Poll: Wealth

You all saw this post coming, right?

My recent post on Wealth prompted a fair amount of discussion on the best way to handle cash money in HD&D. If you haven’t read that post, pop back and give it a quick perusal because we’re going to decide which is the best idea to implement in the hybrid game. As far as I can see it, we have three alternatives:

Option One: The Mercantile System

This is by far the most logical and realistic option before us. Every item has a cost and you pay that cost when you buy the item. You deduct the cost of everything you buy from a cup of tea to repairs to your moat from the total money you have available. The main disadvantage of such a system is that it is time consuming and cumbersome to note down every little purchase.

Option Two: Wealth

You buy significant purchases in exactly the same way as you would under the Mercantile system. However, trifling and minor purchases (defined as anything costing 1% or less of your personal wealth) isn’t recorded. This is a formalisation of the way I’ve been running PC ecnomics in the campaign. It’s quicker and less onorous than the Mercantile system, but it can’t be applied in all circumstances. It’s open to abuse, and requires players to stay within the spirit of the rules more than the letter of the rules. However, this is my preferred option.

Option Three: Abstract Ecnomics

In an abstract system, a PC’s purchasing power is defined by status or experience level, not by the amount of gold in his pocket. Equipments may not even have cash values because they are irrelevent. This method has the advantage of no book keeping whatsoever, however, I think it’s a step too far for a fantasy game like D&D.

So there you have it. I think the Wealth option is the best way forward. You may disagree. Pick the option that most closely ressembles your opinion, and then let me know of any provisos in the comments below.


Poll: Armour Class

I think that it is time to make a decision on what we are going to do with Armour Class in HD&D. The discussion that followed my recent update on the subject, was largely of one mind. You liked Damage Reduction, and you didn’t like Damage Conversion. Very well, I’m convinced. Armour Class in HD&D works in the same way that Damage Reduction works in Third Edition. That’s sorted. The question now is how we implement this.

If we’re going to go down the Damage Reduction route, I think there are three easy options for play testing. Of the three, my preference would be option 2. Have a read of the options and see what you think. If necessary, please go back and read the update on Armour Class. Then when you’re ready you can vote below.

Option 1: Translate Armour Class directly from Third Edition

Plate armour gives you +8 to your armour class in third edition, therefore it gives you +8 to armour class in HD&D. The only difference is that in third edition, the +8 was applied to the DC of hitting a target in combat, while in HD&D it’s going to be subtracted from the damage inflicted. This is by far the easiest way to convert things, and I’m willing to give this a go, but you have to be aware for the following problems:

  • A longsword only does 1d8 damage. Physical assaults will often bounce off even lightly armoured opponents. This may be believable, but it will extend combat against heavily armoured opponents.
  • Because AC from armour stacks with Natural AC there is the possibility of doubly potent creatures. Brack Ogrebane’s natural AC is 8. Put him in full plate and it’s 16. Can you imagine fighting a creature that ignored the first 16 points of damage from all physical attacks?
  • Some creatures have ludicrously high natural armour: +39 for a great wyrm red dragon. Is there any point in having a figure that high if even high level characters will have difficulty punching through it?
  • A very high AC in HD&D penalises characters that fight with weapons, and it doubly penalises two-weapon fighters. It doesn’t affect spellcasters at all, as a magic missile is just as likely to damage someone in full plate as if they were just wearing their boxers.

Option 2: Follow Third Edition, but treat monsters differently

With this option we translate the AC of manufactured armour directly from third edition. Chainmail is still AC 5. However, we adjust the natural armour of creatures downward. I’ve already presented these rules in the armour class update, but I’ll reitereate them here.

Take the third edition statistics. Divide natural armour by 5, and divide Damage  Reduction by 2. Add the results together to find the new level. This way a great wyrm red dragon has an armour class of 18 (not 39), a pit fiend has an armour class of 12 (not 15) and Brack has an armour class of 5 (not 8). It just seems a bit saner, and brings natural armour more in line with manufactured armour. It also takes into account damage reduction, which we’d otherwise be ignoring entirely.

However, this option may be seen to shaft creatures that have a high natural armour but no damage reduction. However, I won’t be imposing this formula blindly. It’s just a guide that gets tried and tested and weighed against other monsters. If I think the hide of a giant should grant more than +2 AC then I can change it.

Option 3: Reduce the AC value of all armour

This wasn’t popular in the last post, but it may get more traction here. We can reduce the value of natural armour (probably using the same method as in Option 2), and also the value of manufactured armour. Refer to the table in the previous post for an indication of what the new armour values would be. The disadvantage here is obvious: the difference between the AC values is very similar. There may be no mechanical advantage in choosing one armour over another, for example.

So there we have it. I’m looking at the equipment tables (particularly weapons and armour) as I type, so please vote on this one as it will make my life much easier.

HD&D: Wealth

For a while now I have been wrestling with the problem of what to do about money. Economics is as profound a force on the world of Iourn as magic. Goods and services cost gold. Characters acquire gold and spend it on said goods and services. It’s not a difficult relationship to grasp, and it’s one that’s been at the heart of every published edition of D&D. Unfortunately, it’s also very dull.

