Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Supercharging Chainmail Combat

I'm a notorious critic of the d20 combat system, hit points, power creep and variable damage. Between the four of them, they are to blame for the ascension of granularity, and the endless combats that now pass for role-playing.

As i've mentioned before, you'd be hard-pressed to recognize any game as Dungeons and Dragons that fails to include hit points. Hit points are so deeply hard-wired into the D&D culture that most gamers would recoil from anything calling itself D&D that failed to include hit points.

But if I had my druthers, hit points would be tossed out the window of the D&D automobile, replaced by a simplified system of combat and wounds.

The original "Chainmail miniatures rules" was the default combat system for OD&D. Those Chainmail rules included three combat systems: mass combat, man-to-man combat, and fantasy combat, each of which were employed based on the particular circumstances of the encounter.

For the purposes of large-scale combats, with multiple opponents on either side, Chainmail's mass combat system is applied. The method for applying that system is that each combatant rolls a number of six-sided dice, which is based on her class and level. She counts the number of successful hits she achieves, and that is the number of hit dice of damage that she inflicts upon her opponent.

For example, a 4th level gladiatrix had the fighting capability of 4 women, so she rolls 4, six-sided dice to determine how many wounds she inflicts. She might need to roll a five or six to inflict a wound, so any fives and sixes she rolled will count as a wound upon her opponent.

If I understand my D&D history correctly, the addition of variable hit points was an Arnesian invention, adopted by Gygax, necessitated by the fragility of low-level characters. But if players are being honest about their hit points, it is nearly as likely as not that a single wound to a first-level character will result in death, regardless, if six-sided dice are used for both hit points and damage. Why not be honest about it and simply give starting characters an extra wound point or two, rather than perpetuate a fraud by introducing variable hit points as a solution to fragile low-level characters.

The Chainmail system works well, for fast, abstract combat, if there is a simple one-to-one relationship between the level of the character and the number of hit dice rolled to determine damage. But neither Chainmail nor OD&D make combat that simple. No class, not even the fighter, has a simple one-to-one relationship between level and hit dice rolled for wounding purposes in OD&D. The lack of a one-to-one relationship is the case because the OD&D rules assume that non-fighters will be less puissant at armed combat, and because only six-sided dice are employed.

In addition, in the Chainmail combat system, one needs to consult one of a half-dozen charts to determine what your odds of wounding are, based on the arms and armor of your opponent.

It is surprisingly easy to solve this problem, and Gygax himself promulgated the necessary polyhedral tools to do so. In the basic Chainmail mass-combat system, every character rolls a certain number of six-sided dice to determine whether, and how many times, they have wounded their opponent. In addition, in OD&D, Fighters are the most proficient in combat, followed by Clerics, Thieves and Magic-users.

Rather than using six-sided dice for all classes, then, why not use different dice for each class, with Fighters using the d6, Clerics the d8, Thieves the d10, and Magic-users the d12. Assuming that a roll of "1" is needed by each character in order to achieve a wound upon her opponent, first level Fighters would have a 17% chance, Clerics a 13% chance, Thieves 10% and Magic-users 8%. That would satisfy the OD&D assumption that different classes have different combat abilities.

Additionally, armor classes could be rationalized into four categories: 4 (no armor), 3 (light armor), 2 (medium armor), and 1 (heavy armor). That would be the same number, or less, that any character would need to roll, in order to achieve a wound upon their opponent.

Shields would act as a second-level defence, to block otherwise successful attacks, with some probability attached to deflecting blow(s), based on the size of the shield and perhaps the number of opponents the character is facing.

That, then is my crudely developed solution to the complexities of Chainmail combat, and desire to simplify and speed up battles, so there is more time for exploration and role-playing at the gaming table.

34 comments:

crazyred said...

Brilliant. Can't wait to try it =)

A Paladin In Citadel said...

It's been bouncing around inside my head for the last several weeks, and needed to be let out!

Scott Hadaller said...

Pretty cool concept. If I was playing OD&D I'd try it out. I might just set up a game for that purpose.

Will Douglas said...

