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Combat Part III: Weapon Speed Factor Sucks and Other Myths.

I have found throughout my life that often when a person says they don't like something, it means they've never actually tried it but that the idea of the thing turns them off. Most often true of food but extending to almost anything. I recall my wife sitting on the sofa, sobbing, saying that she didn't want to move to France.

A year later she was sobbing that she had to come back to the US.

Quirky game mechanics are not immune to this sort of prejudice, which is why some folks play Monopoly this way and others play it that way and some types even hand out money when you land on Free Parking.

Weapon Speed Factor gets a bad rap because it's not supported or even really mentioned outside of the PHB and DMG. Module encounters with weapon-bearing adversaries don't include WSF in the stat block and Players don't bother to write them down on their character sheets.

So...forget about it.

Do I use it?

Hell yes.


Because it adds an occasional off-beat to an otherwise regular rhythm, which is what makes a lot of things more enjoyable. And it adds advantages to certain weapons in the same way that to-hit-AC-type adjustments make weapon selection more interesting than simply picking the one that does the most damage.

Back in this post you may remember a picture like this. It's a screen grab from my automated character sheet.

You can see how the to-hit progression (for both weapons) is irregular.

This is because all AC-type adjustments have been auto-calculated in the boxes with the caveat that ACs lower than -2 WILL progress in regular 1-point increments. Therefore, the player knows exactly what he or she needs to roll on the d20 against each AC. As a point of reference, the base THAC0 of the character above is 19 and they have no STR adj.

As you can see, Hand Axe is good stuff vs AC type 8, 9 & 10 (gaining +1 to hit) and does more dmg than a dagger. Dagger is +3 vs AC 10 but most other categories are similar to the Axe. On very low ACs the Dagger has a to-hit advantage. Since each +1 represents 5%, these adjustments are a BIG DEAL. In many 1st Edition games I've played (run by other DMs) a 5th level thief with a +2 Dagger would need a 7 to hit AC 10...but a regular non-magical dagger (when using all the rules) actually performs BETTER against AC 10 than your simplified system's +2 dagger.

Under the lower ACs the rules swing the other way, making it more difficult to hit than what you're used to. But I digress. Point is, if I go up against AC 10, I might opt to attack with my dagger instead of my Axe even though the Axe does more dmg. That's a meaningful tactical choice.


Aside: I doubt any real-world accuracy to the AC-type adjustments listed for each weapon. They are probably speculative and arbitrary and are there to add meaningful differences to weapons. I think you simply embrace that notion if you are going to use them.

Furthermore, there is a clear difference between AC and AC Type made in the rules, with stipulations for things like monster hide resembling a TYPE of armor (plate or scale or whatever) while still having an AC that is differs from what that type of armor would normally give.

As I have stated before, I have no time for anything that slows the game down and because this sort of rule is principled on DM fiat or requires careful memorization of monster descriptions that actually adhere to the rule, I forego. Rather, I use to-hit-AC-type as a rule that applies to all PC weapons against AC, period. In other words, I make no distinction between AC and AC type, which i feel is a compromise. You are getting the mechanical goodness of the rule without the onerous overhead.

A filthy secret I keep from my players is that those adjustments are for players only. I don't worry about them on my side of the screen unless the party is facing a major NPC with an actual character sheet. Is this fair? Yes, it's absolutely fair. On my side of the screen the NPCs get none of the benefits of AC-type adjustments, but suffer none of the penalties either. It works out because this is a mechanic designed to provide meaningful choice to players...not miserable headaches to DMs.

Now, where were we? Oh yeah...


Another meaningful data point is that the Axe weighs 5 times as much as the dagger, which means I can carry 40 fewer gold or platinum coins out of the tomb.

But a big and often un-used difference between these two weapons is the speed factor. The dagger is twice as fast, and this matters on tied initiative rolls.

