Friday, July 29, 2011


Why has this not occurred to me before?

No matter how you cut it, the rules for damage from unarmed combat for AD&D always seem a little ridiculous, don't they?  If a dagger does 1 to 4 damage, it seems the grossest of overkill to give a fist 1-2 damage, or even just 1 ... especially if the character is allowed the benefit for strength.  If 1-2 damage, then the fist is doing an average of 1.5, and the dagger is doing an average of 2.5.  Those two things seem too close together.

So you're pushed into rules like trying to account for punching damage being less effective, either by saying that it's really recorded in tenths of hit points or, alternately, the damage from it is regenerated or some such.  I've seen both, and I have always thought of it as a pain.

Generally, because there are no rules for it, people tend not to punch one another in the game.  It's a sort of gentleman's agreement.

The whole problem is with zero being the lower minimum for damage.  You can't give a fist less than 1 damage on a hit, can you?

Can you?

Listen, probably someone has come up with this before, but I haven't seen it.  Why not make the fist a d4 minus 3?  Then the strength bonus can be added, making the punch effective 50% of the time for 17 strength, 75% of the time for 18 strength and 100% of the time for 18/percentage strength.  The average would then be -0.5, which would be 3 less than the dagger, so significantly below the dagger in power regardless of the character's strength.

I like it.  I may have to stage a bar fight for the first time in 20 years of running.


Imon Fyre said...

I can think of one time that I thought to punch someone in the campaign I was playing in(3.5 ed), but was talked out of it because because I didn't have the Improved Unarmed Attack feat(why an attack of opportunity would occur when I am already in melee range, for all intents and purposes, other than the PHB's stipulation that I would actually have to take time to get closer to my foe).

That whole punching my foe train of thought came from bungling my attack roll with a 1, and the DM stipulating that under a certain percentage change, on a 1, our weapon would go flying into one of the squares around us. In my head, I was like "alright, he only has to have a couple hp left, I'm just gonna punch him in the face till he drops."

What ended up happening was that I started shield bashing against the Githyanki that I up against, till he dropped.

Talysman said...

The Fantasy Trip did something like this, but mainly because it uses a d6 for everything, so once the decision was made to go with damage that varies by weapon, with 1d6 as a sword, then then you have to have weapons that do 1-2 or 1-3 damage.

The way I'd handle punching is through one of those methods you don't approve of -- most damage is "unreal", although there's a slim chance of doing real damage. But then, I do another thing you don't approve of (1d6 damage for all personal melée weapons,) so that's to be expected.

Zzarchov said...

Do you use critical hits? You could have punching only do real damage on a critical hit.

Alexis said...

This is typical RPG community response.

Propose a rule and hear no commentary on the potential effect of that rule. Hear only other rules that were not proposed.

Yay, group think.

Oddbit said...

Well my only thought that crossed my mind was that your fight is now going to take 4x longer or more. But I figured you'd see that one coming. Also with such a small damage, one can expect to see even less punching outside of punching only events.

Lord Gwydion said...

I think a 1d4-3 damage would discourage punching even more than the typical temporary damage type solutions AD&D/Classic D&D use already.

Unless you've got a lucky bruiser of a fighter who's got very high strength, I can't see many players bothering if they've only got a 25% chance to inflict actual damage...

Unless there's some knock-out effect possible to bring the opponent down early. Then you've got a good risk/reward trade-off for not using your sword.

The problem with that, then, is why can a fist knock one out, but a club or other blunt instrument can't?

I'm of the opinion that there's no real good way to work fisticuffs into the D&D hit point system without seriously modifying several other systems.

But if you try out your proposed system, I'll be waiting to hear the report of how it goes.

Zzarchov said...

That is my sales and marketing speaking, never speak a negative and instead propose a positive. My bad for posting at work.

