Realistic D&D Combat?

6 11 2008

I’ve always been on the fence when dealing with proposals for more realistic mechanics. On the one side, I want a kind of realism that could be called coherence: that is a matching of expectations between what the gaming group expects as a probable outcome from combat and the results produced by combat mechanics. On the other hand I want to stay faaaar away from GURPS like exactitude: I don’t want anything to do with the idea of simulating real combat with mechanics so that they, by themselves, would mimic whatever concept of reality.

I’ve been reading this livejournal post today and I must say that I’m intrigued. The writer has some good ideas (surprisingly I’ve thought about some of the same things while reading the Rules Cyclopedia, but I’m sure most of us have) on what are some of the things that just don’t feel right with the action as it is. I don’t agree with some of the solutions proposed, not because of any mathematical error (whatever that might be,) but because I feel it adds unnecessary fiddling with the system.

I do, however, want to recap on some of the points he makes and which I believe are issues that rub me the wrong way:

1- Shields should NOT just lower 1 AC. The shield was an essential part of medieval combat and certainly the element around which defense was built on most one handed weapon set ups. The fact that I can better lower my AC wearing a tough leather armor than I could do by wearing a good shield is simply amazing and, sadly, not very accurate.

Then again, I must still decide how to handle ‘hits’ in combat (and the idea of HP) and the whole AC concept. Regardless of that (and how it might influence the actual mechanic) I want to make sure that shields play an important role. Of course, a shield is not a magic barrier: they’re heavy, sometimes cumbersome, and being hit on the shield with certain weapons plain hurts (much less than being hit in the head with the same weapons though.) Once again, I’m not so sure I need a mechanic to reflect this, but I certainly do not want a mechanic that produces results that go against it.

Choose your character!

Choose your character!

2- As far as HP goes, I’ll probably go the abstract route. I especially want to avoid the idea that you can chop, stab and puncture someone (of high enough level) and they’ll just keep on fighting. Any significant wound inflicted in combat is probably going to take you out of the fight altogether. I’m thinking that HP will reflect a sort of stamina, or some kind of “narrative shield” if you’d like: wounds can maybe only be inflicted when the char has 25% or less of the HP or something like that. Still undecided about this one.

In any case I don’t think I’ll be aplying his rules here. What I’d probably like is to have HP directly tied to Constitution… so that it can be ‘trained’ just as someone could develop strenght or higher agility. Just a thought for now. Any ideas?

3- This point speaks for itself:

This is really the most interesting bit…it may also be stolen from somewhere (Pendragon?). The basic idea is that survival is achieved by not being hit, and in a normal combat, one maneuvers to an opponent’s disadvantage such that, when all is said and done, striking your opponent generally means that you are not struck back (…)

(…) you could argue that if you aren’t threatening your opponent, he will have an easier time striking you.

Oh I like that idea… the mechanics that come later, not so much. On that topic I’ve been trying to track down the episodes of “Conquest“, which was a History Channel show that dealt with usage of medieval weapons and such. I’ve already watched the one about axes and boy is it a fountain for ideas! Just by watching one episode (the one I talked about) you can see that what the writer proposes is pretty accurate on some cases. You can find most of them on although the weird thing is that I’ve only found Spanish dubs so far (no issue for me, but might be for you.)

Any thoughts my fellow gamers?




5 responses

6 11 2008

Monsters may or may not care about being hit. Humans and the like usually do mind. Hence, a system based around not being hit in the first place may not scale all that well to all opponents. In human-centric game this is likely not a problem.

6 11 2008

When I’m playing usually the idea of “no one likes to get hurt” applies to every sentient being. While some monsters might deviate from this concept, they’d be unique creatures rather than a large portion of the population.

Then again, saving from some berserker type of fiend, or some that has no sense of touch… I’d be a little puzzled as to why monsters might not care about getting hurt. Note here that I disregard any non-wounding hits. They exist, but for the most part wounds either incapacitate you, or (for the duration of the fight) they’re not relevant (take this last with a grain of salt… I’m not talking about an objective quality of the wound… take Corwin making a small cut on Eric’s wrist on the first book of the Amber saga, which does nothing to Eric’s health, but has devastating psychological repercussions.)


6 11 2008

Not all monsters. But consider 1. unliving or 2. very large creatures. Also, heavily armoured things, unless armour is part of how one avoids being hit (which it might as well be). Or, for that matter, vehicles in a modern game.

On a more heroic note, hordes of goblins forced to attack by those wielding whips, and other such situations where the enemies simply are not capable of not being hit.

The problem happens when combat is built around the paradigm of combatants doing everything they can to not be hit. Not an insurmountable problem, and as mentioned, not relevant in human-centric games.

A combat option like berserking might very well take of the entire deal; those who can’t or won’t dodge simply are considered to be berserking.

7 11 2008

You know, as soon as I left that comment I thought…. wait a minute… Zombies of course!

In any case, there is a subtle but important difference that I’m trying to aim at here. I’m not talking about being hit, I’m talking about getting hurt. As far as I see it a gargantuan beast might not care in the least bit about some adventurer scratching its foot with a sword, but might be concerned about something chopping off its leg.

Armor usually goes well with this distinction: doesn’t (usually) help you not to get hit, but helps you in not getting hurt. The vehicles thing of course would be out of the picture (not because of setting, but more because of they not having a sense of pain.)

Thinking about those goblins being whipped into action makes me think that it’s not that they don’t want to get hurt, it’s just that the pain that they’re experiencing right now feels more real than the possible pain that they’d feel by fighting (which is something that will probably change as soon as they get into the carnage.)

Of course, we must consider the psychological element in this. We are not always talking about pain as a thing, but the pain that seems more real to a being at any particular time, even if it’s the pain of things to come. Then again, it’s not always efficient to apply this kind of reasoning so good judgment is paramount.

That being said, thanks a bunch for the comments, you’re really making me think these things through. The idea of using berserkers as a broad category it’s really cool, specially on a rules lite take on OD&D.


13 11 2008
A-to-Z Semi-Monthly RPG Blog/Discussion List Issue 3 » Inkwell Ideas

[…] H “Drop the Dice” suggests that people stick with abstract HP even if you’re trying to model realistic combat in this very informative article. […]

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