Wednesday, April 4, 2012

For the Love of Dice

One of my favorite blogs is Zenopus Archives, because, as its subtitle indicates, it's dedicated to "exploring the underworld of Holmes Basic." Since September of last year, its author has produced a lot of excellent posts about the version of D&D I started with back in the Fall of 1979, including examinations of the Blue Book's many rules oddities. Recently, he made a post that attempts to reconcile Holmes's notorious rule that all weapons deal 1d6 damage but that "light" weapons, like daggers, strike twice per round, while "heavy" weapons strike only once every other round.

It's a terrific post, well presented and argued, and one that in my opinion does a good job of making sense of this rule without outright abandoning it -- so terrific, in fact, that I thought "Wow, I'd love to use this interpretation in my own games." The problem is that, when I first started the Dwimmermount campaign, I began by playing LBB-only OD&D "by the book," to the extent that that's possible. That meant using 1d6 for all weapons. While this did have some nice side effects -- daggers were capable of killing even 1st-level fighting men with relative reliability -- it had a big drawback. No, I'm not talking about the pointlessness of using a two-handed sword; I'm talking about the lack of variety in the dice we got to roll.

Silly as it sounds, this mattered to us at the table. Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right. Some of that sense of "wrongness" was no doubt conditioned by decades of using all the polyhedrals. My players and I strongly associated playing D&D with using five or six different types of dice in play. So, OD&D's focus on just two of the dice seemed somehow anemic and it wasn't long before we adopted Greyhawk's variable hit dice and damage rules. Once we did that, things felt "right" again and, even though we had thrown out many other bits of accumulated D&D lore in an effort to go back to the roots of the game, having only a limited selection of dice was a bridge too far, even in pursuit of that goal.

I like rolling dice and, when playing D&D, I like rolling lots of different kinds of dice. I have to admit that, while there's definitely something very primal to games like Traveller, which only use d6, I nevertheless miss the variety of shapes. Maybe that's why I still prefer Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu over other horror RPGs or why I see the use of all the weird Zocchi dice by Goodman Games's Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game as a point in its favor. I realize the irony in my saying this, since my own Thousand Suns uses only one type of dice, though, in my defense, it's d12 that it uses! (Mind you, I sometimes get the notion to design another SF RPG that uses all the classic polyhedrals, but then I recognize how silly that'd be).

26 comments:

  1. "Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right. "

    I fully agree for PCs. However, as DM it actually does feel right for me to just roll d20's and d6's (particularly for monster hit points). It's one less thing for me to worry about behind the screen -- I'm never spending seconds pecking for d6 vs. d8 vs. d10 (for example).

    Giving extra detail to the individual PCs is fine and desirable (like in many other circumstances), but as DM I do like having all monster Hit Dice and Damage some function of d6's. Players probably wouldn't detect a difference with me using other dice anyway.

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  2. That's one reason I absolutely love the crazy Carcosa dice rules: Roll all the dice, almost every time!

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  3. >> Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right



    I agree, but I also like the idea of rolling a single die type for
    any weapon as a degree of a character's  expertise in combat (being
    lethal with a dagger or a bastard sword in the same way Conan was).



    That's why I often use fixed class damage die in my games. ^^

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  4.  >> Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right



    I agree, but I also like the idea of rolling a single die type for
    any weapon as a degree of a character's  expertise in combat (being
    lethal with a dagger or a bastard sword in the same way Conan was).



    That's why I often use fixed class damage die in my games. ^^

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  5. Heya,

    I feel the same way Roberto does.  I like all the dice, of course, but as I get older, it's not as big a deal to me as it once was to use them all.  Good games that use one die type or two types or even have fixed damage values for all the weapons are just fine with me.  I don't need all the extra dice to  make me feel like I'm playing an old school game.

    Peace,

    -Troy

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  6. I will say that moving to "all weapons fo D6" seems to work fine for B/X, simply because ONLY THE DM ROLLS DAMAGE DICE under the rules of that particular edition. Since I roll various types for monsters (as well as all the players), I never get bored with the D6 all the time issue.
    : )

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  7. James,

    I may have missed where you've already addressed this issue, but why did you choose d12/12 Degree rule system?  Was it just love for the d12, or was it something else?

