HD&D: Everybody was Two-Weapon Fighting

Okay, whenever I promise a post on a particular topic I think it’s best if you don’t believe a word I’m saying. It’s a lot of work coming up with cool Darkness powers for tieflings. Let’s talk about something else first.

Two-Weapon fighting is causing me problems. Multiple attacks need to work better in HD&D than they did in third edition, but I don’t want to tie them to “powers” as fourth edition has done. Today’s topic is how we handle this crucial element of the game in HD&D.

Just so we are clear, when I refer to “attacks per round” I mean attacks per round with a weapon.

Multiple Attacks in a Round

One of the things I want to do in HD&D is remove the iterative attacks that classes automatically gain. That sort of things slows combat down horribly. Fourth edition and the Star Wars Saga game has gone some significant distance to solving this problem. First, I’ll remind you how it used to work.

In second edition, classes of the Warrior group got additional attacks as they gained levels. They received two attacks every three rounds at seventh level, and then two attacks per round at thirteenth level. Every other class only ever had one attack per round – unless they were using a bow, anyone could fire a bow twice in a round.

In third edition the number of attacks were calculated from you base attack bonus. The base attack bonus increased as you gained levels, the increase varying depending on your character class. When your base attack bonus reached +6 you gained a second attack at +1. When you base attack bonus reached +11 your secondary attack was at +6 and you gained a third attack a +1. When your base attack bonus reached +16 your secondary attack was +11, your third attack was +6 and you got a fourth attack at +1. Regardless of level you never got any more attacks after twentieth level.

This means that of twentieth level characters a fighter would have four attacks per round, a cleric or rogue would have three attacks per round, and a wizard would have two attacks per round.

The problem with the third edition method – in addition to it taking so long for high level characters to make their attacks – was that the additional attacks had little to no chance of hitting. The fourth attack was at an effective -15 to hit. What was the point? You seldom hit the foe with it, and it was just taking up valuable table time.

There was also the problem that to make multiple attacks you had to use the “full attack” action. This meant that you gave up your Standard action and your Move action for the round and concentrated on hitting your foe as many times as possible. Over-complicated, and I know of players who still hadn’t got their heads around that after years of play.

In fourth edition, if you do make multiple attacks then your still make them as a standard action. This is simpler. Attacking multiple times in a round is not a right, it is dependent upon the power you are using. In the same way that wizards can strike multiple foes depending on their spells, fighters or rangers can hit multiple foes depending on their choice of power.

I’m not sure I compeltely agree with this. While I think that multiple attacks should be based on the talent system, I don’t think that they should be as prescribed as they are in fourth edition. The Star Wars (Saga Edition) game ressembles fourth edition in many respects, but it handles multiple attacks differently.

In that game you need to take specific feats to make extra attacks. You take the Double Attack feat to make two attacks in a round, and the Triple Attack feat to take three attacks in a round. There’s no penalty to hit with any of these attacks. That’s probably the way I’m going to go, except these abilities will be talents and not feats.

So we have the talents Double Attack (prerequisite 11th level), and Triple Attack (prerequisites Double Attack and 21st level). Additional attacks are made at the same bonus to hit. These talents would only be available to the obvious warrior type classes like Fighter, Ranger, Paladin and so on. I’ll spend more time talking about this when we get to the combat section (although feel free to comment on it now). The burning question is, if we go down this route for multiple attacks in a round, how does this effect two weapon fighting?

Two-Weapon Fighting through History

In deciding where we are going to take HD&D, let’s have a look at how two weapon fighting has been handled in the last four incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s interesting to see how it’s evolved.

Second Edition AD&D

Only members of the Warrior group (Fighters, Paladins and Rangers) could fight with a weapon in each hand. The weapon in the off-hand needed to be smaller in size and weight than the weapon in the primary hand. Fighting with two weapons was tricky. All attacks with the primary weapon suffered a -2 penalty to the attack roll, and all attacks with the secondary weapon suffered a -4 penalty to the attack roll. Rangers ignored this penalty. Everyone else could apply their Dexterity Reaction Adjustment as a positive modifier to the penalty.

Attacking with two weapons allowed a character to make one additional attack per round with the secondary weapon. One extra attack per round is all that you could ever get using this technique.

