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Friday, January 16, 2015

More secret doors

Who doesn't love secret doors?  Judging from the fact that my previous post on secret doors is by far my most viewed, the answer seems to be "nobody."  Well, here are a few more.

The major point of these is that they aren't generic, and they can all be detected through player-DM dialog rather than that boring old d6 roll we used to make every time the party said they were searching for secret doors on some nondescript section of wall.

The shadow knows: A statue with outstretched arms stands in the center of the room.  On the wall behind it, to left and right, are lamps in sconces.  If both are lit, and all other lights extinguished, the shadows of the statue's fingers converge on a brick or stone in the opposite wall.  Pressing this opens a secret door.

Gulp!: A huge monster head, possibly a dragon or demon, is mounted on (or carved from) the wall.  Hidden in its gullet is a passage to another part of the dungeon.  Depending on its size, human-sized characters may have to crawl.  May also involve a slide, because slides are fun.

Seeping portal:  Behind this secret door is a room filled with water.  Water seeps through the seams between door and wall, darkening the door with dampness so it stands out clearly from the rest of the wall.  The door opens into the flooded chamber, so it cannot be opened until the pressure on both sides is equalized.  Somewhere in the dry room is a lever or other switch, which will either drain the flooded room or flood the dry room.  (Come on, you know you'd rather flood the dry room!)

Hall of mirrors: Several full-length mirrors face each other across a corridor or narrow room, creating the illusion of infinite passages beyond each one. One mirror is simply a glass door with an actual corridor behind it (complete with repeating mirror frames.) It is recognizable by the fact that it and the real mirror opposite it don't contain infinite images of the person looking at them.

Decoy door: A very prominent false door with ornate metal hinges stands next to the well-concealed secret door. The false door swings out from the wall, but there is only solid wall behind it. The secret door swings on the same hinges from the opposite side.

Sinister wheel: A large circular plate is visible in the wall, about as wide as a human's shoulders, with two sets of four small holes on opposite sides - perfect for inserting the fingers of both hands. Blood stains may be visible around the holes. If fingers are inserted, the holes provide a sound grip and the circular panel may be turned. Turning it counterclockwise opens the secret door. Turning clockwise turns the fingers against very sharp blades hidden within the wall, causing 1d3 points of damage and severing at least the little finger of the right hand and index finger of the left.

Ice curtain: Secret passages hidden behind a waterfall are almost cliche, but what about behind a frozen waterfall?  Characters peering through the ice with a bright enough light source can see the dark doorway behind it.  Getting it “open” requires a lot of noisy smashing or a fire spell.  Will re-freeze in a day or so.

Through the flames: In a wall of searing flames (either magical or burning flammable gas welling up from deep in the ground) one section is illusionary. Passing through the real flames causes severe burns (at least 3d6 points of fire damage, or more at DM's choice.) The false flames may be passed through without harm. Careful examination will detect the cooler spot amid the intense heat from the real flames.  This would be especially appropriate for a shrine, where the high priest might have awed his followers by emerging from the flames.

Celestial gate: On a pedestal near the wall is a clockwork model of the heavens.  The pedestal bears an inscription in an ancient language stating "In the dark of the moon the way shall open."  Aligning the bodies in the model so that the moon is in its new phase (relative to the home world) unlocks the door.

Pool portal: The room contains a large, deep pool of water, and the door is hidden in one of the walls of the pool, below the surface.  The door opens inward, so the pool must be drained in order to open it.  Perhaps there's a plug somewhere on the bottom?  This could be the other side of a seeping portal.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Healing potion variants

