A quick note, and perhaps a question.

Last game three PCs charged into combat (well, snuck into combat) and went head to head at 1st level into the face of 4:1 odds. The results were predictable.

One commenter on Twitter noted “they should have run away.”

Now, there are two ways to take this. One is that they never should have entered combat to begin with. +Tim Shorts noted that yes, this was the right call, but he’d never had a combat in the game and so wanted to see what it was like. In short, he provoked a losing battle to see what would happen.

Well, he found out. 

Edit: They found out and got dismantled with grace and graciousness. They rolled poorly, and did not complain when the orc horde came screaming down on them. So this “well, he found out” sounds way, way more pejorative than it is meant. He wanted to find out what combat was like, did find out, and we all learned about tactics and emergent behavior in the process. Even me. Or perhaps especially me.

The other way to take it was that once things started to go poorly, they should have withdrawn. I’m wondering how viable that is. I think that as long as each PC decides to run the heck away while their foes are about two moves (usually about 60′, but not always) away this might have worked. But I see no way, really, for a bunch of fighters to extract themselves from melee in the face of a determined foe, unless they have a speed advantage.

I’m not saying this is wrong. In fact, I believe that the typical battlefield archaeology reports will tell you that yeah, the majority of the casualties were taken when one side turned tail and ran. 

But it seems to me that’s darn hard to actually run away in D&D-style games unless you really plan on it beforehand. Once things are already going badly, you’re basically in it unless the foe lets you out.

Does this match your experience? Who’s been chased, killed, and eaten?

+Jeffro Johnson loves him some d4 Thieves. He’s pretty emphatic about it, as is his right.

In my Heretical DnD project, he recently quipped that when I asked a question about rolling a pile of d4s he thought, for a brief, glorious instant, that I was returning the Thief (now the, sigh, Rogue with a Thief subclass) to its glorious roots.

That got me thinking, though. How different is the d4 Thief from BECMI to the d8 Thief from Fifth Edition?

The BECMI Thief and Fighter

Let’s say that our thief has attempted – unsuccessfully – to pick the pocket of a lonely neighborhood fighter. Both are first level. 

I’m going to first assume that we roll 3d6, but can assign stats. Based on my work with the Standard Array, those stats for both fighters, at the median roll (50th percentile in luck) are 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 7.


What does that mean? It means that there is precisely one score that will get a bonus: a +1 for the 14. 

The Thief has a prime requisite of Dexterity, so that’s where his +1 will go. Leather armor, no shield. So basically, he’ll have an AC of 6, or a roll of 13+ will hit him.

Our fighter will have Strength as his choice, so he’ll roll 1d20+1 to hit, and thus will hit on a 12 or higher – 45% of the time. He’ll do 1d8+1 damage with his sword, or 5.5 points on the average. Each turn, he’ll deal an average of 2.48 points of damage.

In short, he’ll kill the thief on the average in about 1.01 attacks.

The 5e Thief and Fighter

Let’s look at the 5e fighter, using the 50% percentile instead of the standard array. They’re not that different, but the Standard Array actually represents the 45% percentile of die rolls. 

The important thing for our human fighter is still his Strength, and his standard array gives 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9 – actually one better than the standard array in both the highest and lowest score. With the right selection of race – Dwarves, I’m looking at you, Mountain Dwarf – you can start with STR 18. This is impossible with the standard array.

Swinging a battle axe, then, he’ll roll 1d20+2 (proficiency)+4 (STR) for 1d20+6, doing 1d10+4 damage on a hit.

Our Thief also gets to play the min/max game, and we can cut right to the chase. If our fighter can start with STR 18, our Thief can as well – Wood-Elf Thief for the win.

With DEX 18 and CON 13, this gives him 9 HP. Studded Leather and no shield, but a +4 DEX bonus for armor class, and he’s AC 16.

So our fighter has to roll 10+ on 1d20, and will hit 55% of the time. He will do 5-14 damage, plus a bit more for a critical hit – an average on a hit of 9.78 damage. Or 5.38 per round.

This means our 5e Thief will, in general, withstand 1.67 blows from our fighter. A 1d8 battleaxe will increase this a touch. to 1.88 attacks to drop the thief to 0 HP.

