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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Elegant Rolls III: Combat Options

As I thought about the elegant rolls idea -- using a simple, no-math, intuitive mechanic with multiple outcoms -- applied to standard D&D, I noticed a problem with combat. The "elegant skill roll" from the previous post in the series was ability score based:
  1. Roll a d20, higher is better,
  2. ... But you can't go over your ability score,
  3. ... And an exact match is a critical success,
  4. ... But a 20 is a fumble.
Everyone's first inclination for adapting that to combat is probably "use Dex". But if we wanted to merely swap mechanics without altering the system itself too much, we have to find a way to incorporate Armor Class and Level. Better armor should make you less likely to die, and higher level should affect your chances of killing an enemy (but not your chances of avoiding injury, if we wish to stick close to the way D&D works.) And if we want to keep it elegant, we need to do this with comparisons and triggers, not pluses and minuses.

If we insist on sticking to Dex, probably the best use for descending AC is not as a direct modifier to the chance to hit, but a modifier to damage. Not "damage reduction" (DR), per se, because that's a subtraction, which injects a little inelegance. Instead, use AC 2 to 9 as a damage cap. In fact, use the d20 roll as the damage done, up to a max equal to AC. That reduces combat to a single roll, instead of an attack roll followed by a damage roll. (For creatures that have a plus/minus to damage or that do 2 or more dice of damage, multiply or add to the damage after applying the cap. This is the only time math is required.) This does make combat a little deadlier for those wearing no armor. To incorporate level, use one of the following:
  1. If Level (HD) is higher than Dex, use Level (HD) instead (Swap Method.)
  2. If Level is higher than defender's Level, use 2d20 and keep the best result (Best of Two Method.)
  3. If the d20 roll is less than Level, you can ignore the damage cap (Open-Ended Method)
For either 1 or 3, one option is to allow criticals if the roll matches either Dex or Level.

Under the Swap Method, Level won't matter for many fighters, and combat ability won't improve for a long time. Dex becomes more important. Best of Two is better, since it means even a 2nd level Fighter will have improved odds versus someone. However, it's a bit more "meta", which could be a turn-off. The Open-Ended Method doesn't change the combat odds at all, but it improves the chances of killing low-AC opponents.

Instead of rolling under Dex, you could roll under AC. Using d20 rolls, that makes everyone, even those wearing no armor, a little harder to hit. This does work well if you want to keep the standard d6 damage rolls, though. The Swap Method doesn't work well with this, and the Open-Ended Method is meaningless. Best of Two works, as does allowing the second critical if the roll matches Level instead of AC.

(If you are using Ascending AC and want to use this "elegant roll" approach, you should probably turn this into opposed rolls: attacker rolls under Dex, defender rolls under AC, highest wins.)

When judging the results of combat, the warnings about pass/fail checks are even more important to pay attention to. Remember, this kind of attack roll is a roll to kill, not a roll to hit.


  1. Hmmm...I actually really like the idea, but the implementation doesn't work for me (just yet). Mainly because I think D&D already makes it too tough to play a "naked fighter" (a la Frazetta-style Conan or John Carter), and this would only make it worse. If I did do this, I would definitely use method 3 (level helps avoid damage cap), which definitely makes armored foes easier to kill...but still doesn't do anything for lightly armored characters.

    I suppose we can always incentivize light/no armor by other, non-combat means (movement rates, etc). But combat effectiveness is a very big draw, that I find is often hard to overcome (though this may depend on playstyle).

    1. The mechanical way to incentivize "naked fighter" tactics is to allow Fighters to use their Move score as a threshold. In other words, an attacker has to roll above the target's Move, but below their Dex. The question is: when to allow this, and how often? It obviously shouldn't be "always", or every fighter will be naked. Perhaps:

      - Only Fighters trained in that style of fighting,
      - Only when their legs haven't been injured, and
      - Only when fighting a maximum number of opponents equal to Level/2.