Here's a little variety for the drab old potion of healing.  Some of these are obviously best suited for recovery during rest periods, and are less than useful in urgent situations like the midst of a battle.  These variants may easily be applied to more powerful healing potions (e.g. potions of superhealing and such) as well, or even adapted for healing spells, staffs of healing, and so on.
  1. Sleeping draught: The potion puts the subject to sleep for 1d6+1 turns.  At the end of that time, the subject awakens having recovered the maximum possible number of hit points, i.e. 7 hit points for a standard-strength healing potion.  Waking the subject prematurely reduces the amount of healing proportionally.
  2. Healing poultice: A paste applied directly to cuts, bruises, and scrapes.  It heals 1d6+1 points of damage but also causes loss of dexterity due to numbing.  For 6 turns, the subject's Dexterity adjustment is treated as 1 point less; e.g. a character with an 18 (+3 bonus) effectively has a 17 (+2), while one with a 12 (+0) becomes 8 (-1.)
  3. Vitality elixir:  The potion heals the normal amount of damage (1d6+1 points per dose) but at a rate of 1 hp per round.
  4. Restorative tonic: This potent mixture reinvigorates a tired spirit, restoring 2 hit points per level or Hit Die of the drinker.
  5. Vampire juice: The potion enables the drinker to absorb 1d6+1 hp from other creatures.  This may require a successful attack roll if used against an opponent in melee.  The hit points may also be absorbed from nearby plant life, at a rate of 1 hp per square yard of grass or similar vegetation, or the entire amount from a tree or other large plant.
  6. Fiery liniment: Applied to the skin, this potion may "heal" a creature beyond its normal maximum.  The extra hit points, if any, last for 6 turns.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Persuasion and prejudice

There's more to dealing with NPCs than just the character's temperament and the PC's general approach to persuasion.  People have preferences, beliefs, and values which can aid in forming bonds between them or spark enmities and foster contempt.  Who hasn't had a conversation that lived or died based on an agreement or disagreement in politics, religion, professional sports teams...or editions of a role-playing game?  People make friends and enemies over things both significant and trivial.

Giving NPCs some biases and adding a simple game mechanic to deal with them adds some nuance to role-playing, negotiation, and diplomacy.  Players may leverage NPC biases to gain allies when those biases align with their purposes.  An NPC who is known to be a staunch critic of the church may be more easily recruited to help expose a corrupt bishop.  Other times, they may need to tread carefully to win someone's cooperation, or simply to look in more fruitful directions for assistance.  If they're not careful, they might even end up with an adversary.  A male chauvinist might not be the best choice to help the PCs secure the ascension of the royal princess to the throne.   

The thrust I'm going for is to make it easier or more difficult for PCs to gain the cooperation of NPCs according to the NPC's beliefs and values, without making the NPC's reaction a foregone conclusion or a whim of the DM.  Thus, the basic mechanic is still the 2d6 reaction roll.  If PCs make a request that touches on one of the NPC's biases, the NPC's reaction is modified either positively or negatively.  By limiting the DM's role to deciding when to apply adjustments, the NPC's biases carry some weight, but persuading an NPC isn't wholly a matter of persuading the DM, and the DM may watch the interaction unfold rather than dictating it. 

Biases come in three strengths: Ordinary, strong, and fanatical.  An ordinary bias adjusts reactions by either +1 or -1 when the relevant topic is discussed.  A strong bias modifies reactions in the same way, but talking about the topic is not necessary: if the PC is known or believed to be associated with the object of bias, the modifier applies regardless of the topic of conversation.  A fanatical bias acts like a strong bias, but Charisma bonuses and bonuses that would apply from bribes or gifts are turned into penalties instead.  To determine the strength of a bias, roll 1d6: 1-3 = ordinary, 4-5 = strong, and 6 = fanatical.

An NPC's biases may be noted succinctly in his or her stat block or description by naming the bias with a word or three and denoting its direction and intensity (e.g. with a + or a -, repeated two or three times as necessary), and easily applied to interactions.

This should stack well enough with the system outlined in my previous post regarding NPC temperaments and PC modes of persuasion.  It's a few more numbers to crunch, but it doesn't seem any more complicated than combat.

