Fixing Weapons vs. Armor Class

At the risk of turning this into a blog for commenting on Delta’s blog, here are some thoughts on a post of his back in March about the big error in the infamous Greyhawk and AD&D Weapons vs AC charts.

Basically, Dan observed that there’s a fundamental error in the way the chart was derived from Chainmail to convert it to the d20 “alternative” combat system in original Dungeons and Dragons (specifically the Greyhawk supplement), and that chart was just reproduced and elaborated on in AD&D. The error was in converting Chainmail’s chart showing with this weapon vs. this type of armor roll this number on 2d6 to kill the target into D&D’s roll this on d20 to hit the target, they forgot to adjust for the armor class! Basically, the difficulty of hitting the armor is baked into the Chainmail table, but it’s a completely separate consideration in OD&D, so that e.g. in Chainmail a mace has pretty much the same chance of killing regardless of armor (roll 8 or better), that’s presented in Greyhawk as a mace has no bonus vs. any particular armor so the mace gets worse and worse chance of hitting as armor gets better! Oopsie.

So what would a “correct” version of the Weapon vs. AC chart for Greyhawk look like? That is, one that preserves the logic worked into the Chainmail chart as to which weapons are better against which armors, which seem to have at least rough approximation of what weapons historically were preferred against which prevailing types of armor.

The Chainmail Man-to-Man combat chart looks like this:

Armor Class
No ArmorLeatherShieldLeather+
Shield
ChainChain+
Shield
PlatePlate+
Shield
Weapon98765432
Dagger67889101212
Hand Axe778910101112
Mace88898878
Sword7889891011
Battle Axe888877910
Morn. Star66776788
Flail77776767
Spear889910101112
Pole arms666778910
Halbard88876678
2 Hnd. Swd66665567
Mtd. Lance55556789
Pike888888910
Chainmail Man-to-Man combat

The first thing we have to deal with is all the target numbers in this chart represent kills; in Chainmail there were no hit-points or variable weapon damages. So this chart represents both the deadliness of the weapon and its ability to penetrate various types of armor.

What I’m going to do is assume that the relative deadliness of the weapon is represented by the target number vs. unarmored men, while the penetration ability of the weapon vs the various armors is thus the difference between its “normal” ability to kill an unarmored man and its lessened ability to kill armored men. This normalization gives the following chart of how much worse a weapon is against the various ACs relative to its ability to kill an unarmored man; we’ll presume that in D&D that ability to kill an unarmored man is represented by the weapon damage, from d4 to d12 or whatever.

Armor Class
No ArmorLeatherShieldLeather+
Shield
ChainChain+
Shield
PlatePlate+
Shield
Weapon98765432
Dagger0-1-2-2-3-4-6-6
Hand Axe00-1-2-3-3-4-5
Mace000-10010
Sword0-1-1-2-1-2-3-4
Battle Axe000011-1-2
Morn. Star00-1-10-1-2-2
Flail00001010
Spear00-1-1-2-2-3-4
Pole arms000-1-1-2-3-4
Halbard00012210
2 Hnd. Swd0000110-1
Mtd. Lance0000-1-2-3-4
Pike000000-1-2
Normalized

So here we see the relative values of armor against a given weapon. Against a mace, no armor really helps, though leather + shield is a tiny bit better than unarmored and plate is a tiny bit worse. Swords, though, quickly become ineffective against heavier armors, which take a two-handed sword to punch through. Mounted lances and spears are almost completely ineffective against plate + shield combination. This all seems plausibly historically accurate.

