Combat Notes in Brief

So in the process of trying to figure out item saving throws and looking at mundane healing I also spent a fair amount time reviewing the combat rules. I have to say that they hold together pretty well, but having run the game for a while now, with a significant number of combats under my belt as a DM, the review also revealed some interesting bits and bobs that hadn’t really gelled for me yet.

Dexterity Modifiers for Armor

Ok, so while I think that these limitations make little or no sense based on real-world armor, nor do I think they significantly impact combat, I do think that these limitations are an excellent way to model the bonuses that magical or high-quality, bespoke armor can grant those who are lucky enough to own some.

The one tweak is that I see it as a -3 for Medium Armor and a -5 for Heavy Armor, but that it cannot create a negative penalty unless the creature wearing  already has a negative Dexterity modifier. l this means is that higher Dexterity creatures are rewarded rather than penalized for having that higher Dexterity.

Being Encumbered means that no Dexterity modifier is available.

Stacking Advantage and Disadvantage

I think everyone is aware of this, but in case they are not, I allow Advantage and Disadvantage to stack. Only if Advantage and Disadvantage are equal do they cancel out, otherwise if a creature has more of one or the other then they benefit or suffer as normal.

Surprise and Complete Surprise

In 5e being Surprised means that you can’t Move and can’t take an Action in the first round of combat, you may take a single Reaction at the end of the round. But you still get your Dexterity bonus to AC and you still have the essentially normal chances for Perception as you would when unsurprised. This seems somewhat unrealistic in that nobody is ever caught “flat-footed” or is otherwise completely gobsmacked when “things go down.”

So I’m adding in a “Complete Surprise” – which happens if you Fumble your Perception check or fail it by 5+ points. This simply means that you get no Dexterity bonus to your AC for that round and have Disadvantage on any further Perception that are made in that initial round.

Just to be clear, after being either Surprised or Completely Surprised for one round, everyone goes to Normal Mode for the rest of the combat – though they might be Surprised or Completely Surprised by specific opponents later in combat due to circumstances.

Combat Actions

First off, in Combat, you get one of ten actions – that’s it. These are:

  1. Attack a creature, object, or location.
  2. Cast a Spell
  3. Dash (Double Movement)
  4. Disengage (Leave combat and use movement without provoking an Opportunity Attack).
  5. Dodge (All attacks against you until your next turn have Disadvantage, plus you have Advantage on Dexterity Saves.
  6. Help (An Ally gains Advantage on their next Action as long as it occurs before your next turn)
  7. Hide
  8. Ready (Prepare a specific Action in the event of a specific triggering event)
  9. Search (Trying to discern something rather than simply noticing the relatively obvious)
  10. Use an Object

There are a selection of optional ones from the DMG (pp 271-2), I’m including five of them because they makes sense:

  1. Climb On (a larger creature)
    1. Str or Dex Chack (Attacker) vs. Dex check (Defender)
  2. Disarm (Attack roll vs Str(Athletic)/Dex(Acrobatics) check to knock weapon from hand)
    1. Disadvantage for attacker if Defender is using a Two-Handed Weapon
    2. Advantage or Disadvantage for Defender if they are Larger or Smaller than attacker
  3. Overrun (Str vs. Str check to move through opponent’s space Movement)
    1. Attacker has Advantage if larger than the defender, Disadvantage if smaller.
  4. Shove (Str vs. Str check to push opponent one side during Movement, attacker has Disadvantage)
  5. Tumble (Dex vs. Dex check to move through opponent’s space during Movement)

These have a selection of Advantage/Disadvantage conditions depending upon circumstances.

There is some limited free interaction with objects that occurs, but that’s really prefatory to either Attack, Cast a Spell, or Use and Object. So you can draw a weapon for free, in order to attack (and that’s specifically only one weapon), or you can pull a potion out in order to drink it (for the Use an Object action), or even hand an object to another character (who would use same free action to take it).

So, noticing that there is Black Goblin with a bunch of Goblins? Probably not even a Perception check, but trying to figure out which Goblin is the leader? That’s a Search Action. Trying to discern which of the fully armored opponents is a khazan rather than a human? Search Action.

