It’s Come Up Once or Twice…

…and it’s a topic that we, as DMs, continue to struggle with.

Which version of the game do you use?

The answer doesn’t really matter. I suspect there are DMs who can make 4e work for their game. It’s possible I could play in such a game and not feel the need to burn my character sheet in the middle of the table.

What matters is how you modify your game. Because, let’s face it, no version has ever been good enough that it didn’t require some fixing.

Most of my rules are based on AD&D. I’ve also borrowed heavily from the Tao of D&D. I’m not averse to giving something new a try; and if I like, and I can make it work with the other rules, and it satisfies the criteria of a well-designed rule, I use it.

I am working on a document to bring these rules together. Mostly for my own purposes – so the players can have a single point of reference, ideally one with links that make it easy to navigate – but also so I can share my version with other DMs.

So for this post – in part because others have posted on a similar topic, but also because it’s generally an accepted topic for D&D blogs – I offer my rules on weapon types and critical hits.


Weapon Qualities: Weapons are categorized by groups. Most weapons in a single group have a shared quality. For example, ax is a group and most axes have the brutal quality. Some weapons have two qualities, like a pole-ax (reach and brutal). The qualities are:

  • Brutal: Critical hits deal triple damage. (Common to axes.)
  • Keen: Attacks critical on a natural 19 or 20 on the to-hit roll. (Common to swords and blades.)
  • Puncturing: This weapon receives +1 to-hit on all attacks. (Common to bows.)
  • Unbalancing: Attacks fumble on a natural 1 or 2 on the to-hit roll. (Common to flails; this is offset by increasing the damage potential for these weapons.)
  • Armor Piercing: Attacks against armored opponents are at a +3 bonus. (Common to crossbows.)
  • High Critical: A critical hit deals maximum damage plus the normal (die roll) damage. (Common to hammers.)
  • Simple: Non-proficient characters reduce their penalty by 1 point. (Common to mace and club-like weapons.)
  • Reach: A character may target opponents up to two or three hexes away (but not adjacent). (Common to pole-arms.)
  • Ready: A character may take an action to set this weapon against a charge. A readied weapon receives a +2 bonus to-hit and deals double damage.
  • Improvised: A character may take any object with sufficient weight (minimum of 2lbs), or a sharp edge or point, and use it as a weapon. Attacks are made with a -3 penalty (in addition to the non-proficiency penalty for the character’s class) and deal damage based on the weapon’s weight. Improvised weapons do not gain a Strength bonus to damage.

Critical Hits: A natural 20 on the to-hit roll indicates a critical hit against the target. The attack hits regardless of the attacker’s THAC0 or the target’s AC. Damage is increased by doubling all die rolls and bonuses. Likewise, if the attack has a magical damage effect, that damage is doubled. Certain weapon qualities affect critical hits, as do certain magical effects or fighter skills.

Precise Hits: When an attack roll equals the to-hit value, the attack is said to be a precise hit. The target takes damage as normal and must choose either weapon, shield, armor or item; the chosen item breaks. Broken weapons and items are rendered useless. If the item is a container, the contents are spilled out (in the case of potions, this may trigger a magical effect or backlash). Shields and armor struck in this manner don’t break right away; instead, they take a -1 penalty (cumulative for each precise hit) and break when the total penalty equals the armor’s bonus. Thus plate armor (AC 1, equal to a -9 bonus) breaks when the penalty equals -9; up until that point, the armor is treated as simply worse, i.e. it provides a smaller bonus.

The target of a precise hit may choose to drop a held weapon or item instead of letting it break. The target them rolls a die (typically a d6; see Fumbles) to see if it breaks upon striking the ground.

Warriors have the benefit of choosing for their opponents when they score a precise hit. If both the attacker and the defender are warriors, the higher level character gets to choose.

Near Hits: When an attack roll equals 1 or 2 points less than the target value, the attack is said to be a near hit. It deals no damage and the target may choose to grapple the attacker. Warriors supersede other classes and get to choose; if both attacker and defender are warriors, the higher level characters gets to choose. Monks may choose to grapple (as the attacker or defender) when the to-hit roll equals 2 points less than the target value, or greater. In other words, a monk can enter a grapple whenever he hits or it hit by an opponent. (Monks trump warriors when deciding who gets to choose.)

Fumbles: A natural 1 on the to-hit roll indicates the attacker has fumbled and dropped his weapon. The character immediately rolls to see if the weapon breaks upon striking the ground (or some nearby solid surface). The base die value is a d6 and a 1 indicates the weapon breaks. Poor quality weapons check on a d4, while weapons of increasing quality use a d8 and above. Magic weapons always use a d20. Fighters improve their odds by rolling bigger dice, based on the fighter’s skill/level. A character may also employ equipment – like a locked gauntlet – to prevent dropping a weapon as a result of a fumble.