Before we get into that, it's important to note that none of this stuff is useful unless your character sheet SUPPORTS the rules. There are a LOT of beautified character sheets out there full of awesome illustrations instead of data fields and they work great for simplified systems. However, if the DM screen has a panel dedicated to weapon speed factors and the players have their to-hit-AC-type adjustments & speed factors in front of them, the mechanics related to these rules will play smooth as glass. If all the numbers are buried in your books somewhere, forget about it.

DMG p. 66 makes some things obvious and I think ADDICT gets it right too. In a game with miniatures on the mat, here's how I handle tied initiative dice:

  1. Psionics Still Beat Anything

  2. Swords of Quickness/Bows of Speed (simultaneous but higher DEX goes first)

  3. Missiles (FIRST VOLLEY) also simultaneous but you can break the ties w/ DEX

  4. Spell Casting actually begins at the beginning of the round and CAN therefore be interrupted by steps 1, 2 or 3...but Spells don't have a chance to begin resolving until end of first segment: which happens right about now.

  5. All Melee Attacks resolve on the segment of the round indicated by the tied initiative dice in order of speed factor. Therefore, low ties are bad for spell casters and high ties are good.

  6. Speed Factor only comes into play IF the melee is weapon vs weapon AND the opponents have the same number of attacks per round. I.e.: guy that attacks twice still goes first on guy that attacks only once per round.

  7. Note that Monster Claws, Bites and so on don't count as weapons so SF is not used. But since many monsters have multiple attacks per round (and many PCs don't) the monsters generally will go first on a tied die.

So, if we rolled tied initiative dice with ghouls, WSF is NOT considered and the ghouls go first and third (assuming they have more attacks per round than PCs). We also assume that all this crap happens ON the segment indicated by the tied dice, but in correct chronological order.

If we rolled tied initiative dice with a wolf (with only one bite per round), WSF is NOT considered and we assume blows strike at the exact same time on the segment indicated by the tied dice...unless somebody in the party has more attacks than the wolf, in which case that PC behaves like the ghouls above.

If we rolled tied initiative dice with some gnolls carrying spears (ah-ha!) WEAPON SPEED IS NOW IN PLAY. I as the DM know the spears have WSF of 8 if I'm feeling generous so I just assess the die roll. If the gnolls throw their spears they still go first. Did any spells get off BEFORE the segment indicated on the dice? If so resolve. Are there any spells at risk of interruption ON the segment indicated by the dice? And after checking these things in the course of 3 seconds I start asking for Speed Factors in order:

DM: "Any 1's or 2's?

Thief: "I'm using my +1 dagger, speed factor 2."

DM: "OK so you get to stab the gnoll TWICE right now. Go!" Any 3's or 4's?"

Fighter: "Yep, my short sword."

DM: "OK, you also get to slash TWICE right now."

Cleric: "My hammer is SF 4."

DM: "Great, you get to swing TWICE as well. Make your rolls. Anyone else with a SF of 5, 6, or 7?"

Ranger: "My longsword is a 5."

DM: "Ok, you can attack as well, but you only get ONE attack." (and then, after all hits and dmg are tallied) "Right, now the gnolls go." (insert to-hit rolls and dmg) "Paladin, you're last."

Paladin: "Yep, two-handed sword is speed factor 10." He rolls to hit and dmg and the round ends unless there are other things to mop up (like spells with long casting times, second volleys of missiles or devices.)

As you can see, WSF turned out to be a boon to the party in the above example, granting several characters not only the right to strike first, but to strike TWICE. Why? Because if a speed factor is lower (faster) than the opponent's weapon by a factor of two, the faster weapon gets to strike TWICE before the other weapon. Remember the Dagger and Axe from earlier? Dagger is SF 2 & Axe is SF 4. So the dagger gets to attack TWICE on tied rolls even against the fairly speedy Axe. There is an additional condition to this in the DMG p. 66 that I won't mention here. The above rule is all you really need to remember and speed factor will work great for you.

I will mention that if the difference between the speed factors is extreme (dagger vs pike is one of the few cases where this rule could come into play) the dagger stabs THREE times: twice before and once at the same time that the pike strikes. I have never seen this come into play because my baddies don't usually carry pikes.

