Showing posts with label Rules. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rules. Show all posts

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Initiative in OD&D: Remember when D&D Combat was "Simpler" and "Easier" to Understand than 5e? Me Either. (Part 2)

Copyright Jody Lindke 2019
Two weeks ago (sorry for the break, but Thanksgiving), I posted the first in a series of articles discussing the complexity of early editions of the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. With each new edition of the D&D game, some players like to reminisce about how much easier to understand to play the game was "back in the day." The fact is that the old game was extremely complex and difficult to understand for neophytes. Heck, as an experienced gamer I had trouble understanding how to play OD&D (that's the little brown books) and could only figure out how to play Chainmail because of my experience playing Warhammer Fantasy.

While it would be fun to do a read through of all the little brown books, that isn't the intention of this series. This is just to show how complex OD&D combat was, and later how complex Basic and AD&D were as well, starting with the little brown books and moving forward into the various supplements and official articles that expanded the combat rules.

The first few articles will cover the following topics:

1) Initiative -- The Turn Order. Who goes first and when and how do they go?
2) Hitting and Damaging Characters and Monsters and Why Do We Have So Many Subsystems?
3) Expanding Play with Greyhawk...(followed by the other supplements).

Combat in OD&D has two main subsystems, Chainmail and the "Alternative Combat System." There are numerous references to Chainmail in the rules, which indicates that using Chainmail was a possible way to play D&D even though David Arneson made it clear that those rules were expanded upon and changed over time. Here are some examples:

  • On page 5 of Men & Magic (Book 1 of OD&D), the rules list Chainmail under "recommended equipment." 
  • Elves (page 8 of Men & Magic) "also gain the advantages noted in the Chainmail rules..." 
  • Halflings (page 8) "they will have deadly accuracy with missiles as detailed in Chainmail."
  • Fighting Capability (page 18) "to use in conjunction with the Chainmail fantasy rule, as modified in various places herein..."
  • On page 5 of Monsters & Treasure "Special ability functions are generally as indicated in Chainmail." 
  • Page 5 of Monsters & Treasure "Combat is Detailed in Vol. III"
  • Page 25 of Vol. III (The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures) "Land Combat: The basic system is that from Chainmail, with one figure representing one man or creature..."
These are just some of the examples from the book, and they leave out the brief and not very revealing mentions of the "Alternative Combat System," so it's pretty clear that whether or not the creators of the game had moved on from Chainmail and were playing using the Alternative system that the rules assume play with Chainmail is possible. No place is this more clear than in the lack of rules for initiative. The first mention of initiative processes is under "Aerial Combat" in Book III where they recommend simultaneous movement. There is no such recommendation for Land Combat, so we are left without a written initiative system in the OD&D books and must look to Chainmail for our solution. Thankfully such a solution is available.

What does initiative in Chainmail look like? There is a "Move/Countermove" system and a Simultaneous system. Since Book III only specifically recommends the simultaneous system for "Aerial Combat" and "Naval Combat," but not for "Land Combat," I'm going to assume that the standard method for initiative follows the "Move/Countermove" system in Chainmail.  Here is a brief breakdown of that system.

Ignoring split-moves (which are for missile fire by certain troop types), pass-through fire, artillery fire, and missile fire, the system follows a simple format.

  1. Each player rolls 1d6. The player with the higher roll moves first and the lower roll moves second. There are no modifiers for high Dexterity or anything like that.
  2. After all movement the players resolve any melee combats. 
In the initial discussion of the turn sequence, there is no way to determine who goes first in melee. In fact, basic melee resolution is simultaneous in nature, "After both players have rolled the number of dice allotted to them for their meleeing troops by the Combat Tables, casualties are removed, and morale for both opponents is checked (Chainmail, 15)." In the basic initiative system, all combat is simultaneous. That system, however, is designed for mass combat where figures represent actual people at a ratio of 1:20, later in the book we are given a more detailed account of determining who goes first in man-to-man fights.

From this we know that characters enter Melee combat when they are within 3" on the table (30 feet in OD&D per Book III page 8). We also know that the combat is no longer simultaneous, if you kill your opponent there is no return blow. This makes going first important. So, who goes first?

  1. "The attacker" is the first option. One imagines that the attacker is the player who moved the figure into within 3" and initiated combat.
  2. UNLESS the defender has a weapon that is two classes higher, or the defender is fighting from above..."You cannot win Anakin! I have the High Ground!"
Figuring out who has the high ground is easy, but what are these weapon "classes"? Those are listed on a chart on page 41, but I've made a new version for reference below.

