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Weapon Mastery and Class Balance in OD&Dby Dan Eustace
If used strictly as written, the rules for Weapon Mastery can present a serious challenge to game balance. The fighter class, especially, is given a huge advantage; few high level fighters would need to fear mages, as they could cut them down in a single round with multiple attacks and increased damage. High level fighters could weather most spells that a wizard could throw at them, by either making a routine save, or simply absorbing some annoying damage. Over the course of many years of gaming using the OD&D rules, I have established several house rules to harmonise the weapon mastery rules with similar benefits for other classes.
For starters, I'll focus on the Weapon Mastery rules themselves. The first thing was to halve all of the hit roll bonuses for increased mastery levels. High level characters already can hit quite easily, so an additional + 8 to hit for a Grand Master seems excessive, and renders low Armour Classes moot. Here are the revised values:
+3 vs. Primary, +2 vs. Secondary
+4 vs. Primary, +3vs. Secondary
I reduce the number of weapon choices available to Magic-Users, as follows: one weapon to start, one additional choice at levels 6, 11, 17, 23, 30 & 36. This reflects the fact that mages are dedicated to spell casting and not to weapons training.
The next major change is regarding the Deflect ability. This rule does not play well (a simple save vs. DR to completely avoid an attack). Characters are hard enough to hit as it is, and when they can gain a saving throw to avoid combat damage altogether, it is a serious imbalance. However, it is reasonable that the weapons with this special ability (swords, staff, pole axe, club) would be useful in parrying attacks. My solution was to count the Deflect ability as a fighter's combat option to parry (-4 to AC, forego attacks). This gives other classes, and fighters below 9th level who gain knowledge in these weapons, the opportunity to defend themselves. I use the number of attacks able to be deflected as the "deflect factor". Higher deflect factors yield greater parrying ability, as follows:
Bonus to AC
If a character can already Parry as a Name level fighter, than I grant him an additional -4 bonus to AC, for a maximum possible bonus of -14. If the character wishes to exercise multiple attacks along with parrying, just use the AC Bonus as a fraction of the possible attacks. For example, a fighter with 2 attacks, and an AC bonus of -10 when parrying, could parry 1/2 and get a -5 AC bonus and make 1 attack. The same character, with 3 attacks, could parry 2/3 and gain a -7 AC bonus (round to nearest whole number).
I also adjusted the damage for the normal sword, since it seemed high relative to comparable weapons. The revised damages are as follows:
Aside from the modifications to the weapon mastery system, I made a significant change to spell casting by having ability score bonuses directly affect every spell that is cast. A fighter's strength score comes into play in every single round of combat; the additional hit probability and increased damage for an 18 STR fighter is of much value. However, in game play, an INT 10 wizard may not be much less effective than an INT 18 wizard. The same goes for clerics with various WIS scores. With the following system, the ability score bonuses become a key factor in most situations.
The INT modifier (WIS for clerics) will affect all spells cast, by penalising the Saving Throw vs. the spell (i.e. 18 INT = save at -3). Additionally, the modifier is added to each die used to determine the spell's effects (damage, # affected, etc.), *up to the maximum for that die* (in other words, maximum of 6 for each d6 rolled. So for 18 INT, a roll of 3-6 would = 6). This system increases the effectiveness of spells based on the caster's abilities. Why wouldn't an 18 INT wizard be able to cast a Fire Ball better than a 13 INT one? This translates that into game play. Here's an example of how the average damage would be altered using this system for a 10-die Fire Ball:
Note that this system also applies to clerical healing spells, so that clerics of higher WIS will heal greater damage (due to their increased understanding of the cosmos, faith, etc.).
This tends to balance out encounters between spell-casters and fighters, so that each should rightly fear the other. Since OD&D clerics have limited offensive spell abilities, I granted the ability to simply receive spells (instead of picking them each morning) once certain levels are achieved. This gives the cleric greater flexibility with regards to spell selection, and if a rare spell is suddenly needed, the cleric can cast it. By 36th level, the cleric does not need to mediate for spells at all, but can simply cast as needed up to the maximum possible for each spell level.
Can Freely Cast
1st Level Spells
2nd Level Spells
3rd Level Spells
4th Level Spells
5th Level Spells
6th Level Spells
7th Level Spells
For thieves, I made three modifications; two are technical changes affecting rules, and the third is an interpretative difference. Since a fighter or MU with this system could most likely slay a thief in a single round, with the right die rolls, a thief should be able to do likewise, when in his own element. This leads to the following increased Back Stabbing damage:
The second change is to the Pick Pockets skill. I changed the -5% per level of the victim, to -5% per level of the victim *above 8th*. This gives a Master thief a much more realistic chance to ply his trade on his colleagues of similar level.
The last change, is simply to be very liberal with regards to the practicing of Thief's Skills. Thieves need to rely on stealth and the practice of their skills to thrive, so I let them get away with quite a bit. For example, a ring could be slipped off of a victim's finger (Pick Pockets), or a thief could Hide in Shadows, if he won initiative after a successful Backstab. These adjustments make thieves feared as much as the other character types.
When used together, these modifications work to balance out the additional power granted by Weapon Mastery, so that all classes become formidable in their own right. It really works quite nicely at high levels, but I have also used the system with PCs starting from 1st level, with good results. A further addition to these rules is Spell Mastery, the ability for spell-casters to improve selected elements of their magic. Spell Mastery will be described fully in a companion article.