Saturday, July 4, 2009

No Roll To Hit: Rationale

The goal is fun, right?

The other week I made the following prediction:

Providing that an eventual 5th Edition continues in largely the same direction as 4th Edition, the next edition of D&D will eliminate the concept of rolling to hit. Powers will always be effective to some degree; only their degree of effectiveness will retain a random element.

And I said if I got comments, I'd provide the rationale. Well, I got (as of today) 23 comments, so I guess that explanation is owed.

1) Minimising player downtime

It's a truism to say you can only enjoy playing the game if you are, in fact, playing the game. When a player has no meaningful input into the proceedings, they're not a player, they're a spectator.

D&D historically has had four key situations in which players were not able to meaningfully contribute. Firstly, when players were unconscious or dead. 4th Edition addresses that issue by making accidental death much less likely, and by giving unconscious players saving throws to avoid slipping closer to "death's door" (with an associated 1 in 20 chance of regaining consciousness).

Secondly, when players are engaged in a challenge which tests the skill of only the most proficient member of the party. Diplomacy is a classic example, where the best speaker is often the only speaker. 4E hasn't done a lot about that, although the skill challenge system appears to at least recognise the problem.

The third situation of downtime is during combat when it's not the player's turn. The "attack of opportunity" system gives players an out-of-turn action under certain circumstances, thus requiring them to pay attention to the board-state. Also, the increased emphasis on team positioning and buffing party members means that players need to stay alert to call for bonuses and request backup.

The fourth and final situation is the most relevant for our purposes, and that is when, during the player's turn, they take a null action. That is to say, an action which creates no change to the state of play. The most common example is rolling to hit and missing. Play goes on, with the player having contributed nothing.

Missing is simply not fun. Having waited a full round of initiative and then achieving nothing is functionally identical to skipping your turn. If you expend an encounter power or daily power and miss, you're actually worse off than when you started. It's hard to argue that powers with an "on-miss" effect, or powers with the "reliable" keyword (not expended on a miss), aren't palpably more satisfying than options with higher rates of risk regardless of the proportionately higher return.

It's a big issue for new players. Coming to D&D as a newcomer and watching roughly half your attacks go wide can make you feel impotent and a liability to the team. It's immensely frustrating and more than a little dull. Newcomers more than anyone need to see their initial experiments yield positive results, but it's hard to optimise at low levels and you're locked out of the most effective power options. Your first experiences with the game can be the sessions where you're most likely to watch entire encounters go past without having achieved anything.

Improving the overall experience, eliminating frustration, and making the game more accessible to newcomers means eliminating the possibility of missing. If you're going to continue to go down the path that 4E has started it's an inescapable conclusion.

2) Tactical thinking

4th Edition emphasises tactical thinking. That is to say, it asks you to choose between known options with predictable outcomes but complex interactions. The real skills it calls upon are not managing risk, but rather efficient targeting, optimised positioning, and teamwork.

Risk runs counter to tactical thinking. It can turn bad moves into accidental successes and solid plans into disaster. Yes - that is a realistic outcome. But it doesn't automatically make for good gaming.

Tactical gameplay is learning gameplay. It's about experimenting with new ideas and assessing their effectiveness. It's about adapting to known external changes and evolving your technique to deal with new threats.

Risk inhibits learning. It provides a discontinuity between action and results. A good idea can be made to seem bad, and sloppy thinking can be hidden behind improbable victory. Risk makes it harder for new players to see where they're going wrong and it's frustrating to experienced players who are denied the results of their tactics thanks to occasional probability skews.

To create a more open, understandable game table, and make the game more accessible for new players, risk needs to be minimised.

3) Redundancy

Rolling to hit is redundant. When players make an attack action, they are making two separate rolls to determine its effectiveness - to hit, and damage.

There's no need for it. Why not have a single roll? Either just a "to-hit" roll, with the margin of success determining the damage, or just a damage roll, with every attack assumed to be successful and only the extent of success in doubt.

Every third thread on the official forums is, "How can I make combat go faster?" When we're looking at the next edition, there's a clear improvement staring us in the face: eliminate the attack roll redundancy.

4) Complexity

The roll to hit is by far the most complex roll in D&D. The to-hit equation is 1d20, plus half your level (rounding down), plus trait modifier, plus weapon/implement modifier, plus feats, plus buffs, plus race/class bonuses, plus conditional modifiers including charging, cover and combat advantage.

All that maths goes to a single question: did I hit? It can be eliminated by uniformly answering: yes.

Maths is not, normally, fun. And in any case, it's not what D&D's here to do. The rulebooks don't bill it as a game of "bold warriors, mighty wizards, and mental arithmetic". There's been a consistent trend since early editions to do away with this kind of number crunching, which covers the elimination of THAC0, the re-engineering of dice rolls to make "high" always equal "good", and a major overhaul of the Armor Class rules.

The multi-variable maths attached to every attack is an albatross around D&D's neck and it's hampering the game's acccessibility. In 5th Edition, it has to go.

5) Over-specificity

Rolling to hit is unnecessarily specific.

Look at it this way: let's say you hit on a 5. So that's 75% of the time. You hit on three out of every four attacks.

Why are we micromanaging? Why not just say you hit all the time, and do 33% 25% less damage when you hit? It's the same end effect. And if you want to (despite the above) retain risk and randomness, you just vary the damage, so that the new damage per hit is an average, subject to dice roll.

How it might work.

So if we eliminate the to-hit roll, what does the game look like? What's armour good for? What's weapon specialisation about?

The simplest answer is to put it all into the damage roll. Armour represents damage mitigation, soaking a certain amount of incoming HP loss (which is more realistic anyway). Weapon competency increases your damage, or decreases the effects of armour, or results in debuffs or other non-damage penalties to the target.

Another answer is to rip out the to-hit subsystems entirely. Eliminate them. Feats can concentrate on buffing particular powers or classes of powers; proficiencies unlock new power categories.

The final result, I have to confess, will not look a lot like D&D as it's been understood between its origins and 3rd Edition. It will, in fact, be a hugely different game. But that's clearly not something that's significantly bothered the 4th Edition designers, and in the end result a better game is a better game.

So - that's my rationale. Now go nuts. Defend the roll to hit.

UPDATE: This post was featured in the July 2009 RPG Blog Carnival at 6d6 Fireball, which had the theme of "Dungeons & Dragons". Big thanks to 6d6 Fireball for hosting and for including this article. Now go check out all the other excellent entries!


FalconGK81 said...

I was gonna defend the roll to hit, but I missed.

Good article (essay?). While I appreciate the concept, I highly doubt that you are correct that a 5th edition will move this way.

Greg Tannahill said...

It's predicated on the idea that 5E is like 4E, only moreso.

I'm actually leaning towards the idea that 5E will go in a completely new direction and back away from combat competency in favour of introducing mechanics that explicitly support and encourage roleplaying.

I guess it will depend on who the design team ends up being.

Xander Bennett said...

Well, I came into this article a skeptic, but you've actually convinced me that it's the logical way to go... if we assume that 5E will be '4E Plus'.

But who could have predicted the radical changes in 4E just by looking at 3.5, right?

hvg3 said...

No, not convinced in any way :) And, if it ever went there, I doubt I would "upgrade". Some thoughts:

1) Minimising player downtime
I don't think that an entire round hangs on actually hurting. Yes, it is good, but even in 4e, there are move actions and minor actions. And then there's all the stuff that happens even if you miss (all the "effect" lines, the "miss" lines, and abilities such as a fighter's mark). A miss does not equal "I have done nothing".

2) Tactical thinking
Entirely disagree. Firstly, I would very much say that risk is part of tactics, but in addition, if you have a pure tactical game, then it becomes that much more like chess. It needs to have risk involved to keep fresh and interesting (sorry to all you chess players!). I mean, the logical extrapolation of the idea is that rolling low damage is too much of a risk, so we should eliminate damage rolls, and make all attacks at set damage levels! Remove dice from the game entirely... and remove a whole lot of the interest and fun.

