Friday, May 4, 2012

"D&D" DIY Disaster!

Inspired by a vertitable host of ambitious do-it-yourself-ers out there I was gonna try and run my first heavily-modded D&D game soon.  As a preamble to this I wanted to address an element of D&D combat that's always left me scratching my simian cranium (or my "simianium" as it were).

Regardless of edition (I've played Mentzer's BEC box sets, AD&D, Second Edition and finally  3 *slash* 3.5), Armor Class has always represented the number an attacker has to beat on a d20 roll in order to land a successful blow and cause damage.  This roll has always been influenced by the attacker's Strength modifier for Melee attacks and Dexterity modifier for Ranged attacks.  AC itself has always been the product of a defender's Dexterity modifier and whatever armor they've managed to seal themselves up in.

Or not seal themselves up in, as the case may be.

Frankly it's always bugged me that: 

(1) Beating the target's Armor Class meant that you hit your target and damaged them all in one handy-dandy roll.    

(2) Brute Strength influences whether or not you successfully tag a Goblin in the cranium with a pick-axe.

(3) You cause damage to your target in the exact same manner regardless of what kind of armor they're wearing.

So, I tried to come up with an alternate idea.  In doing so I ended up venturing deep down the rabbit hole, eventually popping back up very close to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.  

My quest began with an earnest question: "If I'm charging at a bullywug with a mace in my hand what innate ability (not counting experience) will effect my ability to smash his stupid froggy face in?"  If I were wielding a particularly heavy weapon, a high Strength would be helpful since it would give me more control over my swing.  But this kinda comes out in the wash with damage.

"Come at me, bro!  My fish-head gauntlets are impregnable!"

What about using Dexterity as the attacking modifier?  Wouldn't that make more sense?  Wouldn't  good manual Dexterity allow you to really measure your opponent?  Overcome your quarry's defensive feints and parries?  Allow you to smoke them right in the nards instead of the shoulder?

As for the intended target, of course Dexterity should still be the defacto modifier.  But isn't it a bit far-fetched to expect that someone in a full suit of field plate is somehow less of a ripe target then someone in a loin cloth?

Before I give you an in-game scenario, let's establish a coupla ground rules:

*  Let's use 3.5's more-varied ability score modifiers, attack bonus structure and AC base of
   10 modified only by Dexterity and Shield use!  In doing so, let's re-christen Armor Class as
    Defense Rating (DR).

*  Let's use the Armor Maximum Dexterity Bonus.

*  Let's use the following damage reduction sytem for armor worn:
  • No armor, clothing, buck nekkid (0 damage reduction)  
  • Padded armor (0-1 damage reduction)  
  • Leather armor (0-2 damage reduction) 
  • Studded Leather, Ring mail or Hide (0-3 damage reduction) 
  • Chain shirt or Scale mail (0-4 damage reduction) 
  • Chain mail, Breast plate (0-5 damage reduction)    
  • Splint mail and banded mail (0-6 damage reduction) 
  • Half-plate Minus (0-7 damage reduction) 
  • Full-plate armor  (0-8 damage reduction)
"I asked for War Duke, not Marma..."

*  Let's also use Weapon vs. AC adjustments.  Something fairly simple, like what Bat in the Attic
    proposed.  Only difference is that I'd make these damage adjustments and not "to hit" adjustments.

For example:

Padded Armor: Bludgeoning Weapons do -2 damage
Leather Armor:  Bludgeoning and Slashing Weapons do -1 damage
Ring Mail Armor: Bludgeoning Weapons do +1 and Slashing Weapons do -1 damage
Scale Mail Armor: +1 Bludgeoning, -1 Slashing, +1 Piercing
Chain Mail Armor: +1 Bludgeoning, -2 Slashing, +2 Piercing
Banded Armor: +1 Bludgeoning, -2 Slashing
Plate Armor:  +1 Bludgeoning, -3 Slashing

So, with all of this firmly in place, let's look at an in-game scenario pitting... 

