Originally, in this post, I explained a small modification to the known AC system used in D&D up to advanced second edition. My goal was to reintroduce something that was lost when the game migrated from wargaming to RPG, but then, as a final afterthought, I made some calculations and discovered that, well, my changes made little (although not insignificant) difference. Preceding a post with a disclaimer like “what you are going to read may not be as useful as it seems” is probably not the best hook, but I still believe there are a few interesting bits here and I may also have unwillingly solved an ancient argument about AC vs. damage reduction that sometimes still rises from its grave (spoiler: there is surprisingly little difference in the long run unless you make a completely different system from scratch.) Besides, I’m a believer in the idea of publishing negative results, even if they are not as eye-catching as positive ones.
I wrote this post yesterday, but for some reason, the auto-save function isn’t working, which means I had to write it – again.
Long story short, this is the second part of a well-received post I wrote a long time ago about how to interpret Hit Points in D&D (or similar games) in light of the literature that inspired it. The basic idea was that Hit Points shouldn’t be understood as an absolute value, at least if you want to “visualize” or describe what is happening when character lose hit points. By the way, this is not an esoteric interpretation because even the gamey 3.5 edition acknowledges that:
You are playing some old skool D&D with your friends and decide that you want to play a magic-user. The DM tells you that level 1 magic-users can only cast one spell per day and, to add injury to the insult, “your starting spells are chosen at random.“
You start sweating profusely, but being a hardcore masochist, you accept the ruling and allow Eris, Princess of Chaos and Dice-Rolling, to decide that your magic-user knows three spells (plus Read Magic) of astounding power: Detect Magic, Light, and Magic Missile. Unfortunately, your DM is an ass and does not even know that Light can be used to blind enemies, and, to make things worse, he also uses some weird rule for Magic Missile (1d6+1 of damage, but an attack roll is needed.) In practical terms, that means the destructive power of your character is similar to being able to shoot a single arrow each day. 10 years at the Magic University for this?!
Most animals may not need stats, but that doesn’t mean they may not have a few gameplay-related statistics. Small critters are like living traps: if you fail a check, something bad happens. A small poisonous spider you failed to spot may bite and inject you with a bone-splitting poison (yeah, I don’t know much about poisons,) a swarm of rats may eat your rations while you sleep, or a cat may be startled by your skulking attempts, alerting the whole castle. These may not be your standard encounters, but they add a little variety or, even, realism. Whatever annoyance you can imagine, most of these problems can be presented as ability, proficiency, or skill checks.
In D&D, many animals, even tiny animals like rats, have stats. That means they have statistics for Armor Category, base attack (or THAC0), STR, DEX, etc. They even give you experience points in case you go on a cat or cow-killing rampage.
It’s a fundamental element in most RPGs: Strength modifies hit chance and damage. From time to time, a few heretics claim that the main attribute for close combat should be speed, dexterity, or something like that, but the answer to these people is always the same:
“You are as ignorant as you are [probably] ugly. For a trained warrior, speed is strength, and strength is speed. The damage any object may cause is basically speed x mass, so the bigger and stronger you are, the faster you will hit, and the more brutal you will be.”
The idea that, somehow, a nimble fighter would beat a 240lb man probably comes from the same crazy hole that gave us Waif-fu and similar nonsense.