Monday, July 22, 2019

Damage Scales in LBBs and Supplements: There and Back Again

One of the things I really like, DM'ing games from the Original D&D LBBs, is that all hit dice and damage are d6-based. So I can set up with a big batch of d6's (wargame-style) and use that for all monster hits and damage without poking around for sufficient d8's for hit dice, or 5d4 damage or something. In addition, it's very rare for monsters to be noted with multiple attacks, so combat goes quite rapidly.

This got massively reworked in Supplement-I (Greyhawk), and personally I think it's one of the off-the-rails mistakes in the history of D&D. In this work, you get the establishment of different hit dice by character class, variation of damage by weapon type, and also variation in attacks and damage by monsters (each listed as "Addition/Amendment" and "highly recommended"). Actually, the first two -- giving increased granularity on the player side -- I have no problem with, but simultaneously complicating all the monsters is the part I prefer not to use.

As that was done, the damage output from monsters increased, approximately on the order of being doubled. Let's take a closer look: Below I've compared all the monsters in OD&D Vol-2 that are given explicit damage specifiers in their text blocks, with the "new" damage specifiers given in Sup-I. Note that by default all the other monsters should have 1d6 damage in Vol-2, but for brevity I haven't listed those (and also confidence: did Gygax really make a deliberate choice that dragon bites, purple worms, etc, should do 1d6?).

You can see above that a comparison of the average damage output for these types shows a linear relation from Vol-2 to Sup-I, being a bit less than doubling between those works. We should be a bit careful, because the correlation isn't perfect; for example, ogres have the same average damage both volumes. There are also a number of monsters not shown here who effectively have reduced damage, by being given less than 1d6 damage in Sup-I (kobolds, goblins, giant rats, etc.)

One thing that complicates my desire to stick with the LBB all-d6 (low damage) method is that while in Sup-I the amendments were quasi-optional, everything that came later on was designed only in those inflated, non-d6 terms. For example, there's a lot of interesting and memorable D&D monsters that only appear in later supplements: like lizard men, harpies, liches, ogre magi, hell hounds, owl bears, golems, giant frogs/toads/beetles, sahuagin, demons, and many more. Stat blocks for these types are only available with the inflated numbers.

(Note there is one unique exception here: In Sup-I, the text entry for the new Storm Giant type is the last place to give LBB-scale damage, "unless the alternate damage system is used". So the text says 3d6+3 damage, while the revised table in the same book gives 7d8 damage; a big difference.)

As a possible solution, consider taking the regression formula above and reverse-engineering all the supplement damage scores, so we get something back in scale of the LBBs. For simplicity, I'm only listing the maximum-damage dealing attack for any monster given multiple attacks in Sup-I. I've also made an executive decision that anything up to 1d6 in Sup-I is unchanged (so the kobold/goblin/rat 1d3 or whatever isn't further reduced, and neither is an orc's 1d6, etc.), but everything else is inverted by the formula. Having back-adjusted the average value, I use another spreadsheet function to suggested the best possible all-d6 damage dice. Here's a snippet from the first few results:

The fifth column over has our formulaic suggestion for damage dice in LBB-scale. The sixth and seventh columns are my manual choices for what I'll use in my own OED house rule games. Orange boxes are entries explicitly noted in LBB Vol-2 text, and I'll leave those fixed in each case (note they're generally quite close to our calculated suggestions, e.g., for giants).

That entire spreadsheet is available here, including suggested conversions of everything in the Sup-I and Sup-II tables. Note that the Sup-I damage table has three distinct parts: (1) revisions for monsters in Vol-2, (2) some damage specs for giant animal types possibly in LBB encounter charts but otherwise without stats, and (3) new monsters appearing in Sup-I itself; these are set off in white, yellow, and green sections of the spreadsheet. Meanwhile, looking at the Sup-II table, it's possible that Arneson was even more unhinged on the issue, e.g. damage of up to 24 points for a sub-1 HD fire beetle, 80 points for a plesiosaur bite, or 150 points for a whale fluke! (A lot of those figures were later reined in by Gygax in the AD&D Monster Manual.)

