Missile Fire and Combat Rounds

I have never had a problem with the concept that a one-minute combat round is filled with all sorts of feints, parries, maneuvers, and attacks, with one roll per round determining the if damage is scored. In fact, rather than use the “only one attack per round really has much of a chance of actually hitting” theory, I’ve often described it as being a cumulative amount for the minute, perhaps one solid hit but maybe several glancing blows. The abstract hit point system models this fairly well.

For instance, a successful sword attack roll with a damage roll of ‘7’ could represent a solid hit, but it might just as easily represent three or four lesser hits over the course of the round that wear down the target. Regardless of the specific description of the action, the approach is perfectly fine and plays quite well.

However, I’ve always felt that the whole thing fell apart when it came to missile fire.

Rather than abstractly modeling a minute of blows dealing “damage” that can (and should) be explained in an infinite number of ways, missile fire represents one specific action with one specific result. Whereas a fighter in melee rains blows down on a circling opponent and fends off the same for a whole minute, with the roll determining if his efforts were successful in wearing his enemy down, an archer simply rolls to see if his one arrow hits the target. And if it does, he rolls again to see how much that one strike hurt the recipient.

In short, melee’s abstract combat system and missile’s specific action combat system don’t really get on well together, particularly when using the one-minute combat round.

Most versions of the game with one-minute rounds allow bows to fire twice per round, crossbows to fire once per round, and heavy crossbows to fire every other round. This seems to model the relative rates of fire pretty well, and it plays perfectly. Except when you consider that in the minute our fighter is battling his opponent, lunging, circling, side-stepping, lunging again, parrying, and so on, our archer only gets off two shots.

Two arrows per minute is far too slow. Conservatively, at least 4-6 should be in order. (And wood elves in the Lord of the Rings films apparently have a ROF of about 25!) And crossbows probably should have their rate adjusted upwards, too, though not by nearly so much. This would more accurately model combat, but it has a problem of its own: it would play terribly.

I’ve long held the personal rule that good play trumps good simulation of reality every time. First of all, it’s a little tough to argue “realism” when your talking about how long it takes your half-elven fighter/magic-user to get a magical wand out of an enchanted bag to use against the fire-breathing dragon. Such debates about realism very quickly suck the “fantasy” our of fantasy gaming.

At the same time, though I’m not a big proponent of “balanced play” as such, I also don’t want to see the archer’s player rolling to hit six times for every one roll the fighter’s player gets. That just isn’t a lot of fun.

Combat rounds of 10, 12, or 15 seconds aren’t perfect, but they play better with missile vs. melee as far a I’m concerned. I usually use 10 seconds per round, though I often suspect that 15 seconds might better model fantasy combat as I see it. With the shorter rounds, I allow only one arrow shot per round and leave crossbows at one shot and a half shot per round.

Taking a system designed around a 1-minute round and arbitrarily switching to quarter-minute or sixth-minute round can wreak havoc with things like movement and spell durations, so tread carefully. Magic is actually pretty easy to convert by simply replacing the word “round” with the word “minute.” I leave turns at ten minutes.

Movement might be a little more tricky to convert, but I’ve always thought the whole movement system was kaput from day one, so how much more broken can it get? Lately I happen to prefer the numbers used with Labyrinth Lord, which I believe are the same as in the 1981 B/X version of the game. But whatever system is used, I recommend “real simple” over “simple,” with “really really simple” being even better. And “fun and easy to play” over “more realistic” nearly every time.

Note: That third image is from a wiki on the game Fiesta. I don’t know anything about Fiesta, but I noticed that the archer advancement table included stats up to level 89. I fully realize that there are many legitmate ways to skin a cat, but stuff like “89th level” immediately sets off some sort of alarm in my old school mind.

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3 Responses to Missile Fire and Combat Rounds

  1. Magic is actually pretty easy to convert by simply replacing the word “round” with the word “minute.”

    Doesn’t this break the system? If rounds become, say, 10 seconds long, then what a wizard used to do in a 1-minute round now takes six rounds. Just curious…

    The 1-minute round never sat well with me, either – yet one more reason why Moldvay/Cook B/X is my weapon of choice. 😀

    • Kilgore says:

      I should clarify. I meant replace “round” with “minute” for spell durations. Systems that use casting times should probably keep rounds as rounds.

      The duration conversion can potentially “break” the system for short-duration spells. Something that used to last 5 rounds/minutes would now last 30 rounds in that same 5 minutes. But spells with durations in the turns last beyond the end of combat anyway, so I haven’t found this to be a big deal.

  2. Brian says:

    I believe the default for Moldvay Basic, which LL is based on, is a 10 second round for combat.

    The missiles issue is one that greatly annoys me. I’ve made attempts to tackle it, but I’ve not come up with anything I can call a success yet.

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