Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Rethinking Armor Class and Damage for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (DIY RPG Design)

Still no chimpanzee character class ... but soon, my friends. For today I have something else on my mind: just read a post over at Mesmerized by sirens about an obscure (and old) AD&D clone and the librarian showcased a little rule from that game. A rule that lets you hit the armor, too, on occasions and I like that. Already thought about using it, even. But then I read a comment that it became a bit cumbersome to use in the game. Well, I thought a bit about alternative takes on the problem and here we are ... writing an alternative combat system!

This is a test.

It's all about the dynamics of combat, right?

Just started to DM a bit D&D RC on the side the other day. Something light between play-testing Lost Songs of the Nibelungs. Now back in the saddle, I realize, I still like most of my house rules. But there are those I need to replace and most of that is related to combat. I toyed a bit with Weapon Mastery and I think I won't do that anymore (fast and furious is what it should be right now). Initiative is still a problem and cooperation is not really supported by the rules ...

It's little problems and little adjustments here and there, as it has ever been. There is one thing I never got around integrating into the game and that is what happens when an attack misses but would have hit if the character didn't wear armor. It's just a little thing to add a bit color to a fight, but it helps emphasizing that armor actually saves lives. It should have an impact in the game other than being numbers you remember.

Anyway, I'll cut to the chase. We have four categories of armor in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia: none, light, medium and heavy. That's your unmodified Base Armor Class (BAC) and three ways to alter that with equipment. My proposal now is relatively simple: light armor reduces  the BAC by 1, medium armor reduces it by 2 and heavy armor reduces it by 3. So with a BAC of 9 you'll end up with 8 (light), 7 (medium) and 6 (heavy armor). That'll make them easier to hit, going with the combat matrix of D&D. The idea now is to compensate that by raising the damage dice up to 3 categories: from d6 Base Damage (BD) (normal damage) to d8 (against light armor) to d10 (against medium armor) to d12 (against heavy armor).

I have no words ...[source]
That means raising it by two points each, which has us ending up with the following connotation:
  • BD none 1d6 (-)
  • BD light 1d8 (2)
  • BD medium 1d10 (4)
  • BD heavy 1d12 (6)
So if you hit a target, you might end up hitting its armor instead (a result in the indicated range) and if you roll above, you deal damage (minus the indicated range). I'll use those lower results to reduce Endurance (all combatants have [4 + HD (+/- modifier)] Endurance] and lose 1 point or more per round*) ... the price of wearing armor.
Example: An attack with a sword hits against medium armor. Damage is rolled with a 1d10 and comes up with a 3. The cut is deflected by the armor (dealing 3 damage to Endurance, playing it my way). If that had been an 8, though, the hit would have dealt 4 damage (8 - 4 because BD medium 1d8 (4), thinking of it as "above 4" should also do the trick).
With that established, we can talk a bit more about damage now ...


Let's talk damage. Base Damage (BD) for medium sized creatures is 1d6. You use a small weapon, it's 2d6, take the lower result. You use big weapons (or both hands with a normal weapon), it's 2d6, take higher result.

If you go a size category higher, the die also gets a category higher. So huge creatures have a base d8 and giant creatures have a d10 (with the same rules as described above ... claws of a giant dragon, for instance, will use 2d10 and take the lower result) and gargantuan creatures will have 1d12.

I've known fights like that :D [source]
I'm hesitating to give small creatures the d4 ... Let's try that for melee, with the d6 for ranged combat (mirroring the halfling's ranged combat bonus) and a bonus when fighting armored enemies (see below). Rest is as above.

To avoid that characters with high STR continually circumvent those rules, I'd say that bonuses only apply if the result is over (armor class).

Armor and Damage

Now we'll find out what happens if we apply the armor rules above. The easy part is, you can't scale down. So an Ogre will deal 1d8 BD until he fights someone with medium armor or higher (which means: 1d8 (-), 1d8 (2), 1d10 (4) and 1d12 (6)).

The next thing is, you always scale up as written. That's the benefit I talked about when halflings fight someone wearing armor: they'd deal the indicated damage (so versus light armor, they actually get the d8 (2)).

Let's talk Weapons

Weapon size already has an impact, but I'd like to talk a bit about different types of weapons, too. There are basically 3 aspects a weapon can have: slashing, piercing and bludgeoning (the easy variant, of course ...**).

SLASHING - If you do more damage than you would need to dispatch an enemy, you are allowed to cut the next enemy with the rest damage if it is in reach of the weapon (no extra attack, just pass the damage). If that follow up enemy has armor, give the (armor class) as endurance damage and the rest as lethal damage. CRITICAL HITS: Apply modifiers against BD and double the damage (which means that STR might help overcoming (armor class) and that the result above (armor class) is doubled)!

