Oh, Just Roll a 14, Fer Chrissakes!

I’m sure we’ve all had this happen.

There’s a big combat against a large number of lower-level opponents, and the PCs are triumphant (yay!) and there’s just mopping up to do.

Trouble is, they just can’t seem to do the mopping up. All they need is for one or two of them to roll something higher than a 10 “to hit”, and more than a 1 on damage, but they just can’t seal the deal. Their dice are laughing their asses off, as they roll an endless supply of 3’s and 4’s, round after round. Finally, someone mercifully rolls something with double digits, and the last skeleton is finally vanquished.

First of all, it’s ridiculous. You can dispatch 12 zombies in two minutes, but that last super-zombie keeps bobbing and weaving for five minutes while four trained warriors keep swishing? Bah.

“Bored now!”

Secondly, it’s tedious. Everybody knows the inevitable outcome. Is it really worth going through the aggravation of rolling all those dice over and over just to see if the cleric takes another 3 h.p. of damage before the last orc goes down? FOR THE LOVE OF THOR, JUST ROLL A 14!

When presented with this scenario, I’ll just say “you kill it” and move on. But there’s another alternative.

It should be possible to come up with a simple table for such (relatively) low-level mooks. Spare us the tedium of rolling over and over just to hit the magic 14; if there’s a mook with X hit dice, and the party has Y levels or armor class, someone takes Z damage (some piddling amount, if any) and we move on to greener pastures.

I’d still leave it up to the GM to implement; basically it’s a way to justify taking a hit point or three off without the bored “fine, let me roll a d20 yet again” to play it out. The percentages aren’t that hard to work out; the basic idea’s been around since Chainmail.

But man, I hate when that happens. Just want to finish it without such a blatant “the GM is bored now” finale.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

18 thoughts on “Oh, Just Roll a 14, Fer Chrissakes!

  1. When I ran D&D I'd start making morale checks every round once the monsters had obviously lost. But of course that doesn't help with creatures that never retreat such as skeletons.

    I also played only low-level games, so that one skeleton was still a real danger even if it had no chance of winning the battle.

  2. We added a card to our D&D 3.5 game that said "You Win!" (and later a second card that said "You Win Again!") Players would play it when they were tired of the combat and wanted to move things along. The GM would just narrate the rest.

  3. It should be possible to come up with a simple table for such (relatively) low-level mooks.

    IMHO for the combat resolution you could use the Turn Undead table against mobs whenever their HDs are enough smaller than party members' HDs, maybe giving PCs different dice to roll (2d8, 2d6 or 2d4) according to the Fighting Capability.

  4. I'd suggest an automatic morale fail. One of the reasons we used to cover a lot of ground in Basic D&D was because of the morale rules – monsters would quit and run. It was up to the PCs whether to chase them. These days they all seem to want to fight to the last goblin.

  5. Perhaps you could simply use the difference between success and failure from the roll against the mook as the deciding factor. Say, if you needed a 14 to hit and kill it and you only roll a 4, that means the creature deals out 10 points of damage before it is finally dead. Roll the appropriate damage die and apply randomly to combatants until all the extra damage is dealt. So if the creature deals 1d6 points of damage per attack, roll d6 and randomly assign the damage until the full 10 points of damage are dealt…

  6. This sounds like a greatr extension of a system I don't really like, the Gumshoe way of resolving a test. If you have the ability to solve it, and find the clue, you do so, and the game keeps moving. In an investigative game I really don't like this as I think that failure should just push the players to try other things, and if my players just gave up after hitting a brick wall, I'd be more than a little let down.

    In combat though, once the real danger has passed, just being able to say, 'we have the attack modifiers and the numbers, we kill it and move on' makes a whole heap of sense. I don't think you need to worry too much about tables and such, as the GM should be able to quickly figure out if the players are correct in their estimation that it just wouldn't be a challenge anymore.

  7. yes true good point.
    Except when it's the other way around you totally want to keep rolling for the last PC on the tiny offchance that a TPK can be avoided and it can be high drama.