As Neil recently commented, none of us play role-playing games to balance a budget. We get enough of that in the real world. While I am sure there are GMs and players who delight in the minutiae of the game, and feel a deep sense of joy when they spend 2 copper pieces on a bowl of watery soup. That degree of bean-counting has never really appealed to me. I think it’s time that could be better spent role-playing or moving the story along.

But goods still exist, and PCs will still want to buy them. Also, we should not understimate the value of a working economy. It adds depth and verisimilitude to a campaign if commerce actually makes logical sense. HD&D therefore needs a system that allows for the existence of a wider economy and that limits a character’s acquisition of items based on cost, but also a system that also does away with all this tiresome penny pinching.

Options for HD&D

Various different systems have been published to handle money in D&D. I’ll have a look at  a few of them, and then give you details of my preferred solution. Before I begin, a quick aside on earnings. The average unskilled labourer earns the equivalent of 1 sp per day. Labourers don’t earn enough to live. They probably have to grow their own food to supplement their income.

The third edition DMG gives details of income for various types of hirelings. I have used this as a guide to find the  average daily wage a character with the Craft or the Profession skill can hope to make. You’ll see details of those when the Skill System is finished. These details are largely designed to flesh out the world, and provide context for a character’s own wealth. Basically, they’re for NPCs, but there’s no reason why certain campaigns couldn’t see PC characters having to subsist on their basket weaving skill between adventures.

Now let’s have a look at the some of the options open to us:

The Mercantile System

This is the default system published in the second, third and fourth edition PHBs. The PC has a pot of money from which he buys things. Goods cost their listed value, and buying an item diminishes the money the PC can spend on other items. The PC replenishes their fortune by the usual means (working, stealing or good fortune). It’s a perfectly acceptable system, but it becomes rather a chore to record every little purchase.


An option from p130 of the 3.5 DMG, rules for Upkeep appear in various forms across a number of roleplaying games. You pick a social standing : Self Sufficient, Meager, Poor, Common, Good or Extravagant. Then, every month, you pay a certain amount of gold to maintain that standard of living. Being Extravagant costs you 200 gp per month, under the third edition rules. Upkeep pays for food, lodgings, taxes, clothing and so on. It doesn’t pay for anything that you would need to outfit an adventurer with. You would still pay for that as you would in the Mercantile system.

The problem with Upkeep is that it doesn’t work well for adventurers. “We’ve been crossing the endless desert for the last seventeen weeks! Why am I still paying 200 gp per month for my ‘lavish meals’?”

The Abstract System

Abstract systems don’t bother to assign prices to items. Your character has a credit rating (or similar mechanic) that allows him to buy some items, and denies him access to others. The d20 Modern game has an abstract system. You can appreciate why: set in the modern day the PCs have resourses such as overdrafts, loans, mortgages and credit cards that aren’t available in a medieaval setting. Only the most insane GM would want to get involved in calculating the compound interest on a PC’s loans between sessions, so an abstract system is a welcome alternative.

You can read the d20 Modern Wealth System over at the System Reference Documents website. It makes for interesting reading. In short: all goods have a Purchase DC. The player makes a Wealth Check against that DC, if it succeeds then he buys the item, if it fails then he doesn’t have the cash. As I said: abstract.

None of the three options above really work for me. They are either too exacting, inappropriate or too woolly for my taste. My solution (as always) is to plough the middle ground.

The HD&D Wealth System

I don’t pretend that the following is an original idea. It came to me fully formed, which probably means I read it somewhere and cannot remember the source. The Wealth System seeks to strike a balance between a fully mercantile system, and something entirely abstract, such as the offering from d20 Modern.

In HD&D characters obtain, accrue and spend money just as they would in a standard mercantile system. However, items under a certain price are considered too insignificant to bother worrying about. A character’s Wealth is defined as all the money that he is currently carrying on his person. We divide Wealth by 100 to find a character’s Credit Rating. A character can automatically buy any item that is valued at his Credit Rating or less without diminishing his wealth. If he wants to buy something that is worth more than his Credit Rating, then the cost of the item comes from his Wealth total. The Credit Rating would then be recalculated at a lower value.

For example: Nicos has plundered the horde of the green dragon, Vaprissar, and currently has 11,000 gp on his person. His Wealth is therefore 11,000 gp. This means that he can pick up any item that costs 110 gp (11,000 ÷ 100 = 110) from the various equipment lists without diminishing his total wealth. Nicos could go and buy eight riding horses, each costing 75 gp, and his Wealth would still be 11,000 gp.

Unfortunately, in gaining this treasure Nicos has flash-fried his good buddy Arvan. Feeling guilty, Nicos decides what he really needs to do is buy a scroll of <i>reincarnation</i>. Such a scroll costs 1700 gp, which is obviously more than Nicos’s Credit Rating. The cost of the scroll comes from Nicos’s Wealth (11,000 – 1700 = 9300 gp). Because Nicos’s Wealth is now 9300 his credit rating is recalculated, and it is now 93 gp (9300 ÷ 100 = 93).

It is possible for a character to have a vast fortune, but not be able to access all of it. For example, by all accounts Elias is very wealthy. He has his own kingdom (it’s a pretty crappy kingdom, but it’s a kingdom nonetheless). However, he doesn’t have his nation’s wealth in his personal pocket book. Wealth is the amount of gold that is currently on your person, not all the money sitting in your treasure horde ten thousand miles away.