Parting Shot

I had thought that with the higher damage values of the weapons due to STR bonuses and whatnot, that a d4 Thief would, in fact, be perhaps as robust as a d8 thief. But no. By and large he takes another swat to put him down – a bit less.

What would equality be? You’d need to have the typical HP of the thief equal the typical damage done in one turn by one swing of the sword. That’s 4.8 to 5.4 HP. Call it 5, and . . . you need to get back to the d4 Thief in order for the classes to be as fragile as they were in BECMI.

Why? Armor classes are higher due to higher bonuses, which offsets weapon damages. Higher bonuses from STR are offset by higher DEX bonuses, though average damage is higher. The real boost comes from giving 1st level characters maximum HP per Hit Die at 1st level. If 1st level 5e characters rolled dice instead of getting the max, a 1st level thief would need an average of 4.8 to 5.4 HP to be as robust as BECMI. That’s basically a d9 rather than a d8!

So yes! The d8 5e thief is actually less robust than the d4 Thief from BECMI if you roll the first level HP, but if you don’t, well, obviously he’s more robust.

It’s the lack of randomness for rolling hit points that makes the difference. If you gave all 1st level BECMI thieves 4 HP to start, then they’d wind up with almost exactly the longevity of a 5e Thief.

It’s like the designers thought about this or something. 

We got together with a small sample of the B-Team for the first time in over six months. I think we decided the last time we played was June+Erik Tenkar has been on a White Star (by +James Spahn ) kick, so we left S&W behind and rolled up characters for White Star.

This is a retro-clone, using extremely terse rules. So three people rolled up three characters in probably three minutes each. There are only four character classes, plus three more races-as-classes.

Peter chose a Star Knight. +Tim Shorts played a Scoundrel. I was basically exhausted from a long week, so I was tempted to just play Chewbacca, and growl and hit things a lot (the Alien Brute). But I decided on Mercenary.

White Star is about as OSR as you can get, I think. Nonetheless, we immediately broke away from 3d6 in order, because we’d already picked classes. We rolled 3d6 seven times, dropped the lowest, and arranged to taste. Then roll for credits (3d6*10) and my equipment-dependent character rolled a sucky 80 Cr. Ouch.

I named him Payne Stalk (Jayne Cobb . . . ), picked out a bare minimum set of stuff, and we all got to it. This is the character at the end of today’s game, having leved up after play.

Jayne Stalk

  • Lvl 2 Mercenary (White Star); +1 to hit
  • 2175 XP; 1250 Cr
  • 12 HP; Saving Throw 13; Max 4 assistants
  • 5% bonus to XP
  • Initiative 1d6+1
  • To-Hit Roll 1d20+2

STR 13 (+1); INT 7 (-1); WIS 11; CON 13 (+1); DEX 13 (+1); CHA 10
  • Laser Rifle – 1 eCell
  • Laser Pistol 
  • Clothes
  • Ammo bandolier
  • Dagger
  • Light Armor

Really Short Game Summary

Not really this guy. But too cool not to post.

We started out in a Cantina, and dealt with the owner of the place, a slippery gangster of ill repute, known for double-crosses and shady dealings. Still, we were desperate.