    And I recently ran a game with PvP and a 5th level cleric with magic weapons couldn't hit a 1st level thief for 7 rounds and then the situation changed and the thief got away with it.
    So…. maybe instead of getting frustrated I should get creative. Wandering monsters, natch, but also… That last skeleton, how is it staying up all this time? Is it really a skeleton? What about a reverse morale check – the collapsed skeletons could reform around its malign indomitable will. That would encourage players to get creative about finding ways to pin it down with furniture, multiple opponents etc.
    Maybe it's the skeleton of Airman Higgs. What if the PCs could somehow recruit it.

  8. To modify James Mishler's idea in a less swingy way – if you hit it, it dies; if you miss it, turn over the d20 (the result should be 20-the roll), it does an extra attack against you with that roll, and then it dies.

  9. It's not ridiculous. Dice happen!

    Tedious? Challenging, I say. The players can roleplay to do something else other than just "throw the dice at it". I'm not for railroading or just making the scary thing go away because the dice are being mean.

    If anyone kept missing the creature, it gets a free chance to run away to annoy the players next time. Or it could bring back reinforcements.

    The players can always run themselves… or make a "tactical withdraw" if it makes them feel better.

  10. A view from the wargaming side of the fence. Morale is very important in big battles – its not so much about killing your opponents and getting them to quit the battlefield and give up.

    If fighting ANY monster (maybe undead aside) they should have the same options as the players – to run away as soon as things are looking ropey. This should especially hold true for goblins and the like. I mean, the guys aren't paid much (judging by the 5 copper pieces you find on their bodies after a combat).

    Surely after a round or two of combat (where at least half of their mates have been cleaved in two by the armour clad blokes in front, not to mention Magic Missiles pinging around the room) the remaining goblins / kobolds etc. are likely to say "Sod this!" and make for the nearest exit?

    So the DM should set a morale threshold and roll each turn. Once failed, they run for it regardless of who is 'winning'. Players still get experience for scaring them off – but what if they return with reinforcements…or (as said above) their yells of "Save us", "Help" and "Run away" attract a much more robust challenge for the party?

  11. I'm one for having the PCs observe the same 'physics' as the NPCs/monsters. While I could envisage not rolling the dice at all when the PCs really outclass the monsters, I think that I'd regret it. And, once the dice have started to roll, I can't ignore them just because they're not doing what I had hoped. This is a game.

    Also, why is okay for the party to take some wounds and even die when fighting a skeleton when it has some bony buddies, but not when its mates are scattered on the floor. Fighting should be risky, the risk is represented by dice rolls, and poor rolls at the 'end' of combat are as relevant as poor rolls at the start.

  12. As previously mentioned, just include morale in your games. Problem solved. Even Skeletons can run, not through fear, but through prudence and logic. They might salute the party, take a step back, bow and retreat into the shadows…

  13. We actually had a situation much like that described – party opens a door, finds a room full of headless dwarf skeletons, kill 29 of the 30 with minimal injuries and just can't hit the last one… who promptly starts rolling 19s and 20s on its attacks as soon as all the other skeletons are down, and puts a PC and two henchmen below zero. To this day, the final moments of that fight were some of the tensest in any game that I have run. As a result, having seen such a situation turn out really entertainingly when resolved in full, I kind of disagree with your conclusions that someone should just get off with nominal damage.

  14. Sounds like the headless dwarf skeletons were "Highlanders".There can be only one; or at least one channeling the undeadness of its fallen comrades!

    As the last few posters above have indicated, let the dice fall where they may. If there's a tough nut that won't fall, let the party deal with it. if anything, it would make them paranoid if the DM ever allows the skeleton or whatever to vanish or turn tail and disappear. What greater force is playing with them?


  15. When faced with this as a player, this is one of the things that makes me get creative. Change tactics, try to rack up modifiers or simply do things that don't require rolls or allow easier rolls.

    Throwing a Molotov Cocktail at the floor in front of the skeletons is a much easier roll than attacking the skeletons themselves. If there's a doorway, create a chokepoint so that even if our rolls suck, we get more chances to hit than they do. Or simply close the door and call it good.

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