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I have a fresh campaign with new characters in my campaign, but one thing that becomes increasingly clear is how poorly they do in combat, even against simple encounters.

In 3.5, An attack roll is determined by rolling d20 and adding any attack bonuses - this usually works out to as little as +2 for the cleric (strength mod) to as much as +6 for the barbarian (4 from strength mod after rage and base of 2 after levelling).

However, even after all the bonuses, monsters usually have AC15 (goblins and kobolds), which means roughly a pathetic 25% chance to hit (1d20, success on 15 or better) or up to luck (1d20 + 6, roughly 50% chance to hit).

Is this normal? Did I get the combat rules right? Currently it is slowing down the campaign because of the immense amount of misses (combat takes up to an hour or so).

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A AC15 goblin should be roughly 50/50 to hit or not for a low level melee character. The barbarian with a +6 that you describe has a higher chance to hit than to miss for example. The only character that would indeed have the described 25% miss chance is a character that shouldn't be in melee to begin with (ie a mage with a BAB of 0 and strength score of 10-11). –  Bas Jansen Nov 18 '13 at 13:13
    
yep starting games are always slow and pc's miss, but as they improve things will go better –  AquaAlex Nov 18 '13 at 14:18
    
How did you determine the stats? Standard array, rolled or other? –  MrJinPengyou Nov 18 '13 at 17:15
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You can also just assign the opponents a lower AC. 15 seems high for a goblin. –  GrandmasterB Nov 18 '13 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Yes, this is typical of low level D&D 3.5. It is usually called "swingy" for a reason - each d20 result has a high impact on the outcome of every battle. PCs rely on high d20 rolls to hit, and are often in deep trouble after as much as a single critical (or even normal!) hit from the enemies.

However, the exact numbers you quote are on the low end of what I'd expect, even at levels 1 and 2. This is primarily because the dominating factor in the low level numbers game are ability scores, and your characters have rather "low" scores in the abilities that govern attack bonus.

Review the ability score generation methods on pages 169-170 of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Consider using a more powerful generation method for your next campaign, if the current method is not generating enough hits (and other numerical results) for your taste. Based on my observations, the most common ability score generation method in balance-minded groups is the 32 point point buy.

In the meantime, make sure your players are aware of the options they have of boosting their attack rolls. Some that work regardless of level:

  • Flanking - it's not just for Rogues. Anyone can use the to-hit bonus.
  • Charging - you accept a penalty to your AC, but it's a +2 on your attack rolls.
  • Higher ground - a very cheap +1. Usually, you get this from riding a mount.
  • Knock them down - it's often easier to trip an opponent than to damage them, and it's very easy to damage someone who's down. This is especially true when the opponents are smaller than the frontline PCs, such as the goblins and kobolds you mentioned.
  • Use touch attacks - characters with low strength modifiers may be better off using alternative attack methods for a while. A go-to low level option is throwing alchemist's fire.
  • Buff spells - even the lowly Bless is better than nothing. Optimally, you're casting such spells before the battle begins, otherwise the turn it takes to cast the spell is likely better spent on just making a normal attack. Buff spells often become characters' biggest source of attack roll bonuses.

And in any case, if the characters survive for a few levels, the modifiers will get larger. Attack roll bonuses scale much faster with level in 3.5 than AC does.

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Yeah, I'd expect the barbarian to start with a 18 Strenght, or at least a 16, not a 14. –  Zachiel Nov 18 '13 at 13:30
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Casters also often pick up spells that ignore AC entirely. A Magic Missile may not do huge amounts of damage... but it's not going to miss. –  Brian S Nov 18 '13 at 14:36
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Bless isn't a 'lowly' +1. +1 when you're otherwise mustering +3 is actually a substantial improvement. You're going from a 35% hit rate to 40%, and it boosts your whole party plus has side benefits. Bless is a wonderful spell for firsties. The flanking/charging/knockdown advice is also very solid, here. +1 for that. It gives low-level fights much more of a 'sloppy brawl' feel, which is fine, they're still novice at all this. I'm less excited by the suggestion of alchemist's fire, if only because it gets expensive and firsties aren't known for deep pockets, either. –  qoonpooka Nov 18 '13 at 14:43
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@Jeff - ISTR it also adds +1 to fear saves in 3.5, but even without, it's essentially +1 weapons to every member of your party and it's got a huge radius of effect, too. At-KRyan - sure, if you're optimizing. The situation the OP was asking about, however, doesn't involve optimized characters - he's got a barb, in rage, pushing +6 at 2nd level. And he's got party members swinging +2s around. Under those conditions, Bless is very good effect for the cost. –  qoonpooka Nov 18 '13 at 18:15
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As the GM, be sure to describe anything that misses by 5 or less as an almost hit, a hit to armor, shield, or last minute parry. The characters are "hitting" their opponent, they're just not doing "serious" damage. It doesn't make the battle faster, but it does make the players feel less incompetent. –  Scott Nov 19 '13 at 4:47

If you dislike the relatively low chance a warrior-type character has of hitting those punny kobolds, consider a variant that uses a more average-weighted roll, like rolling 3d6 instead of 1d20: http://www.d20srd.org/srd/variant/adventuring/bellCurveRolls.htm

This alternate rule comes from Unearthed Arcana and is completely adapted to the game (they even changed the critical range to assure that critical hits aren't too rare).

The benefit of this method is that it favors the stronger side: if your average attack roll (10+BAB+ability+etc) is equal to or greater than you enemy's AC, this rule means you'll hit more frequently. This ensures that those low-challenge monster are really low-challenge.

However, if your enemies are "stronger" than you (or if you are a punny wizard fighting shoulder to shoulder with your fighter pal instead of slinging magic from the back row), now it is more difficult to hit your enemies, and they'll hit you more often. In other words, YOU are the punny kobold now!

Overall, it makes the combat more consistent, less random. As a GM, you must be careful not to underestimate the challenges you devise. As long as you take that extra bit of caution when preparing encounters, you'll have a much more accurate idea of how difficult a combat actually is. I recommend using the techniques in the "Knowing the PCs" section (DMG, pp 12) in addition to the Encounter Level guidelines (the EL can be quite misleading).

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Since so much of the RPG’s are driven by numbers, changing how dice are rolled can have a big impact. For example, I hated the way that rolling 3D6 produced extreme character abilities. On the one hand a 17 intelligence, on the other a constitution of 4. I developed a house rule for rolling ability scores: 5d4. This tends to produce a lot of high/average rolls with perhaps one unusually high and low score. More like real life people. –  Tom Nov 19 '13 at 2:06

I think you are interpreting the rules correctly, but there are things that you can do to help speed combat along. As Ernrir said, there are numerous ways that PC's can gain bonuses to their attack rolls. One particular method that was not mentioned is the Aid Another action.

Aid Another Special Attack rule

Using this, a low-bonus character can grant another character a +2 bonus to attack.

Another method that may help low level characters, especially rogues, is the use of a feint. A successful feint will make an enemy effectively flat footed for the feinter's next attack.

Feint Special Attack

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