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In D&D 3.5, higher-level players and monsters get iterative attacks. This can slow down the game sometimes. Therefore, I am looking for an alternative rule that fulfills the following requisites:

  • Average expected damage is the same (or slightly improved, but not worse)
  • Application should be obvious and fast during play

Ideally, the rule would applicable to both monsters and players the same way.

I have seen a nice example on the ENWorld forum, but it is focused on players and doesn't deal with the case where a monster has claw/claw/bite or similarly different attacks (such as TWF). The ENWorld idea works as follows:

Level 6: Two attacks at -2/-2

Level 11: Two attacks at -1/-1

Level 16: Two attacks at 0/0

It is ok if the rule requires some work beforehand, if that work has to be done only once and not for each monster I want to apply this rule to.

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Is your problem more along the lines of "how to avoid too many dice rolls" or rather "how to avoid too many different modifiers"? – G0BLiN Jul 28 '14 at 14:55
It doesn't really matter, both things can slow down the game. Some people are fast with their game math and others take a long time with their dice. Any improvement helps. – Mala Jul 28 '14 at 17:41
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Extensively use Tome of Battle strikes. The strikes sometimes involve multiple attacks, but often involve a single attack with greatly enhanced properties. This can help greatly.

But note that even high-level initiators often still use regular full-attacks: you simply cannot easily replicate the reliability and sheer damage of a full-attack with a single attack, no matter how powerful. For example, just giving attack and damage bonuses to your single or dual attacks does not work, and never will, no matter the numbers: any time you have a single attack, you are putting all-or-nothing on that attack for the turn. The sheer reliability of getting multiple chances to hit is a very important part of being a high-level martial character. Without it, you are severely weakened, particularly against high-AC foes.

Which is ultimately why you cannot simply replace them and say you will consistently get “the same or slightly higher damage output.” The value of multiple attacks changes depending on who you are facing. If we make some single/dual attack worth what it would be against high-AC foes, against low-to-mid-AC foes it will be devastating. If we make it reasonable for low-to-mid-AC foes, the character no longer has a good option for high-AC foes.

Ultimately, I don’t think there is a lot that can be done to eliminate iteratives without causing problems. The Tome of Battle approach is by-far the best, but it’s not at all simple to assign maneuvers to powerful characters and monsters who wouldn’t already have them, and even for them, the full-attack is an important tool in their toolbox. And since mundane martial characters are already the weakest character type in the game, you do not have a lot of leeway to remove the few tools they have.

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It is relatively trivial to make a spreadsheet calculate average damage for iterative attacks.

So long as you know all the variables, reducing attacks vs AC x to an average damage means that you can roll the highest attacks, because they're fun, and then for the subsidiary attacks, to simply apply the average damage.

The player should create a lookup table against most conceivable ACs that they will attack. Thus, when the player learns the AC (either via figuring out via missing on number, and hitting on number+1, or through skill checks, or through the DM simply telling them), they can choose to either roll their iterative attack normally, to use the pure average as calculated here, or to calculate the average less their maximum attack, roll for their maximum, and automatically apply the average. Happily, the calculator also shows the best power attack modifier to apply as well.

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What about the points in KRyan's answer with respect to high- and low-AC targets? – Mala Jul 28 '14 at 17:40
@Mala Because you determine the expected damage values for any given AC, that is factored in. Basically, instead of rolling, you just look up how much damage you can expect, on average, for the target's AC. The obvious problems are A. you have to create the tables, for each given scenario, which is a nontrivial amount of prep (though a well-written spreadsheet can do a lot of the work automatically), and B. it becomes less obvious when and how much information to give players (indications of how much damage is dealt in numerical form allow a reverse-lookup to get the target's AC). – KRyan Jul 28 '14 at 19:24

This may seems too simplistic for an answer, but it might help:

One thing which worked really well for me when I was teaching children D&D 3 - 3.5 (even as young as 6 years old), was the combination of these two basic ideas:

  1. Use the fast dice variant: roll all attack and damage rolls simultaneously, use different colored dice for different attacks.
  2. Once the target's AC is revealed to the players (most of the times it's common knowledge around the table anyway...), calculate the to hit value for every character and use that instead.

For the youngest players, I'd normally draw a few boxes on the margins of the erasable map, each one with the to hit value relevant for a specific attack. That way, even a character with three attacks + offhand just had to make one roll (with multiple dice), and place the dice in the corresponding boxes - it's immediately obvious if the dice showing 7, 13, 8, 15 are a hit or a miss when you just have to place them in boxes labeled "6","6","11","16".

That way, you only make extra rolls for critical hits, or when a player wants to allocate his subsequent attacks according to the results of previous ones.

This can really speed up a game with adults as well (although we just have the slower players write down the relevant target numbers before their turn, without bothering to draw the boxes...) and, while this is not a variant rule, it has the advantage of not affecting to attack and damage odds in any way.

Finally - I hate having digital spreadsheets during a game, but if you don't mind that - it's easy enough to automate the "convert input AC to my character's target numbers" or even use a randomization function instead of rolling and just get a set of results in one click (though for me it's just not the same if we don't roll physical dice...).

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Roll Once

This increases swinginess but not the average output. Simply roll the d20 once for an entire attack routine and apply the different bonuses to it. This reduces time to resolution dramatically.

For example, a fighter with +12/+7/+2, roll d20 and get a 10 - you hit ACs 22, 17, 12. Works fine for claw/claw/bite and any other kind of combo.

What you'll find is that people will tend to either miss with most attacks or hit with most attacks, you lose out on some of the in-round averaging. But over infinite time, the average is the same.