Selling Items

Just as items valued your Credit Rating or less don’t decrease your Wealth when they are purchased; if you sell any items valued your Credit Rating or less, your Wealth does not increase. So Nicos could sell 75 gp riding horses until the sun grew cold, but it wouldn’t increase his 11,000 gp fortune.


The main check on the wealth system is the availability of items. A potion of cure light wounds costs 50 gp, which is less than Nicos’s Credit Rating. However, this is not to say that Nicos could simply stock up on an infinite number of potions. There’s no guarantee that all these items are going to be available. Ideally, all items on the equipment list should have an “availabilty %” that the GM could modify to take account of circumstances. This seems rather formal, but otherwise it’s up to the GM to say: “No, they only have six potions: that’s all you can have” – which seems a bit arbitrary and open to disagreement.

Critique of the Wealth System

The Wealth system is a cheat: it’s a short-cut and a convenience. It also relies on players following the spirit of the rules. There are ways to break the system, and gain an unfair game advantage. A character could amass a number of items of equal value to his Credit Rating, then make a large purchase so his Wealth fell. The purchased items are now worth more than the character’s new credit rating, so they can be sold and the proceeds added to a character’s Wealth. I’m sure that cunning players can think of many other ways around the rules.

But that’s not really the point. If we’re in a campaign where the buying and selling of goods become the focus of the party’s activities then we’re better off using the Mercantile system. In fact, there’s no reason why we can’t swap between a Wealth system and a Mercantile system within the same campaign if the need arises.

The Wealth system formalises what I’ve always done in the game, which is generally ignore minor purchases but make the character’s pay for expensive investments. However, without formal mechanics I always felt that I was being rather arbitrary when I demanded a character pony up the cash. After all, I have never made a big deal of handing out money or treasure, so it seems a bit unfair to demand characters to buy anything.

The Wealth system also makes it easier to manage spell components. Most components –  bat guano, gum arabic, iron filings – are cheap enough to be under a wizard’s Credit Rating. This means that wizards only have to worry about being able to afford the expensive spell components.

I do foresee that the Wealth system may not be entirely appropriate for the obscenely wealthy. A character with a wealth of 100,000 gp would have a Credit Rating of 1000 gp, which would effectively allow him to buy more or less anything in the game. Maybe a ceiling on the Credit Rating of about 500 gp might be appropriate. Equally, this system is dependent upon me actually handing out cash to the party: something I have not been particularly assiduous about in the past.

HD&D: Size Matters?

In the third edition game, a creature’s size has a significant impact on its statistics. Each of the nine size categories came with its own size modifier. This modifier was used to modify attack bonuses, armour class, grapple checks and hide checks. There’s a full list of the size categories and the modifiers over at the d20 SRD site. The question I am currently wrestling with, as I’m sure you all saw coming, is how much (if at all) we incorporate Size into HD&D. Do we need to go down this road at all?

A Closer Look at Third Edition

You can follow the above link and look at all the juicy rules for size and third edition. Despite that, I’m going to reproduce most of them here to facilitate discussion. There were nine size categories in third edition, all of which gave the creatures varying bonuses and penalties. Let’s have a look them:

Height: 6″ or less; Weight: 2 oz. or less
AC Modifier: +8; Attack Modifier: +8; Grapple Modifier: -16; Hide Modifier: +16
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-10), Dex (+8), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0

Height: 6″ – 1 ft; Weight: 2 oz. – 1 lb
AC Modifier: +4; Attack Modifier: +4; Grapple Modifier: –12; Hide Modifier: +12
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-10), Dex (+6), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0

Height: 1 -2 ft; Weight: 1 – 8 lbs
AC Modifier: +2; Attack Modifier: +2; Grapple Modifier: -8; Hide Modifier: +8
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-8), Dex (+4), Con (-2)
Natural Armour: 0

Height: 2 -4 ft; Weight: 8 – 60 lbs
AC Modifier: +1; Attack Modifier: +1; Grapple Modifier: -4; Hide Modifier: +4
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (-4), Dex (+2), Con (+0)
Natural Armour: 0

Height: 4 – 8 ft; Weight: 60 – 500 lbs
AC Modifier: +0; Attack Modifier: +0; Grapple Modifier: +0; Hide Modifier: +0
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+0), Dex (+0), Con (+0)
Natural Armour: 0

Height: 8 – 16 ft; Weight: 500 lbs – 2 tons
AC Modifier: -1; Attack Modifier: -1; Grapple Modifier: +4; Hide Modifier: -4
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+8), Dex (-2), Con (+4)
Natural Armour: +2

Height: 16 – 32 ft; Weight: 2 – 16 tons
AC Modifier: -2; Attack Modifier: -2; Grapple Modifier: +8; Hide Modifier: -8
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+16), Dex (-4), Con (+8)
Natural Armour: +5

Height: 32 – 64 ft; Weight: 16 – 125 tons
AC Modifier: -4; Attack Modifier: -4; Grapple Modifier: +12; Hide Modifier: -12
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+24), Dex (-4), Con (+12)
Natural Armour: +9

Height: 64 ft or more; Weight: 125 tons or more
AC Modifier: -8; Attack Modifier: -8; Grapple Modifier: +16; Hide Modifier: -16
Ability Score Modifiers: Str (+32), Dex (-4), Con (+16)
Natural Armour: +14

Is it any wonder that so many have accused third edition of being too complex? The size rules in third edition are a good example of Modifiers Gone Mad. What seemed like a sound and rational use of the rules to begin with, was extrapolated to the point that all they do is slow the game down.  This is probably the reason why the size rules aren’t properly followed in third edition. The Enlarge Personspell grants the recipient +2 Str, -2 Dex and -1 to AC and Attack rolls regardless. The halfling is a Small creature, but it gets a -2 penalty to its Strength, not -4.