Weapon classes are listed next to the weapon with higher numbers referring to longer weapons. This is where the weapon class mention above comes into play and if a defender has a weapon two classes higher than the attacker then the defender attacks first. For example, if a warrior with a sword charges a man with a pike it is the pikeman who strikes first (12 is significantly higher than 4).

It is important to note that who acts first might change in the second and later rounds of combat. As stated above, the first attack in the second round is:
  1. Struck by the person who attacked first last round, UNLESS...
  2. The opponent has a weapon two classes lower, or
  3. The opponent is fighting from above.
If we assume the same "sword vs. pike" scenario above, the character who strikes the first blow in the second round will shift from the pikeman to the swordsman. This would reflect the swordsman getting past the pike and closing the distance during the prior minute of combat. Combat in OD&D is minute long combat rounds. As stated in Book III (page 8) "Movement is in segments of approximately ten minutes...Melee is fast and furious. There are ten rounds of combat per turn." The minute long combat round helps to explain why Dexterity doesn't play a role in the initiative system. This provides a realistic, if complex, initiative system for how combatants engage with one another in melee.

Now that we have a basic understanding of the melee order, we can ask what "split-moves and missile fire" and "pass-through fire" are, since these can happen before melee. "Split-move and missile fire" is a relatively unique ability possessed by special light horse troops in Chainmail. On page 12 of the Chainmail rulebook, it describes "Split-move and Fire" as follows, "Horsemen armed with bows are permitted to perform this type of movement. To accomplish a split move and fire, the horse archers move up to one-half of their normal movement, immediately conduct missile fire procedure and continue to move out the balance of their normal movement, not to exceed one-half of their normal movement. The horse archers may be fired upon by opponent missile troops during their firing pause."

While one might be tempted to limit "Split-move and Fire" actions to specially trained troops in D&D, that doesn't seem to be the intention here. While it is true that this kind of action is inspired by Mongol horsemen, it is the fact that the move action is done by the horse rather than archer that allows for the ability to fire during movement. This seems to imply that any mounted combatant in OD&D should be allowed this ability if they have proficiency in bows. Chainmail's Man to Man Fantasy Supplment section states that Elves may split-move and fire on foot.

You'll note that the quote above mentions that "horse archers may be fired upon" during their movement, even though this happens outside the "missile" phase of combat. That is because of the possibility of "Pass-through Fire" which allows "stationary missile give pass-through fire to any enemy units which are within their missile range at the half-move portion of the turn. This would include any enemy troops split-moving, passing by, or charging missile troops." This means that the "missile fire" component of the combat round actually happens during two possible segments of the combat round. It can either happen during the movement phase "at the half-move portion of the turn" or during the missile combat phase.

While this process seems simple at first it is confounded by the rate of fire rules for missile weapons, which state, "Crossbowmen, Archers, and Longbowmen may fire every turn. If Archers and Longbowmen do not move and are not meleed at the end of the turn, they may fire twice." The ability for stationary units to fire twice adds some complexity to the rules as this can mean that a missile unit fires once during "Pass-Through and Fire" and once during the "Missile Fire" phases of combat, or just twice in the "Missile Fire" phase.

This all makes for an extremely complex initiative system that has dynamic realism, but is anything other than simple. Let's illustrate this with a simple combat between four combatants: (A) A Human Swordsman, (A) A Human Archer, (B) A Goblin Spearman, and (B) A Goblin Archer. These combatants meet in a clearing.

Terrain by Dice Grimorium and Tokens by 2 Minute Tabletop.

For the sake of argument, we'll say that group A wins the initial roll and gets to move first and that the squares represent 10 feet instead which was standard for earlier editions of D&D. To make things simple, we will assume that all figures can move 12" during combat. This example will only cover initiative and not resolution.

Having the first movement, the swordsman rushes to close the distance and charges ahead toward the Goblin Spearman. As he is in range of the Goblin Archer, he triggers pass-through fire as he makes his way towards the Goblin Spearman. Assuming the Goblin Archer failed to kill the Human Swordsman, that character can enter melee combat as soon as it is within 3" of the Goblin Spearman.

Terrain by Dice Grimorium and Tokens by 2 Minute Tabletop.

Since the Human Swordsman can move 12", and since we ruled it survived "Pass-Through" fire, the figure can continue until it is in base to base contact with the Goblin Spearman and engage in a "Charge" move. This would allow, and would in fact require, the Human Swordsman to continue moving if he defeated the Goblin Spearman in combat.

