I have wondered if I should bother writing this post, particularly as I know it will be arduous and little understood…and probably not supported. I expect no one to read it and change anything about the way they play…and I hardly care. I have been playing myself this way for so long that I can’t see doing it any other way.
The subject is combat. Before I begin, I need to give some lip service towards the subject of AD&D in general. I don’t play it. I do base much of my world on the books, and I do use many of the tables therein, and generally have its backbone as a structure that I adhere to. But when it comes to the actual, rules-lawyer inspired game, I don’t play it. That is because, as I have said before, the game as written is broken. And I have felt comfortable changing whatever I’ve felt was wrong in order to make a more playable, effective game. I don’t see the changes as “house rules” because I don’t recognize the original text as anything but a guideline. But I know others see it that way…so here are my house rules for combat.
They were suggested to me by a player back in ’88, and after a few months of playing them and tweaking them, it was generally agreed that they represented a faster, more vigorous form of combat. My present players were inducted into the game with the more traditional combat system—none of them complained a whit at my variations. And while I say this often, I will say it again…I’ve never had any complaints, not from anyone I’ve introduced to it. I suppose I’ve had a few people who wouldn’t run in my world—but the combat system was never cited as the reason.
All right then. Preamble over.
I’ve wondered about the best way to describe this system, but I suppose the story teller in me demands the approach below. Any comments I think are special to my system I’ll describe in red. Just for fun, I’ll roll all the dice and describe the events as the dice describe (I won’t cheat).
In a completely different universe, Aggro the Axe (4th level fighter), Abner (5th level mage), Arkayn (4th level cleric) and Arlanni (2nd level thief) are moving down a rock corridor lined with torch sconces (I don’t want to get into light factors for this), disappointed that they’ve found nothing yet. Aggro and Arkayn are at the front.
Approaching them from the other end of the corridor, having just entered from the outside, are Gutboy Barrelhouse (6th level fighter), Balto (1st level monk), Blastum (4th level mage) and Barjin (a 4th/5th level fighter/mage). Gutboy and Barjin are at the front.
As both parties include humans, both are clearly able to see the torch lights indicating the other’s approach. The two parties stop 30’ apart, or six hexes (I don’t use squares). There are five empty hexes between the parties and the hall is two hexes wide.
After a period of unhappy discussion, the parties decide, more or less at the same moment, to attack one another. At this point, initiative is rolled. Party A rolls a 5 and Party B rolls a 4.
As it happens, Balto has a 17 dexterity, giving him a +2 initiative (same benefit as dex missile bonus), thus his initiative is a “6”. Arlanni, however, has a 16 dexterity, so that her initiative is also a “6”. Thus, these two individuals attack simultaneously.
As both are in the rear, both have no choice but to use missile weapons. Arlanni unwisely decides to use her sling, which requires the whole round (Each round is six seconds; three seconds per side; I decided on six second rounds primarily because I wished the rounds to reflect a single swing and because, otherwise, the slow movements proposed by AD&D just don’t make sense) to wind up, so she will actually attack last. Balto has no other weapon than his staff (one proficiency only at first level), so unless he chooses to jump between Gutboy and Barjin, he must wait. So he waits.
As Aggro is in plate mail and shield, with a 15 strength, his movement per round is “2” (to move one hex requires 1 movement point; to attack requires 2 movement points). As such, Aggro cannot rush forward to attack anyone; at best, he can stagger forward two hexes and set himself for attack…he doesn’t however, aware that his companions will need him to defend, he moves a step forward and into the center of the hall, intending to hold that position like Horatius at the bridge.
Arkayn decides to cast the spell command, which—like Arlanni’s sling—will require a round to cast (remember that the rounds are greatly shortened, and thus the enemy has time to foil Arkayn’s spell; I believe this is much more realistic than the Hollywoodized concept of superpowerful wizards, and certainly makes a spellcaster pick their moment). As Arkayn is dressed in scale mail, he is counting on a better than fifty percent chance of getting the spell off.
Meanwhile Abner, unarmored and with a movement of 5, backs away down the corridor. As most of his spells are effective at fairly high ranges, the farther he is from the enemy’s thrown weapons, the better the chance that his spells won’t be ruined once they’re begun.
Gutboy, in splinted and with a strength of 17 has a movement of 3. This means he is capable of moving one forward and attacking; however, he is five hexes away from Aggro. Plus the cleric is throwing a spell. Gutboy, however, has five proficiencies, one of them being a dagger. Requiring 1 move to draw the dagger and 2 to throw it, he hurls the dagger at Arkayn…he rolls a 15; he has no dexterity bonus (and I play with no dumbfuck armor class adjustments), but for a sixth level fighter that hits AC 1. Arkayn takes two damage and the spell is ruined.
Barjin, being a multi-classed mage/fighter, has no armor and thus has a movement of 5. As he already has his hand axe in hand (wisely prepared), he hurls it at Aggro (2 movement) as he runs forward (3 movement). This does not quite close the gap, but he knows Aggro likely cannot move forward one hex and still attack (unless Aggro has, for whatever reason, more than one attack per round, in which case the movement cost per attack is one). Barjin rolls a natural 20 (!), which causes double damage (I used to use critical hit tables, but they got annoying); he automatically rolls the d20 again (another natural “19” or “20” indicates triple damage—though 19s are ignored if the defender is wearing a helmet), and produces a 5. Barjin gets no strength bonus for his hand axe, as it was thrown (and he has a 14 strength, at any rate), but he manages to cause 6 damage. Aggro has 29 hit points, so he is not “stunned.” (“What?” you’re thinking…I will explain when someone IS).
