Friday Figures: Fighter Multiattacks

Do hero-types get multiple attacks vs. 1 HD creatures? 16 Yes, 1 No.

Here's another poll I ran on the ODD74 boards a while back. This dovetails with our article Monday on running mass fights in classic D&D -- we highlighted there how critical for balance purposes the original rule was in which fighters got a number of attacks equal to their level against normal (circa 1 HD) opponents. 

That's not a rule that appears anywhere in the Holmes Basic/B-X/BECMI line, or editions of D&D from 3E on. It's not even explicitly stated for fighters in the OD&D books themselves. It's not a rule that I really like design-wise. So at the time I was myself rather skeptical, and asked the community if they really played by that rule. (On the other hand, it is explicit in Chainmail Fantasy and 1E AD&D, so I wouldn't bother to ask this question in a forum for those rulesets.)

Many of these poll-presentations are meant to spotlight the fact that many pretty basic mechanics in Original D&D have wildly varying interpretations -- that there is no one true OD&D game (even for essential things like initiative, the action sequence, morale, etc.). But this is not one of those things. Somewhat to my surprise at the time, the response here was very lopsided: Almost everyone agreed that was a core rule. We got 16 "yes" votes, only 1 "no", and 0 "other". So I spent a bit of time re-evaluating the evidence, and why I was so far out in left field on the issue.

Briefly, here's where the evidence led me to think maybe "no":

  • The multiattacks rule is explicit in the Chainmail Fantasy rules (prior to OD&D); it's the essential way in which heroes & superheroes operate.
  • The rule is also explicit in the AD&D 1E PHB (after OD&D); it's given as a key ability for the fighter class and its sub-classes.
  • Some people point to a paragraph in OD&D Vol-2 (the Monsters book), p. 5, that says everything gets a number of attacks according to their hit dice vs. normal men. I don't find that to be persuasive, because (a) it's in the monster book and not explicit for PC fighters, and (b) no one I know has ever run D&D combat that way for monsters. 

But on closer inspection, there's two places where Gary wrote about OD&D that imply the intended answer was "yes":

  • The Strategic Review #2 has an OD&D FAQ, with an example of combat in which a 4th-level fighter gets 4 attacks per round against orcs (strangely doing so unarmed, but moving on...)
  • Swords & Spells p. 1, paragraph 2, notes that a solo 12th level fighter will do 1.2 times the damage given normally for a 1:10 scale figure, which works out to be the same thing. 

So in total: The fighter-multiattacks rule is written into Gary's rules before OD&D, after OD&D, in the FAQ for OD&D, and in the mass-combat rules for OD&D. So in total: yeah, it's pretty clearly a consistent intent there (and another example of his tendency to "implicitly assume rules from the prior edition").

After that is when I realized that in addition, all the monsters in OD&D that appear in numbers of hundreds are precisely the ones that fighters get multiattacks against (excepting gnolls, but then they too were 1 HD in the pre-D&D draft).

A few other interesting tidbits on this topic:

  • The one place in OD&D where this rule is arguably given (the Vol-2 passage), says, "Attack/Defense capabilities versus normal men are simply a matter of allowing one roll as a man-type for every hit die...". There are a small number of players who attest that they apply the "roll as a man-type" strictly, so that the multiattacks themselves are all rolled as if the attacker was 1st level. I've never done this, but: it is compatible with the Chainmail mechanic, and it would solve my problem with the discontinuity/double-dipping effect of the rule.
  • Some commenters on Monday were worried about how much play might slow down because of all the rolling for the multiattacks -- and I share that concern. Interestingly, the ODD74 forum has reports that at a later date Gygax -- and maybe Arneson, too -- boiled the whole thing down to a single die-roll in this way: if your fighter is level N, then roll a dN, and that's how many normal men you put down. (E.g.: At 8th-level, roll a d8 for total casualties this round.) I think that's fascinating. I still don't want to see your damn d7, though, so don't start with me on that.
  • Even though I posted that poll a year ago in February (and the poll itself is long closed), interestingly, the conversation is still going on even as I write this!

There are several other interesting takes or modifications to this rule. If you have an account, see here for the discussion thread on the ODD74 forums

Do you normally use the fighter multiattacks rule? Do you import it to a ruleset that normally doesn't have it on the books (Holmes, B/X, BECMI, 3E+, etc.)? What other novel modifications do you make to it?


  1. If combat is abstract then one could consider the multi attack not to be swings but advantages to exploit. A more proficient warrior could see more openings to exploit leading to increased damage. An exploit is a feint, a distracting scream, backing them up, upsetting their footing, batting their weapon aside, a disarming look, a disarming quip. Just a though as I wrestle with multi attacks.

    1. Alternatively, they could represent a sword-stroke carrying through multiple people or the like. (Hence, I assume, the etymology of the 3E "Cleave" feat.)

      The combat-is-abstract line of thought isn't something I usually spend time on, YMMV.

  2. I give 1 attack for HD to monsters and fighting men against any opponent. Clerics and wizards can also make more attacks at high levels, depending on their fighting capability (the third column in the statistics regarding classes), so the clerics have 2 attacks on the third level, 3 attacks on the fourth and fifth level, etc. mages 2 attacks on the third level, 3 on the fifth etc. However each attack must be aimed at a different enemy (so two high-level warriors will still have only one attack against each other)
    I really like this "rule" because on the one hand it simulates well the clashes in which Conan fights against many enemies (without, however, allowing Conan 1 to kill Conan 2 in one round), on the other hand it makes single high level enemies more dangerous . In short, I like that PCs and higher-level monsters are worth as many men (as in Chainmail)

    1. That's pretty unique and fascinating! So many different ways to play it. E.g., in the AD&D DMG it's technically specified that you have to aim all your blows at one target in melee until they go down (unless you have a special ability, e.g., hydra).