Third Edition D&D (version 3.0)

If you thought 2nd edition was complicated, then you have yet to experience the marvels of two-weapon fighting in third edition. In the first incarnation of third edition, two-weapon fighting was available for everyone as long as you had the right feats.

If you had no training at all then your suffered a -6 penalty to hit with the primary weapon and a -10 penalty to attack with the secondary weapon. If you had the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, and the Ambidexterity feat and your off-hand weapon was a light weapon, then you could reduce that penalty down to -2 to hit with both weapons. There was a whole table’s worth of penalties that applied depending on what combination of feats and weapons you happened to have.

Rangers automatically got equivalents of the Two-Weapon Fighting and Ambidexterity feats at first level – but only if they were wearing nothing heavier than light armour.

Just like second edition, fighting with two weapons gave you one additional attack per round with the secondary weapon. But the benefit didn’t stop there. If you took the feat Improved Two-Weapon fighting you could get a second extra attack with the secondary weapon at a -5 penalty.

Third Edition D&D (version 3.5)

Version 3.5 did away with the Ambidexterity feat. Now all you needed to fight with two weapons was the Two-Weapon Fighting feat – although the feat did now carry prerequisite of Dexterity 15, putting it out of the reach of many characters. Once again, rangers got this feat for free.

The table of penalties from version 3.0 was shorter, but otherwise unchanged. Penalties started at -6/-10 and improved to -2/-2 if you had the feat and were wielding a light weapon in your off hand. Fighting with two weapons also gave you the same benefit: one extra attack per round with the off-hand weapon.

Version 3.5 extended your options still further. Improved Two-Weapon Fighting and Greater Two-Weapon fighting could give you a second and third extra attack at a -5 and -10 penalty to hit respectively. Epic feats could give you more. Eventually, you could qualify for True Two-Weapon Fighting that gave you four extra attacks per round and removed the inherent -2 penalty to hit.

Fourth Edition D&D

Fourth edition places much less emphasis on the maths, but makes the whole thing seem even more unlikely. In fourth edition anyone can hold a weapon in each hand, but they cannot attack with both of them at all. They must choose which of the two weapons they use round by round.

The feat Two-Weapon Fighting still exists, but all it does is give you +1 to damage if you are wielding two weapons. That’s it.

The only way to actually attack with more than one weapon in a round is to use a power that says you can attack with more than one weapon. Certain powers of the Two-Weapon Ranger and the Tempest Fighter do this, and require you to be wielding two weapons when you pull them off. Rangers had the advantage of being able to use two weapons of the same size, whereas fighters must use two off-hand weapons.

Of course, multiple attacks are not dependent on holding two weapons, and 4e being 4e, the whole thing balances to such an extent you wonder what the point of two weapon fighting is in the first place. Really, the more I look at 4e’s power system the more I dislike it.

Two-Weapon Fighting in HD&D

Remarkable. Reading the descriptions listed above, I actually prefer the second edition approach above the others. One of the things I am enjoying about the HD&D process is that it’s letting me spend more time with my second edition rulebooks.

Anyway – based on everything that has been written above, there are several questions that we need to answer. If anyone can think of any more questions then please let me know!

1. Can everyone do it?
Is two-weapon fighting an option that should be open to everyone? Should a wizard be able to draw two daggers and just attack? If he does, then what penalty should we impose? Taking the HD&D maths into account a penalty of -5 to hit with both weapons would push the task into the next high difficulty band. That sounds like a good number.

2. How do you ‘train’ in two-weapon fighting?
If we assume that anyone can pick up a weapon in each hand and attack with a big penalty, how do you remove that penalty? How do you train in two-weapon fighting? It’s not a Skill, that wouldn’t work in the context of the system. So is it a Talent or a Feat? I’m leaning toward Talent (two-weapon fighting becomes a class ability). The talent could be available to fighters and rangers.

3. Should Rangers be better two-weapon fighters than Fighters?
Traditionally in D&D the Ranger has been the ultimate two-weapon warrior. In HD&D there’s more going on for the ranger. He has hunter’s quarry, and favoured enemies and favoured terrains and animal companions… can he afford to share his two-weapon schtick with the Fighter? In third edition the Fighter could be as good as the Ranger, but he needed to acquire the feats that the Ranger got for free. Where shall we lean here?

