Damage symmetry

Consider this house rule for traditional D&D:

When an attack roll misses, the attacker suffers damage from the defender.

This gives every attack roll the potential of loss as well as gain. Damage inflicted by the defender would be based on the equivalent of a basic attack as situationally appropriate. For example, someone attacking a dragon from behind and missing might take tail swipe damage.

How do you think it would change the game?

This shares some properties with what I have called monological combat before, though it remains more firmly within the familiar D&D approach to combat turns. See also: monological combat example and monological save versus magic.

Some potential consequences I can see include:

  1. Encourage avoidance behaviors because attacking feels riskier.
  2. Decrease the sense of stasis caused by several misses in a row.
  3. Speed up combat by increasing average damage per round.
  4. Cut down hoards of unchallenging enemies quickly.
  5. Decrease the defensive value of armor.

Given a choice as a player, would you like to use this house rule? Why or why not?

14 thoughts on “Damage symmetry

  1. littlemute

    Why not just do what Into the Odd does and remove rolling to hit-just roll damage? Hit points are just a timing mechanism after all. Otherwise, I think I would just play Runequest 6 if combat was an important part of my game.

    1. Brendan Post author


      That seems like a workable approach too. It would have some similar impact, I think, in terms of keeping combat moving, but there is something particularly agentic about making attack rolls that is satisfying even if probabilistically attack plus damage is really just a different route to an expected damage value. Also, damage on defense seems like it might enable something like a Conan mowing down hordes of enemies without adding any extra mechanical overhead, which the ItO method does not.

      Using the ItO method would probably require using the ItO armor rules as well, making it a more invasive modification whereas I think the one line rule written above could be applied without changing anything else.

      1. littlemute

        Or every combat exchange with engaged opponents could be an opposed role (a la Necromunda or Frostgrave) with the amount of damage taken by the loser augmented by the amount which they won the opposed roll. Again, this would be a big change to the game system.

    1. Brendan Post author


      Good point. I think I like that. Assuming you allow ranged weapons to inflict defending damage, they would also not be as effective as a melee weapon defense given than ammunition would be consumed more quickly. Or, maybe the tradeoff should be that ranged weapons don’t risk retributive damage but also can’t defend at all or something like that.

    1. Sean Wills

      I could see this rule working for ranged vs ranged as when an archer moves into position to take a shot they become exposed to enemy ranged weapons/ranged magic.

  2. waywardwayfarer

    Interesting, in that it makes AC have a relative value rather than absolute. As long as two combatants have the same chance to hit, and the same AC, they’ll take damage at about the same rate, whether that AC is 9 or 0. Whenever both hit or both miss, both take damage. When one hits and the other misses, though, one guy takes all the damage. Having a better AC than your opponent makes that more likely.

  3. LS

    You’d certainly have to change the way you built tougher monsters. Anything that is tough to hit, but has an easy time hitting you, basically becomes a meat grinder.

    That said, it eliminates the bored frustration of a long string of misses, and replaces it with fear. So that’s pretty neat.

  4. James Jarvis

    I like the idea but if I was using such as DM I might be prone to complicate it with things like weapon reach and relative difference in levels/fighting prowess (within a level or lower level only have to worry about rollign those 1’s, a foe 2 pt’s higher hits you back if you roll a 1 or 2, multiple foes all add their HD together to determine the range)
    Using classical descending AC might prove beneficial with folks only being harmed on a counter attack for missing if they roll their AC or less (except for 1’s that always leaves an opening).

    I have played with counter attack rules in the past but even if complicating it a little, keeping it simple and with as few rolls as possible seems a good idea.

  5. JB

    @ Brendan:

    I’d think it would be kind of a killer for low-level PCs, seeing as how they have a lower than 50% chance of hitting most ACs. Monsters are fodder, constantly popping up, and sometimes getting lucky hits (depending on the AC of the fighters); them going down faster means little (there are always more to come). Now, though, the PCs’ own lack of ability renders their armor worthless in a fight with, say, AC 6 creatures…orcs, goblins, etc.

    Given the choice as a player (and seeing as I prefer fighter classes), I’d pass.

  6. Griffin

    It is a cool idea, I’ve enjoyed similar concepts from other games. I do think that for damage it needs a matching rule that lets PCs regain some HP after a fight. Otherwise the dungeon-long hit point loss will be a bit much. I think it would need a few tweaks more than just that one rule to really work smoothly.

    Alternatively, maybe the factor is something besides hit points? Missing an attack applies a penalty to Armor Class, or even a +1 to the next attack. Depending on which direction with it you wanted to go. Which would help with your #2 on the list: Decrease the sense of stasis caused by several misses in a row.

    I actually have a variation of this type of thing I want to use for another game. Missing grants the equivalent of XP. So the only way to advance in levels is to seek harder challenges because fighting easy enemies is less risky but gives almost no XP. Which doesn’t address the combat issue, but does give the player some positive feedback for missing.


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