Monday, November 12, 2012

Thoughts on RPG Combat


In D&D armor does reduce damage. It just abstracts it into a single roll. The Armor Class system resulted from the days of Miniature Wargaming. In many games of the 60s you rolled to hit and then you rolled to see if damage was done based on the armor.

In Chainmail, and later D&D Arneson and Gygax collapsed that into one roll. The odds of actuall doing damage still was the same but now you reduced the number of rolls you needed to make by half. An important advantage in resolving miniature wargames. This carried over into the development of D&D. The d20 you roll doesn't represent the chance to HIT, but the chance to do DAMAGE. Better Armor is reflected by the reduced chance to do damage.

However as convenient this is, nearly all the gamers I know equate a single throw of the die to a swing of their weapon. It is a natural and intuitive way of visualizing what happening on the table. So it is understandable why some gamers have a dislike for how D&D portrays combat abstractly.

I myself prefer combat systems where

  1. An attack roll is single swing of the weapon.
  2. You get a defense roll based on dodge, shield, or parry
  3. Damage is reduced by how well armored you are.
  4. Hit Points are limited and even experienced character can be taken out by a single lucky blow.

Which is why I like RPGs like Harnmaster, GURPS, and Runequest/Basic Roleplaying (although 2nd edition RQ had the limbs flying a bit to readily).

The downside of my preference is that combat takes longer to resolve than D&D. In my experience about twice as long for well designed system like Harnmaster, and GURPS. So D&D has it virtues which I appreciate when running a campaign.

11 comments:

veggeek said...

Once I understood, just how abstracted the d20 system armor-class to-hit, it ended a lot of the d20/OGL hate I had going over the years. I am still not some much of a class system fan, that said, I am enjoying GMing a pathfinder game quite a bit,

Tim Shorts said...

It would be interesting to see what an average combat would take. There have been times when combat in our AD&D or S&W game seemed to last a while. GURPS it can be over in a single hit like you mentioned and in D&D versions it usually takes several hits. So I think over all it works out to be the same. Bad dice rolls can make any combat last forever.

Rob Conley said...

Probably best to do the comparison with mid-level D&D characters and 150pt GURPS characters

Brock Cusick said...

The "mistaking one roll with one attack" is particularly non-abstract when tracking ammunition during ranged combat.

That's why I prefer the 6 second round to the 1 minute round. The AC from your armor still reduces the chance of taking damage, but each roll is (more or less) one attack - damaged or ranged.

Hedgehobbit said...

Arneson's pre-pre-D&D campaign had armor saves instead of D&D's current to-hit vs AC. If you were hit you'd take an armor save to avoid damage entirely. I prefer this system to damage reduction because it affects all weapon equally. Damage reduction encourages players to all take the biggest most damaging weapon possible since they are affected least by damage reduction.

A to-hit roll followed by a parry roll (as in Runequest) has a problem where your chance to hit increases until you hit 50% skill and then starts to decrease again as both the hit and parry roll reach 100%. To the point where combat takes forever. I prefer the method in WFB where you compare the skills of both combatants to determine hit chance; factoring in parrying without a separate roll. Arneson's early combat system did this as well.

Random Wizard said...

When running a game, I have grown to not like combat encounters much. I always try to provide a way to defeat the encounter through other means. Sometimes, combat in D&D feels a bit like the battles in the first Sid Meier's Civilization, where a Battleship would be defeated by a phalanx camping out on the shore.

Jason said...

Increasing the number of rolls in combat (hit, defense, damage, resist) does increase the time combat takes but I've found that if you have limited HP, then it reduces the time back to something reasonable (or even faster for really low HP).

Kent Horsman said...

I too prefer a combat system that involves rolls for attack, defense and damage resolution.

Hit location, crippled limbs, and such can also make for shorter combats, although those involve more dice rolls too.

However, my beef is with the players turning to their smartphones the minute they complete an action while their characters are in combat.

The other night, one player looked up from his phone to see that an orc had crossed a good piece of ground to close with his character.

I almost felt like saying, "Distracted at the table, distracted in the combat. Surprise!"

gregarious monk said...

I like the WFRP combat system, limited wounds (HP), offensive and defensive actions, and a critical system that makes combat very risky/interesting.

In WFRP the average combatant can only survive one or two good hits before they start taking criticals. The combat duration is determined by how evenly matched the defensive abilities of the two sides are. More parries and dodges on both sides can lead to longer fights.

The abstract combat of D&D is well suited to the massive numbers of hit points the combatants can have in higher level play.

@Kent:
Last time I ran a ta, mostly due to the fact thatbletop game I banned all electronic devices and non-game materials at the table. There was some grumbling, but it did make for a much more involved effort on the part of the players. We also sat around a table instead of lounging in chairs aroudn the living room. It made a world of difference.

Norman Harman said...

Reading your 4 points I thought you were going to say Rolemaster / HARP.

eric said...

> I prefer the method in WFB where you compare the skills of both combatants to determine hit chance

As an ex-fencer, this intrigues me. My experience with modern fencing suggests to me the ability to hit the opponent is not solely a function of the opponent's armor, but the opponent's skill compared to the attacker's (and vice versa).

I like thinking of armor as a mechanism to reduce damage. Honestly, though, this is pure thought exercise for me as I haven't played in a while! While the D&D hit-point and d20 armor-class system is a decent abstraction, I wouldn't mind a different dynamic, especially if it makes combat short, sharp, and dangerous.