Less Dice, More Decisions: House rules for OSR and D&D (Part 2)

Following on from yesterday’s post on OSR house rules for character generation, here’s some rules I like to use for critical hits and dual wielding in OSR games.


Part 2: Combat

Critical Hits

The Problem

Crits should be fun and fast. Too often I see a player’s joy at rolling a natural 20 squandered as they ask for a reminder of which bits of their character’s damage get doubled or when they ask to borrow a second d8. Even just the extra maths involved can be a problem for some players.

My Fix:

On a natural 20 your attack does max damage.

Less maths, less dice rolling and only 1pt lower than the average roll on a doubled damage dice. Players go straight from, “I rolled a 20!” to, “Take 10 damage!” and it avoids that horrible situation where you roll a 20 on your attack roll and then a 1 on the damage roll. Also, because you have simplified the process you can give the attack an appropriate bonus effect like knockback, disarm, KO or whatever fits without increasing the overall effort.


Dual Wielding

The Problem

Players love to dual wield, whether it’s a sword and parrying blade, a pair of scimitars or simply a couple of knives. Some games allow these players to roll two attacks, but that never sat well with me; swinging a sword requires all of your body as you step in, twist your torso and swing your arm. Just holding a second weapon in your off-hand doesn’t free up the rest of your body to attack twice as often.
My Fix:

When you are dual wielding and you make a successful attack, roll the damage dice for both weapons and keep the higher roll. Also, dual welding with an appropriate parrying weapon gives +1 AC against melee attacks.

So a secondary weapon will increase both your average damage output and your defence. Also note that you should probably give a boost to the lowly shield, either by allowing the ‘Shields may shatter’ rule to negate a killing blow or simply by increasing their AC modifier to +2.


Dual Wielding Criticals

The Problem

There is a slight complication here if you are using both of these rules because giving someone the maximum damage on the best of two dice isn’t as much of a benefit as everyone else is getting. The solution is to give the player a maximum damage hit with their primary weapon and then give them a free attack roll with their secondary weapon. This second attack will be at a penalty (-2 for an off hand attack perhaps?) but it will make the critical extra special as it gives a chance to hit with both weapons.


2 thoughts on “Less Dice, More Decisions: House rules for OSR and D&D (Part 2)

  1. The higher of 2 dice has an average of 3.13 (for a d4), 4.47 (d6), or 5.81 (d8), which is kind of equivalent to a +1 if you squint.

    So the question is: how do you handle two handed weapons? If your two handed sword does a d6+1, you’re not really seeing much benefit, especially when you’re adding in that AC boost.

    My preferred way is to say more weapons is a greater chance of one of them hitting, so give +1 to hit. Where the weapons are different (say a pair of fire and ice daggers), then if the d20 roll was even, the main hand weapon hit, and if it was odd, the off hand weapon hit (a critical could be both hit, but aren’t maximised). If your shield is adding +2 to AC, then it would be fine to add +1 to AC for two weapons (as the off hand one is typically used for parrying, but not as effectively as a shield).

    Meanwhile, I always think of two handed weapons as the heavy hitter (two hands gives you extra leverage for speed or damage, depending on how the weapon is balanced), so I’d save rolling twice and taking the higher for those (or a +1 to damage). A +1 to damage is worth more than +1 to hit, so you don’t need to add in any other benefits.

    1. That would certainly work, but I’m not sure that ‘+1 to hit’ really has the feel of fighting with two weapons. I do agree that it is important to make sure that the two handed weapons are doing the most damage, if only because that’s what your players are going to expect.

      In the games I am likely to run though, two-handed weapons do more than d6+1 damage. Whitehack has two-handed swords do d6+2, and while halberds only do d6+1 they do get reach. In Beyond the Wall or B/X they do d10 and in my own variation of oD&D I have the two handed weapons group doing d6+1 but you get to add your Strength Modifier twice.

      I think you might want to give your two handed weapons a boost.

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