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Getting Rid of Attack Rolls; or Save vs Damage for D&D?

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D&D Masters Set Box CoverEvery once in a while I see someone posting that fighters in D&D (or in D&D Next) should automatically hit and do huge amounts of damage so they can keep up with wizards in damage output ignoring the fact they the fighter can use his damage attack over and over all day while a wizard can only do his huge amount of damage attack a few times a day at most. I also occasionally see people saying fighters should automatically hit because missing is boring and means they've wasted a turn. This just strikes me as very silly, although I'm sure some people feel this way.

For some weird reason we were discussing these type of comments during my Sunday game last Sunday. It's probably not a big surprise to discover that neither view got much sympathy from my players. However, during a break a few minutes later, one of my players brought the topic up again. He suggested that perhaps all attacks should be assumed to hit (just as the vast majority of spells hit without an attack roll), and the target of the attack should roll a "avoid taking damage" saving throw (again, just like being attacked with a spell).

In other words, no one would roll to attack. Instead, characters and monsters would roll a "physical defense saving throw" to avoid the damaging effects of a physical attack. This would make the rules less complex by using one method -- rolling a saving throw -- to avoid or lessen the effects of an attack. It would not matter whether that attack was a fireball or a two-handed sword, the same "making a saving throw" method would be used to find out that happened to the target, although what the target saved against would vary with the type if attack.

This is an interesting idea. How interesting depends on how one actually chooses to handle the physical defense saving throws. If you handle them TSR saving throw style, the AC, level, and class of the defender would be the primary determiner as to whether the character takes damage as TSR D&D does not adjust saving throws for the level of the attacker. This would be a simple and fast system, players save vs a fairly fixed number based on their AC, class, and level that they can just glance at on their character and roll. The only modifiers would be for things like being attacked by a magic weapon. If WOTC-style saving throws were used, figuring the saving throws needed would be more complex as the level of the attacker would need to be taken into account.

I'm not sure I'd actually want to play a game using saving throws to defend instead of attack rolls to determine if the target is hit. However, I'm interested in reader opinions on this idea. If enough people are find the idea interesting, I will try to come up with optional rules for Microlite74 and Microlite81 that implement a version of this system which people interested in the idea can play with.

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As of 6 August 2013, $140 has been donated in this mini-drive, an additional $360 in donations is needed to trigger the drawings for the items mentioned above.

Seth Drebitko said...
August 6, 2013 at 3:07 PM  

It has merit, and I could see this working if enough care was put into facilitating it. That said I don't think I would dig it all that much. This makes combat almost completely reactive and sort of takes away from the awesome feeling of rolling a nat 20.

mbeacom said...
August 6, 2013 at 4:04 PM  

4th Edition D&D pretty much did this exact thing. Except instead of making attacks operate like saves to keep it simple, they made saves operate like attacks. This basically pushed most of the dice rolling to the players, whereas the save only method would push the dice rolling to the DM. Personally, I like having 2 systems, one for physical attacks and one for spells. Seems to me, they SHOULD work differently. I've written about this very subject on my blog in the past, as I see this subject pop up every 6 months or so. To read my more indepth comments, see the link below.


Rachel Ghoul said...
August 6, 2013 at 7:21 PM  

I think Green Ronin put out several games like this, including Mutants and Masterminds, which I was fond of. Not sure if True20/Blue Rose used it too but I think they might.

BlUsKrEEm said...
August 6, 2013 at 9:07 PM  

I used a save vs combat in an ice age era game to good effect. It's a great system for an armorless low-magic setting. It never felt too reactive (we had the attacker roll damage simultaneously with the save, so both sides had agency in combat,) but it did make combat drag a little much at higher levels, and ranged combat never felt quite right. The game ended before I could tinker a solution for those problems.

Sam Holden said...
August 6, 2013 at 10:07 PM  

I doubt players are going to like it that the DM would be effectively rolling their attacks...

If you want all attacks to hit, you can convert the attack roll into a damage roll. So AC would reduce damage instead of reducing hits, and instead of attack roll bonuses going up with level damage roll bonuses would.

You could do the math and make the probabilities the same - needing to roll 10 to hit for d8 damage and always hitting for d4 damage are the same in the long term. In the short term the d4 approach is less "swingy", you won't miss for 5 straight rounds, but you also won't do 15 damage in two. Or just wing the numbers and see what works out for similar combat results.

You may need dcc style weird dice of course or have some mathy modifiers.

And of course fighter players will then complain about wasting their turn when a high AC results in 0 damage for a turn...

Randall said...
August 6, 2013 at 10:14 PM  

@Sam Holden: I don't play with players who think missing means "wasting a turn". :)

Seth Drebitko said...
August 6, 2013 at 11:09 PM  

@Rachel Ghoul: Both Green Ronin games use attack rolls.

Mutants and Masterminds has a save vs massive damage.

True20 is great on a couple levels for me. You roll to hit vs the enemies attack bonus +10. On a hit your enemy makes d20 + con + armor value (which basically acts as DR) to avoid damage. It's a pretty sweet system where you're doing pretty good until the damage boxes (white wolf style) start ticking off then you plunge into a death spiral.

newsalor said...
August 7, 2013 at 2:01 AM  

IMO this is a bad idea. The reason being that you still end up rolling the same amount of dice, but without the feeling of agency. When you roll the dice to hit, you feel like you are smiting your opponents. You would not feel the same if DM rolled a critical failure with his saving throw as opposed to you scoring a critical hit with your attack roll!

TheShadowKnows said...
August 7, 2013 at 2:49 PM  

"I also occasionally see people saying fighters should automatically hit because missing is boring and means they've wasted a turn."

The sense of entitlement some people have makes me want to vomit. I mean, it really is sickening.

lrdr said...
August 13, 2013 at 8:42 AM  

I think it was Dungeon World, or some other game I read recently but wasn't really inspired by, that said the players should do 100% of the rolling.
Although I wasn't super keen on whichever game it was, I think that one idead was quite good and it should apply here too: roll to smash, roll to defend. That would give the players more to do and the DM less to do (as a DM I support this wholeheartedly, because we are busy motherfuckers) and preempt any complaints about the players having their die rolling agency taken away or w/e.
Anyway I think this would be worth developing.

ps. TSK aren't you overreacting a bit bro

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