I believe that in D&D a thinking player should be more successful than a roll-playing player just rolling dice. This also applies to combat in D&D. And here we have a quandary: A simplistic combat system, such as the one in Gygax' AD&D, cam be taken advantage of and lead to power playing - players taking advantage of the weaknesses in rules to beat the game, and on the other end, the system gets more complicated and starts involving additional die rolls and multiple tables, making for confusing game mechanics that slow down the game. Consider every fighter, who has sprung for a "Plate Mail Armor and Shield" and a "Sword". In reality, to wear and to fight either in chain mail or plate was a lifetime undertaking. You did not just switch between them. But that is an imposition that comes from the top, and does not really solve the problem. And the system does not really change.
One problem with Gygaxian D&D is that the weapons are primarily defined in terms of damage that they do. A "1d4" Dagger will be less effective than a "1d10" Two handed sword. In reality, a dagger can murder you as effectively as a sword thrust into an unarmed man. Historically, if you take any weapon from the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide weapons list or from other exquisite weapons lists from other games, such as Tunnels & Trolls or the AD&D Oriental Adventure, each of those weapons was brought into battle for a specific purpose to deal with a specific problem and in the hands of men working together, each weapon listed in these tables, is actually a medieval Weapons System. In Antiquity, Balearic Slingers, Ancient Greek Hoplites and Peltasts, Roman Legionnaires, were all me who mastered their muscle powered weapons and deployed as a team on the field of battle, became weapon systems. Each one of those weapons listed in those game tables, had battlefield tactics that evolved around their use, of which most D&D players are blissfully unaware!
Consider the Sword: While other weapons were mostly agricultural tools modified for the field of battle, Sword was the fist weapon in Man's arsenal to be invented, to be most effective when murdering human beings, and hence it became the primary weapon of noblemen maintaining social order. Then you have the Spear, which was invented to fend off large beasts in the wild, but also became useful for defending against the mounted attackers. Hooks mounted at the business end of the spear begat the Pole Arms, and the pole arms became the preferred weapon of the common man to disarm the misbehaving drunken swordsmen, who could not be hurt, being their noblemen, Pole Arms were also used to pull the heavily knights off their horses in melee. Barbarian battle axes are the stuff of fantasy. They were not widely used in the West. They were more widely used in Asia and in the Byzantine Empire, where heavy armor was not as implemented, incidentally. In England, axes were used by Anglo Saxons, very effective against the Chain Mail, it being the heaviest armor of the time, but axes were discontinued after the Norman invasions, then having introduced the sword and the mounted knight into the fray. But before axes were superseded, Saxons used aces in conjunction with the other weapons - swords and spears, to break the shield walls, the defense formations of their day. Protected by spears, axemen would close in to the shield wall and use their axes to hook the tops of the shields and pull them away from the defenders, so that the spearmen and the swordsmen can attack the defenders' exposed faces.
May I suggest that your Orcs and Goblins do the same to your players in the next dungeon adventure that you run. In the next post I will show you how to use your AD&D combat rules for a streamlined and realistic game mechanics to run your combat in D&D.