Alternative Systems for AD & DTM

Combat #1


I've never really bought the idea of a minute-long melee round. Yes, I've heard all of the explanations, and while I agree that in a given battle there will be a lot of to-and-fro, I can't believe that, on average, each combatant will only have one opportunity to cause injury for every minute that passes. This, like so much of AD&D, smacks heavily of a rationalisation for a very old ruling that dates back to Chainmail wargaming days. (I know that in 3rd Ed, the minute-long round was finally done away with.) Here's my system for handling actions in a round:

Each melee round can be thought of as roughly ten seconds long. For Initiative, everyone involved rolls 1d10 (low is good), with a negative modifier equal to their usual Reaction Adjustment for Dex. The DM then counts up from 0, and players call out when it's their go.

The Casting Time of a Spell adds directly to the caster's Initiative, so spellcasters should call out something like "starting to cast (whatever)..." on their rolled Initiative, and then "spell goes off" when the Casting Time has been completed. The good thing about this is that it's finally possible to tell exactly when casting can be interrupted by combat - any successful hit or jostle during those initiative counts will ruin the spell.

Characters with multiple attacks (e.g. warriors, people firing bows, etc) will attack once on their rolled Initiative, and again 5 counts later, with each further multiple attack coming 5 counts later than that, and so on. Creatures with multiple natural attacks like claw/claw/bite can be assumed to resolve all attacks on their Initiative roll.

A character can always choose to hold their action until a later initiative count, perhaps waiting until an enemy wizard begins to cast before striking.

It should already be obvious that high-Dex characters may end up with an Initiative of less than 0, and that multiple attacks and spells often extend the initiative count beyond 10. Don't worry about this - I generally start the count with "negative numbers...zeros, ones..." etc., and then go on to ask for actions after 10 at the end, lumping everything together into one 'round'. Once they've all been resolved, it's time to roll for Initiative again.

This system does assume that NPCs and monsters should each have individually rolled Initiatives, too, and that it's the burden of the DM to keep track of them. This is extra effort, but it can be simplified with an Excel (or similar) spreadsheet that generates random rolls of 1-10 for a dozen rounds or so, printed out beforehand. Just cross off the rolls as you use them up. If, instead, you choose to give monsters a group Initiative, you end up with the odd spectacle of a squad of Orcs simultaneously swinging axes, then waiting politely until it's their collective go again. This not only seems silly, it means that wily spellcasters can make sure that their spells are never interrupted, by waiting until all the bad guys have had their attack before casting.

Furthermore, spells with durations measured in minute-long rounds may need adjusting. The decision needed is whether a spell is intended for use in combat, or not. Combat spells with durations in rounds keep the same duration, but in the new 10-second rounds. Non-combat spells can keep their current duration, but each round counts as a minute.

Warriors' Attacks

One valid criticism of every edition of D&D (prior to 4th) is the disparity in effectiveness between spellcasters and warrior-types. At early levels this isn't very apparent, but by the time PCs reach middle levels, the wizard and priest classes start to outstrip the sword-users. Many of the following combat-related rulings are attempts to rebalance that issue. Here we have a general improvement to warrior's attacks:


As soon as battles begin to involve more than two or three combatants in total, positioning becomes important. This tends to mean that figures or markers will be necessary on the game table, which some people (myself included) can balk at. But allowing for tactical effectiveness means that players can become more involved, and makes rogue- and warrior-types more useful.

In all cases, the bonuses only apply if the target is unaware of the attacker or is already engaged in combat. This usually includes targets using a missile weapon or casting a spell.

Critical Hits And Fumbles

I'm no fan of the buckets of gore model for criticals and fumbles, á la Rolemaster and the like. While they're (somewhat) realistic, it does tend to mean a drastically increased chance of a sudden and unheroic death or disfigurement for players' beloved characters in combat. And yet 'special' combat effects can add colour and breathe a little more life into an otherwise rather flat system. So here are some calmer suggestions. These rules assume you're using 2d10 for 'To Hit' rolls, so the chances for criticals and fumbles are greatly reduced.

A Critical Hit takes place on any natural roll of 20 in combat, whereas a Fumble occurs on any natural 2. If and when they turn up, a further roll of 2d10 on the appropriate table below is required. An attacker can choose to apply a different effect, as long as it is higher up the table.

Note that Missile Fumbles disallow further shots that round, and any Fumble when firing missiles into melee automatically rolls to hit an ally.

Critical Hits

2d10 Roll Effect
2-5 Target off-balance, loses 2 AC next round
6-9 Target drops weapon or loses next attack
10-13 Target knocked prone, or off-balance if too large
14-17 Target takes maximum damage
18-19 Attacker gets another attack on target
20 Target takes double damage (including bonuses)

Fumbles In Melee

2d10 Roll Effect
2 Roll to hit ally vs. THACO 22, otherwise slip and fall*
3-4 Weapon drops 1d6 ft away, or if natural weapon attacker takes 1d3 subdual damage
5-8 Attacker off-balance; loses 2 AC next round, and 2 pts subdual damage
9-14 Attacker off-balance; loses 2 AC next round, and lose next attack recovering/shifting grip
15-20 Attacker off-balance, loses 2 AC next round

* An entangling weapon automatically entangles the attacker.

Fumbles With Missiles

2d10 Roll Effect
2-3 Roll to hit ally vs. THACO 22, otherwise slip and fall*
4-7 Break bowstring or damage weapon; needs repair (unless magical)
8-13 Weapon drops 1d6ft away
14-20 Attacker off-balance, loses 2 AC next round

* An entangling weapon automatically entangles the attacker.

Called Shots

I'm not an exponent of randomly generated Hit Locations in AD&D, but I do feel that a little extra colour benefits combat. I should point out that the following system has not been rigorously tested, but it shouldn't unbalance things.

On the table that follows each Called Shot must be announced before the To Hit roll is made. Making a Called Shot adds 1 to the Initiative count (looking for an opening), and will have a To Hit penalty as shown below. The resulting special effect only occurs if damage from the blow equals 25% or more of the victim's normal unwounded HP, and the duration is a brief 1d6 rounds, unless stated otherwise below.

For creatures of non-human shape, it should be easy to decide on the appropriate penalty and effect, using the below as a guideline. Note that enemies wearing appropriate protection - full-face helmets, for instance - might be declared immune to certain Called Shot locations.

Called Shot To: To Hit Penalty: Effect:
Head -4 Defender Stunned; they attack at -3 and lose 2 AC
Eye -8 Defender permanently blind in that eye; all ranged attacks at -2
Arm -3 Defender's arm is numbed; drop anything carried; arm is useless
Leg -4 Defender's leg is numbed; roll under Dex on 2d10 each round of combat or fall
Disarm Attack vs. AC 0* Defender's weapon flies 1d10 feet in a random direction. Large weapons require two successive Called Shots
Aimed Disarm Attack vs. AC-3* Defender's weapon flies 1-10 ft as aimed by attacker. Cannot be done against large weapons

* Defender's Parrying bonus should also apply as a penalty.