Now that Player A has moved all the combatants desired, in this case only the Human Swordsman, Player B has the opportunity to move. Seeing there is an Archer, the player elects not to move and suffer "Pass-Through" fire.

All movement being completed, it's time for the Melee round to begin. It's important to note that the Goblin Archer is not necessarily engaged in combat as page 15 of Chainmail states "Missile Troops interspaced with other footmen forming a defensive line may "refuse" combat and move back 3" out of combat range. However, if the other footmen who are meleed are killed or driven away, the missile troops must fight if the attacker is able to continue his charge move." In this case the Human Swordsman charged and would benefit from this if it killed the Goblin Spearman. Since this is 1:1 combat, we will move the Archer back 1" rather than move it off the map.

Terrain by Dice Grimorium and Tokens by 2 Minute Tabletop.

Now that the two Melee units are in contact and the Movement phase is complete, we must resolve missile combat. The Human Archer (A) has not moved and may thus fire twice at opponents. The Human Archer can choose to fire both shots at the Goblin Archer, split them between the Goblins, or fire both at the Goblin Spearman. They are able to do this because as an "Archer or Longbowman (they) may fire over the heads of intervening troops, friendly or enemy, providing they are more than 3" distant. Indirect fire reduces the range of the weapon firing by one-third. Indirect fire automatically classifies the target in the next higher armor category..." The Goblin Archer, having moved 3" to avoid melee, can only fire once. These shots will be resolved simultaneously as they fire at one another.

Having finished the missile phase, we resolve the melee. In our example we have a Swordsman attacking a Spearman. If both had been wielding swords (weapon class 4), the Human Swordsman would have gone first, but the Goblin is a Spearman (weapon class 8) which is more than 2 classes higher than the Human's and thus the Goblin attacks first. If the Human lives, then it may strike again. These two figures are locked in melee combat until one is killed or routed by the other. There is a strict Zone of Control here.

If all combatants survive, a new roll is made and combat starts at the beginning with movement, then missile fire, then melee. During this second round of Melee, the Human Swordsman will attack first because it has a weapon 2 classes or more LOWER than the opponent and has managed to get through the weapon's reach.

As you can see, this is a very complex system. It is likely more complex than it was actually played, but having worked my way through it I see it as a very workable system that would have benefited from clearer writing. It's also a system I just might try to use in a few session in the future.

The next post will discuss how to hit and damage opponents using the Chainmail based system for combat and not the Alternative System.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A is for Armor -- Simulating Armor in Role Playing Games

In the almost 40 years that role playing games have been around, a number of traditional mechanics have evolved in order to simulate how armor protects individuals in combat situations. For decades people have debated the merits of the various systems and which more realistically emulates the underlying "physics" that ought be emulated by a rules set -- the important word being "ought." The mechanical preferences of players and systems is in part due to the fact that different games not only represent different time periods, they also represent different genre that often have very different levels of lethality when it comes to the combats being simulated.

Though there are countless ways that armor can be emulated, I have found that there are four basic mechanical structures that have been used to simulate the effectiveness of armor in combat.

1) Armor Class systems. The first role playing game to utilize an Armor Class system was the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game -- the first role playing game. In a "pure" Armor Class system, the armor the character is using affects how difficult the individual character is to hit in combat. In these systems, characters in better armor are harder to hit than characters in "worse" armor. Also factored into a character's Armor Class is how agile a character is, and thus how adept they are at physically avoiding damage. The system used in Dungeons & Dragons has its roots in the combat resolution matrices used in classic wargames like Gettysburg -- the so called traditional CRT. These tables compare an offensive skill value to an opponents defensive value and provide a numerical value representing the probability of scoring damage on an opponent. Just as a tank in Panzerblitz might have a defensive value of 6, a warrior in an Armor Class system might have an Armor Class of 6.

The average damage that any character receives during any given combat round can defined by the following linear equation:

Damage = (Probability of an attack hitting)*[average weapon damage + damage bonus] + 0

2) Damage Reduction systems. For many, the abstract nature of an Armor Class system seems less than intuitive and is less than satisfactory. To some, it doesn't seem intuitive that armor "makes you harder to hit," instead in can be viewed as reducing the amount of damage that a particular attack does when it hits. The first role playing game to use a Damage Reduction system was Tunnels & Trolls -- the second role playing game published. Damage Reduction systems vary in their complexity and end results. In some systems like The Fantasy Trip or Dragonquest, armor not only reduces the amount of damage your character takes from a blow, but it might actually decrease your own combat effectiveness as the system emulates how much a bulky suit of armor might affect your own combat capabilities. In these systems, there can be certain suits of armor that render certain weapons entirely ineffective as the maximum damage they can cause is less than the Damage Reduction value of certain suits of armor. This was not the case with Tunnels & Trolls, but has been for others.

