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Weapon Mastery blended into General Skillsby Robert J. Nuttman, Jr.
Seeing the recent discussion on "THAC0 for Skills" and "The Useless Prime Abilities" got me to thinking....
The General Skill system really put Ability scores back on the table, in terms of importance. One of the main complaints I've seen (and still see) about D&D is that once those ability scores are rolled up.... they are rarely ever referenced again. It's all about the bonuses or penalties, especially with the d20 editions on up. Poor, neglected Ability Scores.
But what if everything in Classic D&D hung off the General Skill chassis? Yes, even combat.
Blend Weapon Mastery into the General Skills.
As most characters would be Unskilled with most weapons, so, too, would they be Unskilled in those General Skills they didn't invest in at character creation, or at levels 5, 9, 13, etc.
Combat wouldn't need a chart, or even a THAC0. Your PC's ability score is basically their target number (or less) needed on the d20 roll. But... but.... what about armor class?
Armor would soak damage, as in the Dawn of the Emperors boxed set's rules from the Thyatis booklet. And armor class is factored per those rules as well: 9, plus or minus Dex bonus, minus shield (-1 to -4), minus magical item or spell effects.
Let's say a nameless, first-level fighter is facing off against a cowardly goblin. Initiative? A Dexterity (or Alertness, if the PC has the skill) check, proceeding from lowest to highest. The fighter rolls a 15, 4 more than his 11 Dexterity. The goblin rolls a 12, also a failure (vs. a hypothetical 10 Dex). But it didn't fail as hard as the fighter, so the goblin swings first.
The fighter is wearing chain mail, and using a medium shield. This gives him an AC of 7. We'll assume the goblin is of average strength (9). It rolls .... a 9. Normally, Ability score or lower is a success....
.... but in order to keep AC relevant in this method, it still makes the hero somewhat harder to hit: That -2 to AC from the shield adds to the opponent's roll. The goblin's 9 becomes an 11 -- a miss. (which is just as well, it's doubtful the short sword would have done much damage against the fighter's AV of 4)
The fighter swings-- a 2! Way less than his 17 Strength. The goblin's AC is 6, which I'm attributing to Leather armor and small size. That would adjust the fighter's hit to a 3. He rolls 6,+2 for his Strength bonus (which the goblin's armor cancels), striking the goblin down in a single blow (rolled a 5 for his hit points).
Layers of complexity? Sure, why not?
Once a PC is Skilled in the use of a weapon, they have the option of using the "Skilled" values from the Weapon Mastery chart if their hit is less than half their Ability Score's value. So, in the example above, if the fighter was Skilled with a normal sword, because he hit the goblin with a 3, he could have dealt 1d12 damage... or, declared a "disarm" attempt. (Because the fighter lost initiative, he was unable to use the Defensive bonus to AC or Deflect abilities that round.)
When a PC achieves "Expert" rank in a weapon, they then deal "Skilled" damage on hits that are their Ability score or more-than-half, and "Expert" damage on a "half-or-less" roll, and so on as they progress through the Mastery levels.
"This sounds an awful lot like Alternity's Ordinary and Good damage," I hear you saying. If you want to be a generous DM, you might award full damage on a roll that is 1/4 of the Ability or less (a truly Amazing occurrence).
I am not a mathematician. Or a statistician. Heck, I can barely balance my checkbook.
I'm sure there are plenty of holes and corner cases to be picked through with this method. Let me know what you think.
I may have mistyped in my original post. The WM slot is treated just as a General Skill (so, ability score plus any further slots). Thus, an Expert with Normal Swords with a 13 Strength, attacks with a 15, rather than flat 13. His Strength bonus doesn't factor (or stack with WM bonus) into the attack roll (the score itself being the roll needed), though it does add to damage.
I think factoring the Strength modifier into melee defense, in place of Dexterity, would be appropriate. I'd rather go with locking melee defense vs. ranged defense, rather than using a "pick the better of the two" to keep the different modifiers relevant, to keep one or the other from "gathering dust" so to speak.
So, that fighter's 13 Strength bonus of +2* would then be applied to his opponent's attack roll, potentially turning a hit into a miss, or (if his opponent is also a weapon master of some sort), downgrading the damage from, say, Skilled to Basic based on the "rule of halves."
*re-calibrating the ability score generation rolls will also mean re-doing the spread of bonuses....
Using the 2d6+2 method, you could have:
4 or less, -2
These numbers, primarily, would be used against an opponent -- those "plusses" would go towards their rolls against your PC. Those higher Ability Scores themselves, and added WM or GS slots, take the place of ability score bonuses for your own rolls by giving you a broader target range.