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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Combat in MIDlands: Crit Hits and CRIT HITS!

In a comment from an earlier post, Neal asked me when a critical hit puts the opponent out of the fight. Let me briefly explain why I consider Critical Hits essential, even though Gygax and his AD&D rules were against it. For whatever reason, Gygax wanted a linear game, where there was a steady progression of rolls and a gradual loss of hit points, until one of the opponents was dead (well, sort of, they go unconscious and start bleeding from 0 to -10 hit points, at which time the character dies). In the mean time if the other characters stop the bleeding, the player character survives. Nice fudge to help the players live longer, but it makes sense.

Of course, there is a problem of two characters with 50-75 points each slugging away at each, and let us assume that they each have a Chain Mail, Sword, and Shield, that gives each a formidable and historically accurate AC of 5. Let us say that each is a 6th level fighter with the maximum 60hp, as player characters typically get the maximum hit points. In Gygax DMG (GDMG), a sixth level fighter needs 11 to his AC 5. Let's say that they each have a STR bonus of +1 and the long sword gets no bonuses or penalties against the Chain Mail and Shield on Gygax's infamous Weapon versus Armor chart in the Gygax PHB (GPHB). So, each fighter needs to score 10 or better or a little beter than 50% or 1 out of 2. Sword doing 1d8 damage, each fighter will score on average (1+8)/2 +1 = between 5 or 6 points of damage per hit. So, under Gygaxian combat rules, it will take an average 6th level fighter armed as a typical medieval man at arms between 10 and 12 combat rounds, or 10-12 minutes(!) to put down his opponent! Modern historians claim that sword combat had nothing to do with foil fencing as we know it today, and fights took about a minute, or 20-30 seconds until the lethal outcome. On the battlefield, several would be stabbing one and one or two hits were enough to injure, disable, and render them a casualty. More so with cut and thrust weapons, as opposed to the thrust alone rapier, on which modern fencing is based. Sword cuts severed veins, arteries, muscle and tendons, rendering the defender's hands and arms useless, before they collapsed from internal bleeding. In contrast, Gygax posits two opponents fencing for about a minute, each making feints and trying to score a hit (as in fencing). This is historically inaccurate, according to the prevailing modern scholarship.

Gygax himself must have known that the linear nature of his combat must have slowed things down, for he has put two non-linear dynamics into his rules. These were limited, with the right circumstances, they allowed one side to inflict more damage on the other. These were the surprise and weapon speed factors. Surprise I covered previously. If the party fails the surprise check, they can remain "flat-footed" in the later edition D&D parlance for up to 5 combat segments or 30 seconds, in which the opponents gets to act. I like this dynamic and in MIDlands, this can potentially let the attacker loose a bunch of arrows and spells at the hapless defenders, OR the attacker can charge the opponent, and potentially close the distance and slash a lethal sword blow or two. The second mechanic is that of Weapon Speed. In the essential GPHBK it is listed in the much reviled and least used Weapon versus Armor table. I am a big fan of that table, since it individualizes the To Hit numbers and makes the weapon choice more meaningful thus, it makes the MIDlands D&D combat more of a tactical thinker's game. The speed of some common weapons is as follows: A swod has a Speed Factor (SF): 5; Two-Handed Sword has a SF:10; Short Sword has a SF:3, Spear has a SF: 6 - 8; Pole Arm, SF: 8 - 13; Hand Axe, SF: 4. Speed Factors work in two ways. When roling for initiative (as opposed to rolling for Surprise, in the beginning of the combat encounter, you roll for the initiative once every combat round (10 x 6 second Combat Segments, to see when in the Battle Minute you get a chance to score your hit). Rolling 1d10, you add your weapon SF to the initiative roll add the Character's DEX based adjustment (negative for the Characters with high DEX). If the group acts as a team, you can roll once for the group and add the individual bonuses. If the individuals are NOT fighting as a team, each player rolls his own initiative. Obviously, longer/heavier/slower weapons will strike last. There is a Caveat to it, but these are unmodified Gygaxian rules. The second and more lethal way, in which the WEapon's SF is used is that under limited circumstances it grants one of the players additional attacks: When two opponents roll THE SAME initiative, then you compare the weapon SF of each opponent. If the difference in the weapon SF's is TWICE the SF of the faster weapon, or more than 5, the attacker wielding the faster weapon gets to strike twice - before, and after the slower opponent strikes. If the SF difference is 10 or more, the faster weapon gets THREE attacks on the slower weapon: Once before, once simultaneously, and once after the slower weapon.

