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Combat Tweaks

Consolidated fiddly bits for S&W combat

The last few weeks have been about changes to the Swords and Wizardry combat mechanic. Here’s how it all ties together in my Chimera/S&W mash-up (which I’m calling, in honour of G. MacKenzie, Lich Lord) “Spear & Spell.”


I’m defaulting to Moldvay for initiative. While I like individual initiative, side-based initiative seems to be a better fit here, possibly faster, and it still lets you employ strategery. [1] I figure 1d6 per side, with each round broken into the following phases:

  1. Morale
  2. Movement
  3. Miscellaneous
  4. Missile
  5. Magic
  6. Melee
  7. Mop-up

Astute readers will note that I’ve added a couple more phases, but I kept the “M”s, which stands for things like Mandatory. And Moldvay. Each phase is resolved in initiative order before moving to the next (i.e., side A moves, then side B, then side A does miscellaneous stuff, then side B, etc.).


Another nod to Moldvay, whose Basic D&D included a 2d6 morale roll, which was compared to a monster’s morale stat.

Interestingly, Moldvay’s Encounter Reaction table also used 2d6, and I’ve always had this notion of combining the two, essentially defining morale as a Reaction roll made during a fight. Since S&W monsters don’t include a morale stat, this is the perfect opportunity:

Die Roll (2d6) Before a fight During a fight
2 Immediate attack Fight to the death
3-5 Hostile, likely attack Continue fighting
6-8 Cautious, monster confused Strategic withdrawal
9-11 Non-hostile, monster leaves Flee
12 Friendship Surrender

A GM should check for morale reactions when the encounter first occurs. Once fighting starts, check after check for morale at the beginning of each round and apply modifiers for taking the first casualty wound, when the number of allies falls below 50%, and when the leader is eliminated from the fight (This update made on 12 Oct.; as a result, I'll include these modifiers in another post - EDS). The Charisma of the party leader may modify the morale roll at the GM’s discretion.


A slight deviation from the S&W standard: A character’s base movement indicates the number of tabletop inches he can move in a combat round. Each inch is worth 10’ inside or 10 yards outside.

For now, my working model includes the Movement Die used in Chimera, which is rolled when a character runs or creeps. So, you might have a movement rate of 9±1d6, meaning that you can walk 9” per round (i.e., 90’ inside or 90 yards outside), run 10-15” per round or creep 3-8” per round.

Any movement is resolved during this phase. Running or creeping takes the full round, but if you walk at your normal speed, you can still act during one of the remaining phases (Miscellaneous, Missile, Magic, or Melee, below).

I also like the idea of resolving backstab attacks during this phase. I mean, you watch movies—does anyone ever get backstabbed after the action starts?


This is a catch-all for non-attack and non-magic actions, like picking a lock, breaking down a door, pushing a boulder over a cliff, wriggling free of a spider web, trying to figure out the mechanism that controls the platform suspended by a chain over a fiery pit to Hell, etc.

These actions may or may not actually require a skill roll, and they may be complicated (or impossible) if there’s a foe in melee range.


Any non-magical ranged attack—firing a bow, shooting your radium pistol, or throwing a rock. Roll 1d20 and add your class-based to-hit bonus; if the result equals or exceeds your target’s movement rate, the attack hits.

A few tweaks to what S&W says:

First, adjust for scale by dividing the weapon’s range by 10 (round fractions down). The result is the weapon’s range in tabletop inches. For example, a long bow’s range is 70 feet in the S&W rules; this is 7” on the tabletop, which means 70’ indoors and 70 yards outside.

Hank the Ranger

Buddy shoots...

Second, range should be interpreted as “effective range,” meaning that a shot fired at a target within range is unmodified. The to-hit penalty for longer shots is the target’s distance divided by weapon range (round fractions down). So I have a long bow and my target is 6” away—no penalty. At 7” the penalty is -1, at 10” the penalty is -1, at 14” the penalty is -2, and so on. Not sure about maximum range, but at this early stage, I’m prepared to say it’s not a factor. [2]

Third, all missile fire occurs during this phase. So if you have a weapon with a rate of fire (RoF) greater than 1, now’s when you shoot your load. There are “auto-fire” rules which let you aim at a number of targets up to your weapon’s rate of fire. Roll to hit each target separately; damage dice from a successful hit equals RoF divided by number of targets (any remainder is added to the damage roll).