We were asked to go recover samples of a genetically altered food animal, some sort of avian bovine thing that grew to the size of a hippopotamus and could be tweaked to taste like just about anything. The samples were on a ship that had crash-landed a half-day out of town.
We asked if anyone else knew this. He hadn’t told anyone. Great, any knowledge that he didn’t provide? Well, maybe. But there’s 1,000 Cr in it for us if we succeed.
Fine, we rent transport from him (some sort of ground cycle which I cannot help but call speeder-bikes, though the feel of this game is more Firefly or Jakku) and bolt to the location of the ship.
We find it, see a glint of something reflecting from something in the distance. We feel our time is limited. We virtually sprint through the ship, but are eventually waylaid when we hear a dropped tool and footsteps behind. We lay in ambush, and more or less slaughter those trying to sneak up on us. Two dead (our first loot – an extra laser pistol, a laser rifle, and extra power cells), one fled in terror.
We continue, fight and kill some sentient space cockroaches. One of them bites Peter and reduced him to 0 HP, but he makes his CON save and doesn’t immediately die. We restore him with a medkit after the fight is over: 2d4 HP makes for some technomagical awesome.
Somewhere along the way we find a functioning computer terminal, and get a map of the place. It’s a map Tenkar found online, and looks nothing like a ship, but does spell out F**king Bull***t. 
We locate the likely place where the cells are, and find a treasure trove – dozens of vials of the stuff. We take all of them, wrap them up in Peter’s sleeping bag for insulation, and leave.
To find that there are three more outside. Two muscle, one short guy who reminds us strongly of Tim’s character, Chicago Jones. He tells us to hand over the goods, because we know what he’s capable of.
Chicago Jones uses his “he shot first” ability and blasts the short guy in the chest instantly, taking him to 0 HP where he starts to expire. The “muscle” decide they’re in the wrong line of work, and beat feet out of there.
Searching the body gives us 650 Cr, a “pocket” laser pistol akin to a derringer, and a datacard with info on us, the speeder-bikes we rented, and a reward of 2,500 Cr for the stuff we were going to be paid 1,000 Cr for.
OK, two can play at this game. We immediately figured our shady bartender set us up. So we found some bullcrap samples of nothing – probably piss and mucus – and rigged up some false vials. We then proceeded to an exchange, where we got paid the full 2500 Cr in exchange for the vial of nothing, set up as a dead drop. We tried to ID the buyer but couldn’t.
We then went back to our original buyer, and offered up one of the many vials we had for the 1,000 Cr. He produced – naturally – the one we’d already given him as the secret buyer. He thought we were his kind of inventive scum, and after some mutual threats, he collected all the vials (he heard them rattling around in Peter’s sleeping bag) and we wound up paid 3,500 Cr in total. 
All in all, a good quick mission.
I can easily see the appeal of games that take less than five minutes to make characters. West End Games’ Star Wars RPG is on that list, as are the various OSR derived “pick race, pick class, roll some dice, pick some basic starting equipment, play” games.
The system has nice flavor, and is quite minimalist. There are relatively few nods to genre in the rules mechanics, but there don’t need to be. One saving throw target, roll vs. armor class (with both descending and ascending variants – we use ascending), etc. 
The play of the game and the combats are fast and relatively tactics-free. The best we can hope for (and we did succeed in this, twice) is to nail guys with a surprise round, and to luck out and win initiative. 
We got a lot of fun out of the alignment system, which says that there are two alignments: “Us” and “Them.” That’s pretty clear.
The three of us worked well together, and it was great to get the B-Team playing again. We are going to try and game every third week, accelerating the rate of play as availability allows.

+Christian Gelacio had a good comment on my post on Naval Cannon. Good enough that I didn’t want to relegate the discussion to that post. So here’s my response in full. His comments are going to be in bold/purple. Mine will be in regular text and indented.

I do not believe it would be appropriate for smooth bore cannon to have a crit range. Because of the lack of stabilization of the cannon ball a single cannon rarely hits “the broad side of a barn.” Cannon are usually used en mass to guarantee hits. Targets are usually Fortifications, ships of the line, whole armies, etc.

I think you might be overestimating the inaccuracy of muskets and smoothbores, but even if I stipulate that you’re correct, the higher crit range represents (to me) the chance of the giant freakin’ cannonball hitting something important. That is, the higher crit range IS the higher damage you mention in your second point. More on that in a bit.

What I’d do for inherently inaccurate weaponry is a to-hit penalty. That way, you wind up with a lower chance to hit at all, but still the possibility of a more-damaging critical.

Continue reading “Naval Cannons in DnD – Responding to a comment”

The Melee Academy series from Thursday got me thinking of alternate mechanics for disarms in D&D. The existing one is straightforward and usable. Roll a melee attack, opposed by your foe’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).

But neither of those two really speak well to a disarm. If anything, a Saving Throw is almost more appropriate, but this seems like the sort of thing that should have its basis in combat skills.

In any case: the existing rule is not horribly broken, but I thought of another way to attack it.