3) Redundancy
How to make it go faster: roll them together?
Seriously though, rolling is never an issue in long terms. Deciding what to do, what spell to use, or what action to take - that is where we need to cut down to save time. Removing one of those rolls only helps if you are the DM, and are controlling lots of minions (and, hey - minions already give set damage).
As to the entire "redundant" element, I also disagree. One shows if you hit, the other shows how well you hit. They are no more redundant than two attacks in two different rounds (or should we roll one dice to see our effectiveness in the entire combat?)

4) Complexity
Thankfully, that is why it is all done behind the scenes.
In game, you should never have to add them all up. Plus, it is simple addition, which is no means complex.

5) Over-specificity
You seem to have mistakenly merged the two here. You hit 75% of time vs opponent A, and you thus want to reduce damage by 33% (shouldn't that be 25%?). But what happens when you attack opponent B, who you have an 80% chance of hitting? Or C, who you only hit 50% of the time? In actuality, your simplification has lost what the original mechanics held.

Anyway, interesting ideas, but I do not think that any of the points actually go towards the argument for removing the attack roll. ;)


Andrew Doull said...

Missing does signal one important fact: What you're doing is ineffective, try something else.

Having an action always contribute towards completion a task will never force players to think laterally.

Anonymous said...

Armour (and dex bonuses) providing mitigation is a problem. A flat static reduction of -n damage would favour large single hits over multiple attacks (requiring a massive rebalancing of monsters/classes/weapons). Further, percentage based mitigation of damage is too maths heavy for us in table top play.

The only way that I see DnD dropping the to hit roll is to instead aways give a defence roll. That is to say the mechanic is effectively the same however the attacker always *hits* but the rolls their defense rating (current AC) against the attcking players +to hit. A defence roll has the advantage of including plyers when it isn't thier turn, however does not in any way speed up the game and would actually most likely slow play.


Greg Tannahill said...

@ hvg3 - Re: downtime. Sure, not always is a miss a wasted turn, but come on, it's most of the time. The average heroic tier character has, what, one power with a "miss" line, and it's a daily. These are all positive things, but fixing 10% of the problem does not fix the entire problem. You try looking at the first-time player whose rogue missed on their daily and say, "Hey, at least you got to move, right?"

On risk - we're making the assumption here that 5E is 4E only moreso. 4E has moved in a tactical direction; the extension of that is the removal of risk. Your argument is, hey, we shouldn't go in that direction - which is an argument absolutely worth having - but I've moved past that for the purpose of this article.

On redundancy - doing something redundant faster does not make it any less redundant! If we CAN deal with both hit and damage in a single roll, why DON'T we?

Re: complexity - Not sure what you mean that the attack roll calculations happen "behind the scenes". Do you mean through the character builder?

Re: specificity - Apologies, 25% is the correct figure. But the way you vary damage against opponents of different difficulties is by varying the damage calculation; there's no point in varying the to-hit and then applying constant damage.

@Andrew - The issue is that missing DOESN'T signal that you're doing something ineffective, because it's random. Sure, if you're missing on a 19, well, that certainly tells you something, but it's probably something your DM should have already made pretty clear - ie, you've picked a fight you can't win. And if we use a damage roll modified by opponent difficulty it returns exactly the same information, without the redundancy, downtime, and other problems.

@Anonymous - I accept that there are issues associated with armour as defence mitigation. Flat reduction I don't think is a completely unsuitable tool, especially if you mix it in with ideas like, say, arcane damage ignoring armour. And in any case it's one among a number of ways of handling a single roll system. 7th Sea, for example, (while being a two-roll system) uses the idea of "flesh wounds" and "dramatic wounds", with a damage threshold. Deal damage over the threshold and they take a dramatic wound, which has consequences; deal less and it's harmless flesh wounds, which stack to modify the roll and make the next attack more likely to cross the threshold. Armour could be used for this kind of "threshold" system, where more hits is good because it gets more chances to cross the threshold, but big hits are good because they're almost guaranteed to cross it in a single blow.

Michael Cardoza said...

Solid arguments, for what my opinion is worth. I think you're right in predicting 5E will go in a different direction, but it does depend on the design team.

The only thing you haven't considered is the flip side of the psychological argument -- which is to say the feeling of accomplishment that comes with a hit. If you make hitting a sure thing, you lose a lot of that -- yes, it's random, but we love to see skill in randomness. Possibly doing high damage would produce the same sort of effect, but I'm not sure.

Also, the psychology of casinos is pretty relevant here, and see the section on Near Misses in that article.

Greg Tannahill said...

@Bryant - That's an excellent point. The only thing that I'd say in defence is that the addictive nature of random rewards is predicated on the ability to immediately try again. Where you place an enforced delay between someone failing to achieve an award and the commencement of their next attempt it's an opportunity to disengage from the game, which is exactly what we don't want.

Robert Conley said...

It not realistic. Thus doesn't allow to the player or referee to use common sense to adjudicate situations not handled by the rules or covered well.

While some RPGs can get away with this I don't believe D&D can. Survey most players the idea of a roll = a swing of a weapon in firmly entrenched in their minds.

hvg3 said...

On risk - nah, my point is that even 3e was tactical. 4e made it smoother, for sure, but stepping twards a chess-like scenario where there is no risk is so unlike what 4e, 3e, or earlier are, that for 5e to go there would be being less of what DnD is.

On redundancy - "If we CAN deal with both hit and damage in a single roll, why DON'T we?" py point was that your suggestion didn't do that ;) To the question, I will simply say "we can't".

On complexity: when it is your turn, you do not need to add together all those numbers. Before you get to a game, that should already be totalled up, the only ones that you need to account for in the game are combat advantage, charging, and cover. And once again - that is such simple maths that it really doesn't enter into it.

On specificity: again, you would need to change this "damage figure" depending on each target, which would add much more complexity than you have now, and would introduce redundancy (because you would be doing just what the system does now, but with more hassle).


Maelora said...

Ah, the 'Tyranny of Fun' rears its ugly head again. We must maximise our 'fun'... or else. I absolsutely disagree with the concept that it's a good idea.

You argue it well, Greg, but we could go on forever. Not doing maximum damage isn't 'fun', so why roll for damage? Not killing everything in one blow isn't 'fun', so why have hit points? Not having unlimited uses of powers isn't 'fun', so why have Dailies?

But yes, I think it will happen in 5E, or even 4.5.

Players are mollycoddled to a ludicrous degree already (seriously, players being allowed to choose their own magic items?) and I expect to see more of this nonsense. Some videogames, such as Final Fantasy, essentially do this already. D&D will get worse before it gets better, and we will see 'save points' and the like before too long. "Dying isn't fun, so we've eliminated the possibility entirely!"

The only light at the end of the tunnel for me is that come 6E or 7E, when the videogame fans have moved onto the Next Big Thing, someone will rebrand D&D as 'bringing gaming back to the gamers'. Maybe we'll see something old school like the new HackMaster game that I might actually enjoy.

Michael Cardoza said...

@Greg -- Also a good point, yeah. I'd be interested in seeing some real investigation of this, but I bet that won't happen any time soon. Resource-intensive.

Simple Psiman said...

I think this makes sense from a basic standpoint. Not sure it SHOULD be done, as the system may become utterly unfamiliar to it's ancestry if it gives up on the d20 entirely, but the New World of Darkness does a single roll for both hit and damage and it works just fine.

For D&D? I figure it'd be straight damage rolls with a few different damage mitigation ideas- all classes have some AC that knocks damage off an attack, some classes have 'dodges' or 'defenses' that knock dice off an attack, lower the die type of damage, etc. However, this would mean a completely new system. With the roles in place, the Defenders need some ability to survive getting smacked around and Damage Reduction can work, but it will work in a very delicate balance- as dice and damage go up, variance will go up, and a very specific amount of AC will be needed in response.

3d6 damage versus 9 damage reduction, average shot does 1.5 damage, big hit does 9. 5d6 damage versus 15, average shot does 2.5 damage, big hit does 15. This creep continues and is a difficult balancing act, especially when all different kinds of dice get used for damage. Straight damage plusses might get around this, but paired with increased damage mitigation, the progress looks pretty artificial (+10 damage, -10 dmg reduction, roll a d6 in between, versus an ever increasing number of HP).

It's an ugly system to balance while keeping it looking and feeling like D&D.

Brog said...

