Friday, October 23, 2009

Choice via Simplicity

It annoys me that "long sword" is almost always the best weapon and players are punished for making different and/or interesting choices. Similar thoughts regarding armor. There are crunchy solutions e.g. weapons vs AC, morning stars bypassing shields. This post is about "lite" methods.


Martial Ability, fighting men got it. Wuss punks like wizards don't. If you ain't got it you can't use "complex" weapons e.g. bows, ball & chains. Otherwise anyone can use any weapon. Maybe not very well but they can at least keep the pointy end pointed down range.

Weapon Damage by Type
d4 all weapons used by those lacking martial ability
d6 all 1-handed melee, thrown, slings, and bows
d12 all 2-handed melee and crossbows

There are no bonuses to damage, none. Not high strength, not magic, not nothing. If, (big if), need arises to increase damage it will be done via expanding the range dice explode e.g d6 explodes on 5-6 instead of only 6. Or, via damage die size increases. d4 -> d6 -> d8 -> d10 -> d12 -> d12+d4 -> d12+d6 -> etc.

With this a dagger tossing hobbit isn't a gimp (unless they lack martial ability). Which works for me cause 1) character kick-assness trumps simulationist "accuracy" 2) hit points aren't representing physical damage but fatigue, luck, confidence, etc. The only reason 2-handed do more damage is gamist desire to provide three options; 1h+shield -> defense bonus, 2h -> damage bonus, 2 weapons -> attack bonus.

Optional bits:
  • Wielding two weapons provides +1 to hit (only one to hit).
  • Pure fighters roll two damage dice and keep the higher result.
  • Damage dice "explode".
  • Damage die is limited by Strength e.g. with 11 Str you only do d10 not d12 with 2-handed weapons. This applies to bows and crossbows as well, abstracting bow pull weight and difficulty a wimp like you has cranking a crossbow.
  • Flails, ball & chains, and the like are +2 hit vs shield wielder.


Three classes of armor; light, medium, heavy. Players get to decide what their armor is and what class it falls into. Ring mail bikini is light, Morrowind glass full-plate is heavy, my lizardman's hide is tough like medium, etc. Whatever players want. But, DM chooses stats. Which are:
       str acc dec move
none - 0 10 sprint
light 4 +2 8 run
medium 8 +4 6 jog
heavy 12 +6 4 walk

str - Minimum strength. Can still wear it, you just don't get as much protection.
acc - Ascending defensive bonus.
dec - Descending defensive bonus.
move - Max movement ability with this armor class

Optional bits:
  • Super heavy / full-plate 14 str, +8 acc, 2 dec, walk.
  • Crit/Wound saves. Roll > dec armor value with d10 to negate critical/fatal hit. Heavy, sight obscuring pot helm = 60% chance of not getting head bashed in. Letting your elven locks flow in the wind = not so much.
  • Dexterity bonus / stat can partially substitute for armor. (10 - 2xDexMod) or same protection as lt,med,hv armor for +1,+2,+3 Dex mod. Take best value, armor or Dex, do not add. Does not provide crit saves.
  • Only three armor types makes doing a few weapon vs armor adjustments easy enough to do in my head on the fly. e.g. Picks do +2 vs heavy armor, 1h slicing weapons do only d4 damage vs heavy, sawzall is +4 vs no/light armor. Don't think I'd mess with this though. If I do crunch I'll crank it to 11 and break out Rolemaster!


There are three types of shields small, large, huge. Anyone can hold a shield up. They get +/-1 defense bonus for their efforts regardless of shield type. Effective use of shields (or parry with weapon in off-hand) requires Martial Ability and provides much better bonuses:
        str def move
parry - 1 sprint
small 4 2 run
large 8 4 jog
huge 12 6 walk (optional) -1 to hit

str - minimum strength. All shields provide only +/-1 unless min Str requirement is met.
def - Added to Ascending armor bonus, Subtracted from Descending armor bonus.
move - Max movement ability wielding this shield
Of course, Shields Shall be Shattered is in effect. See also Cover & Concealment for past ideas on shields vs missile weapons.


