“KD&D,” Part 4: Simpler and Better Combat (The Basics)

This post is part of a series describing the rule changes I've made for my current fantasy role-playing campaign. "Kilgore's Dungeons & Dragons," or "KD&D," is a full-fledged variant of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game initially released in 1977. Feel free to use some or all of these rule changes for your own D&D gaming, no matter what edition you play.

After many years of role-playing retirement, I started, in 2020, running a 1st Edition AD&D campaign at the request of my neighbors and family. Coming back to the game, I’ve realized that, while it’s still my favorite, the mechanics of it can be clunky and difficult, and that some parts are lame.

To make what I consider to be improvements to the core rules, I’ve borrowed ideas from issues of Dragon magazine and later D&D editions, as well as come up with a few of my own.  My operating motto for re-tooling the game is to make it, “Simpler & Better.”

Thus far in this series, I’ve talked about:

This time out, I’ll tackle a fundamental, huge, and often overly-complicated component of AD&D, or any role-playing game: combat.

Depending on how much of a stickler for the rules your Dungeon Master was, 1e fighting was either too cumbersome or too limiting. Was there anyone who easily understood the rules as written in the Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) for surprise, initiative, or weapon speeds? I know I didn’t back then, and after re-reading them now, I still don’t.

Most DMs I knew (and I was one of them) pared down those rules to the point that combat could easily become…dare I say…boring. Strange, but true.

For my new campaign, there were a number of issues I wanted to address:

  • Surprise;
  • Weapon speeds, initiative and decision making;
  • Multiple attacks and attacks with two weapons;
  • Critical hits;
  • Maneuvering and special combat actions; and,
  • Spellcasting and using magic items;

Monkeying with combat was particularly challenging because changes have to make sense, make combat go quickly (and be exciting!), and be easily comprehended by new players.

I developed some of the revisions myself, but most of them, I cribbed from the 1e Players Handbook, Unearthed Arcana, and DMG, as well as the 2e Player’s Option: Combat and Tactics book.


How To Fight in “KD&D”

Here’s a step-by-step overview of how a combat/melee round works in my campaign, written in 10 easy steps that I give my players as a one-page handout called How To Fight (feel free to use it for your own games).

1. Is Anyone Surprised?
• Roll a d6; if you roll a 1 or a 2, you are usually surprised.
• If you’re surprised, you can’t do anything, and often, you’re usually easier to hit.
• Being surprised doesn’t last. You can fight during the next round.
• If you’re not surprised, you can fight.

2. How Far Away is the Enemy?
• If they’re close, you need to use melee weapons (like swords or daggers).
• If they’re not too far away, you can charge them (or they can charge you) and use melee weapons; OR you can throw weapons like knives and daggers.
• If they’re far away, you need long-range missile weapons (like bows or crossbows)

3. What Are You Going to Do?
• Fight? Run away? Try to talk? Your party has 60 seconds of real time to decide and make a plan.

4. How Will You Fight?
• Normally, with your regular number of attacks?
• “Full Attack?” It gives you extra attacks, but makes you easier to hit.
• “Full Defense?” You don’t attack, but it’s harder for enemies to hit you.
• Something else? Want to try to tackle an enemy? Hit a specific body part of theirs (like their head, if they’re not wearing a helmet)? Disarm them without hurting them? Knock them out without killing them? Fight them without weapons (if you don’t have yours)?

5. Who Goes When?
• Roll initiative based on your weapon’s speed; each weapon has a Speed Factor from 1 (fastest) to 10 (slowest). Faster weapons usually strike first; if you have a high Dexterity, you’ll go even faster
• Spells go off based on casting time, and are not affected by Dexterity
• If you and your weapon are just as fast as your enemy and their weapon, the attacks happen at the same time. If your attack has the same speed as the Casting Time of the enemy’s spell, your weapon will strike first.

6. Roll “To Hit”
• Roll a d20, add in your bonuses (for Strength/Dexterity, specializing, magic, etc.) and compare it to what you need to hit your opponent’s Armor Class.
• If you equal or exceed the number you need, you hit. A natural “20” always hits (and is usually a Critical Hit—see below). If you don’t equal or exceed the number, you miss. A natural “1” is always a miss.

7. Is it a Critical Hit?
• If you roll a natural “20,” you score a Critical Hit UNLESS you need a “20” to hit anyway.
• Roll damage (see below), add in bonuses for Strength, specializing, magic, etc., and DOUBLE the total.

8. Roll Damage
• Roll the appropriate dice for your weapon. Most weapons do different damage depending on whether the enemy is Small-Medium (about human-sized or smaller) or Large (bigger than humans).
• Add on bonuses for Strength, specializing, magic, etc.

9. Does the Enemy Hit You?
• They roll “to hit” and do damage using the same process you do. If they hit you, you lose Hit Points.
• 0 Hit Points = your character is knocked out.
• -1 to -9 hit points = you’re unconscious and dying, and will lose 1 Hit Point per turn until…
• -10 Hit Points = your character is dead.

10. The End of the Melee Round. When everyone has made their attacks, the melee round is over, and a new one starts.

Next time, I’ll take a closer look at some of the elements of combat, in order.

When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F  for young adults, and adults who are still young. In This Wasted Land, my latest novel, 17-year old Alyx is lost and alone on a nightmare world of monsters never before imagined–and if they don’t kill her, the witch who has her boyfriend will. 

I’m also the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog.  My first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons.

With Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel, I created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.  

Visit kentonkilgore.com, and follow me on Facebook for frequent posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.  You can also catch me on Instagram.