While they don’t really work well for Last Boss Gaming’s channel content, games with strong narratives are often my favorite games to play. Story-heavy RPGs like The Witcher 3, visual novels like Danganronpa, even the so-called Walking Simulators like Gone Home are all go-to games for me.
It sucks, then, that many of the best stories in all of gaming are locked behind some extremely arcane systems. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about (at least, I’d hope you do since it’s in the headline of the article). I’m talking about Dungeons and Dragons games. Some of the most well-known RPGs in gaming history use D&D rules or a derivation of them. Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights… hell, even Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic uses the Star Wars Roleplaying Game rules which are basically a simplified version of D&D.
Now, I’ve been gaming for almost my entire life but pen-and-paper RPGs have always eluded me. When I tried playing Baldur’s Gate as a kid, I had no idea what half of the words on the screen meant and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to fight off the first wave of wolves after leaving Candlekeep. That death scene was pretty damn cool but my lack of progress made me bounce off pretty quickly. What can I say? I was 9 and the most complicated game I had played at that point was Pokemon.
It actually wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I met a good friend who taught me the basics of Dungeons and Dragons, enough to get through the Infinity Engine games that I’d always wanted to play. Even with the tutorial, it took me until the end of Planescape: Torment, my first Infinity Engine outing, before I really felt like I understood how the game worked.
Thus, I wanted to pay it forward and write up a quick primer on some of the basics and how these rules play into the Dungeons and Dragons video games. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to cover everything but if there’s anything I miss that you really want explained, please let me know in the comments. I may do a part 2 in the future if there’s some demand or just if I’m bored.
One thing to be aware of before we jump into what the stats mean, there are several different versions of D&D and each version has some different rules. Not only that but some video games pick and choose which rules to incorporate and which ones to leave out so these stats aren’t going to apply to EVERY D&D game. For the sake of this primer, I’m going to pick the common ones that come up in popular D&D video games like the Infinity Engine games or Neverwinter Nights. If you really don’t want to read how the stats work, jump on down to the summary section and I’ll try to summarize, as briefly as possible, what some of the more confusing stats mean so that you can jump right in.
Now, I don’t know what kind of numbering systems you all learned as kids but I don’t recall being taught to count to “1d8”. Stupid public school system.
The reason that damage is recorded like this is because Dungeons and Dragons operates entirely through dice. You’ve likely all heard of twenty-sided dice, yeah? Well, there are a lot more types than just twenty sided. You can have your typical six-sided die (like you’d use for Monopoly or most common board games), eight-sided die or any other number, really. The type of die you roll is abbreviated though so an eight-sided die would be a “d8”. A twenty-sided die would be a “d20”. You get the idea.
You can probably figure out that the damage in the picture above, 1d8 is talking about using eight-sided dice (you’re so smart!) but what about that first number? That number is telling you how many dice to roll. So, in this case, damage is calculated by rolling one d8. Thus, in real numbers, the damage for this sword would be a random number between 1-8. Later game weapons may say something like 3d6. This would be telling you to roll three six-sided dice or, in real numbers, 3-18.
Speed Factor is a little more complicated but fortunately for video games, it isn’t very important. Think of Speed Factor as the amount of time it takes to get your weapon ready. Lower numbers mean you can draw quicker while higher numbers mean it takes a bit longer. After the draw, though, this doesn’t change how fast you attack. Since you aren’t going around one-shotting enemies very often and battles in the games tend to have you just standing there, this number winds up not being very important.
The rest of the stats are fairly self-explanatory. Proficiency Type is the type of weapon it is (long sword, halberd, dagger, staff, etc.). This will match the skills of your character so if you have your main character use this long sword, you’ll want them to have points in the long sword skill. The type is the more general form of the proficiency type. This is just saying if it’s a one-handed or two-handed weapon. This also plays into the skills you want to increase for your characters. The requirements tell you how much of a base statistic you need in order to use that weapon. We’ll go more into those stats a little later but for this, it’s just saying you need a 6 or higher in the Strength stat to use the weapon. Weight doesn’t effect combat or anything, it’s just saying how much weight it costs in the inventory. Finally, you get a big ol’ list of classes that can’t use the weapon. These become pretty obvious as you start to learn classes (mages can’t rock a two-handed sword and fighters won’t do much with a staff.).