Thoroughly convinced. Not that it'll necessarily happen, but that it's the right thing for them to do. Am definitely considering omitting rolls to hit from the CRPG design that's been accreting in my skull lately.

Adam Thornton said...

You're thinking too small!

I mean, if the goal is to minimize the amount of un-fun that comes with rolling poorly, then since we can easily calculate the average damage-per-round inflicted by a correctly-optimized character, and since encounters should always be balanced, then we know how many rounds an encounter should take.

Let's just precalculate everything, figure out how many encounters we could have played through had we gamed for a time carefully determined by Hasbro focus groups to be optimum. Then we know what experience and treasure we would have gotten, so then we can add that to our characters, and, look, we didn't actually have to use that time playing D&D--which might have turned out to be un-fun if we hadn't rolled 20s!

I think this is pretty much the perfect model, actually: gamers set up a debit account with Hasbro, and every week they get an email informing them of how much more awesome their characters got! With pictures of people in spiky armor wielding ludicrously outsized weapons! It's efficient! It enriches Hasbro! What could possibly be any better?

Patrick said...

I think this essay is poorly reasoned.

1. The section that details what counts as involved versus uninvolved in the game is inconsistent. At first you're speaking as if being involved is paying attention and trying to accomplish things by rolling dice. But then you elide over to the position that being involved is payint attention and ACCOMPLISHING things by rolling dice. This is a nontrivial shift in perspective.

2. Risk is not incompatible with tactical reasoning. Learning to control, account for, and manipulate random factors is a legitimate form of tactical logic, and it has been for years. I sentence you to penance playing Bridge with your grandmother until you learn the error of your ways. You'll know you've learned your lesson when you stop losing to her superior tactical reasoning in a game of chance.

3. Its true that overly "swingy" randomization can make tactical reasoning less worthwhile and can leave new players in particular with a potential unexpected defeat, souring them on the game. This is not a question of absolutes, it is a question of degree. The needs of new players are best addressed through the design of adventures intended for new players, and perhaps the design of level 1 characters. The need to avoid swinginess on the whole does not necessarily mean that miss chances should be eliminated- it just means that combat shouldn't be swingy. You can have swingy combat without the potential to miss, as long as you have success and failure and the possibility of either occurring.

4. I have no argument with the redundancy approach, save that what appears to be redundant can be useful in adding granularity, and granularity helps in adding diversity of options.

5. Complexity is a non starter. It is true that a great deal goes into your to-hit roll. However, most of it occurs behind the scenes, before the session, resulting in you writing "Warhammer: +11, 1d10+6" on your character sheet. What really matters in terms of usability is math that occurs at the tabletop, which is relatively simple in the present edition. Situational modifiers are few and far between, and are added in very slowly over the course of many levels. After each level up that changes situational math, you can expect there to be about 10 encounters before the next level up- which may not change the situational math at all. That's around 50+ iterations of making attack rolls per level. The relatively simple math of 4e should be learnable in that timeframe.

So... ultimately, your reasoning is not persuasive. There are games out there that use unified mechanics without a separate attack and damage roll. They work just fine. Does D&D need such a system? Maybe, I certainly don't think that such a change would be inherently bad. But would such a change give the benefits you expect? Not likely. Unified mechanics can be swingy and baffling to new players. They can destroy your cunning tactical plans with the unexpected fall of a die. They can be math-intensive. They can take a long time to resolve. And they have some of their own, unique flaws. Sometimes they paint with too broad a brush- while bashing someone with a hammer might work with a system of armor as damage reduction and the only die roll being how well you hit, something like an arrow might not fit as well. The reduced granularity might awkwardly force the two together. Would it necessarily? I can't know without knowing the actual system proposed. But its yet another concern.

hvg3 said...

Well said, Patrick :)

It's like what I was trying to say, only eloquently put, and well-said :D


Greg Tannahill said...

Too many comments to catch them all! I'll go for the easiest catches and let the more powerful arguments stand triumphant.

@Patrick - re: involved vs uninvolved. Involved is when a player has the opportunity at a given point to take an action that changes the state of play, regardless of whether or not they make that choice. When they can't act they're not involved, and when the actions they take don't alter the state of play they're not involved.

Re: risk - Sure, it's compatible with tactical play, but it's poorly compatible with LEARNING tactical play. It's one of the reasons that Magic: the Gathering and other CCGs have leaned more towards standardised decks in entry-level packs, to let people learn the tactical-level play before exposing them to the second-level concepts of deckbuilding and managed risk. Risk isn't entirely eliminated under my model, it's just confined to the damage roll, where even the most unsuccessful attack deals a trivial amount of damage resulting in the illusion of progress.

@Patrick and hvg3 - I don't think it's correct to claim that the bulk of the non-trivial maths occurs behind the scene. "Warhammer +11 to hit" is simply not a reliable position. Different attacks use different trait mods and occasionally add additional bonuses; conditional modifiers are non-trivial especially if you're playing with a high proportion of leaders - the conditional modifiers for a single attack, even in a first level game can be (-2 [marked] +2 [combat advantage] +4 [righteous brand] +1 [charging] +1 [feat bonus for charging]) - that sort of complexity isn't rare and isn't even an extreme example. If there were genuinely only a single derived stat resulting from these calculations it would be fine, but it's a separate calculation for each power the character has, plus in extreme cases as many as six or seven conditional variables (and more commonly at least two). That's non-trivial complexity and it's undesirable.

Rob Conley - your user icon appears to be in rennaissance fair costume. If you've had any experience watching two guys in platemail fight, you'd surely be aware that it's unrealistic to expect them NOT to hit; that kind of combat was a slugfest where the real question was who could batter through the other's armour first. In heavy armour you're simply not fast enough to dodge or parry effectively. I don't accept the contention that damage-only combat is any less inherently realistic than roll-then-damage.

@Adam - The slippery slope argument is a good one but you're missing that it runs the other way. If roll to hit is a good idea, why don't we track damage to the weapons? Why don't we track the competitors' diets so that we can check how much energy they have and whether their muscles are at peak performance? Why don't we use location-specific damage? We can be vastly MORE specific. Ultimately there can't be any measure of the correct level of specificity other than analysing where the game becomes the fastest and most fun, and I'm arguing that roll-then-damage is further from that peak than damage-only.

dave said...

I take issue with your first assumption.

You start with a given I'm not willing to give you. That your conclusion is a result of some direction that 4e set.

Taking on that assumption then, in 5e they will remove healers. A healer, in order to succeed and be involved, will need to heal. Healing depends on another character not succeeding and getting hurt. Doesn't that mean someone didn't succeed. So take out the hurting. Well then that healer now can't succeed. The healer must go. No healers in 5e.

What about killing blows. Only one of the players will get in a killing blow. The other players missed their chance. How about having all monsters split into a number equal to the remaining party members so they can each finish the round with a killing blow. In 5e all monsters will split at the loss of their last hit point so that each player can kill it.

GregT said...

Dar - I'm not sure I follow your logic. 4E is undoubtedly a step in the specific direction of a game that is (a) balanced, (b) tactical, (c) easily understandable and accessible, (d) less inclined to disproportionately punish players through downtime and opportunity loss, and (e) less prone to wild random consequences. Those are all things the designers have gone on record as saying they wanted to achieve.

That's my "initial assumption" about the direction that 4E went, which I think is born out both by the fact of the 4E rules and the public statements of their creators. And so my argument is, if that's the direction 4E went, and 5E goes further down it, this is a strong way to implement that intention.

I am fully prepared to concede the point that there are other worthwhile directions to take the game in that may be better. I'm just saying if they choose the same direction as 4E, this is where it might go, and giving reasons why.

Falke said...

Hi Greg

Fantastic Blog, only just found it so I have spent a few days reading everything. You write well.

I think you are right in that the to-hit roll and damage roll will be merged. But not in the fashion you describe.

I think we will see custom dice with mulitple symbols (not unlike Descent, and every weapon rolling different combinations. One symbol on the die could signify armor penetration, another will add range to your attack, yet another will activate special abilities tied to your skills or your weapon. And of course one symbol will tell you how much damage you did.