Let me explain why I think the current idea is bad. Currently there is a "To hit" and a "To damage" roll. Armour reduces the chance a blow will do damage, represented in terms of making it harder "to hit". It has been established that "reduced chance of causing injury" is equal to "less chance of hitting" not "less damage". This is the case in AD&D as it normally stands so correct me if I am missing a house rule of yours.

So if you could conceivably "hit" but then roll damage and get zero, that defeats the underlying mechanic used in the rest of the system. An attack penalty would make far more sense, also allowing a higher level warrior to be more reliable at inflicting injury than a 0 level farmer. Your post did imply to me that you wanted to give odds of about 1 in 4 of doing even minor damage, so a straight attack penalty wouldn't work very well. Depending on which of the myriad of critical hit rules for AD&D you are using, some of them approach the same %, (some required either 16 or 18+ and hitting by more than 5 etc).

So trying not to be impolite here as I mean no offense. But a d4-3 allowing for 0 damage seems like a bad idea.

Alexis said...

Thank you people, that was better. Now we have something to talk about.

Zzarchov, perhaps the reverse could be applied, where it's easier to hit because there's less damage. I can hardly remember (from schoolyards where I fought unarmored people) not hitting when I used my fist ... surely the hand-to-eye coordination ratio must be better, assuming every enemy is not a trained boxer.

Not a house rule, but I don't see hit points the same way. I see the hit point concept as a past-the-post reality, in that the nip from a rabbit wouldn't be enough to cause a hit point of damage, because it isn't enough. The same with a glancing blow from a fist. Most blows in a combat situation, I believe, would be glancing, and that's why I propose 75% of them wouldn't do damage ... unless you had an 18/01 strength or better, in which case every punch would do 1-4 damage.

That's my argument to you, Gwydion, that most people wouldn't ever use their fist. I'm going to add a second comment below this to argue a particular point that would apply to my world (if I may indulge your patience).

I agree completely with the ridiculous "punch knocks you out but not mace" argument that floats around RPGs.

Once everyone draws weapons, Oddbit, fight goes faster. But a bar fight, where no one gets weapons except a few clubs and their fists, gets more interesting and less deadly - i.e., fun.

Alexis said...

The example I would suggest works like this:

I have certain dropped weapons rules where, if you roll a 1 on a d20, the weapon falls from your hand and possibly breaks.

If this happens during a round where your character gets multiple attacks, due to level, dexterity, spells or against, say, zero-levels, all subsequent rolls made that round are void. In other words, you get three attacks; if the first attack is a 1 rolled, you drop your weapon, and you lose the other two attacks.

(there are rules about whether you'd have time to pull another weapon, but you'd need to be really fast, and let's assume you aren't)

If you could use your fist, then you wouldn't have to draw another weapons and you could just do your best with the other two attacks while at the same time regaining your weapons (assuming it isn't broken or flung into another hex).

In my world, this is very useful for that situation, which does happen quite a lot, since my players often get more than one attack a round for a variety of reasons, there are 8 of them attacking each round and that means someone loses an attack an average of every 5 rounds or so. Having a fist to attack would be excellent.

For the record, I tend to look at combat like the 1973-74 Three and Four Musketeers movies with Oliver Reed ... all over the place and using fists and anything else people can get their hands on, even if it isn't damage-causing.

I'll throw a chicken at an opponent if it means I can stand here instead of there.

Ragnorakk said...

I like the reasoning, in the end I think I would just call a punch 1 point of damage + strength bonus.

Would it be worthwhile to consider the same kind of rules you have for combat with massive creatures - proximity = automatic damage?

If using d4-3, I'd say skip the to hit roll. Or, use the to hit roll and use 1 damage + strength bonus

Eric said...

Maybe each hit that does nO damage gives you a .+1 on your next punch?

C'nor (Outermost_Toe) said...

Hmm. That sounds like an interesting rule. It should be interesting to see how it works.

Blaine H. said...

The only worry about dropping punch damage to something as low as 1 or 0 plus strength comes from the idea that there are people who can actually knock people out with a single punch or actually do appreciable damage with punch who can't lift several hundred pounds or do the other attributes of the rare 18/** strength rating.