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  8. I used the d12 because I was adapting a pre-existing system created by Richard Iorio to my new game and that system used d12. I like the d12 well enough, but, were I to do it again, I would have rather started from scratch and created my own system that used a wider variety of dice.

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  9. "Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right."

    I'm with you all the way on this. I *like* all the odd dice. Even though i admire GURPS and Hero, rolling on d6s just felt a little "flat." That's one reason I like BRP, which sticks with the weird polyherdra. :)

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  10. Compare/contrast with the D&D-like 1985 RPG Dragon Warriors by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson: variable damage by weapon, but damage is a *fixed* number of points!

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  11. It seems reasonable to me that a battleaxe has the ability to deal more damage than a dagger. However, damage output is not everything in a weapon. That's why i like Second Edition's AD&D speedfactor and THAC0 modifiers for different armour types.

    In addition there should be some "area limitations". One cannot just swing a two handed sword in a 10 feet corridor or in a room with allies and enemies all around him. There is just not enough space for such a move.

    All these may increase the complexity of the game but they give to the fighter (or fighting man) the same decision-riddle/dilemma that spell memorization gives to spell-casters. As there is not a single best spell then there shouldn't be a single best weapon (which is closely related to damage output -and some rare cases RP preferences-  when other factors are eliminated).

    However, if i had to go with one dice for all weapons i would give each class a different die based on the class' martial prowess/orientation

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  12. I liked polyhedral dice  so much I went on and developed a D&D variant that was formerly based entirely around them.  Only problem was it required d14, d16, d18, and even d24.  Until I machined some d14 (and d16), I built some electronic dice rollers, since d14 and d22 are the hardest dice to simulate with a one-roll philosophy.   Before that I just cheated and added +1 to the next lower die.

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  13. Just a little historical tidbit about the 2/round dagger: In the Gen Con Dungeons IX module, which is “copyright 1978 JG, original copyright 1976 Robert Blake,” there are many tournament rules, non-“official rules,” including “A character armed with a dagger may strike twice each melee round, all others will strike one blow per melee round.”

    Holmes Rules! :)

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  14. Zenopus ArchivesApril 5, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    Thanks for the kind words, James!

    As a player in a regular AD&D game, I agree regarding the various dice. It's just fun.

    The "fix" I proposed for the Holmes rules could also be adjusted to be based on d8 rather than d6:

    Light (dagger) - d4 or d8 (1 hit or 2 hit/round)
    Standard (sword) - d8 (1 hit)
    Two-handed (sword) - 2d8 (1 hit every other round) or parry

    This would also allow adding some Medium weapons (mace, perhaps) doing d6/round, and use of more variety of dice.

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  15. Zenopus ArchivesApril 5, 2012 at 7:33 AM

     Thanks for the info, Tim. I haven't read that module before. There's an earlier, pre-JG version from 1976; I wonder if the rule was in there?

    Question: what level of characters are the Gen Con IX Dungeons for?

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  16. "Just rolling d20 and d6 didn't feel right."

    Hey! That's how The-Dark-Eye-players do it! We use base damage bonuses for different weapons for more variety, though (kinda like the White Box version of Swords & Wizardry AFAIK).

    The main problem with Holmes' damage rules as written is not making daggers overpowered. It's rocks and even coins that can be turned into lethal weapons - especially if someone throw a handful of them!

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  17. High level.  The pregens in round 1, levels 6-7, in round 2, levels 8-10.  I have the 4th printing, 1978.  You're right, it would be interesting to know about the earlier versions.

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  18. The_Shadow_KnowsApril 5, 2012 at 7:29 PM

    Using a two-handed sword forces you to give up a shield.  In my mind, that's the penalty you take for the higher damage.  I wouldn't worry about room to swing it except in extreme cases (I wouldn't let a PC use it in a crawlspace, for example).  K.I.S.S. is my motto.

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  19. D&D without the full array of dice just wouldn't be the same.  Ditto Call of Cthulhu and percentile dice, Traveller and 2d6,  Hero system and buckets full of d6's, and World of Darkness with fistfuls of d10s.

