Monday, October 10, 2011

Should All Weapons Do 1d6 Damage?

For the fun of it I thought I’d dissect the arguments for the OD&D pre-Greyhawk/Holmes Basic/S&W Whitebox convention that all weapons should do 1d6 damage.  For each argument, I’ll make the positive claim and then offer a critique in the next post.  We’ll see where we end up.
  1. Should all weapons do 1d6 damage?  Why not?  Combat is abstract.
  2. In a certain sense all weapons do the same damage in the end.  Being fatally stabbed by a dagger is just as bad as being fatally stabbed by a two-handed sword.
  3. It’s simpler.
  4. Rolling different kinds of dice (as well as different numbers of dice) for each weapon distracts from the “ballet of combat”.  Having all weapons do 1d6 focuses attention on the combat not on the dice.
  5. Having some weapons do more than 1d6 damage introduces an annoying sort of inflation into the game.  If, for example, the damage done by a two-handed sword is increased from 1d6 in Men & Magic to 3d6 damage in Greyhawk (at least against large creatures), then to be fair (or rather, in the interests of realism or consistency), many of those large creatures must have their damage increased as well.
  6. Having all weapons do 1d6 damage introduces more diversity in the choice of weapons.  From the point of view of fantasy role-playing, this is a good thing.  If weapons do different amounts of damage, players will gravitate to only a few of them--those that do the most damage.  That’s a bad thing.
  7. Having all weapons do 1d6 damage allows you to come up with other reasons (more fun and more realistic) to choose some weapons over others—some weapons you can charge with, others might be better at piercing armor, etc.  This is healthy.
  8. It’s a feature of the original game.  How could Gygax and Holmes have been wrong?
Am I leaving any out?


  1. The crux of this—at least for me—comes down to two things: Price and damage. With variable damage, the cheapest weapon with the highest damage gets chosen. With straight d6 damage (or class based damage) the cheapest weapon gets chosen. I’m not particularly happy with either situation.

    There are some other things. Encumbrance, though I have seldom seen that be a factor in the weapon chosen. (Though I have seen it once or twice.) Then you have special rules. The “daggers strike twice in a round” or “two-handed weapons auto-lose initiative” or two-weapon fighting rules. (Rules that, IMHO, usually are ill-conceived, but that’s another topic in itself.)

    The two big wildcards are role-playing and DM rulings. Many players will go with the sub-optimal weapon for role-playing reasons. A DM can make rulings to make the choice of weapon matter. I’ve tended to rely on those two things, but I can’t say that I’ve been completely happy having to rely on them.

    Oh...there is one more wildcard: Magic weapons. At some point, in most campaigns, the PCs are no longer buying weapons. They’re using magic weapons they found. At that point, I think, this issue becomes much less important. Straight d6 or variable damage by weapon or variable damage by class all work fine once the price issue goes away.

  2. #7 is my favorite reason, most easily brought into play during natural 1's and 20's. weapon fell out of reach, can't be grabbed (too small), easily grab another from belt and not lose turn (*dagger), etc. but there's all the other things like charging, use with or against shields, from behind others, doubling as tools of some kind, durability.. i'm sure someone's made a list in the OSR somewhere.

  3. #6 is the main reason I like d6 damage. Of course, it does limit the use of all those cool shaped dice I have...

  4. I still like my idea that all weapons do damage based on your class, with no class restrictions on the type of weapon you wield. You want to be a sword-wielding Wizard? Go ahead, but you'll still be doing 1d4 damage due to your lack of training. Addresses points 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, as well as Robert Fisher's comment above.

  5. I moved to d6 for all hit dice and weapons when I started teaching my kids basic at about age 5 (reason #3) and to my surprise I never really looked back. One other consideration for me was cost. Drawers and cabinets in my house produce six-siders via spontaneous generation vs having to go purchase a 6 or 7 dice set when a d8 goes missing.

  6. I like weapons dealing one dice of damage, and believe the reasons have mostly to do with #2 and #9, that last one being:
    #9 Most likely, since the rules evolved somewhat from Chainmail, differences in weapons appeared on the "to-hit" rules (i.e. Man-to-Man combat table) and "weapon class".

  7. The actual reason all weapons do the same amount of damage in OD&D (and Holmes D&D) is a basically down to a mistake.

    OD&D was originally envisioned as being played using the man-to-man combat rules from Chainmail, which is self-evident given the multiple references to the man-to-man combat system Wilderness & Underworld Adventures.

    Using this system the player cross-referenced the weapon type of the attacker with the armour type of the defender (corresponding to the armour classes of OD&D, with shields and leather armour inverted) to obtain a 2d6 target number.

    If the player rolled equal to or greater than this target number they hit and killed their foe. The lethality of a weapon was thus factored into the man-to-man combat matrix, with all weapons having a different probability of delivering 1 hit sufficient to kill a normal man wearing a given type of armour.

    In Chainmail powerful fantasy foes required multiple cumulative hits before they were killed. For example, Giants could take 12 hits, Superheroes 8 hits, Ogres 6 hits, Heroes 4 hits and Wizards 2 hits. There’s more, but lets keep it simple.

    OD&D replaced the 1 hit attack and cumulative hits of Chainmail with a 1d6 hit point attack and the 1d6 hit die contributing 1d6 cumulative hit points. This is also why all character classes have a 1d6 hit die in OD&D.

    When introducing the combat matrices for the Alternative Combat System in Men & Magic, Gygax tells us “such things as speed, ferocity, and weaponry of the monster attacking are subsumed in the matrixes.”

    While this statement would have been utterly true of the Chainmail man-to-man combat system it is total hogwash when it comes to the Alternative Combat System, which cross-references level (which is the same thing as hit dice) with armour class.
    The type of weaponry used doesn’t get a look in.

    I have a sneaky suspicion the original plan was to put something like the man-to-man combat matrix here, with +1 to hit per 3 levels for fighting men (or per 3 hit dice for monsters), per 4 levels after for clerics and per 5 levels for magic users.

    Having all weapons cause 1d6 damage makes perfect sense when using the man-to-man system from Chainmail, where weapon type determines your chance of hitting, but it makes absolutely no sense in the Alternative Combat System of OD&D.

    This was an oversight corrected in Greyhawk, where attack modifiers were provided for all the Chainmail weapon types versus each armour class. If these modifiers are applied to the target numbers of the Chainmail matrix, the vast majority of target numbers come out as 8. The modifiers are derived directly from Chainmail.

    The variable weapon damage of Greyhawk is a far more elegant alternative solution.

    The weapon class of the attacker is cross-referenced.