Revised Combat Bonuses

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Normalizing Swords & Wizardry “to-hit” bonuses

As a fan of ascending armour class (AAC), I love the simplicity it offers. I tinkered with this years ago, in an article about chartless combat. One of the cool by-products of the OSR is formal adoption of the convention, most notably in the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules (4th printing), which bakes AAC right into the system.1

One facet of the AAC system’s ease is an attacker’s “to-hit” bonus, a value dependent on ability score bonuses, magical “plusses,” and–significantly–level. The S&W rules include a table of level-based “to-hit” bonuses, but I find that the progression (1) is non-linear, (2) doesn’t differentiate class enough for me, and (3) seems too powerful at higher levels. Naturally, my OCD kicks in.

Here are some working assumptions about how classes fight:

  • Fighters get the best to-hit bonuses, ever. Because they’re fighters. S&W reflects this, though the non-linear progression doesn’t “feel” right to me.
  • By contrast, thieves and magic-users are the worst at fighting, though I’d like to differentiate them and give thieves a bit of an edge.
  • Clerics, as fighting crusaders, should be somewhere in between. But given their spell use and undead banishing, I suggest that they should be further behind fighters than the Core Rules advises.

Taking these factors into account, I submit the following alternative:

“To-hit” Bonuses by Class
Level Cleric Fighter Magic-user Thief Monster
< 1 +0 +0 +0 +0 +0
1 +1 +1 +0 +1 +1
2 +1 +1 +0 +1 +2
3 +1 +2 +0 +1 +3
4 +1 +2 +0 +1 +4
5 +2 +3 +0 +1 +5
6 +2 +3 +1 +2 +6
7 +2 +4 +1 +2 +7
8 +2 +4 +1 +2 +8
9 +3 +5 +1 +2 +9
10 +3 +5 +1 +2 +10
11 +3 +6 +2 +3 +11
12 +3 +6 +2 +3 +12
13 +4 +7 +2 +3 +13
14 +4 +7 +2 +3 +14
15 +4 +8 +2 +3 +15
16 +4 +8 +3 +4 +15
17 +5 +9 +3 +4 +15
18 +5 +9 +3 +4 +15
19 +5 +10 +3 +4 +15
20 +5 +10 +3 +4 +15

In summary, fighters get the best to-hit progression: +1 every 2 levels. Clerics are second, with +1 every 4 levels (i.e., they’re half as good when it comes to smiting). Thieves are slightly worse, getting +1 every 5 levels; magic-users fall behind that, also gaining +1 every 5 levels, but unlike the other classes, they start at +0.

These values are almost universally lower at all levels than suggested in S&W, but I feel better about the standard progression. One thing you’ll note is that clerics and thieves are closely matched at lower levels. I rationalise this by assuming the thief’s physical acumen does for him what the cleric’s limited martial training does for the cleric. However, at higher levels, the disparity is more pronounced because the thief’s combat practice is less disciplined (and probably deprecated in favour of more intense study of all things stealthy).


  1. I realize this is offensive to some, though I assert my preference unapologetically. If you want to take me to task for it, feel free to post in the comments section, but I’m telling you right now that you’re gonna have to piss nickels before descending AC makes sense to me.
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Erin Smale

Erin Smale is the author of the Chimera RPG and, a sporadic, rambling blog that provides tips and tools for the time-challenged game master. He lives in secret along the New Jersey coast with his ass-kicking wife Kim and astoundingly cute dog Bella.

3 thoughts on “Revised Combat Bonuses

  • November 12, 2015 at 00:35

    I’ve adopted a different method, going with the ‘target 20′ idea: roll die, add bonuses, subtract armor class, and if the result is over 20’ you hit. This doesn’t let descending armor class ‘make sense’, it just lets it work easier. The way it makes sense is when you consider the idea of AC 1 being literally ‘first class armor’. This has meant shifting all armor classes 1 closer to 0, so
    heavy&shield = AC1,
    heavy armor = AC2,
    medium&shield = AC3,
    medium armor = AC4,
    light&shield = AC5,
    light armor = AC6,
    just shield = AC7,
    no protection = AC8
    Magic pluses are to armor are explained to instead go to the target number (the 20 that is the target), not AC, so +1 means a 21 needs to be rolled, and so on. Mechanically this is no different to if it was a -1 applied directly to the hit roll, or to the AC. But it preserves the idea that armor class is a classification, and let’s the tables of weapon bonuses vs AC in Supplement I Greyhawk make sense.

    • November 12, 2015 at 09:04

      Thanks for sharing this, and I like the idea of a static target to-hit number.

      But I don’t think I’m reading it right: If you subtract a descending AC value, doesn’t that make it harder to hit unprotected targets than heavily armoured ones? For example, subtracting an AC 7 takes more away from my d20 + bonus roll than subtracting AC 3.

  • November 12, 2015 at 09:36

    No, you read it right, I just stuffed up and miswrote. That should say AC is added to the attack roll.


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