Monday, February 14, 2022

A Question re: Strength

If one uses, as OD&D, AD&D, and Empire of the Petal Throne do, a one-minute combat round, I think you're committing yourself to a broadly abstract approach to combat. As Gary Gygax explains in the Dungeon Masters Guide: "During a one-minute melee round many attacks are made, but some are mere feints, while some are blocked or parried." 

If one understands combat in this way, I think it makes sense to avoid talking about "to hit" rolls, since, over the course of the round, there may be many attacks, some of them even landing a blow on an opponent. Rather, the combat roll determines whether or not any of those landed blows are strong enough to overcome the opponent's armor and deal damage. Thus, the "to hit" roll is really more like a "to damage" roll.

Consider how common it once was – and perhaps still is, for all I know – to criticize the way D&D uses armor class. Why, I recall being asked, does wearing plate mail make a character harder to hit than if he were wearing chainmail or leather armor? The answer is that it doesn't. Rather, certain types of armor make a character harder to damage, which is why I recommend dropping the use of phrases like "roll to hit" and the like.

All of this brings me to my question about Strength. Prior to Supplement I, a high Strength score conferred no mechanical benefits beyond a bonus to earned experience for fighting men. With the publication of Greyhawk, this changed. Now, a high Strength granted a bonus to "hit probability" and to damage. Given the understanding of the combat roll I propose above, does it make any sense for a high Strength score to do both

A bonus to the chance to deal damage (called "hit probability") makes sense to me, since what that really indicates is an increase in the likelihood that a character can land a hit solid enough to harm his opponent. I find it reasonable that a high Strength might assist in this. Why, then, a bonus to damage dealt as well? Isn't that "doubling up" on the Strength's role in combat or am I overthinking this, as I often do?

I hope I've explained myself clearly enough so that my question is intelligible. If not, I'll do my best to clarify my position in the comments.


  1. High strength means you not only hit harder (for more damage) but can also generate more momentum to penetrate armor protection (the same principle applies to bullets and body armor). The fighter does the same amount of damage with each attack, regardless of the opponent's armor, but a stronger fighter will be more likely to affect an armored opponent.

  2. The heresies just keep a-comin'! But I dig the asking the question and exploring the possible answers instead of just lashing ourselves to the classical understanding and sailing on.

  3. The “alternative combat system” of OD&D broke the Chainmail combat economy by introducing hit dice and damage rolls out of proportion to character level. In Chainmail, a Hero (lvl 4) can kill an Ogre (4 HD) in one round with a successful attack on the Fantasy Combat matrix (forgive me if my terminology is off, I’m not looking at the rule book). In OD&D, this is impossible (unless this particular Ogre rolled very poorly for HP): a Hero does a maximum of 6 damage against any given opponent in a single round. The economy still functions if the targets are 1 HD creatures thanks to the Hero’s four attacks, but against an Ogre, the Hero’s only edge over a level 1 Fighting Man is his increased “to hit” chance (better called, as you suggest, “to wound” or “to kill”).

    Adding the Strength bonus to damage adds further insult to this injury: now a Hero with Str 12 actually does significantly worse against the Ogre than a level 1 Fighting Man with Str 18 (who, in Chainmail, would be helpless against such a foe).

    So, yes, stat bonuses really muddied the waters of what “level” was supposed to represent, and hit point inflation without damage output being tied to level warped the pace of combat and the combat economy. Greyhawk laid the foundation for the incoherence of AD&D with its incoherent and untested combat subsystems like weapons-vs-armour class tables that Gygax never used and that were based on an elementary arithmetic error (ie double counting AC).

    Not to beat on Gary but D&D combat makes less and less sense the more he fiddled with the underlying chassis of Chainmail. He was really, really bad at basic math.

  4. I think so.
    You do not only generate damage more often, but the amount of damage is bigger too.

    1. Agreed. The stronger fighter should have a higher maximum damage, as well as a greater chance to do damage.

  5. 1. I could be wrong but I believe Lamentations removed STR modifier damage.
    2. A sensible game would take into account how great a hit was to help damage. Needed to roll a 12 but rolled a 14, thats +2 to the damage. That way the bonus to hit also applies to damage. Unfortunately I can't think of a way to make this sort of thing work with misses which seems like it needs.