    It's quite clear I never saw the Holmes edition, and my Basic/Expert D&D sets are long, long gone at this point.

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  20.  This is rather disappointing to know.  Here I was thinking you were just showing a little love to the most  overlooked of the standard set of polyhedrons, the noble d12, which doesn't get a lot of love even in D&D.

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  21. To be clear: I *do* like the d12 quite a lot and think it's an underused die, but, yes, I didn't use it in Thousand Suns as a show of support for it :)

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  22. The twice per round for light weapons makes sense to me, but the "every other round" for heavy weapons seems like an excessive penalty, especially where two-handed swords are concerned (which were not nearly as slow in combat as many people believe, especially in light of the contemporary fighting manuals and modern recreations of those techniques).

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  23. I do find this a very impressive effort on Zenopus' part, trying to stay true to the verbiage in Holmes while eliminating the practical problem of making two handed arms worthless and daggers into super weapons. It is a very good solution to the problem. Were I terribly slavish to stay as true to Holmes as possible, I would adopt this interpretation post haste.

    Of course, I prefer to have a bit more verisimilitude and further see no need to pretend that the D4, D8, D10, and D12 do not exist, represent some sort of incomprehensible complexity, or are somehow impossible to obtain. And since *monsters* have variable damage dice, why can't characters using weapons?

    Really, even poll axes or halberds are not that heavy or unwieldy (I know, I own three of them) so the attack every other round does not make sense.

    My approach is to treat all weaponed attacks as doing a base D6. Notice I say "base". Depending on how well you hit, you can increment the die upwards. Thus, if you need a14 but roll a 19, the higher number counts for something, which also reflects skill better and gives much more room to differentiate weapons.

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  24. One thing to note is that in the Holmes rules, a round is only 10 seconds long (vs 1 min for AD&D).  So it's more that daggers attack 4 times every 20 seconds, swords twice and two-handed swords once. Like I mentioned in the article, I think the rule ultimately goes back to Chainmail.

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  25. Thanks, Cagadda. The Holmes rules certainly do not ignore the other dice in the rest of the rules; the Wandering Monster table uses d12 for instance, and oil damage is based on d8. Your approach for increased damage on high rolled hits is interesting.

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  26. It would work as follows: in the above example, using a sword (which I set to "increment" the die when you exceed the target to hit roll by two.) Thus, if a 14 or 15 is rolled, you just do a D6. If a 16 or 17 is rolled, you roll a D8, while an 18 or 19 would allow a D10. If a 20 were rolled in this particular example, then the maximum range is allowed, D12. Other weapons increment on only 3 or worse, but have other benefits.

    The main effect is to reward higher level types that have better to hit odds, and thus better chances of rolling more than "just" the number needed to hit, by giving them a wider damage range than a mere D6. This addresses a minor but annoying observation, namely that a uber high level character cannot kill a max hit point 1st level fighting man in a single round (who will have 8, or even 7 hits, but only up to 6 can be inflicted). Not a huge problem, but puzzling.

    Other effects are assigned to weapons. For example, maces have  a chance of stunning on a good hit, swords used against unarmored foes may roll two damage dice and take the higher number (but if used against heavy armored foes - chain mail and plate - they roll two dice and take the LOWER number). And so forth.

    This has the effect of not only making melee much more interesting, but also has greater verisimilitude.

    Other tidbits:
    - Shields improve AC by 2, not one. In addition, all normal missile attacks have a chance of being blocked outright, without even a chance at an attack roll.
    - Two handed weapons get a +2 to hit. Which means that, even though they use the same base D6, they have an improved chance of scoring higher damage as noted above.
    - To mirror the +1 bonus for high dexterity with missiles, high strength grants a +1 bonus to melee attacks, reflecting the fact that one can "bull" past an opponents defenses (I've done this, and been scolded by my fencing instructor for having done so.) Note that I do NOT add directly to damage, but obviously the +1 gives a better shot at incrementing the damage die.

    There is much more, but that is kinda how it will work when I get it all figured out...

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