Saturday, July 12, 2014

Let's Try Reality!

[AKA Going with the Madness Part 2]

I'm done talking about Basic D&D for the foreseeable future...and thank God for that. As a means to "clear my head" a bit, I've decided to dive into the deeper end of the pool by involving my brain in Alexis's recent hit point shenanigans (those who haven't been following might consider reading his posts from July 7th till today). The gist? Monsters found in the wild, especially organized humanoid warriors (i.e. your classic orc or dwarf or whatever "soldier") should, generally, have a higher hit point per hit die than the straight 1 to 8 7 to 8 instead with the occasional 5 or 6 thrown in. Why? To reflect the fact that most of the "runts" of their species would have been weeded out in earlier battles, even assuming they'd been deemed fit for combat...and soldiers don't voluntarily send their sickly and wounded out on raids or into battles.

It's sound reasoning, and echoes Gygax's own least according to this post I read regarding EGG's (never realized) plans for the 2nd Edition AD&D:

"...As a matter of fact, adult critters were assigned 7-12 HPs per HD in my AD&D campaign -- have been given the same in what I have designed for the [Castles & Crusades] game system. Also, with increase in damage due to Strength, all large and powerful monsters, including ogres and giants, gain a damage bonus equal to their number of HD...

"...As too often "weak" monsters were randomly generated, I also planned to have robust adults possess HP totals something over 50% of the possible maximum by using a HP generation system such as 3-4, 4-6, 6-10, 7-12 using the appropriate die to determine the actual number generated -- d2, d3, d4, d5, d6. Non-robust -- immature, old, sick, injured, or even non-physically active sorts such as spell caster -- monsters would have the obverse HP range using the same type of die without addition."

Needless to say, if it makes sense to Gary, shouldn't it make sense to every Old Schooler?
; )

Now clearly, I'm not one for naturalism (Gygaxian or otherwise) or trying to seriously model "reality" in my games. "Abstract" gaming that still models a particular style (and allows for engagement in "tactics") is what I strive for. For example, in Five Ancient Kingdoms a properly equipped fighter achieves a bonus from fighting on horseback...on the other hand, I've done away with hit points for monsters, instead simply counting "wounds" inflicted against a monster's Hit Dice.

[which means, for example, that a 4HD ogre would only be felled after sustaining four "wound" being the measurement of the amount of damage needed to down a normal human. This is a throwback to the Chainmail system and what "hit dice" in monsters originally represented, BTW]

I don't try to model the nuts-and-bolts of reality...probably because (in my experience) worrying too much about the little things detract from game play. Even when one is incredibly proficient at using the AD&D books (which I once was), it can change the focus of the game, in a way that I don't find terribly fun...or rather, not as fun as my current laissez-faire attitude towards such things.

[note how I liked the whole abstract Advantage-Disadvantage thing in Basic D&D?]

That being said, there's a part of me that still enjoys the complex and occult nature of AD&D (1st edition only, thanks), and many of his modifications, such as the aforementioned HP modification as well as giving players and monsters base hit points according to mass, are sensible for this style of play. I mean, you really can't kill a whale with a sword...why not just roll with the madness?

Alexis's current system of determining HPs is: random HPs based on mass PLUS full HPs (at 1st level) for class PLUS Constitution bonus (if any) EQUALS starting hit points. Based on his table, this gives humans and dwarves an extra D8, elves an extra D6, and halflings an extra D4 HPs for mass.

[I'm using the average weights from the Basic D&D Rules, since I don't have my AD&D books with me in Paraguay. I should note humans top out at 270# which can put them in the D10 range...but that still doesn't account for folks like Andre the Giant (520#) and "Thor" Bjornsson (440#), darn it!]

440 pounds of rape and pillage.
I asked Alexis why he didn't assign a flat HP bonus based on specific mass and make the class roll random to represent the "vagaries" of how well a character might have "trained" in their adventuring profession. Welp, he feels that "mass" only provides a range of possible hit points, but the real vagaries are in how that mass is put together: body construction, overall health, and fitness.

But, hey: can't we model that with a character's ability scores?

Let's add together Strength, Dex, and Constitution to provide a human range of "fitness," and to be fair we'll give extra weight to Strength (add it twice) as it really models how developed the muscles of the body are (as opposed to Dex - which measures limberness, flexibility, and coordination - and Con, which measures fortitude and "system health"). This gives a human fitness range of 12-72, which is easy enough to divide over those eight "mass" points:
12-18 = 1 hps
19-26 = 2 hps
27-33 = 3 hps
34-41 = 4 hps
42-49 = 5 hps
50-57 = 6 hps
58-64 = 7 hps
65-72 = 8 hps

[please note: this does not account for "exceptional strength," that special province of the fighter; this would already be considered in the fighter's training, i.e. his/her extra HPs per level. Here we are only looking at "base mass" available to all humans]

[note also that there would still be a bell curve to the "mass index" as people would tend towards "average" fitness levels based on average (10.5) ability scores; it's still the extra (class) training that makes the difference for PCs]

Similar tables for the other humanoids can be easily whipped up in an Excel spread sheet. You'll have to take into account the actual range of ability scores for elves and dwarves, etc. to devise similar spreads for their "mass type die" (again, I don't have my old PHB with me, so I can't do it for you...sorry).

