Monday, November 5, 2012

Parry in AD&D

A question: "Is there a parry rule in the AD&D core rulebooks?" Clearly there's one in the man-to-man Chainmail rules (p. 25: -2 to attacker roll), hence implied inclusion by reference in OD&D, and a restatement of the rule in Holmes Basic D&D (p. 21). But I've said many times in the past that there's no such parry rule in AD&D (like, it's certainly not in the analogous section of DMG p. 66 that incorporates the rules for weapon speeds, order and number of blows, etc.)

Here's the thing, though: the back of the PHB has an oddball section called "The Adventure" which serves to introduce and organize standard D&D adventuring activities for the new player. In the historical sequence, obviously, the was written after OD&D was complete but before the DMG. It hints at rules in non-mechanical terms (you might say "flavor text") that will be presented in full detail only for the DM later in the DMG. As such, it includes the germs for numerous ideas for changes and alterations from OD&D, that were then dropped or reconsidered when the DMG was actually completed.

It's easy to overlook these ideas due to their placement, disagreement with the later DMG, and the fact that they are not generally included in the combined index at the back of the DMG. (For example: No "parry" rule is listed in that index). But here's what I ran into today, accidentally looking at the subsection on "Melee Combat":
Participants in a melee can opt to attack, parry, fall back, or flee. Attack can be by weapon, bare hands, or grappling. Parrying disallows any return attack that round, but the strength "to hit" bonus is then subtracted from the opponent's "to hit" dice roll(s), so the character is less likely to be hit. Falling back is a retrograde move facing the opponent(s) and can be used in conjunction with a parry, and opponent creatures are able to follow if not otherwise engaged. Fleeing means as rapid a withdrawal from combat as possible; while it exposes the character to rear attack at the time, subsequent attacks can only be made if the opponent is able to follow the fleeing character at equal or greater speed. [PHB, p. 104-5]
So: A rule for parrying somewhat hidden in the PHB, not reiterated in the DMG, and not included in any index. A rule that's different from the Chainmail (OD&D) rule, in that the -2 modifier is replaced by the user's Strength "to hit" bonus --  and hence only usable by those with exceptional strength, and of very small benefit even to them (in AD&D, +1 from 17 to 18/50, +2 from 18/51-99, and +3 from 18/00).

Have you ever used that PHB rule?


  1. I remember running across that rule years ago , figuring it gave the PC very little in return for giving up an attack, and replacing it with a house rule.

    We allowed the PCs to make an attack roll against the opponent's weapon, I think we used the 'speed factor' as the weapon's AC. If the hit was successful the PC rolled damage as usual and subtracted it from the incoming weapon damage.

    It sounds more unwieldy than it was in play. And usually players only opted to parry if the situation was dire. I allowed shield parries as well; give up all attacks for one shield parry as per the weapon parry but shield parries had a large 'to hit' bonus.

    1. Hey, that sounds kinda' cool. I definitely like proactive parry rules where players roll to parry, rather than just imposing a penalty on attacker's to hit roll.

  2. The PHB also has a different set of overland movement rules that match those in the basic line of games.

    1. Definitely, there's a bunch of examples in the same vein. In some ways I kind of like the elegance of the PHB rule (inches indicates miles per half-day) even if I don't use it -- and it reappears in AD&D Wilderness Survival Guide, too.

  3. The parry rule—another unfortunate name for a game with minute-long abstract combat rounds—saw some use in my earliest AD&D games. I guess it didn’t impress us much, because it was never used beyond those first handful of times.

    I’ve been much more a fan of the Rolemaster kind of thing in which a character’s prowess can be split between offense and defense. At least from a gaming PoV. These days I tend to think that medieval-style melee probably didn’t really have much flexibility in trading offense for defense. Not meaning that it wasn't sophisticated or that defense wasn't important. Just that offense tends to be more efficient than defense in many forms of combat. So sacrificing offense for defense is risky.

    I can enjoy an active defense mechanic, like GURPS, but generally I think it makes for a worse game unless you like more focus on combat.

    1. Actually, I look at it the other way around: The game having a parry rule is yet another piece of evidence that it can't really have minute-long combat rounds. Some more on that next Monday, I think.

    2. ^_^

      Minute combat rounds are definitely one of the “old school” things I’d have a hard time re-adopting. Makes me glad Holmes and later dropped it.

    3. >> it can't really have minute-long combat rounds

      How long do you think it would take two 0-lvl men-at-arms fighting in chainmail with battleaxes for one to die?

      How weary are they, how cagey, how clumsey?

      5 units of time. So 50 seconds or 5 minutes?

      In my opinion people who have not played contact sports, and make their judgement based on video games and movies might favour 50 seconds but I say 5 minutes is fine and realistic.

