The table that offers the most interest when it comes to designing a D&D like individual fantasy combat system is the same one that Megarry apparently took inspiration from, “TABLE T - SHOWING LOSSES FOR HAND TO HAND COMBAT […] ALSO THE ‘RESULTS OF VICTORY’ AND CONSEQUENCES OF DEFEAT.” This table is meant to be cross referenced against the odds of an attack being victorious, which involves some calculation on its own -- one generally gets the impression that Strategos is not a quick game to play. Each player rolls the number of D6 the odds offer (e.g. If the attacker had 3:5 odds, attacker rolls 5 dice and defender 3) and picks the highest roll. A table (seen below) indicates how each side’s roll effects combat, both showing its general success in the action with resulting casualties and the overall tactical result. Victory or defeat is determined by who rolls the highest, and the results (from stalemate to rout) by the difference between the rolls and the general odds (which can limit the severity of a loss). For example a unit charging into melee from a highly advantageous position with odds of 12:1 or more against the enemy will only suffer the result of a tie even if miraculously defeated.
|Strategos Table T - The Root of Most US Wargames?|
The direct damage per conflict (and note it’s fairly low for units numbering in the thousands - at 18 maximum for a terribly managed defeat) is relatively unimportant, almost unnecessary and perhaps simply for “realism”. Real destruction occurs when the defeat and victory conditions are applied and this subsystem rather than the pseudo-HP style system of soldiers lost per unit is what's interesting about Strategos. It’s nearly impossible to kill a 1,000 strong unit via combat casualties in Strategos, but they can be shattered and removed from play, though they may reform a day later -- greatly weakened. The results are still pretty general, we aren’t discussing the specific ways a unit is routed, surrenders or destroyed - though there’s choices for the players and referee left open in these cases, but they award or inflict specific classes of morale damage from: “enthusiasm at the highest pitch” down through 5 grades to “great confusion”, as well as forcing one side off the objective, reducing or adding to the the discipline/vigor of the troops, and potentially causing huge losses from rout or surrender of ⅓, ½ or the full unit. Sometimes conditions regarding options (pursuit or reforming) are provided and with many results the unit requires time to recover before it can act again. Morale, condition, retreat, and delay are all built into this two die roll system along with injury (in this case both the direct losses and total rout or surrender).
Obviously this isn’t something that makes a lot of sense for individual fantastic combat, but Meggary’s DUNGEON! rules offer an interesting evolution precisely for this situation.
Both however suggest possibilities for a combat system that is based around simultaneous attack/defense and has results other than health depletion/injury. It’s likely one still wants injury and death in a D&D like game - but Totten suggests that combatants become ineffective for other reasons, specifically morale and exhaustion/disorganization before they are killed/surrender/flee completely. Megarry in turn offers potential non-health related combat risks for the PC: the loss of treasure/equipment and time. This set of ideas allows for two key elements of combat: more granular and serious injuries (think the surrender of 1:3 a fleeing unit in Strategos) and other losses, both impacting temporary combat ability (morale and condition) and equipment (armor damage seems the best idea here - as in Errant).
Why create this sort of system? Besides person amusement at messing around with a russet from 1880 and imagining an alternate Dungeons & Dragons combat system, there’s the fact that D&D’s existing combat doesn’t really serve the purposes of a classic (under one potential interpretation of the authors’ intent) fantasy skirmish game or the OSR’s revisionist ideal of an “inevitable fail state/high risk solution to challenges”.
Totten was writing a the best sort of simulation of 19th century infantry line tactics that he could, and though his rules still seem to favor the bayonet and offense as decisive - which 20 years after the US Civil War and 10 after Franco-Prussian war seems a big oversight, they account for many factors besides the number of wounded in a fight. They are an attempt to produce a simulation (though not Forge style simulationism) for military training. In this sense Strategos is a very “intentional” game, while early D&D, despite a concept for play that shows innovative brilliance and a functional ruleset, feels less so - an experiment that went in a new direction and rules that rapidly adapted. So the question remains, as to what a combat system intentionally designed for the OSR purpose of embodying risk might look like. Likewise, the Hit-Point centric system of Dungeons & Dragons, while elegantly simple in its abstraction, tends to provide a heroic feel to its player characters (which is not bad) who never tire or suffer from fear unless through magic. This feels at odds with the idea of desperately foolish treasure hunters facing the eldritch horrors of the underworld (or Rabelian adventure farce - frequently called “gonzo”) of the OSR. Morale, hopefully not in a clumsy player agency removing way, and temporary Condition better depict player expectations for heroic adventurers, as well as allowing for more serious wounds system that don’t gloss over the effect of injury.
