Monday, November 23, 2015

Dynamic Grappling

Before I say another word, let me direct the reader to Douglas Cole and Peter V. Dell'Orto's article on grappling in The Manor, issue #8 ( What I'm presenting here is just a slight variation on their brilliant theme.

An "old school friendly" method of grappling ...

Attacker rolls 1d20 + STR
Defender rolls 1d20 + DEX

The attacker succeeds if, and only if, his roll hits the better AC (THAC0 minus roll = AC hit, so ACs worse than 9 could be "hit").

If the attack roll succeeds, melee damage is rolled by HD type (fighters roll 1d8, clerics 1d6, etc.), with the result indicating how much leverage the attacker gains over the defender, reckoned as "leverage points" (LP). Once the attacker gains leverage over the defender, the defender is grappled. Success on follow-up grappling attacks serves to increase the attacker's leverage. When the amount of leverage gained equals the opponent's current hp, the opponent is pinned.

Whenever the grappler gains leverage, there is the possibility of a take-down, which knocks the opponent prone. A d% roll is made, with the ratio of cumulative LP gained to the defender's maximum hp being the percentage chance of a take-down (e.g., if an attacker gains 4 LP against an opponent with a maximum of 8 hp, there is a 50% chance that the grappling attack results in a take-down). A take-down does not break the grapple; the defender remains in the grappled condition and the attacker may continue to gain leverage over him in order to achieve a pin.

Whenever the grappler's attack roll fails against the opposed defense roll, the defender makes a “leverage reduction" (melee damage) roll, which decreases the grappler's leverage by the amount rolled. If his leverage is reduced to 0, the grapple is broken.

On his own turn, the grappled defender may attempt to break the grapple by means of a normal melee attack (at a -2 penalty to his roll). The grappler loses 1 LP for every hp of damage inflicted. Alternatively, he may attempt to grapple his opponent at no penalty to his roll (or maybe even +2; grappling someone makes it easier for them to grapple you, no?). If he succeeds, then both combatants are in the grappled condition.

Grappled: +2 to be hit, -2 to hit, movement=0.
Prone: +2 to be hit, -2 to hit (stacks with the grappled condition).
Pinned: paralyzed for 1 round.

Some reasons why I like this approach:

1. It doesn't involve any new stats. Everything needed is either on the player's character sheet or in the monster's stat block.

2. It leaves armor out of it without screwing the PCs. Intuitively, wearing armor shouldn't make you harder to grab. But if the normal attack procedure were used, that would mean the PCs would end up with a pitiful AC 9 + DEX against much less vulnerable monsters. Doing it with opposed "to hit" rolls makes the outcome for both attacker and defender depend on their THAC0.

3. Following upon (2), grappling ability scales with overall fighting ability, since it's a matter of THAC0. Thus, a 9th level fighter is much harder to grapple than a 1st level fighter, not because he has better armor but because he's simply better at fighting.

4. Most importantly, it gives the sense that grappling involves a struggle, with the two combatants vying for a leverage over one another, particularly insofar as leverage can be both gained and lost in the course of the contest.

One downside is that there's a fair amount of extra bookkeeping involved, what with having to keep track not only of conditions but also of leverage points. It's hardly unmanageable though.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

ACKS: Wrestlng with the wrestling rules

Anecdotally, the ACKS approach to handling what it calls "special maneuvers" (things like brawling, wrestling, and knocking down, which in the olden days were called pummeling, grappling, and overbearing) has proven to be quite popular among the old-school "Classic D&D" crowd (those playing, e.g., B/X or one of its clones). Here's the method:

Suppose an attacker wants to "wrestle" his opponent. The attacker makes an attack roll at -4. If it hits, the defender rolls a saving throw vs. paralysis: if he saves, the attack is negated, and if he fails the attack succeeds and the defender is grabbed in a wrestling hold. So, attack roll, saving throw, end of story. Simple as could be, which explains its popularity.

