Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Fantastic Medieval Wargame Campaign: OD&D Musings I

Back in Chainmail, AC 3 was plate not just "plate mail."

A Medieval Arms Race

Chainmail takes into account aspects like weight and length with weapon class. Much like how armor classes correspond to specific types of armor, weapon classes denote specific kinds of weapons. I use the following:

1. Dagger
2. Hand Axe
3. Mace (including War Pick, War Hammer, etc.)
4. Arming Sword
5. Battle Axe
6. Morn. Star (including Goedendag)
7. Flail (the peasant flail, not the "ball-and-chain" type)
8. Spear
9. Polearm (including Glaive, Fauchard, Partisan, etc.)
9. Halberd (including Bardiche, Voulge, Guisarme-Voulge, Lochaber-Axe, etc.)
10. Long Sword (including Claymore, Zwei., etc.)
11. Mtd. Lance
12. Pike

The lower the WC, the shorter and/or lighter the weapon. The higher the WC, the longer and/or heftier the weapon. In Chainmail, the WC helps determine things such as who can parry who or who gets the advantage of the first attack at various points in a melee. The relative WC also granted the opportunity to strike multiple blows against "slower" weapons (Gygax & Perren, 1975, p.26). Neat!

While the length aspect is easy enough to use in normal OD&D play, the capability of weapons vs armor has a more troubled history... yeah. But it is desirable! 

Chainmail's Man-to-Man table showing the target to kill on a 2d6

Chainmail's table does capture some intuitive things such as long weapons being good against horsemen, a mace being really good against plate, etc. There is some weirdness, however. The two-handed sword is a nuke for some reason. Flails are also extremely effective across the board. Some of the arbitrary decisions show if you squint hard enough and think. According to Gygax (1975) at this time, "the spear was a weapon primarily of barbaric peoples or poor ones" (p.3); and this table reflects this with some notable penalties.

So rather than trying to salvage a conversion of Chainmail's table or the flawed Greyhawk/AD&D approach, I think this presents an opportunity to streamline and build up. Just like how Chainmail's tables represented Gygax's ideas on the reality of medieval combat, I want something to reflect my own opinions.

There's a lot of good reads on my mind and several sources that show their age but are very much in the spirit of OD&D. So, where to begin?

Padded armor w/ helm (AC 7). Goedendag (WC 6) and dagger (WC 1).

Some Considerations for Mêlée Combat

Just to keep the basic premise on the board, armors in OD&D/Chainmail have a "class". Shocking, I know. It abstracts the general ability of that armor to protect its wearer. Having a good AC doesn't mean you're literally harder to hit (it's unfortunate that "hit" and "miss" see such common usage imo), it means your opponent is less likely to be able to land a telling blow, i.e., one that bypasses armor and could kill. In LBB OD&D, this is largely a matter of level. The higher level you are, the easier it is to land a telling blow on a target, regardless of armor, and deal damage. Magical weapons help too. 

And remember, there is no AC bonus due to dexterity or magic yet! AC is entirely decided by armor (for people at least). Modifiers go to the attack roll, such as those from magical armor. So the ability to defeat armor should entirely modify attack rolls if we want to keep d6 only damage.

How Armor Should (Probably) Work

N.B.: I'm assuming average HP for 1 HD and d6 damage rolls here so 1 hit = 1 kill.

AC 9: No Armor. All weapons should be equally scary here. Cutting blows will be nasty as will solid blows with a bludgeon or powerful thrusts. 

AC 7: Padded Armor or Gambeson (i.e. "Leather"). Cutting weapons should be less effective but still able to land a solid cutting blow. Thrusting attacks should be able to more easily bypass this type of protection as should bludgeoning. 

AC 5: Mail (Ringmail or Chainmail). Cutting weapons should be even less effective. Thrusting can deal with this type of protection, but it isn't a guarantee. Bludgeoning is effective. Trying to cut or hack at someone and you'll bludgeon them to death before you cut through.

AC 3: Plate. Blows actually penetrating should be rare. At close range, a heavy crossbow might be able to do and arrow or bolt wounds to the face through a visor could happen. Countered by striking at gaps of mail, blunt force trauma through the armor, or taking them down and getting a precise thrust in. You remembered your war hammer right? Your dagger for the armored wrestling?

+1 AC: Shields. Shields are very important. I'm largely fine with the utility they can offer in melee (an AC bonus or an impromptu bludgeon) but ranged is another matter. Arrows are hard to armor against, but shields can offer quite a bit of protection here. Perhaps they could be treated as softcover à la Chainmail?

"Cover: Soft cover such as brush, woods, waist-high fences, and walls will reduce missile cassualties by one-half (drop all fractions)" (Gygax & Perren, 1975, p.12).

Only causing half hits (i.e., 1-3 damage) could be an interesting way to model this. Especially compared to the later attempt in the 1e DMG via small/medium/large shields and limiting the number of hits they were effective against.

Glaives by Wenedlin Boeheim

Now, what about the weapons?

The big pitfall here is of course painting weapons with broad strokes (much like AD&D 2e did). Not all slashing/bludgeoning/piercing weapons are equal. Surely a wooden club cannot deal with armor like a flanged mace could. A military pick could deal with hard armor better than a spear. 

On the other end of this spectrum, even the "every weapon has a unique vs Armor profile" that CM and Greyhawk/1e used glosses over the fact that weapons generally have multiple uses. With a sword, you could half-sword to treat it like a short thrusting spear, wield it like a hammer with a murder strike, or thrust and slash as normal.

My current working approach is probably best illustrated by showing how I handle things in OD&D. Which is probably deserving of its own post.

So a few open questions for the adventure game folks! 

  1. Do you use any considerations of weapon capability vs armor in your games?
    1. If not, why?
    2. If so, do you find this extra element worth the effort?
  2. Do you factor weapon length at all in your games? Would a spearman have any notable advantage over someone with a shorter weapon?

Viollet-le-Duc (1874).

Wait! Don't forget the Arquebus! 

Arquebus. Cost: expensive, range: 18", enc: 100.

A notable absence in the transition of weapons from Chainmail to OD&D. The arquebus ignores mundane* armor, effectively treating such armored targets as unarmored. They have a range of 18" and fire every other turn in combat. Gunners can move up to one-half of their normal movement and still reload or fire, but if they move more than one-half they may only fire if they have initiative**.

The arquebus is incapable of indirect fire and cover (e.g., trees, walls, rocks, etc.) is quite important. In addition to the usual benefits of cover, half cover or less causes a -4 penalty and over half cover causes a -8 penalty (!).

Firing while rested on strong support (e.g. a wall or fork rest) grants a +4 adjustment.

The discharge of an arquebus (and especially a volley of several such gunners) could be a cause for a morale check.

*The applicability of this to monsters is, of course, left to the Referee's discretion.

**In Chainmail, they may only fire if they "beat their opponent's die roll". Rather than literally rolling off, I take this to mean that moving and firing at once is tough and isn't always an option. If this is too fiddly, just dump this option.


Gygax, G. (1975). Castle & Crusade. The Strategic Review, 1(1), 3.

Gygax, G., & Perren, J. (1975). Chainmail: Rules for medieval miniatures. TSR Rules.

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