  6. One good reason to convert to armor as a damage soaker instead of making it harder to hit. The bonus to hit with strength might go away at that point but it could be justified as being harder for the other side to parry. The one minute round is way too long IMO - even a 10 second round leaves a lot of room for maneuver and feints. One minute seems more like the pace of a duel of equals rather than a melee.

    1. Yep, ablative armor makes more sense and is more balanced if chance to strike bonuses come from other sources (leveling up, other stats). However, it does add a frequent need to do subtraction which is somewhat annoying at the table.

  7. I get the feeling that the Greyhawk bonus to hit and to damage were just a backdoor-way to make Fighting Men a little harder hitting (which might have been too successful, given the way they also had to inflate monsters to d8s). That is, I think the logic was less about a particular mental model of combat thannit was about wanting a better fighter, and Fighting Men want/have high Strength, so that's the knob they turned.

    But if we ignore that and take it all on face value, where every Hit (in the Chainmail sense) is an at least debilitating wound to the average man, then Armor Class would seem to represent the chance that the armor actually does its job as designed. A person in a cuirass being pelted with arrows might be struck many times, but if they all are deflected or even stuck in that cuirass, leaving him with nothing more than bruises, then he (his person) wasn't really hit.

    The way I think of the Strength-based hit improvement is heavily influenced by the concept I have of magical weapons, which convey a similar bonus. In the past -- and I wish I could remember in which stories -- I have read descriptions of magic swords as being light, and so effortless that they almost wield themselves. That is, a magic sword is a sword that does a lot of the swing for you. A 10-Strength man with a +1 sword can swing that sword about as effortlessly as a man with 18 Strength might. He tires less, moves quicker, and strikes truer than a man with 10 Strength normally would after a few rounds.

    But that is a factor in _if_ you hit, not _how_ you hit. being struck in the shoulder with a sword is going to hurt, but being struck in the same place by an impossibly-sharp magic blade will be worse.

    I don't think it's double-dipping: that is, I don't think it's simultaneously giving the benefit of two different ways to model for the same thing. I personally do think it was a bad idea from a game design perspective, as all ability score bonuses tend to grow out of hand, but Strength had the ability to grow out of hand much faster. Especially once you get into 3rd Edition -- the Edition I started with -- where an 18 Strength was +5 to hit, +5 to damage.

  8. It's an interesting question. What's the real difference between Roland or Ajax on the one hand, a Joe Schmuck the veteran town guardsman? Is it that they have amazing stats and Joe doesn't? Or is it that they're *heroes* (level 4)?

    I'd be more inclined to let a 4th level Fighting Man deal 4d6 damage than I would to give some doofus who rolled an 18 a gigantic bonus compared to everybody else. If a Hero fights like 4 men, let him do so! Why is Conan so flashy in battle? Is it because his player rolled him up at home ("Dude, I couldn't roll anything but 18s! It was incredible.") or is it because he's a Superhero?

    By the book OD&D doesn't overly reward or punish skewed rolls. I'd rather be generous to those who attain heroic stature than those who demonstrate (or allege) extreme luck on 3d6.

  9. @ James:

    I understand where you're coming from. These are the questions I've asked myself over the years; it's the kind of thing that's led me to tinker in all sorts of way with D&D (across multiple editions).

    The conclusion I've come to, after a good decade of blogging, theory-bashing, and running stuff at the table is: the thing is a game, and the system (for the game) is very, very functional.

    Two things to consider:

    1) "Armor class" is as abstract as both "attack rolls" (which represent more than just a single swing of the sword) and "hit points" (which represent more than just a character's blood and guts). If AC was solely representative of armor's ability to protect one from harm, plate armor would be exponentially better than chain, and chain exponentially better than leather, rather than a 10% penalty to opponent's attack roles. But it represents a HOST of things: heroic maneuverability, fatigue in battle, reduction in senses, etc. Considering the law of "diminishing returns" and the heroic genre that D&D is designed to emulate THIS WORKS FINE.

