Friday, April 13, 2012

Defense Scores and Alternate Combat Ideas in T&T

Age of Conan Art Found Here

For all the years that I've played T&T, the combat system is the one feature that is both elegant in its ease of use yet infuriating in its effect. In T&T combat at its most basic is very abstracted: each side has a dice pool plus "adds" that are rolled and totalled together and compared to their opponent's total. This can be done individually or as a group. The higher total wins, and the opposition takes damage equal to the difference. Recent editions of T&T added a spite damage rule; natural "6s" rolled always deal 1 point of damage to the opposition, regardless of success or who's got armor. Creatures can also activate certain special powers with enough spite dice in a roll.

The problem I've experienced with the core T&T combat system is that you really only have two normal states the vast majority of the time: one side is about to crush the other, or both sides are about to stalemate and begin a lengthy process of rolling with marginal successes that do little or nothing to either side. In fact, the spite damage rule was one solution to help resolve stalemates and insure that damage on both sides (that actually got through) was reflected. Another rules was to rely on saving throws to perform stunts in combat, potentially deadly maneuvers that let you bypass the attacker's HPT (hit point total, what they roll on dice plus adds) entirely and deliver your own HPT in total. The downside was typically that failing your stunt reversed rolls: taking the ful HPT from the enemy (almost always a fatal result in T&T for squishy PCs).

In 1986 I worked out a combat mechanic that was fairly elaborate by T&T standards, relied on saves as a primary resolution mechanic, and incorporated parries and other features. It was more complex, closer in spirit to Runequest 2 (which I was also into at the time) and not really that suited in retrospect to the core theme of T&T, which is best summed up with the acronym for KISS (keep it simple, stupid).

So as I've been working with T&T again, lately, thinking of ways to have speedy yet more dynamic combat while still making it fun (and avoiding too many instant death scenarios), it occured to me that there might be a way to modify the core T&T combat mechanic in a manner which preserves the process of rolling HPT while also making for more exotic and interesting battles. Basically, T&T needs a Defense Score mechanic.

The Defense Score replaces one's HPT when it comes time to trade blows and see who wins. It works with the current system, substituting only when it comes time to compare attack rolls, and you keep spite damage in this system. You can even keep stunts and maneuvers (and you should!) as still another option for PCs to take advantage of.

The Defense Score is equal to a character's adds plus 1 point per die rolled in battle. This reflect the fact that the character is dodging, parrying and positioning with his or her weapon. The Defense Score also has the Armored Defense, which is the same score above plus armor hits added in (double that for warriors, of course). The normal Defense Score is used when a character's armor is somehow bypassed; the Armored Defense Score is more normal, and is simply a quick way of calculating the total defense that will stop most attacks (since armor hits would do this anyway).

When you engage in combat, this system's chief caveat is that combat must be one-on-one, so it discards group rolls. Everyone rolls separately, although multiple characters can oppose the same defender.

Initiative: In this system, initiative matters, and the GM can decide to let players go in order of SPD scores, or let them roll 2D6+SPD for variable initiative (DARO applies here). You can keep initiative from round to round, or let them re-roll at the start of each turn. I reccommend re-rolling at the start of each turn, as the person who goes first gets an advantage in deciding if they want to add some of their HPT to additional defense. As always, ranged attacks and spells get called first, followed by melee.

Attack: When you roll your attack, you compare it to the defenders Armored Defense (or unarmored if you have an attack that will bypass armor). You can always try for an aimed shot that bypasses armor (see below). If your HPT is higher than your foe's Defense, then all damage dealt (plus any spite damage) is now calculated. Since Total Defense normally includes armor that means you can assume all damage dealt goes straight to your foe's CON score.

Monsters with MRs calculate Defense the same way as adventurers. So an MR 44 orc with 5 dice plus 22 adds has a Total Defense of 27. Note that defense will go down slightly as the monster's dice (but not adds, in 7.5 edition) drop, so if he's reduced to MR 21 his total is now 3 dice plus 22 adds, and his defense is now 25.