In many cases this could mean that to use your new magic sword, you will have to buy a new (set of) dice. Perhaps one tier of play will have a single set of dice, or perhaps one character class will have a single set of dice. But it is an obvious way to simplify the game, and at the same time selling more product.

If implemented properly, I think it could be a lot of fun.

Greg Tannahill said...

Falke - I think that that's certainly one way to achieve the effect, but I don't think that will happen, for a reason that no one yet has raised.

Polyhedral dice are inextricably associated with the D&D brand identity. The d20 in particular is so ubiquitous as to be the name for an entire Wizards-owned rules engine. Eliminating or reducing the prominence of the d20 in D&D runs directly counter to the identifiability of the product; if anything, Wizards are more likely to bind more rolls and resolutions to our favourite dodecahedron, not less.

Greg Tannahill said...

Oh, by the way, this doesn't deserve its own post, but can I say thank you to everyone who reads who's recommended my blog somewhere? Just googled up a bunch of hits today, and it seems that the two things people have to say about Eleven Foot Pole are "excellent" and "controversial", which is pretty much the two words I'd most like to be described as. Big thumbs up to everyone's mentioned Eleven Foot Pole online - you all rock.

JDJarvis said...

Folks want D&D combat to go faster? Try less Hit Points for monsters and possibly PCs. A goblin a first level fighter can kill in swing or two that isn't a differently state minion. A dragon that only has to get hit 10 or 20 times might do the trick.

Also misses don't = nothing happens. A game that has a miss mean nothing is boring.

Falke said...

I agree that the d20 brand is quite strong, and that Wizards shouldn't lessen its significance lightheartedly. Yet, I feel this is such an obvious source of revenue for them that they can't let it go. Also, if the dice are big enough, you can have multiple symbols per face even on a d20. I think there could be a certain satisfaction in having encounter powers (or their equivalent) using bigger dice than at-will powers.

jimhopper said...

Sorry - but the whole idea behind this is wrong, just wrong.

"Improving the overall experience, eliminating frustration, and making the game more accessible to newcomers means eliminating the possibility of missing."

So, everyone wins? This is akin to awarding trophies to every kid in the soccer tournament regardless of how well they played. Replacing (or in this case eliminating) the game's core mechanic is a terrible idea and WotC would never do it...rightly so, I might add.

dudefella said...

Two things...

1. (math) 5+ to hit on a d20 is 80%, not 75%. It feels like you're a quarter of the way through the 20, but you're hitting on 16 of 20 results and missing on 4 of 20. Change to 6+ or 80%

2. I don't think D&D will give up the d20. It's too iconic. The system was even named after it for third edition's run. If they were to go with a one-roll idea, I think it would be more along the lines of rolling the d20 to hit and doing damage based on how much you beat the target by. Such as a system where a dagger does 1 dmg, a longsword 2, and a greataxe 3, per pip you "hit" by. Need higher than a 9, roll 14, you do 5/10/15, depending on the weapon. The on-the-fly math would probably slow it all back down, though.

Anonymous said...

This whole argument is deeply steeped in assumptions about good game design that come from current in-vogue thinking from the TCG and big-box-board game arena. It's a march toward "only perfect information games are fun" thinking. If you don't assume that (and there's no reason to assume it other than a prejudiced starting point that values chess-like games over more random games that have been at least as successful and fun over the years) then the whole argument falls apart.

In short, in every point you make, a person with the opposite prejudice could flip it around and say "random is what makes this good and what would make this better."

Anonymous said...

As many others in the comments, I find your logic quite interesting and yes, I think that's what they tried to achieve with 4e for downtime, tactical thinking, redundancy and complexity. And I agree even more with your logic of dumping the hit roll, but for a different reason. The D&D game needed not a lot of this stuff, it survived 30+ years as it was, with the downtimes, complexities, etc., it was simply that it could get too complex to be widespread. So the solution (as has been clearly criticized) was to make it more like a video game. Well, like you're saying in a video game you'd not need two rolls, just one that automatically gives hit and damage. I just hope they stop killing the game I enjoy... oh but wait... I'm not playing 4e. Good for me!! - Jevhad -

Unknown said...

Removing the attack roll is pretty much exactly what they did in the new World of Darkness games. Well, technically they combined it with the damage roll, but the effect is the same - to reduce the number of rolls involved in combat, reduce the ways in which factors like defence, armour, skill and power can change the mechanics, reduce the complexity of the system, and reduce the chance of the player taking a null action. It's a lot faster than the old system, it's a lot easier to use, and in my opinion it works a lot better. But the main difference is that the nWoD combat system is supposed to be as quick and unobtrusive as possible, so you can get combat out of the way, and it sacrifices depth to do that (for example there isn't any difference between someone who is strong, or someone who is skilled, in terms of the damage potential). In D&D, the game itself is *about* the combat, and sacrificing depth for speed seems rather unwise in that context.

Razz said...

So you're advocating that D&D get even further dumbed down than it already is?

You know what, why not have 5E where everything is decided by a coin toss? With high levels giving you multiple coins. If you're level 5, for example, you'll have 2 coins to toss, meaning there's twice the chance your action succeeds. If it fails, it does half what it's supposed to do.

I miss 2E...and 3E...I miss REAL D&D where there was complexity, which gave the game a real purpose and a real identity.

Die all you bastards at WotC...just rot in Hell. Seriously. I'm done.

hvg3 said...

On 'triviality":
it's interesting that you have changed your arguement here, and dropped most of the "complex" equation you had initially ;)

Still, calling even your latest example (which I do think is quite rare) "complex" is perhaps more a critique at the level of mathematical ability in todays society. A total of +6 should never be complex! And as to its desirability - it is highly favourable to any alternative proposed so far.

Witha few of the ideas above, I think you might want to try a minion game, where everyone automatically hits,a nd automatically kills (thus, everyone can 'do' something). Of course, having a ranger (TWF or multiple ranged attacks) or wizard (area effects) could be too powerful, and leave others realising that thought they killed one guy, they didn't do as much as the others, so they are now effectively uneffective. Ultimately, following this logic, every person will have to be able to kill only one enemy, and thus be identical clones of each other. Hrmm, perhaps we should re-image checkers as DnD?

GregT said...

@Jim - I don't see what the issue is with "everyone wins". Soccer is a competitive game; D&D isn't. There don't need to be winners and losers in D&D any more than there are winners and losers among the individual members of rock bands, drama societies or theatre audiences.

@dudefella - Fully agreed, and thanks for the maths catch.

@Anonymous No 1 - The core assumption here is "4E wants to be a tactical game, 5E will go further down that path." I believe tactical games ARE provably better at their core gameplay when they have perfect information. It is 100% a valid argument that D&D should not be a tactical game, but that's not what this article is about.

@Razz - dumbed down? I'm not quite sure what's intellectual about rolling two sets of dice to decide the outcome of one action; where is the greater sophistication in rolling a d20, and then a handful of other dice? I'm advocating precisely the opposite - removing unnecessary mechanical complexity to give people more mental room for the core gameplay of roleplaying, puzzle solving, and ass-kicking.
@Anonymous 2 - I don't think I mentioned videogames anywhere here. Videogames actually LIKE complexity, because the maths is behind handled by a processor. The principles I'm extrapolating here are principles of boardgame design - fast play, efficient learning, focus on core gameplay rather than being distracted by maths, minimised downtime.

@hvg3 - Without meaning to trivialise your very valid and constructive contributions, I think you're making a straw man here. I'm not remotely advocating one hit one kill gameplay. It's entirely possible to combine the rolls without changing the existing roles. Monsters still, after all, have variable amounts of HP and damage mitigation. So strikers deal more damage, defenders control enemy target priority, leaders synergise the team and mitigate enemy focus-fire, and controllers take control of the board state and weed out low HP enemies.

On complexity - a final result of +6 can indeed be complex if it's taken resolving five variables to reach it - and, again, that's just the conditionals. More importantly, it's more complex than it needs to be - "do I hit?" is just not that critical a question when the effect of hitting can still be trivial.

Anonymous said...

Your version of 5E scares me, but then I don't like 4E now... so I guess your version of 5E would completely move me from any product WoTC puts out.

Greg Tannahill said...