To Disarm using a weapon:

Make a melee attack on your foe’s weapon. The hit number is 10 + DEX bonus (you get full DEX bonus even if wearing heavy armor here) + Weapon Proficiency. If you succeed, you have either struck your foe’s weapon sharply, or used your technique to bind and strip your opponent’s weapon from his grasp.

If you hit, you and your opponent both roll damage for your respective weapons (including STR or DEX, if appropriate – DEX requires a Finesse weapon). If the attacker’s damage exceeds the defender’s damage, a disarm occurs. Ties go to the defender.

If you have multiple attacks, you may certainly attempt multiple disarms against one or more weapons.

Special considerations

  • Treat a shortbow as 1d4, and a longbow as 1d6 for the purposes of resisting armed disarming attempts. You may not use a bow to attempt a disarm without an appropriate Feat.
  • Versatile weapons can use two hands to make or resist a disarm (so a longsword can roll 1d10) if a free hand is available.
  • Extra hands beyond two add +1 to the disarming “damage” roll to either resist or disarm if they can be placed on the weapon
Unarmed Disarms

Again, make a unarmed strike to punch or a Strength (Athletics) check to grapple the foe’s weapon or weapon arm. To-hit number is still 10 + DEX bonus + Weapon Proficiency. If you succeed, you have bypassed the weapon to strike or grapple the limb holding the weapon, rather than the weapon itself. 
If you hit, you and your opponent both roll damage using one die type lower than your usual hit dice (fighters do 1d8, clerics 1d6, magic users 1d4, etc). Unarmed strikes use 1 point plus the STR bonus for damage. Grapples do 1d4+STR bonus. Monks or other characters that have learned improved unarmed strikes may roll that damage instead whether striking or grappling, if it’s better.. 
If you have multiple attacks, you may certainly attempt multiple disarms against one or more weapons.
Special Considerations
  • If you miss on the attack roll when making an unarmed disarm against a weapon, your foe may make an Attack of Opporunity against your full AC including the effects of armor. In essence, he’s defending against your attack by striking your limb.
  • Treat a shortbow as 1d4, and a longbow as 1d6 for the purposes of resisting armed disarming attempts. You may not use a bow to attempt a disarm without an appropriate Feat.
  • Versatile weapons can use two hands to make or resist a disarm (so a longsword can roll 1d10) if a free hand is available.
  • Extra hands beyond two add +1 to the disarming “damage” roll to either resist or disarm if they can be placed on the weapon
Parting Shot
I like effect rolls, and I like how the better fighter in terms of both melee skill and ability to dish out damage will tend to win here. The damage roll means that if you try and disarm a great axe with a knife, the great axe will tend to win. 
On unarmed, the reliance on hit dice tends to mean that combative classes will disarm better than non-combative ones, which I like. I backed it down one die type because having Fighters with STR 18 do 5 points while striking but 1d10+4 for grappling seemed excessive, but 1d8 isn’t so bad.
If that bothers, then drop two die types, so if your hit dice are 1d6, you drop to 1 point, just like striking, but 1d10 will be 1d6, and Barbarian at 1d12 will do a mighty 1d8 when disarming. 
I was tempted to have the Grappler Feat be dealt with explicitly here. Options might include
  • Double damage on a successful hit
  • Expanded critical hit range (that might be weak sauce unless it’s very expanded)
  • Allows -5 to hit, but +10 damage for the purposes of a disarm if you attack with Strength Athletics)
As mentioned earlier, the existing rule isn’t obviously broken. But I like the nuance that this one provides. Swinging or grabbing the weapon is an exercise is striking a smallish object with a combat blow. DEX takes it out of the way, and proficiency with the weapon is a proxy for fighting skill. Damage is the power of the hit, and grappling and like techniques are strength multipliers. 
One can also see purpose-built trapping and disarming weapons coming into play here. As an example, just playing around
Sword-breaker: This weapon may be used in the off-hand using dual-wielding rules. If a bladed weapon attack misses by less than the defender’s proficiency, the defender may use his reaction to make a disarm attempt. If the sword-breaker’s damage is double or more that of the attacking weapon’s damage on the disarm roll, the attacker is disarmed and the weapon is also broken!