The method for applying that system is that each combatant rolls a number of six-sided dice, which is based on her class and level. She counts the number of successful hits she achieves, and that is the number of hit dice of damage that she inflicts upon her opponent.

This is a misreading of Chainmail's mass combat.

It isn't per character, it's per figure. Each figure represents 10-20 men. It is an abstraction.

Using this to represent individual combat is not at all what either Arneson or Gygax intended, especially since the Chainmail rules include a Man-to-Man combat section.


(I'm not saying your idea has no merit; just that it's based on a false premise.)

Bard said...

This is a great idea. I've not role-played in recent years, but I do tinker a lot with miniature skirmish games, and this seems to me to be a really elegant idea for combat resolution that could easily be incorporated into that medium.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Will Douglas said...
This is a misreading of Chainmail's mass combat.
It isn't per character, it's per figure. Each figure represents 10-20 men. It is an abstraction.
Using this to represent individual combat is not at all what either Arneson or Gygax intended, especially since the Chainmail rules include a Man-to-Man combat section.
(I'm not saying your idea has no merit; just that it's based on a false premise.)


From page 25 of "Underworld and Wilderness Adventures" Volume 3 of OD&D:

"The basic [OD&D combat] system is that from Chainmail, with one figure representing one man or creature."

In Chainmail, the figures represent 10-20 men. In OD&D, we are told to use the Chainmail rules, with each figure representing a single man or creature.

Banesfinger said...

Take a look at the "Savage Worlds" rpg (Pinnacle Entertainment Group):

All skills (inc. combat), stats, etc are measured in die types (d4, d6, d8, etc).

Creatures have 'Wounds' (not HPs).

While it may not be your OD&D cup-o-tea, you might be able to borrow a few ideas from it.

ChicagoWiz said...

A couple of thoughts.

One, I'd encourage you to head over to the OD&D Board and talk about it there, if you're not already. There are a lot of CM experts there.

Two - "From page 25 of "Underworld and Wilderness Adventures" Volume 3 of OD&D:

"The basic [OD&D combat] system is that from Chainmail, with one figure representing one man or creature."

In Chainmail, the figures represent 10-20 men. In OD&D, we are told to use the Chainmail rules, with each figure representing a single man or creature."

Right, this passage tells you to use the Chainmail rules man-to-man version. You dice with 2 d6s. You could go to the different dice, but I would still like to see different weapons factored in to change the odds.

It's an interesting thought experiment! There've been a couple of CM/OD&D combat rules thrown out, have you looked at them?

A Paladin In Citadel said...

ChicagoWiz said...
Right, this passage tells you to use the Chainmail rules man-to-man version. You dice with 2 d6s.

Where things get muddled is when the OD&D rules say that a 6th level fighter fights as six men, for purposes of Chainmail. Does that mean I roll 2d6 six times?

My reading says no, that you use the mass combat rules for "non-significant" combats, and only use the man-to-man rules when you are facing off against another significant opponent, and want to zoom-in on that combat.

I'll post something in the next day or two about the three chainmail combat systems, and where they are most usefully employed.

Having said that, the Chainmail and OD&D rules are written sufficiently poorly that other interpretations could be arrived at.

And when i'm right 51% of the time, that means i'm wrong the other 49%.

;D

ChicagoWiz said...

Exactly. When OD&D was written, it was still assumed that the wargame, the figures on the table, would represent a mass combat. OD&D is extremely unclear as to when to use man-to-man versus the 20:1 rules. In the case that OD&D is speaking about PCs acting as Heros (+4 attacks) or Superheroes (+8 attacks), they "meant" the 20:1 rules.

Man to man was all about the armor vs. the weapon. In this case, it would probably be assumed that a Superhero would already have the best armor or magics that gave him the best armor effect. At least that's how I rule it.

Have you seen or tried the other supplements that have been released the past couple of years? Some of them are intriguing enough I've considered using them in a one-shot.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I think there are at least two or more re-interpretations / supplements floating around that use Chainmail as their foundation.

