Introduction (it ain't easy tinkering with combat)
Weapon Mastery, as presented in the Rules Cyclopedia, touches a lot of subjects. Well, to be honest, any combat system does. But the very different approach of the Rules Cyclopedia made me realize just how much it all is connected. What's the effect on initiative? Does weapon damage make sense as is? If to-hit progression is part of leveling up, why give additional bonuses? How much bonuses does such a system take without falling apart? Is armour class really the only counter measure? Why do monsters the damage they do and is there a key to it? How do the NPCs fight (a complex system necessarily makes fighting NPCs a pain in the arse...)? How is all of that connected to gaining experience? If you change one of those things, how is the rest effected? And if you tinker with it, does it stay true (that is, compatible) to OD&D? The list goes down the rabbit hole pretty fast. I'll try and connect some dots here.
My answers (so far)
This is the part with the summary of all the posts I've done about combat (and also meant as a reference point for the group and me). A lot of the stuff I've done in this blog is about influencing combat and the effects of my choices. It is, due to the format, a work-in-progress and, of course, even small parts of the things I've written so far may not survive playtesting (the big part of it is being used for a long time, though). So this is an update and a summary.
Luck (the post is here)
Dumping Charisma for Luck might not have been necessary, but it helped my game for several reasons. Depending on the state of this ability score (they may use 8 points of Luck one time per level to save their lives), they are considered lucky or unlucky in terms of initiative and combat (and whenever the stat is used in the game). But it's not that much of a game changer in terms of tactic. The impact is more in the flow of the game and gives it depth. It's one element more for the DM to work with and make the game more memorable for the players. Using Luck or Charisma for this is (mostly) indifferent or a matter of taste. After all it's only a change in name and a small (but for me important) change in meaning. What I was aiming for is that all ability scores should be of similar importance, so any decision during character creation might have consequences (without being to harsh).
Initiative (Part 2 is in the changes below, Part 1 can be found here)
The way I presented it makes this look like something very complex. I know that much. In play, on the other hand, it works pretty good in my opinion. And fast, at that. Here is what works and why:
Necessary changes 1 (Combat Moves)
- Initiative is one roll with 1 to 3 d6 (plus some bonuses) and only for the players.
- Using more than one die gives a lot of variety, without getting to complex (mostly it is comparing results, which is a fun game-in-the-game, time isn't even an issue here).
- The results are altered during battle and even improvised combat is fast but complex.
- Cooperative play between classes is encouraged (two or more players can pool their dice and get advantages, depending on class).
- The decisions and results also produce choices for the players to further influence combat. It's not just hit-being hit-repeat.
- The players (and the DM) still can do whatever they want and even ignore the results without getting to much disadvantages. But: the more important the encounter, the more important the rules might be for winning or loosing a battle.
- All this needs to work, is an ability score from the character sheet, the weapon size and the enemies hd, so it is compatible with all OD&D variants (up to 3rd edition, don't know about 4th).
Mostly the players just used the cooperative bonuses, but not the Combat Moves during battle. Maybe it was just to much of additional work. Anyway, it didn't come naturally in the game, so it needed to be changed.
This is now a vehicle for escalation. The number of points gathered and distributed as Combat Moves is now the highest possible one-time-only-bonus to any one
possible die-roll in a combat (1 point = +1; 2 points = 1W4; 3 points = 1W6; 4 points = 1W8; 5 points = 1W10; 6 points = 1W 12). How many points a player is able to spend depends on the number of combat rounds he waits. So if a player with 5 points uses this in the 3rd round, he gets +1d6 to damage or whatever. The rest is lost. If the fight is over and the player didn't spend any points, they are lost.
(Every time Echoe (see below) happens, it escalates for that player +1 faster in our game.)
Necessary changes 2 (weapon size)
There is one obvious problem with the alternative Weapon Mastey I presented in part 1: weapon size in close combat. Especially big weapons are not that usefull in combat (still more damage with one hit), because they are slow. Small weapons, on the other hand, are as fast, but do the same damage as medium sized weapons (due to the fact that damage dealt is a matter of class, not the weapon.
The easy fix is to make weapon size count for initiative. So in our game small weapons get a -5, medium sized weapons get a +0 and large weapons get a +5 to initiative (with a possibility of +10 for even bigger weapons). Additionaly, wielding a large melee weapon against smaller melee weapons gives a benefit of attack. This means, if a character, NPC or monster is only able to attack every other round with a large melee weapon (due to level of Weapon Mastery), smaller weapons need to apply to that rythm. They can only attack, if attacked by the larger weapon (in that case, every other round, too).
