... now with 35% more arrogance!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Why d6-Only Weapons?

I try not to post pure "what I like/hate X" posts on this blog. Because, seriously, who cares what I like? Why should they? I prefer to say, "if you want to use X, here are some ideas you might find useful." Problem is, it sometimes looks like I'm supporting some unpopular way of playing for no reason whatsoever. Like in the d6-Only Weapons posts, which Angantyr questioned why I would even do that, since he deems d6-only weapon damage unplayable and a design flaw. His principal objections can be summarized:
  • hit points aren't just luck; the Con bonus indicates they are health/endurance as well. (Not really relevant for me, since I'm ganking the Con bonus...)
  • magic-users can do more damage with spells, why limit fighters? (Of course, fighters get to kill multiple 1 HD opponents and survive combats magic-users can't, but let's ignore that...)
Plus, he objects to the arbitrary feeling of my choice. Why is variable damage less supportive of luck-only hit points? Why not factor out the dice entirely, and have level = hits you can take and weapon damage = 1 hit?

The short answer to all of this is "I like what I like", but OK, let's delve into all the myriad reasons why I like it in the first place.
  • I prefer ad hoc rulings and improvisation over detailed subsystems and reference materials.
  • I prefer abstract principles to concrete simulation.
  • I prefer mechanics that make stuff happen to mechanics that "balance" the game or limit unpredictability.
  • I prefer a game book that's a training manual and a source of inspiration, a document I need to refer to constantly.
Angantyr actually put it best: "OD&D is a wonderful springboard to build one's own excellent game". It's built to be able to add stuff on the fly, as needed.

Presumably, people who prefer solid, concrete new D&D over ad hoc, abstract old D&D know what the advantages of variable damage for weapons are. What do I see as the disadvantages?
  • It encourages GMs to think of weapon differences in terms of numbers instead of qualities. When interpreting combat, most new school GMs just go with the damage roll and attack mode (melee, ranged, area.) There's not much differentiation aside from that. If weapon effectiveness versus armor type, durability of materials, or other issues besides damage, range, and number of victims is even considered, it's again handled in terms of numbers (the infamous AD&D weapon adjustments for speed and effectiveness against armor type; weapon hit points, etc.)
  • It encourages players to choose the optimum (best damage) weapon instead of an interesting one. If all the GM cares about is numbers, that's all the players care about, too. Why would a fighter limit himself to a weapon that does less damage? Why pick a club instead of a sword, even if you have a hankering to play a wildman?
  • It encourages a descent into fiddling with "game balance" instead of coming up with new material. To add a new weapon, you have to decide how much damage it's going to do. But wait! What if it weighs less or costs less than an existing weapon? Won't everyone switch to the new weapon? What if it makes a published adventure too easy, because the weapon's high damage lets players kill the orcs too fast? If you want more variability in the choice of weapons, how do you encourage that? Through weapon specialization or feats, of course. Which throws off the game balance again, and you have to beef up the monsters...
  • It discourages reuse of existing mechanics. Take "social combat". How much damage does an insult do, compared to revealing a dark secret? If you're going to use the existing combat rules in a "solid" system, you have to set damage types for different kinds of social attack... or just go with "all social attacks do 1d6 damage", but in that case, why not go all the way? Also, your hit point system is balanced for variable weapon damage, with a first level fighter (d8 or d10 for hit dice) being harder to kill than a magic-user (d4). Are fighters harder to insult? Or do you come up with a separate hit point pool for social combat (and psionic combat, and other kinds of combat you choose to add?)
  • It discourages thinking of hit points as luck or as an abstract pacing mechanic, as already seen in the preceding social combat example. You start worrying about how much damage a fall off a hundred-foot cliff should do, and whether 9th level characters should be able to walk away from a fall and 1st level characters should be guaranteed death, and how much damage an aimed shot to the head should do. You start tying hit dice for new monsters to size.
In contrast, I like "every weapon does 1d6 damage" because it's easy to remember and it minimizes damage as the distinguishing characteristic of different weapons. It offers a generic mechanic for weapons, which can be varied through improvisation. It's not going to appeal to new schoolers, who will think of it as poorly balanced, a flawed design, but it does what I want, and variable damage doesn't.

Now, do you see why I avoid "I like/hate X" posts? A whole lot of words, no usable content, and that's after deleting some material. Knowing that I like d6-only weapons isn't going to improve anyone's game; everyone, just play the way you prefer, and don't worry about me.


  1. Just a quick question: If Hit Points = Luck, then all the classes get the same hit points in your game? 9th Magic user and 9th Fighter both 9d6 Hp?

  2. Nope. Because MUs trade luck for supernatural power. I like the original HD progression, with MUs basically getting a d6 every other level instead of every level like fighters. If you do that, then max spell level = HD.

  3. One reason I think these "I like X/I don't like Y" are useful is because if YOU like or dislike something, then maybe someone else likes or dislikes the same thing. Since gaming is a social activity, those of us who enjoy fiddling with the game rules need to be cognizant of potential issues players may have with variant rules we might employ.

    Aside from that, sometimes I don't care for a rule, but can't put my finger on just why that is. Reading the opinions of others can sometimes give voice to my dissatisfaction, giving me a clearer understanding of my own preferred style of play.

  4. It's a complete conflating of 0d&d with basic d&d to say that all weapons did the same damage. There are 4 chat systems presented in 0d&d. Chainmail's, man to man, fantasy combat table, and the "alternate" d20 system. Two of the four allowed for weapons to deal different damage.

    0d&d isn't basic d&d.

  5. @UWS: Chainmail isn't 0d&d, either. Chainmail is an *option*, the other option being the "alternative" system. What this means is that the combat system isn't really part of D&D: other combat systems can be dropped in. What the D&D books say is that weapons do 1d6 damage unless otherwise noted. If you aren't using Chainmail, the only weapons that are listed as doing a different damage range are the weapons giants use and certain magic weapons.

    What this means is that you have to pick the damage system that works best with your combat system. I find that 1d6 damage for all weapons makes more sense for highly-abstract 1 minute combat rounds and meshes well with the d6 rolls for escaping accidents or danger. Changing weapon damage is best reserved for combat systems that model individual blows.

  6. Replies
    1. It's not something I've had a need for, but yeah, you can theoretically use cumulative damage in a social combat system. I belueve I have very old posrs under the reaction tag/label that discuss some ideas on that.