How awesome is your fighting man?

The image of the super-hero cutting a swath of destruction and mayhem through a troop of goblins is a key D&D trope. But how to simulate an overpowering attack in the confines of abstract combat rounds? The increasing “to hit” ability of the fighting-man (paired with better saves) captures the hero’s increasing prowess. But simulating combat vs. multiple enemies requires an additional mechanic – hopefully one that lets players be awesome(1). Otherwise a 10th level fighter takes eight rounds to slay eight goblins every time, and that is not awesome.

AD&D addresses this in two ways. Fighters get multiple attacks as the gain levels, and versus enemies of less than one hit dice they get an additional attack each round per level. This allows a lord to indeed put down eight goblins in a round or two.

Another more random possibility: a variation on Zak’s kung-fu points, where hitting your number could mean, for instance, that damage you do in that round applies to all enemies within melee range.

A third approach is seen in Empire of the Petal Throne. Once a hit has been determined in EPT, the damage (number of dice rolled to determine damage) in part depends upon the relative level of the combatants, so:

Why, yes, I am level "Vee Eye Eye Eye"

The example included in the rules extends the possibilities: damage can be applied across multiple enemies. The example is worth quoting, since it is open to multiple interpretations:

This becomes important in melees in which an advanced level character fights more than one low-level opponent. Fighting three Kurgha (one die creatures), a 9th level warrior rolls four dice. If he scores a total of 18 or better, he kills them all, since thier maximum total hit dice cannot exceed 18 points. A 4th level fighter does 2 dice damage to these same creatures, and the referree then rolls to determine the hit dice the three kurgha can take: let us say a 6, a 4, and a 2, totalling 12. If the fighter scored a total of 10 on his two dice, he would kill the weakest two Kurgha and leave the strongest one with only 2 points remaining!

How this works in mixed-level opponent situations is left as an exercise for the reader. One fallout of this system – any 10 hit die creature could in theory slay a group of 1st level players in one round with the swipe of a claw…

Do you have an alternate or favorite way to allow fighting-men characters to be awesome? Feel it is unnecessary? Please add in comments!

(1) ”Awesome” here is a shortcut for “engaging play” – awesome could be spearing two orcs at once, an epic fumble, or whatever fun and unexpected thing the dice and situation dictate, as long as it captures the attention and imagination of the players at the table.

16 Responses to “How awesome is your fighting man?”

  1. December 21, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    I rather like the “fallout”, as you put it. It makes sense that a truly mighty creature would tear regular men to bits.

  2. 2 Naked Samurai
    December 21, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I like these ideas very much, though the chance of implementing them in Red Box is very slim.

  3. 3 pingstanton
    December 21, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    Here’s a houserule from my AD&D1e days (albeit influenced by ideas borrowed from later editions). The rule-of-thumb was to take a -5 penalty to every attack that round (if 2/3 or 2/1) to do “something awesome,” along the lines of the following examples. “Constitution check” was a special saving throw-ish rule, roll 1d20 + Con score vs. some number. Replace the word “strike” with “shot” to use the ideas with ranged weapons. (These options were not “feats” but were available to all characters, though really only fighters had the “to-hit” moxie to rely on them.)


    Reckless Strike: The attacker lunges at the opponent with wild fury, sacrificing not just accuracy but also self-preservation in the attack. If successful, the blow does normal damage plus an additional 2d6 hit points of damage. However, regardless of whether the strike hits or not, all enemies within 30 feet gain a +5 “to hit” bonus if choosing to target the attacker until the start of the attacker’s turn during the following round.

    Cunning Strike: The attack strongly hits some vulnerable or vital spot on the target, dealing normal damage plus an additional 2d4 hit points of damage.

    Crippling Strike: The attack hits the target in the legs (or other means of movement), doing normal damage and forcing the opponent to make a Constitution check totaling 15 or better to avoid being reduced in speed by 10 feet per round. (Small opponents must instead roll 20 or better to avoid the slowing effect, while large opponents must only roll 10 or better.) Multiple crippling strikes hitting in the same round or further rounds can immobilize an opponent, although the opponent remains standing. (Winged opponents so cripple in flight fall to the ground.) The crippling effect last 1d4 rounds. If multiple crippling strikes hit an opponent, the duration of each such strike is rolled separately.

    Charging Strike: The attacker must be armed with a spear or pole arm and have at least 10 feet of running space in order to make this type of special attack. If successful, the opponent takes double damage from the attack.

    Lancing Strike: The attacker must be armed with a lance and be mounted on a moving horse or similar creature in order to make this type of special attack. If successful, the opponent takes double damage from the attack.

    Wolf Pack Strike: The attack does normal damage and forces the opponent to make an Wisdom check totaling 15 or better to avoid turning all its attention on the initial attacker. This distraction allows all other attackers to gain a +2 “to hit” bonus to strike that same target until the start of the opponent’s turn in the following round. The targeted creature does not have to attack the initial attacker and may choose to attack any target, or take some action, during its turn.

