How I do 1:1/D&D combat in Dark Ages

My Dark Ages campaign started in 2009 with the premise of being an open sandbox for players to explore and do what they wanted. One of the goals I had was to be quick, mean and lean in how I approach combat. Fortunately, there were a few great resources available in those crazy days of the OSR blogs that gave me a lot to work with. Although I run mostly with AD&D/1e, all of my players came to accept and be happy with how I run combat, which is very different from By-The-Book 1e.

Let's see how.

1. Initiative, weapon-speed, proficiencies, segments - all gone. Instead, to regulate the flow of combat, I adopted Philotomy's Combat Sequence for OD&D.

Philotomy is a gent who posts every now and again on a forum called Knights and Knaves. He used to run a blog called "Philotomy's OD&D Musings" which had a lot of great stuff on playing D&D, specifically the 1974 edition. Although his website is long gone, Jason Cone was motivated enough to take a good chunk of Philotomy's stuff and create a PDF out of it. You should grab it and take a look, it's a wonderful resource.

One of his inventions was to create a combat sequence that was based on "... a slightly modified version of the combat rules in Swords & Spells (which is based on the original Chainmail medieval miniature combat rules)." Here's how it looks:

Players declare their actions.
Both sides roll 1d6 for initiative; high roll wins.
In initiative order, both sides fire missiles, cast spells, etc.
Side with initiative moves up to half move
Side without initiative moves up to half move
In initiative order, both sides fire missiles, cast spells, etc.
Side without initiative moves the remaining half move
Side with initiative moves the remaining half move
Unengaged combatants fire missile, cast spells, etc.
Engaged combatants fight one round of melee.

The cool thing is that movement initiative sequence allows the combatants to "meet in the middle" versus a one side Zerg rush. It also provides that lower level spells fire off quicker, higher level spells require more "phases" to complete casting. To get the full jist, see the PDF or this Internet Archive link of the original page.

It gets rid of the things I don't particularly like about AD&D and replaces it with something that flows fast and mean. If there's a cause for one person to go first, based on circumstances, I'll make a ruling on it at the table based on the situation.

BTW, if you want to see a very complete, by-the-book breakdown of AD&D combat, then this is the document for you from the Dragonsfoot forum. It's... uhhh... very thorough. It's called ADDICT for a reason...

2. Using charts for to-hit rolls, or THAC0 - all gone. Instead, to speed up mygameplay, I use Daniel Collin's Target20.

Daniel Collins, aka Delta, has a wonderful blog about D&D, specifically OD&D. He's also a statistician and teaches same at college level. So his analysis of D&D tends to be very accurate and logical.

When I first read his post, I was ecstatic! I didn't have to worry about charts and munging up a number. All I need is HD, any relevant modifiers, the target's Armor Class and my d20 roll. Add 'em up, if they equal/greater than 20, it's a hit!

Not all classes share the same combat equivalent, so Magic Users, Thieves, Clerics don't get to use their level as a modifier, but players only need put this on their character sheet and add that to the roll. Once they get used to the idea, it goes really fast. They give me a total number, I add AC of monster and any potential modifiers that they don't know about and tell them if they hit! Better than looking up things on charts. And I have seen it speed up play big time at the table, which I like.

3. Critical Hits/Fumbles - I check 'em. The 10% problem that can wreak havoc on a combat - the critical hit or critical fumble. I have often considered doing away with them altogether, but players love that chance, so I leave it in. What I do instead is tie the character's level to the possibility that they might score a critical hit or miss.

If they roll a 1 or 20, then they have to roll at/under their level as a percentage to avoid the fumble or confirm the critical. So if my 4th level fighter dices a natural 20, then they have to roll 40% or less on d100 to get that double damage. If the same fighter tosses a natural 1 next round, they have to roll 40% or less to avoid the fumble and whatever mayhem that might cause.

It does add an extra roll to the game, but I find that it makes far more sense and the players seem to appreciate it, especially on the fumbles! It also changes the impact of those rolls to a believable result - a 1st level newbie will more likely screw up than score the double damage... but that is as it should be!

4. Horse Mounted Combat - ride into battle! Although my players don't always do this, I give bonuses to characters/monsters on mounts, and penalties to those on foot fighting cavalry. And a few other addendums and changes. Here's a link to the document (and sources) where I spell them out. I did this because, interestingly, AD&D 1e didn't really give clear horse mounted combat rules in the PHB or DMG. At least that I found.

5. Counterspelling - I use it! And it shocks the crap out of the mages every time I do it, because they forget that it's an option. My monsters and NPCs don't forget...

I love a spell duel. The scene from Conan that I linked to the other day where the two mages go at it... pure gold! When I read a post by a gent named duBeers from the wonderful OD&D Boards forum that covered how he did counterspelling, I had to go write my own. After all, if Chainmail could have counterspells, then the game that it influenced, Dungeons & Dragons, could have it too. Here's the link to my houserules document where I spell out how counterspelling works. (You'll have to click on the TOC within the document.)

When it's happened, it's been pretty intense to see the players get into it.

Those are the biggies in my campaign. There are other differences - I use the reaction table from Moldvay (B/X), and I use a much simpler morale approach than in AD&D. It's all about having options and a gameplay that works at my table.


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