With these goals in mind how would this work? The One wants even this simplified combat to allow some aspect of player choice both in equipping/building characters (and designer choice for monsters). The main risk is making the system too lethal and simplistic, as Arneson remembered from early OD&D tests with the Chainmail rules, and the solution is being mindful of Gygax and his solution in the 1970’s, using detailed character records and acknowledging that each PC or monster can be the equivalent of a wargame unit (just perhaps not an ironclad). So the first difficulty is maintaining enough mechanical complexity for player schemes and situational or monster special ability based advantages, while baking in simple modifiers/rules for common elements of tactics (charges, shield-walls, giant foes, swarming small foes, varied weapon types). A second difficulty is avoiding that main risk, while meaningfully modeling victory and defeat without using a D&D style HP pool. Here the necessity for morale, condition, time and distance to matter comes into play.
Here’s a draft of a proposed system:
Draft Totten-DUNGEON ! , 2D12 Combat System:
Melee Combat involves a 1D12 roll (I considered 2d6 but I think the broader distribution of D12’s are better) for each combatant modified by various factors. The highest role gains the upper hand in that round of combat, as Victor, and the difference between the rolls determines the Degree of success or failure affecting each combatants: morale, condition, ability to act the next round and wounds.
Weapons, skill level, and natural abilities can both give bonuses and penalties to this role as well as limiting the results of a defeat or victory to a certain Degree.
For example, an attacker with a reach weapon, attacking from the second rank will still make a normal attack but at a penalty (-3) and even if defeated will suffer no wounds (and minimal moral and condition damage) because they can’t be attacked by the other side in melee, meaning that defeats will always be at a maximum Degree of two points.
Wounds: Combatants have no Hit Points, but rather receive Wounds, each of which is serious and degrade other combat Statistics (or remove the target from combat), can cause permanent injury/loss of statistics, and lead quickly to death.
- Wound type will be determined by Victory and Defeat result. High Degrees of defeat lead to worse wounds.
- Even Flesh Wounds damage Base Condition (-2 for Flesh Wounds, -6 for Serious and -8 for Mortal, assuming survival).
- Wounding attacks also reduce Condition not by a fixed amount, but to a specific amount (1 to -8) unless the Combatant already has a lower Condition. This Condition may be Recovered from up to the Wound reduced Base Condition.
- Wounds can be prevented, or their severity lessened, by armor and special abilities (e.g. a dragon might reduce the first 10 Wounds received to Flesh Wounds, while plate armored warriors might be able to block the first 4 Wound results, and a Zombie might ignore all Flesh Wounds).
- After combat wounds require doctoring/blinding to stop blood loss and allow some morale and condition recovery.
- Flesh Wounds reduce condition, morale and make future wounds more likely to be serious or mortal, but don’t cause long-term injury.
- Serious Wounds dramatically reduce condition, morale and make it far more likely that future wounds will be mortal or serious. Post combat, even with binding they significantly degrade combat ability and are likely to result in a special permanent/long term injury based on a wound table result.
- Mortal Wounds almost always result in death unless properly treated and always remove the combatant from the fight (though not always immediately), and can be anything from being knocked unconscious to beheaded. Survival is possible with fast, lucky and skilled doctoring or magic, and will almost always (unless magic is used) end with a missing limb or similar maiming injury.
- During combat all Wounds reduce condition and morale each round with blood loss (for most combatants - the undead are likely to be very nasty in this system), which can eventually produce mortal wounds or death.
Morale: A 12 point scale of how willing the combatant is to fight or how easily they retreat. Has effects on their ability to be the Attacker, rolls, maximum Degree of Defeat and if they flee or surrender.
12 - Implacable, 11- Highest Enthusiasm, 10 - Enthusiastic, 9 - Bold, 8 - Resolute, 7 - Steady, 6 - Cautious, 5 - Discouraged, 4 - Wavering, 3 - Shaken, 2 - Cowering, 1 - Broken
- Morale determines will to fight, with high morale gain combat bonuses to rolls, Condition and Victory results, while at low morale suffers penalties, and will ultimately flee if defeated.
- Low Morale may limit the Degree of Victory or prevent Pursuit.
- Any defeat once morale is below 7 requires a D6 morale check and failure results in flight (in addition to any, more ordered retreat/backward movement, result from the Defeat itself).