The damage that any character receives during any given combat round can defined by the following linear equation:

Damage = (Probability of an attack hitting)*[average weapon damage + damage bonus] - Damage Reduction

3) Armor Penetration systems -- A modification of Damage Reductions systems are those systems where armors have an Armor Value that must be exceeded by a roll of a weapon's Penetration die. The innovative RPG Dragon Warriors uses this system for its damage determination. In this system while the value of the protective value of the armor, and the damage rating for any weapon, is static, the chance that the armor prevents damage is a variable number. In this case, the armor doesn't prevent the character from being "hit," nor does it reduce the amount of damage done. Instead, the armor acts as a barrier that either blocks all the damage of a "hit" or none. Like the earlier Damage Reduction system, there are circumstances where a given armor might be impossible to penetrate with certain weapons.

The damage that any character receives during any given combat round can defined by the following linear equation:

Damage = ((Probability of an attack hitting)*[Probability of weapon bypassing armor's Armor Value])*[Weapon Damage].

For example, Sir Hereward has a 50% chance of hitting Ambassador Vyle with his longsword. Sir Hereward is attacking with a longsword (d8 penetration and 4 damage), and Vyle is wearing chainmail (AV = 4). Assuming that Sir Hereward has no bonus to his penetration roll from Strength or magic, his longsword would penetrate Vyle's chainmail on a roll of 5,6,7, or 8 on an eight sided die (50% of the time)his average damage to Vyle would be:

Damage = ([.5]*[.5])*[4] or an average of 1 point of damage per attempted attack. Any successful attack would automatically do 4 points of damage.

4) Combination Systems -- the majority of the remaining systems appear to be combinations of the above mechanics. The Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game uses a variation of the Armor Class system with the addition of the damage armor blocks being absorbed by the armor which can be destroyed if it takes enough damage. The GURPS game uses a Damage Reduction system that also includes a "Passive Defense" system that allows for armor to make an opponent miss outright. The Hero series of games -- because of its effects based nature -- actually uses both systems. One could represent Armor in Hero as either reducing the chance to hit, or reducing the amount of damage done -- though the system always includes some element of a Damage Reduction system. This is also true of Green Ronin's excellent Mutants & Masterminds game system (and their True 20 system as well), which uses both an Armor Class system and a Damage Reduction system and can have armor simulated either way. Games like Mayfair's sadly out of print DC Heroes role playing game have armor work in a modified Penetration system.

From the above discussion, you can see that regardless of the expressed preferences of those who use Armor Class Systems, Damage Reduction Systems, or Armor Penetration Systems, the average damage per attempted attack can be expressed in a similar linear equation for each. That equation being:

Damage = [chance of doing any damage]*[average damage] - Damage Reduction. Even D&D uses this equation, it's just that the Damage Reduction is always equal to zero. The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game did attempt to add some granularity to this linear equation through the use of a weapon vs. armor modification chart which added or subtracted from the probability to hit based on which weapon was being used against which specific armor. This system wasn't widely used for a number of reasons, not the least of which were that it was unduly complex and that it didn't include sufficient modifications for weapon use against monsters.

As an aside, one could argue that DC Heroes is one of the few games that breaks completely free of the simple linear damage equation I gave above. It still can be represented in a linear equation, but the variables are modified based on a hit and damage resolution tables that aren't purely linear in its expressions.

Which is your preferred Armor simulation system?

Are there any simulation methods I left out that you admire?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

[Heroes of Karameikos] Part 2 -- The Order of the Griffon

As you know, I am working on a set of house rules that adapt the old Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert D&D rules and make them play more like a 4th edition campaign. I am calling these rules "Heroes of Karameikos" after a country in the Known World setting that was originally presented in the Moldvay/Cook sets. I have always enjoyed the Known World setting and my house rules will attempt to capture some of the flavor of the setting, but they will continually direct readers to the original rule books for additional rules.

