Monday, September 21, 2020

AD&D Rules: Weapon Speed Factor

I'm going to do a faily steady series of posts for a while about AD&D - the rules I use, the ones I don't, why I do things the way I do, etc. We've played some sessions of AD&D and I think I'd like to get a slightly more frequent use of the rules system in at some point.

Today: Weapon Speed.

First and foremost - I don't think I ever played with Weapon Speed Factors (hereafter, Weapon Speed or WSF.) I played in plenty of games where we wrote it down but not one where I recall playing it. If we did, it wasn't by the rules as written.

I do intend to play with Weapon Speed at some point - and maybe even Weapon Type vs. Armor - in one of the A-series of adventures, just to try it out in actual play. This post is meant to explain why I haven't done so yet and my feelings about the rules approach behind them.

It is worth noting that I co-authored GURPS Martial Arts, and it explicitly contains rules for weapon length and speed in it for those who seek extra detail. It's not that I think weapon speed is a bad concept, just that I think the execution in AD&D is needlessly complex.

Weapon Speed Factors

This material is based on the AD&D DUNGEONMASTERS GUIDE, pg. 66-67

According to Simultaneous Initiative, if both sides tie the initiative die, WSF determines who goes first. A fist isn't a great weapon but with a WSF of 1 it smokes a longsword (5) which beats a two-handed sword (10). As a base, it's a way to break ties.

The issues for me comes up in this next part: Weapon Speed Factor.

In the second paragraph, it says:

When weapon speed factor is the determinont of which opponent strikes first in a melee round, there is a chance that one opponent will be entitled to multiple attacks.

If WSF of the slower is twice that of the faster, or +5 higher, the faster weapon gets to strike twice before the slower weapon. If it's 10+, the faster weapon gets two attacks before, and then one after, the slower weapon. (That second case, by the way, only comes up for WSF 1-3 weapons vs. the Pike at WSF 13 - no other weapon has higher than a 10 or lower than a 1.)

Further, WSF does come up on non-tied initiative, for multi-segment spell-casting vs. fast weapons. You:

1) Subtract the losing initiative die from the winning, treating negative results as positive.
2) Compare the WSF of the combatants, applying #1 as a modifier.

And then, well, here is what the DMG says verbatim:

Example: A sword with a factor of 5 (broad or long) is being used by an opponent of a magic-user attempting to cast a fireball spell (3 segment casting time). If the sword-wielding attacker was represented by a losing initiative die roll of 1, the spell will be cast prior to the sword's blow. A 2 will indicate that the spell and the blow are completed simultaneously. A 3-5 will indicate that the blow has a chance of striking (if a successful "to hit" roll is made) before the spell is cast, arriving either as the spell is begun or during the first segment of its casting. Suppose instead that a dagger were being employed. It has a speed factor of only 2, so it will strike prior to spell completion if the initiative roll which lost was 1-4 (the adjusted segment indicator being 1, 0, 1, 2 respectively) and simultaneously if the die score was a 5. If the weapon being employed was a two-handed sword (or any other weapon with a speed factor of 10, or 9 for that matter) there would be no chance far the reacting side to strike the spell caster prior to completion of the fireball. Note that even though a spell takes but 1 segment to complete, this is 6 seconds, and during that period a reacting attacker might be able to attack the magic-user or other spell caster prior to actual completion of the spell! If combat is simultaneous, there is no modification of the weapon speed factor.

I find that difficult to parse. ADDICT spells it out better:

a. When the attacker wins initiative, the weapon will always strike prior to spell completion.
b. When initiative is tied, a straight comparison of weapon speed factor to spell casting time will determine which occurs first. Simultaneous results are possible.
c. When the attacker loses initiative, subtract the attacker’s losing initiative die from the weapon speed factor (treating negative numbers as positive), and compare the result to the spell casting time to determine which occurs first. Again, simultaneous results are possible.

The two spell casters have closed to melee range. Bigby starts casting power word, kill (one segment). Riggby attacks with his staff of the serpent. If Riggby wins initiative, he will strike first. If initiative is tied, the one-segment spell will beat the speed factor 4 staff. As it turns out, Bigby wins initiative 6-4. Riggby’s speed factor (4) minus his losing die roll (4) equals 0, so he actually beats the one-segment spell. (He still needs to score a hit, though.)

I find that pretty ugly. Take a look at that example. Riggby can beat a 1-segment spell if he wins initiative, or loses with a high die roll, but he loses on a tie. Bigby is better off with a tie than a victory, depending on the victory. If he wins 2-1, or 3-2, he's fine. If he wins 3-1 or 4-2, he's still okay. If he wins 5-3, it's a tie (1 segment spell, WSF 4 - 3 = 1) and if Riggby hits, he interrupts the spell. If he wins 6-5, he's in a tie again, but he's not with a 2-1 or 3-2. Margin of success doesn't matter quite as much as the losing die's number relative to its weapon speed. Since you treat a negative as a positive, a WSF of 2 and 6-4 loss means a 2, not a 0, and now you're slower than the spell again. And if that's not the case, the wording of the rule is not conducive to understanding what is the intended result there. The DMG example seems to support the idea that a lower WSF can sometimes be worse than a slower one for beating a spellcaster getting off a spell.

