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Two days ago, I published a system for abstracted combat that seemed appropriate for dealing with the (wonderful) circumstances the players created for themselves in my run of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands.
In short, the evil wizard (PC) charmed an orc while invading their lair, killed the orc boss, and then convinced the remaining orcs (12 warriors and 19 non-combatants) that they were taking over the tribe. The wizard was assisted by his charmed victim as well as the half-orc rogue PC. Their first mission was to use the orcs to clear out the kobold lair. Rather than play it out as a combat involving over 30 characters, I decided to come up with a d6 system on the fly. One of the players said, “Do it like in the game, Risk,” and to the best of my recollection I did. Each combat required an evolution of the system, as its shortcomings kept revealing themselves. This evolution continued as I created example combats on that last blog post. Here’s are the only corrections I need to make to that last system:
- When determining how many dice to roll, use your gut, but try to get to 3-5 dice for each side.
- To avoid difficult fractions, allow one or two characters from a side to sit out a round of combat.
You have to read the last post for context, but here’s how this would play out. As to #1, let’s say each side has 16 hit dice (“HD”). I could roll 8 dice for each side, with a “loss” resulting in 2 HD lost for the side. I could also roll 2 dice on each side, with a loss resulting in 8 HD lost for each side. The first way is rolling far too many dice, and the second way is far too swingy (i.e., the combat is likely to be resolved after only one round). So, you should instead have each side roll 4 dice with each loss resulting in 4 HD lost for each side. Of course, the multiplier is optional, so even if you roll 4 dice, you could choose for each loss to result in either 1 or 2 HD lost for each side depending on how long you want the combat to run. However, I’d think you’d want to go more quickly than that considering that this entire system is meant to provide a relatively quick resolution to combats you don’t want to play out meticulously.
As to #2, let’s say one side has 16 characters and another has 15 characters. The only common divisor (that produces an integer) is 1, so that means you’re rolling 16 dice for one side and 15 for the other. That’s fine if you have that many d6s (who doesn’t?) and you want to roll that many dice (who does?), but I’d rather roll between 3-5 dice. So, what do I do? I have one of the characters on the first side sit out that round. Maybe he tripped while attempting to close into melee. Maybe he pulled out a broken arrow and needed to grab another one. Whatever the explanation, now it’s 15 v. 15, and I can roll 3 dice, each representing 5 HD of characters, or I can roll 5 dice, each representing 3 HD of characters. The 16th character doesn’t get an automatic win but is also immune from getting killed. You may not like this solution. You may be thinking that having more characters should result in a tactical advantage, so you should give the side with the extra character an extra die to represent that advantage. However, that already occurs only when the advantage is significant (i.e., 15 v. 9 with one side rolling 5 dice – two uncontested – and the other 3). Adding a die here would be quite an advantage (i.e., mathematically, it’s always rounding up no matter how small the fraction), but to each their own. I’m not the boss of you.
An Addition to the Rule
Now I have to break new ground. What if the PCs want to get involved? A PC could join one of the groups as a leader, adding their own level (HD) to the mix. For that to make sense, there must be both a risk and a reward attached to it. Here’s what I’m thinking:
- On a loss, that loss must be shared by a PC such that every other round each PC involved must share in the loss suffered. This loss is expressed in hit points, not HD, such that if a PC takes a loss of 4 HD, the PC actually loses only 4 hps. Otherwise, a 1st or 2nd level PC would never survive past the 2nd round.
- One PC should also be able to use what’s on their character sheet to influence the combat beyond simply adding their HD to the equation.
I think #1 is self-explanatory, but we clearly need guidelines for #2. Remember, this is being written for 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons, so you’ll have to translate these ideas into to your own system. Imagine a larger combat where each PC leads a small group of NPCs in their fight against a group of enemy NPCs. Only one PC should be permitted to lead a given group to avoid these benefits being cumulative, though a second PC could certainly be permitted to join a group led by another PC so as to increase the number of HD in that group and share the PC hit point damage from #1.
- Cleric: Can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round if the other side has at least one undead creature on it.
- Druid: Can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR use terrain such that the druid’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
- Fighter (Barbarian, Ranger), Cavalier, Thief (Assassin, Thief-Acrobat), or Monk: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round, but every even numbered round can add two HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round.
- Ranger: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR use terrain such that the PC’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
- Illusionist, Paladin, or Wizard : Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round.
- Bard: Can add one HD to the HD lost from the other side in a round OR can subtract one HD from the HD lost by the PC’s side for a single die rolled in a round OR use terrain such that the bard’s side is considered the defender for the purposes of ties.
Example #1: Five d6s are rolled, each representing 2 HD, and a cleric’s team loses 3 times. Rather than losing 6 HD, that team loses 5 HD because one of those loses is reduced from 2 HD to 1 HD.
Example #2: Five d6s are rolled, each representing 2 HD, and a fighter’s team wins 3 times. Rather than inflict 6 HD of loss to the other side, that team inflicts 7 HD of loss because one of those wins is increased from 1 HD to 2 HD.
Note: PCs should be permitted to choose which effect they want to deliver after they see the results of the rolls.
There isn’t much variation here because the system isn’t complex enough to support it. Each class should have the same degree of impact on the combat, but if the system is simple (as it should be), that precludes significant variation in class abilities. That said, players should be able to suggest how they can appropriately contribute to their groups, even if based on alignment, race, or a specific spell in their arsenal. I suggest being careful not to allow an imbalance. Remember, NPCs often have those abilities as well, and what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The NPCs should often be able to introduce such complexities. Don’t overcomplicate this system and place yourself in a position where you might as well play out combat meticulously.
I’m also considering adding a morale shortcut for cutting off combats when it’s clear the other side should be routed, which would in turn allow me to give the fighter and ranger a means to boost their team’s morale in light of their ability to attract followers. Even a small group could do some damage, and that may prove useful in the big picture.
You might see another sequel to this series of posts with better ideas.
I have this urge to somehow distinguish between melee and ranged attackers in this system, and to make the benefits level-dependent, but no matter how I imagine it, it makes the system far more complex than it should be for combats involving 10s of characters rather than 100s of characters. The former is my focus, so it wouldn’t surprise me if this system didn’t work as well for battles between armies (if at all). If that’s the case, so be it. I can always look up how others have handled those situations if needed.
My Ending to the Keep on the Borderlands
I have an idea for how to end this adventure mod. Though it’s easy to guess what it would be, I won’t post it here because my players may read it. I posted it to my D&D MeWe groups because none of the players are members, so if you want to read about it, head over there. This idea would allow me to use this rules system as modified, but it would also allow the characters to gain reputation points. As I’ve written, I have a reputation system that’s important to how I run this game. By being involved, the players aren’t just crossing their fingers and watching the DM roll dice, and they can increase their reputation in the process.
Clearly this system needs tweaking, so your constructive comments are appreciated.
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