    2) Strength is likewise an abstract score (with all that it "killing-in-melee-ability" if you prefer) but it's not just about 'penetrating armor' since an attack roll in not just a sword swing. A sword, for instance, will not penetrate plate actual medieval combat, you need to use an armor piercing weapon (like a pick/hammer) or do a lot of grappling, gauntlet-on-blade wedging of the weapon into joints and such. High strength (and the fighter class's ability to USE that strength...assuming you use the "exceptional strength" scores found in Greyhawk, or AD&D) gives your heroic warrior a better chance to inflict damage as they grapple for a good position and drive WHATEVER weapon they're using into a vulnerable point of the opponent...whether this is the armpit of an armored foe, or the eyeball of a scaly dragon.

    Regardless, in GAME terms, it is a very simple, easily understood system of resolving combat in a speedy fashion that scales effectively for D&D.

  10. This is my main complaint with the "1 minute combat round": A "hit" is a hit, but a "miss" may be a hit as well (just not enough of a hit to do damage). So a Miss may be a hit that doesn't do damage - except when the attacker is a ghoul or has poison or such - then a miss is ALWAYS a miss.

    OD&D is debated on the 1 minute combat round vs. 1 minute combat turn of 6 rounds each.

    That's why I prefer the B/X 6 second round of 1 attack.

  11. Granted that I'm used to RQ, where:

    a. Melee rounds are about 10 seconds
    b. Combat die rolls represent feints, blows, thrusts and counter-feints
    c. damage points must exceed armor points before the target is wounded

    I believe that you are overthinking this. A great deal of melee combat (with shields especially) involves pushing and shoving to put the enemy off-balance or out of position as well as trying to beat down their blade or parrying weapon. I think strength SHOULD affect both aspects of melee attacks because it is strength that moves mass and mass is what hurts when it hits you.

    1. Runequest is also smart enough to build in active defenses in the form of Parry and Dodge rolls. A skilled opponent can be very difficult to land a hit on at all and two skilled opponents fighting each other often becomes a contest of rolling for "special successes" or crits - or just breaking the other guy's weapon/shield through wearing it down. Strength actually does help with both of those, as well as pushing damage past armor, but it's not the dominant factor, your overall skill is.

      D&D isn't that smart - a 20th level fighter without their gear is just as easy to land hits on as a first level newbie. Defender skill (or lack thereof) has zero impact in D&D.

    2. Isn't that partly what the increased HP for a 20th level fighter is meant to indicate...the better defenses to shrug off/parry/block an attack? Sure, you might hit a 20th level fighter as readily as a 1st level, but the impact of that attack on the target is significantly different.

      When my party switched to the Arcanum ruleset in the late 80s, its parry/dodge/shield block mechanic had huge appeal for us, but after years of making several dozen attack/defense roll-offs for every combatant, every single round, the luster of that system wore off and combat became a real slog. Returning to simpler D&D mechanics was a relief.

    3. Increased HP representing a better ability to parry, block, and dodge only makes sense until you look at the rules for healing.

    4. That, exactly. You can't have HP representing skill with healing working the way it does.

    5. Healing has the same abstractions as everything else. How do you "heal" a 20th level fighter whose confidence is shot, karma not in his favor, and worn out his welcome with his god?

    6. My point is not clear, you generally heal with magic not medicine; you are not healing physical health. The way you "heal" a 20th level fighter is with magic, they likely have no serious physical wounds after a battle. HP lost is an abstraction, and so is the healing.

    7. Just as AC doesn't solely represent the armor's material, hit points don't solely represent body integrity. If I understand the original intent, HP also represent multiple factors such as fatigue, stress/anxiety under combat conditions, and the ability (or inability) to shrug off an attack's debilitating effects.

