Some aspects of the typical multiple attack routine by monsters in these games that we play have bothered me for some time, particularly the way that rolling a claw/claw/bite tends to slow things down a bit. Three rolls for each monster instead of one, multiple damage rolls if hits are scored, etcetera, etcetera. Not a big deal, really, but something I’ve never been a big fan of.
Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if it might not be better to roll all the attacks into one roll. It was probably Swords & Wizardry White Box, which generally uses 1 d6 attack per monster, that got me thinking on this. We already assume that a round of combat consists of multiple swings, feints, parries, and counterstrokes, and we already assume that hit points are more or less an abstract representation of “fighting toughness” (for want of a better term). So why not extend this abstract approach to attacks by monsters with multiple claw or claw/bite or pincer/tail attacks?
One roll to see if hit point-reducing damage has been done, and, if so, one more roll to see how much.
For instance, this past weekend my son’s character was leading a party of adventurers and hirelings through a dungeon called Osgorr’s Labyrinth, wherein they encountered two mountain lions. Each mountain lion had a claw/claw/bite for 1d3/1d3/1d6. Nothing unusual or terribly difficult, but still sort a pain to run through, in my humble opinion. I’ve taken to rolling all multiple attacks at once, so I’d roll three d20s for each mountain lion, having designated one of the dice as “the bite.” Then I’d roll any and all damage at once, as well. This speeds things up a bit.
But why not give the mountain lion one attack for 2d6? Statistically, I’m not sure how this would compare numbers-wise over the long haul, but it seems to me that it wouldn’t shift things too far one way or the other.
The damage roll, as always, could be used as an indication of the exactly what blows were landed. Roll a 3? Well, one claw must have nicked the character. Roll a 10? Apparently both claws raked and solid bite was delivered, as well.
If the “fearsomeness” of monsters with multiple attack routines is needed, maybe a +1 to hit could be granted to simulate the creature’s ability to deliver quick strikes from different directions. Some “two weapon fighting” house rules already do something like this.
Note that I wouldn’t necessarily use this approach for some creatures. Hydras and chimeras, for instance, have multiple heads that are at least semi-independent and can strike against different foes in the same round. In cases such as that I would definitely leave the separate attacks in. Fighting a seven-headed hydra is a lot like fighting seven monsters. Fighting a mountain lion is not really like fighting three monsters.
One thing I’m not sure how to handle this way would be when one of the attacks has a special feature, such as the poisonous sting of a giant scorpadillo’s tail. Maybe keep separate attacks for that, particularly if it can be used against a different target than the primary attack. Alternatively, perhaps a natural ’20’ or a roll 4 greater than required to hit could indicate that the special attack has struck home. Maybe it could be different for different creatures, depending upon the perceived likelihood of the special attack hitting, though I’m trying to simplify things here, not add new rules.
This is not something I’m currently using, or even something I’m currently planning to use. However, I want to give it some thought and, unless holes are uncovered, I may consider it in the future.
Does anyone have any thoughts?
UPDATE: More on this idea here.