D&D Next: Miss-conceptions

Great Weapon Fighting
When you miss a target with a melee weapon that you are wielding in two hands, the target still takes damage from the weapon. The damage equals your Strength modifier. The weapon must have the two-handed benefit or versatile property to gain this benefit.
--Classes, pg 25

Now that is a very clunky read, but given that part of D&D Next's design philosophy is restructuring the format so that you have to sift through walls of text to get the necessary details I am not really surprised.

A much easier, yet just as clear way to write it could be:

When you miss a target while wielding a two-handed or versatile melee weapon in two hands, the weapon deals damage to the target equal to your Strength modifier.

(EDITED: There ya go Svafa and Justin.)

Same results at half the text. You are welcome. The only other thing I might change is so that the fighter has to at least roll a 10+, or take a page from 13th Age and make it work on an even/odd die result. 4th Edition had reaping strike, which also did damage on a miss, and that never bothered me or upset the game in the slightest...so of course some people are really upset about it. At least when it pertains to non-magical miss damage because, you know, non-magical.

Personally I do not get it. Dungeons & Dragons has always had, to put it lightly, very abstract rules. Take hit points for example: they represent a combination of your physical fortitude, combat aptitude, luck, mental resolve, "plot armor", etc. Where some games give you a physical and mental pool to individually track, Dungeons & Dragons kind of lumps it all up together. Certainly it is easier to manage, but then you run into the problem of how cure light wounds restores damage if you are not even wounded.

So why take umbrage with damage on a miss?

Some think that a miss should just be a miss. While this might make sense it discards the fact that a miss has really never meant that the attack failed to connect at all, unless for some reason you believe that wearing plate armor and packing a tower shield makes you somehow better at dodging. Especially for characters without a Dexterity bonus or, worse yet, a penalty, misses more often than not mean that you did get hit, but it just failed to inflict any appreciable damage.

You can see another example of this in Next by taking a look at the barbarian class: one class feature lets you add your Constitution modifier to your Armor Class so long as you are not wearing any armor at all. So what does that mean? Is the barbarian somehow better at dodging because she is incredibly tough? No, it means that she is so tough that she is able to ignore minor wounds, ie "misses".

Another claim is simulation. As in they do not like the idea of a character that can never miss. This kind of plays upon the previous point, but there the fact that Dungeons & Dragons is not only horrible when it comes to simulation, and hit points do not, and never have universally represented physical trauma. A fighter that takes that feature is not always hitting things. Rather her blows hammer shields so hard that it rattles her foe, or her swings force them to exert themselves trying to keep out of the way, or maybe she is just be scary as fuck swinging a giant axe.

The thing is that what hit points mean has always been dependent on context. If you are attacking an orc then to a point they represent varying degrees of exertion, combat prowess, and physical damage. If you are attacking a goblin then they are likely more representative of prowess, luck, and resolve than anything else. It is when you get into to stuff like mindless undead, elementals, or big, tough monsters that making them represent "meat" points is probably going to be more appropriate.

Here is another exercise in context: if a giant throws a rock at you and hits, do you interpret it that the rock actually struck your character? No, you would be crushed. Even if it was just a glancing blow you would at least have broken bones, something more than some damage that not only affects you in no way, but that you can walk off in a day or so. Same thing for a dragon: do you honestly think any living person would survived getting blasted by fire, or taking the brunt of a multiattack routine?

Now a huge factor is magic. For the longest time Dungeons & Dragons often two different task resolution systems for swords and sorcery (some of the time, anyway), and for some the only way for magic to seem magical is if it continues to use different rules or even ignore them entirely. Why? I have no idea: Mage: The Ascension, FATE, Numenera, 13th Age, Dungeon World, Shadowrun, and 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons all resolve tasks the same way, and I do not hear anyone making the argument that magic in those games does not seem...magical enough.

Another major trend for spells? Half damage on a miss. Not all spells do this, mind you, but enough to where people seem to get hung up and think that it should be the purview of magic for no discernible reason other than "this is how it worked before". Some argue that it "makes sense" for area-effect spells like fireball, because you have to dodge so much--ignoring the fact that you can still somehow take half damage even in a small pit--but then is it really that much of a stretch to allow a fighter with a specific ability to force one enemy to have to "dodge so much" with a big weapon?

