Hit Points and Armor Class

As soon as I wrote that title, my brain went to “pork chops and applesauce”.

Brady Bunch-isms aside, I recently had an idea about hit points and armor class in D&D-esque games. In terms of combat, hit points and armor class combine to form a sliding scale for determining how long a character or creature can last in combat. Armor class determines how hard it is to “deal damage” to a target, so it is impacted by the form of armor worn (or natural armor) and by dexterity. Hit points represent how much “damage” a target can suffer before it dies, with damage in this context meaning not just physical injury, but also exhaustion and your skill in avoiding telling blows. In other words, there’s a whole lot wrapped up in the hit points concept.

This is all fine and dandy in the context of combat, but hit points are used outside of combat as well. Damage from traps, damage from falling – and that is where it gets a little goofy.

Fighters have more hit points than thieves, for example, because they are more skilled at combat than thieves and should therefore last longer in combat than thieves. But why should that help them survive falls better than thieves? Shouldn’t thieves be better at falling than fighters? And perhaps they are, depending on the system used, via the saving throw system, but even then – a character’s ability to withstand physical punishment outside of combat should have more to do with their constitution score than their fighting ability.

Some games introduce multiple kinds of hit points, or shifting non-combat damage directly to the constitution score, which is fine, but does create more book keeping. I thought of another way to go that is simple and doesn’t require any additional rules or statistics.

First, equalize hit points across classes. Everybody rolls d6 for hit points at each level, and still add their constitution bonus to hit points.

Second, un-equalize the character’s base Armor Class. Using the ascending version of AC, fighter types have a base AC of 12, cleric and thief-types of 10, and magic-user types of 8. Monks use the system they’ve always used. For barbarians, who usually roll even more hit points than fighters, go base AC of 14.

The base AC now represents fighting skill, while the hit points are a representation of one’s ability to survive injuries either through sheer physical endurance and toughness or luck (or both). Fighters can’t take more falling or trap damage than anyone else, but they can survive combat better than everyone else.

Notion – One vs. Many

Here’s an idea I had today while walking the dog. It’s about combat with multiple attackers in RPG fights of the B&T variety.

When a character is facing more than one opponent, they can make a choice on how many of their foes they want to “actively engage” each round. For each foe they actively engage beyond the first, they suffer a cumulative -1 penalty to their attack. Any foe they do not actively engage gets a cumulative +1 bonus to attack the character.

For example: A fighter is facing three goblins. If he decides to actively engage one goblin, he gets to attack that goblin with his normal chances. The other two goblins, because they are not actively engaged, attack with a +2 bonus (+2 because there are two goblins not actively engaged).

If the fighter actively engaged two of the goblins, then he suffers a -1 penalty to his attack that round (-1 because there is one “extra” goblin he is engaging). The one goblin who is not engaged gets a +1 bonus to hit the fighter (+1 because there is one goblin not actively engaged).

If the fighter actively engages all three, the goblins get no bonus to attack, but the fighter suffers a -2 penalty to his attack.

If you use a rule wherein the fighter class can attack multiple opponents, you can still use these penalties, but apply them to each of the fighter’s attacks during a round.

Note – I planned to use an image from Cyrano de Bergerac (1950) where he was fighting several men, but couldn’t find it. I stuck with Cyrano anyways, because he’s my hero.

Bar Fights Updated

Bar fight from The Spoilers (1942) – click for source

A few weeks ago I began writing a supplment I had long planned for my GRIT & VIGOR rules concerning the “Old West”. I’d been working on the High Frontier supplement, which covers the retro-future imagined for the late 20th century (now in editing – hopefully ready soon) and was cleaning up the G&V file folders. That led me to opening a few files to see what was in them, which led to doing some organization in an “Old West” word document, which led to .. well, let’s say I’m about 50% finished with writing the supplement now, when I should have been completing other projects (i.e. NOD 36 and Gods & Legends).

One element I needed for the Old West supplement was rules for saloon fights, which I’d written up for generic Old School fantasy games a few years back (2012, to be precise). I hadn’t looked up the old post yet when I got an email mentioning that I’d left something off a table in that article, and would I please update it. Strange coincidence!

So, here are the rules as modified (just slightly) for the Old West supplement. The updated table (the first one) is suitable for the old post and use in fantasy games (or sci-fi games if you want to host a slugfest in the Mos Eisley Cantina).