A broken weapon is rendered useless. This does not mean the weapon is destroyed; it simply means that the weapon has become fractured, damaged or broken at a critical point, such that it is no longer considered a proper weapon of its type. For example, a battle ax might split down the middle of the shaft; it can no longer bear the stress of a full swing and is effectively an improvised weapon until repaired.

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5 thoughts on “It’s Come Up Once or Twice…

Add yours

  1. May I ask upon what (if any) basis the choice of what property to use with what weapon was made? Just interested.

    All of the weapon properties seem useful to some degree. The precise hit rule is interesting. Is there a reason for weapons not dropping their damage die like armor drops in AC (being gradually broken)? Just for keeping the weapons rolling?

    Grappling is always great, being the best way to take care of a person in armor and all. Can you replace your own attack with a grapple attempt too, or is it only defenders that can?

    On the crits and fumbles, have you considered using any kind of “confirmation rolls” or other tables? I know it adds a bunch of time, but sometimes I feel that a stable 5% chance for auto-hits and absolute failure both is a bit high… There’s a rule somewhere (the tenfootpolemic blog apparently!) where you roll 1d20+fighter level with for both crits and fumbles, with higher results being better. I’m not sure I would use big tables for every crit, but the idea of fighters getting better crits and less bad fumbles appeals to me.

    I’d be interested in seing that rules document when you’re done. I have a tendency to borrow and adapt any good rules I come across (if they fit). Oh, and sorry for the barrage of questions/wall of text…

    1. I’ll put parts online as they’re completed.

      Monks and other warriors have a skill that let them intentionally grapple (available at higher levels), but otherwise no, a character can only declare a grapple with a near-hit.

      I hadn’t considered having weapons go through a damaged status before breaking. Interesting concept.

      I’m not convinced that confirmation tables are necessary. Real fights – where you’re in actual danger of dying and you’re trying to kill the other guy – are an adrenaline rush of the highest order. There’s a reason real-life Soldiers participate in other high risk activities; there’s nothing quite like the high you get from a life-or-death fight. And that sort of chaos is well modeled with a 5% critical/fumble model. Plus it’s good game design. I’ve read analysis of the game that suggests players will experience more attack rolls against them than they level against the enemy. I don’t buy it, simply because it’s a zero sum game: for every attack against a player, that player has to attack the enemy if he wants to win. (All that said, I’d be interested to see if someone recorded the number of times an NPC attacked vs the total attacks the PCs took during a session, to see if it’s unbalanced one way or the other.)

      The weapon properties were chosen from a variety of sources, mostly culled from 3e and 4e. The bow and crossbow properties were thrown in their because I wanted to emphasize that they’re deadly without making ranged weapons the obvious choice in all cases. Bonuses to attack make them practical choices for armies, militia and other organized units. It also makes them attractive to players without minimizing the melee weapons. (I also use load times for ranged weapons, so their rate of attack is less than melee.)

      I also forgot to mention that the keen property belongs to bows as well, making them just a little more deadly (but they don’t get Strength bonus to damage).

      1. Well I’m not inherently against the 5% crit chance in the heat of combat and all, but if a child tossing a stick at a dragon has a 1/20 chance of dealing damage to it, something just feels off… And yes, confirmation rolls are annoying and slow, but allows fighters to be better at crits and fumbles, though it honestly might not be worth it.

        I think the “players take more attacks” thing only really applies when critical hits apply lingering wounds or something. When its just more damage, its fine.

        I have thought of giving every bow a strength modifier that applie if the user has it, as a stronger person could get a stronger bow. Might be fiddly though.

      2. A child tossing a stick… so I don’t mean to pick on you, but this is an interesting point that many online discussions miss entirely: why is a child fighting a dragon? (Nevermind what his choice of weapon is…)

        3e faced this issue with the infamous “cat kills commoner” design flaw. The argument goes that a cat is so small and thus such a high AC that it will survive in a fight against a commoner long enough to kill the hapless human. This runs counter to reason because, seriously, whoever heard of a person dying at the claws of a cat? Yet the argument ignored the fact that a common household cat would run away from a person before going toe-to-toe.

        So no, a child doesn’t have a 5% chance of hitting a dragon because the child would run in fear.

  2. Yes, I’m making a dumb argument. Obviously a child would run. Unless the child in question is a player character I guess. The point is having a rule that gives any attack a 1/20 chance of hitting anything without any additional clauses can be exploited. Through mind control or morale-raising spells one could get a bunch of people tossing stones (or whatever) at the dragon. Though I’m unsure what kind of damage improvised weapons deal in AD&D.

    You might have a rule to prevent this, like having natural 20’s add +5 or +10 to the hit roll instead of being an automatic hit (which would mean more or less the same in most situations except for the edge cases). And it’s quite easy to stop as a DM. It’s a common sense thing, like the cats.

    And yes again, 3e is full of these hilarious exploits, like killer cats and peasant rail guns. It’s kind of funny.

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