Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Characters of Heroic Proportions

If you've been reading this blog lately you know that I have whole-heartedly re-embraced my OD&D roots. I was poring over the Chainmail combat system, thinking about using it for a game, when I discovered something rather significant. This discovery lead me along a thought process I'd like to share.

I was referring back and forth between the LBBs and Chainmail, when I saw this:

"(Magic) Armor subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer."
pg 31 Monsters and Treasure

Now, remember: the d20 combat system was given as an alternative in the LBBs. The default was assumed to be Chainmail, so much of the terminology and processes were taken from that game. In Chainmail, hit dice equated to combat capability, ie the number of attack rolls a combatant made in a given round. So, we see that in Chainmail terms, magic armor actually afforded an opponent fewer opportunities to damage its wearer. A very interesting concept.

As I pondered this, I started thinking about a Warrior (2nd level fighter, 2 HD, 2 attacks) engaged with a Swordsman (3rd level fighter, 3 HD, 3 attacks), carrying a +1 shield. If that rule is applied as written, the Warrior would suffer a -1 hit die penalty from the shield, leaving him with one attack. What if he were a common man, rather than a Warrior? Would the penalty negate his attack all together?

Obviously, the Fantasy Supplement for Chainmail was a rather fast-and-loose adjunct to what were essentially a set of wargame rules. As such, they can't be imported into D&D wholesale. It is clear from reading them, however, that the fantastic was supposed to be Fantastic, and that combating its perils was beyond the province of the common man. It was a job for other fantastic creatures (ie elves) or for men who had achieved a fantastic status: Heroes.

That spirit, that implied threshold between the mundane and the fantastic, and that  only men of heroic character have the mettle to cross it, is something I feel has gone missing from our games. The characters don't have to be heroes in the literary sense of the word, but they should be viewed by the campaign as those who are willing to grapple with the very myths, fairytales, and boogey men of the world, on their turf, in a quest for wealth, fame, and eternal glory.

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