Wond’ring aloud: Parrying, armour and swashbuckling fighters
Our Stonehell on the Borderlands campaign is on hiatus again. Meanwhile I’m running an assortment of adventures using Swords & Wizardry Core Rules. It’s not a million miles from B/X, of course, but I enjoy the OD&Desque “vibe” and I like the single saving throw a lot.
There are oddities, though. The parrying rule (page 11) is one:
In the Original Game, only fighters with a Dexterity score of 14 or better can fight on the defensive, parrying enemy blows and dodging attacks instead of attacking, as shown on the table below. This is the “official” Swords & Wizardry Core Rule.
Here’s the table, cut and pasted from the S&W SRD:
To my mind, that’s a rather odd (though legitimate and playable) interpretation of the dodging and parrying rule in Supplement I: Greyhawk (page 8), which goes like this:
Fighters with a dexterity of greater than 14 can use their unusual manual dexterity to attempt to dodge or parry opponents’ attacks. For every point over 14 they are able to reduce their opponents’ chances of hitting them by 1 (5%).
For a start, we’re talking about fighters with Dexterity greater than 14 – i.e., 15 or better, not 14 or better.
For another thing, Greyhawk doesn’t mention dodging instead of attacking. You could perhaps infer from the words “attempt to” that the player must make a conscious choice, but I think it’s just a turn of phrase. With the benefit of hindsight, and more importantly the AD&D Players Handbook (wherein all characters get a -1 AC bonus per point of Dexterity over 14), I think what the the passage is intended to convey is this: for every point of Dexterity above 14, the fighter imposes a -1 penalty on opponents’ attack rolls. Parrying, then, isn’t a separate action taking the place of an attack during a round; it’s a defensive factor applied to the normal mechanical resolution of abstract combat. In later editions, this became the standard Dexterity bonus to AC and was granted to characters of any class, not just fighters.
While thinking about this, it struck me that there might be the germ of a decent house rule here. Let’s say you wanted to run a swashbuckling campaign in which agile fighters could run around, jump off balconies, swing on chandeliers, leap onto galloping horses, climb rigging, etc., without wearing cumbersome armour. Like Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood or Arnie’s Conan or Inigo Montoya or Captain Bethany off the cover of Razor Coast or any one of a thousand skyclad Celtic warriors. Sounds good, no? But wait. Why would any sane player of a fighter character forgo plate mail when a good Armour Class is so important for survival?
Swashbuckling Fighters House Rule
We’ll use the standard Dexterity modifiers from S&W Core Rules:
Those effects apply to all characters. But only fighters wearing no armour gain the extra bonuses to AC listed on the Fighter Parrying Ability table (given above).
So, a thief in leather armour with Dex 16 has AC 6 (7-1). His companion, a swashbuckling fighter with the same Dexterity score, wearing just a feathered hat, doublet and hose, has AC 5 (9-(1+3)). He could don plate and pick up a shield for AC 1, of course, but then he can’t run or jump or swim when circumstances require. And those rare fighters with Dex 18 get AC 3 even when completely unarmoured, or AC 2 with a shield. I haven’t playtested any of this but I think it might work well in “cinematic”-type play, encouraging high-Dex fighters to try athletic combat manouevres.
Edit: A simple, near-equivalent rule for B/X, Labyrinth Lord and similar systems is this: unarmoured fighters (only) get double the normal AC bonus for high Dexterity. This gives those with Dex 13-15 an unarmoured AC of 7 (leather equivalent), those with Dex 16-17 get AC 5 (chain equivalent) and the lucky few with Dex 18 will have AC 3 (plate equivalent).