PIERCING - If you roll maximum damage with a piercing weapon, the enemy will lose 1 hp every round from the next round on (either because of bleeding or because something is sticking in him, dealing internal damage). If that damage was dealt with a melee weapon, the attacker can decide to push it further in, which would count as an automatic hit every round he does so but would also take away his mobility (effectively reducing his BD by half). CRITICAL HITS: Maximum Damage, ignore armor, keep the die (you'll do 12 hp unmodified damage, then, against heavy armor)!

BLUDGEONING - If a damage roll against armor only does Endurance damage, an attacker is allowed to add his STR bonus to the Endurance damage (it's that special Umph of blunt weapons ...). If the resulting Endurance Damage succeeds the (armor class), the enemy also needs to make a saving throw versus paralysis or fall down. CRITICAL HITS: Deal damage to Endurance and HP, destroy piece of armor (magic items get a save ...)!

Weapon restrictions for characters still apply as written.

Loose Ends

As it is with complex systems like D&D combat, there'll be some strays that need taking care of:

AIMED HITS - Attacker may take penalty to attack roll as additional damage to BD roll (actually to overcome (armor class), if necessary).
Example (aimed hit with sword against heavy armor): Goes for the head, takes a -8 penalty on attack roll, so it's 1d12 (+8 - 6) damage in the end (unmodified maximum of 14 with a sword ...).
SNEAK ATTACKS - Double damage, reduced by (armor class).
Example (dagger against medium armor): 2d10, take lowest - double result - reduce result by 4 (16 points unmodified damage are possible).
ECHO (old house rule) - Rolling the unmodified maximum on a die allow to add another roll, but one die category lower (d20 - d12 - d10 - d8 - d6 - d4). This still applies for damage rolls, but all follow up dice also need to overcome (armor class) or they'll only deal Endurance damage. Follow up dice are always single dice. This will change some of the results above, but not by much.
Example (two-handed sword versus light armored foe): Successful attack allows for 2d8, take higher result - an 8 comes up (6 damage) and another d6 (single) is allowed - result of 1 or 2 means additional Endurance damage/result of 3 to 5 means 1 to 3 points additional damage/result of 6 means 4 points additional damage and adding another d4 working with the same principles (maximum damage that way would be 12 hp).
MAGICAL BONUSES - Magical bonuses on weapons should apply to the to-hit (as usual) and to overcome (armor class), which means it counts for the original roll and not (like STR-modifiers) after lethal damage is established. Magical armor will reduce the Base Armor Class.
Example (Club +1 versus heavy armor +3): To hit a Heavy Armor +3 means hitting a Base Armor Class of 3, so a normal human would need a result of 17 or more to hit that AC - if that normal human would use a Club +1, he'd only need a 16 to hit the target and he'd only need to roll over 5 with the d12 to deal hp damage (or, alternatively, roll 1d12+1(6)).
SHIELDS - Nothing changes.

The last point I can think of. And a tricky one at that. The Rules Cyclopedia is not necessarily famous for being detailed about how different armor class ratings come to pass other than stating that it is a mix of DEX-modifier and thick skin/scales and maybe armor. That's the moment where you have to decide a few things, the first among them would be what kind of armor the monster is wearing (or what the skin/scales/etc. should count for). According to this you'll have to reduce the given AC by either 2 (light armor), 4 (medium armor) or 6 (heavy armor).

That's a jousting cat armor ... enough said. [source]
The result is the Base Armor Class the characters need to hit and the Base Damage you get (reduced by 2 would mean the BD is 1d8 (2) and so on). In extreme cases you could go and decide that natural armor should account for more than 1d12 (6). In those cases it should be okay to raise the (6) to something higher (but not higher than 12 and that only if you use ECHO described above).

Last Thoughts

This turned out to be quite complete, but also more complicated than I had hoped. I still think that it'll be easier to use at the table (as in: I just need to know those basics to improvise every encounter just based on a description) and also offers some tactical choices and fun results along the way (people getting stabbed or thrown to the ground or slashing all over the place is always fun!).

The only thing I have to give up here would be a more detailed approach to armor (as in: when it says you wear light armor, then that's what you are wearing ... there are no 3 different kinds light anymore). But for that you get to know when armor is hit and to what effect. I'm tempted to tinker with initiative and maneuvers, too. But that's for another post.

We'll test in on Friday and see if it flows :) Comments are, as always, very welcome. Is it an alternative or is it by itself again too baroque to really make the effort worth it?

* If Endurance is reduced to zero it needs a INT-check to cast spells and every point below that reduces AC and to-hit by 1. This goes on until a negative value equal to the original Endurance is reached, at which point fighting becomes impossible and a save versus paralysis is necessary to keep consciousness ... 

** It's easy enough to go the Weapon Mastery way with this, expanding it with very specific abilities for some weapons. I'm still resisting the urge ...

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