I like the Chainmail approach because it gives me a "toolbox" to choose between three different combat system based on the particular circumstances.

Not to mention speeding up combats.

I will post some additional thoughts in the next couple of days about why the mass combat should be employed for battles, other than those that include fantastic creatures or gladiatorial in nature.

ChicagoWiz said...

The biggest thing that has speeded up my battles to where I can adjudicate 30 to 40 participant skirmishes in under 30 minutes?

Delta's Target20.

I can go rapidfire through combat now with all the players rolling at the same time and call off "hit, miss". Most of the other factors that slow me down are player related - taking their time, looking up spell effects/durations (I've started a cheatsheet). I usually give someone a 5 count if they're taking too long.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Scott Hadaller said...
Pretty cool concept. If I was playing OD&D I'd try it out. I might just set up a game for that purpose.

What I like about it is that it is fast and can be learned quickly. Both important when you are dealing with new players and want the combats to be exciting.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

ChicagoWiz said...
The biggest thing that has speeded up my battles to where I can adjudicate 30 to 40 participant skirmishes in under 30 minutes?Delta's Target20.

I usually give someone a 5 count if they're taking too long.


I'll have to check out target 20 (with the caveat that i'm not a fan of d20 systems ... too granular)

I typically seat the party around the table, based on Dex, and the characters with highest Dex get to act first. If they're not ready, I pass them and go on to the next player. If I come around again, and your still not ready, you get to skip your turn...

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Bard said...
This is a great idea. I've not role-played in recent years, but I do tinker a lot with miniature skirmish games, and this seems to me to be a really elegant idea for combat resolution that could easily be incorporated into that medium.

I like the high-level perspective that it provides. Like you, I enjoy the skirmish-type combats. I'm not a fan of 40 minute combats between two combatants.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Banesfinger said...
Take a look at the "Savage Worlds" rpg (Pinnacle Entertainment Group):

All skills (inc. combat), stats, etc are measured in die types (d4, d6, d8, etc).

Creatures have 'Wounds' (not HPs).

While it may not be your OD&D cup-o-tea, you might be able to borrow a few ideas from it.


I have Savage Worlds, and the SW Fantasy Supplement. Savage Worlds is an elegant, well-thought-out system.

Jim said...

Doral, I love your idea and will roll it around in my head a bit. I've been toying with ways to speed up combat myself -- a slightly different approach than yours. I've sent you a link to a Google Doc I've been mucking around in. Have a look if you'd like. :)

Dr Rotwang! said...

Where things get muddled is when the OD&D rules say that a 6th level fighter fights as six men, for purposes of Chainmail. Does that mean I roll 2d6 six times?

Coincidentally, I've been reviewing Jason Vey's CM/OD&D rules of late (two nights ago, in fact), and I think I remember his answer to this.

IN THE TROOP TYPE SYSTEM, a 6th-level fighter rolls 6d6 and counts 'kills'.

IN MAN-TO-MAN, a 6th-level fighter gets 6 attacks -- so, yes, she'd roll 2d6 6 times.

IN FANTASY COMBAT, she'd only roll once -- but she'd fight as a Hero+1 or +2 or something like that, so she'd get that bonus to her 2d6 roll on the Fantasy Combat chart.

if someone wants to come along and correct me, I welcome that in order to further my badassitude.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Jim said...
I love your idea and will roll it around in my head a bit. I've been toying with ways to speed up combat myself -- a slightly different approach than yours. I've sent you a link to a Google Doc I've been mucking around in. Have a look if you'd like. :)

Thanks!

I will have a look at it tonight, after making dinner and helping my kids with their homework!

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Dr Rotwang! said...
Coincidentally, I've been reviewing Jason Vey's CM/OD&D rules of late (two nights ago, in fact), and I think I remember his answer to this.

IN THE TROOP TYPE SYSTEM, a 6th-level fighter rolls 6d6 and counts 'kills'.

IN MAN-TO-MAN, a 6th-level fighter gets 6 attacks -- so, yes, she'd roll 2d6 6 times.