In MIDlands Combat, the Weapons Speed Factor is used as a cyclic rate for the weapons. Let us say that both of our aforementioned Men At Arms rolled for initiative, and one rolled 10 and the other rolled 1. With the sword, one went on Segment 6 and the other went on Segment 15. The difference is 9, and the faster dude gets two strikes on the slower one. If the faster dude has a short sword, SF3, it would have been Segment 4 versus Segment 15, the difference of 11, and the faster player would have gotten 3 attacks in! Keep in mind, that if attacking with his short sword versus the long, the faster player would have had to close the distance before doing inflicting any damage. Since the slower player had the LONGER weapon, the faster player would have rolled to attack, and the slower player would have rolled to hit as well to keep the faster player from closing in. If the defender scored a hit, the short sword would have taken damage and not closed the distance. If the short sword attacker would have scored a hit and the defender missed, the short sword does not do any damage, but the short word closes in and gats to score damage, while the long sword fights at a penalty of -1. This model is applied only so long as the Long Sword has room to maneuver. If the Long Sword is in formation, Long Sword CAN NOT retreat and as soon as he misses the To Hit, the short sword closes in! The beauty of fighting in formation is that the swords to the left and the right of the Long Sword get to strike the short sword as well, and if the short sword is a skirmisher fighting as an individual, he is SCREWED. Thereby the monsters and the players derive the historic advantage of fighting in formation. Never forget that Ancient Roman Legionnaires had the casualty ratio of 1:19 versus the ancient Celtics during their conquest of Brittania. Us soldiers had the same ratio, incidentally, in Vietnam.

Finally, having seen this overview, we now turn our attention to Critical Hits. In D&D these evolved slowly. Gygax was against Critical Hits, ostensibly, because they should also be applied to players and they will kill the players faster! This is exactly the reason D&D needs a simple and a lethal critical hit system, to make the combat truly a deadly undertaking. Between AD&D initial notion that a To Hit roll 1 always misses and a To Hit Roll 20 always hits, there was a number of different ways to introduce the Critical Hit system. AD&D version 2.5 has introduced a hopelessly complex critical hit system, that took into account attacker and target body mass, size of the weapon, body shape, Hit Location, and finally damage and knock down. Mine is much simpler and workable, suited for DM's colorful storytelling:

There are two ways in which critical hits are scored: 1) If you make your To Hit Roll by five or more points, i,e, Man at arms rolling 15 when he needs a 10, and also, 2) When you make a critical hit number for the weapon listed in the D&D OSR document in the Weapons Table. It assumes that you typically roll a 20, or in some cases an 18-20 or 19-20 for a few weapons, to score a critical hit damage multiplier. For swords, the critical hit damage is multiplied by 2, spears by 3, etc.

In MIDlands, you can score critical hit damage bonus either way. If you made a 2HIT+5, then you automatically score the maximum damage for that weapon. If you roll the OSR crit hit, then you multiply. If your OSR is also a 2HIT+5, then you multiply the Maximum Damage! But here is the thing: Let us say that our Man at arms scored DOUBLE CRIT (a roll that is 2HIT+5 and the OSR CRIT at the same time). The amount of damage he will do is 9x2 = 18 points! It will drop the first and maybe  second level fighter, but the rest will remain on their feet. That is why in MIDlands battle, any critical hit has a chance to be the PEACEMAKER! Whenever you roll a CRIT, you must roll a second time (the BLOOD ROLL) to see of CONFIRM the critical hit, by rolling a second CRIT HIT (either type). If you don't, then you just do the bonus damage, however, if you do (roll a CRIT CRIT), and either of the two rolls is a 20, then the opponent is out of the fight! Note, does not necessarily means KILLED - enemy runs away, surrenders, or yields (Neil's idea). The opponent may or may nor be critically injured, but they lost the fight. If the attacker rolls TWO 20's (i.e. 20 the first time, and rolls a 20 to confirm), the  enemy is dead! This is the GOLIATH  KILLING  GIANT shot!  Any creature, Ancient Dragons, Giants, Wights, Vampires, Liches, CAN ALL BE SLAIN IN THIS FASHION (roll 20; roll 20 to confirm, the hit) BY ZERO LEVEL MEN WIELDING NON-M,AGICAL WEAPONS!  

During Gulf War ONE, Physicists studying probabilities of Combat found that Luck is a real measurable phenomenon, and that there are Lucky, as well as UN-LUcky soldiers, police officers, and fire-fighters. Are we in store for the Men Who Stare At Goats movie the sequel? Anyway, the MIDlands CRIT HIT system is there to account for battlefield LUCK and it represents everybody's one in a million chance at victory against all odds!

End Notes:

- There is a question of what happens if you score a CRIT-CRIT, but no 20's. Narratively speaking, the opponent is knocked off his feet, his shield is split in half! His sword breaks! Opponent is STUNNED by the blow! allowing a number of free attacks. DM's narrative improvisation call. There are deadly consequences for the defender. The reason for this is that if you score 2HIT+5 the first roll and OSR the second one, you will get your MAX damage multiplied, But if you get a 2HIT+5 the first time and a 2HIT+5 the second, you will only do MAX damage once. Ergo for the OSR CRIT rolled twice. If you roll a whammy DOUBLE CRIT, then no matter what you roll on your second "Blood Roll", you WILL NOT do any additional damage (except the narrative one). The only other additional outcome from that roll will be if you roll a 20!

- Neal, I will respond to the rest of your comments as time permits.

- Curved Sword that you mention is the same as a Scimitar, and its OSR CRIT Stats are 18-20/x2, as in all swords.

