For example, comparing an inexperienced NPC squaring off against a 1st level Fighter, we see the NPC suffers a -4 to-hit penalty in combat. Using the roll off table constructed by Ichoran in this post as an approximation of combat outcomes, the Fighter will win 66.0% percent of the encounters.

Does this seem realistic? Too generous on the side of the NPC who's never picked up a sword? Let's assume a 1st level Fighter has about one or two years of training and battle experience under his belt.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure what you're asking. Fighting in D&D3.5 isn't an opposed check. It's a series of actions involving attack rolls and hit points damage (plus other stuff, but basically attack rolls and hit point damage). The starting fighter has twice as many hit points as the first-level "commoner." \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Dec 19, 2013 at 16:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D, no matter what edition, doesn't "accurately simulate", and that's not its goal \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2013 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP Good point, didn't factor in hp but I'm assuming they both have the same weapon. I'm being lazy - I ought to run thru some simulations myself to obtain a reliable win % for the fighter. \$\endgroup\$
    – RobertF
    Dec 19, 2013 at 16:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you looking for some crunch-based analysis like this? "Why is Survival not a class skill for animals?" You could make that your question here: something like, "What are a first-level fighter's chances against a commoner and is this 'realistic'?" \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Dec 19, 2013 at 17:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do real-world stats for a concrete "combat skills learning curve" even exist to compare D&D to? \$\endgroup\$ Dec 19, 2013 at 17:30

2 Answers 2


The short answer is No

First, as Scrollmaster points out, no version of D&D attempts to accurately simulate anything. Putting aside the sheer existence of magic, it is really focused more on presenting interesting tactical decisions and an interesting world to explore and tell stories in.

Now, you mentioned fencing and talked about the probabilities there. One area where odds can be calculated highly accurately and that has been studied for a long time is ratings for games of pure skill like Chess and Go. Chess uses the Elo rating system and you can calculate relatively accurately the odds of who will win based on the Elo ratings of the players involved. If they are equally rated, it should be about 50-50. If there is a 100 point difference, the higher rated player is expected to win about 64% of the time. This system is reasonably accurate as long as there is enough history for both players to calculate an accurate and up to date ranking.

But the thing is that Elo ratings are only very loosely correlated with experience as measured in years. In fact, one of the highest rated players in the world right now is 22. Now, if you look at "Elo" as "level" than it is true you can calculate the odds of winning based on the difference in "level" but that should be thought of as "experience" in only the loosest sense. Someone who has been playing for two years but studied intensely, worked hard, perhaps had a natural aptitude (if you believe in that) and has a high Elo rating will find someone who has played casually for 40 years to be little difficulty.


Does this seem realistic? Too generous on the side of the NPC who's never picked up a sword? Let's assume a 1st level Fighter has about one or two years of training and battle experience under his belt.

There's two questions here; the question you're asking - the answer is no - D&D doesn't do realism really, and isn't a system you should go for, or do too much work with in trying to get realism.

The other question, which is implied; what kinds of things would make for realism?

  1. Is the civilian a laborer, farmer, sailor or other-wise well conditioned and active? How about the soldier? Are they a barely-fed conscript in an army suffering disease? Throughout history, successful resistance to armies often depended on this.

  2. Who has the bigger motivation to fight, vs. run? "Civilian defending their family" vs. "Conscript, far away from home, hasn't been paid in 4 months, might never get paid"? "Civilian looking to run for the hills" vs. "Trained soldier with good morale who has coldly stabbed 100's of people with his spear".

  3. Is the civilian actually completely untrained? Throughout a lot of history, and a lot of places, many civilians were trained with farm tools, sticks, knives, slings etc. at least as well as conscripts were - they're not trained in formation fighting, which is a big deal. The line between untrained civilian vs. soldier was a lot more blurred in many parts of history.

  4. A pretty real issue, which D&D somewhat does ok modeling - who gets the first hit? Where D&D falls down is that you stay fully functional until you've lost all your hitpoints, it's not like someone gets a good hit in, stuns them, and keeps going.

As you can see, "realism" needs a lot of factors decided before you even get to "does this fit D&D?" as a question to answer.

I mean, we might answer a bunch of that by saying Fighter = trained expert. This has been the usual default of most editions of D&D ("1st level = Veteran" vs. "0 level warrior"). Then the questions come down to what kind of civilian they're up against. That could be anything from "elderly scholar with a walking cane" to "stone mason who also trains the village militia..."

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, totally forgot to add: the learning curve also isn't linear as it is in D&D. If you're doing combat training, it hits plateaus and jumps, and also gets rusty and goes downhill. It has to do with quality of training and conditioning, whereas actual experience lets you manage the 1000 things training missed. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Dec 19, 2013 at 19:09

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