- Morale generally starts at 7, but is determined by class or creature, so Magic Users might start at 6, cowardly goblins at 5, fighters and orcs likely start at 8 or 9, while the animated bones of the dead start and stay at 12.
- Morale doesn’t return to base after combat, though some recovery and loss of enthusiasm occurs. Wounds will damage morale for the rest of an adventure (permanently in the case of some injuries).
Condition: Some combination of exhaustion, positioning, discipline, and combat awareness. Not so much the combatant’s willingness to fight but their fitness for it.Condition drains rapidly for untrained combatants from both victory and defeat, but is recovered with equal speed. It’s also dramatically affected by morale.
- Each point of Condition (and it can be a plus or a minus) moves the results of a Defeat up or down the Degree chart. So having a 0 Condition means defeats will be exactly as determined by the die, while a plus represents some protection and a minus increases the risk of a serious defeat.
- Condition starts at a fixed level for every Combatant, based on class/monster type and level. Uninjured Combatants return to this Base Condition after the end of combat, and Recovery is also capped at the Base Condition (Morale of course can increase it).
- The starting condition for non-combatants is generally at 0, while adventurers begin at 1 or 2 and even beginning warriors at 3 or 4. Adding morale bonuses for fresh fighters will likely add 1 or 2 additional points, meaning that a first level fighter cannot suffer injury barring exceptional circumstances in the first round of combat.
- Fighters receive far less or no condition loss from any Victory.
- Rounds of combat can (sometimes must) be spent in recovery, restoring Condition to towards the combatant’s base condition.
Basic Combat Procedure:
1) Determine Positions and Number of Opponents per Combatant.
To determine positions use the general rules for classic style “theater of the mind” combat, largely dependent on RANK: melee/vanguard, reach/second, missile/rear and LINE: Doorway is 1 combatant wide, hallway is minimum 2 max 4, room is estimated with a basic minimum of 4.
- Vanguard rank can attack enemy Vanguard rank with Melee Weapons or Second rank if armed with Reach weapons (spears etc).
- Second rank can attack enemy Vanguard with Reach weapons. .
- Rear rank can fire missiles, cast spells etc.
- Defeats against Second
Rank by non-Reach armed enemy Vanguard
inflict a maximum 2nd Degree of Defeat (unless a missle is fired into Melee).
- Missile fire into enemy Vanguard or Second ranks hits allied Vanguard rank if Defeated applying defeat effect if Degree is greater than 2. If a lesser the Degree or not fired into melee the result is treated as a Tie effecting only the Missile user.
- Large creatures are susceptible to missile fire without risk of friendly fire.
Changing rank takes a round (baring special abilities).
- Retreat from melee allows opponents Attack without chance of inflicting Defeat or gaining Victory (baring special abilities).
- Vanguard cannot pass an enemy rank without special abilities or combat results.
- Penalties if outnumbered and not a fighter - lesser penalties for fighter (generally 2 opponents max per “space” in front, side or rear for a maximum 8 on 1 if fully surrounded (16 or one if Second rank of Reach armed foes exists).
- Flank and Rear attacks gain bonuses to Combat Roll and to Degree.
2) Determine Attacker v. Defender.
Rather than determine initiative (there’s a simultaneous opposed roll) the referee determines the attacker. If the attacker is unclear the combatant with the highest morale can decide if they will attack or defend. Defender can choose not to attack, in which case both combatants will Recover.
3) Combat is joined or recovery ensues.
Each Combatant rolls 1D12. Defender uses the same result against all attackers. If multiple Defenders are facing the same Attacker, Attacker must pick one target to apply any Victory to prior to the roll, which will also be measured against other Defenders (unless using special abilities/weapons)
- Maneuvers such as charges and defensive fighting gain bonuses to Degree and to Roll. E.G. a Defender in a Shield Wall will have penalties to any Attack Roll and Degree of Victory, but Degree of Defeat is capped and Multiple Attackers lose bonuses.
- Attackers and Defenders receive bonuses or penalties to rolls based on Morale and special abilities.
- Multiple Attackers and Defenders will gain bonuses to their rolls unless Defender has special abilities.
- If attacked while Recovering Combatant acts as Defender and does not Recover.
- Recovery restores lost condition. It can be forced by both low Degrees of Victory or moderate/high Degrees of Defeat.
