Sunday, 10 January 2010
(Written ages ago when I first played OD&D and recently found in an long-lost text file)
OD&D has all weapons do the same damage. d6.
On the surface of it this appears to lack all sense and is one of the things that seemed to vanish very quickly in the early days of RPGs. By the time I had the Red Box as a Christmas present things had changed - daggers and clubs did d4, hand-axes, maces and short swords did d6, swords d8 and two-handed swords and polearms d10. That always seemed more logical as polearms look more likely to do serious damage than a club does. We don't have the English term "poleaxed" for nothing...
WFRP adopted a similar-ish approach with it's Hand Weapon and Two-Handed Weapon concept, bundling weapons together based upon how many hands it took to wield. Hand Weapons did a base d6, Two-Handed d6+1 with a lesser class of daggers doing d4. Clearly WFRP's designers either didn't see a difference in the lethality of swords against maces or either didn't care or just didn't think it was worthwhile including.
We used d6 for all weapons in Friday's game [the first game of White Box we played - Coop]. Describe your weapon, it does d6. This led to a couple of house-ruled deviations from the printed rules. Magic-Users can only use daggers but since a dagger does the same as a greatsword, we ignored it and our Magic-Users equipped themselves with swords thus solving years of "But Gandalf was a Magic-User! No he wasn't he was a Cleric! Well they can't use swords either!" arguments in one fell swoop. Our Cleric decided to use a Lochaber Axe as well since mechanically it didn't make much difference.
(Actually that's not technically true. A blunt mace or hammer may strike for d6 and our Cleric's Lochaber Axe also strikes for d6 but it makes a difference when it comes to fighting denizens that resist sharp weapons or trying to break open a chest. A Magic-User defending himself will do d6 damage whether he has a little knife or a bastard sword but a knife can be used to try and pick a lock and a sword can't whereas prodding a suspect loose brick with a knife puts you much closer to it when the trap goes off than 5' of steel does. It's therefore important to know the dimensions and type of a PCs weapon but generally anyone can wield anything and it doesn't really matter. It also avoids the nonsense whereby a Magic-User, or Thief in later versions, stands there and dies because he couldn't pick up the fallen Fighting Man's sword because err... the rules forbid it.)
Maybe in the original Chainmail rules nobody cared. A footman was a footman and in a mass wargame set 1 hit = 1 casualty and there just isn't enough granuality possible there to suggest that a Roman gladius might be slightly less lethal than a landsknecht's dopplesword.
But I recently realised something important best phrased as a question.
What's more lethal - being killed by a dagger or being killed by a poleaxe?
To the corpse, it's an academic question.
But a non-lethal wound is worse from the latter than the former? So all the non-lethal blows should be worse from the poleaxe than they are the dagger?
Well not necessarily. Let's remember what D&D combat really represents. Hit Points are not a measure of bodymass and physical resistance to damage, at least not for humanoid characters. Huge beasts I accept will take many bloody wounds, each of which would topple a humanoid before they kark it. Only that last blow is important.
Hit Points instead measure the life expectancy of the characters "under fire". It's best viewed via a wargaming example. A battalion of 500 men of Napoleon's Old Guard will last longer under fire than 500 15-year old conscripts pressganged from French villages and told to stand on the border against the invading Allies. It's not that individual Grognards shrug off wounds better than the conscripts (cannon balls being no great respector of age or rank) but clearly the life expectancy under fire of the unit is greater. The Old Guard will take more volleys and charges than the conscripts will before that fatal blow to unit coherency happens and the battalion dissolves.
Hit Points work in similar fashion. Fredrich the Fifth Level Fighting Man has more Hit Points than Severus the Second Level Fighting Man. Fredrich's life expectancy under fire (which in our terms means melee and being attacked by the environmental hazards of the dungeon) is greater than Severus. He gets to make the dodges and turn little wounds into tiny nicks far longer than Severus. Perhaps the Gods favour Fredrich more for the months and years of adventuring that he has entertained them with.
As we know, only the last, fatal blow is the one that matters. And if it's fatal, it doesn't matter what weapon delivered the blow.
Imagine the Master Assassin facing his target armed with his trademark murdering stiletto. How many times does he need to strike the target before the target dies? In game terms probably only once. After all he's got a reputation to keep up. All but the last of his successful hits see the knife whistle past the target's ear, stab at thin air as the target leaps back, all the while lowering the targets "life expectancy under fire" (which we call Hit Points) but suddenly the target is hit, has nothing left in the tank and the single lethal blow arrives. 0hp.
That is why all weapons should stick to d6 hit points damage.