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.

Seven heads are better than one

Seven heads are better than one

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.

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11 Responses to Claw/Claw/Bite

  1. TheRavyn says:

    It is a bit of a quandary, but the only resolution I can think of, short of going through the MM one beast at a time and revising, is to roll all the “to-hits” at once, like you’ve been doing.

    The only really useful reason I can think of for a monster having multiple attacks like that is for attack multiple players at once, like a lion tearing through a group of hapless hirelings.

  2. I can’t say as I’ve ever had an issue with the claw/claw/bite routine. (Since my weapon of choice is D&D B/X, wherein rounds are only 10 seconds long, I’ve never been a believer in the “multiple swings, feints, parries, and counterstrokes” theory of combat; nor do I cleave to the idea that HP represent anything more than physical wear and tear. Keeps things simple. That’s just me, though…)

    I’m no statistician (scared o’ that!), but: While it looks like your conversion of 1d3/1d3/1d6 to 2d6 is fairly close in regards to averaging damage rolls, converting three to-hit rolls to one really skews the odds. As an example, the odds of a all three c/c/b attacks hitting on a 15 or higher is somewhere around 3%, whereas a single attack against that target number is at ~30% odds. (FYI: I have a die rolling app I use to run these sorts of numbers – I didn’t do the math myself.) Thus, if the numbers are right, by reducing all three attacks to a single to-hit roll, you’re opening your players’ characters up to suffering higher average damage amounts each round.

    FWIW, ICBWOT (“I could be wrong on this” :P)

    • Kilgore says:

      I’ve run a spreadsheet simulation of thousands of mountain lion attacks [against AC 5] and found that the “one attack for 2d6 damage” method scores about 0.25 points of damage per round less than the standard claw/claw/bite method. So every four rounds the mountain lion does one less damage total, which I don’t think is significant.

  3. JB says:

    Hmmm…I have three distinct thoughts on your idea:

    First and foremost, over the long haul, I’d expect combining damage into one roll to be deadlier to PCs. When damage is split amongst multiple rolls, odds are the PC will take LESS damage. For example: if the mountain lion has a 40% chance to hit (13+ on a 1D20) your one roll method gives a character a 40% chance to take full damage. With the claw/claw/bite the chance of taking full damage is 40% x 40% x 40% = 6.5%. Sure there’s less chance of taking NO damage, but at least you’re not going “all in” every hand!

    Second thought: I think that for a claw/claw/bite attack, a creature is probably making multiple swipes and tears…with EACH natural weapon! A player only has one sword to hack away with…an owl bear has two deadly claws and one pecking beak. Now I realize that isn’t consistent with the way I handle two weapon fighting for PCs in B/X… : )

    Third thought: Do all animals (like mountain lions) claw/claw/bite? I don’t think so. I’d think they do one “pounce” or maybe one “swipe” (or “swipe combo”). I’m just guessing here…I’ve never been attacked by a mountain lion. However, you COULD re-write every monster entry to make sense to YOUR particular game world. But that might be a pretty hefty project.

    • Kilgore says:

      Regarding your 3rd thought, I actually think that combining all attacks into one makes it “easier” to describe various sorts of attacks depending upon the particular situation.

  4. JB says:

    Hmmm…cross-post with Chris B. Yeah, what he said.

    (though personally you’d be amazed at how fast the well-trained hand at feet move when fencing…multiple feints, parries, ducks, and thrusts are all possible within 3-5 seconds, let alone 10!)

  5. Vincent Diakuw says:

    I’m probably alone in this, but I roll a single d20 for any monster and all the attacks either hit or miss… then I distribute the damage dice amongst the party as the creature attacks suggest. This deals damage similarly to rationalizing the damage to a single large attack as you suggest, but allows the multiple attack to fulfill its purpose in challenging groups.

    Also, when the claw/claw/bite hits I can send the lesser die hits to the weaker PCs if I need to 😉

    • Kilgore says:

      That is an interesting way to do it. How would you determine the target ‘to-hit’ number, unless all PCs had the same armor class?

      One thing I’m trying to get away from is “sending lesser die hits to weaker PCs if I need to” these days, though. I want to remove that sort of judgment call and just let things happen as they may.

  6. Timeshadows says:

    * In your above example, the closest I can see is: 1d6+1d4+1 which accurately duplicates the minima, and average, and only cheats you of 1 maxima.

    As far as the probabilities on rolling three attacks in one, the others have already weighed-in. It does dramatically reduce the ‘chance’ that any damage is done, but if that time-saver step is worth it for you and your group, cool.

    :: As for 10 (or my preferred 6-second Round), an adult human can cross 21 feet in under 6-seconds and become a deadly threat, so multiple swings more or less right in someone’s face (especially by an ambidextrous creature like a cougar) is no stretch of the imagination.
    :: Moreover, cougars would almost never attack up-front, instead ‘sneak attacking’ and then running off if they were presented with any serious resistance, and then follow the prey until they could ambush again. 🙂

  7. Timeshadows says:

    No, I’m wrong: 3d4 is the way to go. (3| 7.5| 12)
    –Sorry. 🙁

  8. Pingback: Claw/Claw/Bite (Pt. 2) « Lord Kilgore

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