For example, a long bow’s rate of fire is 2; damage is 1d6. If I target 1 foe, I make 1 to-hit roll; damage is 2d6. If I target 2 foes, I make a to-hit roll for each; damage is 1d6 each.


Now is the time to cast spells, invoke magic items, read scrolls, quaff potions, rub your genie lamp, utter command words, and make any rolls required to maintain spells already in effect. [3] To keep things simple, I’m ruling that if you’re hit during a prior phase, you can’t cast a spell, but you probably can use a magic item.


ator the fighting eagle

And Italian Conan is down...

This is a straight-up smack down on your foe, but you can’t be more than 1” away from your target. Roll 1d20 and add your class-based to-hit bonus; if the result equals or exceeds your target’s movement rate, the attack hits.

I’ll port over the various combat manoeuvres from Chimera, and there will be a tweak or two to the S&W guidelines for two-handed attacks and fighting with two weapons. Also need to playtest the S&W grappling rules a bit, though I’ll say now that they look good on paper.

I’ll probably need to come up with some rules for trying to get past a foe in melee range, as well as strategic withdrawal/retreat/flight, but more on that later. For the record, attacks of opportunity are right out.


This is a bookkeeping phase that every combatant can participate in. Mop-up is when you do your ammo checks, gear checks, wound inventory, weapon-readying, etc. It’s also when you apply the effects of persistent conditions, like long-term spells, environmental factors (like heat damage from fighting in a steam tunnel), and any other sort of round-to-round tallying.

Attack Rolls and Damage

Based on my ideas for damage, there are 4 3 outcomes to any attack roll:

  1. Attack misses. Done. Maybe you take an initiative penalty if you miss with a natural “1”. Dunno.
  2. Attack hits. Roll for damage, subtract armour, and apply the rest to target’s hit points.
  3. Attack hits (natural d20 roll is in attacker’s critical range). Roll for damage, subtract armour, and apply the rest as a single wound (with wound severity equal to final damage result) [4]
  4. Attack hits (modified d20 is exactly the number required to hit). Roll for damage using exploding die (i.e., when you roll the maximum amount, roll again and add the result; repeat until you no longer roll the highest value for that die), subtract armour, and apply the rest to the target’s hit points.

Final Words

OK, there’s a lot here, but I’m open to feedback. Popular topics? My money is on movement die, using movement rate as an attack target number, and the exploding die thingie.

  1. Be advised that my Google Docs failed to flag “strategery” as a misspelled word, implying that it’s perfectly cromulent vocabulary. After the death (and conditional resurrection) of the Oxford comma, I’m not sure what to think about this.
  2. Rather than establish maximum range, I’d advocate reducing damage over distance. Perhaps half-damage if the total to-hit penalty exceeds the weapon’s range. For instance, a long bow’s range is 7”. If the to-hit penalty exceeds -7, you do 1d3 damage instead of 1d6.
  3. I have guidelines that allow spell-casters to maintain certain spells by concentration, which requires a roll during the Magic phase..
  4. A successful hit should always have a chance of inflicting damage, but some weapons don’t have the math (e.g., a 1d4 damage dagger vs. 6 points of plate mail). Hence the exploding damage die when you make a perfect strike. It only happens 5% of the time, but it’s still a chance. Let's make this simpler: when a critical hit is scored, the attacker has the option of inflicting damage as a wound or as 2 dice worth of hit points. So for weapons that can't penetrate armour (e.g., my 1d4 dagger vs. 6 points of plate), you get a chance to inflict more hit points, but not an actual wound. This also opens up the possibility of other results when a critical hit occurs, maybe depending on class. For example, a fighter might get his choice of: wound, double damage in hit points, disarm, push, or sweep. A magic-user who gets a critical might only get double damage in hit points option (because, hey, he's just a puny wizard, and like he's gonna drop anyone in a single blow anyway).
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  1. deimos3428
    September 28th, 2011 at 15:56 | #1

    I had an interesting thought on reading the Morale section, which simply never occurred to me in 20+ years of playing D&D.