Does your head hurt yet? Mine does. Maybe I'm reading it wrong . . . but I don't think so.

(BTW, it's cute but annoying to chose similar-sounding names to explain a difficult concept.)

Conceptually, one of the big issues I have is how and when they matter. Most of the time, they do not matter at all. If your side wins the initiative roll, WSF doesn't matter at all. It's only on a tie that they matter. The weird Gary Gygax thing you see in, say, surprise, where 1 = surprised, 2 = completely surprised, 3-6 = not surprised rears its head here. Rolling a 4 on initiative when the other guys roll a 3 is not as good for you as if you rolled a 4 and the other guys rolled a 4, too, if you have a faster weapon. If you have a slower weapon, no matter how much slower, it doesn't matter if you win the initiative. If you have a faster weapon, no matter how much faster, it doesn't matter if you lose the initiative. Rather than just make the roll a determination of initiative and WSF affect that, or using WSF instead of initiative to determine strike order, it's this weird tiebreaker that can result in a vastly superior or inferior result that either winning or losing initiative.

But that's not true with spells. With them, you need to apply this second comparison where the initiative die matters.

Not only do people with much-faster weapons want a tie, people with much-slower ones are better off losing initiative than tying. Spell casts need clear victories on initiative, with a very low roll for the bad guys. For a monster, unarmed, WSF is presumably a 1 (Fist or Open Hand). But maybe not. I've seen how Anthony over at The Blue Bard writes this up, but he handles multiple attacks in a way that obviates the need to know most monster's WSF. Nothing in the AD&D DMG or MM discusses attack speed for monsters.

I'm not the only one who found this mind-bending. Way back in Dragon #71, Ronald Hall had an article* called "Attack Priority." That's the article that helped me understand what the heck the DMG was saying on p. 66-67. Cut me some slack - my reading comprehension isn't perfect, and I was probably 12 at the time when I got that as a back-issue ordered from TSR's Mail Order Hobby House. I didn't use that system in the article at all, but I did find it interesting. The idea of an initiative system that works like die roll + modifiers = when you go . . . it's workable, even with initaitive for a side and modifiers for weapon speed. It needs a full retool of the AD&D system, like in Ronald Hall's article, but it would use weapon speed and spell casting time well.

Like I said, I'll use WSF soon enough just to try them out. I'm not sure how I'll deal with the initiative and attacks vs. spells bit, especially when I fold in multiple attacks (a post on that coming soon.) But like I said, conceptually, I think WSF are a mishmash. The value of iniative dice mattering so thoroughly makes for a confusing system. I'll have to give that a think before I implement it. And it will play some hell with my way of using initiative dice rolls to place initiative. I don't want to make a WSF house rule to use it, so I'll need to test out the rules as written and see how it plays out. This quote attributed to Gary Gygax doesn't help, much:

"Forget weapon speed factors. I must have been under the influence of a hex when I included them in the bloody rules."

If you think I've got something wrong in the above, by all means, point it out . . . but I need some rules citations (not just "see DMG 66-67" either - I'm seeing them now) to back you. I'm interested in the rules as written, here, and thus I need to be able to read the source and confirm interpretations are backed by them.

* Discussed in a kind of backhanded manner here.


  1. I just remember adding them to the D10 roll. Which appears to be horribly wrong

    1. What D10 roll?

      I suspect that might be a 2nd edition thing. I'm talking 1st edition in the post. I really have no experience with AD&D 2nd edition . . . it came out after I'd switched to 1st edition GURPS.

    2. That is indeed a 2e thing. And it was playable.

    3. I think this is playable, just a conceptual mess that is poorly explained.

    4. I must have accidentally used 2e rules with 1e then. I started with 2e, then moved to 3.0, then from 3.0 to Rules Cyclopedia and then to 1e . . . And now 5e and Pathfinder 1e

    5. You'd hardly been the first person combining rules systems inadvertently. Or just thinking that how it's done in one edition must be how it was done in another. It's a hallowed gaming tradition!

      It is why I ask for page references!

  2. You have a missing page number on the first sentence after the heading Weapon Speed Factors.

    Gygax had a problem of writing tons of corner case rules that were long and complex but only applied to men fighting men: weapon speed, weapon length, weapon vs armor, .... He also had a huge problem writing stuff nobody understood and he apparently never used even once, but nobody called him on it (because he was Gary Gygax?) Otherwise there would be articles where he steps through the process to demonstrate it, because clearly nobody understood what he wrote and plenty of people would ask. That he never explained apart from saying "I must have been high" in his own way tells all.

    1. Huh, I thought I'd fixed that this morning, just prior to my new post. Maybe in between your comment and me seeing it to approve it.

      And yes, there is a lot of fiddly detail that applies incompletely across the AD&D rules. Some of them don't seem like they could have been playtested - they read like someone sitting down to a typewriter, banging them out, and then moving on, not like technical writing to explain thought-out and test rules.


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