      Hit points only work as a bodily condition if you can make the case that an experienced fighter can literally take multiple axe blows to the head whereas a newbie can only take one.

      A character's HP score represents 100% of their capacity to fight, whether they have 8 HP or 80. The higher-level character, by virtue of their defensive prowess, can take up to 80 damage worth of "attack" before succumbing, mostly by mitigating (absorbing) the full impact of the attacks that "hit" their AC score.

      No other physical explanation accounts for the differential. A higher-level character doesn't grow larger or become more dense by virtue of experience, they simply get better at "rolling with the punches."

      As for why healing works the way it does, my guess is pure simplicity. Who wants to simulate actual wound recovery? I came here to play Dungeons and Dragons, not Dungeons and Medical Procedures. :)

  12. In real (historic) life, if you wanted to kill a man in plate armour, and you had a longsword, you had to close and wrestle, put your left hand on the blade of your sword with and using it like a short spear. Or you could put both hands on the blade and use the sword as a hammer. (google "murder stroke longsword")

    So I think D&D emulates reality pretty much as you describe. Armour makes a target harder to hit *effectively*.

    Extra strength helps you land hits more often - when the weapons clash, you need to get yours to go where you want it to; strength helps.

    It also lets you land any given blow harder.

    Logically, it therefore makes sense to get a plus to hit, and a plus to damage.

    However, you should only get the damage bonus for a weapon appropriate to the target armour. Facing plate, strength will make your mace more lethal, but not your dagger.

  13. Given how draining melee combat is on stamina, and the fact that D&D has never really modeled this fact well at all, a Strength-based bonus to hit and damage makes far more sense as an abstract "maintaining your stamina in spite of constant physical exertion" bonus than a "penetrating armor with a sword (somehow)" bonus.

  14. Maybe rather than calling it a "to hit roll" we should call it a "to hurt roll".

  15. Sure, call it the attack roll - nice a vague.

    For me the first question about fiddling with rules is never verisimilitude, but in game functionality. "Will this mechanical change give an effect that encourages or supports the style of play I want without too much added complexity or negative side effects."

    Arguments from verisimilitude are always the last defense of the rules lawyer. They're the equivalent of a litigator arguing laches or public policy -- a last ditch offensive with little chance of success. I'm playing D&D -- if the rule exists, there are wizards, if rules exist that work we shouldn't change them because someone stayed up late listening to Youtube videos by HEMA guys, or remembering a favorite from the 1980's ... no, a katana should not do 2d12 because it's made of "thousand-fold steel", it's a long sword (not an arming sword of course, or a longsword, though perhaps the D&D longsword is a bastard sword? See none of us are immune o verisimilitude, they are fun!)

    To me the Greyhawk supplement in general seems like the result of a lot of rules lawyering (or if you like the rules changes, call it play testing). It's a collection of mechanics, classes and other additions that feels all over the place, but also almost always benefit the players. New rules and complexity accreted atop the intentional, and very functional if messy, rules of OD&D. Some are a mistake in my opinion, like variable weapon damage/HD and negative armor class (especially leaving the arquebus off the variable damage table after adding it to the weapon v. AC table!).

    Stat bonuses I don't think are a mistake, but the +3/-3 effect (only +2/-2 to hit - these things always get inflated!) is a bit much. While they may make sense (stronger fitter PC is all around better at doing damage in melee combat), the ability to inflict an additional 1/2 an HD (or slightly less with the D8 base) is a lot, and combined with the hit bonus an 18 STR is the equivalent of 3 levels and a very magic weapon. Exceptional STR takes your fighter from "veteran/normal man" to "hero". Setting aside verisimilitude (some may be born heroes!), this has a negative effect on game play, making exceptional stats a necessity or expectation. It's stat inflation and it's firmly attached to D&D now (regularized by AD&D's new stat gen techniques), to the point where stat matrix make more sense as a means of preserving mechanical variation in PCs.

    So good idea, dubious implementation?

