I always hate it when AC inflation makes a big pile of low level enemies totally useless in a fight. It really turns into a game killer for me as GM, since I want troops, followers etc to actually mean something.
So, right now I’m looking for ways for a unit of level 0 or level 1 guys to actually be threatening to high AC enemies. Now my first step is to be stingy with magical armor, but that’s not always going to be under my control in this campaign. So, I need some clear ways for overcoming high AC’s.
Idea #1: Surrounding the Big Man: If the high AC PC is standing by himself in the open, the squad of level 0 guys can surround him. I figure that the three to the front will have to attack his regular AC. I’d like to rule that the three to his rear would ignore his Shield, Dex Bonus, and would get a +2 attack (as a rear attack). So half of them might have at least fair to middling chance of scoring some hits. However, the dex and shield negation is more of a creeping memory from AD&D 1, so I don’t know if I should use it. The number could be doubled to 12 guys if they have spears or polearms.
Idea #2: Special Moves: have the entire group just attempt to use the Knockdown special move: since they probably need a natural 20 to hit any way, the -4 penalty is no matter. It all depends how many guys can try it, could I reasonably rule that 20 guys form a wedge and just try to bowl him over. If several hit (by shear chance) and he fails a save, then the next turn they all have a +2. Several might also try “Sunder” to break his shield if its not magical (especially if he’s using the weapon and shield proficiency).
Idea #3: Sleazy House Rule: just add a “Gang Up Bonus”, the only trouble with this is that I’d have to let the PC’s then use it when they gang up on Dragons or Liches or what have you.
Idea #4: Massed Missile Fire: 100 arrows yields 5 natural twenties. Cheap, but I suppose it would work in a pinch.
If there were some other way to get some +2 or so to hit now and again, it would go a long way. Are there any other good dogpile methods that might help the lowly spear carriers against Hercules?
The key to ACKS is that there is always at least a 5% chance of a target being hit. This actually is quite deadly. It also is reasonably fair to heavily armored combatants. Assessments made in "From Sumer to Rome" where that the chance of a hit by an arrow on a shielded, armored warrior was less than 5%.
In any event, here are my suggestions:
1. Massed missile fire. As you note, 100 arrows yields 5 natural twenties. My players *dread* engagements with large numbers of missile-armed troops. They will almost immediately Charge to get into melee.
2. Charge and Set Against Charge. Lure the PCs into charging. Charging is a +2 bonus to hit but a -2 to AC, so they're vulnerable. If you can set against charge, even better - you'll strike simultaneously and deal double damage! Or, use waves of troops to charge a character who himself Charged. Then it's going to be +4 to hit (because the target's AC drops 2). That's a huge increase in the chances to strike.
3. Inspire Courage and Bless. A 1st level Bard-type can grant +1 to hit to an entire gang of troops. A single Bless spell does the same. Stack them together and you've substantially increased the troops' power. DO it a group of archers and it gets messy fast.
4. Use Spears. Troops armed with spears can attack from the second rank, roughly doubling the number of attacks you are able to bring to bear.
5. Grief them with Special Maneuvers. Let's say that, despite your best efforts, your grunts are stuck attacking with natural 20s required. You may as well use Special Maneuvers like Knockdown or Wrestle or Sunder. If you can smash their shield, knock them pronoe, or best of all, grapple them, their defense will be highly compromised.
Well, the whole point of armor is that it makes it incredibly hard for people to hurt you. In real life, having good armor and experience is a huge advantage (would you put money on the highly-trained, armored nobleman, or the fat unarmored peasant who can barely swing his club?). Besides, high-level, well-equipped heroes are supposed to be walking tornadoes of pointy death, ranking among the most skilled fighters in the world.
Slow melee’rs are vulnerable to horse-archers. The horseman’s speed and range forces enemies to fight on their terms, or die slowly to arrow-fire. If an arbalest-armed horseman kept roughly 300 feet between himself and his opponent, he could pretty much fire with impunity. It wouldn’t be a very glorious or fun death, but it would practically guarantee victory in an open field or desert.
Burning oil’s splash-damage doesn’t care about armor class. I suppose if ACKS had any other splash weapons (like if there was an equivalent to greek fire or Acid Flasks), I would expect those to work the same way. You can deal the full 1d8 by pouring the oil on the ground and lighting it up, and that might ironically be more efficient, damage-wise.
Another way to look at at it; In the edition this is modeled after, your “Target Number” was before bonuses due to ability score, circumstance, and magic. Then bonuses where added. Also, The effectiveness of AC 0 through -4 (ACKS 9-13) was limited to AC 0 (ACKS 9). What does this do?
Under current rules, an AC 12 Fighter, a zero level needs a 23+ to hit, or a natural 20. If they have a +1 strength, they still need a 22+ or a natural 20.
Under the old rules, an AC 12 Fighter, a zero level needs to roll a 20+ to hot, or a natural 20. If they have a +1 strength, they need to roll a 19 or 20. That is a huge difference.
That is why a DM could throw low-level mooks at a party of high level, High AC opponents and have them do damage. If they had several small bonuses against that AC -4 fighter, they where a real threat in numbers; not to be trifled with.
To do a simple model of that. The most you need to roll after after adjustment for AC is a 20. Then you add Ability, magic, and circumstance bonuses.
I guess what I really need to decide is how I’m going to judge when a rear attack occurs.
It’s obvious a rear attack (+2 to hit; or +4 with back stab or ambush) can occur when you have surprise, are attacking from invisibility, or when the target is fleeing (where you also lose shield protection).
I’d like to rule that you’d get a rear attack if there are a bunch of guys attacking a target from all sides. Whether that happens at all, or whether one guy gets it, or 2 or 3 guys get it, is my main conundrum.
I had the privilege of playing a test game with Tavis at last year’s gencon. In it, we ended up in a Heroic Foray with my sample character, a Level 6 Elven spellsword with AC 8, being taken down by just a handful of gnolls. Sure, I killed a dozen or so, but once there were 8 attacks coming to bear against me, even though they only hit on 19 and 20, they quickly took me down.
I encourage you to test this out by sending several gangs worth of 1HD monsters against a party with some high AC tanks and see how beat up they get.
That being said, the numbers of followers you get at 9th level is nowhere near enough to justify trying to use them in the front lines.