Adjusted Attack Ranks

Battle from Holkham Bible (source)

The OD&D alternative combat system implies the use of attack ranks (discussed here and here previously). Based on my experience running Pahvelorn so far, I would like to adjust slightly how the various classes interact with this system.

Like armor, there are four categories of combat focus; each one corresponds to one of the four core classes. In the table below, focus is how much effort the class spends on improving combat skill. Begin is what attack rank members of the class have at level one. Improvement is a list of the levels where the class gains an attack rank. Max is the maximum attack rank attainable by members of the class. Regarding the maximum, keep in mind that no creature ever has AC less than 2 in this game.

Combat Competency By Class
Focus Class Begin Improvement Max
5, 9
5, 9, 13
4, 7, 10, 13

(Edit: starting thief attack rank changed from 0 to 1.)

The various classes are balanced around these trade-offs. For example, a magic-user is assumed to spend their time studying the stars and experimenting with new magic formulae. If they instead spend their time drilling and practicing skill at arms, their magic will suffer. Such things will be handled on a case by case basis within the game, and come with special requirements, such as finding a teacher.

Attack Rank
AC 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
2 18 16 14 12 10 8 6
3 17 15 13 11 9 7 5
4 16 14 12 10 8 6 4
5 15 13 11 9 7 5 3
6 14 12 10 8 6 4 2
7 13 11 9 7 5 3 2
8 12 10 8 6 4 2 2
9 11 9 7 5 3 2 2

Some further notes. Magic-user combat skill has obviously been pared down. Max thief combat skill is also capped lower, but note that a surprise attack allows the thief to attack as if with two extra attack ranks (that’s the translation of +4 to attack). The matrix has also been adjusted to reflect that a 1 is always a miss.

Attack rank attained will also affect what enchanted weapons a character can master (that is, use with full potential). This is an idea that I have been playing around with in Hexagram, and I believe it fits here as well, and is a more elegant solution than than just restricting weapons by class.

3 thoughts on “Adjusted Attack Ranks

  1. Gus L

    Hmmm. I like this idea generally, and I think it does work by and large. I do think it disadvantages the thief class a fair bit, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea. As you’ve suggested thieves are basically low functioning magic users/fighters. Like Clerics perhaps but less so. Reducing their combat effectiveness further seems odd.

    From a design stand point thief combat has always been about balancing the ability to do a lot of damage with the right set up & normal damage otherwise vs. no survivability. At first level a normal monster will hit a thief 50% of the time or more than likely killing him. At higher levels thieves get hit even more often but can survive a couple of hits.

    With a minimal 25% chance of hitting a “fighty” monster(AC5)and up to 35% with a sneak attack there is never any reason for a thief to engage in melee combat – this is compounded when a maximum level thief only has a 45%/55% of hitting the same monster. Maybe if backstab was insta-kill, but 2D6 to a multi-HD beast ain’t worth it – hide in shadows and loot you companions corpses later.

    Sure making thieves less capable in combat makes some sense. Yet removing the ability of thieves to fight effectively in short fights seems a bit much, they will never be front-line fighters due to AC limitations. Here are the solutions I propose:

    1) Thieves start with a 1 combat rank like clerics – they are dirty fighting thugs and generally far more physical people then shopkeepers and academics (like magic users). They still max out lower.

    2) Thieves advance in attack ranks slightly faster (level 2 to go up to rank 1, level 5 rank 2 level 9 rank 3 – they pick up combat tricks readily even if they aren’t starting as good fighters.

    3) Thieves gain a +1 bonus to missile attacks and a higher backstab bonus (say +4 making them strike as fighters with a bonus for attacking from behind). Makes this signature move tempting again, but still a real potential disaster is missed/or there are more than 2 enemies/more than 1HD of victim. The missile bonus encourages a non-melee combat roll (maybe pick melee or missile bonus to specialize scout/archer vs. assassin/thug).

    4)3rd level thief ability give option of: Read Language/+1 attack rank/or some other useful skills. Player picks character development arc. Good cause thieves are descriptive of a varied set of adventurers. Must pay utility to be combat effective.

