Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Knight vs Dragon

The classic trope of the lone knight against a dragon. Is it doable in D&D? I've never seen it happen. Seems like a suicide mission unless you're talking about a super, high level, overpowered character, but where's the fun in that?

Before writing this, I watched the dragon fight scene in the Disney classic, Sleeping Beauty (1959). It's really the only on-screen visual I could think of that matches this scenario.

  • That dragon was black and breathed green fire which had acidic qualities.
  • Wondering if this influenced Gary Gygax's version of a black dragon.
  • The knight (or was he just a prince?) hit the dragon once on the nose and it sounded like metal.
  • The knight (prince) lost his shield to the dragon's breath weapon (saving throw in action?)
  • The knight slew the dragon by throwing his sword (which had just been enchanted by a faerie) into it's underbelly.

Time to roll up a fight... 
  • B/X will be the system.
  • The dragon will be a standard black (7HD).
  • The knight will be a 7th level knight as offered by Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy, though for all intents and purposes, it is essentially just a regular B/X fighter because none of the knight class features apply here at all, unless the dragon had spell casting capabilities, where-as the knight would be granted a saving throw vs sleep.
  • The knight will have four randomly determined magic items including a magic sword, representing time spent adventuring. I rolled shockingly well for these, see below...
  • Black dragons have a 20% chance to speak, and thus, cast spells. This dragon is a non-speaker, so, no spells. This alone, makes the dragon much less formidable.
  • The breath-weapon will work on a recharge mechanic after the initial use. The rules state there is an equal chance of the dragon using claws/bite as there is of it using it's breath-weapon. Random determination will mean breathing acid on a 4-6 (d6). Maximum 3 times. 

The Knight

Str:15(+1)   Int:10   Wis:13(+1)   Dex:10   Con:12   Cha:11

HP:36    AC:17(plate + shield)   Dragon-Breath Save:10    To-Hit:+7    Damage:1d8+2

Magic Items:

  • Sword+1 (+3 vs Undead)
  • Ring of Wishes (1) (actually rolled this, could be a game changer)
  • Potion of Healing 
  • Boots of Traveling and Leaping (why did OSE rename the Boots of Striding and Springing?) By-the-book these won't help much here, but I might allow advantage on breath-weapon saves or some such thing.  

Black Dragon 

AC:17    HP:31    To-hit:+6    Damage: 2 claws (1d4+1), 1 bite(2d10), or 1 breath (current HP)    

Morale:8 (will check at 16 and 8 hit points)

Round One (assumes no surprise)

  • Dragon wins initiative breathes acid.
  • Knight makes the save and takes 1/2 damage, 16 points.
  • Knight then hits dragon for 9 points.
  • Knight HP:20   Dragon HP:22

Round Two

  • Initiative is tied, combat will be simultaneous.
  • Dragon breathes acid again.
  • Knight fails save and dies while striking the dragon for 6 points of damage.
  • Knight HP:0   Dragon HP:16

That was quick! 

Lets go again with the following caveats: 1. The boots of traveling and leaping will allow the knight to take zero damage if the save vs dragon-breath is made and half damage if it fails. 2. The knight may also sacrifice a shield to avoid breath-weapon damage on a failed save or a killing melee blow.

Round One
  • Dragon wins initiative breathes acid.
  • Knight makes save, using the boots, leaps out of the way taking zero damage then hits the dragon for 6 points of damage.
  • Knight HP:36   Dragon HP:25

Round Two
  • Dragon wins initiative and chooses 2 claw/1 bite... all three miss!
  • At this point the knight could use the ring of wishes any number of ways to win the fight, it's such a game changer that I passed on that for the sake of this exercise. So the knight strikes and hits again for 6 points of damage.
  • The dragon passes a morale check, continues the fight.
  • Knight HP:36   Dragon HP:16

Round Three
  • Initiative is tied, combat will be simultaneous.
  • Dragon breathes acid, knight makes save, jumping away taking zero damage. While jumping, strikes the dragon for 10 points of damage!
  • Knight HP:36   Dragon HP:6

Round Four
  • Knight wins initiative and hits the dragon for 8 points of damage, slaying it.
  • Knight HP:36   Dragon HP:0

  • Simultaneous combat has interesting consequences.
  • In either fight, the knight never missed an attack roll, had to roll 10+.
  • House ruling the magic boots gave the knight a nice edge, seriously helped by making both saves. This makes sense though, and is probably how these boots would work in sword & sorcery fiction.
  • The knight took zero damage in the four round second fight mainly due to the dragon rolling very poorly.
  • I initially rolled morale at the end of the third round. The dragon failed and flew away (realistic.) Then I remembered that initiative had to be rolled first, which the knight won, then proceeded to slay the beast. Rolling initiative every round has dynamic effects.
  • The ring of wishes could have been used to nullify the dragon-breath, blind the dragon, put it to sleep, etc. Not the best item for this exercise, that's why I didn't use it.
  • Great little fight, easy to visualize, quick and dramatic not unlike the scene in Sleeping Beauty.

I think the knight's chances of success in this scenario diminish further and further with every edition following B/X & AD&D due to the fact that dragons keep getting bigger and bigger, though I'm not about to put that to the test.

XP & Treasure
  • Slaying the dragon: 1,250 XP
  • 58,000 SP (GP value: 5,800)
  • 20 gems (GP value: 2,610)
  • 40 pieces of jewelry (GP value: 48,000)
  • Total GP value: 56,410. Slightly under the average of 60,000 for a black dragon.
  • Total XP: 57,660. 
Enough for this knight to ascend to 8th level!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

40+ Years Of Trying To Define Hit Points Continues...

