Sunday, February 7, 2010

Special, Unusual Attacks and Called Shots in Classic D&D

A while back (2 weeks to a month, I think), I was reading some blog or other that I can't seem to locate now, talking about a simple system for allowing called shots to various body parts, special attacks like pulling the rug out from under a swordsman's feet, disarms, wrestling, etc. without the standard "take a penalty to hit, and if you hit it will work" stuff that often gets used, and makes people not want to do them so often.

The idea was that the player declares they'll try such and such a move. They roll to hit as normal. If they hit, they succeed as long as the opponent's player allows them to succeed, or on a critical hit they succeed even if the opponent's player doesn't want them to succeed. If the opponent doesn't want the special attack to succeed, they take damage as normal.

I think that was how it went anyway. I'm intrigued by the possibilities for this, as I'm a fan of swashbuckling movies and would love to add in more of this sort of thing to my D&D games.

But the problem is that Classic D&D doesn't use critical hits. Sure, you can always just do it on a natural 20, but shouldn't Fighter types be better at this than the Magic-Users? I'd rather not bring in d20 system style confirmation rolls. But then I was looking at the rules for monsters that "swallow whole." That's basically a monster doing exactly this--making a special type of attack that goes off on a crit, and does normal damage on any other successful role.

Of course, not every monster gets handled the same way. Giant Toads only succeed on a natural 20 against Dwarves and Halflings, Caecillia and T-Rex get a natural 19-20, and the granddaddy of swallowing whole, the Purple Worm, gets a natural 20 or 4 better than needed to hit to succeed.

This gives me two options for implementation:

Option 1, Level Based:
Low level characters only auto succeed on a natural 20.
Hero level (1st rise in attacks/saves 4th for Fighters, 5th for Clerics/Thieves, 6th for M-Us) get a natural 19-20.
Super-Hero level (8th for Fighters, Name for everyone else) get natural 20 or 4 better.

Option 2, Class Based:
Non-Fighter types (M-U) only auto succeed on a natural 20
Semi-Fighter types (Cleric, Thief) get a natural 19-20
Fighter types (Fighters, Demi-Humans) get a natural 20 or 4 better

Might work. I may give Option 2 a try and see how it goes. Not sure how the players would react to the Name level guys losing the natural 19... Not that we'll be at Name level any time soon in my Classic sandbox game.


  1. At the risk of getting lynched for suggesting something from 3E, the confirm-to-crit solves the problems you present. Basically, on a 20 (or sometimes (19-20) you make another attck roll. If the second roll would have been a miss, this is just a standard attack. However if this one would have been a hit as well, you crit. Downside is that you have to introduce another die roll, but it does solve the problem of scaling the crits. Also, having every natural 20 make a crit does seem a bit high IMO.


  2. Yeah, I know. But it's another role, and only in certain situations.

    Anyway, the important thing is the idea that if I want my fighter to try to pull his cloak over the eyes of the orc captain, I just make a normal attack. If I hit, the orc captain's player (the DM in most cases) would decide if it happens, or damage is taken.

    But if the hit roll is a "crit" however that's determined, then the DM has no choice, the orc captain is blinded and entangled by my cape.

    Vice versa if the orc captain wants to do something unusual to my fighter.

    I could add in the confirmation roll, but having everything on the normal attack roll saves time.