Unfortunately it breaks down on closer inspection. The math just doesn't hold water. Let's say we have two opponents, Boris the Blowhard, 1st level fighter, and Urkel the Unimpressive, 1st level mage. Both have average ability scores, so there are no bonuses for STR or DEX to consider. Boris ends up in melee with Urkel, but having previously lost his sword, finds himself only with his bare hands. He therefore attempts to wrestle Urkel to the ground before he can fire off his sleep spell. Urkel, as an unarmored mage, has AC 0 (ACKS has its own version of an ascending AC system, with AC 0 being the equivalent of AC 9 in B/X). Boris, on the other hand, has an Attack Throw Value of 10+, meaning that he needs a 10 or better to hit an unarmored (AC 0) opponent.

However, when Boris attempts to wrestle Urkel, he takes a -4 penalty to his attack roll, so he ends up needing a 14 or better to succeed. Thus, right off the bat, we have a situation in which a 1st level fighter has only a 7 in 20 (35%) chance of grabbing hold of a 1st level mage. But it gets worse, because even if Boris rolls a 14 or better, Urkel still gets his saving throw, and 1st level mages save vs. paralysis at 13 or better. So, the chances of Urkel failing his save are 12 in 20 (60%). This means that a 1st level fighter's overall chances of success at simply grabbing hold of a 1st level mage are 35% x 60% = 21%, or just about 1 in 5.

So Boris fails, but it turns out he's just a henchman for Lord Rhothar the Redoubtable, who steps into the fray to lay a hold of this nuisance of a mage and choke some information out of him. As a 10th level fighter, Rhothar has an Attack Throw Value of 4+, so normally he needs only a 4 or better to hit an unarmored opponent, but since he's now attempting a special maneuver, he takes a -4 penalty, so he actually needs an 8 or better, meaning that his chances of success are 13 in 20, or 65%. But again, that pesky Urkel gets his saving throw, so Rhothar's overall chances of getting him into a wrestling hold are 65% x 60% = 39%, not even 2 in 5.

Perhaps the most obvious fix to all this is to simply get rid of the -4 penalty to hit. Unfortunately that just isn't sufficient. That would give Lord Rhogar an 85% chance of landing his initial hit (17 in 20 instead of 13 in 20), but with Urkel still having a 40% chance of making a successful saving throw, that puts the overall odds of Rhogar's wrestling attempt being successful at 85% x 60% = 51%. So a 10th level fighter would need to flip a coin to see if he could grapple a 1st level unarmored mage! This won't do. Some other method is needed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No Rats Need Apply

I'm declaring a moratorium on giant rats in my dungeons. They're boring. They're cliché. They're tedious. An empty room is more exciting than a room full of rats. Players might think there's more to an empty room than what appears. All they think when they discover rats is, "Oh joy, more fucking rats."

Friday, April 25, 2014

Save vs. Awesome

I have a new-found fondness for the fighter. I've begun to see him as the bedrock of D&D, and possibly the coolest class out there, precisely because his class is so open-ended. The possibilities as to how to play a fighter are almost endless, while the cleric and magic-user, on account of their built-in class abilities, have to be played within pretty definite boundaries.

Unfortunately, it's this very open-endedness that's proved to be the fighter's downfall. The fact that the class doesn't have any specified abilities, beyond combat (which every other class can do, just not quite as well), is what's led to the introduction of "feats" in later editions, because the only way to make the fighter special is to give him special things to do. In reality, all that has served to do is restrict what the fighter can do: now he's the class that does feats X, Y and Z (just like the cleric is the class that heals and turns undead and the magic-user is the class that casts powerful spells). Get rid of feats and the fighter is once again, not the class that can't do anything special, but the class that can do anything special (of a non-magical nature) because he's no longer limited to what's there on his list of allowable bits of coolness.