John Smith, innkeeper: AC 9, hp 3, Move 40, #AT 1, Dam 1d4, Save NM, ML 7, AL N
Temp: Vain
Bias: Ruler+, Magic ---, Fred Miller ++

So, two brief lines added to the stat block, and we know that John is fairly well-disposed toward the king, hates magic to an almost pathological degree, and is fond of Fred Miller to the point of also being favorably inclined to Fred's associates.  He also has a rather high opinion of himself.  Easy.

This post would be woefully incomplete without a table of possible biases to roll on.  I suggest giving each NPC 1d4 biases.  Duplicates may be rerolled, or treated as increasing the intensity of the bias (to a maxium of fanatic, of course.)  Roll any die to determine whether the bias is positive or negative:  Even result, positive; odd result, negative.  (Sometimes this might seem to make little sense, and you can apply some other probability, or just decide outright.  An NPC who hates his own race, religion, or social class can be an interesting character, though.)

The bias table may also be used to determine general biases for groups of people, such as guilds, churches, and towns.  A guild may have a bias in preference of men, a church might condemn non-clerical magic, or the population of a town might be devoted to their faith and hate foreigners.

Roll 1d20

1 Adventurers
2 Aristocracy
3 Beggars
4 Chaos
5 Cultural or social institution
6 Foreigners
7 Guild or other organization
8 Homeland
9 Law
10 Magic
11 Merchants
12 Other village or town
13 Particular person (or group of people)
14 Peasants
15 Political faction
16 Race
17 Religion, others'
18 Religion, own
19 Rulers
20 Sex 

Some of these are pretty straightforward, while others require some further decision and development (which is too campaign-specific for generic subtables to be of much use.)  There's obviously some overlap between some of these - for instance, a bias for or against the noble house to which the current king belongs (Political Faction) might also imply a bias toward the king himself (Ruler.)  Sometimes a bias in favor of something implies an opposite bias against its opposite, but not always.  An elf could believe that his race is superior, without harboring any particular ill will toward others, for instance.  The odds of a bias in the opposite direction generally increase with the stength of the original bias.  Needless to say, use your own judgment in such cases.

Adventurers: People who seek thrills and treasure in the local dungeon.  You know the type.  Heroes to be admired, or murderhobos who stir up the local monsters and then disappear?
Aristocracy: The upper crust.  The titled classes.  Lords, ladies, and "old money."  A cut above the rabble, or loathsome parasites?
Beggars: Unfortunates who deserve sympathy, or shiftless lazy drunks?
Chaos: Creativity, individuality, and freedom, or disruption and discord?
Cultural or social insitution: Long-standing traditions or lofty ideals around which societies are built - liberty, equality, the divine right of kings, slavery, war, peace, Elven supremacy, harmony with nature, patriarchy, etc. Choose one.
Foreigners: People from other lands, with different languages and traditions.  Exotic and romantic, or interlopers from lesser cultures?
Guild or other organization: Any organization that is not formally part of the government, such as merchants' guilds, thieves' guilds, peasant unions, the church (the organization itself, as opposed to the religious beliefs it purports to represent), secret societies, or any other association that exists in the campaign world.  Choose one.
Homeland: The NPC's native country or region.  Patriot or dissident?
Law: Foundation of society, or stifling conformity?
Magic: Spells, spellcasters, and magical artifacts.  Wondrous and miraculous boon or dangerous black art?
Merchants: Peddlers of prosperity or parasites on the backs of the lower classes?
Other village or town: Beloved sister community, or arch-rival?  (Wullerton?  Ptoo!)
Particular person (or group of people): Somebody for whom the NPC has a strong affection or an enduring grudge.  Possibly a group of people, such as a family or clique.
Peasants: Salt of the earth, or grubby...peasants?
Political faction: A party, noble house, or political movement.  Liberal or conservative? Royalist or anti-royalist?  Lancaster or York?
Race:  Either a sub-race of humanity, or a demi-human race.  Choose one.  Could be favoring one's own race, or scorn for others, or both.
Religion, others': Fellow travelers on a basically good path (even if it's not entirely the right one) or damned heathens?
Religion, own: Guidelines for a good life, or The One True Way...or an idiotic set of beliefs one must espouse to avoid the Inquisition?
Rulers: Kings and queens.  The people who don't just make the law, they ARE the law.  Benevolent and just leaders, or cruel tyrants?
Sex: Encompasses biological sex, sexual preference, and gender identity. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

