22 June 2009

Everyone can Backstab ...

... because everyone is a rogue!

In a classic 'swords and sorcery' setting -- such as R. E. Howard's "Hyboria" or F. Leiber's "Nehwon" -- pretty much every protagonist is a 'rogue' in the broad sense of the word.  That is, either you're a charming rogue, capable of overcoming foes and surmounting dangers that would defeat a lesser mortal, or you're a soon-to-be-dead-or-forgotten pleb.  

Adventurers like Conan and the Gray Mouser don't fight nice.  They use every advantage at their disposal to overcome their foes.

In order to simulate this aspect of the 'swords and sorcery' genre, I've decided to let any character of any permitted class -- fighter, thief, or magician -- to 'backstab' an opponent, should the opportunity arise.  If the character can attack from behind, or without being noticed, that character enjoys a bonus to hit (+2 to +4, depending on the circumstances, as the Game Master decides), and rolls two damage dice upon a successful hit (e.g., if a fighter were to backstab a brutish oaf with a longsword, and that fighter successfully hit the brutish oaf, the player would roll 2d8 for damage).

Good guys finish last in the world of 'swords and sorcery'!


  1. I think I'll use a similar rule in my S&W houserules even though I'm going to aim for an 'original D&D' feel rather than the purer S&S approach that you are trying for. Certainly given the lack of mechanical advantages for characters in OD&D or S&W then effective tactics like getting behind your enemies or using surprise need to be rewarded.

  2. Exactly how I'd do it. ;)

    Other ways tactical thinking is rewarded:

    1. Flank attacks negate the shield benefit. Two damage dice are rolled and the higher is used to determine damage.

    2. Prone targets lose their DEX bonus to AC and fight at -4. Two damage dice are rolled and the higher is used to determine damage.

    3. Attacks from above allow an AC10 attack against targets not wearing helmets. Two damage dice are rolled and the higher is used to determine damage.

    4. Tricks and taunts like throwing sand in an opponent's eyes, insulting them, etc... are usually good for a one-time bonus of +1-2.

  3. I think I would like a distinction between the thieves back stab and a sneak attack. On a back stab I allow the rogue to roll two damage die. While a successful sneak attack is like a critical. It does max damage.

    I feel max damage is right since it gives the back result possible with that weapon.

    While the rogues backstab attack is a strike to vitals. causing more damage. But still varies in damage.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).