Getting Hit

Getting whacked in the chest with a mace is going to fucking smart even if you’re wearing a breastplate, and attacks constantly whiffing because a PC or NPC has a magic number attached to their statblock is boring as shit. Armour class feels even more like a weird relic of the hobby’s milsim roots in 5e than it does in OD&D. Titles like Into The Odd have tried to remedy this by making armour a soak value, turning HP into a pool of abstract luck / stamina, and making every attack a guaranteed hit. As it turns out this is also really boring. Both systems rely heavily on the referee narrating the stakes instead of involving the players. This garnered a universally negative reaction at my table, so I went back and thought about how to make defending against attacks more enjoyable for my players.

In the end, I kept it really simple - Players roll to attack, and they also roll to defend. So far, it’s worked out great. Instead of rolling to hit for NPCs, I’ll announce an NPC action like the following: The orc lunges towards you, swinging his rusty blade!”, and then prompt the player to contest the attack. No farting around with the action economy - players can always contest an attack, unless they’re downed or incapacitated. This is straightforwardly just more fun and interesting than the GM rolling to beat a target number, and gives the players more moment-to-moment involvement.

As with a few other books and systems, I’ve split these moves up very roughly into Dodging, Blocking and Parrying, which play out as follows:

  • DODGE: Roll DEX, penalty in heavy armour, permits flanking attacker on success
  • BLOCK: Roll STR, requires weapon or shield unless attacker is unarmed, shields confer bonus
  • PARRY: Roll STR or DEX depending on weapon type, critical success allows immediate follow-up with attack.

There are caveats: This is currently only for NPC attacks, players who attack still roll against a difficulty score assigned to the NPC, as feedback from the table was that they generally enjoy rolling to hit. I may in future go back and revise this, possibly separating out attack and defense scores. Difficulty’ feels somewhat more intuitive than AC, even if their purpose is similar, but this means that PCs and NPCs are asymmetrical and thus this doesn’t really work for more wargamey’ play. It’s also potentially less fun for the referee, but at the end of the day, accommodating a fun time for players is way more important than design rigour’.

Ideas for future iteration:

  • Do away with NPC difficulty and just have all attacks be contestable regardless of who’s controlling. This could open up options for more wargame-style play, but the stuff I run is mainly pointcrawls and dungeons, so isn’t a priority just now.
  • Further bonuses depending on equipment - rapiers get parry bonus, naked dude covered in grease dodges better than knight in platemail etc
  • GURPS-style separate save values for blocking, dodging and parrying (terrible idea, do not do this)
  • Fuck everything and RETVRN to OD&D
  • Swap HP for wounds (my beloved)

December 11, 2023

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