Friday, 24 May 2019

Trial by Combat

Following some musings on death and dismemberment it was time to have a little play around with the rules in a live situation. It was also the chance for my friend to get some tabletop action, as he's unable to play in our regular campaign at the moment. So I rolled 3d6 36 times and generated six totally random characters for some arena conflict. I used a standard BECMI character sheet (from the red box) and followed the simple character creation steps from the Rules Cyclopedia (roll stats, then choose class). We ended up with a pleasantly random array: 2 fighters, a magic user, an elf, a cleric and a thief. They were all jacked up to second level to give the casters a bit more to do, and all but the mage and the thief were kitted out in plate.

Combat was going to follow the resolution mechanic of basic, but using the initiative-action-reaction of fifth edition (character base speed is 30', characters can make attacks of opportunity). This was to be an arena battle to the death between two teams of three, with the player getting first pick of which characters to use. Scenario one was to use the death/dying mechanic from standard 5th edition rules (at 0hp, players are unconscious and must make 50/50 death saves each turn).

DIY: WELCOME TO THE OCTAGON (yes, that is supposed to be a pit in the centre of the arena)
Following 5e initiative, each combatant rolled individually and a turn sequence established. Team Good Guys (consisting of the thief, magic-user, and cleric) made some cautious movements to re-position themselves. Team Not-So-Good Guys (consisting of two fighters and an elf) went in for the kill. In the first round a big guy with a big sword tore a chunk out of the cleric, while the combination of the elf's magic missile and the other fighter's longsword dropped the thief down to 0 HP, and the first save was made (two more positives and he stabilises, three more and he's out). Last in the initiative order, the magic-user unleashed sleep.

Now, we were using a bit of a mash-up of systems, and had made the decision to use the BECMI spell descriptions without really looking too much into it. Sleep affects 2d8 hit dice of combatants within a forty foot square, who are sent into a magical sleep for 4d4 TURNS (that's old-school turns kids: forty to 160 minutes!) with NO SAVE. The entire opposing team (and also the cleric) were knocked out, leaving the magic-user to go around and stab everyone.

In the name of RPG science we performed a do-over, and re-imagined the action as though sleep followed fifth edition rules: instead of hit dice, 5d8 hit points of enemies are affected instead of hit dice, and the duration is slightly less. The player's roll of 27 was enough to take out the elf and the second fighter, but the strongest fighter would have been unaffected. I think we quit there as it wasn't very interesting.

So, for scenario 2 we balanced the team's a little: the player kept the magic user and the cleric, but swapped the thief out for the strongest fighter. We also allowed the magic-user to have the fire bolt cantrap, to give him an edge over the elf. We'd be using the same basic/fifth edition mash-up, with the death and dismemberment rules from GLOG.

The most important feature of GLOG's death and dismemberment system is that hit points do not represent wounds. Instead, HP corresponds to a character's ability to avoid lethal damage: once they have exhausted this pool, any damage they receive is potentially lethal. Other than that, being at 0 HP has no mechanical difference: PCs may continue to move, fight and act as before.

The elf won the initiative roll, and opened up the battle with a sleep spell, but only managed to roll enough to send the cleric to sleep. With his new found cantrap powers, the magic-user attempted to launch a firebolt, though he missed his target. The burly fighter with the two-handed sword entered melee with the elf, but his blow could not penetrate his opponent's armour. The thief launched a crossbow bolt at the magic user, knocking the wind from him somewhat, but not enough to cause a fatal wound. Last in  the initiative order, I'm sure the second fighter did something but it wasn't written down.

So we'd made it to a second round! In celebration, the elf launched a javelin at the magic user and took him down to 0 HP. The magic-user responded with a sleep spell, knocking the elf and the thief out, but it wasn't powerful enough to affect the second fighter, although he copped some damage from the other fighter. Fighter 2 took a swing at his opposite number, but his blow failed to make contact.

By the third round, the elf (who should have been either asleep or dead or both, but was somehow awake) was busy bothering the magic user with another javelin, getting him to 0 finally. At this point my notes and memory seem a bit jumbled, but I think we had another fire bolt miss from the magic-user, after which big fighter clocked the elf with a solid blow to the head, concussing him. His fighter colleague was unable to do anything to the his opposite. The thief and the cleric continued to sleep.

By round four the elf was on the receiving end of  more fatal damage, once again taking a blow to the head but once again merely suffering a concussion. With no rules as to what should happen with non-fatal repeat effects, we decided this was enough to knock him out. The first fighter missed the second, who decided to cut his losses and run, kicking the thief awake as he did so. This gave an attack of opportunity to the first fighter, which was again squandered.

After some deliberation the fifth round of battle opened with a firebolt frying the second fighter alive. Reduced to below 0 HP, he suffered serious burns to his body, as he desperately attempted to remove his armour. He failed a save against blindness, and lost his sight. He was marked by six fatal wounds and collapsed from the horrible pain, losing consciousness. The recently awoken thief launched a bolt at the bloodied mage, piercing his skull through the eye socket and sending him to the ground, fatally wounded and dying.

At the start of round 6 the remaining fighter charged towards the thief with his two-handed sword, but was unable to harm him. Taking a gamble, the thief attempted to shove the warrior into the pit, and surprisingly succeeded! The fighter took some serious damage from the ten foot drop, but was not yet at death's door.

By the start of the following round, they fighter hauled himself out of the pit, receiving a crossbow bolt that dropped him back to 0. Thence followed a few rounds of the thief attempting to escape, and some unlucky opportunity attacks from the fighter, when the thief finally stood his ground, pulled out his shortsword and scored a critical hit. The damage alone was enough to drop the fighter under 5e rules, and under GLOG rules the attack caused a catalogue of fatal wounds and crushing injuries, all of which were moot given that the fighter dropped unconscious, representing an easy kill for the thief.


  1. GLOG's rules add a lot of flavour to combat.
  2. The real test of the system lies in its effect outside of combat, so it ties closely to healing and recovery. In other words...
  3. More testing is required!

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