Jacinda the Irresistible  Fighter Level Three  STR 13 (+1) CON 10 (0) DEX 16 (+3) Hit Points: 10+6+7 = 23  Armor: Leather Weapon: Spear (1d8 Piercing)   Defense Rating (DR): 10 + Dex bonus = 13  Level Attack Bonus: +3


Balto the Immovable  Fighter Level Two  STR 16 (+3) CON 14 (+2) DEX 09 (-1) Hit Points: 10 + 5 + 4 (Con bonus) = 19  Armor: Chain plus small shield Weapon: Long Sword (1d8 Slashing) Defense Rating: 10 - Dex penalty + shield bonus of 1 = 10 Level Attack Bonus: +2

Jacinda the Irresistible stumbles upon a bridge guarded by Balto the Immovable.  Balto, in a threadbare Arthurian cliché, demands that Jacinda pay a toll in order to pass.  Jacinda, following standard procedure, tells Balto to go fuck himself and then proceeds to cross the bridge.  One third of the way over, Balto takes up his sword, shouts a challenge and charges at her.

"How many stupid tourists do you think we can sucker 'tolls' out of before the town guard shows up?"

Round One 

Initiative Roll (using d6, modified by Dexterity): Jacinda gets a 1.  With her Dex bonus of three her Initiative total is 4.  Balto rolls a 5 and subtracts 1 for his clumsy ass.  It's a tie and both attacks occur simultaneously!

Jacinta rolls 10 + 3 for her Dex and + 3 for her level for a total of 16.  Balto rolls 15 -1 for his Dex and +2 for his level, giving him a grand total of 14.  Jacinta hits Balto's DR of 10 and Balto lands a blow by exceeding Jacinta's DR of 13.

But how will damage work out?  Jacinta rolls a 3 but it's bumped up to 5 vs. Balto's Chain Mail and another +1 for her STR bonus.  Balto gets an 5 but it's reduced to 4 by Jacinta's leather cuirass and then jacked back up to 7 thanks to his above-average Strength.

Now we have armor checks.  Jacinta rolls a d6 randomly to see if her leather absorbs either (1-2) zero, (3-4) one or (5-6) two points of damage.  She rolls a 1 so she takes all 7 points and is now down to 14 Hit Points.

Balto checks to see if his chainmail thwarts any damage with the following cross-reference on a d6 roll (resuting damage in brackets):  1(0) 2 (1) 3 (2) 4 (3) 5 (4) 6 (5).  He rolls a 3, preventing two points of damage.  He's now at 16.  

Round Two

Initiative Roll (d6): Jacinda gets a 5.  With her Dex bonus of three her Initiative total is 8.  Balto rolls a 1 so who gives a shit.

Jacinta rolls 13 (+ 3 for her Dexterity, +3 for her level) for a grand total of 19!  She then rolls an 8 for damage adding 2 for her weapon vs. armor bonus plus another point for her Strength.  With the damage now sitting at 11, Balto rolls his armor check, rolling 5 and preventing 4 damage.  He's now at 9 Hit Points and having seriously regrets about attacking this crazy chick.

"I gotcher phallic symbol right here, pal!"

He follows this up with a hit roll of 9, adding one for a total of 10.  Unburdened by heavy armor and fleet of foot, Jacinta deftly leaps out of the way of Balto's incoming sweep!

Round Three

Initiative Roll (d6): Jacinda gets a 4.  With her Dex bonus of three her Initiative total is 7.  Balto rolls a 5 (-1 for having two left feet) so who gives a shit.

Jacinta rolls a 4 + 3 for her Dexterity and +3 for her level for a grand total of 10!  Balto manages to bat her spear away with his shield!  

Balto swings with a hit roll of 14, adding one for a total of 15.  It's a hit!  He chucks a 3 for damage.  Jacinta's S&M gear reduces this to 2 but Balto's +3 STR bonus vs. leathery attire makes for a respectible 5 points of damage.

Jacinta then rolls randomly to see if her leather absorbs anything.  She rolls a 6, preventing two points.  She's now down to 12 Hit Points! 

Round Five

Initiative Roll (d6): Jacinda gets a 2.  With her Dex bonus of three her Initiative total is 5.  Balto rolls a 6 (-1 for being a clumsy oaf) so he manages to secure a tie.

Jacinta rolls 14 + 6 for a total of 20.  Balto rolls 11 + 1 for a total of 12.  Jacinta easily hits Balto's AC of 10 while Balto hacks off Jacinta's top-knot as she ducks just underneath his blade.

While ducking, Jacinta takes the opportunity to jam her spear into Balto's gutteral area (conveniently located between the links of his mail).  She rolls a 4 but it's bumped up to 6 vs. Balto's Chain Mail and another +1 for her STR bonus for a total of 7. 

Balto then does his armor check. He rolls a 5, preventing four points of damage.  He takes the remaining three right in the bread basket, putting him at 6.

