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Some aspects of the combat system

by Oeystein H. Lund

Some aspects of the combat system.

The stories we tell with the game are more important than how they're told - usually. But sometimes the combat mechanics interfere and give us some strange stories indeed - particularly when one uses weapon mastery in conjunction with multiple attacks and the other combat options.

In particular, the mechanics of the deflect is at least partially broken: to parry a blow and take no damage, you need merely to make a saving throw vs. death ray. In a high-level campaign, this amounts to 2.

Not very hard to do, which makes fights a matter of luck and magical firepower, instead of skill - and makes it essentially impossible for the better warriors to hurt one another in duels. (I first noticed this in a tournament where the sword lists was won by the person who rolled the least number of 1's on his deflect)

The following mechanic might be better:

To deflect a blow, the defender rolls a to-hit against the AC hit by the attacker. The defender must hit a higher AC than the attacker, equal or lower AC means the defence was inadequate and the attack penetrates to do normal damage.

Advantages to this method include reflecting accurately the skills of the antagonists and making the defence results more probable.

Problems with it include making weapon mastery a possibly too-decisive advantage, making more calculations necessary, and causing some different SOD problems.

It doesn't pay to make combat too complicated (despite Combat and Tactics from TSR) but some things could be introduced to make this less intrusive.


Option 1: Multiple attacks and weapon mastery are different enough in style that they are not compatible - multiple attacks depend on speed and ferocity to score more often on the opponent, weapon mastery depend on skill and calculation to cause more grievous wounds. Therefore, the two styles are not compatible. You can either attack multiple times, or single attacks with great mastery. The two styles do not combine.

Advantage: No fighters with a good chance of causing 2/3/4 * 2d8+8 with a long sword in a single round.

Problem: A skilled fighter SHOULD be able to integrate the two styles regardless.

Option two: The two styles can be integrated, but the bonuses from weapon mastery won't help you to get multiple attacks.

Advantage: You won't get fighters with multiple attacks against AC -10 at level 15.

Problem: Again, a skilled fighter ought to be able to integrate the two styles with enough training. Also, magical weaponry can more than equal the bonus you get from weapon mastery.

Option three: The two styles can be integrated, and weapon mastery bonuses will help you get multiple attacks. However, magic doesn't count in gaining multiples, and neither does strength. Only skill counts.

Advantages: Again, no multiple attacks on ridiculously low ACs, and a rationale for the limitation that makes sense.

Problem: Both magic and strength help you move the weapon faster. How do one explain that it doesn't help one attack more often ?

Option four: Deflects do not take into account bonuses from magic weapons- their magic is designed to attack, not to defend. You do not add in the bonus from magic to see what AC the defender manages to "reach".

Advantage: Combat is made a bit more dangerous - the advantage will lie with the attacker.

Problem: This rule has to have some specific exemptions: magic weapons CAN be made with the primary purpose to defend. I don't recommend giving out these sorts of weapons as treasure though. But I can see some PC's deciding to create a defensive sword.

I recommend you double the price of any weapon designed to defend as well as attack.

Option five: Deflects are more difficult against trained warriors. Defenders have a minus to your deflect equal to the DIFFERENCE in weapon mastery bonus between defender and attacker.

Advantage: reflects the problem of defending against a warrior who is more trained than you, and can anticipate your defences.

Disadvantage: This is already partially reflected in the attacker's greater bonus. It is redundant if one uses the deflect method outlined above instead of saving throws. It makes weapon mastery even more of an advantage.

Option six: Armour adds to your defence rolls if you're trained to use deflects in combat - you add in the number of steps your armour modifies your AC from the base of 9. You do NOT add in the magical bonus of your armour - this is only to reflect that there are fewer places to hurt someone wearing armour.

Advantage: reflects the protective nature of armour better than the passive nature of AC, since a trained warrior will deflect a weapon to take a hit on a safe place on the armour he's wearing.