@Anonymous - It's not "my version of 4E". My version of 4E would introduce a resource-limited diplomacy system, some kind of "drama point" system to allow direct player intervention in the plot, and extend the paragon path and epic destiny subsystems to help mechanically support the idea of character arcs.

This article is, if 5E is like 4E only moreso. It's a good way of accomplishing that goal. The value of the goal itself is open to debate.

WarpigPSU said...

I think your premise is flawed at it's foundation. You seem to think that being ineffective or not directly involved in the action every round of every fight equals no fun. The game is set up (at least more so than OD&D and AD&D were!) so it is reasonably rare for someone to have zero effect on the outcome of a battle...but from round to round you might not always be effective...and that's okay.

Let's apply your idea to other games.

Go Fish: Do you have any 2s? No. Go Fish...oh you got a 4...that's no fun! Search the deck and get the card you're looking for every time.

Poker: Normally when you get dealt a crappy hand you fold. That's no fun, now you're a spectator...change the rules so that if you have a crap hand you can be dealt a new hand until you get one you like. IS boring...bad example..

Hockey: That goalie at the end where the puck isn't sure gets bored...that makes the game inaccessible to people...the fix? Give every player on the ice a puck so that neither goalie is bored...ever

You get the point...the idea of a social role-playing game is the same as any other social activity...not everyone gets to be the star all the time. Sometimes it is actually fun to see one of your friends do something to save your arse...

In combat encounters, those PCs geared toward combat shine...those that aren't usually don't (but even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut). In social encounters the more social characters lead. If a player is constantly not having an effect on the game either you have a poor DM or the DM and the player are not working together very well (example: The player put all his effort into RP related skills and the DM is a hack n' slash DM).

Also...I'm not by any means someone who looks for "realism" in my games...but the combat model needs to be a reasonable abstraction...An attack essentially asks two questions: Did I hit? If so, how well did I hit? That makes intuitive sense because that is how an attack with a weapon in real-life behaves. Not every shot fired in combat is a hit.

Simply saying average it out takes a lot of the fun out of combat. With an attack roll/damage roll model, there is a great deal of variation. I've been playing D&D for almost 30 years now and even early on we house-ruled critical hits on a natural 20 to add MORE variation because it was the variation and the unpredictability of combat that made it fun.

Simply saying you reduce damage by X% takes away that variation.

Example: You're attacking a foe with 10 hp and you do 1d10 and hit on an 11+...your rule: roll 1d10, reduce result by 50% (max 5) (or even do 2.5 damage. You have ZERO chance of reducing your foe to 0 HP...The current rule, you have about a 5% chance. So 1 time out of twenty you get to say "Awesome!" It's cool because you had a small chance of success and came through...the other 19 times, your foe gets to turn around and smack you back with one of his powers (which also may or may not be effective). That's FUN. Knowing that you'll do an average of 2.5 HP worth of damage and reduce this opponent to 0 HP in precisely 4 rounds is not.

WarpigPSU said...

Greg, you said:

@Razz - dumbed down? I'm not quite sure what's intellectual about rolling two sets of dice to decide the outcome of one action; where is the greater sophistication in rolling a d20, and then a handful of other dice? I'm advocating precisely the opposite - removing unnecessary mechanical complexity to give people more mental room for the core gameplay of roleplaying, puzzle solving, and ass-kicking.

I think that's where you are off track: You roll two dice to determine two distinct events: Did I hit? If yes, how much damage did my hit do? Two questions, two dice rolls.

There are lots of mechanics in the game that do this. Did I successfully climb the wall? If not, how much damage does the ground to do me when it abruptly ends my fall?

Did I evade/resist the spell? If not, how much damage did it do or how long will I be under the effect?

Your proposal works for larger battles and minions...I've actually used similar mechanics in games I've DMed over the years(example: 100 low level soldiers firing arrows at a high level PC...on average 5 will every round we just had 5 hit and rolled 5d8 damage rather than try to roll 100d20 and count the # of 20s). But for most encounters, I think it would make things less fun.

Xtian said...

I have to back Greg up on many of these issues. I have never understood the "this means that everyone will be winners, bah humbug" argument. The fact that the argument easily blends into some sort of extreme hypothetical rant, often invoking the "tyranny of fun" is the last nail in the coffin.

I think the brand power of multiple types of polyhedral dice is the biggest hurdle for eliminating the "to hit roll," because you're either nixing the d20 or the 2d6, and doing either seems difficult. I think that it's much more likely that WotC or Hasbro puts out a feux-RPG "Adventure Game" system that uses special dice or a more unified dice mechanic.

As others have mentioned, reducing dice rolls reduces granularity. There are many more ways to affect two rolls than one. I've always got the feeling from the current Devs that they like where the game sits tactically.

If they pushed D&D in any particular direction, I question how much farther they can push it into the tactical sphere. I believe the next big focus will come trying to use 4e with new media. And that only because it was supposed to be packaged in the 4e initiative and it died. I would assume that any 5e mechanical design would cater to the needs of the 4e+new media system - plugging holes that the current rules create, further developing the way a battlefield interacts with participants, and facilitating user-generated content.

hvg3 said...

Greg - I am aware you are not saying "one hit, one kill". My point was more that with the "if i miss, my round is pointless, and i might as well not play" idea (ok, maybe a little hyperbole ;) ).

If one can say "my hitting is what is important", or "if I don't hit, I am not contributing" (both statements of which I disagree with), then once one moves to a system where everyone hits, the next difference will be who actually kills someone. Some characters will hit harder, thus the difference is no longer one person missing, vs another hitting - it will be one person doing lots of damage vs another doing little.

If you are correct, and 5e removes the to hit, then 6e should remove the damage, and make it constant, and 7e should remove damage in total, and everyone has "one hit kills" mechanics.

That is, my point is the basic idea behind "a miss = no fun" is in error, and leads to a very unsatisfying game.

And again, I would challenge the idea that the five steps to get to a +6 is a common thing. Most games I partake in have one or two steps, at most, in attack rolls. It has *never* reached a point where any player is complaining about the complexity of the bonuses.

Aside from the points, congrats in getting so much feedback on the post :)

WarpigPSU - thanks for the laugh! :D Great examples!

Greg Tannahill said...

@WarpigPSU - you're once again confusing D&D with a competitive game. It's (by default) not competitive. If you play it that way - as some kind of a competition to see who's the better player - then I'll happily admit that my article wasn't aimed at you and may not be relevant. But short of that, it's not helpful to suggest that it's a direct analogy to games like Go Fish or Poker, where there must be winners and losers.

It's not a great analogy anyway, because you're equating what I'm saying to removing the challenge from the game, which isn't what I'm talking about at all. If you've played games like Magic or Chess you can be well aware that certainty of effect doesn't deride challenge at all; and we don't even have certainty of effect under this model. There's still random damage, with the range of that randomness determined by the relative strengths of the participants and the validity of their tactical choices.

@hvg3 - Okay, I get what you're saying now. I think the key difference here is progress. Generally, when you roll a miss, there's no progress. You're no closer to the battle being over than before you rolled. Under a damage only system, where every attack deals damage (no matter how trivial), every action brings you visibly closer to resolution of the combat in favour of your team. That progress may be partly illusory (in the case of trivial damage) but it's palpably more satisfying, particularly to new players who are less likely to see through the illusion.

hvg3 said...

On progress - Indeed, I will agree with you! Although, I have to ask - do you need progress, or is "no progress" just a part of the hurdle? A skill challenge result of "fail" is no progress, a search for information in a tavern, that has none, is no progress, but these things can still be fun.

And, I think I can still say that if "eradicating 'no progress' options" was your desire, then once that is gone, youn are left with the levels of damage being "variations of progress". Little damage = little progress, and would need to be the next thing dropped. Again, you will end up with a one hit = one kill mentality, where everyone always achieves the same level of progress.

The thrill of hitting, of doing lots of damage is only exciting because of the breath of what could happen. If you cannot miss, then hitting looses its excitement.

Greg Tannahill said...

@hvg3 - Actually I'd argue the best skill challenges are the ones where there's progress on a fail - either by implementing "degrees of success" where a failure is just an incomplete victory, or by having a potentially devastating fail result that nevertheless moves the plot onwards down a new (often more challenging) path. Things have progressed - just possibly not in the players' favour.

