Now this is nerdiness

Since I got ribbed a bit for my antique D&D lore in a previous comment, I have to defend myself from charges of extreme nerdlitude by distracting you all with a real nerdfest: a discussion of who would win in hand-to-hand combat between a first level magic-user and a housecat, complete with computer simulations.

The answer: under the modern rules, the cat usually wins. (When I played, if you said something like “I whack the cat with my staff”, there might be a quick check to see if the cat dodged, and otherwise, we’d just say, “OK, you killed the cat. Now what?” Dang rules lawyers and proliferating nit-pickery.)


  1. Tom Wood says

    You should see what it’s like to walk or run through a forrest. It took my old rules-titute DM like 30 mins to calculate that once….sheesh.

  2. Feral Kitten says

    D&D is a great game, however it mostly attempts to model legendary heroes fighting monsters of myth. Commoners fighting cats (which is how I always saw this dilemma posed) is a bit outside of what the system is intended to do.

    However, the rule that I think is goofy in this particular situation is:

    Minimum Damage: If penalties reduce the damage result to less than 1, a hit still deals 1 point of damage.

    Cats have a -4 strength penalty, which is larger than any of their damage dice. If it were not for that rule, cats wouldn’t do damage at all.

  3. Xanthir, FCD says

    Heh heh. Yep, when you get down to the very bottom of the rules, where you can’t subdivide things any longer, you get problems. Cats should realistically deal a fraction of a point of damage, but that’s not really modellable in the game.

    There’s also the issue that a 1st level character is basically in 9th or 10th grade. If the average bookworm freshman bookworm was pit against an angry feral cat that really wanted to kill them, they’d be in a little bit of trouble. ^_^

  4. Hexxenhammer says

    I used to go to that site, but then I discoverd Shamus Young is a psycho home-schooling creationist.

  5. Hexxenhammer says

    And anyway, why isn’t the Wizard casting Magic Missile instead of fighting in melee? Even if he loses initiative and the cat hits with all 3 attacks for 3 points of damage, the wiz should have at least 1 hit point left. Now, he has a slightly better than 50% chance to make his concentration check. If he makes it, a 1st level magic missile does 1d4+1 dm and an average cat only has 2 hp. Dead cat.

    That’s only if the Wiz loses init. If he wins, the cat is automatically dead.

  6. Chris says

    Well, they pretty convincingly show the shortcomings of the D&D system, IMO. In a real RPG the cat never gets through damage resistance, except maybe if it actually reaches your throat. (Well, except for real RPGs that are designed to be about the adventures of mice or other small beings, in which case cats are actual dangerous predators and their stats reflect it.)

    All D&D armor is an *evasion* bonus. That’s just crazy. You can’t even approach a realistic combat system until you recognize that hitting and dealing damage are quite different questions and it’s the latter where the cat runs into trouble – an “unarmored” person still has skin and most of their truly vital organs are at a depth exceeding the length of the cat’s claws, making a life-threatening injury quite unlikely.

  7. llewelly says

    Don’t let your wizard wander about unarmed. Have acid splash and magic missile prepared. And carry a staff. (That’s one reason this joke came to be phrased as commoners vs cats at some point).

    Anyway, the cat is best seen as a ferocious wild cat – no ordinary house cat or farm mouser could do the minimum 1 hit point on a regular basis. Such critters are, as pointed out above, too far from the system’s goals.

  8. Dave Godfrey says

    Thanks for ruining DM of the Rings for me Hexxenhammer. Reading it leaves a nasty taste in my brain now…

    I expect my heroes to have feet of clay, I don’t like finding out some random guy with an amusing site has feet of shit.

  9. Hexxenhammer says

    I was as disappointed as you, Dave.

    It really is funny, and when I discovered he was a creationist, it hurt to delete the link.

    In case anyone is wondering about the wackiness of Shamus Young, he seems to be a very competent programmer, gamer, and anime geek. But if you visit his wife’s pages of the website you find…


  10. says

    In the venerable AD&D-based game NetHack, most character classes start off with a “little dog” or a “kitten” for a pet. This pet is invariably stronger than you and is your primary protection against getting killed in the early game, to the point that most players will restart the game if their pet is inadvertently killed or lost.

    The relevance here is that if you inadvertently hit or lose track of your pet, you can find yourself being attacked by dear old Fido. And in the first few levels, you can easily be killed in a single turn by a little dog or kitten.

    D&D doesn’t have anything on the sheer Lovecraftian hostility of the NetHack universe.

  11. Morgan says

    He points out in an update that the commoner/wizard’s poor odds are only if he doesn’t grapple, ie, pick the little furball up and wring its neck. Doing this is covered in the rules. To be fair, anyone would have a hard time literally punching a moving cat to death.

  12. Bob O'H says

    I’m just glad my cat isn’t reading this.

    Mind you, he’d fail the Int check on the tin opening in the morning anyway.