NPC temperaments and interactions

Old school D&D's 2d6 reaction roll is a wonderful mechanic, elegant in its simplicity, and often underappreciated.  It seems to me, though, that applying it straight to every encounter is a little uninteresting.  Here's a quick system that I've cobbled together that expands on the 2d6 social mechanic by codifying the possible types of interactions and their effects on the reaction roll, and further modifying the possibilities according to a selection of NPC temperaments.

This system uses one quasi-new mechanic: An over/under adjustment which is either +1 or -1 depending on whether the roll is high or low.  This tends to push reactions toward either a neutral or extreme reaction in certain cases.

The social interactions available to PCs are categorized as follows:

Converse: This is the default interaction, which encompasses such things as greetings, introductions, inconsequential talk, exchanges of information, simple requests, and anything that doesn't fit into any category below.

Reason: An attempt at cool-headed logical argument to persuade NPCs that your point of view is correct and that it is in their interest to cooperate.  If the DM deems the argument sound and compelling, it's worth a +1 bonus to the reaction roll.  Otherwise, treat it as...

Specious reasoning: An attempt to persuade the subject with an insincere argument based on faulty but superficially plausible logic.  The reaction roll is adjusted by -1 each if the subject's Intelligence or Wisdom score is 13 or higher, and +1 each for scores of 8 or lower (thus a maximum adjustment of -2 to +2.)  A intelligent and/or wise character is more likely to see the argument as fallacious, while one with low scores is more likely to accept it as persuasive. 

Emotional Appeal: An attempt to stir the emotions of the subject(s) through vivid language, moving stories, and impassioned pleading.  On a roll greater than 7, the reaction is adjusted by +1.  On a roll under 7, the adjustment is -1, as the listener is put off by the speaker's pathos.

Gift: Offering something of value to the NPC.  Reaction adjustment is +1 if the value is on par with the recipient's wealth (i.e. the recipient could conceivably obtain it through his own efforts without undue difficulty) and +2 for something exceptionally generous (i.e. the recipient could not otherwise obtain it, except possibly by spectacular good fortune and/or personal sacrifice.)  A pauper is a lot easier to impress with a gift than is a merchant prince, for example.  If the reaction roll is still below 7, the subject is either insulted by the gift or suspicious of the giver's motives.  Care must be taken that a Gift is not perceived as a...

Bribe: Offering something of value which is clearly intended as payment for the recipient's compliance or cooperation in something he or she otherwise would be disinclined to do.  Bribes are often considered insulting to honorable characters.  Lawful characters react at -2, Neutrals at -1.  If accepting a bribe comes with appreciable risk of harsh punishment, an additional -1 applies.

Flatter: Offering praise to the subject, sometimes sincere but more often not.  Reactions are adjusted by +1 if the roll is over 7, and by -1 to a roll under 7 (which indicates that the subject perceives the compliment as insincere.)

Intimidate: An attempt to threaten, bully, blackmail, or browbeat the subject into compliance with the speaker's wishes.  The reaction roll is adjusted as follows: +1 if the speaker is obviously in a position to make good on a threat (physically superior, better armed, in possession of sensitive information about the subject, etc.) +1 for every doubling of the number of the speaker's party over the subject's.  +1 if the speaker has a reputation for ruthlessness.  (Reverse adjustments in any case where the opposite is true.) On a positive reaction roll, the subject must check morale; failure indicates that it will do as the speaker demands.  Subjects who pass the morale check will be defiant and may take action against the speaker.