      Combat is incredibly diverse and what you imagine as a fight will be different to what I imagine. I wish you wouldn't keep presenting your predilections as some sort of scientific investigation.

    4. (a) The self-defense class I went to for several years stated that most violent fights are over in under 1 minute, and none of the cops, bouncers, or military guys in the room disagreed with that. (b) Shooting 10 arrows will take closer to 50 seconds than 5 minutes. (c) Running 5x120 feet will take closer to 50 seconds than 5 minutes. Etc.

      The one-minute time scale is appropriate for Chainmail-style mass warfare, but overlooking the need to shorten it in proportion to distance and figure scale is simply a dumb accident. That's just remedial-level math.

      "The vast majority of attacks occur in less than 4 seconds. Some may last up to 10-15 seconds. These events do not follow a TV or movie script..."

      But if you have any countering citations for why non-sporting combat should be longer than this, other than just raw habit, then that's definitely the kind of thing I'm always interested in looking at.

    5. >> That's just remedial-level math.

      This has nothing to do with maths and everything to do with experience and judgement. If it did you might find yourself at a disadvantage.

      Ive been over this before with you and I find your reasoning ludicrous because for example your idea of movement is running in shorts on an athletics track carrying nothing, and doing this for just a few minutes a day. (Im sure it was you who had movement rates of 120yds in 10 seconds). You are incapable of conceiving day long, cross country treks laden with gear and suddenly having to move over terrain which almost always impedes running unless you want to break your ankle.

      Shooting arrows in AD&D is an abstraction, for example it is impossible to hit a moving target who is aware of the archer at greater than short distance because of flight time. Aiming takes time if you want to hit and don't want to waste your arrows spraying them about. Have you fired a bow? I own one.

      Your self defence anecdotal info is irrelevant to two armoured fighters engaging. The documentary Weapons That Made Britain Great demonstrates that fighting flat out in plate armour is suicidally tiring so combatants were wary and slow with feints and all the stuff Gygax describes in AD&D.

      It is foolish to picture say a gang of six to eight guys talking on another another gang and the fight being over in 50 seconds. Its just dumb. 5 minutes is much nearer the mark.

      I guess what Im saying is why don't you present your opinions as opinions and stop pretending that your 'reasoning skills' can make up for your poor judgement.

      I find your know-it-all Ive-found-flaws-in-AD&D despicable.

    6. So we agree: You have no citations and are just blowing off steam. Happens to all of us once in a while.

      Yes, I also have a bow.

    7. We agree that in the US citations take the place of thinking and judgement. There were no citations in your citations so I didn't credit their opinions.

    8. Insulting an entire nation when you fail to persuade must be among the last resorts of the incompetent, and hardly makes your argument more convincing.

  4. As long as we discuss alternative rules, I'll say that for me these kinds of defensive-only actions have to have enormous upside. Giving up your attack is, in the long run, simply conceding the whole combat (if A attacks every round, and B parries every round, and they're the only combatants, then A necessarily wins, QED). I actually don't use a parry rule in D&D (partly because it's too weak to bother with): but e.g. in Marvel Super Heroes I do this: (1) no commitment until an attacker lands a hit on you, (2) at your option call a Dodge (Agility FEAT roll), (3) if you at least match attack color you avoid the blow, (4) if higher you avoid the blow and get a normal action on your turn anyway. In summary: I would need a roll to avoid plus some other major benefit, like possibly get your whole action back.

    1. Actually, this has me thinking that I might like to add something like the parry rule. For those special circumstances where it could make a difference.

      Like: I’m low on hp and the opponent isn’t, but if I can stay alive and keep him occupied for a couple more rounds, the mage will have time to find the magic item stashed in the bag of holding that’ll end the fight.

      But the PHB rule is just too limited. And arguably the guy with the higher strength bonus is less likely to be better off parrying. The Chainmail one is better in that respect.

    2. Then if you go with the “+1 Chainmail = +2 D&D” conversion rate, a “parry” would grant a -4 to AC.

      I think I’d still prefer to call it something like “all out defense”. More abstract terms tend to minimize the “vigorous discussion”. ^_^

    3. For me, the key line from the PHB is this:
      "Falling back is a retrograde move facing the opponent(s) and can be used in conjunction with a parry"

      So, were I to try to hermeneutically derive a D&D parry rule from Chainmail and AD&D, what I would lean to is folding in a "parry" or "defensive fighting" bonus to AC when making an orderly withdrawal (with an [implicit?] option to make a no-move "withdrawal").

  5. We always just ruled that you could make an attack roll to keep an enemy "at bay", doing no damage but preventing them from attacking you. Probably unbalanced but it worked for us.