on Jan 30, 2007
In the comments of Monday’s DM of the Rings, there was an interesting discussion about some of the funny things in the D&D combat system. For example, I once heard that the odds are that a Level 1 Wizard will lose a bare-handed fight against a common housecat.
Telas said in response:
On average, he’ll be hit by three of the claws and one bite for 4 damage, which takes him to 0 HP. If the wizard is unarmed, and taking a -4 nonproficiency penalty to punch the cat, then he will almost certainly die.
This is probably why casters are famous for being cat-friendly.
Now I wonder if it’s true. I don’t have the rulebooks handy, but now that Telas has provided some numbers to work with I can try it out.
Let’s assume we’re dealing with a common level 1 Wizard, an adult human. He has a STR bonus of +0. I’ll let him point-buy two points of DEX and CON bonuses. (So, he either has a CON +2 or a DEX +2 or +1 to both.) He’s fighting bare-handed (1d4 damage) and at a -4 attack penalty because he’s a wizard and is useless at hand-fighting. His base HP is 4 + his CON bonus.
Using the above, plus the numbers Telas gave for the cat, I wrote a wee little program to run 1,000 Wizard vs. Cat battles.
Result? The Wizard prevailed 29.8% of the time.
While I don’t deny that an angry cat can really make you wish you hadn’t made it angry, I’m having a hard time picturing a cat dealing lethal damage to an adult male of average strength, slightly better than average dexterity or constitution, and high intelligence.
If I let him buy another point of DEX or CON bonus, his odds go up to a still-pathetic 39.9%. This is preposterous. Now we have a guy of average strength, high intelligence, and who may be really gifted when it comes to dexterity or constitution, and he still can’t win half the battles.
Even if he does use magic, I wonder how well he’d do? A magic missle will easily overkill the cat, but casting it provokes ye olde attack of opportunity. He has to make a concentration check to get the spell off. I’m not going to run the numbers, but I assume his odds of victory should be pretty good in this case.
Ok, I’m doing wasting everyone’s time with this.
LATER: No I’m not. Kris pointed out in the comments below that the Wizard shouldn’t take a -4 penalty to hit, but punching a cat should provoke an attack of opportunity. I changed the program to reflect this and the odds of Wizard victory went up to 42.3%.
Also, Jeremiah points out that the Wizard could grapple (grab hold of the cat) easily. This is certainly how you would do things if faced with this situation. You wouldn’t slap-box the cat, you’d pick it up and wring its neck.
Finally, I know D&D isn’t a simulation of real combat. Some appoximations are made to ease the rules and add to playability. GURPS solves many problems like the one I just outlined, at the cost of greater complexity. Any system which is fun is going to have some holes in it someplace. Still, I love building these little simulations. See also: 100 million characters.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.