So, in my ongoing Fellhold campaign, we’ve been using Akratic Wizardry’s rather good “weapon damage by class” rule as a compromise between “all weapons do d6” and “all weapons have their own unique damage”. I think if we weren’t already 6 months into using these rules, I’d probably tweak some of the damage a little bit, and maybe recategorize a few weapons (having short bows, long bows, and crossbows all do “medium weapon” damage, and treating hired swords as level 1 fighting men means that players have access to cheap and plentiful d8 damage – I gotta remember to play up the hirelings as people more). Altogether, though, I like the rule, and it has allowed players to use stuff they think is cool while still giving the fighters a useful role as damage takers/dealers.
I ran into a small problem recently, however. In my zeal to go all OD&D, I gave everyone d6 hit dice. Everyone, even monsters. Those of you more clever than I will have already spotted the problem it took me 6 months to deduce. In OD&D, the baseline assumption of weapons and hit points was that an average guy has d6 HP, and an average weapon does d6, so any given blow has an average shot of killing someone if it connects. So far, so good.
When you plug d8’s in as effectively the “default” damage (medium weapons in the hands of fighters and fighty hirelings) against d6 hit dice, all of a sudden the difficulty of monsters as related to their hit dice is thrown way off. Mobs of hirelings offing hill giants in one round with a volley of short bow fire. Trolls getting cut down faster than their regeneration can work. In other words, we’ve gone from damage dealt scaling nicely to damage capacity to slightly (but significantly) favoring the players.
Now, I am by no means suggesting I want carefully crafted “Challenge Levels” for encounters, or even that I want things to be harder for the characters per se. What I think bothers me is that right now, the meaningfulness of player choice is being undermined, even if it is generally in their favor. As it stands, fighting men, and employers of hired goons, choose between “bigger damage die than monster hit dice” or “way bigger damage die than monster hit dice” (the latter having the marginal cost of foregoing a shield). Small weapons are pretty much completely ignored (except for the occasional thrown axe or knife).
By bumping monster HD up to d8s (as was done pretty early on – what, in Greyhawk? Definitely by AD&D) I get to a) keep using the damage scale we’ve been using and which has started to be automatic to players, b) increase the upside of going for a big, two handed weapon and foregoing a shield, making that a more meaningful choice, and c) make monster longevity more in line with their ability to hit, make saving throws, treasure awarded, XP given, et cetera.
So, the rule for today is both short and easy: All monsters have d8’s for hit dice.