Monday, October 20, 2014

Revisiting Variable Weapon Damage

Let's see...where was I? Oh, yeah...basic weapons.

[I suppose I should extend a congrats to the St. Louis Skaven this week...those tricksy, tricksy rats. Congrats. I was smart enough to only have a couple Fullers on hand this weekend so as not to get too tossed. Ugh...]

Taking a look at the Moldvay list, I find that I want to talk about variable weapon damage. Back in 2009, while working on my B/X Companion, I thought it would be a great idea to vary weapon damage by character class instead of by weapon (an option I included in the book), in order to allow PCs of any flavor to use whatever gear best suited their personal taste. Over 18 months later, after many actual games of awesome B/X play I came to the conclusion that I really preferred straight, Rules As Written, D6 damage for ALL weapons (with minor bonuses for two-handed weapons). I wrote why here, and have been using some variation of "standard D6 damage" ever since.

However, with some evolving ideas I have regarding the nature of hit points, I'm starting to reconsider my stance. Yes, it's easy (for me) to roll D6s when it comes to damage...but then, I've been working on getting rid of damage rolls, anyway. With that in mind, does a six point range of damage make sense?

So we come to that wonderful unit of measure, the hit die, and what it represents. Simply put it is a measure of attacking power, equal to one human scale soldier.

The ashcan that started it all.
There are no "hit dice" in Chainmail; at least, the explicit term is not used. The number of dice rolled for attack (and the target number needed to "kill") depends on what type of troop attacking and the type of troop being attacked. Hit dice, as explained in the second book of OD&D (Monsters & Magic) is described in terms of the default combat system (Chainmail, remember?) so that an ogre (with 4+1 HD) would roll 4 times, attacking the same as 4 men, and requiring the equivalent of 4 wounds (four successful attack rolls) to kill. The +1 gives the ogre a +1 on one of these attack rolls and +1 to the number of "hits" (i.e. HPs) possessed.

Again, these attack dice are not as straightforward as they might appear, as they depend on the type of troop being attacked to figure their relative value. Chainmail is explicit that an ogre fights as "heavy foot." With 4 HD, these attack dice look like the following against various defenders:

vs. Light Foot: roll 4d6, any 5+ kills.
vs. Heavy Foot: roll 4d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Armored Foot; Light Horse: roll 2d6, any 6 kills.
vs. Medium/Heavy Horse: roll d6, any 6 kills.

[remember, the ogre receives a +1 bonus on one die roll, so (for example) really only needs to roll a 5+ against a medium or heavy horseman]

Using OD&D's alternative combat system (the D20 system in place with every edition since, and which is the base for D20 in general), hit dice transforms to a probability of inflicting damage within one round of combat, and a measure of vitality (HPs) for a creature, each HD being equivalent to a single fighting man...the latter being made clear with the advent of Supplement I (Greyhawk) when both fighters and monsters were awarded D8 hit points per HD (and non-martial adventurers/humans being awarded fewer).

Here in Greyhawk we see the first "variable damage by weapon" chart, which is generally adapted in Moldvay. The only differences found (at least where the weapons on the two lists match) are the pole arm whose D8 damage in OD&D increases to D10 damage in B/X (matching the missing "halberd" damage type), and the spear which, in OD&D, has 3 different damage ranges depending on how it is used. Both sword and battle axe are given D8 damage...though note that a battle axe does not carry the "two-handed only" restriction found in B/X.

Just for review, here's how the variable damage types break down (in B/X, which contains a better "dungeoneering weapon list"):

D4 damage: torch, dagger, sling stone ("rock"), club ("stick")
D6 damage: arrow/quarrel, hand axe, mace/hammer, spear, "short sword"
D8 damage: battle axe, "normal sword"
D10 damage: pole arm, two-handed sword

The more I stare at this list, the more sense it starts to make for me...but only with a changing idea of what hit points are.