Take my most recent addition, the Order of the Griffon, as an example. At the beginning of my Character Classes section, I make it clear that Player Characters are different from normal people. They have the potential to become heroes of legend. As such, most people are merely "Normal Men," and even special non-player characters are represented by the character classes presented in the Moldvay/Cook rules. My house rules tell you to use those rules for non-player characters, but they provide sub-classes specially designed for player characters. These sub-classes have abilities granted to them at every level in a way I believe reflects the 4th edition feel. I wanted the abilities to be significant enough to matter, but not so powerful as to make using them the equivalent of playing D&D on "easy."

For members of the Order of the Griffon, the military order of the Church of Karameikos (you can read more about them in the excellent Grand Duchy of Karameikos Gazetteer), they gain the following special abilities.

Order of the Griffon (Cleric)
  • 1st Level – Cure Minor Wounds. A member of the Order of the Griffon may call upon the power of the immortals to heal up to 3 points of damage dealt to himself/herself or allies each encounter. These points of healing may be divided as the Cleric wishes.
  • 2nd Level – Military Training. The member of the Order of the Griffon is now trained in the use of Normal Swords and can use them in combat.
  • 3rd Level – Strike Against the Stained Soul. Once per Encounter, the Cleric may add +3 points of damage to a successful attack against an enemy of Chaotic alignment.

As always, you can find a working copy of my house rules here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

D&D Morale Through the Ages

The discussion below is only for those who are really into role playing games. It deals in minutiae and might irritate non-gamers to no end. If you are not a gamer, please don't become annoyed as you will only have yourself to blame for reading deeply into the post.

I was reading through the Troy Denning Black Box the other day. The box has a nice "toy value" quality about it and is my personal favorite "introductory box" edition of D&D. I love the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Sets as rules sets to play, but I think that Denning's "Dragon Cards" system is one of the best pedagogical approaches to teaching role playing games I have ever seen.

To make a long story short, I noticed an interesting rule in the Morale section of the rulebook. According to the Denning box, "A monster or NPC who rolls 12 for his morale check has become a fanatic. A fanatic need not check morale again during this particular encounter." This quote got me wondering as to what the specific morale rules were in earlier editions of "traditional" Dungeons and Dragons, since this rule seemed to go against my understanding of how morale worked in the Basic/Expert rules set.

The Denning boxed set was published in 1991, and republished with some changes to presentation in a tan box in 1994 as The Classic Dungeons & Dragons, which makes it the last edition of the Basic/Expert rules for the Dungeons & Dragons game. The Denning box was meant to serve as the introductory product that led people to purchase the Dungeons and Dragons: Rules Cyclopedia which had the "complete" rules for the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game. It should be noted that these rules were produced during a time when TSR had two D&D product lines that cannibalized some sales from one another, Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

For those of you who don't know what morale is, it is a system by which the "spiritedness" of a given monster or opponent is represented. It simulates the courage of units and how they react when they are under fire, fighting a superior force, have sustained significant casualties etc. In essence, it answers the question "do the survivors flee or keep on fighting?" A historical example of a fighting force with extremely high morale would be the 300 who fought at Thermopylae. They fought to the last with no thought of surrender. Moral rules are a legacy of role playing games war game roots. Morale is extremely important in simulation war games, and is important in some role playing games.

The above quote regarding morale checks in the Denning edition is a typical description of the mechanical resolution of checking morale in the Basic/Expert series of products, but it also -- as I will discuss later -- seems to counter mechanical to that system and I believe is based on a misreading of the rules set. It was this sense that the Denning Morale rule ran contrary to the underlying mechanics of Basic/Expert morale that made me wonder what the rules had been historically and how they changed. Maybe Denning's solution was an upgrade and not a mistake. In order to find out, let's explore the morale rules of the various editions.


Before there was Dungeons & Dragons there was Chainmail. The "fantasy supplement" introduced in the 3rd edition of Chainmail is one of the direct descendants of the D&D game. The morale rules are fairly arcane and lack internal consistency. Chainmail morale can be divided into three categories -- Melee Morale, Casualty Morale, and Cavalry Charge Response Morale. Units in Chainmail respond using the morale rules appropriate to the situation. Chainmail defines morale in the following manner:

In addition, the mental and physical condition of the men (their morale) is taken into consideration in this game.

Morale is checked before and after combat, basing the determination on historical precedent, just as the fighting ability in actual cases was drawn upon to calculate melee results. The loss of "heart" is at least as serious as a defeat in combat, and perhaps more so, for most battles are won without the necessity of decimation of the losing side.

In the definition we see not only a description of morale and its effects, but a justification as well. It is a justification that fits well with early editions of D&D where many of the enemies players defeat flee rather than fight to the death. The game would have been much more deadly for the player's characters if the villains always fought to the death.

Melee Morale

Chainmail evaluates morale at the end of each round of combat. This is done through a relatively arcane system, which I have paraphrased below to make the rules clearer.

1. Compare the number of casualties on each side and subtract losses of the side that lost fewer troops from the side with greater casualties. Multiply this score by the roll of a six sided die and credit these points to the side with lower casualties.

For example: Steven's 10 Heavy Cavalry attacks Charlie's 20 Heavy Foot soldiers. Two of Steven's figures are killed in the melee, but 8 of Charlie's troops are defeated. We subtract the two troops Steven lost from eight Charlie lost and get a difference of 6. We roll a six-sided die and get a 3. We multiply this die roll by 6 (the loss differential) and get 18. Steven's base post melee morale is 18.

2. We now look at how many troops each unit contains. We subtract the number of troops in the smaller unit from the number of troops in the larger unit and credit those points to the player who controls the larger unit as a bonus to his or her base morale.

For example: Charlie's unit of 12 surviving Heavy Foot soldiers contains more units than Steven's unit of 8 Heavy Cavalry. We add this difference to Charlie's post melee morale score giving Charlie a base post melee morale of 4.

3. The player now examines their surviving figures and adds up their total "morale ratings." Different troop types have different morale ratings and this number is multiplied by the number of figures of that unit type and added to that player's post melee morale rating.

For example: Steven has 8 Heavy Cavalry surviving at the end of the battle. Heavy cavalry have a morale rating of 9. Since Steven has 8 figures with a rating of 9 (9 x 8 = 72), he gains an additional 72 post morale points for a total of 90. Charlie has 12 remaining Heavy Foot soldiers who have a morale rating of 5 (12 x 5 = 60), he gains an additional 60 morale points for a total of 64.

4. We now subtract the lower post morale rating from the higher value and compare the results to the morale result chart. If there are fewer than 20 figures per side of combat, then we double the result before comparing the results.

For example: We subtract Charlie's 64 post melee morale points from Steven's 90 points and get a result of 26. Since there are now fewer than 20 individual figures per side, we multiply this result by two and get a total morale differential of 52. After looking at the chart (which I am not including as this is wordy enough), we find that Charlie's troops back up 1 full move in good order and are not fully routed.

As you can see, this system is fairly arcane and fairly involved, but it is workable for a miniatures war game. It isn't particularly effective at the "man to man" combats that typically occur in a role playing game and only takes into account group morale after a round of engagement.

Casualty Morale

In addition to using a morale system that represents the effects of changes in the comparative strengths of units, Chainmail has a morale rule that is to be used when a unit becomes unstable due to an excess of casualties. Not only can a unit become routed due to comparative losses in an immediate engagement, it can become routed due to long term (or short term) attrition as well. This kind of morale is reflected in what I call Chainmail's "casualty morale" system. It is this system which provides the framework that will inspire the morale systems of the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game.

Instability Due to Excess Casualties: When casualties from any and all causes exceed a certain percentage of a unit's original total strength, morale for that unit must be checked by rolling two dice. If the loss is brought below the set percentage by missile fire, the unit must check before the melee portion of the turn. If the loss is brought about by melee, the unit must check morale after melees have been completed for that turn. If the unit remains stable, it need not again check morale until such time as it suffers losses to the stated percentage of its original strength, but at that time it must be removed from the table for the remainder of the game.

Under this system, each unit type has a different casualty rate and required morale roll. Less "professional" units have to check morale at smaller levels of loss and need to roll higher to remain stable. A peasant levy might need to check morale after losing 25% of its membership, and would thus be completely eliminated if it ever lost a total of 50% of its starting membership. This peasant levy would have to roll an 8 or better on two six sided dice. In comparison, mounted knights might only check morale if they lose 50% of their membership and would thus require a total loss to eliminate them if they made their initial morale test. The knights might only require a roll of 4 or better to succeed on their morale check. Failure at the roll means that the troops are totally defeated. Unlike the arcane comparative system used during melee, this system is quick and easy to use.

As I mentioned earlier, it is this system that eventually inspired the morale system of the D&D role playing game. The use of percentage of troop strength lost (which could be group members or total hit points) is easier to translate to an rpg, and the use of a simple roll of two dice for resolution ensures a quick resolution.

Cavalry Charge Response Morale

The final representation of morale effects in Chainmail is their "cavalry charge response" system. Mounted troops have historically had a significant advantage over their more earthbound foes due to the fact that a cohort of well armed men on horseback is an extremely intimidating thing to face. There were rare armies, like the Romans or Swiss pikemen, who had the discipline and courage to stand firm when confronted with a mounted charge, but these were the exception rather than the rule. To represent the fear most troops experience when confronted with a charge, Chainmail uses the following system:

Cavalry Charge: In order to withstand a charge by mounted men, the defending unit must check morale. Fear of the charge was usually more dangerous than the impact of the cavalry. Units that fail to score the required total retreat 1 1/2 moves, backs to the enemy, and must rally. If both units are charging, both must check morale, adding 1 to the dice score if Foot, and two to the dice score if Horse.

This awkwardly phrased paragraph is followed by a chart that compares defending unit type to attacking unit type and gives a number that must be rolled in order for the defending unit to stand firm. For example, a force of Heavy Foot soliders must roll a 9 or better (on 2d6) or flee the charging cavalry. This system is very similar mechanically to the casualty morale system with some modification allowing for the differing ability of some troops to withstand charges from different kinds of cavalry. Like the casualty morale system, some legacy of the cavalry charge system can be seen in later editions of D&D.

Dungeons & Dragons (First Edition)

The first edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game uses the morale systems as they are presented in Chainmail and provides no specific guidelines for a morale system. All references to morale in the original 3 D&D books refer to modifiers that are applied to morale checks with one exception in the section discussing the "Loyalty of Non-Player Characters (Including Monsters)." This additional rule is a demonstration of how the morale rules were developing away from war game considerations and into narrative role playing situations. This was done by essentially combining the casualty morale rules with the cavalry charge morale rules. The additional rule reads as follows:

Non-player characters and men-at-arms will have to make morale checks (using the above reaction table or "Chainmail") whenever a highly dangerous or un-nerving situation arises. Poor morale will mean that those in question will not perform as expected.

Periodic re-checks of loyalty should be made. Length of service, rewards, etc. will bring additional pluses. Poor treatment will bring minuses.

The emphasis on "highly dangerous situations" rather than a quantified representation of damage or unit loss signifies a major shift away from mechanics and demonstrates one of the ways that D&D began to emphasize how the player's characters interacted with non-player characters could affect behavior in the long run. This is one of the early rules hinting at how to incorporate the "acting" portion of role playing games into a game by mechanically rewarding the behavior when it is done in a particular manner. Though the rule mentions the possible use of a reaction chart for morale reactions, when one looks at that chart it becomes clear that the Chainmail morale system gives more individualized results that represent the specific kind of non-player character being modeled by the rules. The reaction chart is useful as a quick and dirty solution, but it gives uniform results regardless of troop type. It should be noted that no monster is given a morale rating in this edition of D&D, though Chainmail does provide morale scores for fantastic creatures that can be used in the melee morale resolution system. How much braver a dragon is than a goblin is only reflected in the fact that goblins subtract 1 from all morale checks in sunlight.

Dungeons & Dragons (Basic -- Holmes Edition)

The word morale is only used three times in the Holmes Basic Set. The Bless spell is listed as adding 1 to morale checks, Hobgoblins are listed as adding 1 to morale checks, and the rules mention that the morale of retainers might be affected if players continually force hirelings to test potentially dangerous magic items. It appears that the Holmes set assumes that players who are interested in adding details like morale can find them in the other rules available at the time, which included both the original three D&D rulebooks as well as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. That said, it is possible that monsters will surrender in the Holmes set if the dungeon master decides that is the case, or if the monster has a positive reaction to the player's characters when it first encounters them.

Dungeons & Dragons (Basic -- Moldvay)

It could be argued that the Tom Moldvay edited D&D Basic Set -- published in 1981 -- is the first version of D&D that can be "played out of the box." Previous editions of D&D almost required aspiring players to find a group of existing players who could explain the mechanics of the game so that the new player could play the game at all. Dr. Holmes attempted to create a version of the game that could be played by neophytes with the earlier Basic Set, but there are those who believe that he failed at the task. I think that the failure to have any morale rules, while including references to morale effects, is indicative of Holmes' failure to deliver on his intentions. He certainly laid the foundations for how a Basic Set could be written, and articulated clearly the task of a Basic Set, but it is arguable whether he succeeded or not.

Holmes described the purpose of a Basic Set in Dragon Magazine #53 as follows, "the D&D Basic Rulebook is written for people who have never seen a game. It is intended to teach the game to someone who's coming to it for the first time. All other considerations should be secondary to teaching how to play the game with a minimum of confusion." Holmes believed, and I agree, that "the first Dungeons & Dragons rule sets...were intended to guide people who were already playing the game. As a guide to learning the game, they were incomprehensible." As I have demonstrated above, the morale rules are clearly an area where this was true. Early morale rules were difficult to understand and inconsistent in mechanics, and Holmes' Basic did not dispel any obfuscation in the original rules.

Moldvay's Basic Set, the set that I learned to play D&D from, was different. It was not only clear in its presentation of the game's mechanics, it was also fun to read and contained some writing that sparked the imagination. The prose wasn't high art, but it was fuel for starving fantasy fans. It was also the first edition of D&D to have a quickly resolved, and easy to understand, morale system.

Knowing that morale rules added complexity to the game, the morale rules in the Moldvay Basic Set are optional. That said, they are easy to understand and clearly articulated:

MORALE (Optional)

Any creature in battle may try to run away or surrender. Characters are never forced to do this; a character always reacts in the way the player wishes. NPCs and monsters, however, may decide to run away or surrender. To handle this situation, each monster is given a morale score...

MORALE SCORES: ...This number is from 2-12. The higher the morale score, the better the morale. A score of 6-8 is average. A score of 2 means that the monster will not fight. A score of 12 means that the monster will fight to the death without checking morale. Creatures with a score between 2 and 12 will need to "check morale" at some time during battle, as explained below.

HOW TO CHECK MORALE: ...To check morale, roll 2d6. If the result is greater than the monsters' morale score, the monster will try to retreat...If the result is less than or equal to the morale score, the monster will continue to fight.

There are a couple of interesting points here. I believe that the Moldvay book is the first time that player's characters don't have to check for morale. Older editions of D&D are more rooted in miniatures war gaming, and morale checks would equally apply to PCs as to monsters. At least, this is the first reference I have seen to pure player empowerment with regard to moral. This is an important innovation in role playing as it gives full decision making to players. If they want to play cowards, they can. If they want to play foolhardy combatants, they can.

You can see how the Moldvay rule runs contrary to the Denning morale rule. Denning's presentation of the morale system is almost identical, save for the "if you roll a 12 on the morale check the monster becomes fanatic and won't surrender rule." Under Moldvay's system, the roll won't ever make a monster fanatic, only an initial score will. More on this difference later.

Dungeons & Dragons (Basic -- Mentzer)

In 1983, TSR published a third edition of the Basic Set. This time the rules were edited by Frank Mentzer. Mentzer brought some innovations to the presentation of the rules, including dividing the rules into a player's booklet and a dungeon master's booklet. This edition keeps the morale rules as optional and expands on Moldvay's description of how and why the rules work. Though the language is expanded, the rules are the same as those in the Moldvay edition.

Dungeons & Dragons (Basic -- Denning)

As you may remember from the beginning of this post, at least those of you still reading this will, the Denning Basic Set -- published in 1991 -- contains a change from the earlier morale rules. In Denning, "A monster or NPC who rolls 12 for his morale check has become a fanatic. A fanatic need not check morale again during this particular encounter." This is in contrast to the Moldvay and Mentzer rules where only a score of 12 indicates a fanatical opponent, and where the roll only determines incidental success or failure.

What is interesting about this rule, and why I believe it to be rooted in a misreading of the earlier rules by Denning, is that it effectively removes any difference between an 11 morale and a 12 morale. Under the Denning system, these scores are statistically identical. This is because a roll of 11 or less gives a successful morale check for the monster and a roll of 12 makes the monster fanatical. At first, I wondered if the rule was an intentional change as it gives any monster (including one with a morale of 2) the chance to become a fanatical opponent. This could lead to some interesting, and amusing, encounters, but when I checked the D&D Rules Cyclopedia -- the rules set that the Denning rules are supposed to be an introduction to -- it turned out that the Cyclopedia did not have the "roll a 12 and monster becomes fanatic" rule. This is something that only exists in the Denning version.

Having written all of this, I am pondering whether to use the Denning "mis-reading" of the rule precisely because of its fun possibilities and the randomness it adds to the game. The rule will only come into play 3% of the time for monsters with other than an 11 morale as one only rolls a 12 once in every 36 rolls on average, and it might create situations that surprise my players.

What are your thoughts on whether to use the Denning rule or not?