    Via a morale check, the monsters effectively get their actions second-guessed *after* initiative is rolled. Though player characters (having something resembling free will) are not required to make morale checks, perhaps they should have an opportunity at that point in the “morale phase” to reassess the situation and flee/surrender/etc. as well?


    After inflicting heavy damage on a group of kobolds, the players lose initiative. To their surprise, the kobolds do not break and run for it as expected, having made their morale check. Clearly, something is up…specifically, the players’ Morale Phase. As they are equipped with only longswords the party leader, Brave Brave Sir Robin, turns tail and flees. The rest elect to surrender before suffering more missle fire from the tiny creatures.

    I realize the actual fleeing and surrender would take place in the Movement and Miscellaneous phases. The question is more to do with the altering of one’s actions after initiative has been determined.

    I am of course assuming two things. First that initiative is rolled each round vs. just once per combat, and second that actions must be declared before initiative is rolled.

  2. September 28th, 2011 at 20:09 | #2

    @deimos3428 : Yeah, this could work. I like the idea of using the Morale phase to make a group decision–kinda like Family Feud (are you gonna play or pass?). So if the party decides to stay in the fight, they do so as a group, meaning that if anyone retreats or flees during their movement (like Brave Brave Sir Robin), he does so individually and loses any advantage of a “strategic withdrawal” or group surrender action later in the round. Conversely, if the party decides to get out of the fight, they get some advantage to doing it as a cohesive group.

    You’re right: initiative is rolled each round. Not sure about actions having to be declared first, though. Given the strict phases in this model, maybe you can wait until after initiative, morale, and movement to decide what else you’re going to do. For instance, you might move to get a target in missile range, but then an opponent moves next to you, so now you can’t shoot–do you do a miscellaneous thing, do you use a magic item, or do you make a melee attack?

    I have to playtest more, but it might be interesting to determine actions as the round unfolds. It’s more ‘seat of the pants,’ but possibly more entertaining(?)

  3. September 28th, 2011 at 20:17 | #3

    UPDATE: Got rid of the exploding-damage-die-when-you-roll-the-exact-to-hit-number thingie. Now, you just have expanded options when you score a critical hit. Deimos was right–just can’t get that… exploding die…to…work.

  4. Greg MacKenzie
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:36 | #4

    With regard to morale, we always assumed a Monster would attack. The Moldvay table is interesting but there is a problem with 2d6 tables though due to the use of 2d6. The probability of dice combinations favour the 6,7, 8, result 16 out of 36 times. Basically what happens is that the combinations of the dice unfortunately tilt the result to the middle. If this is what you want not a problem, but the table might work better as d20 that way you have some control over where the values are assigned. For example the following is an even distribution:

    Die Roll (1d20) Before a fight During a fight
    1-4 Immediate attack Fight to the death
    5-8 Hostile, likely attack Continue fighting
    9-12 Cautious, monster confused Strategic withdrawal
    13-16 Non-hostile, monster leaves Flee
    17-20 Friendship Surrender

    If you push the numbers around you can weight a particular result, say I prefer them to fight:

    Die Roll (1d20) Before a fight During a fight
    1-4 Immediate attack Fight to the death
    5-10 Hostile, likely attack Continue fighting
    11-12 Cautious, monster confused Strategic withdrawal
    13-16 Non-hostile, monster leaves Flee
    17-20 Friendship Surrender

    As a DM it gives you more control over where the result will go. This table could be made more complex as well, based on a range of hit dies for example, a monster of higher hit die would be less likely to quit or run. You could also base the morale check on the total hit dies of each side and the one with the greater number of dies receiving a bonus, the lower a penalty, thus dividing the reaction.

    This table could be used for the morale of man-like monsters or hirelings lets say, but not for players who have “free will” as far as the game goes; to stay and fight on.

  5. Greg MacKenzie
    October 9th, 2011 at 07:42 | #5

    By the way, it is nigh impossible to create a successful weighted table in the manner of the latter table above using 2d6 because of the slanted results. If you’ve guessed I’m considering abandoning 2d6 you are correct. I can see the flaws in it and it’s no wonder that the gaming industry abandoned them for d10, d20, etc.