Saloon Fights

A staple of western movies and television shows, especially those of a less serious nature, is the saloon fight. Sometimes it starts with an insult, or sometimes with an accidental bump, but in no time at all an epic free-for-all slugfest erupts.

Running something like this in a game is difficult because there are so many moving parts. These rules are designed to make it easier.

The first thing to determine is the size of the brawl. If you do not know how many brawlers are present, you can roll dice and consult the table below:

D6 Fight Size Combatants Hit Points
1 Kerfuffle 6 to 10 3d6
2-3 Dust-up 11 to 20 6d6
4-5 Donnybrook 21 to 30 9d6
6 Slugfest 31+ 12d6

Hit Points in the table above refers to the total hit points of the crowd of combatants. When the crowd’s hit points are reduced to zero, the saloon fight is over because all the non-PC combatants have either fled, are unconscious or are otherwise unable to fight.

While the fight is still happening, characters can choose one of the following actions each round:

Fight: Character jumps into the fight with feet and fists flying – he’ll take all comers

Flee: Character tries to scramble out of the fight

Hide: Character hides under a table or behind the bar

Loot: Character wades through the fight picking pockets or stealing drinks

Seek: Character wades through the fight looking for a specific target; the target could be a person or an item

The VM rolls 1d10 and checks the matrix below, cross-referencing the roll with each character’s stated action. Any time a character suffers damage, they must pass a Fortitude saving throw with a penalty equal to the damage suffered to avoid being either stunned for 1d3 rounds or knocked unconscious for 1d10 minutes. There is a 50% chance of either. A stunned character is considered to have chosen “Hide” as his action each round he is stunned.

D10 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Fight N F F B A A A A A A
Flee N N N F F F M M M M
Hide N N N N N N F F B A
Loot N N N F F B A L L L
Seek N N F F B A A A R R

The letter codes are as follows:

A is for “Attacked”: The character is attacked by other combatants, and can attack them back. Roll 1d6:

1 AC 10, ATK +0, DMG 1d2
2 AC 11, ATK +1, DMG 1d2+1
3 AC 12, ATK +2, DMG 1d2+1
4 AC 13, ATK +3, DMG 1d2+2
5 AC 14, ATK +4, DMG 1d2+2
6 Attacked by two combatants, roll 1d4 to determine each attacker’s stats. If both attackers attack successfully, the PC must make a Reflex saving throw or be lifted and thrown. Roll 1d6 for the effect:

Lifted and Thrown Sub-Table

1-2 Slid down the bar for additional 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
3-4 Thrown out door and into street for 1d6 points of damage and knocked prone
5 Thrown out window and into street for 2d4 points of damage and knocked prone
6 Thrown off balcony or stairs onto a table, suffering 2d6 points of damage and knocked prone; if this doesn’t make sense, re-roll

B is for “Bystander”: The character catches sight of an innocent (or not) bystander

1-2 Child hiding from the fight; good characters must attempt to save them by fleeing
3-4 Saloon girl motions you to a door; you must “Seek” to get there, and once inside consult the Saloon Girl sub-table below
5-6 A damsel faints, roll under Dexterity to catch her for 100 XP; you now fight with a -2 penalty to hit

Saloon Girl Sub-Table

1-2 Quit the fight and do some wooing and cooing (50% chance of being slipped a Mickey or simply being pick pocketed, 10% chance you are hunted down by a jealous lover afterwards) – either way, you earn XP per a 3 HD monster you dog!
3-4 Suckered into an ambush, roll as per “A” above, but roll 1d3+3, and you don’t get to hit back
5-6 Punched by the girl/guy (AC 10, attack at +1, 1d2 points of damage) – this is a surprise attack, so you don’t get to hit back

F is or “Flying Debris”: The character is struck by flying debris; boxers can attempt a Reflex saving throw to avoid it, but all others roll 1d6:

1-3 Hit by bottle for 1d3 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
4-5 Hit by chair for 1d6 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious
6 Hit by a flying body for 2d4 points of damage; Fortitude save or knocked unconscious; if a compatriot was thrown this round, you were hit by them

L is for “Looting”: The character acquires some loot – roll 1d6:

1 Acquire a single mug of beer or a shot of whiskey
2-3 Pick pocket check to acquire 50¢ or its equivalent
4 Pick pocket check to acquire $1 or its equivalent
5 Pick pocket check to acquire $10 or its equivalent
6 Pick pocket check to acquire a treasure map or some other plot device; only use this once!