Flanking: If you can get a foe in a poor position for defense, such as by flanking him so two or more attackers have him surrounded, then the defender is now at a disadvantage. In such a situation the defender can only rely on his normal (armored) Defense Score and any bonus from HPT must be divided between attackers. Any points from his HPT placed in defense must be applied to one or more of the defenders, distributed until used up. So for example, Mog the troll with MR 80 has 9 dice plus 40 adds and a Defense of 49. He rolls 73 for his HPT on his round, and decides to take 20 of that for defense, leaving his attack at 53; he hits and decimates one foe, but two hobbs slide in and flank him! His 20 point bonus to defense can be applied to one of them, split in half for both, or any combination that totals 20 for purposes of deflecting multiple attacks. He decides to go with a Defense of 64 for the hobb in front and a Defense of 54 for the one in back. This rule reflects the problem of divided attention. Some creatures like hydras and shoggoths may be totally immune to flanking effects, thanks to multiple eyes and limbs to react to flanking foes.

Active Defense: When you roll your HPT, you can choose to allot up to all of it to your defense (which would mean you get no attack), adding it to your total Defense Score. This reflects greater effort to protect yourself in a fight. Creatures can do the same. If you haven't gone for the turn yet, you can't do this; your foe has gotten the drop on you.

Fighting Two or More Opponents: a fighter working against multiple opponents may break his HPT up as he sees fit against multiple foes (Bjorn has 6 dice plus 34 adds, rolls 21, getting a HPT of 55; he's facing off two goblins, so he divides his attack total as 27 and 28 against the two repsectively, for example).

Bypassing Armor: an attacker can try to bypass armor to land a decisive blow. To do so, he needs to make a saving throw on either STR or DEX (GM can determine based on whether the attempt is brute force to cut through armor entirely or finesse to find the exposed chink) vs. a special level based on the Total Defense of the foe. This level is equal to ten divided by the Total Defense, rounded up. So a total defense of 11-20 is a level 2 save; 21-30 is level 3, 31-40 is level 4 and so forth. The idea is that very tough opponents are very difficult nuts to crack. When a character tries to bypass armor this way he can never enhance his Total Defense with HPT, as he is too focused on his strike to devote time to defense.

Fighting With Two Weapons: A character can fight with two weapons. The minimum requirement is a STR and DEX equal to 1.5 times the combined average requirement of both weapons being wielded, and this cannot be done with any weapon that normally requires two hands. Under this system, HPT is rolled as usual, but only adding the characters personal adds once. For example: a character with two weapons, one of which requires STR 9 DEX 11 and the other requires STR 11 and DEX 10 would need a STR 13 and DEX 14 to meet minimum requirements to dual-wield.

Sample Combat

Asterus is a human fighter, level 1, with the following stats: STR 18, DEX 12, CON 15, INT 8, LK 10, SPD 13, CHA 12. He has +7 adds. He fights with a broadsword (3 dice +4 adds) and is wearing leather armor (6 hits, but he's a fighter so he takes 12 with hit). He gets +1 to damage dealt for being a fighter. He has a Total Defense of 26, including his armor.

Marcanos is an orc guard who didn't know he was guarding the wrong tunnel today. He's MR 32, so he rolls 4 dice +16 adds, and a Total Defense of 20. We roll a SPD for him quickly, getting bugger!

The GM starts with initiative. Both opponents are aware of each other; Marcanos was sitting back in his chair looking at the latest issue of "Pigpen Quarterly" when he looks up and sees a frothing mad human warrior charging down the tunnel toward him....

Marcanos rolls 2D6, gets a 4 and 4, which adds and rolls over for another 1 and 3, totalling 12 plus his SPD of 16 for a 28 initiative! Asterus rolls a 2 and 5, adding to his SPD of  13 for a 20 he closes, he realizes that the orc has had a chance to brace for his charge.....

Marcanos got initiative so he goes first. He's drawn his sword and strikes, rolling a total of 4D6 (getting 6, 6, 5, 4) plus 16, getting a nice HPT of 37. That's two spite damage as well. The human's Total Defense is 26, and he didn't have time to add to his defense, so Marcanos just dealt a telling blow that cuts through armor for 8 total damage (6 plus the 2 spite damage). Asterus now has a CON of 7 and is hurting.