Now, while I can see the logic in doing HPs by "mass plus class" (can I just call this "MPC?"), and the sound reasoning of having humanoid warriors at the upper end of the HP spectrum (7-8 per die with the occasional 5 and 6), one part of Alexis's campaign that did NOT jibe with me was the randomness of weapon damage. If we are trying to make the random vagaries of fate (which exist) more consistent with reality as we know it, shouldn't something be done about this 1D8 strike from my trusty battle axe? I am truly tired of my 4th level fighter rolling an 18 to hit and then only doing "1" point of damage. And as a DM, this kind of crap already makes my combats too long to work out (and that was back before I decided to give all the orcs a boost to their HPs!).

I brought this up to Alexis as well, but he feels the potential gain from trying to model something here is outweighed by the reality of implementation (i.e. it will slow play down too much to have extra tables for weapons, which are used often, as opposed to HP determination, which is only done at character creation or upon infrequent "leveling up"). Well, perhaps here I can call upon my abstract design principles to help out!

Assuming we are using variable weapon damage (this is AD&D, right?), there's a reason why the weapons have varying die types for damage: namely, the "naturalism" of the game assumes a range of damage can be inflicted that is limited by the form of the weapon. A dagger does 1D4 and not 1D6 because its maximum damage potential is 4...that is the extent of the wound a successful attack with a dagger can inflict. A properly wielded broadsword (2D4) does at least 2 points of damage due to his weight and heft with a maximum of 8 points for a "perfect stroke." The minimum amount of damage a longsword can do is 1 (a small cut/laceration) with a maximum of 12 if plunged deep into the vitals of a large-sized creature (presumably, the longsword's maximum of 8 against man-sized creatures means the "extra" goes out the back...note that 8 is also the maximum hit points for an average massed human with no adventurer training; this is thus a "mortal blow" to even the hardiest untrained individual).

So assuming that the designers knew what they were doing when statting up these weapons (and as they were hardcore grognards and ancient weapon researchers, why shouldn't we?), we'll figure these are accurate ranges. Now we just need to minimize the variables for more consistent (*ahem* "realistic") outcomes.

We'll discard the idea of basing damage off the result of the D20 attack roll. The attack roll is already a necessary evil of abstraction in order to speed game play. Alexis has already incorporated random "crits" and "fumbles" (drops/broken weapons) into the attack roll...let's not burden the poor mechanic anymore.

Instead, we look to class and level.  In AD&D, you must choose the weapons in which you are proficient (choices being limited by class). It can be assumed that choosing a weapon proficiency means choosing to make its use part of your "adventuring repertoire" and a subject of your ongoing training; over time, with experience and practice, you familiarize yourself with the best way to use the weapon, its best techniques and maneuvers, and work to perfect your attacks and counterattacks. You LIMIT the randomness of the damage, based on your ongoing dedication to your weapon. How do we translate that? As a bonus to the weapon damage roll.

No, this is not specialization; that's something different. This bonus simply maximizes the potential of the does not increase the range of damage, but instead allows you to make the perfect attack. When you make a successful attack roll, you add your bonus to the damage roll, but the maximum damage possible (adjusted for strength and enchantment) cannot be exceeded!

For example, if my fighter receives a +3 to his longsword and rolls a 5, he turns that middling stroke into a killing blow (8). If he rolls an 8, he has already achieved the "master blow," and so no additional damage is done (unless modified for Strength or the weapon's +2 nature).

Class and level provides the means for determining the damage bonus (with the understanding that this bonus only applies to weapons in which the character is proficient). Personally, I would base it on the same rate of advancement as the AD&D combat tables:

Clerics: +1 for every three levels
Fighters: +1 for every two levels
Magic-Users: +1 for every five levels
Thieves: +1 for every four levels

I would also consider awarding the bonus for weapons from 1st level, at least for the fighter class; in other words, a fighter would receive a +1 damage bonus with all proficient weapons at 1st level, +2 at 3rd level, +3 at 5th level, +4 at 7th level, etc. (the other classes have too much else "on their plate" at 1st level, but their weapon training would proceed thereafter). Note: this has the built-in effect of making the more complex weapons more challenging to learn. A person can become a deadly knife-fighter long before they master the sword.

Ahhh. Sweet reality.
: )


  1. “So assuming that the designers knew what they were doing when stating up these weapons (and as they were hardcore grognards and ancient weapon researchers, why shouldn't we?)”

    Maybe because “they” gave the shield just a 1 point of AC bonus in melee.

    Some interesting ideas going here. Why not just divide Con by 2 or (STR+CON) by 4? End up with an average of 5 .5 ,which isn’t far off of the average of many rolls of the d8 and is the average of many rolls of 1d8+1. When dealing with potentially hundreds at a time sometimes the easy work is the best work.