Entertain: An offer to share food, drink, music, or other forms of merriment.  If the entertainment offered is a form the subject enjoys, reaction is at +1.

If the player's intention is unclear, the DM should either ask which interaction the character is attempting or make a judgment call based on how the interaction would appear to the subject.

Of course, how effective different forms of interaction are depends on the temperament of the NPC on whom they're used.

Roll 1d12 for the NPC's temperament:

1 Reserved
2 Irascible
3 Agreeable
4 Passionate
5-8 Normal
9 Submissive
10 Vain
11 Jovial
12 Acquisitive

Most temperaments are susceptible to a particular type of interaction.  When subject to that interaction, they react with a +2 bonus.  This supercedes any bonuses and conditions that normally apply to the interaction or to the NPC's temperament.

A Reserved character is not quick to judgment.  He or she may be a deep thinker, even-tempered, dispassionate, or cautious.  Reaction rolls are adjusted one point toward neutral; that is, rolls over 7 are penalized by -1, and rolls under 7 are adjusted upward by +1.  Reserved characters susceptible to Reason.

An Irascible character is irritable, surly, or ill-tempered.  All reaction rolls are penalized by -1. Irascible NPCs are not especially susceptible to any interaction.  They're a hard lot to please.

Agreeable characters are affable and eager to please, sometimes naively so.  They are not particularly susceptible to any interaction, but all their reaction rolls are adjusted by +1 as long as the speaker is not abusive or threatening.

Passionate characters are enthusiastic and fiery; they love and hate with gusto and are seldom apathetic.  All reaction rolls are adjusted away from neutral: rolls over 7 gain a +1 bonus, while rolls under 7 suffer a -1 penalty. Passionate characters are susceptible to Emotional Appeals.

"Normal" characters have no particularly strong temperamental tendencies.  Reaction rolls are made without adjustment.  Hey, got to draw the baseline somewhere.

Submissive characters are meek, timid, subservient, or weak-willed.  Submissives are susceptible to Intimidation (and not subject to the morale check rule; a Submissive character genuinely wishes to appease the speaker.)

Vain characters have an inflated sense of their worth or importance, either in general or with regard to appearance, talents, or status.  They are susceptible to Flattery if it is targeted at the source of their pride. 

Jovial characters are fun-loving, and susceptible to Entertainment, if the form offered is agreeable to them. 

Acquisitive characters are driven to obtain things, either material, such as money and goods, or intangible, such as knowledge or power.  They are susceptible to Gifts and Bribes of appropriate things.

These temperaments aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, so it's theoretically possible to have more than one apply to the same character, e.g. someone who is both Passionate and Vain, or Reserved and Acquisitive, but that's probably more complexity than the game really needs.  I wouldn't recommend using more than one per character except possibly for very important (non-random) NPCs.

Over/under adjustments, such as for the Reserved and Passionate temperaments and the Flatter interaction, are applied after any static adjustments, including Charisma and interaction bonuses or penalties. If both the interaction and the temperament specify an over/under adjustment, then both are applied simultaneously (again, after static adjustments.)  Thus, an Emotional Appeal used on a Reserved character cancels out, while Flattering a Passionate character results in stacking bonuses or penalties. 

For example, a player character with Charisma 16 seeks to gain the cooperation of a Passionate NPC.  The speaker, not knowing the NPC's temperament, chooses ordinary conversation as the mode of interaction.  The reaction is rolled, adding +1 for the speaker's Charisma.  Thus, the threshold for the over/under adjustment for the Passionate temperament is 6 instead of 7.  If the speaker had offered an appropriate gift, it would have been 5. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Oracular dice and the 1-hp orc

Well, here I am back at the ol' Flagon after another unscheduled anxiety and panic disorder-induced hiatus.  Nothing earth-shattering for my first post of November; just some musings on that tired old topic of what hit points mean.