"Alright, it's starting to sting a bit now."

Round Five

Initiative Roll (d6): Jacinta gets a 5, and with her Dex bonus, Balto prepares to have his spleen perforated.

Jacinta rolls another 14 + 6 for a grand total of 20.  She rolls a 5 for damage but it's bumped up to 7 vs. Balto's Chain Mail and another +1 for her STR bonus for a total of 8.   

Balto then rolls a 6, preventing five points of damage!  He's forced to suck up the remaining three leaving him with only 3.

Looking for payback, Balto rolls an 18 (+1 to hit) for a total of 19.  It's a solid hit!  He rolls 3 for damage, subtracting one for Jacinta's "Trinity" wear.  This gets ramped up a bit with Balto's STR, giving him a grand total of 5 damage.  

Jacinta rolls randomly to see if her leather absorbs (1-2) zero, (3-4) one or (5-6) two damage.  A d6 roll gives her a roll of 1 so she takes all five points and is now down to 7!   
Round Six

Initiative Roll (d6): Jacinta gets another 5 making Balto's roll completely moot.

Jacinta rolls 15 + 6 for a total of 21.  She rolls a 2 for damage but it's bumped up to 4 vs. Balto's Chain Mail and another +1 for her STR bonus for a total of 5.   

Balto then rolls a 3, preventing two points of damage but it's not enough!  Jacinta turns her attacker into a Balto-kabob!  She guides his impaled husk over to the edge of the bridge, kicks him off the end of her spear with her boot and he falls twenty feet down onto the road below where his corpse is promptly run over by a team of draft horses.
The Running of the Bulls: putting piercing and bludgeoning damage together since the 14'th century.


Initially I was very proud of my first foray into the realm of D&D rules hackery.  I'd assigned a more appropriate modifier to the chance to hit.  I'd broken an attack down to connecting with a target first and then breaking through your opponent's armor.

And then I realized that it was all just a bunch of rubbish.  

Yes, that original catch-all known as Armor Class was an abstraction, but it was an abstraction which really simplified combat and kept things moving.  Although my system might be a tad more "realistic" (whatever that's worth in a game where your slay trolls and cast spells), in the end I'd piled on a wad of new modifiers plus an additional die roll!  And don't even get me started on trying to interpret what kind of natural armor and weapons monsters come standard-equipped with!

I'm hoping that some wise sage can look at this madness that I've wrought and either salvage a kernel of logic from it or confirm that I've completely wasted my time.

 Come at me, bro!  My fish-head gauntlets are impregnable!




  1. Have you looked at any of the d100 family, such as RuneQuest?

  2. No, but I'm officially intrigued. What character stat has the most influence on melee attacks? Do you have to score a successful hit before you consider damage? Does armor provide damage reduction?

  3. you really just want to play GURPS it sounds like.

  4. I'll czech it out, gmjasongurps. Thanks!

  5. There are a number of systems that do just that as seen in the examples of earlier post. You have your BRP spinnofs including d20 versions thereof (some including hit areas others not), you ofcourse have the GURPS system(Basically BRP like system) the Lite is free if one is intrested to checkit out. Then you have the role master series and its spinoffs such as MERP Which also have what you are looking for and all in a handy 3000 page table form :), not realy I actually like th RM systems but it is one of the more complex ones with a lot to keep track of for the GM(relativly speaking). Basically there are a multidue of realy good Systems that implement this that is not DnD. Eaxh system has its advantages and disadvantages.Google DnD to GURPS.

  6. So basically nothing would so much as slow piercing damage.

  7. Harmaster is the only one I've run into that does things with any significant difference. It's basically your roll to hit vs. their roll on their best defense (dodge/parry/block) and the result is determined from a matrix. The relative success of you against them determines how much dmg is done (1d6 to 3d6, depending on how much more successful you were than they were), then a weapon mod is added and an armour mod is subtracted. It's a percentile based system with a nice, simple critical chance/failure mechanic that increases with your skill.

    The nice thing is that your skill with a particular weapon makes much more difference in how effective your attack is (in damage terms), as does their defensive skill. With a little weapon mod thrown in as well (a claymore is going to hurt more than a pointy stick even if it just glances).

    Still available from Columbia Games online. The Harmaster magic system is by far the best in the industry a well. No preset number of spells you can cast, you just keep casting whatever you've learned until you get tired. Of course, more complex or more damaging spells are more likely to make you tire quickly.