Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Combat Rounds

I'll give you my thesis up front: One-minute combat rounds - at least where melee combat is concerned - are ridiculous.

How do I know this? Well, I've been irregularly sparring with one of my friends for a few months now, using various wooden and polypropylene practice weapons. As time goes on, and we acquire more and more Martial implements, the level of physical strain being placed on our bodies increases. My friend lives out in the middle of nowhere, has two horses and a stable of standard poodles, and works as a furrier; the result is someone who is more accustomed to physical labor and exertion than a Dungeon Master with a liberal arts degree. Despite this, even recreational sparring with arming swords and hand-held bucklers (and hopefully other weapons in the future - check out my list of budget-priced practice arms, if you're interested) is a massive effort; I can't imagine doing so in full maille or plate armor, on a hot day, after a mile-long march.

After one especially intense list, I estimated the total duration of that match-up: two minutes. In AD&D terms, two combat rounds. Ridiculous.

Granted, neither of us are in the kind of shape required of a medieval (or present-day) mercenary soldier, let alone a knight trained from birth. But I'd estimate that I am at least in good shape as the average 0-level human, or an especially kapable kobold. Let's measure two minutes out in combat rounds, by edition of D&D.
  • Basic/Expert D&D: One round is ten seconds, so two minutes translates to twelve rounds. Not too shabby in game terms, as this would be a tough and grueling fight for low-level characters.
  • D&D 3rd Edition (and onwards): One round is six seconds, so two minutes translates to twenty rounds. I could buy this, if the pumped-up nature of d20 System heroes is taken into account.
  • AD&D 1st or 2nd Edition: One round is one minute, so two minutes translates to... two rounds. One set of attack rolls on each side, except for fighters with weapon specialization or those using ranged weapons.
See the problem? Even if a combat round has more than one "attack" being made in it - as Gygax argued in AD&D - how fun would it be to require a full turn or more spent resting every two rounds?

Being the literal stubborn bastard that I am, I set out to fix this. The simplest solution seemed to be to change the rounds to ten seconds long. This keeps the idea of segments intact (even if they're never mentioned by name in 2e, they're still there), only reducing them to 1 second and thereby removing the need for a specialized term; 1 round = 10 seconds, 1 turn = 10 minutes. It also allows everyone to continue using a low d10 roll for initiative. But a big problem immediately comes up: rate of fire.

In AD&D, certain ranged weapons can make multiple attacks per round. Additional melee attacks (for fighters of sufficiently high level, or those with weapon specialization) are no problem, since they start off pretty low at 3 attacks for every 2 rounds. But weapons like the bow (2 attacks per round) or the dart (4 attacks per round for specialists) start getting a bit out of hand. I saw only two solutions to the suspension of disbelief that would snap like a guitar's high E string if the ROF was left intact: limit all weapons to the number of attacks granted to melee weapons - thus still allowing for specialists to shoot faster - or just limit everything to 1 attack per round, the way they are in B/X.

But then the thought occurred to me: if I'm going to change the whole combat system to be like B/X, why not just run B/X? This ties in with my previous post on my issues with excessive house-ruling. In the case of AD&D, it's even worse, because I want the Player's Handbook to still be a useful reference for players in as many cases as possible. The more I change about the fundamental mechanics of the game, the more of that book (that somebody paid good money for - I wanted to eventually give several of my players their own copies) becomes dead weight, useless to anyone who delves into my campaign.

The poor correspondence of one-minute combat rounds to the realities of melee battle (more irritating than the continued classification of maille as being lighter in weight than field plate armor - one of the few areas in which I grudgingly concede that 5th edition did something right) is one of the reasons I might convert my campaign over to B/X or Basic Fantasy. From Basic it came, and to Basic it may yet return.

1 comment:

  1. Don't be afraid to house rule your game. Every edition of D&D has had major flaws that require the DM to change things. Just the fact that it has good combat rules (for the most part) but barely any rules for social interaction is indicative that the game will always require intervention.