Working on a new combat system for D&D

Today while doing my daily Italian practice, I learnt that in Italian you don’t walk in the rain (nella pioggia). The proper expression is that you walk under the rain (sotto la pioggia).

It was a busy day with ethics classes. Thursdays are still my busiest with 5. At lunch I walked with Scully up to the shops, though I had lunch at home and didn’t buy anything other than restocking some medication from the pharmacy. It was very windy and when I got into the area near the shops where there are London plane trees my hay fever went berserk. I didn’t stop sneezing until we walked halfway back home into an area with different types of trees.

This afternoon I worked on a new combat system for my Dungeons & Dragons game. I’ve been thinking for some time about making all combat dice rolls player-facing. This is a term meaning that the players make dice rolls instead of the Dungeon Master. To explain:

Normally in the D&D rules (specifically the Basic/Expert Set rules that we are using, from 1981), during combat the action proceeds as follows:

  • There is an initiative roll to determine which side acts first, the adventurers (played by the players) or the monsters (played by the DM). (I’m not messing with this bit; I mention it only for completeness.)
  • Let’s say the heroes go first. Each one chooses a monster to attack and makes a die roll to see if they hit it with their weapon. This die roll uses the armour class of the monster as a target number to roll. Roll equal to or higher than the number and you hit the monster. (Note: this is a variant “ascending armour class” system that differs from the canonical rulebook version in what numbers are used, but the result is statistically identical. Many modern players use this variant as the bookkeeping is somewhat easier.)
  • Now the monsters get their attack. The DM chooses which hero each monster attacks, and rolls dice for the monsters, trying to hit the target armour class number of the defending heroes. Note that this is essentially identical to what the players do when they are attacking, except now it’s the DM rolling dice.

The system I’m working on is identical in the first two points, but modifies the third one, the monster attack. Instead of the DM rolling dice for the monster attack, I want to change it so that instead it’s the player of the defending hero who rolls to defend themselves against the attack. This way, the players get to roll more dice (which is fun for them) and the DM doesn’t need to roll for the attack. The DM will still roll for damage if the player fails the defence roll.

I ran the numbers, and it works out statistically identical if a defending player needs to roll under their own armour class to defend successfully. I also converted it to a roll-equal-to-or-higher system, but this requires recording a “defence target” number for each hero (which is equal to 22 minus their armour class), so it adds another complication. Overall I prefer the simplicity of just using the armour class, even if it means for attacking requires rolling high while defending requires rolling low.

Now I have the basic system, I want to break up the defence into different types:

  • Block – you block the attack with a shield.
  • Parry – you parry the attack with a weapon.
  • Evade – you evade the attack by moving out of the way, or in such a way that the blow lands harmlessly on your armour.

I’m modifying these ideas from GURPS, with the intention that they will separate into different tactical choices. The base die roll chances will be the same, but may be modified – for example a dwarf character might get a bonus to blocking with a shield, and a penalty to parrying, while elves get the opposite. Some weapons might be better at parrying, but cause less damage (a rapier) or worse at parrying but inflict more damage (a 2-handed sword).

It’s still work in progress at this point, but I think I have the essentials of a workable system. I’ve discussed it with my players and I think we’ll try it in our next session, to see how it works in actual play. And then we’ll decide if it’s more fun than the old system.

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