Finally, I've done a recent revision to the OED Monster Database which (a) edited some damage figures to be consistent with this analysis, (b) added a number of giant and aquatic creatures from Sup-II, and (c) expanded the sourcing/reference information in the last column. All of the damage values can now be rolled on d6 (previously I kept some d8 values in there, as per the supplements). There are currently a number of damage values like 1d6+1 or 1d6+2 (as the LBB Ogre), which shades towards fiddly for me, but I think I'm okay with it for now. Some of the EHD values moved up or down by one or two pips in some cases, as well. We now have 174 monsters in the database. :-)


  1. Is your Supplement I missing pages? You say this:

    "Note that by default all the other monsters should have 1d6 damage in Vol-2, but for brevity I haven't listed those (and also confidence: did Gygax really make a deliberate choice that dragon bites, purple worms, etc, should do 1d6?)"

    But the Greyhawk that I have includes three full pages of damage values for monsters - most of page 16, all of pages 17 and 18, and part of page 19. In particular, purple worms are given damage values of 2-16/bite, 1-6/sting and dragons are given 2 claws/1 bite attack routines where the claws uniformly deal 1-4 damage and the bites differ according to the type of dragon in a similar progression to the damage values of giants - white dragons dealing 2-16 damage, all the way up to gold dragons dealing 3-36 damage.

    Your table also doesn't seem to account for multiple attacks at all. For example, trolls are given two claws for 1-4 each plus the 1-8 bite that you listed; their actual Greyhawk average damage would be 9.5 points, assuming all three attacks hit. I also think there's a strong argument that ogres are supposed to retain their +2 damage adjustment and deal 1d10+2 damage in Greyhawk rules, on the basis that nothing in the new damage value countermands that special rule, and in fact they explicitly possess the +2 damage bonus in addition to a 1d10 damage die in the Monster Manual just a couple of years later.

    1. The whole point here is that Vol-2 and Sup-I say different things, right?

      The LBBs say, "All attacks which score hits do 1-6 points damage unless otherwise noted" (Vol-1, p. 19). The damage stats in Sup-I are clearly listed under "Additions and Changes".

      For example, the Sup-I dragon and purple worm damage you cite is already included as sources in my back-conversions spreadsheet (rows 33 and down, Column B).

    2. I guess I misunderstood what you were trying to say with that part about dragon bites and purple worms dealing 1d6 damage - I thought the implication was that they were left out of the small embedded table because they were unchanged.

      I haven't looked at the full spreadsheet since I actually have Excel on this PC, so I've never bothered to install OpenOffice.

    3. Got it, thanks. BTW, the MS support site says Excel can read & write ODS files, does that not work?

    4. Hm, it works if I save a copy. Guessing it's a problem with Chrome not supporting all the features of Excel in-browser.

    5. Thanks for checking on that!

    6. Yep! And I learned something from it - since I almost always open documents in-browser before deciding to save them or not, I never knew I could open ods files before. Good all around.

  2. Yes, going to various polyhedrals was in retrospect a mistake, although it makes sense in its context. I agree that all d6s works better.

    I can imagine playing a game with just sixes and twenties, can’t you?

    The way I transposed back to d6s does not maintain the same mathematical fidelity. You as a maths man will cringe. But it is so simple that there’s no thinking involved - that’s what I need.

    Every monster gets an index card with its game info. A little note card caddy holds these and other kinds of key info.

    Monsters do 1d6. They get one attack. If they get a plus to damage or do more than one, I note it on their index card. They also get 1d6 for hit dice.

    Their attack capability is based on the hit die just as it would be in vol. 2 and beyond.

    Their XP value is based on 100 XP per hit die. Then they get an extra 100 for any special ability. Also noted on card.

    So 1d6 damage, 1d6 hit points, 100 XP per hit die.

    This means that kobolds are worth a great deal more XP but dragons are nearly worthless.

    The real XP of course is in the treasure.

