Posts Tagged With: Combat

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.


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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The Knifefighter Feat

So, watching the ads and the reveals for the new AMC show Into the Badlands has me wanting there to be a feat that creates the sort of crazy, knife-wielding warrior that bristles with sharp pointy things and who is yet not entirely unbalanced. It actually calls to mind the movie Exposure – which is well worth watching if you are interested in that sort of thing. One of the more accurate depictions of knife-fighting in a film that I’ve seen. 


The character has learned the “grand art” of the “Persevs” (street assassins), the skill to “perforate and sever” with smaller and more maneuverable weapons that are easily concealed and carried. This skill only works in melee combat, and only with weapons that have the Light or the Finesse qualities.

  • If attacking with Advantage, and the attack succeeds, then they gain an additional, Standard attack with that same weapon.
  • Upon making a successful Strike, but before rolling damage, the character may decide to embed the blade in their target. This means that the blade is left in the body of the target until after combat (it requires an Action, Reaction, or Bonus Action plus an Average Strength check to retrieve during combat), but does an additional +10 damage.

For anyone who has never studied knife-fighting, or never seen a video of a knife attack, the sheer speed and violence of one is rather horrifically amazing. The first ability represents this, as well as the sorts of “filleting” moves that you can find in some knife forms. The second ability is a bit more cinematic, but is also a bit of a nod to the idea that even a smaller weapon can be dramatically effective in the right hands – and that vital areas are often protected behind bone that weapons can be lodged in.

It also, incidentally, allows for the creation of a fantastic two-handed, cut & thrust (rapier and dagger) duelist character…

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Drowning Tunnel Rats…

…and there are no rules for “drowning” in 5e?

Ok, after the game I found “Suffocation” which makes a certain amount of sense, but really? Indexing FAIL! The rules seem pretty reasonable, but I think a houserule will be that strenuous activity (combat, running, etc.) means that “breath-holding” time is cut in half (otherwise the length of time is utterly ridiculous, especially when measured in combat rounds – I married a former competitive swimmer and they considered this a quite reasonable stipulation). Additionally, falling in (rather than intentionally diving in) requires a Constitution Save, +5 Dif per 10′ fallen.

In other thoughts, “dungeons” really do give my cold, leathery, blackened DM heart a quick pulse of warmth. Big parties, and only a couple of characters can even attack at a time because of the natural chokepoints found in narrow five-foot corridors.

On that note, something also seems off with being able to use two-handed weapons (or weapons with Reach) in such close quarters – at least for human-sized creatures. After gaming, some quick tape-measuring, plus dragging out some weapons really showed the ridiculousness of the situation when it comes to tunnel-fighting. So after some quick reflection when fighting in physically constrained spaces, e.g. a Medium-sized creature in a 5′ wide and 5-8′ passageway, the following rules would be in effect:

  1. Weapons with Reach may not be used.
  2. No Two-Handed Weapons may not be used (Garrotes, Short Bows, Dragon Cannons, Crossbows, Firearms, and Darters are the exempted from this, though Shortbows, Dragon Cannons, Crossbows, Rifles, and Muskets all have Disadvantage).
  3. Regular, One-Handed Weapons are used at Disadvantage.
  4. Light Weapons have no penalty.
  5. When squeezed into a “tight space” (see PH p192) only Light weapons may be used, as well as Tunnel Guns, Manticores, and Wyverns.

This also neatly suggests an additional Fighting Style, “Tunnel Fighter” – When Tunnel-Fighting, the Warrior (or Ranger, or Paladin) get a +1 to Hit an +1 to Armor Class.



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Magic Weapons and Armor limitations

So about the sudden disappearance of +4 and +5 weapons and armor…

On the one hand I can see the logic given the new allegiance to bounded accuracy, on the other hand given their opposing natures they cancel each other out, and by the time characters reach the level where they “should” have one I’m not certain that the extra +1 or +2 makes that much of a difference in actual play. Let’s look at the way the “official numbers” add up for characters who are in the right level range to have that kind of magic:

+5 or +6 for Proficiency, +4 or +5 for Statistics, and then +3 for Magic. That makes a range of +13 to +15. A Balor or a Pit Fiend only has an AC of 19 (Hitting 70% to 80% of the time), while an Ancient Red Dragon has an AC of 22 (Hitting 55% to 65% of the time) – with a human in +3 Full Plate having an AC of 21 (thus being hit by the Pit Fiend or Balor a mere 65% of the time and the Ancient Red Dragon 80% of the time).

Granting a maximum of a +5 magical bonus only tweaks those hit percentages up or down by 10% – which while certainly what we would call in my profession “statistically significant” I’m not sure I’d say that it is “clinically relevant”. The bonus adds a minor amount of damage to each strike, and… I’m not in the mood to do the stats on the overall statistical impact of hitting an extra 10% of the time but given that the rules for determining Combat Rating assume hitting with the creatures “best everything” for the first three rounds of combat it is pretty clear that 5e isn’t concerned with that level of statistical detail.