I posted my prior article on firearms for D&D over on reddit, and a poster noted that while he thought this was all neat and stuff, he was much more likely to be interested in naval cannon.

That seems like a great idea, and I found a nice article online to base some initial stats from: Smooth Bore Cannon Ballistics.

The key data from that is the cross-section of cannon shot from 6-lbs to 32-lbs, which obviously includes shot weight, and also velocity. From that, it’s easy to convert to Kinetic Energy and Mass, which means a D&D damage conversion is somewhat trivial.

An a priori note – these are big, heavy projectiles. The critical range is going to be very large. If you get hit with one of these, it’s going to suck.

The Inputs

The primary inputs can be found in the article above. Taking those and just presenting the results, one gets the following table:

Shot Weight (lbs) Velocity (m/s) Dice Crit Range
1860 [3] 6 438 5d6+1 15-20
12 453 5d6+3 15-20
1862 [5] 18 524 6d6-1 15-20
24 524 6d6-1 14-20
32 381 6d6-2 14-20
32 442 6d6-1 14-20
32 518 6d6 14-20


Parting Shot

The table suggests that small cannon such as the 6-lbr will be in the 5d6 range, while cannon that tended to be used on other ships (12-32lb shot) cluster more or less around 6d6. The expanded crit range should take care of getting solidly thwacked by a 6″ steel projectile.
Note that this is based on a system that gave a .50 BMG 2d12, so it’s necessarily flat.
Overall, though, I don’t think it’s crazy-time. If you’re looking at a 6d6 or 8d6 fireball or lightning bolt, the cannon will straddle that well.
Also, the question arises, I’m sure, why the damages aren’t that far away from each other. Wouldn’t more differentiation be better? Well, again: flat scale. But even in GURPS, with the sqrt(KE) damage scale, relying on KE alone provides “only” a factor of 3 in scaling, and larger balls will tend to have slightly lower penetration (energy dispersed over a wider area), so a spread of 2x from the 6-lb to the most energetic 32-lb is all that’s going to be in it.
For simplicity, I might list three ranged of cannon. Small cannon are 5d6 or 3d10 with a crit range of 15-20; medium cannon are 4d8 with a crit range of 15-20, and large cannon are 6d6 with a crit range of 14-20.

Just for fun, I used the Damage = 4 * Log5(Kinetic Energy) conversion on a longer list of cartridges than I provided here.

As you can see, most weapons fit into a fairly small range of stats. The .22LR does about as much damage as a shortbow (between 1d6+3 and 1d6+4), where a 7.62 Battle Rifle is about 2d10, which converts to 1d10+5 or 1d10+6 – about as damaging as a longsword held in both hands by a ST 20 fighter.

I like using multiple dice because they both roll if you crit, which gives a lot of room for very serious wounds.

That’s the other thing that could potentially be done here, as well, using the principles from expanding the crit range for different armor types. Larger and more damaging projectiles could (should?) have a wider range where a hit is also a crit. I based this entirely off of the mass of the bullet, using a logarithmic scale. My first attempt gave 5/4 * log (Mass) for the width of the range (a .22LR was 2), which gave 19-20 for the anemic .22, and 17-20 for the mighty .50BMG. A 25% chance of a critical hit is pretty great, so I stopped there, though obviously it could be tweaked even more.


One late-breaking idea on the critical range: some of these cartridges/loads should potentially be able to rock the world of nearly anyone. I’ll suggest that for weapons with an inherently expanded crit range like above, that one divides it into segments, with each segment doing more damage.
So instead of a crit is roll the dice twice (2d8 becomes 4d8), you might say that if the crit range is 17-20 or better (so 12-20 to 17-20), then half the range gives double damage, while the other half gives triple or even quadruple.
So a .50BMG does 2d12 on a hit, 4d12 on a 17-18, and 8d12 on a 19-20. (Alternately, reserve quadruple damage for a natural 20). That would make the maximum damage from a 16″ Naval Gun 16d12, max damage 192 points, which can and should threaten just about anyone.

Castles and Chimeras is an OSR Blog I stumbled across when it went live with a simple but great concept idea:

Critical Hit Range is based on the armor worn by the defender.

