Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Holmes and AD&D Weapon vs Armor Class

There is an interesting comment on this post over at Grognardia that points out that the 1e PH has a relatively simple set of rules for combat on pages 104-5. Since the Holmes Basic Set suggests Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as the "more complete rules," I found it very interesting that there are some significant differences between the way combat is presented in these two editions: initiative and the length of a combat round. 

Holmes bases initiative on Dexterity, the 1e PH has each side in a combat roll a d6. In Holmes, a combat round is 10 seconds, in the 1e PH the combat round is 1 minute.

Also interesting is the following quote about Weapon Factors:

You have already seen information regarding the damage each type of weapon does, how heavy each is, how long and how much space each needs, and each weapon's relative speed factor. The same charts also give relative efficiency against armor types. Your referee will use these factors in the determination of melee combats by relating them to his Attack Matrices.

I love how the war gaming roots of D&D can be seen in those last two italicized words. More interstingly, however, is the fact that all of this information about weapons don't really belong in the abstract 1 minute rounds of the 1e PH. On the other hand, the 10 second round of Holmes invites the kind of realism these Weapon Factors seem to want to emulate. 

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a deep fascination with both Holmes and Weapon vs. Armor Class tables. Given the fact that Holmes states:

The combat tables used by D&D gamers are often extremely complicated. Full tables are given in Advanced Gungeons & Dragons. The tables below are deliberately simplified...

I began to wonder if it were possible to reconcile the "extremely complicated" combat tables from the 1e PH and the Holmes Basic Edition by assuming the Holmes was more correct than the 1e PH. The result was the following table:


A couple of notes before I begin explaining some of the implications of this table:

  1. I interpreted Space Required as how many people could fit in a 10 foot square, with a maximum of 3 standing shoulder to shoulder.
  2. I used the variable damage dice from the 1e PH rather than a universal 1d6
  3. I only used those weapons listed in the equipment list of Holmes and their cost
  4. I averaged all of the various factors of all the pole arms not explicitly named in Holmes to come up with stats for the generic "pole arm" listed in Holmes
  5. I did the same for the generic "sword" listed in Holmes
  6. I stuck to Melee weapons for the present, because Missile Combat in Holmes is a completely different phase of combat
  7. I chose to use armor class ranges to represent Plate Mail, Chain-type Mail, Leather Armor, and Unarmored so as to make things easier when looking at Monster Stats
  8. I used AC 3, 5, 8, and 10 in the 1e PH to represent the armor classes from Holmes 
  9. Note: all of this is possible because Dexterity in Holmes does not affect Armor Class

Lets deal with Speed and Initiative first. Holmes has Dexterity = Initiative. Speed would subtract from a character's Dexterity Score to end up with a final Initiative. Thus, a Fighter with a Dex 11 using a Sword would have a 6 Initiative. 

The 1e PH describes surprise in terms of 6 second phases and states that a surprise attack can happen in that short amount of time. Given that a combat round in Holmes is 10 seconds, it suggests that a character with an Initiative of over 10 could attack twice in a round. Thus, anyone with a Dex 13+ could attack twice a round with a dagger and thus explain that most controversial statement by Holmes that daggers can be used twice per round. It also suggests that ending up with a negative Initiative means that a weapon is too unwieldy for the character to use.

This creates a problem when it comes to Pikes, which have a speed of 13; however, I would argue that with their extreme reach, they can engage targets while Missile Combat is still in effect. The huge speed indicates that a Pike in normal melee is too cumbersome for most characters to actually use.

Another implication of this table is that Plate Mail is better than advertised. Most weapons have a penalty to hit it. The real exception to this is the Two-Handed Sword; however, it has a 10 speed and only one person can wield it in a 10ft. corridor. I also find that the Morning Star is possibly the best weapon overall, rather than the ubiquitous Sword.

While this might all be fascinating, it does run up against a serious problem when trying to apply all of this to monsters. There are several of solutions here that I think would be fair:

  1. Make use of all those detailed weapon % tables that the MM1 has for most of the humanoid monster entries
  2. The average weapon speed of all the weapons above is 7. This can be universally applied to all monsters who use weapons. The 1e PH lists Fist, Unarmed with a Speed of 1. This can be applied to all monsters that don't use weapons.
  3. One could use an Initiative system based on size: Small Creatures get 3d6, Medium get 2d6, and Large get 1d6 with no additions or subtractions.
This, of course, would need to be play tested, but I think this is the closest I have ever come to making a Weapon vs. Armor Class Table that I would actually use at the table.