Finally, though, we have to convert this to d20, taking into account the way armor class is worked into the target number to hit on a d20 (the crucial step the author(s) of that section of Greyhawk forgot). This yields the following chart of modifiers that preserve the penetrating power of weapons from the Chainmail rules:

Armor Class
No ArmorLeatherShieldLeather+
Shield
ChainChain+
Shield
PlatePlate+
Shield
Weapon98765432
Dagger00011101
Hand Axe01111222
Mace01224577
Sword00113333
Battle Axe01235655
Morn. Star01124445
Flail01235577
Spear01122333
Pole arms01223333
Halbard01246777
2 Hnd. Swd01235666
Mtd. Lance01233333
Pike01234555
Weapon vs Armor Adjustment Corrected

And here we see, as intended, against an unarmored foe a 1st level Fighting Man armed with a mace would need to roll a 10 to hit, and against somebody with plate + shield would need… a 10 to hit. (To Hit of 17 from the Men Attacking Matrix in original D&D, with a bonus on the roll of +7) Armed with a dagger he’d need the same 10 to hit an unarmored man, but a 16 vs plate armor + shield.

Is it worth it? Frankly, I have my doubts. If Gygax himself never bothered with it, it’s hard to see the added complication of the table lookup every time you switch weapons or foes (assuming they’re not all equipped identically) adds that much. On the other hand, it is kind of logical that you ought to prefer the weapons that were historically favored against particularly heavy armors. One thing that is clear to me, though, is that if you want to have that kind of mechanic in your game you’re better off starting with the Chainmail assumptions and not their mistranslation.

D&D & Me (part 1)

Back in 1975 my father took me to The Games People Play in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and bought me a copy of the new game Dungeons and Dragons, which he had read about somewhere (I think in some science fiction magazine). That gift literally changed my life. Hardly a day has gone by since then when I haven’t read, written, or done something to do with RPGs. All of my closest friends, save one, are people I met doing RPGs, and almost all them I still game with at least semi-regularly.

My first game group was my 6th grade friends, none of whom had ever even heard of the game, and a teacher I roped into running an after-school club for us to play D&D. I played D&D almost every chance I got, and when I wasn’t playing I was making dungeons, doodling monsters, or reading fiction that would work its way back into the game. I remember actually running a fairly longish campaign in High School set in Xanth, based on the first two books. The girls in our group1 liked that better than the previous Arduin Grimoire-based campaign; I’m not sure whether it was because it was more whimsical or they just liked having what were in effect super-powers instead of magic spells.

In the beginning I was the only DM in our group, but my step-brother started to DM as well, and we played a lot of two person games with one or the other of us as DM and the other as a lone PC, possibly with retainers; it never seemed to occur to us that one person could run more than one PC and having a party would make things such as recovering the bodies of fallen adventurers easier. We never worried much about lethality, because resurrection was easy in our games. In my Arduin game, it was something that the inn-keeper at the home base could do for you; granted, influenced by the over-the-topness of some of the Arduin random encounter charts the inn-keeper was a Platinum Dragon, whose human form was a 70+ level “techno.” We made all of our own dungeons and setting materials; I never actually even purchased any of the classic adventure modules, although I did get the Judge’s Guild City-State of the Invincible Overlord and my step-brother used it pretty heavily for a while before making his own cities and overland maps. We heavily modded the combat and magic systems, borrowing from Steve Jackson’s Melee and Wizard tactical fantasy arena combat games.

Actually, though, I moved on from D&D pretty quickly, both through D&D-likes such as Empire of the Petal Throne, and Arduin Grimoire, and also outward to different takes and genres: Chivalry and Sorcery, Runequest, Traveller (lots and lots of Traveller), Villains and Vigilantes, Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, The Fantasy Trip… if it was an RPG of the era, I probably tried it. By the time the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook came out in 1978 I mostly thought of myself as an ex-D&D player. It had been fun at the time, but it was too limited and clunky. There were so many better, more coherent, and “realistic”2 systems out there. It chapped my hide that to the general public they were all “D&D.”

