Monday, 11 January 2010

Even More OD&D Weapon Damage

Back when I got into wargaming the riverine battles of the American Civil War, a wargaming friend lent me a book on the history of the ironclad warship. (This may seem entirely unrelated to D&D combat but pat yourself on the back if you recognise the link between the two which is actually a complete co-incidence and something I only remembered when halfway through typing this post).

Something interesting in that book was the experience of ironclad versus ironclad combat in the American Civil War. As wargamers we tend to look at the hard statistics of the weapons and theoretical performance of such and therefore decide that the big heavy guns mounted on the bigger ships were obviously better than the smaller guns on the smaller ships. I mean to say, it's logical isn't it? Bigger shot, heavier impact, longer range. Big guns outshoot little guns. End of. Anything else would be counter-intuitive.

Except that it's wrong. The only advantage the big guns had was range and often they were unable to use that because of the confined battlefields on the American rivers. Their rate of fire was slower than the little guns, and while you might assume that the heavier shot of the big guns compensated for this, in reality that didn't happen. Small guns fired so much faster that, all things remaining equal, they put a greater weight of shot upon the target than the big guns did in the same time-frame. They ranged in quicker and were able to exploit an advantageous position far more efficiently than the big guns did by getting more shots in while the opportunity lasted. Their speed of fire meant that they could locate a new target (or the old one having moved from it's original position) on a fluid battlefield comparatively quickly while the big guns were floundering around finding that their ranging shots were now zeroed in on ships that were no longer there.

Having read it, it seemed so logical that I immediately amended the rule-set I was using (Peter Pig's Hammering Iron II - a great game BTW with lovely resin and white metal 1:600 scale model ships). Had I not read this, I would have been baffled by any rule-set that worked under these findings and probably amended them in order to "be right".

If we view big blades as big guns and small blades as small guns, it's not that much of a stretch to see a clear parallel. Little, handy weapons strike at the target more often than big ones so while the big ones hurt more - the little ones have done enough to compensate. A D&D combat round is 10 seconds. Not simply a case of one d20 roll representing a single swing/stab/hack of a weapon. There is enough time in the round to have a window of time whereby some weapons may be thrust in multiple times and others have to be hefted, balanced, swung and and the momentum compensated for, not to mention the frustration of wanting to swing a Lochaber Axe but finding an idiot colleague in the way and spoiling your hack. And remember, we aren't talking about all hit point losses being spilt blood, but all the close shaves and little nicks and scratches to armour.

Ah, but you say, you are being disingenuous here. All you are doing is concocting a scenario whereby your favoured rule is justified and thereby having the tail wag the dog. The rule comes first and the justification comes second.

Guilty as charged. I am. But I don't care :)

Because if I can justify a rule, even if it's cherry-picking one scenario and deliberately ignoring four others, I'm happy. I have an explanation of why this works and in all honesty I'll accept any justification if justification it is. That actually is a little bit dismissive of my own findings - while I understand the attraction of different weapon dice, the scenario above is plausible enough to my own mind that I can happily run with it and I find I prefer it to all others, other than perhaps the idea of damage die coming from class, not weapon so that Magic-Users with swords do d4, Clerics with swords do d6 and Fighters with swords do d8. I'm still tempted by that one which to be honest isn't very far from my d6-for-all thinking anyway.

Pick your favourite scenario that matches the rules and disregard the rest. I'm sure I've missed a lucrative career as a doom-mongering climate change "scientist" here :)


  1. If nothing else, we're generating a lot of heat.

    I agree with your conclusion, apply whichever approach suits you. If you like d6 for all, do it. Variable weapon damage is your preference? Use it. Damage by class? Why not?

    That is part of why I like playing old-school. The canon says "salt to taste".

  2. It's something about descending armour class being something which was borrowed from a naval wargame, isn't it? It makes me chuckle a little to have certain folk go on about the sanctity of "Gary's game", when it was such a bastard crossbreed of mixed mechanics.

  3. Why are you even bothering with a "justification" for the silly d6 only rule? It's your game, son, you can play it any tom-fool way you like! So long as everyone is having fun it really doesn't matter.

    Certainly it's a remarkably poor rule if things like reality and good game design mean anything to you, but in the end it's your game, not mine. If the above considerations are unimportant to your game, then ignore them. No need to go through terrific mental contortions and baseless handwavy rationalizations - it's your game and you all are having fun and that's all that matters!

    So spare us. Please. It's making our heads hurt...;-)