The key thing to avoid is the situation where the player has acted, failed, and is in a position which is either the same or less fun than the one they were in before they acted. Every player action should make their situation either better or more interesting.

Todd said...

It should be possible to test this hypothesis as 4e progresses. If encounter powers start to gain miss effects (some, though very few, already have them) I think that would be evidence that you're on to something. If such a thing happens, I think either the encounter/daily split would need to go away or some other distinguishing characteristic would need to be applied to dailies to keep them distinct.

@hvg3 "A skill challenge result of "fail" is no progress"

I'd argue that if that's the case, you're doing it wrong. Failing a skill challenge should still progress the story, just in a different direction than the players want to go. It's a hurdle I ran into a few times building skill challenges. If the players fail, and failure leads to no progress, you're left in the middle of the game with no where to go.

Anonymous said...

As Greg mentioned, if you watch two people in platemail battle it out, they do "hit" each other quite often. However, the percentage of those "hits" that actually deals damage is no where near 100%.

The "to-hit" roll really isn't a check to see if you actually hit, rather it's a check to see if you do damage to the target. You may hit the target in the shield (and do no damage) or you may hit them in the head and cleave their skull in half. Both are "hits", but only one of them would be considered a "hit" in D&D parlance.

Turning AC into some sort of damage mitigation scheme would only go so far though because the difference between the nimble lightly armored fighter and the bulky platemail covered fighter might be zero in terms of armor class, but a world of difference in terms of damage mitigation. Dexterity would lend itself to actual hit/miss, whereas armor (magical or physical) would lend itself to damage/no damage instead.

Btw, this is one place that both players and GMs can spice things up. If you barely miss (by one or two), it's a lot more interesting if the GM describes that as "the target barely steers your blow away with his shield/weapon/whatever" than " missed". That goes a long way to increasing the involvement of the player that just "made no impact to the outcome".

Re: complexity...maybe it's just me, but with the exception of charging and combat advantage, I tend to have all the options completely filled out so it's just 2 or 3 things I'm adding to a die roll depending on the option I choose to use. That does occasionally lead to some indecision about "hmm...should use power X or power Y on the target?" but that would happen regardless of whether I had to add 3 or 10 things to the die roll.

Getting rid of the "to-hit" roll won't happen. If anything, they'll re-brand it as a "did you do damage?" roll.

Anonymous said...

I don't think that the problem is the "to hit" roll. I think that the major problem RPGs have is that the moment round time action starts, roleplaying stops. Characters start the "I move here and use this attack". That isn't roleplaying, that's a tactical simulation (which can be fun from time to time, but isn't always). If you can get all of the players invested in what happens from round to round, I think the individual rolls will become less important. You have to keep everybody talking - whether by having characters that are trying to out do each other ("I've killed five mooks- how many have you gotten?") or by having them try to figure out puzzle elements ("Fire seems effective, but we don't have enough- One of us needs to get the brazier") or even by having flashy or comedic language ("Aha! Take that, vile viper of villainy").

After a game, I never want to hear, "Do you remember that time I rolled an eighteen, that was great." Heroic battles should be heroic for roleplay reasons and not because of a die roll.

Sugar said...

I agree that sitting at a gaming table for hours on end only to miss attack roll after attack roll is both not fun and functionally useless, but I don't think randomness should be thrown out completely.

The roll of a die represents the unpredictable nature of a battle. I do think that the dependence on the die roll should be decreased in range. The range of 1-20 plus mods can offer up a wide gulf between a hit and a miss in 4E, especially at low levels.

Perhaps a d10 would be a suitable replacement if merged with a unified mechanic based on total attack compared with the defense.

Outright misses should not be illiminated for the sake of realism. Let's face it, they happen! But should they happen as often as they do in game? Realistically, it isn't difficult to land a blow, but it is diffcult to land an effective blow against someone who is trying not to get hit. The amount of damage should be reflected in the attack roll.

With 4E's addition of three new Defense scores and attacks based on every statistic instead of just a couple, there are now strategic elements that were not present in previous editions. Table top combat should be about lateral thinking or at least throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

Another idea I've been toying with is a points system that could effectively eliminate the need for dice, yet retain the element of randomness based on the player's points spending decisions.

Something to think about.

J. May said...

Unlike most of the people who have commented so far, I actually like the idea of an eventual elimination of the roll to hit mechanic.

I have several ADD players that get extremely discouraged when they are ineffective in combat. After a few misses they get bored and either lay their head down on the table or cause disruptions that completely derail the game.

After reading this article, I am trying out a new house rule to reduce the need for rolling to hit in our game. My players are excited to try out the new rule at our next game.

Thanks for the nice blog.

hvg3 said...

@Greg + Todd

Yeah, ok so Skill Challenges can get "progress", if "progress" can be against the PC's.

But, if that's how we are defining "progress", then I would say that a miss in combat is also "progress". It still gets the game moving, and things are progressing: the round is just not progressing in the player's favour.

@J.May - the problem there is with ADD, not the combat system. And turning the game into the likes of "everybody wins, everybody passes" mentality at schools now is not the answer.

Todd said...

@hvg3 Well, I may have misinterpreted what you were talking about earlier. When I'm talking about skill challenge failure, I'm talking about failing the entire challenge, not a single roll within. I thought that was what you meant by "A skill challenge result of "fail"".

On the encounter level, a failed skill challenge can't stop the story. Well, it can, but it shouldn't. If the characters search for information in a tavern, for example, and fail, there has to be another way to find that information, otherwise the story stalls. Not only that, but failing to find the information in the tavern should be meaningful, and have consequences.

A skill challenge should be an important part of the story, but it shouldn't be allowed to stop the story dead in it's tracks. Combat failure is somewhat different because a) the characters can run away and try again/something different and b) if you tpk, you don't have to worry about the players struggling to decide what comes next.

This all strays quite a bit away from the topic of whether or not the next edition will have a to-hit roll. I don't forsee the roll going away, and I imagine it will still be called a hit roll, but I wouldn't be surprised if characters were able to achieve more on a miss than they currently do.

(As a total aside: I'd rather see AC become damage reduction and all attacks against fort, ref or will.)

TildeSee said...

@hvg3, et al

Actually, from what I've seen with skill challenges the better designed one's aren't "progress for the PCs" vs "progress against the PCs", it's more "progress and..." vs "progress but...".

Eg: Success on a tracking down the bad guys skill challenge being "Yay! We've tracked them down, and we get a surprise round!" with failure being "Okay, we've tracked them back to their lair, but where are they? Ack! Ambush!"

Progression is still towards whatever the PCs were attempting to accomplish, just with a "but" instead of an "and".

Of course I've seen some excellent skill challenges that had some flat out failure points that worked well, and There's that one in Open Grave where success kinda sucks. Those of you with the book know what I'm talking about ;)

...actually, that brings about an interesting thought on the "removing attack rolls/back on topic" front. Not that I necessarily think it's a good idea (i.e. I haven't thought about it much, it's only just coming to me as I write it down) but it goes something like don't remove the to-hit roll, but give everything miss effects that do some form of damage (or other progress indicator; see invoker powers that do no damage), but with a "but..." attached. It's something to look at anyway.

MORE more on topic, I can't see the attack roll disappearing in the foreseeable future. It's one bundle of Sacred Cows that I can't see getting led to the slaughter any time soon. Of course, if the designers did try to go "what we did with 4e, only more hardcore," it certainly would end up without to-hit rolls. It is, as discussed, the logical conclusion. The force of the Sacred Cow is just too strong, IMO, to let the logical conclusion come to be.

Brenton said...

Let me preface my post by saying that I am a psychology student and that one of my chief academic interests is in the perception of success and progress.

I think that the first point Greg makes is the important one. The rest of them I could take or leave (and some I disagree with), but the first one is absolutely correct.

People like to feel like they are able to make progress. Even if that progress is illusory, if people feel like they did something, they feel better.

In addition, people like to feel that they have choices. When they feel that they can make a meaningful decision, the correct one of which yields meaningful results, they feel happier. For example, residents of nursing homes which offer choices of activities tend to be healthier than those whose facilities offer no choices.

These two points combine to show the flaw in the "Roll for a Hit or Miss" design.