See, before I was looking at the D6 damage thing in light of the idea that all normal humans have D4 hit points...a range of 1 to 4. But this isn't entirely accurate. A human being in B/X (or OD&D + supplements) has a HP range of 1 to 8 (with a single hit die); however, most humans encountered aren't "worthies" sporting more than four. Allow me to break it down (a little different from my D6 post):

  • 1 hit point: an individual on death's door. Any damage will slay this person. True invalids, babies, people without the will or strength to stand on their own. Such individuals may take no action in combat, save to crawl around on the floor.
  • 2 hit points: small children or the elderly. People with diminished capacity, suffering from severe illness, or wounds. Such an individual might survive a weapon wound...if they're very lucky. Such individuals suffer a -2 penalty to attack rolls in combat.
  • 3 hit points: a "deficient" person...someone who's out of shape, lacks energy/vitality or a "will to live," but who is otherwise capable of normal (if weak) human action.
  • 4 hit points: a normal person in full health.
  • 5 hit points: a normal person in full health but one who is exceedingly healthy/strong in body OR incredibly strong-willed and spirited (able to fight through pain/illness, etc.).
  • 6 hit points: a normal person in full health who is both exceedingly strong in body AND in willpower/spirit.

To this range of 1 through 6 use the following adjustment:

  • If a character has had formal fight training (professional soldiers, noblemen, etc.) add +2 hit points.

This gives us the full range of 1 to 8.

This is what I'm currently using, by the way, to calculate HPs for creatures of all shapes and sizes (and by reverse applying these principles, for finding out what kind of monster is encountered based on the average number of HPs per HD the thing has). A normal "orc soldier" would have 6 hit points, for exceptionally strong or cunning one would have 7, while a leader type with both size and an iron will would have the full 8 hit points. A soldier "past his prime" (perhaps retired based on injury in battle) would still have 5 hit points (3 HP category + 2) while even an elderly chap (if he can carry a sword) would still have 4 hit points.

12 to 14 HPs
This is per hit die, you understand. The aged gnoll warrior would have 8 HPs (2 HD at four each) compared to average adult warrior, who'd have 12 (6 per die). If they were hardened veterans, they'd have 14 apiece, while elite types (the chief's bodyguards and such) would have 16. A gnoll child would be pretty tough (4 hit points), but would not fight as well as a human warrior (-2 penalty to attack rolls, reducing Base Attack Bonus to +0).

OKAY...having given you an overview of this "HD reinterpretation," let's look at the weapons and their damage maximums.

First, change the term "short sword" for one-handed sword, and "normal sword" for longsword. Then consider the following:

  1. Remember that damage range is based on "roll over" attack number and so die type (in this case) equals "maximum rollover" (i.e. maximum damage).
  2. Battle-axes and longswords (both with a maximum length of c. 4') can be used one or two-handed.
  3. When used two-handed (and only when used two-handed) these weapons bump their maximum damage from 6 to 8.
  4. True "two-handed" weapons (zwiehanders and pole arms) have additional penalties when used within the close confines of a dungeon environment (even in a wide chamber, you're often dealing with a low ceiling, precluding the full range of motion...poleaxes and two-handed swords inflict their greatest damage when being swung downwards on an opponent). Personally, I would probably model this with a -2 penalty to both attack and maximum damage...but in an open space/chamber, these weapons could prove devastating).

Here we see the damage range of all weapons is enough to slay an adult human at least 50% of the time with anything bigger than a dagger, stick, or rock (these "lesser" weapons can still inflict death on a healthy adult person with a perfect strike of "4 over"). A perfect blow with a one-handed weapon will slay even a trained warrior ("6 over") and a perfect strike from a two-handed weapon will slay even an elite fighting man ("8 over").

The "Big Boys" (two-handed swords and pole arms) have the potential to deliver significant "over-damage," but rather than giving them a ten point damage range, this might be better modeled by having them decrease the effectiveness of armor by 2 (a +2 bonus to attack individuals wearing armor) and leaving their maximum damage at 8. Remember, wearing armor not only makes it more difficult for your opponent to inflict damage but reduces your opponent's ability to inflict significant damage (because the "roll over" target is higher). A +2 bonus to attack armor reduces armor's effectiveness, and increases the chance of doing good (i.e. "killing") damage.

Okay, that's about it for this series...though there might be a slight addendum tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment