Stumbling Towards D&D's Alternate, Alternate Combat System
I’m not going to catalog, debate, or mock these early design choices. Like most of early Dungeons & Dragons the combat system is entirely functional, and while, like all novel inventions it can be streamlined or optimized in various ways, it serves. Of course what’s also fascinating about the system offered in the first edition of D&D is that it’s presented as an alternate but it was adopted almost exclusively by early players, by many presumably because they didn’t own the recommended rules in Chainmail. Both Gygax and Arenson, in the Greyhawk and Blackmoor supplements, start fiddling with it almost immediately. Other groups also begin to transform Dungeons & Dragons very quickly, often starting with the combat system, but retaining its core assumptions … the deep DNA of hit points, distinct hit and damage rolls, and damage based on weapon type, can be found even in contemporary video games. The haphazard alternate combat system offered because the preferred one (at the time) was already published, too lethal (per Arneson), and too complex to include in the modest booklets of early D&D, has become the model for the majority of mechanics in role playing games -- your Fromsoft console protagonist still fights like a 1970’s tabletop ironclad, battered into sinking by enemy blows.