Monday, July 11, 2011

[OD&D Houserule] Beat The Wretches!!

Many times in literature and cinema an aristocrat will have his footmen beat an uppity wretch with their canes to teach them to respect their betters; sometime a bunch of rough labourers decide to teach some hoity toity type slumming in their tavern a lesson in class-hatred with chair legs and axe handles.

In bog-standard OD&D that presents a conumdrum; obviously the intent of such actions aren't to kill the victim, but mechanically that's how things would play out. As well, in actuality beating someone unconcious often results in the unintentional death of the beatee.

Here follows a houserule I came up with to respresent such hilarious brutality:

- When a  not-entirely-lethal bludgening intrument is used to attack, the damage dice are used to represent "subdual damage" (temporary damage that only renders the target unconcious at 0 or less hit points); however if the damage die results in a natural six result the die is thrown again and the resultant roll is applied as actual real damage.

Obviously it is no great feat to use this houserule with non-OD&D versions of the game; I just came up with it while musing about OD&D and Small But Vicious Dog.

(Somewhat inspired by sundry posts on The Vaults of Naogh and the atrocious movie Sweeny Todd)


  1. Usually we hear about the Lord or his entourage that beats the non-deferential peasant... this spin gives some power back to the people - a version of the "Angry Peasant Mob" thing in some ways, except on a smaller, localized scale.

    I hope to be able to use this some day in a game with a pompous PC ;)

  2. This rule could also be used to allow PCs to inflict Three Stooges-esque assaults on each other--if one were so inclined.

  3. I like the idea... given that I usually play variations with variable weapon damage (d4, d8, etc,) I'd have to think of a way to make it fit. I like the idea of a 'reroll' for rolling the 6 on a d6... but with variable dice the smaller the dice the more frequently one will roll maximum... so if you beat someone with a soup ladle (let's say it's a big ladle that does 1d3 damage) you are twice as likely to inflict serious damage than if you beat them with a cudgel that does 1d6... whereas, logically, I would hope that the opposite would be expected... although player characters and NPCs regularly being beaten to death with soup ladles, trumpet mutes or shoe horns does have a certain perverse appeal.

    If I remember my history right, Czar Ivan the Terrible of Russia apparently beat his heir to death with with a walking stick. He (supposedly) didn't mean to do it, but I guess they didn't call him "The Terrible" for nothing. Inbreeding. Say no more.

    edit: word verification:"sukwor." Sums it up nicely.

  4. Answer to Limpey's ish - DM rolls a d6 behind the screen, if his dice comes up a 6, whatever the PC rolled is now real damage, on a d3, whatever. That way the PC doesn't know how brutal he's being until you announce that he killed a beggar with a soup ladle.

  5. I always just let my players attack at -2 and allow them to roll 1 dice under the normal weapon damage (d8 becomes d6) to inflict subdual damage. Clubs and the like don't take the attack penalty.

    I like the idea about rolling a 6 though...

  6. You could say that any time you do more than the maximum damage for the weapon that damage is all physical damage (broken bones, bleeding, internal injuries) versus the declared subdual intent which wears off in maybe 3 hours or whatever.

    That means if you get a critical hit, or have high STR, it's possible to get an accidentally good hit in. "Didn't know my own strength" and "I didn't mean to hit him that hard!" coming into play.

    If you don't use STR damage modifiers, or critical hits, you could just say it was accidentally normal damage on any attack roll that's a multiple of 5 on the die. Most people would thus have only a 2 in 20 chance, because a 10 or 5 would miss anyway, but a lowly peasant with AC 10 could be hit by that 10. It also makes it so you don't have to roll a die twice. It's also easy to decrease or increase the chance, by making it a multiple of 6 or 4, in situations where the weapon used is especially wimpy (heavy pillow) or hard to control (polearm).