Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ready Ref Sheets: Chainmail Combat tables

I purchased the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets from RPGNow several days ago.

The Ready Ref Sheets include roughly 60 pages of tables and other content, both stimulating and stale.

Stimulating content includes rules for "Offensive Locution". For example, Characters can use witticisms and repartee to try to affect combat: successful repartee will stop your opponents from attacking, while successful witticisms will allow you to strike your opponent first. What a fantastic idea! If employed as both role-and roll-playing (rather than simply the latter), the idea of repartee and witticisms in combat would add a fascinating dimension to a pirate / robin hood / swashbuckling / three musketeers campaign!

As for the stale content? How about two pages of rules for initiating and maintaining a successful amorous liasion?

Overall conclusion? For all its faults, at $3, Ready Ref Sheets is one Judges Guild product you should not be without.

Several of the included combat tables in the Ready Ref Sheets are printed (with permission) from the Chainmail rules for medieval miniatures. Most of you will already know that the standard combat rules for Original Dungeons & Dragons assumed ownership and use of Chainmail, but that an "alternative" set of d20 combat rules were provided in OD&D, for those OD&D purchasers who did not already own Chainmail. By the time Basic and Advanced D&D replaced OD&D, those "alternative" d20 combat rules had become -- and still are -- the standard. Whether the recommendation to use Chainmail combat was simply a marketing ploy by Gary Gygax, to sell more books, or whether he truly considered the Chainmail rules to be superior, I cannot say.

What I can say is that, looking at the Chainmail man-to-man combat tables, I am struck by how different the Chainmail combat rules operate, as compared to the now accepted wisdom of the D&D community.

Some of that accepted wisdom:

1. Attack probabilities are linear functions.
2. Shields provide additional protection from attacks.
3. Swords are the most effective weapons.
4. Plate is better than Chain, is better than Leather.

In studying the Chainmail combat tables, you will discover that none of that accepted wisdom holds true in all cases!

Take attack probabilities. In standard d20 D&D combat, an +1 improvement in your combat ability will result in a flat 1 in 20 (5%) improvement in your potential combat success.

But the Chainmail combat table uses 2d6, rather than a d20, to determine a successful hit. Therefore, in Chainmail, an improvement (reduction) in your required "to-hit" number, from 10 to 9, improves you probability to hit from 16% to 28% (a 12% improvement). Likewise, an improvement in your "to-hit" number, from 9 to 8, improves your probability to hit from 28% to 42% (a 14% improvement). Think of the impact, then, that a +1 or +2 weapon would have on your combat success, using the Chainmail combat rules! A +1 weapon in Chainmail is the equivalent of +2 or even +3 weapon in the d20 combat rules. This may explain why, in Chainmail, Gygax considered Excalibur to be, at most a +2 or +3 weapon.

As for the use of shields, looking at the Chainmail tables, you will note several instances where shields are either of no value as further defence against attack, or make you more vulnerable. Case in point: a Mace hits on an 8+, whether I am employing chain, or chain and shield. Even worse: a Halberd hits on 8+ against Leather, but against Leather and Shield, 7+.

Turning to the effectiveness of swords, you will note that the mace, hammer, and morningstar all have the same or better to-hit probabilities against most armor types.

Finally, when comparing armor, there are several instances, such as with the Mace, Hammer or Flail, where Leather, rather than Chain, is the better armor, and other instances where Plate provides inferior protection.

Without a further understanding of the underlying assumptions applied to the Chainmail combat tables, it is difficult to reconcile these Chainmail combat design features with the "modern" d20 combat rules.


Norman Harman said...

I've always been a huge fan of weapon vs armor modifers in theory. They're more detail/slowness than I typically want. But built into a table like this is the way to go for sure.

Historically (and supposedly in practice) certain weapons were created to "defeat" certain armors e.g. pick vs plate. things like flails and morning stars were designed to wrap around shields and beat people silly.

Sword is comparitively shitty against most armor but it provides some of the best/quickest/varied parry's & blocks of any weapon. That is why I think it was so popular.

Timeshadows said...

There are more ways to get past armour than going through it (under plates, for instance), and in that case, having a hand-held and manoeuvrable lever that is also an inclined plane/wedge really rocks. :)

Bashing weapons deliver more of their energy through the flexible metal links gouging into the wearer of chain, whereas leather absorbs and distributes the impact-stress over a larger surface area. The real benefit of impact weapons on plate is that plate, once stressed, does not bend-back into place, and the crush-deformation begins to pin the wearer and cause them to falter even if their body has not suffered serious injury.

Truth be told, bolas to entangle, and then a heavy mace or a maul would be the way to go. Goblin bola-throwers backed up by trolls with mauls. Now that I can get behind. :D

Norman Harman said...

re: lever (I don't follow the scholarship to know what's currently believed) Some researches certainly think late two-hand sword was used as a lever, pry, and pinning weapon between plate armored foes and not thrust/swung in wide arcs. [Which, of course, I totally can't find reference to]

Timeshadows said...


Sadly, most gamers cannot believe that the English longsword was a thrusting weapon, was employed along the blade by a mailed glove to block attacks and push the opponent off balance (held parallel to the foe in both hands, like a barricade), and generally had only a minor edge for the above reasons.
--That said, sometimes folks would rather ignore the evidence in favour of 'flavour' or fun.

So, it always comes down to which expert is consulted/preferred/believed versus, 'my friend was in the SCA and he said...'-sort of stuff.

After all, some weapons changed usage once flaws/advantages were discovered.
--The M16 Assault Rifle is an example of stubborn refusal to drop a weapons platform in favour of individual specialised weapons. And, for the most part, the 'strategy' worked in a half-assed sort of way by changing ammunition.
---Originally designed to fire only in full-autofire mode, the low calibre 5.56x45mm rounds deliver more energy per region when clustered together, than a single heavy round (7.62x51mm, or higher, for instance). In practise, though, carrying 13 28-round magazines was essentially as cumbersome as 8 20-round mags of the heavier cartridge, and with lower penetration, range, and ability to negate light incidentals (vegetation, etc.), yet, the weapon system itself proved exceptionally 'tinkerable'.

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