-Military Pick, the GPHB's most effective weapon against plate armor has the OSR Stats of 20/x4. In AD&D it deals 2d4 points of damage and with a +1 STR bonus to damage, it will deal 36 Points of Damage on a DOUBLE CRIT hit.


  1. Wow! This is a long post. It's going to take some work to get through this. I better get started.

  2. Brooser Bear,

    Do you have a link for the OSR Crit Hits? I'm unfamiliar with it (and with e. 2.5 etc, but those aren't rules I'd waste my time learning, since they don't work well).

    I like crit hits, in combination with Ablative damage. Dual kinds of crit hits are something I employ, too, so this confirms my attitudes towards using them, regardless of Gygax's opinions. Interestingly, Dragon magazine, which was TSR's mouthpiece had articles on crit hits for d100 locations in gory detail from very early on, maybe 1980, or so, in spite of Gygax's hatred of them.

    The 'Flat Footed' mechanic is something we never used during the old days, but that I independently thought should exist. I never determined how it would be done, though. Modern D&D uses it apparently. Up to 30 seconds of being flat footed isn't realistic, unless your team is in REM sleep and trapped in their sleeping bags. If they are walking in a dungeon, or dangerous forest paths, etc, they'd be prepared for enemies, probably with sword IN HAND, and shield in the other. My guys ALWAYS did, when in a dungeon, and usually, when on forest paths. Probably not, when in open fields, with a clear field of view (beware Ankhegs!)

  3. Brooser Bear,

    The reason I wondered about how many turns you were using for a fight between equals, where one side puts down the other, is I've looked into the math for this. I like Criticals that Confirm a first Critical hit, but I've found there can be problems with realism.

    If there are 10-12 rounds to put the enemy down, then you are rolling for a Natural 20 each time. Let's say you roll 10 rounds till one guy is dead, you GET that natural 20, 5% of the time, for each opponent. In 10 rounds, you have a 50/50 chance, per opponent, of rolling One 20. In TWO combats, your average PC rolls 1 natural 20, and every second opponent of equal ability,rolls one natural 20 on HIM!..... If you add in a second confirming 20, or what you call a Blood Roll, would be 20x20=400. One blow in 400 your PC suffers is a Confirmed Natural Critical! That is Every 2nd encounter x20, or EVERY 40th encounter, your PC gets killed! Many single dungeons have that many encounters. If you have a 1st level fighter, and he needs 2,000 XP to reach 2nd level, he may die from a natural 20, right about the time he's just turning 2nd level.

    Here's my solution, that isn't perfect, but it's food for thought... How bout a first Natural 20 being confirmed by a 2nd Blood Roll using a d100, instead of a d20. This gives you not 1 in 400 (or, every 40th encounter you die), but, 5 times less frequently, so you live long enough to survive, at 1 in 2000 (roll 01) (or, 5x less frequently, at every 2000 encounters you die).

    This allows a 1st level fighter to reach not just 2nd level, but more like about 6th or 7th level. At that point, the party cleric(s) can resurrect them. Or they'll at least have the money to afford outside clerical resurrection, once the training wheels come off, for their no longer novice status.

    If you use the infamous Gygax weapon vs. armor table, you are the only person I know that ever has. If it works, then maybe it's good. It seemed so fiddly, we never bothered, so I have no experience with it.

    You have some good rules for a D&D style weapon speed vs. opponent's weapon length, plus close order formations vs. skirmishers. I don't know if modern D&D uses any of this stuff, but I've derived rules sets for this using my own systems. In my system, getting past longer weapons is very difficult, but once inside, if the longswordsman, etc, cannot move backwards (lines of troops behind him, walls, etc) then HE is the one screwed. But, on the balance, your system seems to offer quick and easy rules, and allow the longswordsman, who is at a serious disadvantage to not be completely hosed. The combat doesn't just end, it stays tactically interesting for the shortswordsman, too...

    I've done a lot of looking into Roman close order formations for my rules, but I hadn't known it was 19:1 casualties for Britain. If it's the battle I'm thinking of, the Romans took the high rocky ground, launched volleys of pila at the Celts storming the hill, and charged down at them, for hours. Brutal massacre, something like 70,000 - 200,000 dead Britons. This was during Boadicea's revolt, with only 3 legions in Britain, plus some reinforcements from Gaul.

    Your rules using combinations of Gygax's stuff and some later sources improves on his work, a lot. It sounds like a nice mix of old school sensibilities, with more realism, and some of the new school simpler mechanics of OSR (they are sometimes a fusion of old and new schools, at their best), without the horribly bogged down masses and masses of hyper-detail of 3.5 or 4.0. BLEAH. Sounds like some nice compromises and the added 'narrativism' enhances the effects beyond mere dice rolling. This is getting more interesting all the time.

  4. Brooser Bear,

    Oops! That should have read:

    You die 5x less frequently. Instead of every 33rd - 40th encounter, it is every 200th encounter. That's still a lot, if you think about it, but you can jigger the numbers around in many different ways.