    Treasure tables are also reworked with d6s, but there is much greater fidelity to the regular payouts.

    1. I agree that a game of just d6's and d20's is elegantly attractive!

      That said, I'm happy to give a little more granularity in the player perspective, while keeping things as simple as possible on the DM side of screen.

      I might gently suggest that keeping a separate index card for every monster might be too complicated for me. :-)

    2. The index cards are tedious to make but are invaluable at the table. I only use about 90 monsters and that includes several dragon types.

      At the table it means fewer pieces of paper (no monster manual, no NPC lists, no spellbooks) which is a huge plus.

      It makes it easy to think up custom monsters on the fly, such as maybe a giant scorpion instead of a spitting beetle.

      And if I add a monster to the rotation, a new card is trivial.

      I should write about this on my website maybe

    3. Interesting how, in a DIY fashion, you basically arrived at the same solution as the AD&D 2nd Edition team with their three-ring binder Monstrous Compendium line.

      I think your point about only using about 90 monsters is really the sticking point of why it didn't succeed commercially - removing unwanted monsters from the binder didn't occur to a lot of people. And even if you did decide to only include 90 monsters in your binder and set the others aside, since they were printed with a monster on each side of a page, you could be forced to include up to 90 extraneous monsters that just happened to be printed on the reverse side of the pages that you were actually interested in. Plus, the full-page format was nice if you were plotting out battle strategies or deciding on a sensible location to place a monster, but in the heat of a game session all that expository text was just wasted space.

    4. For what it's worth, my solution to monster stats at the table is to have the Vol-2 monster reference table (from the Reference Sheets) inserted as the first of three panels in my drop-in DMs screen. I've done that for a bunch of years now. E.g.: You can see it in the last photo of this post.

      Admittedly I do expect to have the special abilities mostly memorized, or get close to recreating them from memory in-game.

      I agree with the Dan that the three-ring binder product is not a silver bullet solution. E.g.: I have that for the Marvel Superheroes game from the same era. A few weeks back I had an idea for a better organization system, and it took me maybe more than a day to re-sort the whole thing.

      Although it does have two advantages there over the Monstrous Compendium: (1) you can pre-plan a bit better (vs. classic D&D wandering tables where anything can show up) and come to the table with specific handouts to give and show players, and (2) there's just one character per two-sided sheet.

    5. Amusingly in that linked photo, you can see the one thing I've got hand-annotated is columns for attacks and damage on the monster reference table -- I've been grappling with this issue for a long time. :-)

  3. Interesting!

    So monster damage grew by 75%, and if I'm not mistaken, monster HP grew by 28.5% (1/3.5) with the move from d6 to d8 hit dice.

    What about player character HP? Was there an increase corresponding to damage, or did the game get more lethal overall?

    (In my current game I go a step further than making everything into a d6 - I turn the d6s into static numbers, so that if your weapon deals 1 die of damage and you hit a HD 1 creature, then you don't roll the die, you just kill it.)

    1. Good question; for players it was a bit of a mixed bag on hit points. In the LBBs every class/level gets some variable (not perfectly linear) number of d6's. For fighters it went up slightly; e.g., at 9th level from 9d6+3 to 9d8 (average 34.5 to 40.5). For magic-users it actually went down; e.g., at 11th level from 8d6+1 to 11d4 (average 29 to 27.5)! (With perhaps an extra bump if you have Constitution 17 or 18 and also use that part of the new rules.)

  4. I can't for the life of me get this sheet to work. But this is a great idea!

    1. Ah, crap. I do all my stuff in Open Document formats these days. I thought they opened fine in MS Excel now?

    2. The MS support site says Excel can read & write ODS files. Does that not work? Or using something else?

  5. When I was back-porting some AD&D monsters to OD&D damage levels, I used the giants as a guide: they're the most prominent monsters that deal multiple damage dice in both editions, and given the different varieties of giant they provide a good spread. I simply looked at the damage for the AD&D monster, checked out which giant had the closest damage range, then used that giant's OD&D damage rating.

    1. That's a pretty good, simple way of doing it!