You will also note that the third edition size rules are something of a dodge. They seem to be following the (arguably reasonable) rationale that large creatures are ungainly (and therefore easier to hit), and clumsy (find it harder to hit others). A low dexterity, and the imposition of a size penalty to armour class and attack rolls played into this. But larger creatures get such stonking Strength and Natural Armour modifiers that this is completely eclipsed their defects. A colossal creature is actually harder to hit and a better fighter despite its size. Which largely makes you wonder why they bothered.

A Closer Look at Fourth Edition

Of course, in fourth edition, they didn’t bother. The only significant nod toward size is that Small PCs can wield two-handed weapons. Size doesn’t factor into the rest of the rules at all, except to tell a GM how many squares a monster occupies on the battle grid. Size was a big thing in third edition, and yet it hardly matters at all in fourth? Do either of these games provide us with a model for HD&D?

Also in fourth edition, the designers reduced the number of size categories from nine to seven. They did away with the Colossal and Fine categories (the latter of which was a damn silly name any way). However, I suspect their motivation had more to do with fitting the largest monsters on their doody Dungeon Tiles series of products. I feel a rant coming on, but I’ll fight it down to keep the post on track.

Size in HD&D

Conceptually, HD&D leans much closer to third edition than Fourth. However, I don’t really want to embrace all of the third edition size modifiers with gay abandon. There are some things I’m sure that I want to do, other things that I’m not so sure about. Hence me writing this post at all. 

Generally, the problem of Size granting bonuses and imposing penalties to anything, is that Size isn’t something that scales with level. You are either one size or the other: it doesn’t matter if you’re a 55th level fighter, if you’re a human you’re still only medium sized. If all the other variables in the system (attack rolls, defences and so on) scale with level, then a character of a different size is a statistical blip in the system. However, I don’t want to champion system efficiency at the expense of verisimilitude. That is, after all, why we’re working on HD&D in the first place.

Size Categories

I’m happy to keep the nine size categories from third edition.  Anyone out there who can come up with a name for the smallest category that isn’t “Fine” will have my eternal gratitude. At the moment I’m leaning towards “Teeny Weeny” – which goes a long way to demonstrate how much I dislike the term “Fine”.  So, the categories are: Teeny Weeny, Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal.

In all likelihood, PC races will either be Small, Medium or Large: with the vast majority being Medium, and the tiniest minority being Large. Therefore, workable rules need to exist for all three of these sizes to be available for player characters. That’s a challenge.

Hit Points

I have already mentioned this in a previous post, but it is my intention that Size modifiers a character’s hit points, by providing additional hit points at each level. Size takes on the roll that Constitution did in third edition. My initial thoughts as to how size modifiers hit points are as follows:


Bonus Hit Points

Teeny Weeny


















This is a modifier version of the table that first appeared in my post on Hit Points and Damage back in January. The bonus hit points are in addition to the 4 hit points per level than every race gains. So a medium-sized creatures gets an extra 4 hit points per level, and a colossal creatures gets an extra 20 hit points per level. I explained my reasoning behind additional hit points for larger creatures then, and my reasons haven’t changed since so I won’t repeat myself.

I think it’s crucial for the game that Medium and Small creatures are treated in the same way in almost all circumstances. There are so many Small PC races that to do otherwise is simply confusing. The laundry list of additional abilities granted to the third edition gnome and halfling is simply not sustainable in HD&D.

However, I am giving Large characters +4 hit points per level. I’m not sure that the HD&D system can cope with this benefit as a freebie that gets handed out to specific races. I remember it causing some issues in my old second edition Darksun campaigns, where the half-giant PC could simply swandive off a mountain range, get up and walk home. To draw a third edition equivalent, it would be like one character in the party having Con 18, and all the other party members having a Con of 10. So what can be done to balance this?

Reflex Defence

What if we applied a bonus or penalty to a character’s Reflex Defence based on their size. Larger characters have more hit points, but they get hit by attacks more often due to their size. Of course large creatures are also likely to have thick armour, so hitting such a creature is no guarantee of damaging it; but the obvious trade-off is in play. Large creatures have more hit points, but they are easier to hit so are more likely to be damaged more often. This sounds as though it should work. It sounds like the sort of thing that will make a player think twice before choosing to play a Large character.

But how do we get the balance right? Can we get away with using the same size modifiers from the table above? Probably not. A colossal creature might be getting +16 hit points per level, but that doesn’t balance with a -16 penalty to its Reflex Defence. That would mean a thirtieth level dragon would have Reflex Defence of 9 and would be successfully hit 95% of the time by almost any PC of 10th level of higher.

So what balance would be right?

