Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hacking Rules Cyclopedia Surprise Rolls

The two d6s rolled for surprise can be consolidated into other pre-combat rolls. If you let the players roll one of them (knowing your side is surprised doesn't really change anything) they can be very versatile.

Almost all encounters should begin with a Surprise Roll to establish Party/Monster awareness. Surprise needs to be established first, because all other rolls are dependent on determining the state of awareness (Encounter Distance, Reaction Rolls, Attack Rolls, and so on).

Establishing Surprise can make combat a much riskier prospect (even for high-level play, a round of Monster Actions without preparation can be deadly) and ignoring or hand-waving the potential for Surprise rounds can potentially downplay player actions and decisions.

Other uses for the result of Surprise Rolls

It's Side-Based Initiative 
Surprise already determines “who gets to act first” in situations when one side is surprised. In the event of “neither side is surprised” or “both sides are surprised” re-purpose the dice as the initial Initiative Roll. Or if you don't like ties, on Even sums the players act first after Surprise is resolved, if the sum of the Surprise dice is Odd, monsters act first. The 2d6 bell curve makes 7s more common, so Monsters will typically act first. Maybe do Odd = Monsters in Dungeons (home turf advantage), and Odd = Players in a more level playing field.

It's Encounter Distance 
Encounter Distance is probably the most frequently ad libbed, overlooked, or hand-waved determination in older D&D. Since it is often directly constrained by the map in a Dungeon Environment, many DMs ignore random determination of Encounter Distance for planned encounters, or only use it for Wandering Monsters. The table look up required probably contributes to their disuse.

Encounter Distance is important because it directly influences the Combat Options available to the parties (Missile and Spell Ranges, Movement required to Engage in Melee, Weapon length, etc). Tactical decisions are player choices that shouldn't be minimized by fiat. It could also be said that the need to establish Encounter Distance before Reaction Rolls is important, as some forms of communication may be more challenging or impossible over longer distances.

Conveniently, Base Encounter Distance (Indoors/Dungeon in Dim light) is 2d6 x 10'. Use the 2d6 that were rolled for Surprise. Change the feet to yards outdoors. Halve product for No Light, halve it for Surprise, double for Very Good Light. While the ranges produced by this method don't match the Rules Cyclopedia exactly, they are close and much quicker than performing a table look up. Lower Bound is 10' (for Surprise in No Light), Upper Bound is 240' (Very Good Light, No Surprise, just barely in the longest Missile Range on the standard equipment list, the Heavy Crossbow). 

It's the Reaction Roll 
Blasphemy! But consider that a low sum of the Surprise 2d6 are probably surprise situations, which are not necessarily conducive to diplomacy, as the surprised party often reacts physically. In non-surprise situations the Surprise dice would be discarded anyway, so use them for the reaction roll.

If you re-roll Side-based initiative with 2d6 every round, consider folding this into the 2d6 Morale roll. This way Initiative is only redetermined when the tide of battle changes (the triggers for Morale Checks work well to reflect a change in the battlefield). 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Combat Example #1

For the purposes of these Examples, a cast is needed. We'll use Basic (Rules Cyclopedia because I have it handy) Rules, and these excellent Homesian Fantasy Names ( )

The Adventuring Party
Zefael  - Level 1 Lawful Magic-user
STR: 9, INT: 11, WIS: 12, DEX: 11, CON: 6, CHA: 15; Move: 90' (30')
HP: 3, AC: 9 (4), Melee: +0, Ranged: +0, Dagger (1d4)
Spells: Shield
Dodoraf the Morose - Level 1 Neutral Cleric
STR: 10, INT: 10, WIS: 12, DEX: 8, CON: 12, CHA: 8; Move: 60' (20')
HP: 3, AC: 3, Melee: +0, Ranged: -1, Mace (1d6), Sling (1d4), Turn Undead
Armor: Plate and Shield
Fallonos - Level 1 Chaotic Thief
STR: 11, INT: 6, WIS: 9,DEX: 16, CON: 6,CHA: 13; Move: 120' (40')
HP: 2, AC: 5, Melee: +0, Ranged: +2, Shortbow (1d6), Dagger (1d4)
Armor: Leather
Branpen - Level 1 Neutral Fighter
STR: 17, INT: 10, WIS: 11, DEX: 13, CON: 12, CHA: 12; Move: 60' (20')
HP: 3, AC: 1, Melee: +2, Ranged: +1, Spear (1d6), Normal Sword (1d8+2), Dagger (1d4+2)
Armor: Plate and Shield

The Adversaries
2 Crab Spiders (Charlotte and Itsy)
AC 7, HD 2*, HP: 7, 3; Move 120' (40'), Attacks 1 bite (1d8+poison [save +2 or die in 1d4 turns]), Morale 7, Int 0, Melee +2, Surprise on 1-4

  • No Surprise
  • Encounter Distance is 60' (Dim Light)
  • Reaction Rolls result in “Monster Attacks.”
  • Damage is resolved as it occurs.
  • Intention Declaration is Morale → Melee → Ranged
  • Actions are Ranged → Melee
  • When an order of operations is necessary, we will use the unmodified Attack Roll (High to Low).