  3. When I was a kid we moved from B/X to AD&D and failed to implement the fighter multi-attack rule, failing to note it's rather minor text in the PHB (I chalk this up to A) there being very few fighters in our AD&D campaign, B) assumptions that we knew what a fighter was already and only needed to note the updated XP tables, D10 hit dice, and attacks/round tables, AND C) the PHB was the LAST book we added to our game having run B/X with the simple additions of the MM and DMG for more than a year).

    Now, of course, I'm older, wiser, and more hip to the various rule sets, having read and researched them EXHAUSTIVELY. And I use the multi-attack rules for both OD&D and (my now current) AD&D campaign. I do not import them to B/X or any other edition...I think they really only make sense in terms of a 1 minute combat round (both Holmes and B/X shorten the round to 10 seconds).

    Not only are they mechanically different between the two systems (OD&D and AD&D), I believe they have a different feeling/nuance based on those respective editions...although I'm pretty sure I commented about THAT in your last post on the subject.
    ; )

    1. Well of course we'll have to continue disagreeing whether the claimed 1 minute rounds in AD&D is really coherent or not. Not something I ever consider in my analyses. :-)

  4. I give fighters one melee attack per level against 1 hit die or less types in my (heavily house ruled) OD&D campaign.

    I have considered giving the same bonus to monsters and even to other human characters, but have not done so consistently. And I too worry about "double dipping" by giving fighters both a bonus number of attacks and an attack bonus to each attack.

    Does anyone give fighters bonus ranged attacks vs. 1 hit die or less types? Is this effectively how it works in Chainmail?

    1. Good question, there (just looked this up). The Chainmail Fantasy Reference table has a footnote (single asterisk) that includes heroes/superheroes can "fire missiles equal to the same number of men, vs. regular opponents but only once vs. fantastic opponents".

      On the other hand, they're immune to any non-melee attacks themselves.

  5. I haven't been, but now I think I should. I know that (as I mentioned before) I wouldn't be able to stand the added dice-rolling of to-hit then damage, then tracking damage, for multi-attacks, so I'm almost certainly going to implement it as something more like Chainmail, roll xd6 and count successes... so that takes care of the double-dipping. Maybe I'll allow the players a choice, just in case they're only up against a single 1-HD type but they really want to be sure of hitting...

  6. I’ll speak for importing it to later editions: not needed. The Cleave feat is what’s intended to replace it in 3e.

    I must confess to having ignored the rule at the time. It’s a bother with the action economy when dealing with mixed-HD foes.

    1. Right, and that's (Cleave feat) what I've been doing in my OED house rules for some time, too.

      Now however I'm wavering between letting all fighters have that (as per OD&D) or else massively cutting down listed monster numbers appearing (as in B/X).

  7. '...and why I was so far out in left field on the issue.'

    Perhaps you are simply a left-fielder.

    The key is to remember to go back to the dugout when at the end of the inning.

  8. For my AD&D game I modify it as follows:
    1. Caps at 4 attacks/round at F4/Hero.
    2. Can be used against all unclassed foes of less than 2 HD, including hobgoblins.

    I also use Weapon Spec, where Fighters are starting with #ATT 3/2, so it only makes a significant difference at level 3+.

    1. Oh, now that's interesting. Your point (2) is about the same as me, except I'm now considering HD 1+1 as "base one hit die", and maybe about to revert gnolls to HD 1+2 as in BTPBD. (i.e., for the same outcome)

  9. I do like the idea of just rolling the closest die to the PC's level (no d5s or d7s) for # of 1 HD foes killed per round. I think I'd want to cap it at a d8 though!

    Level #Foes killed
    2 d2
    3 d3
    4 d4
    5 d4
    6 d6
    7 d6
    8+ d8

    1. Ugh, since the last comment's deletion is visible, I may as well leave it up:

      "Is it really that big of a deal to roll a d6 (for level 5) and just reroll 6's ?

    2. I usually come through later and manually really-wipe any comments you wanted deleted. But a point I sympathize with!

  10. In the 1975-style (we recently added Greyhawk) OD&D game I'm playing in, our DM allows multiple attacks vs 1HD or less types, but all attacks after the first get no bonus to hit.

    Seems he's concerned about double-dipping as well. :)

    1. Hey, I don't mind that actually; an interesting way of phrasing the mechanic. (And similar to stuff I do for, say, an off-target arrow or fumble maybe-hit a friend.)

    2. I guess that is the way I would interpret the rule as written in vol II as well "... with any bonuses being given to only one of the attacks"

    3. Yeah, I guess for me there's ambiguity in the Vol-2 passage on whether it's talking about the Chainmail or Alternative hit mechanic (d6 or d20), whether the attack bonus is the hit-die bonus or something else, etc.

      For me the interesting novel thing here would be to roll a d20 for the attack and just add nothing to it. (As opposed to the +1 to hit for normal/1st level men as per Target 20 in OD&D.) Maybe that was already obvious to you guys.

    4. Well that would actually make a lot of sense too, if it referred to chailmail combat. That would explain why the last parantheses of the paragraph refers to Vol III (the land combat rules I presume) when the alternative combat system is given in Vol. I.
      This question of multiple attacks really gets to the core of one of the most interesting things in the LBB. All the different bits seems to suggest some deeper meaning, which has never been fully explained. Trying to piece them together really makes one think about the system, both how it was meant to be and how it could be. Somehow this always ends up in new questions for me.
      That reminds me that I really appreciate your habit of trying to reach some sort of conclusion based on the available evidence.

    5. Good thoughts. Thank you for saying that!