Thursday, May 24, 2012

Combat sequence and flow

The sequence of events in combat has always been something of a sticky issue for me.  The initiative system is overall a pretty sound way of bringing some necessary order to the inherently chaotic back-and-forth of battle, but in the case of movement, having each side complete an entire sequence before the other significantly distorts the flow of combat.  In a real fight, one combatant doesn't always rush up to another while the other stands still.  More often, they rush at each other and clash somewhere in the middle, unless one or the other is holding his ground defensively.  If one side wishes to escape, and wins initiative, the other guys don't just stand there with dumb looks on their faces while their enemies race for the door.  They move to intercept and block them.  One group may try to outflank the other, which itself tries to avoid being pinned down.  I want a system that allows for those interesting interactions without bogging down the proceedings to the point of frustration.

Up to this point, I generally have played completely free form: Roll initiative, and let actions be decided and resolved on each character or creature's individual turn.  I understand that the "correct" way according to most editions is to have players announce their actions and targets prior to initiative, but that always seemed too constraining, and a lot changes very quickly once people and monsters start moving around and attacking.  Plus, it still doesn't address the issue of movement.

My tentative solution is to combine the movement phase of the combat round with a simplified announcement of intentions phase, both of which occur before initiative is rolled.  My proposed sequence, below:

1.  The referee decides the general actions of the monster or NPC opponents: Whether and in which direction they will move, and what attack forms they will use.  Specific targets need not be decided yet.

2.  Players decide and announce their intentions for movement and attack forms.  Specific targets need not be declared, but specific spells, weapons, or items must be named now.

3.  Movement occurs simultaneously.  Movement rates may be broken into halves, thirds, or fourths and applied in steps, or the referee can simply estimate the points where combatants will come into contact with one another.  When contact occurs between two combatants, either can declare intent to engage the other in melee if a suitable attack form is readied.  If this occurs, both cease movement, and their further actions are resolved according to order of initiative.  If either has movement remaining, he may use it during the melee combat phase to perform a fighting withdrawal or retreat as described in the Basic Rules.  If neither declares intent to attack, they simply move past one another.

 Orders, taunts, warnings, and offers of surrender or quarter may be issued and entertained in this phase as well.

4.  Initiative is rolled.

5.  Missile fire, winning side.  Targets are chosen now, attacks rolled, and damage applied, if applicable.  Note that as long as the target begins the round not being in melee, it is assumed that the missile attack is made during that time, and no penalties apply for firing into a melee.  Discharging magical devices such as wands or rings that require only a word of command or a silent act of will also occurs in this phase.

6.  Melee attacks, winning side.  If intent to engage in melee was announced during the movement phase, then that opponent is the target.  Otherwise, any opponent within 5' (or the reach of the weapon, for pole arms and the like) may be targeted.

7.  Magic and spells, winning side.  Targets or areas of effect are chosen now.  Spells may be aborted if the caster changes his mind, i.e. if movement has mixed allies and enemies in the same area so that a fireball cannot be deployed without harming allies.

8.  Missile fire, losing side.  The losing side does not have the luxury of firing before combatants engage in melee; rules for firing into melee apply in full at this point.  Note that any combatants previously attacked in melee by members of the winning side may not use missile fire devices other than loaded crossbows, though thrown weapon attacks are still possible.  An archer facing such a situation may counterattack with an unarmed strike or may draw a small weapon only and attack in the melee phase. 

9.  Melee attacks, losing side.

10.  Magic and spells, losing side.  Note that a spell caster struck in combat by a missile or melee attack previously in the round is disrupted and cannot complete the spell.  Spells may also be aborted by the caster.

11.  Morale checks, if needed.

I don't think this is overly complex, and while it needs playtesting, I can't foresee any insurmountable difficulties in using it.  If it works as I envision, it will have the effect of integrating movement into the flow of combat and provide opportunities for interesting tactical decisions.  Combatants will be able to influence and disrupt the movements of their opponents rather than idly watch them go where they will during their initiative.

It's entirely possible that this isn't exactly an original or novel way to do things, though I haven't personally encountered it before.  If anyone reading this has used a similar system, I'd certainly like to know how it went.  What points of similarity did it share with my proposal above, and what differences?  Did it flow smoothly and was it easy to remember and apply the sequence?  Did it require any tweaks, adjustments, or exceptions to make it work?

A simple example of how I hope it will work:  A party of four adventurers - two fighters, a magic-user, and a thief - encounters a band of six orcs at a distance of 60 feet.  Hostilities commence.  The DM determines that all three orcs will rush forth to engage the party while the other three hang back and ready their bows.  The two fighters draw their blades and advance toward the orcs as well.  The thief stays put and nocks an arrow to her bow.  The magic-user also holds his ground and starts casting a sleep spell.

The orcs are lightly armored and move at 40' per round, while the fighters are encumbered and move at 30' per round.  For simplicity's sake, the DM assumes that the two groups meet in the middle, 30' from their respective original positions.  One fighter immediately declares her intent to engage one of the orcs, halting its advance.  The other makes no declaration, hoping to slip through the lines to attack the orc archers in the next round, but this is made moot when the DM decides one of the remaining orcs will attack him.  The third orc, meeting no further resistance, decides to keep advancing toward the magic-user and thief, finishing the round a mere 20' from them.

Initiative is now rolled, and the orcs win.  The orc archers loose their arrows.  One targets the first fighter; since the fighter began the round not engaged in melee, no special difficulties apply, but with a low roll the shot still misses.  The other two fire at the magic-user and thief; the first misses.  The second hits for 4 points of damage, not quite enough to bring the thief down.

The orcs in melee go next, scoring damage against the second fighter but failing to bring him down.  There are no orcs casting spells, so the PCs are up next.

The thief sees the orc bearing down upon her and the magic-user, and shoots at it, scoring a glancing hit for 2 points.  Next, the two fighters attack, the first slaying her orc and the second wounding his.  Finally the magic-user's sleep spell is completed; he chooses to target the three orc archers, all of which slump peacefully to the ground.

The remaining orcs pass their morale check, so the action moves to round 2.  The second fighter and his orc are in melee, so the only movement options open to them are fighting withdrawal or retreat.  The orc starts to withdraw, and the fighter pursues.  The first fighter, seeing the peril of her squishy comrades and no longer mired in melee herself, hoofs it after the orc that's advancing on them, but won't reach it before it closes on them.  The magic-user and thief begin backing away, but the wall 10' behind them blocks them.  The orc keeps advancing toward them, and will easily reach them this round.  The thief nocks another arrow, while the magic-user draws his dagger.

The orcs win initiative again.  The first swings at the second fighter and misses.  The other slashes at the thief and also misses.

The thief, having been attacked in melee, may not use her bow as she had planned.  Instead, she whips the dagger from the sheath at her belt and makes a desperate stab, hitting for a point of damage.  The magic-user gallantly tries to help, but misses.  The second fighter hits his orc for max damage, decapitating it.

The lone remaining orc makes a morale check, and fails.  During the movement phase of the next round, it holds up its hands and bawls for mercy.  The party accepts, and the fight is over.

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