A while back, there was a debate concerning orcs with 1 hit point, and how supposedly no orc warrior should have low hit points, because natural selection will favor the big, tough, 8-hp orcs.  I disagreed, for reasons that I couldn't really articulate, and so I held my silence on the matter, but now...

The assumption lurking in that analysis is that hit points are a permanent feature of a character or monster that describe inherent physical, mental, and spiritual qualities of that particular entity.  But D&D is a game of abstraction, and the dice are oracles that tell us things about the game - not only of the inherent physical qualities of the game world and its inhabitants, but dramatic and narrative properties of the emerging story as well. 

Well, what if hit points only exist when a creature is "on stage," that is, actively involved in an encounter?  That's implicitly the case in most campaigns, I think.  Events happen offstage, before adventures, after adventures, between adventures, and I've never in theory or in practice heard of DMs running these offstage events, rolling dice, tracking hit points, etc.  When the players hear a rumor that orcs decimated a mining village, nobody expects that the DM has previously statted up all the orcs and the villagers and run a combat to determine that this happened and how.  (And if you did: You have way too much time on your hands.) Hit points never even entered the equation.

Obviously, in most games, hit points are a permanent feature of player characters and major NPCs, and in such cases it's natural to expect that they represent inherent physical characteristics and skills, but if we can accept that a fighter's 14 hit points mean something different from a war horse's 14 hit points, then surely we can accept that hit points may have different meanings between the major characters of the campaign world and its no-name mooks?  (I'm given to understand that some DMs have players re-roll their characters' Hit Dice before each adventure, too; thus hit points are not necessarily permanent features of anyone or anything, but can represent all sorts of conditions that are not intrinsic to a character's body or mind.)

So.  Monster hit points may be rolled in advance and written into the dungeon key in anticipation of an encounter, or rolled on the spot as the encounter occurs, but they apply to the encounter at least as much as they do to the creature.  The orc with 1 hit point may be just as big and tough and nasty as any other orc, but by the oracular power of the dice, this orc is fated to make a lethal error the next time someone seriously threatens him in battle.  Maybe he'll zig when he should have zagged, or trip over a fallen weapon, or some other twist of ill fortune that has little to do with his genes or his muscles.  One hit point doesn't mean he's sickly, or that he'll die when he gets a splinter in his finger or turns an ankle.  One hit point means that when someone strikes him with a deadly weapon and intent to kill, it's not going to graze or nick him; it's going to strike true.  Our orc may have kicked all kinds of ass offstage.  He may have a necklace of the teeth of all the dwarves he's gutted, but the Polyhedral Powers of Providence have decreed that this orc's purpose in the game, in the chapter of the PCs' story in which he appears, is to serve as a glorious splatter when somebody hits him.

If the orc bucks the odds and survives his bout of bad luck (i.e. nobody hits him in combat and his side wins or escapes or surrenders) there's no reason why he necessarily has to have 1 hp if he should appear again.  Who's to say that the orc the party encounters later, who has 8 hp, isn't the 1 hp bastard who speared their henchman and bolted two weeks earlier?  (Nobody keeps track of mooks, so it likely doesn't matter anyway, but theoretically, why not?)

Ironically, the point of this post was to show, by completely overthinking things, that it's not necessary to overthink the roll of the dice.  You don't need to analyze what 1 hit point means for the genetic lineage of the orcish race, or try to weight the dice to produce superior orcs, or anything like that.  Just roll the bones, and let the pips tell the story.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A punny but useful spell

Sometimes a stray thought like this takes an inordinately strong hold on my mind, and there's nothing to be done but to write it out and post it, for your amusement/annoyance.

