combat. The “to hit” roll is (almost) mere window dressing. (A +1 to hit can be roughly considered a +0.175 to damage...if I’m doing my math right this late.) So, to me class-based damage can be a more appropriate way to make the differentiation of combat prowess between classes than the to hit progressions. I also like the idea of letting a mage use a sword but limiting it's damage to 1d4. In a sense it is a compromise between straight d6 and variable damage by weapon. If such a compromise is desired.

    Two-handed weapons: Between what I’ve read, what I’ve been told by people I trust in this area, and my own limited play-fighting experiences, a longer weapon is all advantage except in special circumstances. Length trumps speed. (Or to put it another way, a small movement of the hands with a long weapon translate into a large/fast movement of the business end of the weapon.) Secondary attack modes mean “getting inside” doesn’t give the shorter weapon the advantage you might expect. In short, I have a hard time accepting the two-handed weapons lose initiative rule even granting that it is an abstract system.

    The big problem, IMHO, is that to really get sensible differentiation you have to have a system that considers the weapon v. armor & weapon v. weapon match-ups. Something that looks like the Chainmail man-to-man table and weapon class rules. And so far I haven’t been willing to revisit that route. So, I have to accept that—even as an abstraction—combat is going to be more simplistic than I want it to be. Because—in the end—I want to get the fights over and get back to adventuring.

  55. I would largely agree with the contents of this post. The one quarrel I have is with initiative related to weapon size. Like the previous poster noted, the extra size of the weapon allow for hitting an incoming opponent sooner. Furthermore, any weapons that were actually used by combatants were never very heavy, at least not enough to really slow them down. 5lbs. is probably too heavy for any sword, two-handed or not. Plus, the fact that one is wielding a weapon in both hands should have at least some mitigating factor on the weight.
    Lastly, how one grips a larger weapon can be changed to adapt to close quarters combat. For instance, it was not uncommon for knights to grip their sword by the blade (which didn't need to be super sharp to be effective when swung) in order leverage the tip in between the opposing knight's armor. This was often necessary since you really never had a chance of cutting through your opponent's armor with a big swing.
    I don't claim to know the *best* way to handle two-handed weapons, I simply think there are problems with *this* way.

  56. @ Robert & Will:

    Re: "Slow 2-Handed Weapons"

    It is pretty amazing the difference a few pounds difference makes in wielding a weapon. As a fencer, I used a variety of different foils (I preferred the Italian grip, of course...old school), all fairly efficiently. Trying to wield my actual sword the same way...even with a great balance and same grip completely throws my hand off. And the difference between using a hatchet and an axe (even to chop wood) is a serious, pronounced difference. Ever try to swing a sledgehammer? Can you imagine trying to wield one in combat against a guy fighting tooth and nail with a light, agile weapon?

    Even with the ability to choke-up on your axe or two-hand your sword, doing so takes TIME...precious time that slows you down in a situation where every second is precious. I agree that length can trump speed...I know I would prefer a spear in most fighting situations. But there's a diminishing rate of return between the advantage of length and the weight of the weapon.

    Having said that, I can totally buy your arguments and would not fault you for ignoring the "last in initiative" rule. For me, it works (though I give folks a bonus to damage for using the 2-handers).
    : )

  57. I'm extremely late to the party, but for what it's worth, I'll throw in my 2 cents on this. Non-variable damage is unrealistic. Here's an example:

    Two 1st level fighters wield a battle axe and a dagger respectively. They duel in an open grassy field with no environmental factors, wear no armor whatsoever and their to hit targets are equal. They have exactly the same amount of training in their respective weapons.

    Really, the only thing left here is physics. Plain and simple. Imagine the two fighters swinging wildly at each other. Hits would be scored with an equal probability since our sample is equal, and I would imagine that neither would have a great chance of targeting "vital" areas because they are equally trained in defending those places.

    Now you're telling me that a swipe with a dagger would have the exact same effect as a swipe with a battle axe?

    In other words, when all other things *are equal*, there is absolutely no reason for physics to be the ONLY factor that matters. The axe is equally sharp as the dagger, but is far heavier. An averagely swung slice with a dagger is likely to produce a nasty cut across the hand, arms, legs, face or shoulder. An averagely swung slice with a BATTLE AXE is likely to produce missing appendages.

    The former may cause the individual to swoon in pain, but applying pressure and bandages will likely heal it within a few days. The latter would produce instant shock, paralysis and severe bleeding - in all likelihood, death within seconds or minutes.

    There's a reason why executioners used large axes or halberds rather than daggers. Physics. The scientific method requires a control and experimental groups. It's simple to understand why variable weapons work when they are tested against a sterile, controlled environment first like this example.

    Now put the dagger wielding fighter in shadows, or in a narrow cave tunnel and his advantage becomes obvious, but that doesn't change the physics of the weapons.

    Another problem I have is when big monsters come into play. A battle axe is really going to have the same effect as a dagger vs a dragon? A dagger relies on hitting vitals to be effective. A dragon's vitals are FAR harder to reach than a regular humanoid all things considered equal.

    For the argument that non-variable weapon damage is easier, I'd argue that variable weapon damage is more fun. Being able to throw a unique die for your character makes your role in combat more *unique*. If my weapon looks different from yours, it only makes sense for it to roll differently than yours.

    And really, is it really that hard to remember what your weapon rolls?

    1. @ gaelic:

      It really depends on what you want to model. I'm not interested on modeling the physics of a weapon (and even if I was, variable damage dice is a poor way to do it, IMO). Personally, I don't thing the glorious founders were trying to say bigger mass = bigger damage...or at least, that wasn't their original idea. Certainly I'm trying to model something different.

      As to the headsman's axe: I think there IS a reason why a heavy bladed weapon was used for execution over a dagger, but it had little to fo with an axe's 'greater killing power.' Slitting a throat or puncturing a caratoid artery is just as effective, if not MORE so (prior to the in mention of the guillotine, the axe sometimes took multiple 'whacks' to get the job done). Read up on your English history; a Saxon with a Germanic history was a bit less inclined to be 'bled out' like a slaughtered animal!

    2. I'm sorry, but a dagger is not as effective at ending one's life as quickly as a heavy executioner's axe. The point of an execution (at least a "humane" one) is to end life as quickly and as painlessly as possible. You're likely to accomplish that much quicker with a heavy, and targeted, slice to the neck.

      My point still stands. "When all factors are equal", physics is the only thing left during a battle that actually matters. Variable weapon damage simulates a weapons physical properties better than non-variables damage does.

      And what do you mean, "what do I want to simulate"? I want to simulate a fantasy battle as realistically AND as efficiently as possible. Variable weapon damage does both better (not perfectly) than non-variable damage.

  58. For what it’s worth, I’ve currently switched back to variable weapon damage in order to represent the advantage that I want longer weapons to have. I tried representing that other ways, but I find this works best for me.

    I’ve also switched to generic weapons where the price is determined based on the stats and the player can call it whatever they want.

    I’m still a fan of fixed damage, but this is what I want for my current games.

    Also, I’ll take the observations of an experienced soldier over thought experiments every time. (I’ll generally take actual research over a soldier’s observations as well.)