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Friday, July 29, 2011


I've been thinking a little bit about punching and kicking in D&D from time to time over the last couple months. Today's Tao of D&D post jogged my memory, but although I think his approach is fine for The Fantasy Trip, it's not what I want to do when playing D&D. Since Alexis doesn't allow comments that discuss alternatives, and since I've been putting this off long enough, I'll give a short run-down of my current thoughts on unarmed combat.

First, my assumptions and principles:
Some brawling house rules for OD&D -- and the rules in the 1e DMG -- use an alternate damage system for a punch or a kick, usually based on the rules to subdue or on some alternative stun damage system. They are usually pretty complicated, but I kind of like the idea behind them, even if I don't like the implementation. Fortunately, I prefer to keep a tally of damage and comparing it to hit points, instead of subtracting damage each round from hit points. That makes it trivial for me to implement non-lethal damage: just keep a separate tally.

For real damage, rather than using a fractional multiplier (for example: 1/4th of damage is real, 3/4ths is non-lethal,) I'd rather use an Avoid Danger roll for the victim. To keep the number of dice rolls to a minimum, I'd make the attacker's damage roll into the victim's Avoid Danger roll. In the past, I've talked about treating this as a Change Situation roll, but it seems more reasonable to treat the damage roll as an effectiveness roll, with higher damage being worse for the target; otherwise, you get fighters only doing real damage on their worst punches.

I'd also like to modify some of the ideas I've had about using armor class.

So, here's the summary of the rules for punching or kicking:
  1. Roll a standard attack roll;
  2. If successful, roll 1d6 for damage, but this is tallied separately as "non-lethal damage";
  3. Damage roll is also the victim's Avoid Danger roll; on a 6, an unarmored victim takes 1 point of real damage;
  4. Fighters are better at brawling than other classes; on a 6, any victim takes 1 point of real damage, but the Fighter takes the same damage unless wearing equal or better hand protection (boxing glove vs. leather armor, steel gauntlet vs. metal armor;)
  5. If real damage + non-lethal damage => hit points, victim is unconscious;
  6. Victim only dies if real damage => hit points, just like normal;
  7. Instant KO if damage + victim's AC => Constitution;
  8. All non-lethal damage disappears after 1 turn of rest.
Rules 1 and 6, of course, are just the normal combat rules. Rule 2 is the normal damage rule, but the damage is marked on a different sheet. The guts of these brawling rules are just "1 point of real damage on a 6, armor protects from non-Fighters, instant KO chance, and how to treat non-lethal damage". Not a very big change.

Edit: Per the discussion with zornhau, here are the change to rules 3 and 4:
3: on a 6, victim takes 1 point of real damage, regardless of character class or armor worn;
4a: on a 6, attacker takes a point of damage unless wearing proper hand protection;
4b: Fighters have the option to do 1d6 real damage *OR* 1d6 non-lethal damage, but still take 1 point of damage on a roll of 6.


  1. I like the simplicity. However, I think most unarmed combat systems, including the Medieval European ones, are almost as lethal as weapon combat. The lack of lethality is a choice reflecting legal and moral framework - killing people is generally a bad idea in most situations.

  2. @zornhau: that might be a good alternative for Fighters: they have the option to make all hand-to-hand damage real, but take damage on a damage roll of 6 unless their hands are properly protected.

    In fact, screw it: that's my new rule for Fighters. Other classes stay the same.