My complaints about D&D were the usual ones: what’s a hit point, anyway? How can one person have so many multiples of how much another person has? In what world is a cat a deadly threat to a wizard? Class restrictions are so pointless, and invalidate so many good character concepts. Balancing wizards by making them nearly useless at low levels and god-like at high levels doesn’t actually accomplish anything useful when it comes to day-to-day play. How does armor make you harder to hit, shouldn’t it just reduce the damage? How can people possibly be moving so slowly both in and out of combat?

I kept trying new systems, but eventually most of my gaming moved to various home-brews of my own devising that–mostly by design–rejected most of the features of D&D. It would be a long time before I played D&D again. But that’s a story for Part 2.

1- We had girls in our groups, even from the earliest years. The stereotype of D&D being something that was only played by boys never matched my experience.

2- Yes, I used to value realism, or at verisimilitude, in RPGs very highly, while having a pretty narrow view of what counted. But I’m much better now.

The Fallen Lands

I’ve created an Obsidian Portal site for my online Fallen Lands campaign. My Sunday group has actually switched to doing 5e Phandelver on Roll20 during the quarantine, but I fell in with a new group that was playing OD&D and they expressed interest in playing a second night a week with me refereeing. People have a lot of time on their hands thanks to the pandemic.

So far we’re three sessions in, with the next session scheduled for tomorrow, (Wednesday the 26th of August, 2020). I’m using Dan Collin’s Original Edition Delta house rules, which smooths out some of the rough bits of the white box edition, plus some house rules of my own, mostly swiped from the bits Dungeon Crawl Classics that I can’t really do without any more.

It seems to be going well, and it’s a real pleasure to run compared to some of the later, fancier editions. Even 5e, which does away with a lot of the cruft, and with support of some excellent tools in Roll20, feels like heavy lifting compared to OED. But more on that later.