Round 1
Party Intentions
Monster Intentions
Branpen has his Spear Out and wants to close with the Spiders, so he will be moving his full Encounter Movement (20') instead of running (x3) so he can still attack Itsy.
Dodoraf and Fallonos both wish to use their Missile Weapons if/when one of the Spiders (Charlotte) gets closer (Medium Range for Dodoraf's sling, Short Range for Fallonos' bow).
Zafael (holding the party's light source) stays back and decides against throwing her only dagger with the Spider's still at such a long range (her range is only 10/20/30).

The Crab Spiders skitter toward the Party at their full Encounter Movement (40') to Engage in Melee. They are not Charging, so Branpen cannot Set Spear vs. Charge.
Party Monster
Dodoraf rolls to hit Charlotte with his Sling 8 (Total Hit 7, -1 for Dex, no mod for range). Fallonos rolls a 13 (16 [Dex + Short Range]).
Branpen moves closer and rolls an 7 (9) for his melee attack.

Charlotte and Itsy advance to reach Melee Range with Branpen. Charlotte rolls 14 (16), Itsy rolls a 5 (7).
With Ranged attacks resolved first. Fallnos's arrow hits Charlotte first (1 point of damage). Dodoraf's stone misses.
Since all melee attacks are misses. There is no need for an order of resolution.

Round 2
Party Intentions Monster Intentions
Branpen wants to swing at Itsy again. Dodoraf draws his Mace and moves 20' to join the attack on Itsy.
Fallonos wants to fire again at Charlotte if he has a clear shot.
Zafael decides to draw her dagger and throw it at Charlotte if the Spider gets any closer.

Charlotte has to check Morale for taking damage (DM rolls 11) and fails. Itsy is going to try to bite Branpen.
Party Monster
DM rules that Charlotte is still in Range for Fallonos' arrow (Medium). Fallonos rolls a 17 (19).
Branpen rolls a 6 (8), Dodoraf rolls a 5 with his Mace.

Charlotte is running away from Danger (40' x 3 or 120' back). Itsy rolls a 10 (12).
Fallonos' arrow strikes the fleeing Charlotte for 6 points of damage! Charlotte does not escape and falls 100' away. Since all Melee attacks are misses, there is no need for an order of resolution.

Round 3
Party Intentions
Monster Intentions
Branpen and Dodoraf are engaged with Itsy in Melee. Fallonos doesn't want to risk hitting his allies with a stray arrow (DM rules that Branpen and Dodoraf provide Hard Cover, doesn't convey how much, but informs Fallonos that a miss by the margin of cover will lead to the arrow striking one of his companions), so he draws his dagger and can join his allies in melee with his (40') movement.
Zafael watches the door to make sure that the noise of battle isn't attracting any unwanted attention.

Itsy has to check Morale due to Charlotte's death and decides to fight on with a 4. He's going to try to bite Branpen again.
Party Monster
Branpen 11 (13), Dodoraf 20, Fallonos 12

Itsy 17 (19).
Since no Ranged attacks are taking place. We will resolve all Melee attacks in the order of unmodified Attack Rolls (Highest to Lowest).
Dodoraf rolled highest, and hits Itsy first (2 points of damage), Itsy hits Branpen for 1 point of damage, but triggers a save vs Poison (+2) which Branpen fails (he will die in 1d4 turns).
Fallonos is resolved next, and hits Itsy for 3 points. Killing the Spider. At this point both Spiders are dead and combat ends. There is no need to resolve Branpen's attack roll.

Here are some Alternative Resolution Methods for Round 3 (using the same die rolls)

Resolution (low to High)
Branpen's Spear attack Resolves first (5 damage). Killing Itsy, and ending the combat. Branpen escapes unscathed. Since combat is over, there is no need to resolve the other actions.

Resolution (Final Modified Attack Roll – High To Low)
Dodoraf still hits Itsy for 2, Itsy still hits Branpen for 1 and he's poisoned. However, this time Branpen's modified attack roll places him before Fallonos in the order of resolution, so it's his spear that defeats the Spider.

Resolution (Final Modified Attack Roll – Low To High)
Fallonos resolves first, killing Itsy with his dagger and 3 damage. No further resolution is needed.