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How we handle a roll of 20, per example? All attacks hit as critical attacks? – Thales Sarczuk Jul 28 '14 at 15:16
Roll the confirmation, add the numbers, anything that confirms crits. – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 18:43
Ooh, I see. This have the potential to become a really nice time saver! +1! – Thales Sarczuk Jul 28 '14 at 19:01
-1, because it massively increases swinginess, i.e. it has a hidden, but pervasive and substantial, nerf to warriors, who are already the weakest classes in the game. In short, @ThalesSarczuk, please don't do this. – KRyan Jul 28 '14 at 19:21
@KRyan I won't do this as is. I really liked the idea of a single roll, but with the steep -5 between attacks, it becomes really swingy. What I'm thinking to do is... I will post an answer ;) – Thales Sarczuk Jul 28 '14 at 21:03

I got this idea from mxzyplk answer to use a single roll, and from KRyan comments on how this can nerf the warriors in a substantial way. I did the math, and... yep. Rolling a single dice can be harmfull for the figther. Rolling multiple die can, however, be harmfull for the fun, since it can take a long time to resolve a single turn.

How we can resolve that?

Warriors, and other "Melee Types", are normally heavily underpowered against Wizards and other Tier-1 classes. So, anything you use to buff them up can't really get them overpowered. With that in mind, we can go changing stuff without so much fear that we would be breaking something. 3.5 is already too much broken for us to do any more serious damage anyway. First, let's fix the "chance to hit" of our character:

  • Count how many attacks a character of that level would have on a full attack.
  • Add this value to the "RAW BAB" of the character.

So, if a character have, let's say, +15/+10/+5, he would end with +18 as his BAB. A +3 bonus, seens ok.

Next, we fix the Crit Chance. If you roll more attacks, you have more chances to crit, since you obviously throw more dice. Each extra attack gives an extra 5% of rolling a 20 in your turn, so a character with four attacks have four times the chance to land a Natural 20 than a "single hitter". We will ignore the different Weapon Threat Ranges for now.

  • For each attack the character has, after the first, add +1 to the Threat Range.

Our sample fighter has +15/+10/+5, so he would add +2 to the Threat Range to compensate for the extra attacks he would be losing. So, if our figther use a Longsword (19-20), he would have now a 17-20 threat range. Keen and similar stuff add first, so a Keen Longsword (17-20) would have a threat range of 15-20 on the hands of our warrior.

Okay, that seens good. But, our DPS is still much lower than a traditional "Full Attacker". So, let's add an extra spice. If the character have multiple attacks, do this:

  • If the character has two attacks (+6/+1), he rolls 1d2.
  • If the character has three attacks (+11/+6/+1), he rolls 1d3.
  • If the character has four attacks (+16/+11/+6/+1), he rolls 1d4.

Multiply the damage dice (and all aplicable modifiers) by the die result.

Can't see that working? Let's go for a full example:

Bert the Barbarian is a 15th level Human Barbarian. He is not really optimized, so he didn't take a ton of feats to raise his precision or damage output.

Bert is kinda bulky, having a STR of 22 (+6), without any auxiliar gear. He don't like axes, so he uses a +2 Keen Greatsword.

Bert also have Weapon Focus on his Greatsword, and nothing else that matters.

When he is not "Full Attacking", bert has a good BAB of 24(15+6+2+1). He can move up to his speed and deliver a blow at that value, for 2d6+11 worth of damage, with a threat range of 17-20. Not much.

However, when he is already nearby the enemy, and chooses to full attack:

  • His BAB goes up by +3 (He would have 3 attacks on the Normal Ruleset), and becomes 27.
  • His Threat Range goes up by 2, and for the Full Attack his threat is 15-20 now.
  • He rolls a 1d3 if he hits, since he would have 3 attacks on the Normal Ruleset.

Bert's Player rolls the d20 and the d3 at the same time, to save a few secs.

He scores a 14! Not enough to crit, but a Hit, nevertheless. The d3 rolls up a 3, so he rolls his damage 3 times and add up: (2d6+11) x3, to a total of 6d6+33.

Now we have some interesting damage! If Bert had roll a 15 and scored a crit, he would roll instead: ((2d6+11)x2)x3), that, by the D&D Multiplication Rules, equals to (2d6+11)x4, or 8d6+44. Note that the crit is not whooping damage, but since it becomes more common, those things kinda offset each other.

How do I implement this stuff?

I need some prep before you go to combat, but once you do it, it turns up easy to roll:

Bert has no change on his normal attack.

If Bert does a Full attack, he receives +3 to hit, +2 to the Threat Range, and roll a 1d3 dice to see how much times his damage goes up.

He only will need to change that values once he hits lvl 16, when every number will go up by +1 (+4 to Hit, +3 to Threat Range, 1d4 dice).

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I thought you wanted "simpler." – mxyzplk Jul 28 '14 at 22:26
In addition to @mxyzplk's valid concern, your statement about it not being a problem to let low-tier characters do a ton of damage is... not really true. There is a level of optimization where it's true, but those are quite high; where I am considered to run a fairly high-op game by this board's standards, there is a gentlemen's agreement at even my games not to get into true binary, hit=kill levels of optimized melee damage. This isn't a balance concern so much as a fun concern: such characters are really rather disinteresting. Making that "easier" or "more likely" could thus be a problem. – KRyan Jul 28 '14 at 23:23
@KRyan Oh, keep in mind I'm not saying "a ton of extra damage". If I got the math right, the damage will not really change that much. What I want to say is that we shouldn't have fear to amp the damage from figthers and other martial characters a bit up. – Thales Sarczuk Jul 29 '14 at 11:44
@mxyzplk Look at the final section on how to implement this. It's simpler to run, but a bit complex to explain =) – Thales Sarczuk Jul 29 '14 at 11:45

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