Saturday, April 5, 2008

Strength in D&D

This obviously doesn't apply to OD&D, where most character attributes have no mechanical consequences whatsoever, but it does apply to all subsequent editions: why does Strength give you a bonus to hit? Damage, yes; I can see the logic to that. A stronger man ought to deal my physical damage when swinging a sword at an orc than a weaker one. But on what basis does a stronger man have a better chance to hit?

I know what you'll say -- "hitting" in D&D isn't necessarily a matter of actually hitting your target so much as hitting him with sufficient force to overcome his defenses and deal him damage. After all, the default length of a combat round in old school D&D is one minute. During that time, your character gets to roll to hit but a single time. Obviously it's not realistic to assume your character can only swing his weapon once in a minute -- and he isn't. Over the course of a single round, your character is dodging, thrusting, blocking, and lunging, among many other things. The "to hit" roll is an abstract summation of whether everything he's doing offensively results in doing any damage to his opponent.

Given all of that, doesn't it make sense that Strength should affect "hitting?" Possibly but I still don't like it very much. The reason is that D&D already models how well a character uses his innate and learned abilities to hit an opponent through the combat matrices (or BAB in 3e). A fighter is better at doing this than, say, a wizard, which is why he has an easier time dealing damage against an armored opponent. Should Strength add to that further? Maybe. I'm of two minds about it and need to give it some more thought, but I am leaning heavily toward restricting "to hit" bonuses mostly to being class features (and some rare magic) and instead shifting most bonuses toward damage instead.

15 comments:

  1. Having been lucky enough to take part in a bit of training based on fighting manuals of the fifteenth (?) century, I can tell you that strength makes a big difference. Yeah, not as big as dexterity, especially if dex also includes situational awareness. But being able to beat past your foe's parry or muscle him around really does open up opportunities for strikes.

    The problem is, where do you draw the line? Any good fencer knows that lulling your opponent into a pattern greatly improves the likelihood of a successful feint. Is that intelligence? Or maybe charisma? If you sat down and worked on it long enough, you could probably come up with a good reason why any of the stats should offer a to-hit bonus.

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  2. Interestingly, Empire of the Petal Throne did almost exactly as you suggest here: almost every ability score gave bonuses in combat, including Intelligence. While I'm not sure I'd go that far, it's still an intriguing alternative and one that I think goes a long way toward fixing some problems I see in the way D&D has used ability scores over the years.

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  3. In my own fantasy heartbreaker, I created fighting styles based on the stat groupings. Dirty fighting was the physical style, and was basically a no-holds barred method that granted you a bonus if you were using another style previously. Dueling was the intellectual style, and offered a bonus if you lulled your opponent by feigning weakness, in essence, by accepting increasing penalties for multiple rounds, and earning a bonus on the round you stopped. Finally, swashbuckling used the emotional stats, and could be used to demoralize your opponents, forcing them to flee or surrender before they'd actually been physically beaten. As these were styles, in essence feats rather than classes, you could mix and match them. And yes, switching from the duelist style to the dirty fighting style could yield a very nasty bonus. They were designed to compliment one another that way.

    It's fun stuff to play with, but I'm not certain such things have a place in a game that wishes to cleave to visions of D&D's founding designers.

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  4. Yeah, I don't have any interest in fundamentally changing the way that the D&D combat system works, but I would like to regularize it a bit more than it is. Unlike a lot of OD&D fans, I don't have any special fondness for the mechanical infelicities of the game and indeed think a more "rational" set of mechanics, when combined with the wide open nature of the game, would make it a much more appealing product, particularly in this day and age of overly complex RPGs.

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  5. I agree. I'd just caution against Dexterity-bloat, which True20 is certainly guilty of. With DEX affecting whether or not you hit or get hit, and STR only dictating additional damage, pumping up your DEX and just using a bigger weapon would seem a viable and useful strategy for the warrior.