I am fine with risk that has to be managed and most other parts of the 4e combat system. What I don't like about the present to-hit roll, though, is that it violates these two overwhelmingly present tendencies in human nature.

If you roll an attack and miss, if that attack has no effect whatsoever, you've wasted the majority of your turn. You've made no progress. You feel like you are dumb and cannot play well. Also, if you made what should have been a good choice, but rolled very badly, you feel like your choice was meaningless and unimportant.

I'm not suggesting that the game be dumbed down or separated too much from the traditions of D&D. Indeed, I don't even think I'd need to see the two separate rolls be merged. Instead, all I'm advocating is that the design paradigm change from "Progress or Noting" to "Big Progress or Little Progress".

For example, presently, a power might deal a large amount of damage on a hit and nothing on a miss. With the new paradigm, it does the large amount of damage on a hit, but a small amount of damage on a miss. Alternatively, a power might have an effect that always goes off, but it only deals actual damage on a hit. Any way, the power simply has something happen all the time.

As long as players feel like they are always contributing, they will have more fun than if they alternate between large contributions and nothing.

I'm not saying "Everyone always wins." Frankly, 'missing' in this system still feels bad, but it doesn't invalidate your time spent. Players will enjoy it more because everyone does something, even if it is very small.

Also, this different paradigm opens up new doors for power design. Powers can be designed to be "swingy" with huge effects on a hit and nothing on a miss, but they will be the exception, something that a player chooses because she wants to have that cycle of misses and hits, rather than something thrust upon everyone.

hvg3 said...


yeah, I probably wasn't clear enough :) I was meaning a single failed roll within a skill challenge.


>>You feel like you are dumb and cannot play well.

If that is someone's reaction to missing with an attack, then there are other issues at stake, outside of the game. A random roll of the dice can be annoying, for sure, but it is no reflection on the one who rolled it, and should not have any effect on how the choice is viewed. It was not the choice's fault, but the random element after the choice.

You also end up with the same issue as mentioned above. "Big Progress or Little Progress" will only end up with people making the same statements you have made, but applying them to the new terms. Little progress could make you feel like you have made a bad choice, that your luick is out, or, in severe cases, like you are dumb, and cannot play well.

I disagre with the "more fun" idea of doing something small on a miss. How many people pick Reaping Strike, or such powers, as the be-all and end-all of powers? If it were true that such powers were 'more fun', surely everyone would be picking them? For fun reason?

Todd said...

@ hvg3

Sorry we missed each other there.

I don't know that I feel strongly enough one way or another to argue that there should or shouldn't be more miss effects, but I'll provide this one anecdote that speaks to the issue:

Our group has a Half-Elven Star Pact Warlock in it. He's fairly optimized, but it doesn't matter because his luck is terrible. Like spends an entire combat unable to roll higher than a 5 terrible. It doesn't matter who's dice he's rolling, even starting with a high Con and a high Cha, he can't hit the broad side of a barn. Even with Improved Fate of the Void, he wiffs often.

He has enjoyed role playing his character, but way getting really bummed out by his lack of combat effectiveness. Sacrifice to Caiphon (or whatever that feat is called) has made all the difference in the world to him. It's okay when he misses now, because he doesn't feel like he's losing anything. Not being able to hit became a much smaller aggravation once all of his Encounter powers became Reliable, even if they do cost a few hit points. He isn't hitting any more often, but he doesn't feel like he's wasted his resource.

Uriel Apeiron said...

There is only one math. Not several.

It's not actually a to HIT roll. It's a to DAMAGE/AFFECT. Your X points of armor make you harder to hit/damage, as does your Dex. D&D abstracts hitting and damaging into one thing. i figure you hit on any roll above 10. How the hell do you miss a dragon? So no, it's not about hitting, but damaging.

Was your attack accurate enough to get between the dragon's scales? Did your strength hit them so hard that you bypassed the armor's protection?

Rolling to damage adds drama. In the game i played just yesterday, i set up my Bard's 4d6 attack on the villain... and missed. Frustrating, but realistic. Sometimes you whiff. Sometimes you don't hit the weak spot, or sometimes the armor is just too tough. Sometimes you crit and awesomeness ensues. i like that element of chance.

Instead of getting rid of it, i'd prefer allowing some metamechanics to allow me to fudge the roll a bit, so i can hit when it would be dramatically cool.

For 5E i want to see support for role playing, character development and just about anything that doesn't involve dungeon crawling and combat. Sure, i can improve that stuff, but i'd like to see it in the game itself.

Anonymous said...

Watch "The Princess Bride" and watch the marvellous duel at the mountain top - how often did they hit each other ? :P

Todd said...

@ Anonymous

But a D&D hit is different from a physical hit. Inigo is actually losing hit points left and right.

Philo Pharynx said...

It would also reduce the complexity of both heroes and monsters. In one 4e game I play a fighter with power attack and a big executioner's axe. He doesn't hit as often, but he does big damage. I also play a rogue who has a higher attack roll, but does less damage. Both are fun for me. Reducing this to one roll would make the different tactics I use less interesting.

Likewise, compare a monster with the soldier role to one with the brute role. You use very different tactics on them. Soldiers are harder to hit - you need to identify their weaknesses and learn how to exploit them. Brutes are easier to hit, but usually have a lot of hit points. You just need to hit them hard and often. They can both be challenging in fights and both add to the game.

hvg3 said...


heh :) We have a similar player in our group, who seems to have constant bad luck. but you know what? It makes those times when he rolls well all that more special!


Maybe in the US, but when we speak English over here, it is "maths" ;)

And, its "Effect", not "Affect" ;)

As for fudging - I always liked using the AP rules from 3e Eberron, where you could add a d6 to your roll. That could still miss, but it, too, added tension and suspence.


Well said! Working out if you want to focus on hitting often, or hitting hard, is another viable tactical choice in the game.

Robert Conley said...

@Greg Tannahill

Rob Conley - your user icon appears to be in rennaissance fair costume.

Actually it was designed for Society of Creative Anachronism. I will give a tour of my suit sometime on my Blog. But it is not fake armor but built from real patterns.

It is a misconception that a suit of armor makes you some clunking clanking warrior. You are no gymnast but neither is a football player in full gear.

And that about what is like wearing football gear. Only a lot heavier. The heaviness of armor effects endurance not how you fight.

The key element of armor is the lowly leather strap. From plate to leather you need to have armor properly strapped on.

If you don't do this properly then it is cumbersome as most people things. Properly strapped then the armor become a second skin.

As for expected to get hit. The fact is you don't want to get hit...ever. Most injuries in armor from from blunt force trauma. So while you may not get cut you wind up with bruises, broken bones and internal injuries.

So fighter with armor are dodging, parrying, and blocking (with shields) as the guys with lighter gear.

Again the problem area is endurance. Over the long haul even the strongest guy has issues with wearing armor.

Jerry W Barrington said...

Greg: "Ultimately there can't be any measure of the correct level of specificity other than analysing where the game becomes the fastest and most fun, and I'm arguing that roll-then-damage is further from that peak than damage-only."

I have an issue with this statement: "fastest". The *whole* issue is fun. Where faster serves that, good. It's not clear it *always* does.

Also, your basic assumption of the article may be wrong, that the developers are simply moving in a direction. If I wish to travel from where I live to where my parents live, yes, there's a direction I need to go. That doesn't mean that going further in that direction is what I want. Having arrived at my parents house, I stop. I can't get closer than being there.

Likewise, the development of the game isn't simply "thatta way", but "to there".

Jerry W Barrington said...

Oh, another point. Things were mentioned like hit locations, fatigue, damage to weapons, and other such complexities. Look around: some games use some or all of these. Some people *do* consider them more fun than any given edition of D&D.

There is no single definition of fun. Some love to play chess, others despise it. Same for poker, or any other game.

D&D4 is, frankly, WoW on paper. I've played WoW. I quit for a variety of reasons. It all depends on which segment of the market you want to chase.

Todd said...


"D&D4 is, frankly, WoW on paper."

This is probably a discussion for another time and place, but I've never understood this argument. The difference between a human GM and a scripting language is so large that, while I understand all of the words, they just don't make any sense to me in that order. Is the sun a lightbulb because it gives off light?