Echoing dice (my reasoning about this can be read here)
- Roll the highest value of any dice and you might roll again with the next lower die.
- If you keep rolling that high, repeat again with the next lower die.
- There is no die after the d4.
- Dice in order: 1d20, 1d12, 1d10, 1d8, 1d6, 1d4
- Not for initiative or hit die rolls.
In short, damage dealt and taken times 20 is xp. This is very easy to use in every game and totally indifferent to the D&D supplement used (like, say, using a 3rd edition module in a Labyrinth Lord game). Additional xp for mission goals, roleplaying and so on do exist, but are not important for combat.
Armour Class (Part 1, Part 2)
This is loosely connected to Weapon Mastery. Treating single parts of armour as relevant for combat, be it for protection or as a weapon, just opens a whole lot of opportunities. Thorns on an arm protection, horns on a helmet or to weaponize a cloak are just a few ideas down that road. With damage connected to class, the form of a weapon is only restricted by what a character is able to use and it's utility.
Endurance (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
If Weapon Mastery is used (either version), Endurance might be a necessary factor, but shouldn't be too complex or too much bookkeeping. With Endurance in play, combatants can use their level of Weapon Mastery only a number of rounds, before they are reduced to Basic Weapon Mastery. A least at higher levels Weapon mastery is too powerful otherwise and fights will go on and on until one side gets just lucky. If you like that sort of thing, that's okay. For my taste, it needs to be regulated.
With all this combat rules, hitting specific locations wasn't really touched. But it is something that comes up every now and then, so I thought, I'd give it a shot:
Just working with what a basic monster description is giving a DM, this needs to factor in level/hd and AC. Let's assume a limb can take around 40% of the hitpoints a creature has, before it's rendered useless (one may try and give different limbs different values, like Hackmaster or Runequest do, but I'd like to keep it simple and chose a more conservative estimation to cover all...). Just add the AC to that and it's good to go.
Weapon Mastery I (the whole thing is here)
Result: 3 x hd (or level) + ac-value (take it all, magic, dex, protection, whatever)
= damage needed to dismember or cripple
Each class gets an own combat strength:
Magic User = 1d4 per level of mastery
Thief = 1d6 per level of mastery
Cleric = 1d8 per level of mastery
Fighter = 1d10 per level of mastery
Halfling = 1d6 per level of mastery
Elf = 1d8 per level of mastery
Dwarf = 1d10 per level of mastery
So far still true:
Weapon Mastery III
- There are 3 combat categories: Ranged Weapons, Melee and Unarmed Combat.
- Every 3 levels a character might add one die to one category (weapon mastery).
- This dice pool might be used for damage or any other weapon ability regarding weapon mastery (but for every weapon used). You want a better to-hit in the next fight? Take one die from the pool, roll it and you have the to-hit you get and one die less for damage. Same goes for better AC (if you rather want to stay your ground than doing actual damage), deflect (roll the die and see how many attempts you have to deflect an attack), etc..
- If there are no dice left in the pool, you do 1 point damage plus strength mod per attack.
- No more than 3 dice for damage per attack.
- Ranged weapons do one die damage per attack (exception being the heavy crossbow and any other large ranged weapon you might come up with). Several attacks per round are possible (up to 3)
- When attacking with a ranged weapon, a character might use his damage die for a better to-hit with the next attack (aiming).
- With Unarmed attacks a character has to assign one die to stun the enemy (result on the roll is the penalty for the save vs. paralyze).
- Large weapons like the heavy crossbow or the halberd need 2 damage dice. So to shoot a heavy crossbow a player with level 1 needs to collect dice for one round and fires it every other round.
- To attack with 2 weapons you need one die for each (so a character needs to be level 3 or more to do such a thing).
- The distribution of dice being a tactical decision, it happens before the fight.
- Rounds are 30 seconds.
There is more to come, but it is the finishing line. This is to long a post as it is. I need to go deeper into the use of the dice and how to divide the dice pool. Furthermore the specific combat maneuvers need to be written down. And some words about how to build your own weapon. Ah, and I have somewhere a handwritten solution for Monsters and damage resolution. I just have to find it... I'll be on that. As usual, it will take the time it takes. But I want to play the game in the near future and until then I want to have this done (a rough draft exists in German, but that I need to transalte and tune...).
This is primarly for my group to get into the mood, but most of those house rules work on their own and maybe some of you see something they'd like to try. I would be happy about that.