Resolution (Modify the Attack roll by Something Else – High to Low)
Additional Assumptions:
Movement modifies (40' = +1, 30' = 0, 20' = -1) (since Encumbrance determines Movement rate, this factors in things like heavy armor).
Daggers and Natural Weapons are short (-1), but fast (+2), net bonus +1
Maces are medium (+0), but slow (-1), net bonus -1
Spears are longer (+1), neither slow/nor fast (+0), net bonus +1
Thieves can use their Dex bonus (Fallonos gets a +2)
Actions (and New Modified Rolls for Resolution Determination)
Party Monster
Branpen 11 (To Hit 13, Order 11 ), Dodoraf 20 (Order 18), Fallonos 12 (Order 16)

Itsy 17 (To Hit 19, Order 19).
The Assumptions above are just examples (to demonstrate that things like Weapon Speed and Length, unbalanced versus balanced Weapons, etc could be incorporated into this resolution system).
Itsy bites Branpen first (dealing 1 damage and poisoning him). Dodoraf then strikes Itsy for 2. Fallonos again has the killing blow with his 3 damage. Branpen's attack resolution is once again superfluous.

The simplest way to implement this is the simultaneous rolling of all d20 attack rolls when the Melee Actions are taken and leaving the dice as they lay so that the order determination can be made during resolution. This might not be optimal for every table/playing space. Tying individual Monster Attack roll dice to the originating foe could also be problematic in Melee combats featuring multiple adversaries.

With these alternate Order Resolution systems, since the rolls are made before any order of resolution is established, this can result in rolls being made but discarded. If the central drive of this system is to eliminate extra die rolls, this doesn't seem to meet the criteria, unless these extra rolls are somehow made useful.

Interestingly, testing revealed that on turns where everyone misses their melee rolls, there is really no need to determine the order (who missed first is not really important, and taking the table-time to iteratively narrate misses can be a little de-protagonizing). This side effect could potentially speed up combat a little more. Using a Low to High system would still iterate through the low rolls.

The testing did give me some additional thoughts: What are some other rolls that are typically made during/before combat that could serve double-duty to determine initiative? Brainstorming on the following:

Surprise Rolls, Encounter Distance, Reaction Rolls, Morale. If you're using these systems anyway (or even better, intending to use them, but forgetting them) they could be tied into each other and/or Initiative.

Friday, December 6, 2013


Determining the order of actions in an abstract combat system seems to be the topic du jour. Here's yet another idea to throw on the pile.

In most situations, use the To-Hit Roll to determine the order of action resolution. In melee, d20 rolls are being generated by each attacking character every round. Why not have them perform this double-duty and save the need for an additional roll. The need to establish “who-goes-first” might not be necessary until action is actually being taken in this case. As a T&T fan, my preference is to keep my combat abstract and quick, and I am used to determining how things are resolved after rolls have been made for the round. It could be easier to obtain the order of events when all the actions are out there (only instead of ordering things by declaration and having to deal with the "I changed my mind" or "But the guy I wanted to hit is dead" issues, this relies on a random factor).

This still might work better with Declaration-based, Phasic Combat situations. Since Spell Use does not necessarily result in a d20 roll, maybe Spells could be automatically assigned a number based on level/complexity, maybe they are just a modifiable (see below) "1" or "10" or just resolved last, to offer an opportunity for interruption (something I've always liked but found difficult to implement consistently). My gut feeling is that Ranged weapons don't necessarily need to have iterative resolution, but in any case you might want to refrain from resolving damage until the end of the round when using a system like this (another technique for embracing the abstract).

Here are some options/elaborations:

Use the Unmodified d20 roll to Determine Order of Resolution
You could go lowest to highest one round, and then highest to lowest the next to keep things random. Or if the first d20 roll is even, resolves High to Low. If it's odd, Low to High resolution. For side-based initiative, have Evens/Odds serve as a stand-in to determine if the Players or Monsters resolve first. There won't be ties this way.

Use the Final Modified Attack Roll
This will lead to higher level/HD individuals having their actions resolved first consistently, and could effectively makes any Strength Ability Score bonus a bonus to initiative as well, but this option could reflect experience, expertise and potentially even size (for large HD creatures) getting the first swing in more often. This seems pretty deadly (the Dragon's attacks are resolved first each round, meaning the parties actions are primarily reactive), maybe useful for a gritty/grim style of gaming. 

Modify the roll by Something Else
Modify it by Dexterity bonus or apply an Intelligence or Wisdom modifier (this might be sub-optimal for monsters, as their statistic blocks usually don't incorporate ability scores). Apply a bonus for longer/faster weapons versus shorter/slower weapons. Give certain Classes/Monster Types a bonus (one-time or level/HD based). Modify the roll for heavy encumbrance. armor type worn, or Movement Rate. Using modifiers like these might keep the order a little more randomized, and the best hitters will not necessarily be as likely to go first. I kind of like the idea of giving a bonus to Unarmored Swashbucker/Thief Types. Have a place for an individual's total Initiative Modifier on the Character Sheet.

Have the roll take place on a die drop sheet to track order-of-actions
I imagine a bulls-eye or race-course type situation, with rolls closer to the center/finish line going first. Probably pretty complicated without a constrained rolling surface (players love to throw those d20s).

Thoughts or glaring omissions/issues? Want me to work up some Examples? Again, these options heavily embrace the abstract nature of combat and wait for intention to become action before determining an order of resolution. The results will probably be pretty chaotic. I'll have to run this with my group a few different ways to kick the tires.