    Of course, this wasn't as big an issue when I played Moldvay Basic, as there was the rather simple encumbrance system and frequent stuck or locked doors that needed kicking in.

    Are you planning on keeping the actual 3-18 score numbers? They are hoary with tradition, but I hardly see the point of the game doesn't actually use those numbers for something after character creation.

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  6. I'm of multiple minds on the 3-18 range. You're absolutely right that the scores themselves mean nothing in pre-3e D&D. You're also right that they have tradition on their side, so it's a wash overall. Ultimately, I think it'll depend on how closely I want "pulp fantasy D&D," which won't be D&D at all in terms of branding anyway, to cleave to the specific mechanics of the game and on whether I find a use for the ability scores. I'm toying with some ideas now that use the score numbers in place of saving throw targets, but I haven't yet come to any conclusions.

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  7. First, I have to agree with the above, that STR can play a part in hitting depending on the style.

    But I think part of the reason might be that a fighter is the STR guy, rogue the DEX guy, etc. It might make more sense to use DEX the bonus to hit, but then the fighter would also have to be dexterous.

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  8. Strength in D&D isn't so much how force your muscles can exert so much as it is a measure of your "fighterliness". It's just the name Gary choose for the Fighter's prime requisite.

    ...at least that's one way to look at it.

    By my reckoning, though, the bonus to damage greatly outshines (statistically if not descriptively) the bonus to hit. So, I'm more than happy to drop the to hit bonus. Especially since I don't see why it should be a double bonus (i.e. a bonus to to hit AND to damage).

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  9. I think you're right that Gary did actually intend, at least initially, Strength to represent "fighterliness." The question is complicated, of course, because, in OD&D, only a few of the six abilities actually do much of anything, while others do multiple things. I think it's this inconsistency that bothers me at least as much as what any individual score represents.

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  10. Perhaps str bonus makes sense for penetrating armour only and not much sense for creatures unless they have thick hides.

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  11. Maybe a bit late to comment on this, but consider the following:
    Strength is not only the brute force that you can use to smash things (cause damage), but the muscles that help you to hold and move objects and your own body. A stronger man can hack&slash with a weapon faster, and can do that for a longer time period than a weaker one. Ask a martial artist to have a little competition with you. Both you and your opponent start kicking and see who is getting tired first. When you are tired, it is more difficult to defend against attacks. The ability to fight effectively longer is represented bye the to-hit bonus of strength.

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  12. Interestingly enough, 4e models each of the traits being used for different attacks. Like mentioned above, some attacks my need intelligence (feinting), some strength, some dex, etc. 4e attempts to model this through the various powers a character has. I would love to see the 3-18 go away, too, as it still is pretty useless.

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  13. I know this is an old blog post, but my question is, if so many people want to see the 3-18 system go away, and that it's useless, why is that? Especially in 3.5 your stats and the bonuses there in contribute hugely to your skills and trickle down into what defines your character's strengths, weaknesses, and overall what they can and can not do on a practical level. I would say without the stats, anyone could be anything simply because they want to be it. The stats practically define the character in the game itself. It gives a certain tangibleness to a game that is imaginary. Does that make sense?

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  14. Muscular strength dictates how fast a weapon can be swung, and greater speed means more damage. Think of a hitter in baseball. Also, a fast-moving puncture attack will penetrate more deeply; think of a bullet fired from a gun vs. a bullet thrown manually.

    But as mentioned, one could incorporate almost any attribute into a combat game system, so it depends on desired realism vs. complexity.

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  15. In my games I'm always using the stats.

    You want to walk across that slippery board? Roll under your dexterity on a D20

    Want to climb up the side of a cliff? Roll under your strength -10

    There's a fake wall, roll under your wisdom -5 to notice the breeze coming from it.

    What are those scribbles on the wall? Roll under your intelligence -15 to realize they're the key to the Karvanian riddle, the solving of which will make you famous in certain circles.

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