Classic Dungeons and Dragons and Old School Gaming

D&D etc.

"Heir to a crumbling summit: to a sea of nettles: to an empire of rust: to rituals' footprints ankle-deep in stone."

-Mervyn Peake

"...and that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana shaped."

-Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Saturday, September 17, 2011

DMing tricks vs. rules changes

Sometimes I think about how to fix the D&D combat system to maintain the granularity of varying skill levels while removing the "whiff factor".  But maybe the problem isn't the system, its the DM style.  Or in other words, the abstract nature of basic D&D combat allows for/requires creativity from the DM. (duh, right?)  Here are some things that I want to try or that I have tried but that I want to consistently implement that I think will help me be a better DM: 
1.  Keep the initiative system in place, but roll the attacks for all combatants in a melee before narrating the scene. 

2.  Don't feel obligated to narrate an attack roll as an attack

3.  Don't feel obligated to narrate an failed attack roll as an actual missed or parried attack.

4.  Don't feel obligated to narrate a hit as an actual hit or physical injury.  (Given that I currently view HP as completely abstract fatigue and luck and NOT actual injury.  I use a critical/wound chart when a character get's to 0 HP.  Injury and Recovery will have to be a future post.)

5. If two opponents facing eachother both miss, give whichever one rolls higher a slight advantage in the narration.
Take this sample combat between a lvl 1 fighter and a giant rat:

 DM and player roll initiative.  Player wins.

The player attacks and rolls a 7.  DM says, "that's a miss"

DM atacks and rolls a 3.  Says, "the rat tries to bite you but misses"

The player rolls to attack again, gets an 11.  DM says, "You just miss."

Player says, "Dang dice!"

DM rolls an attack gets a 13  Says, ““What's your AC again? Ok that's a miss.”
Player rolls a 9. “Dang it!”

DM rolls a 17. “Hit.” Rolls a d6, "it does 2 points of damage."

Player rolls a 15. DM says, “roll damage.” Player rolls a 4. “Ok you kill it.”

Now the same combat if I'm taking my own advice:
DM and player roll initiative. Player wins.

The player attacks and rolls a 7.
DM atacks and rolls a 3.
The DM says, "As you advance the rat runs away.  you close in further and now you have it cornered."

The player says "ok, i'll widen my stance to keep it from getting away again and attack it." he rolls to attack again, gets an 11.
DM rolls an attack gets a 13.
The DM says, “just as you are about to strike the rat runs between your legs and scurries up a pile of crates against the wall.  From the top of the crates it hisses at you menacingly."
The player says, "dang wiley rat! is it low enough that I can reach it with my sword?"
The DM says, "yep."

Player rolls a 9.
DM rolls a 17.
"You poke at it with your sword, but it squirms away and leaps at you!  you raise your shield and it bounces off.  Take off 2 HP and it's now on the ground at your feet."

Player rolls a 15. DM says, “roll damage.” Player rolls a 4.
The DM says “before it can get away again you run it through.  It wriggles and claws at the ground for a few minutes before finally collapsing.”

Player: "Gross.  Now, what's in those crates..."


  1. Your explanation just solved one of the greatest arguments in D&D history. That is exactly how I run my combats and players love it!

  2. Thanks Eroc! It wouldn't work for a lot of people, folks want there to be numerical effects corresponding to all these little nuanced variations in the imagined scenario. I understand that urge, but down that path lies madness (and 4th edition) and it's best to keep things loose, I say.

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