Threes, I'm getting really into sets of threes. Some reason three things d4 d6 d12, light med heavy, small medium huge, fit easily in my head. I can quickly reason and make rulings about them. Categorization by three is easy, for me. Is it big? goes in top slot. Is it small? goes in bottom slot. Everything else goes into middle slot. I would have to think if there were four (or more) categories.

"Players can make up anything, DM gets to decide mechanics." Is my new favorite mantra. I've failed at "say yes to players" in past cause they were (or I thought they were) being min-max weenies or trying to get mechanical advantage so they could "win".

I continue to struggle with "simple". Look at all that up there, all those options. Not simple.

One damage die for all weapons comes from OD&D. Martial Ability is simplified damage by character class idea from a couple different places. Exploding dice are all over but most recently Hackmaster Basic has convinced me of their awesomeness. The limitation of movement type vs reducing movement rate also from Hackmaster. +1 to hit when dual-wielding from OD&D forums. Same with rolling two damage dice taking the best, but they used it for 2-handed weapons. I like it better as the signature ability of pure fighters to dish out damage (while avoiding damage inflation). No damage bonus cause I want 1) less math, less lookups, less modifiers at the table 2) to avoid damage inflation. Dex mod "in place of" instead of "in addition to" armor defense avoids AC inflation. Crit/wound saves for armor cause I can't get over wanting armor to be damage reduction rather than hit avoidance. But, also to provide reason to wear armor rather than rely on Dex and reason to wear heavier armor vs light armor + shield and reason for wearing helmets.

Wanted more organic rules than character classes X can't use shields, can't wear armor, can't use these weapons. Hence strength minimums and the Martial Ability. If a player thinks it would be awesome for his wizard to swing a sword why should the rules deny that? I'd much rather allow anything but make it not as effective. There might still be religious/social/sneaking about/arcane magic no worky reasons to not use certain armors and weapons. But, if so, that should be optional fluff rather than "rules".

I'm wondering if this is too much "not D&D". I think it's certainly closer to OD&D, which I find my self gravitating towards more and more. But, exploding damage dice? High bonus shields? Str minimums? Or is ditching character archetypes the worst of my "sins"?


  1. Heh, the hivemind strikes again. I've included aome rules like yours (and some adapted from WFRP2E) to make weapon and armour choice choice more meaningful in my own game.

    * 3 Armour types (w. super simple weapon vs type mods)
    * 'roll two, keep one' damage mechanic for 2-handed weapons and high level fighters
    * two weapons = extra hit roll (not +damage)
    * Trollsmyth's sacrificial shield rule
    * small vs large shield differentiation

    As to the "not D&D?" question. It looks it to me and mine. ;)

  2. Interesting, how far D&D can be house-ruled before it ceases to be D&D is a common fear.

    I'd be tempted to change the armor and shields to min strength 5, 9 and 13, since 9-12 is the average range.

    I like what you did with the weapon damage, changing it to d4, d6, d12.

    I also like the exploding dice, do you imagine that mechanic only working on the d6 and d12 weapons? If I were implementing it, I might be tempted to make the dice explode more often, as you increase in level.

    Some really neat ideas here, thanks for sharing them!

  3. I like the "if you can remember it, you can have it" rule for PCs weapons--like if I say "well it;s a plant monster so an axe does more damage than a sword in this case" then if the PC remembers that, they can use it next time it come sup.

    Been thinking about the "hacked so much it's not D&D" question and will probably be posting a blog about it very soon.

  4. A lot of neat ideas. Although I wonder if Fighters are rolling two dice and taking the best one for damage combined with the exploding damage dice won't make Fighter damage go off the scale compared to the rest of the game. That really increases their chances to explode the damage!


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