In short, I love it. I might tweak a bit, because some monsters may have good armor class but wear no armor due to natural protection such as plates and scales and thick hide.

So it wouldn’t be crazy to make a simple guide converting AC to a critical range.

He pegs “unarmored” as a crit on 15 through 20. That range is 5 wider than the usual 20-only.

D&D5 pegs bonuses to AC from +0 for nekkid to +8 for Plate. 

So take half the armor bonus, divide that number by 2, and subtract it from 4. That’s the additional critical hit range you get. Note that the table below assumes you’re wearing a helmet and nothing else. If you aren’t wearing a helmet, add 1 to the crit range. 

So, that would give you

Bonus Crit Range Crit Range
0 4 16-20
1 4 16-20
2 3 17-20
3 3 17-20
4 2 18-20
5 2 18-20
6 1 19-20
7 1 19-20
8 0 20-20
This has the nice effect that weaker armor makes you much more likely to receive a severe blow. Note that this does not include the DEX bonus. It’s the armor only. This makes an armor with an AC bonus of 4 better in some respects than armor with a DEX bonus of +4 due to the character but an Armor Bonus of +1, even though they’re equally as likely to get hit.
What about magic armor? I’d base it, again, on the armor it was based on. So +2 Scale armor on a DEX 16 character would take the magical bonus of +2, add it to the DEX bonus of +2, and the armor bonus of +4 and get AC 18. But the critical threat range is based on the base AC 4, giving 18-20.
If your threat range broadens because you’re a Fighter and crit on a 19-20 or even 18-20, just widen it further. 
Again: this is a simple tweak that recognizes a level of useful detail in the system. Kudos.

Played in +Jonathan Henry‘s Basic D&D game today.

We were fighting a giant, and a mainspar fell, killed the giant, and also our Cleric. His tombstone now says “Level 2 and loving it.”

My character:
Linwë Celebrindal (Lin-wee Kel-eh-brin-dahl)
Basic D&D Elf: Female, Adult, Threadbare Clothing, Tall

HP: 3 AC: 4 XP: 0


STR: 11
INT: 16 (+2)
WIS: 10
DEX: 10
CON: 10
CHA: 12


Death Ray or Poison: 12
Magical Wands: 13
Paralysis or Turn to Stone: 13
Dragon Breath:15
Rods, Staves, or Spells: 15

To Hit Table:
AC:    9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1 0
Roll: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Languages: Common, Alignment, Bugbear, Minotaur

* Dagger
* 6 Torches
* Backpack
* Waterskin
* 1 Week Iron Rations
* 50′ Rope
* Vial of Holy Water
* Banded mail (AC 4)
* +1 Longbow and arrows
* 5 vials of medicinal purposes (healing potions)
* Shortsword
* 4 vials of potions of ESP
* 9 gp

Level 1: [‘Magic Missile’]

Elf Notes

  • Weapons: An elf may use any weapon. 
  • An elf has special vision, knows several languages, and can detect certain things better than other characters. 
  • Elves can cast magic-user spells, and cannot be paralyzed by ghouls. 
  • Vision: Elves have Infravision in addi- tion to normal sight and can see 60′ in the dark. Infravision is the ability to see heat (and the lack of heat). Normal and magical light makes infravision useless. With infravision, warm things seem red, and cold things seem blue. For example, an approaching creature could be seen as a red shape, leaving faint reddish footprints. A cold pool of water would seem a deep blue color. Even items or creatures which are the same temperature as the surrounding air (such as a table or a skeleton) can be dimly seen by infravision. 
  • Detection: All elves can find secret and hidden doors better than other characters. If your elf character wants to search for hidden doors in an area, tell your Dungeon Master. The DM will roll Id6, and a result of 1 or 2 will indicate success if there is a door to be found. You may check once for each door. You must tell your DM if you want to look for any-thing; the detection is never automatic 
  • Spells: Elves can use magic-user spells just as magic-users can. Read the descriptions of spell casting, spell books,etc. on pages 39 – 42. Elves must obey all the rules for using magic-user spells (but not the other rules for the magic-user class). 

