Monday, January 11, 2010

On d6 Weapon Damage

This morning I followed a link from James at Grognardia to this very reasoned argument for all weapons doing d6 damage. Even though I use d6 damage for all weapons in my own game, I find myself disagreeing with this argument for much the same reasons.

Combat in OD&D is abstract. Thus, we as players are free to interpret various elements of the combat system as we choose. In other words, whether or not we use d6 damage, variable dice damage, weapon vs. AC tables, critical hits, ablative shields, or any number of combat rules is all aesthetics.

In my own experience I love universal d6 weapon damage and I hate it. So far, my love has outweighed my loathing. Having d6 damage has given my players the freedom to use weapons that they wouldn't otherwise use. The main party fighter uses a spiked club, which he is very attached to. Once variable weapon damage is introduced (especially as written in AD&D) fighters almost always go for swords — why settle for club at d4 damage when the long sword does d8? In practice, the universal d6 damage has resulted in creative play — since everything does d6 damage, advantage in combat comes from tactical choices outside of weapon choice. As a gamer, I've really enjoyed this creativity — aesthetics.

At the same time, I have noticed that it has reduced the number of cool shaped dice in actual game play. Over the course of a night, my players will only use d6s and d20s. Since one of the reasons I started gaming all those years ago was the ability to use all these cool shaped dice, I miss them in game play — aesthetics.

My group uses a house rule where shields are ablative and can absorb a hit by being destroyed. I have really enjoyed this in game play — it adds a level of tactical choice that increases tension in combat at the same time that it increases survivability. It is powerful enough, however, that there is little incentive to use two-handed weapons. They get used, but only in very specific tactical situations like bracing for a charge. I am not happy with this, but not enough to scrap d6 damage — aesthetics.

All of this demonstrates, I hope, that d6 weapon damage and variable weapon damage are both perfectly legitimate choices in play. I actually like both of them, for different reasons. The wonder of old-school style of play is that it gives us the room and freedom to play with both. It all comes down to what we find most entertaining to play with — aesthetics.


Aaron E. Steele said...

Wow. Great post, you really capture the tension many of us feel between flat and variable damage (and hit points for that matter).

I often lament the lack of interesting weapon choices, because in a variable damage system, swords do the most damage.

One solution I have considered is damage by class, rather than by weapon (within reason of course). That way, you still get to roll funny shaped dice, but the type of weapon is not determining factor, but class.

Food for thought.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

FrDave said...

Thanks for the kind words. For myself, I think the answer to tactical weapon choice is with Weapon vs. AC tables. I just haven't been able to find an easy way to use them...

trollsmyth said...

Because I also use the shattered shields rule, I have most two-handed weapons do 2d4 damage, and using a quarterstaff or a weapon in each hand does the best of either die from a roll of 2d6.

FrDave said...


We've tried to do something similar, but my players view the shield far outweighs the extra damage, so the house rule very rarely gets used.

Matthew Slepin said...

Nice post (as usual). Funnily enough, as much as I loved funny-shape dice as a kid, I find myself more and more attracted to nothing but d6's. Thus, uniform damage is working really, really well for me. As in yuor game, my Onderland Campaign's main Fighter uses a spiked mace, which he would never have chosen in AD&D 1st or later editions.

I have, OTOH, really struggled with coming up with a Weapon vs. AC Table that feels right for me. Like Paladin suggested, I came up with Weapon Classes though the affect the chance to hit, rather than damage. After much effort, I'm still only semi-happy with them.