All that's needed is some way to adjudicate his success at executing this or that bit of derring-do that his player wants him to attempt, and we don't need to invent some new-fangled dice mechanic to add to the house rules. There's one already there: the saving throw. I pointed out in my last post that the save vs. breath attacks is the one that the fighter is consistently best at relative to any other class, so I think it can be used as a way of determining the success of fighter-specific attempts at awesomeness. So, I hereby dub it the "saving throw vs. awesome."

Want to throw your sword at your fleeing enemy? Roll to hit and ...

save vs. awesome

Want to fire two arrows at once like Robin Hood? Roll to hit and ...

save vs. awesome

Want to cleave the two mooks blocking your way with one fell swoop? Roll to hit and ...

save vs. awesome

You get the idea. Of course, there has to be some trade-off to keep players from trying to save vs. awesome on every attack. So, take that last bit about cleaving. Fail your save vs. awesome and you end up swinging wildly, throwing yourself off balance and taking a -2 penalty to your AC next round.

The nice thing about this method is that it scales with level advancement. Every three levels your saving throw vs. awesome improves, so by the time you reach name level something that would be difficult for a mere Veteran to pull off (roll 15 or better) becomes almost second nature for a 10th level Lord (roll 7 or better).

So let's have no more of this "old school fighters are so boring" b.s. Just use your imagination, roll to hit, and ...

save vs. awesome

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Modified ACKS approach to combat maneuvers

Labyrinth Lord is silent when it comes to special maneuvers that players might want to try during combat: disarming, bull rushing, tripping, overrunning, grappling, etc. So it's up to the DM either to wing it on a case-by-case basis or invent some kind of fixed mechanic that he can use to determine the outcomes of such attempts.

ACKS has a simple method for such things: the attacker makes an normal melee attack roll at -4 against the defender's AC, and the defender gets a save vs. paralyze. I have two reasons for not being satisfied with this method:

1) Using the paralyze save gives lower-level magic-users a consistent advantage over fighters when it comes to fending off such attacks. Fighters 1-3 save vs. paralyze at 14 while magic-users 1-5 save vs. paralyze at 13. Granted that the fighter's save improves more rapidly (1-3, 4-6, 7-9 vs. the magic-user's 1-5, 6-10, 11-15), that only allows the fighter to reach parity with the magic-user at certain levels; he doesn't overtake the magic-user until level 7. This doesn't make much sense: combat maneuvers are straightforward physical attacks, which the fighter should always excel at defending against.

2) Making AC the target number for determining the success of such maneuvers, while convenient, is implausible. Why should grappling or disarming an opponent wearing plate mail (AC 3) be 25% harder than grappling or disarming someone wearing leather (AC 8)? Armor type doesn't seem relevant to these sorts of attacks, and yet armor type is the single-most important factor in determining AC.

In spite of these two misgivings, I do like the simplicity of the ACKS approach. I think it fits well with the uncomplicated Labyrinth Lord (B/X) method of combat resolution. So here's my attempt to rectify things:

1*) Replace the save vs. paralyze with a save vs. breath attacks. Fighter-types are consistently better at this save than any other class; they top out at level 16 with a 4, while the next best is the cleric, who at level 17 saves with a 6. Magic-users top out with a 7 at level 19.

2*) Make AC 9 the base target AC for all defenders, regardless of what armor they're wearing, and have it improve with combat level advancement. Combat level is 20-THAC0, so this would imply that a creature's ability to defend against combat maneuvers scales with the ability to execute such maneuvers (which is just a normal attack roll).

So, a 1st-level fighter attempting to grapple a hobgoblin (HD 1+1, THAC0 18, combat level 2) would make an attack roll at -4 against AC 7 (base AC 9 minus 2), despite the fact that the hobgoblin is wearing chain mail+shield (AC 4). If he succeeds, the hobgoblin would need to roll a 15 or better (F1 save vs. breath attacks) to break the grapple.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reaper Bones Skeleton

Painting miniatures has never been my strong point, but I've decided to work on upping my game. My Army Painter "Mega Paint Set" arrived today, so I had a go with one of the skeletons from Reaper's plastic "Bones" collection.