The weapon stats may have been pretty easy once you learn the language but Armor is where things start getting really strange. Now, keep in mind that Armor Class and the dreaded THAC0 stat (more on that later) were changed completely after D&D 2nd edition. Unfortunately, all of the Infinity Engine games use D&D 2nd edition. If your goal is play Neverwinter Nights or KOTOR effectively then congratulations! You don’t need to know this junk! For you, just know that a higher Armor Class is better than a lower one.
If you want to play Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment or Icewind Dale though, you get to experience the complete nonsense that is Armor Class. See, in literally every other RPG ever, having a higher armor number is good. In D&D up until the 3rd edition, this is not true. You actually want to have a lower Armor Class.
The default AC is 10 for an unarmored, unmagicked human character. Putting on armor pieces will decrease that AC, which is what you want. So, looking at this piece of armor in the picture above, it gives a base AC of 7. Meaning, if you were to just wear this one piece of armor and nothing else, your character would have an AC of 7. It also gives some bonuses to different attack types. Notice up in the last section on Weapon Stats, it says Slashing next to the damage. This means that weapon attacks with Slashing damage. This piece of armor says it has an AC of 5 vs. slashing. So that means that it protects even more (because lower is better) against slashing weapons.
Confused yet? Don’t you even worry, things get even more crazy with THAC0! All characters have a THAC0 stat (pronounced thack-oh with thack rhyming with whack). This stands for “To Hit Armor Class 0”. To explain what this means, I have to explain a bit about how combat actually works in D&D-style games. All you KOTOR players, come back in for a minute, this affects you too.
You may have noticed, playing KOTOR, for example, that weapons or characters can have both a damage AND an attack stat. This is because attack doesn’t actually have anything at all to do with how much damage you’re doing, it has to do with your chances of hitting the enemy with your attack. See, every time you make an attack in a D&D game, you have to roll a d20 just to see if you can even hit the baddie. I should also take this time to explain that despite what you may be thinking, AC doesn’t actually defend against damage, it only helps protect you from getting hit. Think of it less like armor and more like dodge.
So back to THAC0. This number is saying this is the number you will have to roll on that d20 in order to hit an enemy that has an AC of 0. So for Crosstix the fighter here, he’d need to roll a 14 or higher on that d20 in order to hit an enemy with 0 AC. Remembering that higher AC is worse, for every AC point up, that roll requirement goes down. So an enemy with 1 AC, you’d need to roll a 13. 2 AC, you’d need to roll 12. And so on.
If you look at what this means in terms of percentages, now it suddenly makes sense why your KOTOR character would miss all the damn time. With a THAC0 of 14, they would only hit 30% of the time. To answer the question I know you’re all asking, no, having an AC of 0 doesn’t mean anything really special. AC can (and likely will) dip into the negative numbers.
To put this as simply as possible, lower THAC0 = better.
Part 1 Summary
- Damage – The number and type of dice rolled. Example: 3d6 means 3 six-sided dice or a damage range of 3-18.
- Speed Factor – Not very important for video games but lower = better.
- Armor Class – Lower = better. Effects how likely you are to be hit. Lowered by armor, magic or sometimes other stats.
- THAC0 – Lower = better. Effects how likely you are to hit the enemy. Lowered by leveling, weapon skills, magic or other means.
There is a ton more to cover but I’m already past 1700 words and it’s 1:30 AM so I’ll try and do a part 2 on how magic works another time then maybe one on combat since it’s actually not as straight-forward as it probably should be. This should be enough to at least help you properly equip your party members though.
As mentioned all the way up at the top of the article there, if you have any questions or things you want to know about how D&D works in video games, let me know in the comments! I’ll try to answer your questions as best I can and I’ll see if I can’t incorporate questions into part 2.