I have crunched the numbers in a ludicrously complex Excel spreadsheet, that I won’t bore you by uploading. Basically, if we impose the same size modifier to Reflex defence as we do to hit points, then we notice the following things:

  • Small and Medium size characters work well at all levels. It takes three successful hits (over six rounds) to bring such a character from maximum health to zero hit points.
  • It’s slightly more advantageous to be Tiny or smaller at low levels, and more of an advantage to be larger at higher levels.
  • Low level creatures of Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal size are more likely to be killed quickly than low level opponents of Medium size. This is because the extra hit points isn’t enough to off-set the extra damage they take from being hit more often.
  • A -4 penalty to Relfex for Large characters seems to work. Let me expand upon this.

If they just receieved the +4 hit points per level, Large creatures would be brought down with five successful hits (over the course of 10 rounds in a one-on-one fight), as opposed to the three successful hits it required to floor a medium sized creature.  However, that is only the case if the chance to hit the Large creature is the same as the chance to hit a Medium sized creature. A -4 to Reflex Defence is the same a 20% increase the chance of being hit with each attack. It doesn’t affect the number of successful hits that are required, but the amount of times those hits land is more frequent. Assuming a one-on-one fight, the -4 to Reflex means that a Large character will take those hits over six rounds during the very low levels, and over seven rounds for the majority of its career.

Basically, a Large creature with +4 hit points per level, and a -4 to Reflex defence can only expect to stand up in combat for one round longer than a Medium sized character with less hit points and a higher Reflex. Frankly, that doesn’t sound like too bad a situation to me.

If you are looking at a situation where you have Large and Medium sized creatures fighting alongside one another in the same party, then this would seem to be an obvious solution. But there are some problems doing it this way. I’ll touch on them below.

Anything Else?

Apart from Reflex Defence and Hit Points I don’t propose to let Size affect any other character-based statistic in HD&D. Creatures of a larger size are obviously going to be stronger and slower than smaller creatures but I don’t think there’s any reason to formalise that into a size-related ability score modifier. The invidual attributes for any given race can cover that aspect of the rules just as efficiently and far more simply. If we have a spell that makes a character larger, then we can adjudicate what that spell actually does when we write it. The same can be said of a natural armour bonus.

Equally Size doesn’t need to apply to grapple anymore. There’s no such thing as an “Opposed Grapple Check” in HD&D, instead you’d be making an Unarmed Strike against your opponents Fortitude defence. And as for the Hide skill… well the rules say that in order to hide you have to find an area of cover or concealment that is larger than you are. So there’s no need to impose a penalty on the check, it’s just that larger creatures will find that the chances of them being able to make a Hide check are few and far between.

Problems Inherent in the System

I have no problem in using Size as a way to increase the hit points of larger creatures. That seems highly appropriate. However, also using it to modify a character’s Reflex defence is a might iffy. Remember that one of my hopes in giving humungous monsters more hit point is that a group of PCs could attack one such monster, and the fight would last more than about half a combat round. Balancing Size to Hit Points destroys this idea.

But you might argue that such an idea deserves to be destroyed. After all the “Solo Monster” concept for 4e has been met with general disdain from my current gaming group. But this is not just a 4e problem. The greatest of all solo monsters (the great wyrm red dragon) may have 1390 hit points in 4e, but it still has 660 hit points in third edition. That’s still significantly more than the PCs because it’s intended to be able to survive for a fair amount of time against a number of opponents. We don’t want the dragon getting killed half way through round two because all the PCs are attacking it at once.

Two things could ride to the rescue here. The first (and most obvious) is Armour. Colossal creatures have very thick hides. They may get hit more often, but their armour class (i.e. damage reduction in 3rd ed-speak) is likely to compensate for this. That would require a little more number crunching on my part. However, if we go with a Damage Conversion rather than a Damage Reduction mechanic for armour, that solution evaporates.

The other thing is we could just use different size modifiers to modify Reflex Defence, than we use for hit points. Nothing wrong with that. We could stack the deck so there was no net benefit for a PC to play a Large character, but the advantage of size soon ramped up when you reach the Huge, Gargantuan and Colossal categories. But that feels a bit like cheating to me. If we halved the modifiers a Large creatur would have -2 to Relfex, Huge -4, Gargantuan -6 and Colossal -8.


We could just say “bugger it” and only apply the Size modifier to hit points. Let Large PCs enjoy the benefits of being large without being incommoded by it. We could balance it in other ways. Large Size could be a racial talent (or a number of talents) if we thought it appropriate. Personally, I think it would be nice if we didn’t have to bother with talents: that the extra hit points you get for an increased Size balances with the penalty to reflex defence. It’s a trade off. This trade off only needs to be fair for large creatures, because players are never likely to get their handso on anything bigger.

The thought of a Great Wyrm dragon who is more agile than a kobold ballerina continues to irk me. Some thoughts on this one please! I need some guidance here.

HD&D Update: Armour Class

Quite a while ago now, we looked at Hit Points and Damage. During that discussion, I talked about armour class in HD&D and how I wanted armour to reduce damage, not make you harder to hit. We had a chat about the various problems inherent in such a system, but didn’t actually make any head way in coming up with answers. As I turn my attention towards equipment and combat, it’s time to take another look at this – and to finally hammer out a solution.