Magic Morsel (Magic-user, level 1)

Range: 120'
Duration: 1 turn

This spell creates a morsel of whatever food is most delectable to a chosen monster type within range.  The caster may cause the food to appear anywhere within the spell's range.  Non-intelligent monsters will always stop to eat the food, unless some other instinct is more pressing (e.g. the PCs are carrying off a mother bear's cub.)  Intelligent monsters will choose whether to stop for the food depending on the particular circumstances.  The food disappears after 1 turn.  It does not satisfy the creature's hunger or nutritional needs.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pondering an alternative combat system

For a while now, I've been mulling an idea that has its roots in Brendan's Necropraxis post on Monologic Combat with a sprinking of my own musings from way back on level-scaled combat.  Not sure I'll ever actually use it, but I thought I'd throw it out there for consideration and comment.

The gist of it is that when two creatures fight, instead of rolling for each to hit, only one roll is made, and there's a winner and a loser.  Regardless of the results of the roll, somebody's gonna get hurt.  The winner deals damage, and the loser takes damage.

Why this appeals to me:
  • Obviously, no wasted rounds.  No more double-whiffs when both sides fail their attack rolls.  Every round counts.
  • Instead of two fighters hacking at each other for a round, one of them gets a decisive upper hand during that round, and the other is put on the defensive, struggling just to survive.  Next round, fortunes might reverse.  This feels more natural to me, and more evocative, imparting a sense of ebb and flow rather than the toe-to-toe pitched battle depicted in standard combat.  
  • The winner-take-all results each round are dramatic and easy to narrate in a colorful and exciting way.  One fighter capitalizes on the other's mistake to claim the advantage.  A fighter battling a giant either dances away from the monster's attack and slips inside its defenses to stab at it, or is batted aside by the giant's mighty club. 
  • It feels clearer that an attack roll does not represent a single swing, but an entire round of maneuvers, thrusts, parries, wary circling, etc.
  • A fighter can hold his own in combat against a foe he can't hurt.  Say he's wielding an ordinary sword, and in melee against a wight.  Under standard rules, he makes his completely ineffectual attack and then waits for the wight to attack and hopes it doesn't hit him.  With this rule, he makes the single combat roll between the two of them, and if he wins, he holds the monster off.  That sounds a lot more interesting to me.
  • It merges offense and defense as a single function of a character's class and level, instead of the dichotomy of level-based offense against static defense.
The basis of the system is a simple stat I call Combat Rating (CR,) which is equal to the character or creature's bonus to attack (derived by subtracting its THAC0 from 20; for most monsters this is simply equal to Hit Dice) plus Dexterity modifier, plus the +1 modifier for a shield, if used.  If the character is unarmed, its CR is reduced by 2 points.  (A shield or a makeshift weapon negates this penalty, as do natural attack forms such as claws, teeth, horns, etc.)  When a character enters melee combat with an opponent, the player makes the combat die roll on 1d20, adding the character's Combat Rating and subtracting the opponent's CR.  On a total of 11 or higher, the PC wins.  On a 10 or lower, the opponent wins.  (Two evenly matched opponents would each have a 50% chance to win any given round.)  Winner rolls damage and applies it to the loser's hit points.  A natural 20 always goes to the PC, and a natural 1 always goes to the opponent.  Armor reduces damage: 1 point for light (leather or padded), 2 points for medium (mail or scale), 3 points for heavy (plate), to a minimum of 1 point. Strength bonuses do not apply to the combat roll, but do increase damage.

If a character or creature is meleed by more opponents than it has attacks, it chooses which to apply its attacks.  All others attack it with a -2 penalty to its CR - they are not threatened by its attacks, and so can attack more aggressively with relative impunity.  If they win, they inflict damage, but the defender inflicts no damage if it wins.  (Optional: the defender inflicts damage if its defense roll is a natural 20.)