4. Once you have two-weapon fighting, can you make it better?
Assuming that two-weapon fighting grants you one extra attack per round, should there be a means to get any more attacks? Should we go down the route of the Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting and True Two-Weapon Fighting from third edition? My instinct is to say no, actually it’s to scream “NO!” at the top of my voice. Too many attacks per round slows the game down too much.

My Proposal

Characters can normally only make one attack per round with a weapon. Fighter-types can select the Double Attack and Triple Attack talents from 11th and 21st level to gain one or two additional attacks respectively. This wielding mêlée weapons can squeeze one more attack out of the system by attacking with a weapon in each hand like so:

If you hold a weapon in each hand you can attack with both of them, but each attack suffers a -5 penalty. If you have the Two-Weapon Fighting talent (only available to Rangers and Fighters) you don’t take this penalty. When fighting with two weapons one of the weapons must be an off-hand weapon, unless you have the Oversize Two-Weapon Fighting feat in which case both weapons can be the same size.

Attacking with two weapons allows you to make one additional attack in the round with your off-hand weapon. For example, a fighter with Two-Weapon Fighting and Triple Attack would make three attacks with this primary weapon, and one attack with his off-hand weapon.

In Conclusion

Multiple attacks slow the game down. There’s no escaping that. However, multiple attacks are part and parcel of D&D, do we really want to get rid of them completely? Plus they are a way of balancing the damage potential of the fighter when compared to fireball-happy mage.

Making sure that all attacks use the same bonus to hit is important. Making three attacks at +15 to hit is much easier than making one attack at +15, one at +10 and one at +5. That’s why the penalty to hit with both weapons when two-weapon fighting is now the same.  This will act to speed the game up slightly. Plus attacking with multiple weapons will still be a standard action and HD&D characters will still get less attacks than their third edition equivalents.

Is this a sufficient solution to the problem? Let me know below.


9 thoughts on “HD&D: Everybody was Two-Weapon Fighting

  1. Just one comment – if anyone and everyone can take the TWF ability, you will have to make sure it doesn’t unbalance it for those who can do large amounts of damage. It was a good part of 4E’s attempt, I thought, that allowed the ranger to make two attacks, but each did less damage. If the fighter had been allowed to double-attack with his 7[W] attack, it would have been much more significant.

    So, just take that into account when seeing how attacks and TWF merge together :)


  2. Reckon you should be able to get more attacks out of the off-hand weapon at high warrior-class level.

    Or be able to apply half the double/triple attack doobrie to the off-hand weapon.

    Fighters do need to be fearsome!

  3. i think u left out one important factor, unarmed combat?

    how would u address this? we all know unarmed attacks should be skillful with both arms (boxers), or a kick boxer (both arms and legs)

    basically it all comes down to raza which is my major character in ur game…raza likes his flurry of blows…traditionally in 3e, monks can do more attacks than fighters and in some instance rangers, but they dont take the same type of penalty without the two-weapon feat…

    how would u address this? when we port the monk from 3e to 4e, i would like to be able to retain some aspects of his multiple attacks… :)

  4. I think that a normal unarmed attack (using the Unarmed Combat skill) would work like a weapon. However, there should be some disadvantages for swinging a punch at a foe in plate mail. There are reasons why you’d rather use a sword.

    However, we haven’t got into the whole unarmed attacks, opportunity attacks, subdual damage debate yet. That’s something for another post.

    As far as the monk is concerned, my intention is that Flurry of Blows becomes a Talent, that allows the monk to make multiple attacks with his fists and/or a small selection of monkish weapons. How we handle multiple extra attacks and the increasing damage of the monk’s fist is still up for debate. It might be that you need to take more than one talent, or you need to improve the talent by selecting certain feats. Or it might be a combination of both.

    Monks will attack with their hands and feet in the same way other classes attack with weapons. They will be at no disadvantage for so doing.

  5. Balancing the potential damage output of multiple attacks is a concern. Of course, if there’s a 50% chance of one attack hitting a foe and you make two attacks then there’s only a 25% chance of them both connecting. So the damage potential of multiple attacks is not quite as potent as it initially appears.

    There’s probably some complicated maths I can do (or get Marc to do) to work that out. Definitely something that needs to be done.

    Which, Jake, is not to say that we can’t go down the route of multiple off-hand attacks. Maybe there should be an Improved Two-Weapon fighting feat that is only available to 11th level characters who already have the Two-Weapon Fighting, and Double Attack.