Problem: gives defenders more bonuses and makes armour more decisive. Gives even more advantage to the people who armour themselves like lobsters. While reflecting reality, it causes problems with genre conventions: The lightly-armoured fighter is going to be heavily outmatched against someone wearing heavy armour, which contrasts sharply with the half-naked barbarian hero winning against the armoured knight. (Of course, in real medieval combat, the half-naked savage would best be described as "target practice" rather than "challenge")

Option seven: Same as number six, except that magic DOES count - it's designed to defend, and so should be factored in.

Advantage: maintains setting integrity, and is consistent with option four.

Problem: Makes it even worse to fight the high-level opponents, because they're likely to be loaded down with magical armour as well.

Example: Brak the Bothersome has mouthed off once to many to Kevin the Knight. Kevin swings his trusty longsword, aiming to lop Brak's head off (Kevin's player rolls a 14, hitting AC -8). Brak effortlessly flips the sword over his head and avoids being hit. (Brak's player rolls a 9, hitting AC -11) Brak decides the world would be a better place without haughty Kevin in it, and shoves his sword straight at Kevin's midsection. (Brak's player rolls a 14, hitting AC -16). Kevin desperately tries to parry, (rolling a 16, and hitting AC -10) but that doesn't work against the excellent swordplay of Brak, and Brak's sword slips in through a gap in Kevin's plate armour.

Kevin is level 9, a newly made knight, Expert at the long sword and Skilled in the Lance. He gets a +4 to hit from weapon mastery, and +2 from strength. He wears magical plate mail +2, and a shield +1, in addition to his Long sword +2. He has a base THAC0 of 14, modified for all bonuses to 6

Brak is level 16, a veteran warrior and Jarl. He is a Master of Long sword and skilled in the bow. he gets a +6 to hit from weapon mastery, and +3 from strength. He wears bracers of defence AC2, a ring of protection +3, and carries a shield +2 for those times when the fighting might involve arrows. He uses a Long Sword +3, flaming. He has a base THAC0 of 10, modified for all bonuses to -2.

Depending on what defensive options one decides to use, this combat example changes, sometimes dramatically.

Using option 4 Kevin scores a hit on Brak, since Brak's defence drops from AC -11 to AC -8, equal to Kevin's attack, which means that Brak loses. Then, on the return hit, Kevin only manages a defence of AC -8 and still gets hurt.

Using option 5, Brak parries the attack even more effortlessly, because he gets a +2 bonus to his defence - he's got one level higher weapon mastery. Then, Brak punches through Kevin's defences even more easily.

Using option 6 Brak still parries Kevin's attack effortlessly, since nothing really changes for him - he's wearing only magical armour. But Kevin gets a 7-point bonus to his defence for Plate and shield, raising his defence to AC-17, one better than Brak's attack. Kevin manages to deflect the sword-point from the dangerous gap in his armour onto one of the hard plates, and escapes injury.

One can of course combine any and all of the options, to the extent that the only way Brak the 16th level fighter could win would be to suit up in plate armour himself, or that the only way Kevin could win is to wait until Brak falls asleep and then cut his throat.

My personal favourite would be to use option 3 in conjunction with 4, possibly with option 6.

I would not want to contemplate actually using the weapon mastery system in conjunction with multiple attacks without some sort of limitation, anyway: The elven Knight in my campaign (1,8 million XP, attack rank ), Grand Master of the normal sword, str 18, uses a sword +3, flaming, gets a THAC0 of about -12. Which means he'd get multiple attacks on anything with AC -17 or worse.

In turn, that allows him (with 2 attacks) to churn out an average of 42 HP damage per turn, and if he uses a haste spell, 84 HP damage - per turn. The word cuisinart suggests itself - in a couple of rounds he could take out an Ancient Red Dragon by himself.

He's an extreme example, but Boryis isn't much better:

Level 21 fighter, Master of the Long Sword, uses Gauntlets of Ogre power, Long sword +2 (he's got more powerful weapons, but this one's intelligent.), gets a THAC0 of about -10. Only marginally less destructive than the elven knight, but he's also a Master of the longbow- does d10+6 damage with his longbow +1 - averages 23 HP damage per round, 46 with haste.

I'm not inclined to be generous with where the multiple attacks start ;) Then again, neither are the players: because if we didn't do something, one of these days the party might end up in the pointy end of a weapons master themselves.