Unlike 1e, where there was some real concern over the need for “bonuses to hit” because of the huge range of AC (a 21 point spread), 5e has what? A fifteen point spread? A Terrasque has an AC of 25, so this is a game where literally a goblin with an attack bonus of +4, without recourse to a Critical Hit, can strike an Ancient Red Dragon 15% of the time (in 1e it was only on a natural 20, but without any doubled damage) and hit either the Pit Fiend or the Balor 30% of the time.

Obversely in 5e, that Pit Fiend and Balor are missing the Goblin only on a Natural 1, the same for the Ancient Red Dragon. In 1e the Ancient Red Dragon missed the Goblin 15% of the time, the Balor missed 25% of the time, and the Pit Fiend 10% of the time! The human (Fighter we’ll say) would, in the same level range of 15+, never miss using the canon 1e rules (natural 1’s only autofail on Saving Throws, not To-Hit).

So “increased reliability” (re: bounded accuracy) really means “everyone pretty much hits all the time” no matter who or what you are because the Attack Bonus rapidly outstrips Armor Class and unlike 1e it never really catches up.

All of this also just goes hand in hand with my general eye-rolling at the “no Dexterity modifications for Heavy armor” that I’ve grumbled about before. Frankly, give humans a Dexterity bonus, and monsters either (or both) a Dexterity or Constitution bonus to AC and those fights suddenly became much more interesting!

AC25 for the Balor, AC26 for the Pit Fiend, and AC31 for the Ancient Red Dragon – with the best human probably having an AC in the 26ish range with a maximum of 28.

Alternately, you leave monster AC where it is but give the Pit Fiend and Balor access to a magic weapon or two and the new bonus to AC for humans is relatively quickly cancelled out to a large degree from a statistical (and “game balance”) standpoint. You could actually make a good argument for this by saying that the increased Hit Dice for large creatures (with correspondingly greater Hit Points) reflects this power rather than raw AC. E.g. yeah, they are easier to hit that the best of the tiny, puny humans, but they are also much harder to kill due to sheer mass and size.

So, 5e is certainly simpler than 1e when it comes to To-Hit/Attack Bonus and Armor Class – but I’m highly unconvinced that it is actually better or that some of the fiddly bits that are supposed to enhance game balance actually matter in most fights.



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Surprise! (1e)

It really shouldn’t be a surprise that I have a house-rule for Surprise in my game given that rules for Surprise in pretty much every edition of D&D before 3rd are considered kludgy and screwed-up – and for all I know 3rd and 4th are just as bad, I just haven’t played those systems so I have no clue.

Mine is an infinitely more simple system that tries very hard to keep the flavor of the original system. In short, roll 1d6 (I have my players do this individually, monsters I tend to roll in groups) – if you roll (three or more (3+) over your opponent you get a round of surprise. This is then further modified by a number of things:

  • Dexterity Reaction Modifier: -3 (for low Dex) to +3 (for high Dex)
  • Distracted: -4
  • Asleep: -8
  • Keen Senses: +1 or +2
  • Encumbrance:
    • Normal Gear (35#- and Low Bulk): No Penalty
    • Heavy Gear (70#- or Fairly Bulky):  -2
    • Very Heavy Gear (105#- or Bulky): -4
    • Encumbered (105#+ or Very Bulky): -8
  • Armour:
    • No Armour: +1
    • Wearing Chain & Plate or Plate Armor: -2
    • Wearing a Great Helm: -4
  • Intoxication:
    • Moderate Intoxication: -1
    • Great Intoxication: -5

There are also a handful of other bonuses based on class or race. Here is a representative sample:

  • Goblins: +1
  • Rangers: +1
  • Barbarians: +1 (+2 in Familiar Terrain)
  • Warrior Monks: +1 per 3 Levels
  • Rogues: +1 per 4 Levels (Bounty Hunters get an additional +1)
  • Gnomes, Half-Elves, and Elves when not in metal armour and only in the company of other Gnomes, Half-Elves, and Elves that are similarly clad, or are 90′ distant from the rest of party: +2

Now, Scouts and Barbarians still have their “Back Protection” as per the normal rules (and I give that to Warrior-Monks as well) so while they may or may not always Surprise opponents they have an additional chance to avoid being Backstabbed or Assassinated. I also tend to give hunting predators and skittish prey a bonus to their surprise rolls equal to their Hit Dice. In general, I allow Backstabs and Assassinations when there is surprise – and this lets Rogues be somewhat more combat effective (though not overly so). This system seems to work pretty well, and it replaces all of the oddly mismatched dice of the different character classes and gets rid of the utterly contradictory rules in the Player’s Handbood and the Dungeon Master’s Guide.



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