IN FANTASY COMBAT, she'd only roll once -- but she'd fight as a Hero+1 or +2 or something like that, so she'd get that bonus to her 2d6 roll on the Fantasy Combat chart.

if someone wants to come along and correct me, I welcome that in order to further my badassitude.


That jibes with my interpretation, but I think the Chainmail and OD&D rules are sufficiently poorly written to permit others.

steelcaress said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andreas Davour said...

Short, to the point and looks really playable!

Jason said...

With the exception of the clarification at the beginning that explains the 20:1 ratio, "Figure" and "Man" are used interchangeably in Chainmail...unless you think the table on page 40 indicates that a single Light Foot figure rolls 20d6 and counts hits...remember it says "one die per man." If man and figure are indeed two different things, that figure should roll 20 dice. I'd hate to imagine a unit of 10 figures. Who wants to try and handle 200d6?

Jason said...

Also: this is extremely similar to the system I spelled out in my Forbidden Lore supplement

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Jason said...
Also: this is extremely similar to the system I spelled out in my Forbidden Lore supplement

Anyone that is interested in a thorough analysis of Chainmail needs to read your supplement.

Clovis Cithog said...

show the love for the d20

"Old School, I am your father"
Darth Ryan (2000 ;-O)

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Clovis Cithog said...
show the love for the d20

"Old School, I am your father"
Darth Ryan (2000 ;-O)


I used to think the d20 was the most interesting of the polyhedrals, but now i'm more into the d12!

:D

Skydyr said...

There's some thought on the OD&D boards that the hit dice were originally meant only for damage, and that everyone had a fixed number of hit points that they could take as damage. So the combat sequence was 1) roll 2d6 and see who you hit near you 2) roll damage based on your hit dice 3) save against ascending AC to ignore damage (often ignored for monsters). This tends to lead to very fast and deadly combat at later levels.

I've considered a hybrid where you roll as many d20s to hit as you have hit dice and then do 1d6 damage per hit, as well, as being in line with the LBBs, but whatever method you choose, it can be fun to speculate about and muck with to change the nature of combat.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Skydyr said...

Great comments and observations. I'm always looking for ways to simplify and streamline combat, without sacrificing too much in the way of tactical choice.

Matthew Slepin said...

I've been trying to catch up on the literally hundreds of posts I missed in the last month and just stumbled on this one.

First, I have been playing around with just this idea for a while:
Why not be honest about it and simply give starting characters an extra wound point or two, rather than perpetuate a fraud by introducing variable hit points as a solution to fragile low-level characters.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to come up with a really satisfactory method yet.

Second:
Rather than using six-sided dice for all classes, then, why not use different dice for each class...

Gosh-darn but that's clever.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Thanks for the feedback, and I really appreciate your recommendation about 27th Edition Plate-mail. Looks promising.

Kent said...

Interesting stuff.

Angantyr said...

Sorry for the "thread necro" - just chanced across this and I must say it is a really good idea, even if I would not use it straight up. I'll have more to say on it later, but one little flaw to point out (which you may well have discovered already, of course): If Fighting Men get a d4 to roll, and a figure with no armor can be hit by a 4 or less, then they hit 100% of the time. That seems a bit excessive, to me. Might I suggest that the to-hit die be based on both class and level, so that at 1st- 3rd a fighting man starts at d10, and all other classes at d12. Fighting men would advance more rapidly, but never better than a d6. Alternatively, or in addition to, I would ditch the concept of medium armor, so the three categories are none, light (leather, gambeson, etc.) or heavy (any metal armor such as mail, scale, or plate). Give plate some other advantage over mail, maybe having it deflect blows like a shield (which is a not so bad abstraction)

Aaron E. Steele said...

Ah, I think you may be mis-reading my post. As originally conceived, no-one ever rolls a d4. As you gain levels you get more attack dice of your type. SO a 2nd level fighter gets 2d6, while a 2nd level cleric gets 2d8.

A 4th level MU gets 4d12.

Since you need, for example, a "1" to hit a heavy armored opponent, dice with fewer faces give you a better chance of hitting, than dice with more faces.