In third (and fourth) edition, the DC to hit an opponent in combat is their armour class. Wearing armour gives you a higher armour class, and therefore makes you harder to hit. In HD&D this role has been replaced by your Reflex Defence. The role of armour has no bearing on how easy it is to hit an opponent. Therefore, in HD&D, armour has to mean something else. Logically, it should stop you from taking as much damage. I don’t think any of us will dispute that.

As a quick aside, none of what follows has any bearing on shields. Shields are used to deflect attacks. Unlike armour, shields are designed to make you harder to hit: they don’t absorb physical damage, they redirect it. Shields will add a bonus to your Reflex Defence in HD&D.

Originally, I thought that armour could provide a character with the HD&D equivalent of damage reduction (or “HD&D AC” as I refer to it in the rest of this article). The damage taken by the character is reduced by a certain amount. That works, but there are issues if a character’s armour is so tough that nothing can get through it. It’s fine for awesome monsters – PCs tend to find a way around these things – but if the 5th level fighter in the plate mail cannot be bruised by any of his opponents then damage reduction becomes game breaking. I think we’ve started to see this with Brack in the League of Light  campaign. His DR 8/adamantine is an incredible advantage.

Having looked in various different places for inspiration, the answer (or at least some potential answers) were right under my nose. The third edition Unearthed Arcana supplement suggests many variant rules, including two for treating armour very differently. Both of these are reprinted on the d20 SRD site under Armour as Damage Reduction and Damage Conversion. Pop over and read the original text, and then come back and I’ll examine both of these ideas separately below.

Armour as Damage Reduction

This is my original idea given the third edition stamp of approval. Notice that the text from Unearthed Arcana doesn’t do away with the concept of armour making you easier to hit. Basically, the rules divide the armour bonus of every suit of armour in two. One half remains a bonus to AC, the other becomes damage reduction. In HD&D we can’t afford to have armour giving you any bonus to your Reflex Defence, so we are largely just looking at the rules for turning the D&D concept of armour class into Damage Reduction (HD&D AC).

I think it’s interesting that Unearthed Arcana doesn’t just port the entire armour value over into a DR system. Chain mail make give +5 to your AC in the normal rules, but it only grants characters a DR of 2/–. The lesson we can take from this is that DR values need to be kept low. I can get behind that. The question is where we set the level of damage reduction. My proposal (for all the armours in the third edition PHB) are as follows. Remember that “HD&D AC” is the same as damage reduction:

Armour 3rd Ed AC HD&D AC
Padded +1 1
Leather +2 1
Studded Leather +3 1
Chain Shirt +4 2
Hide +3 2
Scale mail +4 3
Chain mail +5 3
Breastplate +5 3
Splint mail +6 4
Banded mail +6 4
Half-plate +7 4
Full-plate +8 5

The immediate problem is that reducing the third edition AC down to the HD&D version pushes the values of all the armours closer together. Chain mail, scale mail and breastplate are all identical in the amount of damage that they can stop. Of course, there are other ways to differentiate between armours other than just stopping power. Things such as the armour check penalty, the cost and the maximum Dex bonus all need to be taken into account. Certain types of weapons (piercing, bludgeoning or slashing) will be more effective against some armours than others.

Natural Armour and Damage Reduction

But it isn’t just artificial armour that we have to worry about. Monsters with thick hides have large natural armour bonuses to their AC in third edition. Equally, some creatures have Damage Reduction on top of their armour class. How do we handle that?

The formula form Unearthed Arcana is as follows: Divide the natural armour value by 5 and round down. That becomes the DR value against all physical attacks. For example, a great wyrm red dragon has a +39 natural armour bonus. That gives the dragon DR 7/– in this new system. Now a great wyrm red already has DR 20/magic. But in third edition damage reductions that are different, do not stack. So the dragon would have DR 20 against all attacks, unless the foe was using in magic weapon in which case it would have DR 7.

However, in HD&D, damage reduction (or armour class as we’ll call it) always stacks. It makes sense. Often the third edition DR value is meant to represent a thick hide. So, here’s my proposal for HD&D: Divide all the DR values in the Monster Manual by two. Divide the natural armour by five. Add the two together and round to the nearest whole number. Does that work? Let’s take a few examples and find out:

Great Wyrm Red Dragon: DR 20 (20÷2 =10), Natural Armour 39 (39÷5 =7.8).
HD&D Armour Class is 18 (10+7.8, rounded up)

Brack Ogrebane: DR 8 (8÷2 = 4), Natural Armour 3 (3÷5 = 0.6).
HD&D Armour Class is 5 (4 + 0.6, rounded up)

Iron Golem: DR 15 (15÷2 = 7.5), Natural Armour 22 (22÷5 = 4.4)
HD&D Armour Class is 12 (7.5 + 4.4, rounded up)

Fire Giant: DR 0, Natrual Armour 8 (8÷5 = 1.6)
HD&D Armour Class is 2 (1.6 rounded up)

Pit Fiend: DR 15 (15÷2 = 7.5), Natural Armour 23 (23÷5 = 4.6)
HD&D Armour Class is 12 (7.5 + 4.6, rounded down)

Well, that seems to work. And don’t forget that worn armour stacks with the above. So Brack in Plate Armour would have an HD&D AC of 10. Fair enough? Shall we pursue this system?