    Parrying Strike: The attack does no damage but improves the attacker’s Armor Class by 2d4 against attacks from one specific opponent in melee combat until the start of the parrying attacker’s turn in the following round.

    Rallying Strike: The attack does normal damage, but the attacker shows such heroic courage that the display of martial skill may raise the morale and fighting spirits of his or her allies. If the attack is successful, the attacker makes a Charisma check. If the total is 15 or higher, all allies within 30 feet gain a one-time +1 bonus on their next action, attack, damage or saving throw roll within the next three combat rounds. Only one such rally bonus may be in effect at one time; additional rally strike bonuses may extend the possible duration of the bonus but do not increase the bonus above +1 for a single die roll.

    Blinding Strike: The attack hits the target in the eyes, blinding it for 1d4 rounds.

    Dazing Strike: The attack hits the target solidly in the head, doing normal damage and forcing the opponent to make an Constitution check totaling 15 or better to avoid losing all actions for one round. The stricken opponent may not move, make attacks, cast spells or do anything but stagger in place, although the target may defend at full Armor Class rating and make saving throws as normal. If the opponent has not taken initiative actions in the round, the effect prevents the target from acting until the start of its turn the following round. If the target has already acted in its turn for the round, the opponent loses its turn the next round.

    Vicious Strike: The attack makes a bleeding wound which causes the opponent to lose an additional 2 hit points of damage per round for 1d6 rounds. Multiple crippling strikes hitting in the same round or further rounds add together; three vicious strikes would cause 6 hit points damage. The duration of each vicious strike is rolled separately. If a healing spell or potion is given to help the stricken opponent, hit point loss from the effect of current vicious strikes ends immediately.

    Pushing Strike: In order to make this attack, the attacker must be able to move forward into the opponent with his or her weapon. Unless armed with a pole arm or weapon with similar reach, this means the attacker closes to end up where the opponent is standing. The attack does normal damage and forces the opponent to make a Strength check totaling 15 or better to avoid being pushed 5 feet backwards away from the direction of the attacker. (Small opponents must instead roll 20 or better to avoid the pushing effect, while large opponents must only roll 10 or better.) Multiple pushing strikes hitting in the same round can push an opponent further backwards, or in another direction if attacked from several different sides. Prone opponents cannot be pushed back by this type of special attack.

    Tripping Strike: The attack does normal damage and forces the opponent to make a Dexterity check totaling 15 or better to avoid falling down prone. (Small opponents must instead roll 20 or better to avoid the slowing effect, while large opponents must only roll 10 or better.) If the successful attack is made using a lasso, whip or chain, the target number to avoid falling is increased by 5 regardless of the opponent’s size.

    Skewering Strike: This attack may only be attempted using a spear, pole arm or piercing weapon with similar reach against two targets standing within 5 feet of each other. If successful, the attack does normal damage against the first targeted opponent and the attacker makes an immediate extra attack (at the same -5 “to hit” penalty) against the second nearby opponent. If the second attack is successful, the first opponent suffers an additional 1d6 damage and the second targeted opponent suffers normal damage.

    Beheading Strike: The attack does normal damage, but if in doing so the opponent drops to 0 hit points, the negative hit point count toward death at -10 is ignored. Instead, the blow cuts off the target’s head and causes instant death. (Note that some regenerative monsters such as a troll can recover from such dismemberment.)

  4. December 22, 2010 at 3:24 am

    It’s an interesting question that’s long dogged the Fighter.

    In 2e the Fighters get “weapon specialization” with one weapon of their choice. Doing the math, that works out to something like +25% to +100% mean damage per round (largely depending on level, but also on Strength bonus, and magic) compared to Rangers and Paladins. Later 2e supplements would then extend “weapon specialization” to all warrior-type classes, robbing the Fighter of the one thing it had going for it.

    Frank Mentzer’s BECMI introduces a similar idea with “weapon mastery” in the Master Set. It’s a complicated sub-system that’s widely scorned as broken, however. Mentzer does introduce a couple of combat options in the Expert set (charge, set spear) and more in the Companion set (smash, wrestling, parry, multiple attacks). None of these seemed especially worth giving up doing direct damage to a foe, at least not at first glance.

    @Pingstanton– those are awesome! How often did people use them in play?

  5. 5 Scott LeMien
    December 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    I seem to remember, in Holmes basic (maybe?) a fighter can attack again at the end of the round if the previous attack takes down an opponent. I think he can keep repeating this wheel of death, too.

  6. 6 maldoor
    December 22, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    N.S. – I agree that adding this rule to an ongoing campaign is not feasible. Honestly I had two motives with this post: first, I needed an excuse to post this fun idea from EPT. The more I look at that game, the more I like some of the rules, even when they represent departures from later D&D orthodoxy. (I refuse to think of OD&D having an orthodox ruleset).