    1. Brendan

      Some design considerations:

      – Greyhawk thief had d4 HD, but also potentially bonuses from other exceptional ability scores (str, dex, con). Remember, Greyhawk is pretty much AD&D in terms of ability scores. Since I LBB-ified the thief for Pahvelorn, all that went away. Maybe it balances out? I’m not sure.

      – Greyhawk thief can only try most of their skills once, and they are proactive, not saving throws. So the Greyhawk thief really did kind of suck at thieving. I changed that to allow thieves to (in most cases) continue trying until they succeed, making all thieves good, but lower level thieves are slower.

      – The backstab bonus does go up with level; in my 3 LBB thief post, I think I base it on attack ranks, which doesn’t exactly work out with the numbers in this post. In any case, it should certainly improve beyond x2 (I didn’t think about that when I did this, but I will find a way to correct it).

      – Regarding your suggestion 3, thieves do get a +4 bonus to backstab attacks. If I wrote less than that anywhere it was a mistake. Interestingly, though Greyhawk is ambiguous, I believe backstab was early on qualified to only work as a melee attack (I don’t think that makes sense though; I like the possibility of sniping).

      On the ODD74 forum, some people thought starting off the fighter at the second attack rank was too much, and that they liked my scheme but that clerics, magic-users, and thieves should all start at 0 (with the fighter at 1). I still think I like the multi-tiered approach though, and I think low-level fighters should be a bit more fearsome, especially since so many games take a while to get beyond the low levels (or end while still in the low levels).

      However, all that said, I think starting the thief off with one attack rank (your first suggestion) is totally reasonable, especially with the lower cap.

      I also like the thrust of your fourth option (possibilities other than read language), but I think an extra attack rank would probably win every single time in that particular comparison (given that one almost certainly will have access to a magic-user that can cast read languages also). So I would want the utility of the potential abilities to be a bit more ambiguous or variable, if that makes sense.

    2. Gus L

      My main consideration was the attractiveness of the Thief Class – I agree that it has some very nice/appropriate bonuses in your LBB version (the skills as time based etc – sometimes I think they’re too generous – certain, many even, locks should only offer only a single shot) and the low XP requirements are a boon. I was looking more at Thief vs. Cleric playability as the two are both basically utility F/MU hybrids.

      With the way attack ranks are set up above I have a hard time seeing thieves as viable alternatives vs. clerics. Another idea that brings the Clerics down a bit (which isn’t necessarily a good thing) is to start them out almost as good as fighters, but then to make them top out fast – assumption is that a doughty crusader focuses less on advancement of fighting abilities as their mystic power and divine connection grows. Also I perceive Cleric combat as the opposite of thief, they are hard to kill and keep fighting, but they don’t really pile on the damage to the opponents without magic.

      The thief of course is the opposite (in my mind) starting as a cut-purse, scout, wanderer or hoodlum and eventually becoming a ninja, ranger, adventurer of all trades/hedgemage or swashbuckler/duelist type. Obviously if your vision is different you get different mileage. Point is trajectory seems important to thieves – hence the low XP amounts for advancement (which eventually even out with the other classes a bit). This is also why I like LOTFP Specialist skill system (though it allows ugly min/max builds and is complicated). Still how to do it right – you’re correct on the pick a skill issue. So thief might start at zero or one rank but quickly move up and max out nearer to fighter (they will never have the armor or HP of a fighter so the ability to hit is less important).

      I also like the idea of limiting backstab to melee frankly – because that makes it a trade off danger for quick kill – though a general damage bonus to sniping or aimed shots might be appropriate (though really waiting too long with a bow drawn to aim is tough). Personally I’d limit ranged backstabs to either a specialization choice or when the thief (or anyone) is in a prepared, unassailable position and not under missile attack (like on a roof). When limited to melee however it’s a real gamble that gets worse at higher levels, missing a backstab against a weak enemy might be survivable, but tougher enemies it’s real risky. With tougher creatures the backstab isn’t likely to kill anyway (unless it scales) so it’s super dangerous, but maybe still worth it if reliable. If unreliable – why bother?


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