By-passing HD&D AC (aka Damage Reduction)

Just to remind you all, that the HD&D AC should not be seen as an impervious barrier to damage. Yes, every attack that strikes you has the value subtracted from the damage done. But there are a number of ways to get through the protection offered by the armour, or thick skin. Here are some examples:

  • A critical hit automatically by-passes HD&D AC.
  • Every successful attack does a minimum of 1 point of damage under HD&D rules.
  • Certain weapons give attackers an advantage against certain armours. For example, piercing and stabbing weapons are more likely to go through chain mail than bludgeoning weapons.

Damage Conversion

Or shall we take the other suggestion from the Unearthed Arcana, which I have to say is really quite interesting. Now, these rules depend on us using a system for subdual/nonlethal damage that is similar to third edition. I have no problem with that, the system works as well as anything I’ve seen. If you don’t know what the system for nonlethal damage is in third edition, you can pop over to the d20 SRD and find out. It’s okay, I’ll wait.

In this system, there’s no messy conversion for armour. The armour bonus of the suit of armour becomes the amount of damage that the armour converts to nonlethal damage with each hit. In this system, characters wearing armour don’t last any longer in combat than unarmoured opponents. But they are much less likely to die, and find that they recover from their wounds much more quickly than their unarmoured friends.

However, a degree of double entry book-keeping is required. When you’re damaged you need to make a note of nonlethal damage separately. Ideally, you would make a note of real damage counting down from hit point total, and a note of nonlethal damage counting up from zero. When the amount of nonlethal damage you have taken exceeds your current hit points you fall unconscious.

The rules in Unearthed Arcana suggest that characters in armour ignore all nonlethal damage (such as kicks and punches) up to ther value of their armour. I’m not entirely sure that this needs to be the case, but I’m willing to be guided on the matter. It also mentions that this system creates issues with Regeneration; but that assumes regeneration in HD&D will work the same as it did in third edition – and I don’t think that it will.

Natural Armour and Damage Conversion

But how do we handle natural armour? If a great wyrm red dragon converts the first 39 points of damage from any attack into nonlethal damage, then slaying a dragon just got much, much more difficult. But then, shouldn’t it be? Is there really a problem with most physical attacks just bouncing off the dragon and eventually dazing it into submission? Critical hits and energy attacks (no argument here, we’ve all see the poll results) bypass the protection of physical armour anyway. I don’t think that, even if we adopted Damage Conversion, we would have to trim a monsters defences.

A Damage Conversion system in HD&D would not sit will next to a separate system of Damage Reduction. If we adopt Damage Conversion then the whole DR mechanic will have to go out of the window.

I would probably rule that a character’s third edition damage reduction value can substiute for natural armour in the Damage Conversion system. So the great wyrm red dragon has DR 20 and Natrural Armour 39, so it uses the higher value of 39. Brack Ogrebane has DR 8 and Natural Armour 3, so he’d use the higher value of 8. The first eight points of damage from any attack against a butt-naked Brack is converted into nonlethal damage.

Pros and Cons of Damage Conversion

In this system, the chances are that any armoured enemy or monster than you defeat isn’t actually dead. Whether this is a pro or con depends on the circumstances. It does mean that if a PC goes into battle wearing armour, the chances are that he is going to survive. That’s certainly something of a boon for PCs, and works well with the way that I run my game. However, the mechanics are also slightly unbelievable because someone in full plate is just as likely to go down in combat as someone dressed only in a thong. That said, it does reflect the fact that even armoured characters are battered when they are hit in combat.

In terms of mechanics, I prefer Damage Conversion to Damage Reduction for the HD&D game. It means that PCs can have high armour values, but armour alone isn’t going to keep them up and moving in combat. It means that heavily armoured characters won’t prolong combat. Remember that shorter combats is a big goal of HD&D. Damage Conversion would go a long way to helping me achieve that.

Additionally, the Damage Conversion system is not so bogged down with maths. I don’t have to try and balance armour values and average damage and hit points, because it wouldn’t really matter. We can also allow the damage conversion gained from natural armour to stack with the damage conversion gained from armour. So that red dragon in plate armour is going to convert the first 47 points of damage from all attacks into nonlethal damage. That’s not going to stop the party defeating the dragon after all.

So what do you think? There will be a poll on this, but I’d like a discussion first. Damage Reduction vs Damage Conversion: you decide!

HD&D Update: Ability Scores

Let’s put the thorny issue of magic behind us for a little while, and reconsider some of our greatest hits of the past. The original post on ability scores was three months ago. I’m not going to rehash the discussions we had at the time. You can always go back and read them if wish. Suffice to say that no firm conclusion was reached on the matter: a situation I hope to rectify with this post. The problem over ability scores was twofold:

  • How to work out the ‘point buy’ for ability scores.
  • How we should handle racial modifiers to ability scores.

The second point spawned its own poll on the subject. I shall take this second point first, and unveil what I consider to be the final rules on this matter (at least before we start play testing). I’ll also spend a little time justifying this decision, just so you know I’m not being deliberately arbitrary.