    The 440 lbs of rape and pillage just isn’t 1st level either is he? He’s an experienced veteran with years of carnage under his belt, he’s not just an example of mass but of experience coupled with mass. That’s what a 10% bonus to exp for high STR may look like in an 8th level fighter.

    1. @ JD:

      Re: abilities used. Alexis's point for random HPs (for mass) was that QUALITY of mass (what I call "fitness") varies. My own working knowledge of sports/athletics leads me to consider dexterity as part of the measures of fitness. Meanwhile, Con is kind of like, well, "constitution." It's the character's immune system and fortitude (how well he/she rolls with system shock and resurrection). Strength is the real "quality of muscle mass;" that's why I weighted it double for this purpose.

      I didn't want to just use "random averages" since that was kind of defeating the whole point of the exercise.

      "The Mountain" has presumably put on weight (along with levels) over the years, but probably no more than 160# in the 16 years since the original revolution (I've only put on about 3# per year in my 15 years of marriage...and that's with a change to a very sedentary lifestyle) other words, he probably started out as well over the "human max," even at 1st level.

    2. @ JD (again):

      Re: shields

      This is a throwback to Chainmail and the original combat system before the "alternative combat system" of OD&D was adapted as THE system, Patches to "fix" shields have been proposed and tried ever since, when what's really needed is a reexamination of armor and shield use in relationship to the existing game system.

      But I hear you, man.
      ; )

    3. @ Everyone (regarding "the Mountain"):

      I suppose you COULD add an extra 2# to a fighter's mass per point of "exceptional strength." This would allow for truly weighty fighters (am I the only person who dislikes using "pounds" to represent "mass" instead of kilos?)...someone like Clegane or Dragonlance's Caramon who'd have exceptional strength in the 80+ range would need to use the higher range of Alexis's mass table.

      Just an idea. Alexis may already do something like that (I only ever played an assassin in his campaign, so didn't have to deal with "exceptional" strength).

  2. Wow, you still got it, man! A great, substantive post about D&D mechanics, nice and meaty in true Blackrazor style that makes me jealous because I couldn't write it! Welcome back! Thanks for a great post. You can even make a "Tao" topic palatable ;-)

  3. Typical of online game design, the post above is all structure. No attention at all is paid to either functionality or the perceived behaviour of the user, or player, since neither is part of the formulation suggested. Let's throw structure at it and hope it works!

    "Substantive"? Yes. Like a cell phone case with no workings.

    1. @ Alexis:

      Ah! My cornflakes! What are you doing?!
      ; )

      Although it isn't explicitly stated in the post above, I was taking into account "functionality" and player behavior. Specifically, I considered what would be fairly painless (regarding the weapon damage bonus): under the two principles of "players never complain about more of anything" and ease of tracking (a small note to damage bonus next to a weapon).

      Regarding "un-randomizing mass"...sure, I'm creating an arbitrary "fitness" number based on abstract ability scores, fitting form to random numbers in a very off-hand manner. I suppose, though, that one COULD create a table that cross-references weight (er, "mass")...the actual known poundage of characters...with Strength alone (since, of the AD&D ability scores, strength is the "least squishy" providing an actual quantitative figure on what can be lifted and carried) to compute a hard number for "mass HPs" (i.e. healthy, fit, body) without the need for a random roll...and once such a table was created it would be a small thing to implement its use. My choice in referring to the other ability scores was just my personal whimsy, I guess.

    2. Yes, the players will take everything you give them, until they're so powerful they're bored. You sorely underestimate the uncertainty of rolling dice for damage after hitting; by a certain level, the players won't even have to name their damage, they'll just roll to hit - then you'll record the damage automatically. There goes a die roll, there goes any drama associated with damage and . . . YAWN. Go ahead. Give it a try.

    3. "No attention at all is paid to either functionality or the perceived behaviour of the user, or player, since neither is part of the formulation suggested."

      Functionality? I believe that was implied. But of course, why should anyone EVER leave ANYTHING up to the limited faculties of the masses, the majority of which are, of course, severely limited in their mental capacities and ability to make their own deductions? No, indeed, one must always assume stupidity by default among the "dear readers." It is known, as they say.

      Perceived player behavior? What? Someone is supposed to measure human behavior now? I guess someone who thinks that most human beings are predictable automatons might make such an assertion, but for the rest of us...well, human behavior is something for which you prepare to encouter as much as possible, mostly to be ready to adapt to unpredictable behaviors.

  4. Nice use of ability scores/attributes. Reminds me of my old post about comeliness.

  5. @ Anthony and Theo:


  6. @ Alexis:

    I HAVE tried it. My Five Ancient Kingdoms game does not have random damage rolls. In practice, it works fine; you retain the drama of combat, but have one less die roll. My players still had fun.

    But AD&D is a different animal (clearly!).
    : )

    @ Anthony:

    No need, man.
    ; )