http://www.armorclass10.com/products/keep-calm-and-roll-initiative

OSR Guide for the Perplexed: My Take

OSR Guide For The Perplexed Questionnaire

  1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
    All Hail Max!
  2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
    Stop looking at your character sheet for answers.
  3. Best OSR module/supplement:
    The Dungeon Alphabet This is a really  hard choice, because there are so many amazing supplements like Vornheim, A Red and Pleasant Land, Yoon-Suin, The Umerican Survival Guide, Sailors on the Starless Sea, Death Slaves of Eternity, and on and on.  But the thing I actually get the most practical use out of is either The Dungeon Alphabet or one of Richard Leblanc’s d30 companions, and in all honesty  I think about using the latter more than I actually do consult them.
  4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
    Death and Dismemberment tables by Trollsmyth.  I know a lot of folks go for Shields must be splintered! (also Trollsmyth), and it has its merits, but I use Death and Dismemberment or a variation for every non-DCC D&D-like game I run. To me the former solves more problems with D&D combat than the latter. They both make combat a little less lethal, which is fine, but death and dismemberment also addresses the somewhat bloodless abstraction and the lack of long-term effects, while splintering only solves the somewhat esoteric complaint that shields aren’t as useful in D&D as they seemed to be historically. That said, any good critical hit table (not boring stuff like double damage) like Arduin or DCC have accomplishes pretty much the same as Death and, while good reasons for shields are harder to squeeze in without making big changes to how combat works.
  5. How I found out about the OSR:
    Through Jeff’s Gameblog, and specifically his post “I’ve got your threefold model right here, buddy!”  really resonated with me and led me to his other posts, and Gary Gygax day led me to wanting to run a straight up game of D&D in his honor.  That didn’t go very well, actually, because over the years I’d lost a lot of my chops as an old-school Referee, relying way too heavily on mechanics and rules-as-written, which led me to things like Philotomy’s musings and Grognardia to figure out why the lightning had seemed so easy to get in that damned bottle in 1975.
  6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
    Purple Sorceror, and the wonderful generators, plus the Crawler’s Companion app.  I probably would have read DCC and thought, well, that’s probably ok but it’s way too much work looking up stuff in tables if it weren’t for Jon Marr’s site.  Now that I’m steeped in it, I can easily make do without, but it lowered the bar to running DCC and running it well down to the floor.
  7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
    G+ might still be it, for a while, though the ship is obviously sinking.  MeWe seems to be the place to jump to currently.  I don’t know of any forums that I think are worth the time to log into, but you can find a ton of blogs via The OSR OPML file at Save vs. Total Party Kill. It’s possible you can find stuff on reddit or tumblr that’s worthwhile, but I’ve not found the discussion to be very high quality on any topic I’ve pursued so far.
  8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
    1. MeWe
    2. I’ve got strong reservations about Twitter, but I’ve dipped my toe back in as @Logomacy.
    3. Still on G+ as Joshua Macy for however long they keep it open
    4. I’m on Tumblr as Majyc, but honestly I almost never remember to even look over there.  It is set up to reblog Rambling Bumblers, though, so if you like Tumblr you can see this stuff there without having to mess with an RSS reader or anything.
  9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
    If only people had called it “Roll to Hurt” instead of Roll to Hit, it would have been completely obvious to everybody why heavier armor making the number you need to roll higher is a great abstraction.
  10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
    Not counting my own stuff, I suppose D&D 5e.  I used to be quite fond of Savage Worlds, but lost my taste for it. The farther I get from “the rules should be the physics of the world” the less patience I have for systems that try to nail down not only all the details but how they mechanically interact.  To me the important kernel of Rulings not Rules or Rule Zero aren’t that the referee should just make up whatever whenever, but that as little effort as possible should be spent on nailing down bizarre edge cases.
  11. Why I like OSR stuff:
    The thing I like about the OSR is the DIYness of it all.  It’s baked into its very bones that in order to make it work, you have to make it your own.  Nobody could play white box D&D “rules as written”, there were just too many gaps; nobody could play without making up their own adventures, it was four years before TSR even published their first module.  Eventually there would be enough published stuff that you could play only official setting material, but despite playing RPGs for my practically my entire life it wasn’t until the past couple of years I even played a published D&D module (we did do one or two Call of Cthulhu scenarios back in the day, and that odd Judges Guild Traveller adventure aboard the abandoned alien base).  Now, when so much of the hobby is embracing “Adventure Paths” and other such prefab campaigns, it’s OSR folks that are carrying the flag for hacking up published material to make your own thing.  Even though there are plenty of OSR modules, most of them seem to me to be designed to drop into your own setting, or pulled apart for their components, and not presented as “Here’s a complete campaign for you to run, no imagination necessary!” Heck, the two best settings-in-a-book I know of for the OSR (Vornheim and Yoon-Suin) are both kits, not completely mapped out spaces or strung-together adventures.
  12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
    1. Delta’s D&D Hotspot – a game blog about original edition D&D, that really tries to dig into the rules and figure out  how they work, how they compare to the real world (e.g. when it comes to the distance or accuracy of archery fire) or sometimes how they might have worked if Gary and Dave had been better at math (scale and time).  It might sound dry, particularly if you’re math-phobic, but it’s really not, and the result of it is probably my favorite restatement/clone of white box D&D: Original Edition Delta.
    2. Hack & Slash – Courtney Campbell’s blog.  Courtney is way more into nailing down and turning what happens in every aspect of an RPG into a mechanical procedure than I am, but even when I think he’s wrong, I think he’s wrong in interesting ways that are worth chewing over.  And sometimes he’s very right, and you can improve your game by adopting something he’s written.
  13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
    TenFootPole – by Bryce Lynch
  14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
    Roll M – turn any web page into a click-to-roll random table with this handy Chrome extension.
  15. I’m currently running/playing:
    • Running Dungeon Crawl Classics every other Sunday, with  my  home group.
    • The other Sundays I’m playing a game set in the Warhammer 40K universe but using my Zap! rules that my friend Dan is GMing.
    • I’m also running DCC at work every Wednesday night
    • and playing in a 5e game every other Saturday, with the same coworkers
    • Every month or two I’m a player in a long-running AD&D game. It used to be almost every Friday, but has gotten less and less frequent now that the GM’s kids are grown up and have gone off to college…we mostly play when one or more is back in town for a weekend.
  16. I don’t care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
    They’re mathematically equivalent, and I can show anybody how to convert them on the fly in about a minute:  Roll a d20 and beat AC, or roll a d20 and add AC and see if that beats 20.  Apply mods to the roll or to the target. It just doesn’t matter.
  17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