You: "Hey, Anthony, thanks! That sounds fairly straightforward. But I don't get how it makes any actual sense in terms of the one minute of combat. Like, everyone just stands around for 24 seconds and then attacks at the same time? Why would that happen? System sucks!"

Anthony: "Sounds like you need to read my post on Segments."

Also, I have to admit that this is a riff on the rule in DMG p. 65 rather than pure BTB. The spirit of my implementation, I think, hews close to intent. Also see DMG p. 65 list item #2.

This is another reminder that AD&D is full of rules, mechanics and concepts that are serving double-duty. They are doing two things at the same time, sometimes accomplishing both abstract and concrete things in one go. The combat round is a bag of holding. Inside it are ALL THE THINGS that belong to it and the segments just let you organize those things into a combat narrative.

If the attacks happen on segment 5, The DM doesn't say, "You guys stand around for 24 seconds and then attack."

The DM says, "OK, Magic-User, you manage to get off your magic missile first, whew! Roll damage, please. But the battle becomes particularly pitched at this moment. Let's see what your speed factors are."

The DMs job is to frame the order of events in an exciting way by partnering with the rules. In doing so, consistency will be detected. Players will come to understand the value of a quick blade vs a two-hander. Magic-users will instinctively go for faster spells in fraught situations. Therefore, while not immediately intuitive to think of a combat segment as BOTH exactly 6 seconds long AND a fuzzy, abstract point of reference used only to chart the order in which things happen, it is very useful if you are able to do so because it helps you construct narrative on the fly.

Speaking of double-duty, I think this post covered the benefits of to-hit-AC-type adjustments and weapon speed factor, so check those off.

I'll be the first to admit that AD&D is initially difficult to grasp, poorly organized and sometimes contradictory. It is a historical system. But if you have a desire to embrace all the rules unquestioningly, you will begin to see how beautifully they mesh: the +3 to-hit bonus that a two-handed sword enjoys vs many AC-types makes it an almost magical weapon! But the drawback is that many weapons will get to hit you twice on a tied initiative roll. That's great game design. And that's why I play AD&D.

Questions are of course welcome. I've covered Segments, Initiative, Surprise, Weapon Speed Factor, To-Hit-AC-Type and Mini Movement on the board. As always, I re-iterate that these blog posts are focused on how my group actually plays. It is not speculative. Our use of AD&D's rules is an attempt to hew as close as possible to the intent of the printed word and I give props to ADDICT.

Several sessions ago, we finished up module WG4 which has a huge (nearly 100 I think) number of norkers, gnolls, ogres, trolls, shaman and giants. Even in such a complicated melee, with many tied initiative rolls over the course of the final session, this is how we played, with all the rules. And it went smooth as glass.

We knocked out nearly thirty rounds of combat (broken up by a few pauses) in the course of 4 hours. The carnage was extraordinary. I stated in a previous post that one of the players claimed it was his most intense game of D&D ever. So, this stuff works if you give it a chance and sink the time in as DM. You have to memorize. You have know it by rote. Your players don't. But a supportive DM screen and character sheets are critical.

Playing and reffing newer systems is certainly going to offer a lower barrier to entry, but If you want to take a stab at the old way, I'm here to help.

I feel like I probably need to talk about how you try to hit an AC that needs a 24 on a d20 and mention stuff like critical hits or fumbles.

After that, I'll probably delve into psionics. Psionics is a fraught topic in AD&D and we've all heard how not even Gary used them.

But there are so many lovable monsters w/ psionics AND I really feel that if you understand them, they can be a great addition, driving fear into the hearts of even high level PCs. I've been running psionics in my current campaign for nearly 4 years now and it's been great. They add a wild-card flavor that I haven't found unbalancing. I also want to talk about the value of Alignment at some point because I know many people toss it out.

Let me know if I've forgotten something combat related.

Happy Gaming!

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