Play of the game
We basically rolled up characters (using one of the random generators on the net) and did a lot of “your characters are told X,” and “you’re transported to Y” and we got some nifty gear.

We traveled to a shore. Linwee was torn between adventuring and sunbathing. She was about to chill out and get some rays (Humans rush around so much, seriously). We did some exploring of a shipwrecked prison ship, got jumped by a giant or other large humanoid.

We fought. We did more damage to the ship than to the foe, save for a few magic missiles. Then the mast fell, killed our cleric (save vs. Death Ray or die).

All in all, about three hours of good fun.

Over at The Dragon’s Flagon, the wayfarer penned something about grappling. Naturally, since I’ve had a few things to say about it myself, I was drawn in as the proverbial moth to the flame.

He’s writing a “fantasy-heartbreaker” RPG. What is that? I had to look it up, and found this definition over on The RPG Museum:

“A fantasy heartbreaker is, essentially, a Dungeons & Dragons knock-off. Ron Edwards coined the term to describe a species of games published in the RPG boom of the 1990s, long after their purported innovations could be considered original. The term usefully describes games which are mired in preconceptions arising from the D&D paradigm. A criticism of the term is that it implies dismissal of the idea you can make “D&D, but better,” which might be a desirable goal for some designers.” 

Here speaks Ron Edwards: “The basic notion is that nearly all of the listed games have one great idea buried in them somewhere…. That’s why they break my heart, because the nuggets are so buried and bemired within all the painful material I listed above. – Ron Edwards, 2002”

So  he’s making a D&D-like system that is a variant on the standard. Some examples from reading his combat overview:

  • The Combat Roll inflicts damage, capped at a maximum, based on margin of success (the degree to which the combat roll exceeds the Armor Class of the foe).
  • You can optionally apply your combat rating to defend instead of attack. This can be thought of as either soaking potential damage, or getting out of the way/parrying more effectively. The result is the same – either less or no damage on a one-for-one basis.
  • He’s got some very interesting combat options built in – forcing movement on the battlefield, or using a long weapon to keep a foe at bay (this is a very useful addition, in my opinion).
  • All of the combat options are usable by anyone. I like this – fighters can do fighty-stuff better, but anyone can try. That might be my GURPS showing – or my WEG d6 Star Wars – but it’s my favorite option setup in RPGs.

OK, so grappling. Here we go. I will likely refer frequently to my post on Rules for Grappling Rules, which still stands up well as a good way to think about designing a grappling system, or an RPG subsystem in general.

Goblins and Greatswords: Grappling made simple(ish)

Right away, we have this:

The first phase of a grappling attack is resolved with standard combat rolls.

In short: Yes. Grappling is combat, likely older than using striking or weapons in most worlds, and the more natural form of fighting and playing. Not having to break out a new system to do something this basic is a key part of making grappling not relegated to something that is a disruption in game flow.

A defender may be either unarmed or armed.  (Included in standard G&G combat, if I haven’t mentioned it already, is a rule that attacking unarmed against an armed opponent incurs a -2 penalty to AC; thus grappling an opponent with deadly weaponry is more hazardous than grappling an unarmed one.)

You’re signing up for increased damage against you (lower AC on the attacker’s part) if you grapple someone armed. Hrm. Interesting.

Both combat rolls have their normal effects, inflicting damage if they exceed the opponent’s AC.

This is interesting, and avoids one of the classic grappling traps: that attempting a grapple is always a really poor tactical choice relative to bashing someone with an axe (this is the Make it Interesting sub-point of my article). A grappling attack does the usual damage (if desired) if you exceed the foe’s AC; if you don’t but still beat his combat roll, you can get a grip with no damage. Presumably, if the player wants to, he can exceed the AC and elect to do no damage to the foe.

So you never have to choose between bashing your foe with an axe or grappling – you can always do both. That sidesteps the “pointless” question.

The question I’d ask is: why not, in this case, grapple every turn? Other than a slightly lower AC, what are the down-sides? 

The answer may well be “there are none,” which will see combatants locked in close combat more often than less – this strikes me as an entirely plausible outcome. 