Racial Modifiers to Ability Scores

At character generation, all characters receive +2 to one prescribed ability score (as determined by their race), and +2 to one other ability score of the player’s choice. Some races, such as humans, allow players to assign a +2 bonus to any two ability scores. But these races are the exception rather than the rule. For the core races we are looking at for the first release of HD&D, the ability score modifiers are as follows:

  • Dragonborn: +2 Str, +2 to any other ability score
  • Dwarf: +2 Con, +2 to any other ability score
  • Elf: +2 Dex,+2 to any other ability score
  • Genasi: +2 Int, +2 to any other ability score
  • Genbassi: +2 to any two ability scores
  • Gnome: +2 Int, +2 to any other ability score
  • Half-elf: +2 Cha, +2 to any other ability score
  • Half-orc: +2 Str, +2 to any other ability score
  • Halfling: +2 Dex, +2 to any other ability score
  • Human: +2 to any two ability scores
  • Tiefling: +2 Cha, +2 to any other ability score

Why have I chosen to do it this way, when the results of the poll suggested a system of two prescribed ability score modifiers for each race? Well, two reasons actually. Firstly, I think that it is difficult to find two ability scores that a stereotypical member of a particular PC race should excel at. We all know that dwarves are tough (high Con), elves are graceful (high Dex) and half-orcs are strong (high Str). All of us would probably agree with that. However, if we were to suggest where we thought the second +2 should go on (e.g.) a half-orc we’d all come back with different answers. Do they have good instincts (+2 Wis)? Do they have  high endurance (+2 Con)? Are they fast as 4e suggests (+2 Dex)? By only prescribing one ability score, it’s much easier to determine where the +2 should go. As for the other +2, that is left entirely at the discretion of the player.

Which brings me neatly to my second point. Player choice is crucial. The system should not force you to play a particular combination of race and class, simply because of the game mechanics. If you want to play a dwarf it should be because you want to play a dwarf, not because of the dwarf’s racial modifiers to his ability scores. I am desperate to avoid falling into the same trap as fourth edition. By giving all races +2 to two prescribed ability scores, and making all classes largely dependent on two ability scores, the 4e designers married up race and class too closely.

If you want to be a optimum ranger in fourth edition you have to play an elf. If you want to be an optimum sorcerer you’ll play a dragonborn. All players want to build their character as well as they can. It’s human nature. If you do play against type (say, you’re a multiclassed eladrin warlock/cleric) then the system actively penalises your character. This is not the case in HD&D. Because the player always gets to choose where to apply one of his +2 racial modifiers, all choices are optimal choices. Add to this that the key powers and abilities of each class will run off one ability score and not two, and I think you have a pretty robust package. Under HD&D you’ll see dwarven swordmages, gnoll paladins and dragonborn clerics.

I think this is for the best. I don’t think that doing this lessens the individuality of any one race, or stops that race from being unique. So what if this particular dwarven warlock has +2 to Charisma? That doesn’t stop the rest of his race being gruff and dour; but it does stop the PC dwarf from being inherently worse that his companions. In any event we are talking about player characters here, they are not just another member of their race: they are exceptional. They might not start out any more powerful than the dwarf next door, but they are unusual. They have have the capacity to grow, and to gain great power and notoriety as they advance in levels.

The HD&D Point Buy

In HD&D everyone starts with a score of 10 in each of their six ability scores: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. They then receive a pool of 20 points they can use to increase those scores. The cost of increasing ability scores varies depending on the value of the score:

  • 10: 0
  • 11: +1
  • 12: +2
  • 13: +3
  • 14: +5
  • 15: +7
  • 16: +9

The figures in the table are not cumulative. It costs nine points to raise an attribute from 10 to 16.

If you want to have an attribute lower than 10 you can have one. You can choose to reduce an attribute below 10. For every 2 points you reduce an attribute below 10, you get 1 point back to spend on your ability scores. So if a character with 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 in his starting scores has 20 points to apply; a character with 10, 10, 10, 10, 10, 4 would have 23 points to apply.

No score can be increased above 16 or below 4 during this process. Racial modifiers to ability scores are added afterwards,  so it is still possible to start with an 18. However, you can only start with an 18 in an ability score where you also receive a racial modifier.

The maths behind the fourth edition point buy is still at the heart of this system. The default 4e ability score array of 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10 is still possible with this arrangement. However, I hope that my method offers a greater flexibility. It is possible to have two 16s (and therefore potentially two 18s) without creating a character who is ridiculously bad at anything. An array of 16, 16, 11, 11, 10, 10 for example. However, a character with three 16s would be very unlikely. The array 16, 16, 16, 6, 6, 4 would probably be too much for many people to stomach.

Because the maximum stat you can obtian through the point buy is 16, this stops the 4e situation where a player does his utmost to give his character an ability score of 20 at first level. I really don’t want starting PCs to have stats that high if I can avoid it. Also because defences will be calculated using the third edition rubriks (i.e. only one ability score ever modifies any one defence) it becomes far harder to hide poor stats. If the swashbuckler feels he has no choice but to put his “4” in Wisdom, you can be sure that decision is going to come back and bite him at some point in the future.

Anyway – I’m pretty convinced that this will work. It balances the need to give all player characters an equal footing in their ability scores, with the diversity I require from the system. The mechanic of lowering an ability by 2 to increase another ability by 1, is an old chestnut from character generation in second edition. It’s nice to see it back.