    Second, to noodle over things I may eventually put into the next game I run, and ultimately have planned for my (currently 3.5 years-old) son. I am currently leaning towards the kung-fu points idea, since that sort of schedule of rewards – random, with a chance to occur on every role – is proven to be highly successful at building interest and excitement, long term.

    pingstanton, thanks for that list – I like your system and ideas, and think they would fit pretty well into an AD&D game nicely. I like that the player need only declare the desire to do “something awesome,” and then the particulars can be worked out as the dice determine.

    Scott, are you thinking of this rule in Holmes: If an opposing figure is killed or withdraws, the attacker may advance or pursue immediately — if the player desires — or he may take some other action.

    I never thought of that as leading to a wheel of death, but it could! That is not what happens in the following example on page 18 of Holmes, however: when the spider slays Bruno the Battler, it does not gain an additional move or attack.

    Thanks to you all for the ideas!

  7. December 23, 2010 at 3:11 am

    In my chronicle, I tend to “cinema” those types of moments, where I’ll mention that “although the group is holding their own, they notice that seemingly neverending hoards of goblins threaten to overwhelm your position in sheer numbers” or I’ll simply say “you easily cut a swath through the hoard of goblins, each of you taking moderate damage” and then arbitrarily dictate a few cuts and bruises, or “5 damage to you, 3 damage to you” etc.

    While I respect the need for rules, DND is also about creating a fun time, and, sometimes I tend to skip the roughage and go right for the cake ;)

  8. 8 Scott LeMien
    December 23, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Maldoor, my recollection must be off. I’m likely referencing a retro clone (or something).

  9. December 25, 2010 at 1:40 am

    Obliquely following up on the Holmes reference, I know I’ve been wanting to try Al’s variants on the Fighting Man. Maybe sometime soon!

  10. December 30, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    If an opposing figure is killed or withdraws, the attacker may advance or pursue immediately — if the player desires — or he may take some other action.

    This is probably just an extension to D&D of the classic “advance after combat” rule found in many wargames. What is granted here is not an extra attack, but movement. The intent of the rule is that if a unit’s attack opens space in front of it, either by eliminating or retreating its opponent, then the unit can immediately move into the vacated space. This is important if you are trying to break through a defensive line, since otherwise the you go-I go nature of combat would allow a reinforcing unit to reoccupy the line position.

    In the context of D&D combat, this rule would become important if fighting against a force that is trying to hold a position, or to gain a flanking position on the ally of the creature you have just felled.

  11. 11 Invincible Overlord
    January 2, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Really Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (RADD) 11th edition says that Fighters get two attacks a round at 5th level and 3/round at 10th. With an encouragement to allow any character to spend their “attack” in unique, interesting ways, generally to be ruled on the spot, and an explicit statement that a Fighter’s extra attacks may be individually spent in this manner, and that the claw/claw/bite routines of most creatures may not, maybe the fighter can stay relevant in the midst of pitched battle at least for a few more levels.

    Plus also, a graduated rule for maximum followers by level, of a certain hit die or level, which gives the Fighter a 1 level advantage may position him more as a leader of men.

  12. January 5, 2011 at 2:36 am

    Fighters and only fighters damage dice explode (that is roll 6 on d6, reroll and sum total, repeat as long as 6 is rolled). Very simple, doesn’t add a whole lot of damage (on average) but rarely there’s incredible string of 3 or more “exploded” dice.

  13. 13 maldoor
    January 5, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    Norm, I like the idea of exploding dice here because of the potential for occasional amazement. Rather than an exploding 6, I am tempted to say the fighter gets to re-roll and add on a 1, meaning that fighters will often be rooting to roll a 1 for damage…

  14. January 19, 2011 at 4:51 am

    Aha! :) This is a place where I feel like 3E Feats actually do a pretty good job. In my mind, they batch up the whole sequence of ideas like (1) exceptional strength, (2) extra attacks, (3) weapon specialization, etc., and give the player a choice in the matter. I do really like the mechanics of Cleave/ Great Cleave/ Whirlwind Attack, and I like those kinds of things not being in relation to the target’s level or HD. I keep a list of 12 things for fighters to pick from (which was presented in Fight On! #9, p. 3).

  15. 15 Charlatan
    February 10, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    This is, I fear, a game-breaking suggestion (and a really late one), but just as an exercise: B/X has a tiered to-hit progression by level. What if Fighters treated that progression as attacks unlocked, rather than a progressively better attack? So a level 4 Fighter would get 2 attacks, one at the 4-6 target number and one at the 1-3. The numbers of attacks move up faster than in RADD, but they aren’t of uniform value.

  16. 16 maldoor
    February 11, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Charlatan, I like the idea. With just a bit of thought it might not be game-breaking. For instance, ruling that bonuses from spells and magic items (sword +1, etc.) only apply to the fighter’s highest-level attack.

    To extend the exercise: we could also work in different dice using some of the principles from Tavis’ recent DCC posts. The level four fighter could have two to-hit rolls, using a d20 for his “level 4” and a d16 for the “level 1-3” hit. While mechanically this would perhaps unfairly reward monsters wearing plate mail, it would make everyone happy to be rolling sets of dice while looking to beat only one number…

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Past Adventures of the Mule

December 2010

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