Finally, there’s Blastum. He can see Arlanni winding up her sling, so he’s going to back up also. Like Abner, he has a movement of 5…but he only backs up two hexes, for reasons which will become clear.
At this point, Arlanni lets go her sling bullet. Close range is anything within 15 hexes (PHB, p. 38, range indicated x 3 hexes), but her companion Aggro needs support so she fires at Barjin. She rolls a 1, indicating that the sling has come out of her hand. The stone bounces harmlessly off the walls and the sling itself lands (roll 1-3 to indicate) two hexes in front of her. Arlanni swears.
Balto still has initiative over Party A. He has a movement of 5 (unarmored monk), but being fairly weak it’s just not wise for him to move to where Aggro has a chance to hit him; formerly he was standing behind Barjin…Balto is still six hexes away from where Aggro is positioned. His best chance is to wait until Aggro is stunned (there’s that word again) so he can slip past and attack the spellcasters. In the meantime, he moves forward three hexes where he can use Barjin as a shield.
Party A (except for Arlanni, whose actions now follow Party B)
Aggro has little choice in action. Separated from Barjin by two hexes, he can’t advance and attack this round (this is why plate mail sucks; and why it SHOULD suck…I don’t punish players because they decide to have it, I punish them because the stuff weighs 45 pounds and is put together with screws, for shit’s sake). He could choose to drop his battle axe (no movement; sheathing it would cost him 1) and draw his hammer, enabling him to throw it the following round, but he decides not to. (If he didn’t stubbornly pick a weapon requiring two hands, he could hold both an sword and a hammer…good reasons why if you’re going to wear plate mail you should think better how you choose to defend yourself). What Aggro CAN do is advance one hex and “engage” Barjin in combat, even though Aggro doesn’t have a chance to attack this round. (Once engaged in combat Barjin has to expend 2 movement to withdraw, plus 1 more to move into an adjacent hex).
Arkayn, miserable that his spell failed, decides now to draw his mace and join Aggro. Arkayn in scale and with a 13 strength has a movement of 3. He can’t quite move forward either and attack Barjin (being separated by three hexes), but he can move forward two and additionally engage Barjin in combat (Each additional person increases the withdraw penalty by 1 move).
Abner, confidently 11 hexes from the nearest enemy, is now free to cast. He considers getting that goddurn it web scroll out of his pack because it will be pretty useful just now. Unfortunately, it’s going to take him one round to get off his pack, another to rummage through the bag, a third to uncap the scrollcase and get the blasted thing out. Then it will take another full round to read it. Instead he decides to cast his suggestion spell (the best third level spell his book allowed, having only a 15 intelligence), which will take two rounds to cast (like all third level spells).
Party B (except for Balto)
At this point, Barjin has only one escape hex…and it will cost him four movement points to enter it. Given his movement of five, he could completely retreat to a point two hexes from Aggro—but what would that accomplish? Gutboy can’t handle both Aggro and Arkayn alone, and Balto is no real help…and besides, Blastum is at the back preparing a spell. Basically, the best thing Barjin can do at this point is attack. Arkayn is an easier target. He rolls a 16, hitting AC 2. Using a long sword, he causes 6 damage. Arkayn has 22 total hit points (these useless characters from the book have no stats!) and is stunned.
(Now what, exactly, does that mean? Whenever any creature takes damage in a given round—from however many sources—which equals or exceeds one quarter of the total hit points at the beginning of that round, the creature is stunned for one round, during which time they can take no action whatsoever. The character falls back one hex—or two plus hexes if struck by a large creature, depending on the size of the creature—and there they remain. For story’s sake, they can be said to be dazed or laying on the ground…if stunned next to a vertical drop, they are allowed a dexterity check, failure indicating that they have fallen. That’s fun to run, let me tell you. If it so happens that Barjin is not stunned himself by Aggro’s next attack, he can move forward and attack Arkayn again, this time needing only 4 damage to stun him, as Arkayn’s total hit points the following round were reduced to 16. The liveliness of this comes from being able to literally beat your opponent to death without them ever having a chance to attack, if the dice favor your attack. It’s fun when it works for the players, it is amazingly distressing when it works for the creatures opposing them)
Balto remains where he is…thoroughly outclassed, he’s best held in reserve. Remember that later in the battle, it may not need much for him to keep either Aggro or Arkayn stunned.
Gutboy rushes forward to back up Barjin. He’s four hexes from Aggro, which means he can advance three and engage Aggro in combat.
Lastly, Blastum actually possesses a web spell…five hexes behind Balto, he will begin casting it. Of course, the spell only has a range of 20’ feet at Blastum’s level, so he’ll have to move forward once he’s cast the spell.
This leaves only Arlanni. Being a thief and not suited for direct combat, she has wisely filled two thin ceramic flasks with oil and has previously prepared them both with cloth wicks. These she keeps carefully in padded pouches hanging from the belt over one shoulder. In leather armor she has a movement of 4; it takes one movement to extract one flask, one movement to draw her flint and tinder, one to set the bottle on the ground and one to ready the tinder for use. The next round she will light the flask and prepare to throw it over the melee in the direction of the enemy mage…
Not that I can’t go on with this, but I’m getting a bit tired. It is a helluva a lot easier to actually run this combat than it is to describe it, along with all the rules that my players have comfortably adjusted to. I hope that this will, to some degree, help explain why combats in my game are interesting enough to draw approval. But perhaps not. Who knows? I find them a great deal more diverting than the example on p. 71 of the DMG. You decide.
P.S. I’ll finish the combat if I’m asked to.