Finally the last argument that I found was that--despite Dungeons & Dragons have a lot of exception-based design--allowing fighters to (not really) "hit" on a "miss" will somehow onfuse players. The d20 system is built around the simple idea that you roll a d20, add some modifiers, and try to beat a number to determine success; if anything were to violate that universal truth? Well...probably nothing, because again there are already many rules exceptions built into the game:

  • Elves cannot be put to sleep.
  • Uncanny Dodge causing you to take no damage on a successful Dexterity save.
  • Magic missile deals automatic damage (except in 4th Edition, for awhile anyway).
  • Melf's acid arrow deals half damage on a miss despite being single target spell.
  • Alert prevents you from being surprised, ever.
  • Mobile prevents you from taking opportunity attacks against the target you attack.
  • Polearm Master allows you to make opportunity attacks against creatures that enter your reach.
  • Stealthy allows you to hide when only lightly obscured.
  • Goblins can hide at the end of their turn without spending an action.

There are more I am sure, but you get the idea.

So maybe people are opposed to this because they for some reason think that 4th Edition is the worst thing to happen to the game, ever. Maybe they dislike it because it was not in previous editions. Maybe despite all the other rules exceptions, abstract nature of hit points, and other reasonable explanations they do not understand it, or do not want to understand it. Ultimately it is just one ability that--fighter players have to consciously choose, mind you--is guaranteed to inflict a trivial amount of damage on a miss. It is not going to ruin encounters, or break the game.


  1. I agree with pretty much everything you said. Good post!

  2. "When you miss a target while wielding a two-handed or versatile melee weapon *in two hands*, the target takes damage equal to your Strength modifier."

    Fixed. This is important, because a versatile weapon (at least) can be wielded in one hand and would not benefit from this feature while doing so. Anyway, I agree, this is a great little ability and I'm equally perplexed as to why anyone is complaining.

  3. "When you miss a target while wielding a two-handed or versatile melee weapon *in two hands*, the *weapon deals damage to the target* equal to your Strength modifier."

    Fixed again - the shortened rewrite doesn't say where the damage comes from, or that it's weapon damage, which can be important for playing of of feats or abilities.

    1. If that truly matters then I would say the designers are doing it wrong. I'm not saying D&D should be rules-light but if the rules require that level of specificity then they're prescribing a level of simulation that is generally problematic.

  4. There's no real mystery to it. You figured it out with one guess: Some people just hate anything and everything they associate with 4th Edition D&D. It's not a rational thought process, no matter how hard they attempt to rationalize it.

    I don't think it's worth appealing to those types of reactionary fans as they are easily enraged or frightened off by even innocuous and reasonable changes to the rules. Quite often the effort to placate them only stagnates your game and alienates everyone else.

    My _only_ criticism of your article is that missing with a 10+ was tried near the beginning of the playtest. It looks good all alone, but in the greater system it's actually a terrible mechanic because most of the time 10+ is always a hit anyway. If monster AC's were shifted so that 10+ wasn't always hitting though, then any differences in accuracy would have relatively huge proportional differences in frequency of effect. (Not that I think the current development team is even capable of considering that sort of analysis on their own.)

  5. If 4e came out and it was called Magic the RPG game or Pathfinder, people would be saying its the greatest game ever imo. Its the fact that its called D&D and people dont like messing with classics.

    I agree with your post and I agree with the changes made to the feat. Two hands is very important exception. I dont know if next is doing keywords like 3rd was, if so, then what type of damage could be important or the source of the damage. I do find that 3rd and next have long rules descriptions and could use a strong technical writer to edit them down. 4th didnt seem to have the semantic issues that 3rd had.

  6. I was not expecting this post to generate such a level of commentary, so sorry if it took me awhile to respond (I also have to deal with comments on G+).

    @Svafa and Justin: Okay okay, I will change it. :-P

    @Ben: I gather many dislike it just because of change, but hope that out of that camp maybe some had honestly just never thought about it as described above. Who knows? Maybe some will change their mind. I suspect not, but I can dream. :-)

    I did recall the 10+ thing but forgot why it was removed, and that makes sense. I think 13th Age's method could still work; it at least makes it unpredictable.

    @Anon: Well people should not be afraid of change. If they do not like it, then they should explain valid reasons why it is bad for the game. Adding things like choices and making fighters more competent is not objectively bad for the game.

  7. On missing, I think if they just said "Roll to see if you Damage" instead of "Roll to see if you Hit" 20+ years ago, we wouldn't be worried about damage on Miss. :)

  8. @Anon: If people have trouble with miss, then I think the response would be, "Back in my day damage was damage!"

  9. Literalists are literalists.. game terminology being conflated by those inclined to as natural language is unavoidable... they would complain about failing the roll to do damage yet still doing damage.


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