What are hit points exactly?

This comes up from time to time on forums, blogs, in person, everywhere. It's one of the age-old D&D questions.

The common response is usually something like this -- Hit points are a mixture of luck, endurance, and combat skill. 

  • Luck? -- perhaps, but then, shouldn't halflings have a shit-ton? 
  • Endurance? -- that's certainly a part of it.
  • Combat skill? -- this actually makes the most sense, according to the game's mechanics in the fact that martials get the most hit points. In this case it represents your ability to dodge, parry, and roll with it. As you gain levels, you get more hit points, meaning, you're becoming a better fighter. Kind of boring, but that should be the end of it.

It's the inconsistencies that keep this question alive.

If it is luck, endurance, combat skill, and not "meat points" then why do smaller creatures have fewer hit points than larger ones? Is an elephant a luckier, more skilled combatant than a badger? A troll has far more hit points than a pixie. Pixies might be small and hard to hit, but once you "hit" them, they're dead. Seems like meat points to me.

You could interject here and say, shut up and enjoy the game (or even better -- play GURPS) and you would not be wrong. Just keep reading...

Hit points work just fine as meat points... until you have, say 100, 150, 300, etc. Then things get harder to justify. On a side note, I find it fascinating that with every new edition of the game, hit point bloat gets worse and worse. 4th Edition was the worst offender (at just about everything) but 5th Edition only dialed it back a little. Can these people not design a fun game without everything having hundreds and hundreds of hit points? Still trying to emulate fantasy computer games that ironically started off trying to emulate you...

When people concern themselves with the vagueness of hit points, what they actually crave, I think, is a bit of realism (though I use the word "realism" perhaps "grit" is the better term, because ultimately, there's nothing realistic here.) 

They want to see blood. The more vague combat gets, the less fun it is. Players want to know, "Did my sword actually hit the ogre this time, or do I only get to actually hit the ogre when it dies?" When that minotaur scored a critical hit with it's massive battle-axe, what in actuality, just happened to me? Did he simply swing so close to my head that it rattled my nerves for 18 points of damage?

For those that argue for the luck/parry/endurance explanation, is it really "realistic" to say that the only time you actually get hit in violent, medieval combat, is when you suffer the killing blow? Is that even fun? Then again, to be fair, that crowd is not aiming for realism or grit. Of course this is further convoluted by the fact that the length of the combat round varies over the editions from 6 seconds to 1 minute, and a lot of things can happen in 1 minute. But... that doesn't mean that at the end of that round, when you've taken a hit, that you haven't actually taken a "hit."

We've all exhausted this topic, yet the hobby will never be done with it. Simulationist vs gamist, sport vs war...

I've always been very descriptive with combat. I like a "hit" to be a "hit." Which is probably why I like opposed combat rolls and parry options.

If you've been "hit" by an arrow, then you've been HIT by an arrow! Sword & Sorcery fiction and imagery is packed full of heroes carrying on the fight with arrows sticking out of them. It's almost a trope. It's easy to explain too, because often arrows don't penetrate that deep or hit vital organs, and if you have any kind of armor on, it's even easier still, because it's mostly stuck in the armor.

The same can be said of weapon hits. Yes, you did actually just take a hit from that guy's battle-axe, but he didn't lop your head off, or your hand for that matter. You've been cut, you are bleeding... a bit, you are losing hit points and yes an elephant does have more hit points than you because it can physically survive more hits from that axe than you. But, you're tough, gritty, you're a pulp hero, you can take it! It's simply not necessary to say that you've been dodging and parrying and weaving in and out of blows, or you're just plain lucky. No! Your ass just got stabbed! Now fight on! This is the bread and butter of pulp fiction.

So... what happens when you fail your saving throw against something like a dragon's breath weapon? Mr. pulp hero just took the full brunt of 37 points of damage from a blast of fire and only has 3 hit points left. Those that made their save only took half damage, they merely got singed as they dove for cover. Not you...

What does that look like?

It should look like something "permanent" if you ask me. You have most certainly suffered serious burns. If the undead leave lasting effects from their touch, iconic attacks like dragon breath should do the same, and at the moment, I suggest 1 point lost from a random ability per 15 points of dragon breath damage taken on a failed save. There's a touch of grit for ya. You can even apply this principal to critical hits and level drain, but in those cases I would only make it 1 point lost in total and perhaps only after a failed death save.

So, you might level up and get better at what you do, but your body is taking a beating and showing the scars. That's a simple way to add some realism or "grit" to your game (and panic not, my friends, dungeons are full of ability-raising tricks!) Also, with realism in mind, "system-shock" rules should not be ignored.

As you gain levels, you do gain more damage resilience and the ability to avoid the killing blow. This is the endurance and combat savvy aspect of hit points. Regardless, when you've been hit, you are taking actual damage.

On a bit of a tangent, the size of dragons has also gotten out of control. They're iconic and they should be dangerous, but they're not Godzilla. If a lone, valorous knight is expected to have a chance... 

Also, speaking of dragon breath, we all know the house rule, "Shields shall be splintered," well, they shall be "melted" too:

  • Sacrifice your shield to turn a failed dragon breath save into a successful one, or half damage into no damage (doesn't work against poison gas.)

Clearly, your characters aren't going to lose limbs, but they will be cut and bitten and torn and burned... they will be scarred, and yet, the mythical underworld calls... again and again. 

You're not playing village wimps.

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