  6. October 9th, 2011 at 09:16 | #6

    @Greg MacKenzie : For reactions/morale, I do like the bell curve. I will allow modifiers to the roll for special circumstances, knowing that a +1 on a curve has less impact than a +1 on a linear progression (which, for certain things, seems appropriate).

    One way round the problem you’re describing is to “break up” the sweet spot in the middle of the curve. IOW, turn the bell curve into a wavy line by regrouping the result sets. Something like:

    Die Roll (2d6) Before a Fight Probability
    2-4 Immediate Attack 6 in 36
    5-6 Hostile, likely attack 9 in 36
    7 Cautious, monster confused 6 in 36
    8-9 Non-hostile, monster flees 9 in 36
    10-12 Friendship 6 in 36

    Or something. This simply changes the probabilities–in this case, higher chance of “hostile, likely attack” or “non-hostile, monster leaves” results. Admittedly, it’s not as “neat,” but you can shift the weight if you’re willing to get a little dirty. ;)

  7. Greg MacKenzie
    October 9th, 2011 at 17:13 | #7

    @Erin D. Smale
    Ok, you got me, time to eat humble pie. Aren’t you glad I”m not a nuclear physicist. Just come see me when you want a pretty picture drawn. ;)

  8. October 9th, 2011 at 18:18 | #8

    @Greg MacKenzie Oh, I wouldn’t say that. My OCD usually prevents me from doing what I recommend. ;)

  9. Anthony
    October 9th, 2011 at 20:56 | #9

    Just a totally random thought on range; I had been working on this some while back and I will add in some food for thought:

    I would break down ranged weapons into accuracy and range. Accuracy means how easy it is to hit a target trying to avoid being hit; this is non-variable according to weapon. For example, anyone who is 100 feet away (or whatever) is going to be hard to hit just as a function of distance regardless of whether you are using a longbow, crossbow, or pistol. It is hard to hit a man sized target at X distance no matter what you are firing. Get it? The only difference would be for weapons that are not aerodynamically designed to go as far as “accurate distance” like a throwing knife, hatchet, primitive pistol, etc. Their accurate distance would be however far you could reliably throw a knife.

    So accurate distance is set at a maximum of X based on physics, empirical data, whimsy, etc (unless a weapon’s accurate distance is less than that).

    Then, each weapon would have a range feature. This represents how far a weapon could be launched and still have enough energy to actually deal damage. Anything beyond this reduces damage (not chance to hit). So a musket firing a lead ball loses its penetrating power much more quickly than a rifle firing a shaped bullet. A longbow would have a very long range if fired in an arc, but that arrow fired in a high arc will have significantly less kinetic energy and do less damage.

    This make sense?

    Break weapons down into accuracy and damage and you get 4 possibilities: Full damage and to hit,full damage and penalty to-hit, penalty to damage and hit, and then just flat out too far away.

  10. October 9th, 2011 at 21:37 | #10

    @Anthony : That’s an interesting break-down. So a rifle at range 100 might be full to-hit and damage while a sub-machine gun at range 100 might be full to-hit but reduced damage?

    IOW, range impacts weapon performance, not the shooter’s ability.

    I want to think about this a bit – it reminds me of the range system in 3:16, which is heavily abstracted, but very fast during play.

  11. Greg MacKenzie
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:21 | #11

    Erin D. Smale :
    @Greg MacKenzie Oh, I wouldn’t say that. My OCD usually prevents me from doing what I recommend.

    Hah! ;) I’ve totally got blinders on tinkering with this 2d6 SRD based ruleset to the point of losing sight of the obvious. I can’t think for the life of me why I didn’t note the 2d6 combinations, they are right in front of me all the time. I go all right brain over the totality of the “thing” and lose sight of the basics. Thanks for pointing out the math because I got sidetracked. I should know better than to challenge your OCD in such a fashion ;)

  12. Greg MacKenzie
    October 10th, 2011 at 12:48 | #12

    Your idea of variable damage for distance is worthwhile. A while back this sort of thing got me thinking as well although I took it differently. There’s various ways of looking at it. A musket has an effective range, but the ball is capable of traveling beyond that. one of the reasons they had massed formations was due to the inaccuracy, so grouping shooters together, well your bound to hit something. At a certain distance you can hit a 1 foot square, at a farther distance a five foot square. You can see where I’m going. It took training to properly use a bow or crossbow, hence a steep learning curve. The learning curve is shorter with a firearm which is why muskets replaced bows. I’ve learned though from practical experience that it doesn’t matter how good a weapon is, if the person using it can’t shoot, it’s useless.