I really don't toss every boxer or martial artist style person as automatically needing some form 18/** style of strength score.

Just that punching has always been embarrassingly sub-par actually in game, to make it worse would be even less productive. Perhaps if they actually gave a punch, elbow, kick, knee, or other such strike do something else like a chance at stunning or knocking out someone without killing them, maybe then lowering the damage would be alright. Then it would make sense that some of the more dirtier forms of fighting would use them to get an opening.

So no, 1+str modifier is not a good idea.

Anonymous said...

I like it; I think it reasonably models the fact that only a minority of punches are sufficiently solid to have noticeable effect. I think Gwydion is correct that players would generally find it discouraging, at least until it's explained and they get on the same page. I do think folks without strength damage bonuses will probably try alternate means most of the time (bar stool, bottle, etc.)

JDJarvis said...

Why not go deeper using 1d6-5 for unarmed combat and 1d4-3 for improvised quasi-weapons?

A bottom of 0 for non-lethal works for me.

7 or 8 blows to the head from the weakest man in town shouldn't kill or incapacitate anyone.

It could still be embarrassing or demoralizing to be struck for 0 points of damage.

Oddbit said...


Question, I am not as familiar with the ADnD system but if you specialize in a particular weapon far enough, don't you get bonus damage? Meaning you could have a less than strength 18/** and get strong blows? Such as say, a highly trained boxer?

Anonymous said...

How hard should it be to beat someone to death?

I remember when I was reading the Dragonlance novels wishing the game could be more like the books. Every time Caramon would grab a couple bad guys and sweep their heads together I'd roll my eyes and know there was absolutely no way to do that in the game. In any edition. Ever.

You may be strong, but in Dungeons and Dragons, your fists are made of rubber.

Blaine H. said...


You are right in that regard. For that, I stand corrected. I had forgotten to include the concept of specialization into this. For that would put an above average human NPC, assuming they a mighty 16 str (the first point bonus damage appears, pretty beefy for an NPC there), at being able to finally hit a base 1d4 (assuming 1d4-3 for all punches, knees, elbows, kicks, and the such). It only gets worse if it becomes a 1d6-5 or so.

So, I will admit my mistake here. It is just trying to balance out that regard to a bar brawl or hand to hand unarmed scuffle will get REALLY drawn out if there are people higher than 1st level in that brawl... and with such tiny damage, even a lucky crit is not going to leave much room for a fight ending blow... that is only remaining concern in this regard.

But thank you for pointing out that I didn't carry my math to it's logical conclusion.

Big Rob said...

A good solid punch/kick to the groin should stun an opponent for a round, or at least back him off of you.

Oddbit said...

It's the reason he posted it. Seeing all the angles. But another thought that a bar room brawl isn't really good for killing anything comes up. Sure someone may die, but the fantasy portrayal is that everyone wakes up the next day with black eyes and sore bodies, except maybe the dwarf.

BurntskullCandy said...

Well and that's the thing your takeing your fists and pounding someone in the face for a solid minute and if you fail your attack roll you have no chance of dealing any damage which happens to 0/1st level characters 1/2 of the time and that assumes your just pounding that one person so under original rules it would take more than ten minutes to pound a single 4 hit point laborer to death. OVER TEN MINUTES OF STANDING THEIR AND POUNDING ON THEM. with a dagger it takes LESS THAN TWO MINUTES.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Your conception of combat is based on, I don't know what. Two people in a bar brawling don't get to hit each other more than five or six times well unless one of them is skilled; and then its all over in about six seconds. Just to keep in mind, Burntskull Candy, my rounds last 12 seconds.

BurntskullCandy said...

Oops sorry but I was trying to get to was the idea that even though it is pretty easy to knock someone out by punching them it's just about impossible to kill them by punching them. Though I like your idea so I'm doing something like that with my martial art systems where 75% doesn't do real damage.