Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guest Post: The Beauty of Weapon Selection in AD&D1e by Jack



     The gameplay balance between classes in 1st Edition ADnD is very frequently misunderstood.  As has been previously observed on this blog, the most common victim of these misunderstandings is the humble fighter. To be fair to those that bash the old melee-brawling hero, a cursory reading of the rules does seem to indicate that they underperform compared to their magically-endowed teammates, and I'm not just referring to the ever-undying "linear warriors, quadratic wizards" concept. Even at levels 1-5, fighters may appear to simply be weaker than clerics and, at the last of those levels, than magic-users.

     At first blush, too, the good ol'-fashioned number-crunching math appears to back this up. Clerics have hit points that lag behind fighters by an average of just 1 point per level.  While that can certainly be the difference between life and death, especially at low levels, it is not a wide margin. This is particularly true because clerics have all the same armor proficiencies as fighters, closing the survivabilitiy gap even further. Similarly, while fighters get nicely ahead in terms of THAC0 progression at 3rd level, clerics nearly catch up with them when their combat abilities finally improve at 4th. Again, the 1 point difference here matters, but not by much. So, seeing as the only ability of the fighter is to stand there swinging his sword and taking hits, while the cleric trades mere 1 point gaps in that ability for the power to cast several heal, buff, and combat support spells each day, it stands to reason that fighters are useless, right? Heck, a properly-provisioned magic-user of 5th level can deal out average damage well in excess of 50 points in a mere 5 rounds, which is far better than the average damage of a sword in that time. So with a battle-oriented thaumaturgist blasting away and a cleric pulling double duty as a fighter to keep the bad guys off him, the poor old fighter turns out to be useless, right?

     Right?

     Wrong! Contrary to popular belief, analyzing the game carefully reveals that fighters do indeed have powers beyond being marginally better at taking and dealing hits than everyone else. The ability I'm going to focus on in this article is their remarkable ability to use any weapon.

     Fighters can be proficient in any weapon! If you don't think that's amazing, you clearly haven't read the books enough. Sure, clerics have access to the footman's mace, which has some really excellent damage, and the footman's flail, which has amazing armor type adjustments.  Heck, mere thieves can use the long sword, which is the best one-handed weapon for attacking size large targets. The thing is, though, that fighters have access to all those, plus weapons such as the two-handed sword, which as the best damage dice of any footman's weapon in the game and incredible armor type adjustments; the glaive-guisarme, which does nearly as much damage with less space required and more reach; the ranseur, with all its overpowered special attacks in the footnotes; the lance, which is literally twice as powerful as the two-handed sword on a charge; or, if they want to fight smarter, not harder, the humble spear, a one-handed weapon with reach, low required space, and the ability to set for charge or be thrown. Any one of these armaments can take a fighter from just barely edging past the cleric in combat output to leaving his priestly counterparts in the dust completely.

     You know what's scarier than that, though? Bows. Bows do a d6 of damage and fire twice a round, and, in the case of a longbow at least, can do so out to a ridiculous distance. Compare that to the best ranged weapon of non-fighter classes, the thief's sling, which does 1d4+1 once a round, or the fact that clerics have no ranged weapons whatsoever except for the thrown club or warhammer, and fighters have the entire aspect of ranged combat almost entirely to themselves. Even magic-users utterly fail to keep up with a bowman's overall damage output unless they empty all their spells at once.

     On that note, let's go back and crunch some numbers again. At 4th level, a fighter will have a THAC0 of 17, hitting an AC 10 target 70% of the time, while a cleric will have a THAC0 of 18, hitting the same target 65% of the time. Average damage with a footman's mace is 4.5 points, while average damage with a two handed sword is 5.5 points. Against a size large target, though, the gap is much more significant, at 3.5 points versus a whopping 10.5 points, respectively. This means that against an AC 10, size medium target, the cleric still isn't really too far behind, doing an average of 29.25 points of damage per turn, compared to the fighter's 36.5. Versus an AC 10, size large target, however, the cleric does a per-turn average of merely 22.75, while the fighter has a whopping 73.5 points!

     Now, let's take the fighter to 5th level, and run his numbers with a bow, instead. His THAC0 is now 16, for a 75% hit rate against AC 10, and he now fires twice a round for 3.5 points of average damage against both size medium and size large. So, over the course of a seven rounds, he will do an average of 36.75 points of damage. Why did I pick seven rounds, you ask? Because a magic-user of the same level only has seven spells a day total. Assuming he memorized magic missiles for all 4 of his first level spells, Melf's acid arrow for both his second level spells, and fireball for his third level spell, that he hits with both acid arrows, and that his target fails his saving throw against the fireball, said magic-user will do an average total damage of 76.5 points of damage, just over twice as much as the fighter did (oddly enough, the damage from magic missiles exceeded that of fireball and the acid arrows combined. Food for thought). This sounds starkly in the wizard's favor, until you realize that the magic-user has now shot his bolt and is done for the day, after preparing for nothing but combat. Meanwhile the fighter is only starting to dip into his second quiver of arrows. Plus, an ogre charging the wizard makes it almost impossible for him to survive, while an ogre charging the fighter actually increases his total damage output. And an arrow nicking the fighter merely annoys him while an arrow nicking the wizard causes between 10.5 and 17.5 of those points of average damage to disappear permanently. Note that we didn't give our hypothetical fighter any magic items (and if the fighter has no magic items, it doesn't make much sense for the wizard to have spells he didn't start with, does it?). And so on, and so forth.

     To me, the take away from this analysis is that the classes are balanced. The argument can be made that, with spells available to them such as protection from evil, bless, or cure light wounds balancing out their slight mathematical inferiority, clerics are actually better than fighters at fighting size medium targets hand-to-hand. However, fighters are clearly superior at dealing with large, dangerous targets such as ogres and giants, and at ranged combat (plus, this analysis is leaving out the mechanic for bonus attacks against creatures with less than a hit die, but that's an article for another time). Meanwhile, magic-users have an absolutely tremendous short-term damage potential, but that's all they have in combat: short-term damage potential. Fighters are leagues more survivable, and can fight indefinitely compared to characters reliant on spell memorization. So, in order to have a tactically effective party, you really need all the classes, even the ones that seem like all they're good for is taking hits and swinging their swords.