Characters or creatures with multiple attacks can either concentrate them on a single opponent or spread them among several.  Attacks spread among several opponents are resolved normally.  If focused on one opponent, only one roll is made, as usual, and if it succeeds by a certain margin, the additional attacks succeed and score damage.  Say, if the adjusted roll is 16 or higher, a second damage die is rolled.  On a total score of 20, a third die, and at 23 a fourth.  The Damage Reduction from armor is applied to each damage roll.  (Reversed for monsters, so two attacks succeed on a roll of 5 or less, three on a 1, and four on an adjusted total of -2 or lower.)  Thus, an inferior opponent is less likely to deal extra damage to a superior one, and a superior one is more likely to deal extra damage to its inferior. Note that if the attacks are not concentrated on one opponent, no single opponent may be subjected to more than one.  If a creature with three attacks fights two opponents, it can either focus all three attacks on one of them, or use one on each and lose the third.

Monsters would do base damage based on the sum of all their attacks divided by the number of attacks.  For instance, a monster with three attacks capable of a maximum of 24 points per round would do damage of 1d8 or 2d4 per successful attack, even if in the rules-as-written it does a claw/claw/bite routine for 1d6/1d6/2d6.  Monsters' Damage Reduction would need to be deduced from the monster's AC and description; some might well have DR greater than 3.

Tactical options that work particularly well with this system include:

Set spear: Interposing a spear or other weapon with reach gains a +4 bonus to CR against a single opponent, if that opponent has not yet closed to melee.  The bonus applies until the opponent manages to make a successful attack, or until the spear-bearer lets his guard down.  A character with multiple attacks may maintain this guard against multiple opponents.

Reckless attack: The combatant using this tactic hurls itself at its opponent heedless of the other's attacks.  If it loses the roll by two points or less, then both combatants inflict damage on each other.  This tactic is often used by mindless undead, enraged or berserk creatures, creatures immune to the opponent's attack, heavily armored creatures, and those with a lot more hit points to spend than the opponent.

Guard: The combatant gains +2 to all combat rolls applying to it that round; if successful no damage is inflicted by either combatant.

Grapple: Instead of an armed attack, the combatant tries to grapple the opponent, and succeeds on a winning combat roll.  Losing one roll results in being grabbed, two is taken down, and three is pinned.  This could also be modified for climbing on huge opponents.
Surprise attack:  The target does not apply its CR to the combat roll and suffers a -2 penalty, and inflicts no damage if it wins the roll. 

Insubstantial attacker: An attacker able to ignore solid matter, such as a wraith, is unhindered by armor, and its damage is not reduced unless the armor is magical.  Additionally, unless the opponent has a weapon capable of harming it, the monster attacks as if the opponent were unarmed. May be combined with Reckless Attack.

Seizing momentum:  Winning two or more rounds consecutively gives the aggressor a +1 bonus to CR for each round after the first, to a maximum of +4. Resets when the defender wins a round, or when contact is broken or another combatant enters the fray on the defender's side.

It should also work well with Simple Combat Maneuvers.

One potential down side of this method is that, since normally only one combatant of a pair inflicts damage in a given round, fights tend to last a bit longer than they otherwise would.  This only gets worse at higher levels.  Equally matched opponents each have a 50% chance of dealing the other damage in each round, regardless of their levels.  A pair of 10th level fighters do no more damage to each other on average than a pair of 1st level fighters, but they have a lot more hit points.  In the rules as written they both hit each other more often, increasing their expected damage per round.  I'm not sure whether or not this amounts to a significant problem.  One possible solution is to flatten hit point totals for characters and monsters, to reflect the overall reduced damage potential. It might also be mitigated somewhat by making damage dice "explode" on a roll of max damage.

Another possible problem is magic armor. Since it no longer affects the chances to be hit, what does it do?  Increasing DR even a point or two is a lot more powerful than a similar bonus to AC.  One possibility is to make the magical bonus effective only against the pluses of magical weapons.  Armor +1 counters sword +1, but does not affect a normal sword.  Perhaps magical armor confers some protection from purely magical attacks such as spells or wands.  As suggested above, magical armor protects against the attacks of creatures that ignore non-magical armor.

There are probably still some kinks and bugs I haven't addressed, but that's the rough idea.