9 September 2012

Combat Round Structure

I was going to follow on from my last post, Exploration Movement, and cover Tactical Movement now, but I realized that I needed to cover the structure of a combat round first. This is something I didn't cover in my earlier post, What's Wrong With D&D Combat, but the you-go, I-go mechanic of traditional D&D combat creates bizarre scenarios, and would benefit from a revision that takes into account reality and common sense.

Combat is fundamentally an interactive experience. One combatant does not simply stand still and wait for the other one to act, and then act themself while their opponent stands still. This seems like a requirement imposed by the nature of a pen-and-paper game, but that's not true. Dr. Gentleman, at Large Polyhedron Collider, has outlined the problems with discrete actions and the you-go, I-go system very well in his post here.

My solution to the problem centres around everyone declaring how they intend to move, resolving the movement, and then resolving any combats that take place because opponents are now in range.


I'll cover the possible movements to declare in my next post, Tactical Movement, but the important thing is the declaration. The side losing the initiative declares how they intend to move, and then the side winning the initiative declares how they're moving. (That's right, initiative by side - this is all happening at the same time in the game world, so tracking individual initiatives is an exercise in pointless bookkeeping.)


Movement is resolved before combat. Resolution of movement should be pretty obvious - if two characters try to close distance, they meet in the middle. If one closes, and the other is trying to maintain, they stay about the same distance apart, circling each other, or with the one character moving backwards. And so on.

Once movement is resolved, resolve combat and actions based on where people are/ended up. Characters that end up in melee range can fight, or not worry about defending themself and do something else. Characters that end up outside of melee range can shoot bows, cast spells - anything, really.

Resolution is considered to be simultaneous. If Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy both hit each other, they would both go down (as opposed to traditional D&D, where if you were hit and killed before your turn in the round, you missed your turn).

This is actually pretty close to the system I use now for D&D and Adventure Fantasy Game (if you haven't checked that out yet, you should - it's really cool!). When the party encounters monsters, I decide or roll for who gets to go first, then describe what the other side is about to do. Something like, "Rounding the corner, you see a bunch of tiny men with spears - they look pissed, and charge! What do you do?". It then gets into a you-go, I-go, but the movement step is more or less simultaneous.

Examples and Comparisons

Let's look at an example of traditional you-go, I-go combat that exposes the absurdities of the system, and then see how a Declaration/Resolution system doesn't have those flaws.

Example - You-go, I-go

Lady Nonesuch: High Dex, move 10, 1 HP.
Billy the Baker's Boy: No bonuses, move 10, 1 HP.

Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy start out 11 metres apart. Lady Nonesuch has high Dex, and therefore wins the initiative. She moves up 10 spaces, and her turn ends. Billy moves 1 space, and attacks Lady Nonesuch, killing her. The Lady's high Dexterity is supposed to be an advantage, but as we see, it isn't always.

Example - Declaration / Resolution

Lady Nonesuch: High Dex, move 10, 1 HP.

Billy the Baker's Boy: No bonuses, move 10, 1 HP.

Lady Nonesuch and Billy the Baker's Boy start out 11 metres apart. Lady Nonesuch has high Dex, so Billy has to declare his movement first. Billy chooses Close. Lady Nonesuch also chooses Close. The combatants both advance, meeting at the 5.5 metre mark. They then attack each other simultaneously, and Lady Nonesuch wins out due to her extensive training.

I realize that 3E allows you to delay your action and preempt someone else's action, which is an attempt to solve this within the bounds of the you-go, I-go system. Personally, I find this rule fiddly, confusing, and bizarre. In this scenario, it's a rule which requires you to specifically declare, using an additional rule, something that is just standard practice for your character (i.e. attack people that attack you). It also requires tracking of individual initiatives (and complicates it further by changing the order constantly), which I have found to be an absolute nightmare.

Minis and the Battlemat

I think this system works equally well for a minis-and-battlemat style or for a purely descriptive style (which I prefer - I don't like counting squares). It seems to me like a pretty common sense approach to combat resolution.

As an aside, I would point out that allowing a square between combatants makes more sense than requiring them to be adjacent. Any attack you make is going to require you to take a step, and with the step, and your arm out, and the length of your weapon you can easily reach past the adjacent squares.

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