Equipment and Damage

Don’t want the bad guy top drink the potion he’s holding? You could Attack the potion bottle instead of him and hope to destroy it. This is an interesting point because Objects have pretty crummy Hit Points and usually a relatively low Armor Class – if you are trying to destroy stuff in 5e it is relatively easy. Magical items are harder to destroy because they are Resistant to all damage at the very least.

Also, Objects are automatically Immune to Psychic and Poison damage and may have any combination of Resistance, Immunity, or Vulnerability depending upon the Damage Type and the Object in question.

And, before anyone asks, weapon or armor counts as an Object and can be targeted. The nominal rule is that Armor has HP equal to its AC (plus any Dexterity bonus the character might have), while weapons have HP equal to their maximum damage. Armor and weapons are also Resistant to weapon damage (natural or otherwise). This means that they effectively have double HP against weapons and are very hard to damage or destroy in the middle of combat. It might make more sense to try and Disarm them (q.v.).

Also, there is a small list of spells that, if a character fails their save against, also force all equipment carried to save or be destroyed. Magical items always have Advantage, and if they have a bonus this is also added to their save. They may also simply be Immune to some forms of damage depending upon their specific enchantments.

Acid Splash, Blade Barrier, Call Lightning, Chain Lightning, Cone of Cold, Delayed Blast Fireball, Destructive Wave, Earthquake, Erupting Earth, Fireball, Fire Storm, Flaming Sphere, Flame Strike, Glyph of Warding, Ice Storm, Immolation, Incendiary Cloud, Lightning Arrow, Lightning Bolt, Meteor Swarm, Otiluke’s Freezing Sphere, Prismatic Spray, Prismatic Sphere, Shatter, Storm of Vengeance, Vitriolic Sphere, Wall of Fire, Wall of Ice, Whirlwind

This is the list of spells from the Player’s Handbook, plus the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion. Spells from other supplements may also have this effect.

Initiative

I’ve tried to use the 5e standard to roll one Initiative at the beginning of combat and I have to conclude that I’m not a fan. So henceforth we’ll be doing Initiative every round. Also, while I said all along that I was going to use Speed Factors for Initiative I certainly have not been enforcing them (because it doesn’t work with the single Initiative system). The system is very simple – Initiative is modified depending on what weapon you are using in combat and essentially how encumbered you are with armor or gear.

Weapons and Armor list their penalty or bonus (primary weapon only), and if the character is Lightly Encumbered, they have a -5 to their Initiative Roll, and if they are greatly Encumbered their Initiative roll has Disadvantage (plus a -5 to the final roll). A character wearing no armor at all has a bonus of +2 on Initiative.

Otherwise, the only other normal modifier is that spell-casters subtract the level of the spell they are casting from their Initiative.

The lowest you can go is in “1”

It is worth mentioning that, rather like in 1e, there does seem to be a timing issue that we can call “Pre-Rounds” and “Post-Rounds” for lack of anything better. These are basically the result of magic when “the user/recipient acts first in the round” or “goes last” – this hasn’t been an issue so far and I don’t expect it to be much of one in the future. Weapons with the “Slow” quality attack in Post-Rounds

In effect this is what a Surprise attack that kicks off a Combat Round is – a PreRound Attack. To be clear, Pre-Round and Post-Round Actions are part of the same Action economy (Movement plus 1 Action, 1 potential Bonus Action, and 1 potential Reaction), they simply occupy a special place in the Combat Round turn sequence.

Facing and Flanking

It has also been pointed out to me that while the “Theatre of the Mind” may be speeding up combat in some ways, it is also making it difficult for some players to have the same sense of locations that I have, as well as gauge area-of-effect, range, etc.

So, first off, I’m going to go back to using a Battlemat for the larger combats. It lets everyone track where they are and while it will slow things down in some ways the message I’m getting is that it speed things up in others – as well as prevent some frustration.

This will also make it easier to implement the Flanking and Facing rules.

Flanking is simply that when two allied creatures engage an opponent on both side arcs, they both gain Advantage on Attacks.

Facing addresses the fact that attackers in the rear arc gain Advantage on Attacks against that opponent because they are nominally unseen. This would also make the Hide action easier, if that were a desired Action rather than an Attack.

Also, Shields (or similar Objects or Effects) are only effective against opponents in the Defenders front arc, and the side arc that matches the shields location.

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