  6. Neil says:

    In answer to your questions in the two weapon fighting blog entry:

    1. If you have the requisite talent then yes, but I would advise that a non-martial character should have a good reason for taking it.

    2. You could have a 2 weapon skill as well as the talent. Otherwise I would say that it has 0 penalty.

    3. NO! Why on earth (Iourn) should a ranger be better at fighting than a fighter. As I have said before, rangers for me are rogues not fighters.

    4. No, too complicated.

    An additional thing to consider; 2 weapon fighting styles are everywhere in martial arts, most of them utilise the second weapon as a defensive tool, though they are certanly used offensively as well. 2 weapon fighting is a very specific skill, for realism I would say that a character needs the talent and that gives him, say, a -6 penalty to hit (with both, try co-ordinating two things at once and see what happens), the 2 weapon skill then allows the character to reduce this penalty and maybe even become better than for a single weapon (representing the specialist’s supreme skill). Of course anyone can pick up a couple of weapons and start throwing them around but the chances of hitting with them are minimal (at least -10 to both). The skill/talent combo should also allow you to add to your AC if required at the expense of the extra attack. I also think that 11th level is too high to start this.

  7. 1. In order to get the requisitie talent, non-martial characters would have had to mulitclass into a Martial class. Presumably they had a good reason for that.

    2. See below!

    3. Tradition! Rangers have always been better at this in D&D. No, I don’t know why either. Actually, I agree with you.

    4. Agreed.

    The way I’m building HD&D there isn’t a default position to have a -6 to hit from. If there’s a two-weapon fighting SKILL then you must acquire ranks in that skill. You can’t have a skill that let’s you use another skill at -6. We would have to find alternative means for the system to reach a similar mathematical arrangement.

    If I follow what you are saying:

    You say that an unskilled character who picks up two weapons can fight with both of them at a -10 penalty to hit. Steep but not entirely unreasonable. Then once they pick up the Two-Weapon Fighting feat that penalty falls to -6. If I was to adopt this, I’d say that the penalty fell to -5 just to keep the maths simple.

    The question therefore is how you would improve you ability at two-weapon fighting to get rid of this -5 penalty. A skill wouldn’t work. It would have to be another talent, or a feat or multiple feats and talents. Is that what we want.

    I have to say that I’m not entirely convinced this is necessary. You’re saying that Two-Weapon Fighting is very hard, and that one talent shouldn’t be enough to remove the penalty entirely. Well, maybe that’s fair enough. But if we are saddling characters with a -6 (or -5) penalty to hit even after they’ve taken the talent, then it’s just too hard.

    If Two-Weapon Fighting grants one extra attack, then it shouldn’t be any harder to acquire than any other Talent that gives you one extra attack.

  8. I like most of what is being said by Iourn. I do however think that, if a player has as a character concept a tempest-like idea he should not be restricted from attaining it, albeit at heavy cost in feats and talents, or even a requirement of taking a very specific class or path.
    That way you will only occasionally see characters with that many attacks and if you make sure these attacks all occur at the same bonus(for example by only allowing this when using the same type of weapon in both hands) you might be able to avoid bogging the game down to much. The player could simply roll all the dice at once in that case after all. Then just rolling damage for the attacks that hit, also all at once.
    Also a high dexterity requirement for the later feats seems both realistic and balancing, (it served very well to balance in 3.5, forcing true two-weapon fighters to either have 25 dex, and thus lower strength or 21 levels of ranger and light armor and thus fewer feats and lower AC)

    However a strength based, and yet balanced two weapon fighter is also a great character concept. This type of two weapon fighter should be able to gain fewer attacks due to lower dex but could benefit from other advantages of two weapon fighting such as AC bonuses(as per the two weapon defence feat)

    A fighter dedicating his martial prowess to two weapon fighting should be better than a ranger that simply takes the two weapon fighting combat style. I always found the two weapon fighting as a class feature for rangers strange and was delighted when they added archery combat style. However I was also surprised they stopped there and not added at least a 2-handed weapon combat style(obviously something that a gnoll or troll ranger would use) and possibly a single one handed weapon combat style(I don’t like rangers with shields, but that could just be me).

  9. Well, I’ve nothing to add to these comments as I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said. Fighters (and rangers) can choose to specialise in two-weapon fighting by selecting talents and feats that are successively more difficult to qualify for. Of course, this is all yet to be playtested.

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