On a failed pick pockets roll, you are instead attacked – see “A” above.

M is for “Move”: The character moves 1d10 feet to-wards his chosen exit.

N is for “Nothing”: Nothing happens to you this round, nor do you get to do anything

R is for “Reach Target”: Character reaches the target they were looking for!

Break It Up!

Each round of the saloon fight there is a 5% chance that the town sheriff and his deputies (or deputized citizens) shows up to break things up. The number of deputies depends on the size of the town – use your best judgment – but they are armed with pistols and are willing to use them to restore order.

Combatants, including the player characters, are arrested unless they find a way to sneak out. If the sheriff is on his way, there is a 50% chance that some old coot yells “Sheriff’s coming!” the round before to give the combatants a chance to flee.

Bringing a Gun to a Fist Fight

Pulling a knife or gun during a fist fight is a cowardly and low-down act, and results in you being avoided by other combatants for the duration and suffering a -4 penalty to reactions in this town in the future.

Death and Dismemberment

Saloon fights should not result in PC death, because death just is not the point of these things. At 0 hit points, a character is knocked out and awakens in jail.

 

Dangerous Ground

Combat in D&D and its various descendants is abstract for the most part, making it fast (well, except in 3E) and easy to run, and thus pretty fun to play. So how about using abstraction to introduce dangerous battlefield conditions into a fight?

The Idea

While some battlefields may be perfectly safe to fight in, one can expect many fights, given where they occur and the genre in which they exist, to be fought in dangerous spaces. The floor could be slippery, there could be a fire pit in the middle of it, the roof could be caving in – just use your imagination.

flashVbarinActually staging a combat in such a dangerous space can be tricky, though, because the combat rules are abstract. You can use a battle grid and miniatures, but sometimes they are feasible, or you just don’t want the bother.

One way to get around this is to extend the abstraction of combat – Armor Class, hit points, etc. – to the ground itself.

As the Referee, you pick a number from 1 to 20. This is the unlucky number. When this number is rolled during combat – attack rolls or damage rolls – the roller of the number suffers an effect tied to the battlefield.

For example – the room in which a fight is taking place has a fire pit in the middle of it. The pit is about 2 feet deep and there are hot coals in the bottom of it. The Referee decides a roll of ’10’ (unmodified by anything) means somebody has stepped into the pit and burned themselves for 1d4 points of damage. He also decides this damage cannot reduce them to less than 1 hit point, and that the unlucky combatant must pass a saving throw or suffer a penalty to movement for an hour due to twisting an ankle or burning a foot.

Now – this is key – it is probably a good idea to let players know what the unlucky number is, and what can happen (in general terms) when it is rolled. Why? I’ll let Alfred Hitchcock explain:

“There is a distinct difference between “suspense” and “surprise,” and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I’ll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let’s suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, “Boom!” There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!”

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

When the players know the unlucky number, every dang roll has some tension packed into it. You know how everybody stared with wide eyes and holds their breath when somebody has to roll a crucial saving throw or attack? You can bring a little of that to every roll during one of these fights, but only if people know the unlucky number.

A few things to consider if you decide to use this notion:

If the unlucky number is low, it means it has a more likely chance of coming up, since both attack rolls (1d20) and damage rolls (d4, d6, d8 etc.) can trigger it. If you want the effect to be more rare, make the number higher than 10.

Higher numbers also mean success can be tinged with failure; lower numbers can rub salt in the wound of missing an attack.

You can have multiple unlucky numbers. In the example above, the roof might also be in danger of caving in, so a ’10’ means stepping in the fire pit and a ’17’ means roof tiles fall on a person for 1d4 damage.

The effect can also be a time track. Using the “roof falling in” example above, each roll of ’17’ can bring the roof closer to collapsing entirely on the people in the room. Maybe it takes 3 such rolls before it happens. This introduces some great tension into the fight, and requires players to gamble a bit every time they roll the dice.

You could, maybe even should, permit people a way to avoid these unlucky numbers. Maybe they have to reduce their movement rate or accept a penalty to attack.

Whatever the unlucky number, carry the attack and damage roll through completely before the dice roller suffers the consequences. In other words, if the attack roll brings up the unlucky number AND scores a hit, the hit counts and damage is rolled before the unlucky attacker burns himself, slips, etc.

One could also use this to simulate the danger of engaging giant monsters, with a chance of being stepped on or knocked into or of a randomly flailing tail connecting for damage.

 

JMS-BLACK

 

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