    4Ob6nia
    image by Stefan Poag

 

featured image “Keep Calm and Roll Initiative” courtesy of Armor Class 10.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

So, the 1st level Sleep spell in D&D bugs me. I don’t actually mind that it’s an encounter-ender for low-level characters… in fact I regard it as a bigger problem that 1st level MUs don’t really have any other spells nearly as worthwhile. Maybe Charm Person, at least outside of a dungeon, but that’s about it. But being awesome once a day isn’t a deal-breaker. No, what bugs me is the ritual of going around and killing all the sleeping foes afterwards. Not only is that particularly unheroic (granting that not everybody needs to play a heroic character) it just doesn’t feel particularly like the magic in stories that inspired it.

Over the years I’ve played with a number of DMs that had various solutions to this: some made you roll for damage against the sleeping foe, and if you didn’t kill him in one blow he woke up. That mainly served to make players more cautious about arranging a gang-stabbing of any multi-hit die creature they slept and sometimes the spell being wasted; not trying to kill the creature almost never came up. A free round of attacks was basically the best chance you were ever going to have, and chances are you’d be meeting it again. One DM made you roll to hit as well, though at least she applied bonuses. I think I recall one in the early days of playing who would count it as an alignment infraction if a Lawful (or maybe */Good… can’t recall which edition) character killed a sleeping foe; hardly anybody played Lawful characters at his table. A couple have removed Sleep from the game, or made you start with random spells and by the time you found a spell book with Sleep you likely had better mass-murder spells. Some have allowed saves against sleep in addition to the max number of creatures affected (not necessarily horrible if you extend the same thing to the PCs). But nothing I’ve encountered really did more than make the process of casting Sleep then slitting throats a bit more risky and likely to fail.

So I’m considering the following house rule: if you try to attack or move a magically slept creature, you fall under the spell as well.  No save, no limit on the max HD.  To me that feels a lot more like the sleep spell in literature, including spells like abandoned castles with all the inhabitants sleeping for a hundred years.  The 1st level Sleep spell would just be a lesser version of that.

Another version I considered would be the spell would be broken on all sleepers if any of them were attacked, but that seems like it leaves too much room for rules-lawyering it.  E.g.,  trying simultaneous attacks, tying them all up and throwing them off a cliff all at once, smacking your own companion with a small attack to wake the rest, and so on.  They could all probably be patched, but I think the result would be a multi-paragraph list of conditions like a 3rd edition spell.

One thing that I think is attractive about this, besides having more of a fairy-tale or fantasy feel, is the way it makes Sleep a very different spell, with different purposes, than something like Fireball or Cloud Kill.  You always need to think about what you’re going to do when they wake up… are you using it to cover your retreat, give yourself time to burgle the place, pass deeper into the dungeon and figure you’ll deal with them on the way out, or what.  You can’t count on clearing the level one sleep spell at a time.  And on the flip side, if an enemy spell caster uses sleep on you it’s no longer time to roll up a new character unless the GM is having the monsters be far more merciful than the players ever are.

I guess my one worry is whether it’s just too different from the way players are used to using Sleep.  The whole reason for using D&D instead of something like Zounds! is because of the instant familiarity and buy-in.  There’s definitely a certain amount of tweaking and house-ruling that just the way D&D works, but there’s a point beyond which you might as well play something else, and changing one of the most reliable 1st level spells gives me some pause.