4) Results of combat are checked against the results table
Find the difference between the Rolls of all Combatants and calculate victories and defeats. Limit Degree for both as modified by Special Abilities, Morale and Condition.Reference and apply the effects of Victory or Defeat by Degree based on the table below.
- Victory and Defeat are determined by these results. Attacked by multiple Opponents it’s possible to be Defeated and Victorious in the same Round.
- Ranged Attacks are calculated first (A Defeated Ranged Attacker suffers a Tie result as the Maximum Degree of Defeat). Any loss of condition, morale or wounds for the Defender applies to the results of any melee defeats/victories.
- Melee (including Reach) attacks with multiple Attackers/Defenders are calculated with Attacker Victory 1st followed by any Attacker Defeats.
- Extra Attackers cannot suffer Defeat worse than 6 points unless Defender has special abilities.
- Extra Defenders cannot suffer Defeat worse than a 2 points, and will not Retreat unless Attacker has special abilities (most Fighters get unmodified Attack Results against two 2 Defenders per Round, increasing at higher levels).
Defeated Combatants will often be pushed back a the the Victorious Combatant can change position or continue Pursuit if the Combatant Breaks (usually killing the fleeing Combatant).
- If Pursuit is possible (e.g. no other Combatant can check the Pursuit, or step into the the space of a Retreated or Fleeing Combatant from the Second line and Victor is not themselves forced to Recover) Victor can step forward, breaking the enemy line, or pursue a foe the flees (fails a morale test). Condition and Morale lost or recovered are applied.
- Pursued Foes will have a small chance to escape if movement is greater than pursuer, but Pursuer will get at least on Attack Roll, and against Feeling Combatants receive bonuses for attacking from the rear.
So I haven’t tested this combat system, this post just offers a concept that would need to be refined, with many other materials prepared and play testing to see if it functions as intended. Obviously it needs injury tables, maneuver tables, and a list of special abilities by weapon/attack types, a table for armor and typical monster defenses. Similarly it radically changes certain aspects of class design.
It’s also unclear to me exactly how complex it would be to track morale and condition for multiple PCs and enemies, however, it strikes me that “Condition” forms a sort of fluctuating temporary AC/HP hybrid, and Morale must also be tracked -- though both HP and Morale need to be tracked in the normal combat system as well. My initial guess is that the system is no more complex than the standard Basic D&D system, but that it may be unintuitive to players used to the idea of Hit Points as a resource that ticks steadily down towards death rather than sudden bloody catastrophe. In the defense of my draft system, I think having permanent wounds that are debilitating but don’t entirely prevent further adventure, and conditions which absent of wounds springs back after combat might overcome the issues associated with HP as a largely static resource. Additionally the fact that moral, condition and wounds both in combat and outside of it represent high value, resources for PCs provides the referee with multiple vectors of threat to PC survivability.
I have ideas for expanding on the system, but that would require a huge amount of work, effectively becoming a new RPG. Instead, while I see advantages and possibilities here I prefer to keep it as a thought experiment.One interesting suspicion I have is that this system would work very poorly with a large level spectrum, and likely one would want to limit PCs to only a few levels, though this is a general design concern I have been thinking about for Dungeon Crawling games, fewer levels with more powers and abilities per level. Perhaps even as few as 4: Professional, Adept, Master and Hero -- with a 5th or higher levels reserved for the strange results of exceptional transformations available through play (such as becoming a vampire, champion of a lesser god, possession by a demon or eating the heart of a dragon).
I hope this post will spark ideas in others, but for now, for me, the combat system of the 1974 original Dungeons & Dragons box set (minus Greyhawk and with my own modifications) is sufficient for my needs. However, it also seems useful to me to point out that there’s no reason Dungeons & Dragons characters need to use a combat system whose core was designed to simulate the fight between the USS Monitor and CSS Virginia or the War of the Pacific. Rather than the existing system the basis of Dungeons & Dragons combat could have easily been games to model the line infantry battles of the US Civil or Franco-Prussian Wars, and as combat between groups of living humans rather than battleships, might have provided a more human sort of combat model as well. D&D’s mechanics function, but they remain somewhat arbitrary, and while they are time tested at providing a specific type of game they are not necessary for RPGs, fantasy RPGs, or even a Dungeon Crawling experience. As referees, players and designers we shouldn’t be afraid to look at even the most basic elements of our favorite systems, and ask if they serve out needs or if we have ideas that could do better. Most of the time experiments like this will have unsatisfying results, but when they don’t it’s well worth the past failures.