    If one wants fighters to have better combat abilities, just give them each 4 extra points to split between AC bonus and attack/damage bonus. Alternatively a +1/-1 stat bonus over 15 or under 5 is good, even with flat damage and d6 HD, because it's not overpowering or too inflationary.

  16. RuneQuest 2 had a Defense stat that reduced an attackers chance to hit (the way DEX modifier did in D&D). Apparently back in 78 this confused people so they changed it to dodge but I always though Defense was better as it didn't force an additional Dodge roll that would steel away a victory when successful.

  17. A couple of comments.

    First players in my experience equate a to-hit dice roll to a specific swing of the character weapon. In my view the closer you make your rolls correspond to specific actions the players do as their characters the better off you are. Hence one reason why I adopted six second combat rounds for my Majestic Fantasy RPG.

    While I may abstract the details of a specific action, I try to make sure that all the rules I have for adjudicating something specific the players does as their characters.

    As for the interplay of Strength, Armor Class and Hit Points. Now that I understand it genesis, I don't have a problem with this particular abstraction.

    I know how to narrate combat using these mechanics, I know how adjudicate the edge cases. I appreciate how it collapse the resolution of an attack to two rolls and the simplicity of how bonuses and modifiers are applied.

    Also I strongly recommend reducing the modifiers. I use 3 attribute per +1 not the 2 per +1 that later editions uses. An 18 score is +3 not +4 as it is in AD&D or later editions. That make working with OD&D material 'as is' way easier. Which is why I use it in my Majestic Fantasy RPG.

    Even at the most basic, Runequest, GURPS, Harnmaster, etc. require doing different things in multiple steps to resolve a attack.

    However if I started with a clean sheet. I would use armor as reduction, strength modifies damage, dexterity modifies hitting and defense.

    Under Rob's clean sheet RPG I would have the player roll 3d6 to hit, modified by dex bonus and skill bonus. If it equals or exceed 10 + target's dex bonus. The character hits. Then you roll your damage dice plus strength bonus, reduce the damage by the armor rating. And apply the result to the target's hit points. Which is 10 + constitution/health/fortitude bonus.

    I will caution that this approach requires a lot of fiddling with the number to get it to feel right for you how are approaching the setting. Which is why I wrote my very basic combat sims to figure out a starting point to refine during play test.

    Hope this helps.

  18. I think RPGs are always better when damage rolls can range between 1 and the maximum of the die type. For all the strong points of the RuneQuest combat system, you can often end up with situations in which a fighter (not even a particularly strong one) can't help but maim an unarmoured opponent when they connect (e.g. someone with a poleaxe is doing a minimum of 3 points of damage if they connect - enough to take out the average limb - and 4 if they have any strength bonus).

    It's better, I think, to avoid multiple damage dice and bonuses to damage (OK, perhaps for magic weapons), so that even an ogre can just graze a foe. I'd be inclined, for the same reason, to ensure that hit points are never as low as 1, even for small creatures, so that certain orcs, kobolds and goblins won't automatically die after a successful attack. This could be achieved by 'flooring' hit dice at 2 when the character or monster has a single hit die.

    The OD&D system of having all attacks do d6 damage could be extended not by adding bonuses to the die roll but by changing the die type. So a very strong character might do d8 damage instead of d6 while monsters could range up into d10, d12 and even d20 territory (and of course, there are d16s these days).

    1. A few more thoughts on this here:

    2. I do something similar with damage, strength increases the die size, it's not a bonus. I did this to speed up the game, and so a 1 was always possible. The progression I use is 2=>2=>3=>3=>4=>5=>6=>8=>10=>12, so smaller weapons get a smaller boost, larger weapons get a larger boost. All the weapons base damage starts a little lower, so d6 for arming sword.

  19. Wouldn't removing the damage bonus from Strength also require the removal of the Hit Point bonus (or penalty) for Constitution? Since both act as a bonus to individual hit dice and damage dice, respectively.

  20. I see nothing wrong in the double role of strength. But if it was for me I'll go down the Pendragon route: armor absorbs damage, damage is based on STR, with different weapons providing a bonus.