    I came up with an idea recently to sort of address the baseline characteristics of damage, and other effects, which is similar to your thinking. MPKW

    M – At this range the weapon inflicts a Mortal Wound; a Defender must make a Fortitude Check.
    P – penetrates all armor including Plate Armor, the armor cannot protect the wearer from injury, do not count it against Grievous Wounds.
    K – Knockdown, the target is knocked prone by the hit.
    W – A Grievous Wound.
    Nil – No wound is possible at this distance because it is beyond the effective range of the weapon even if the Check Number is indicated as a successful roll.

    My table for a musket looks like this:

    Weapon Type 40 Yards and under 80 100 150 200 300 yards.
    Arquebus, (Musket) MPKW MPKW W W Nil Nil

    This of course has nothing to do with actually hitting the target, or how many volleys you can fire in a minute, that would be where training comes in. I think though there’s always a danger in making these games too realistic. If the rules aren’t simple, the game bogs down.

    Skill is already an “assumed” quality of S&W for example because you get better at hitting as you gain levels. SML range modifiers take care of the to hit for distance.

  13. October 10th, 2011 at 20:41 | #13

    @Greg MacKenzie : I should know better than to challenge your OCD in such a fashion

    Don’t worry – I never win, either.

  14. Greg MacKenzie
    October 10th, 2011 at 21:11 | #14

    Erin D. Smale :
    @Greg MacKenzie : I should know better than to challenge your OCD in such a fashion
    Don’t worry – I never win, either.

    OCD is awful isn’t it. It takes you places you never expect to land. ;) Having landed at the intersection one looks at the signpost and then goes off in another direction because after all the destination the signpost indicates isn’t all that satisfying.

  15. Greg MacKenzie
    October 11th, 2011 at 14:17 | #15

    @Erin D. Smale
    By the way, that MPKW stuff is from that “Jamestown-esque” material I sent you a while back. I’ve been taking some of that writing and trying to work it into this SRD based 2d6 stuff. I’m slowly making all the “medieval” bits out of the writing secondary as I go along.

  16. Greg Mackenzie
    October 12th, 2011 at 07:39 | #16

    Erin D. Smale :A GM should check for morale when the encounter first occurs. Once fighting starts, check after the first casualty, when the number of allies falls below 50%, and when the leader is eliminated from the fight. The Charisma of the party leader may modify the morale roll at the GM’s discretion

    Back to the original topic, this is quite useful and interesting. In the initial encounter you could also put something in with regard to a Threatening Display, The monster doesn’t attack unless approached, or doesn’t attack if the players withdraw, or the monster can be bribed with food or treasure. Or, monster follows party until bribed with food or treasure. The idea being that the initial encounter doesn’t always lead to a combat. You could have two tables here, one for man-like monsters and one for beasts.

    Other factors leading to a combat might be something like, if the player party is wounded, outnumbered in hit dies by the monsters, carrying treasure, etc. What motivates a monster?

    Morale is also useful for player party NPCs it might make their behaviour more realistic, i.e. when would Gnurble the not-so-brave turn and run.

  17. October 12th, 2011 at 23:15 | #17

    @Greg Mackenzie : Yeah, I’m excited to get back to a regular morale phase during combat. And, since there is a morale phase, you can ignore the “Once fighting starts, check after…” bit above. IOW, monsters and NPCs roll morale at the beginning of every round. You just apply modifiers based on conditions (which will be fun, since I’m checking morale on a 2d6 curve…Curse you, Lich Lord!!!).

    I also like your reaction/morale modifiers. I usually never bothered with reaction rolls unless I truly had no preference either way (i.e., most monsters were there to fight the party, so pretty much every encounter’s “reaction” was Hostile anyway). But some monster-specific conditions sound cool, like +2 if offered tasty flesh or -1 if the party is visibly wounded. That way, you’d always roll reactions, but you’d modify based on conditions, which would make every encounter potentially more interesting (for GMs like me, who like to make things up on the fly).

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