And back to the point, even if any version of D&D were just WoW on paper, what does that have to do with the removal of hit rolls? Can't you miss in Wow?

Jerry W Barrington said...

Todd: It was more a note on the direction 4th ed went than directly to do with to-hit rolls. :)

And scripting language is not the point. It's the whole "striker, defender, etc." terminology. In WoW, those are "tanks, healers, etc.". Point is, it defines your role, leaving little room for role-play. All the feats, powers, etc. are directly geared to that combat role. If you make a character that doesn't fit the standard mold, the DM has no idea how to "balance" things.

Todd said...


Roles are just meta-classes, and D&D has always been a class based game. I don't think borrowing an organizational concept makes 4e=WoW. "4e is 'just' WoW" is a popular ad hominem argument, but I've never seen much actual evidence.

Finally, I don't think 4th edition is any more focused on combat than first or second were, so maybe your complaint is better directed at all of D&D? If you want mechanical encouragement to roleplay, you should look to other systems entirely, like FATE or 7th Sea. But, once again, none of this has anything to do with hit-rolls.

Anonymous said...

I'm not convinced that this is something that would happen however the "imagine the trend and see where it goes" seems a reasonable start to the discussion.

Thinking about tthe actual issue you posit, I'll posit an actual system that could be adjusted. It tends to give the dicussion more focus and can be adjusted to fit the various requirements more easily.

Suppose you still roll your iconic d20 to hit and have teh following results (using TH as the current to hit number):-
1 - still a miss, soliciting groans and pain (currently misses are so common that they are barely worht comment)
2-> TH the power does a "base damage" which is in the 1-6 range and varies based on which power is used
TH->TH+5 the current minimum damage
TH+5->19 half the current Max damage
20 - max damage (or 1 1/2 max damage for high crit attacks)

The thing has flaws when minions take the field. Work-arround - minions have a damage mitigation (ie ignore the first 5 points of each attack) - this could be said to bring back the issue, but minions are a little bit of a fudge at the moment, so I don;t mind this.

Would I like to play in this sort of game - probably, but based more on the out of game issues (ie which ref), so i'm a bad person to ask.

A Better question - Do I think that people who are D&D newbies woudl enjoy this system more. Probably yes - it comes back to the "perception of progress" refered to by Greggles.

They still get to cheer good rolls, commiserate bad rolls and groan in dispair at the occassional miss, but they feel like they are "getting there" against the monsters.

how would it work back teh other way, if the party get abraded by every single monster they fight, it means that they don't get to breeze past the easy encounters with (generally) no powers expended/no healing surges used. Each encounter wears them down a little.

Each combat has an expense which shoudl encourage parties to avoid even trivial encounters (cos the monsters will still do a little damage, bringing the healing surge count lower)

There is a temptation to set up a game and try it. Greg - I have a maptools game setup for the Wednesday nighters in Perth. I am happy to convert my macroes to this system, I think me reffing, you, an experienced and at least one inexperienced player would be a good thing. (the question being would inexperienced players prefer the game)

Next weekend I'm working sunday day - so playing saturday day is doable - probably a couple of hours would be enough to find if people enjoyed it.

Do you fancy? it would also give us a week to fiddle with the details of the rule.

Paul (Minkie)

Anonymous said...

I keep seeing that a failed skill challenge shouldn't end the story, and that just makes absolutely no sense to me.

Should a failed combat not end the adventure?

Why should failing a skill challenge be different from failing a combat challenge? Unless you never kill players in combat in which case I have to ask what's the point if I can't fail?

Todd said...


A failed combat encounter (TPK) is a perfectly good way to end a story. It might not be satisfactory for all involved, but it's an ending.

A failed skill challenge can't end a story unless it kills the characters. If the characters have a skill challenge to get the king to send reinforcements to a small town they know will be attacked, and the PCs fail, how do you end the story there? The PCs are still alive. Do you just tell them "Well, Fallcrest is destroyed by the orc horde, roll new characters"? Unless it kills them, there has to be someplace for the story to go after a failed skill challenge.

Greg Tannahill said...

Oh hey, Paul, I missed your comment here, sorry. I'll follow it up by email.

To address your point here: I don't think you can rework 4E to eliminate the roll to hit. There's too many other issues you'd have to address, not the least of which is the underlying maths and game balance. It's really something that needs to be the underlying principle of a whole system rather than a hurried house rule. As you rightly point out, no role to hit would ruin the progress they've made with minions, if nothing else.

John said...

If you want to play a fast paced, simplified version of D&D, play Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures (DDM). I play D&D 3.5, Living Forgotten Realms (a better version of 4th ed)as well as DDM. I like them all. It depends on what you are in the mood for. If you want a more "old school" slower paced game that is more focused on role playing, play 3.5 ed. If you want a faster paced game, play 4th ed. If you want a really fast, easy to learn strategy game with very little time spent deciding what to do and what to do it with, play DDM. If you want a really old school experience, you can still download (or find in a used bookstore)stuff for even earlier editions of D&D and AD&D. All the editions have their good and bad points.

You mentioned what you see in the forum boards. What I see a lot of is hate for 4th edition on the boards I subscribe to (and I subscribe to a lot of them). A lot of D&D players hate 4th edition for many of the things you want to see in 5th edition: less risk, less randomness, less time spent thinking about what you want to do, etc. They say that 4th edition is too easy and that there isn't enough risk to balance out the reward. Also that there isn't enough difference in the different characters that people play. Everybody is like a super hero in 4th ed, they say.

I've heard 4th ed. compared to playing a video game with all the cheat codes enabled. You are practically invincible, have lots of powers, will most likely succeed in anything you try etc. There isn't as much of a challenge to it.

If you are correct about 5th edition, people who hate 4th edition won't play 5th edition either.

Personally, I'll play any version of D&D I can because I enjoy table-top gaming with my friends and new people I meet no matter what we are playing. I just enjoy the socializing and team play aspect of it. If I want to play a game in which it's all about me and whether or not I can beat the game, I can do that at home on my computer or game consoles.

Real D&D isn't about beating a game nor about being a 'winner', it's about hanging out with people and creating and playing out a story together. Even DDM (at least the way our DDM Guild chapter plays it anyway) is more about the experience than the end results. So it doesn't really matter which version or edition of D&D you play. What matters is that you play and have a good time with other people. Read any interview of Gary Gygax or Dave Arneson (remember them?) and they say the same thing.

Sarcasticalwit said...

I'd say they are actually moving closer to a collectible card based system. I use Power Cards as evidence.

The same company owns both properties now. Consider it a matter of time before some corporate jerks figure out that there might be "synergy" there.

It actually makes sense. Those of you who play Magic can see that the mechanics are mostly clear. The strategy is there, the risk is there. The fun for entry level players is there. All you have to add is a little story and rewrite a few rules to provide multiplayer vs. GM play.

karln said...

Re-animating this thread since it made me have a thought. Somebody might have said this already, I only read about halfway before my eyes unfocussed.

One of the most important things the level-of-success roll system should preserve is the ability of players to make meaningful decisions. IMO, whatever distinctive effect a power has, that effect or something like it should (ideally) always happen. A missed damage-and-(de)buff power might do no damage but still (de)buff (maybe at lower effectiveness); a striker's hit-two-guys might auto-hit both but have a low damage floor. (Forced movement is less clear-cut, since it feels like there should be some defence possible, but it's kind of a binary outcome.) This suggests, as others have pointed out, that lots more miss effects would be a sign of this kind of design in 4e.

I find that missing with a controller power that still produces a control effect (like an ongoing zone) is more satisfying than, say, missing with a fighter attack and saying as an afterthought 'oh, and I mark him'. Marking may even have been a big part of my decision to attack that particular mob, but I still feel bad about it. I suspect it might feel better if the attack box said 'Effect: Mark the target' at the bottom of every single fighter attack power, so that it doesn't seem like the whole power usage was wasted. Irrational, but that's what humans are.

This is also the obvious answer to the reductio ad absurdum suggestions that all combat be reduced to a single roll. That would cut out players' opportunities to make decisions; there's no decision to make between to-hit roll and damage roll, so I don't mind simplifying that process into a single step.