Asterus retaliates. He realizes his frothing madman act didn't cow the orc so he goes for a quick, decisive killing blow, rolling his 3 dice (3, 5, 5) plus 12 adds for a 27 HPT. Marcanos was so busy trying to attack his foe he didn't bother to add to his defense, so his Total Defense is only 20. 7 points of damage get through, reducing the orc's MR to 25 (which reduces his dice+adds to 3+16 and his Defense is now 19). He backs off, a series of vicious cuts stabing through his thick orcish hide.

The two warriors circle one another, ready to strike once more....round two! This time Asterus gets a 6+6 on his initiative, which adds and rolls over (rule of TARO) for a 4 and 5, totalling an initiative of 34. The orc rolls 3 and 4, totalling initiative 23. Asterus lunges in!

Asterus goes all out, no extra defense. He rolls his 3 dice (5, 2, 1) and gets a HPT of 20. The orc can't parry but this attack only barely penetrates his thick hide and his passive defense, dealing 1 point of damage. Marcanos now has a MR of 24.

Marcanos retaliates, rolling his 3 dice (since he's now wounded) for a 5, 4, 6. His HPT is 31, a clear hard strike! Apparently as Asterus lunged in with a glancing blow Marcanos got lucky and a decisive blow to the stomach impaled the human, who takes 5 more damage plus 1 spite damage. Asterus only has 1 CON left, and he's bleeding like a stuck pig.

Asterus realizes he's in deep, and may not live through the next exchange. He decides to go all out, sacrificing his defense for a crippling strike that shatters the orcs defenses. The GM lets out a weary sigh and says sure, but let's roll inititive first...

Marcanos rolls 6 and 3 for initiative, toalling 22. The orc rolls 2 and 4 for initiative, totalling 22.... A tie! They act simultaneously.

Asterus attempts to bypass armor, and needs to make a level 2 save on STR (for the orc's 19 defense). This technically means he needs a 7 or better on 2D6, since he's pretty strong. He rolls a 4 and a 3...success!!!! He immediately delivers his full HPT to the orc, rolling 3D6 plus 12 for a total of 24. The orc dies! But not before getting his own blow in, as they acted on the same round. The orc delivers a wopping 6, 6, and 2 plus his 16 adds for a total of 30 HPT and 2 spite damage. That's 6 more damage that Asterus takes even as he drops the orc....Asterus is only exhuberant in his triumph long enough to realize that the orc has gutted him at the same time that he laid the monster low. They both slump down together in death.

A few hours later a gang of kobolds running a Rat on a Stick Kiosk arrive on the scene and realize that the only thing better than tasty rat on a stick is Mystery Meat on a Stick....

Next Week: A New Sandbox Campaign Setting for Tunnels & Trolls, Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil

All contents except artwork are Copyright 2012 by Nicholas Torbin Bergquist, all rights reserved. Tunnels & Trolls is trademarked and copyrighted by Ken St. Andre and produced by Flying buffalo.


  1. Interesting. I will have to play with it a bit to see how it works beyond a single example. Was this inspired at all by the old SA article that had a similar concept?

  2. Well I can't comment on the system without trying it-I do wonder why you changed the two-weapon STR & DEX requirements. I thought the old system (which of course I can't find in either rulebook right now) of just adding STR & DEX requirements to be just fine. I think you might agree as well, at least subconsciously, because I don't think you did the math in the example correctly. (I figured it to be STR-15 & DEX 16)

    Still the system is worth thinking on. I've always thought you had to break the combats down to 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2 to even number of combatants out).

  3. @Branderwydd: I wasn't aware of (or rather, didn't remember) an SA article with a similar system, I'll have to dig through my old magazines and take a look. I've run a few tests with it so far but no actual play session time with the mechanic.

    @SAROE: I didn't find any two-weapon rules in the 7.5 rulebook, so I put those together off the cuff, but I'd prefer to default to an existing system. I'll have to double check my math again....this system definitely only works with one-on-one instead of grouped combat, though (but for my T&T games I almost never used traditional group combat, and weirdly the last few times I have run the game I've really gotten into using minis/tokens and maps, thanks to Fiery Dragon's cool add-ons in the 7.5 box set; minis definitely add a dynamic element to combat but require one-on-one structure to the battles).

  4. I looked in both 5.5 and 7.5 before I posted an again just now-I can't find the two-weapon rule I cited either. I guess it is just something I read somewhere and it seemed so sensible that I made it "official". (And I still think it's a good rule.)

    Looking forward to more TnT posts.