Holding on to an opponent means that the combatant is maintaining its grip on the opponent and avoiding the opponent’s attacks.  One common tactic is to hold the opponent from behind, or in the case of a larger opponent, to climb on and cling to its back.  While holding, the grappling character’s combat rolls against the opponent are made at +2, while the opponent’s combat rolls against the grappler suffer -2.  Additionally, attacks by other creatures or characters against either grappler or grappled are made at +2 to the combat roll, as their ability to dodge and parry is limited.

So AC doesn’t change (unless the grappler is unarmed fighting an armed foe, at which point he’s at -2 to AC). He gets his die rolls altered, giving +2 to his combat roll (which is the same as +2 to damage so long as AC is exceeded). The defender has his die rolls lowered. So he’s less likely to fight back by about 10% for hit, and will do two points less damage than otherwise.

There are some “Rule Zero” interpretations allowed, too:

At the GM’s option, holding onto certain opponents may render some attack forms impossible and others more likely to succeed.  For instance, a grappled medusa may be unable to turn and use her gaze attack on the grappler, but the grappler would be extremely vulnerable to the bites of the writhing snakes on her head.

Every round, a new combat roll is made (is this done on each combatant’s turn, one roll per turn, or is the rolling per round, simultaneously? Ah, from the examples, it looks like the contested combat rolls are made simultaneously, as in “how effectively did the combatants face each other this round?” Interesting.

If a grappled character wins a combat roll, he can grapple back or break free.

What can you do?

So you’ve grappled your foe. What can you do?

The basic one is the overpower, which is a 1d6 contest modified by Might (good, Strength gets an influence) and the combat rating (that represents skill). If you win, you can do extra damage, reduce your foe’s damage, move the foe, or break free. 

Solid options there; you can only pick one per round, and a new Overpowering roll is made each round.

Personally, I’d consider this one a point of departure from the “use what’s there” rule. I’d have to see how it plays (1d20 rolls may well be too swingy and allow too much damage potential than 1d6). The basic combat contest is both players roll 1d20 plus bonuses, and margin matters. An Overpower contest is both combatants roll 1d6 plus bonuses, and margin matters. 

The Overpower contest clearly favors skill and might, and will be less swingy than the normal contest. 

Again based on the examples, though, you do both. You get a combat roll as usual, and an Overpower contest every round. I’m really not seeing a good reason not to close and grapple here!

Other possibilities once you’ve got a grapple include disarms and tackles. You disarm by winning two “reduce damage” Overpower actions in a row. Tackling (or pouncing) adds +2 to an initial grappling attempt. 

There are rules for dogpiling and grappling multiple foes at once, as well.

Parting Shot

Overall, the Goblins and Greatswords grappling rules virtually beg you to close in and come to grips with your opponent. Of course, if you’re weaker and less skilled, this will not go well for you. If you are stronger and more skilled, it will. This will be a go-to strategy for the bigger, nastier foe. 

The nice thing here is that you don’t give anything up, ever, by attempting the grapple. You still make your combat roll every turn against your foe, with the usual results. The grapple contest is a bet that closing with your foe and engaging in the 1d6+Modifiers roll will, on the average, work out better for you than it will for him. It’s a layer of flavor that stacks with, rather than replacing, the basic combat set.

Two options that might be added here are the “throw the foe to the ground” option – some sort of positional advantage – as well as the option to deny actions to the foe. 

That second one might be implicit in “reduce damage,” though. If I basically use a victorious Overpower roll to limit the damage done to me by a grappling foe, he’s basically wasting his turn each time. The 1d6+Bonuses type roll seems to be on the order of 1d6+1 to 1d6+6 in the examples, so a good fighter might basically inflict the equivalent of -10 to damage (which is also -10 to a combat roll, sorta, due to margin of success) each round – that’s a lot of useless flailing on the part of the foe.

Are there reasons to avoid grappling? Sure, especially if you are lower in Might (the STR equivalent), and your only weapon is a largish one (only small or natural weapons can be brought to bear in an Overpower contest). 

This, right there, gives mechanical support to using two weapons of dissimilar size in a fight as emergent behavior. Neat.

I think the real innovation here is making grappling additive, rather than a replacement, for the regular combat sequence. That’s clever.