  13. says

    I’ve played RPGs with all kinds of people: stats nerds who were really only there for the dice, and left as soon as another RPG came out with more arcane rules requiring more frequent rolls; ROLE players who would insist that you have a “game voice” and a “room voice” (usually frustrated animation actors and other layabouts); real-worlders who probably liked freaking out people not playing the game a thousand times more than actually playing the game; etc. ad nauseum. The best games were run by storytellers who kept the game moving in ways the players found interesting, and went from slavishly rolling the dice for each and every variable to moving things along by narrative.
    But now I want to tell the story of how I got killed by a nonpoisonous snake, a lapse of memory, and despite the best efforts of a rule-observing but kind-hearted DM who probably followed the “reality” of the situation as best he could. DM’s a good guy, control freak, doesn’t let us see mid-game hit points but doesn’t randomly kill anyone. Four of us are in a melee with orcs or something, and I’m a first-level thief and almost as useless in a fight as a wizard unless someone turns their back on me so I’ve found a nice little hole to hide in and wait for a back to come my way. Lo and behold! There’s a snake in there, and since one of the random “knowledges” I had was really basic herpetology (we rolled those more for kicks than anything else, though they did come in handy) I knew it wasn’t poisonous if it was what it appeared to be. Brilliant idea: I’ll throw the snake onto the orc who’s doing best and distract him, give my buddy a free whack. DM say OK, rolls the dice, says you grab him, rolls again, says he nips you in your off hand, but it doesn’t hurt much. Later I learn that this was one of those infamous “must be 1HP damage” hits. I don’t die immediately, the snake hasn’t latched on, and I throw the snake onto the orc or whatever, it’s distracted, my guy gets a whack turning the orc’s back to me and I actually get the finishing blow with a dagger. A long fight later and we’ve dispatched the other two, with me managing not to suffer any more damage and the rest of the party only having very minor scrapes. We rest and move on. The DM drops hints: I’m tiring easily, I drop something with my off hand, I’m not noticing things. Finally, two days later, we climb a mountain and at the top I collapse. I’m dead in two more days, from an infected 1HP damage uncleaned untreated baby nonpoisonous snake bite. And had that happened in NetHack (which I also love) I would have learned how to edit the tombstone files so it said that.

  14. stogoe says

    Back at Chris: I’ve seen many attempts in D20 to treat armor as DR instead of ‘hit resistance’, and trust me, it makes D&D combat just that more time-consuming and rules-bogged.

    D&D is made far simpler by treating armor as ‘resistance to being hit’, and as a system that has far too much rules complexity already, it needs all the simplicity it can allow itself.

    But then again, I didn’t play any shadowrun, hackmaster, or 2e, so maybe my taste for pointless rolls and endless tables isn’t as ‘acquired’ as yours.

  15. says

    “I used to go to that site, but then I discoverd Shamus Young is a psycho home-schooling creationist.”

    Remember that this isn’t some bizzare flat-earth cult. LOTS of people are creationists, although the number is dwindling. Still, I don’t think they are so few as to be dismissed as “psycho” just yet.

    I don’t usually throw in with the literal “seven days” types. I can believe that the universe is billions of years old, and that simple creatures led to more complex ones, without losing my faith.

    As for being a home-schooler: What? You would rather I was one of these numbskulls who runs around insisting that my views are added to your kid’s cirriculum? I’m a live-and-let-live guy, and I wouldn’t force my values on anyone – which is why we homeschool.

    I make a point of keeping this stuff out of the blog, but I see that for some people it doesn’t matter.

  16. Hexxenhammer says

    Sorry Shamus, when I find out an intelligent person is a creationist or has other anti-intellectual beliefs, my brain gives me a “does not compute.” If I meet the person in real life, I smile and nod and hopefully I don’t need to often be in contact with them. On the internet, I delete a link.

  17. says

    Remember that this isn’t some bizzare flat-earth cult.

    Yes, yes it is. Creationism is just as foolish as believing the earth is flat.

  18. Nix says

    But it’s more common.

    (What? You mean truth *isn’t* determined by a democratic vote? That’s… unAmerican, or something, isn’t it?)

  19. The Hairy Unbeliever says

    Wait, what?

    (I’ll lay my cards out here : I’m an atheist, a programmer, and an MPhys. Big science, no religion).

    With all due respect to my learned colleagues, what does Shamus’ belief have to do with his comic strip? By ignoring it, or by deleting the links, or whatever, aren’t you saying ‘You have a different point of view to me. Therefore, /anything/ you say – even on matters uncontentious – is worthless.’

    Seriously, what the hell? Had it not been for this thread, I would have never known that he’s a Christian, or a Creationist, or blue with green dots. None of that comes through the strip. Some of you have acknowledged that here.

    How does this tangential judgment work, anyway? You’re a Christian, therefore I won’t drink your tea? You’re a Creationist, therefore your opionion on architecture is meaningless?

    Sure, if Shamus and I ever have the chance to discuss theology, or evolution, or education, we’ll probably butt heads. Words will almost certainly be exchanged. Crockery may get smashed. But until then, and even after that, I’ll still read DMotR.

    C’mon people. We should be better than this.

  20. breklor says

    Ye gods and little fishies.

    Let me throw in my two cents on the side of the Hairy Unbeliever. I’m not a Christian. I hate being preached at, and I have a solid +8 to saving throws vs. proselytization.

    That said: I have been reading “DM of the Rings” since, uh, episode XX or thereabouts (although I’ve gone back and read them all). I’ve read the comments for most of them. And not once has Mr. Young made any comments that I find objectionable, theologically, geologically or otherwise.

    To reject his entire website because you don’t like his personal views – which he doesn’t post anywhere on his site – strikes me as being at least as closed-minded as you accuse Mr. Young of being.

    Just sayin’.

    Oh, and by the way, regarding creationism: Please don’t conflate Mr. Young’s creationism – in which he believes that God created the universe, but billions of years ago, and let it run thereafter – with the silly mythological Creationism of the fundamentalist Christian movement. If you believe in God(s), then it follows logically that said divine being(s) probably created the universe, right? So to call Mr. Young’s creationism unacceptably foolish or “anti-intellectual” is to utterly reject nearly every person who believes in any God(s) – which, frankly, is the majority of the human race.

    So, once you’ve done your research, found out which Web designers have ever been to church, and deleted all their sites’ bookmarks, you’ll be left with, uh… Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, maybe a few Marxist sites… yeah. Enjoy.