Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Dynamic Combat Rules, part 1

Forgoing all fanfare and explanation, here are the combat rules I've been hammering out for the past few months, as modified following some heavy playtesting over the holidays. All numbers subject to change. Your thoughts and analysis are, of course, invited and welcome.


Traditional initiative is abandoned to compensate for the complexity of additional dice rolling, as well as for streamlining the DM's organizational obligations during play. Instead (and excepting a surprise round if any), combat is resolved starting with the player at the DM's left and continuing clockwise around the table. NPCs act last each round (although acting out-of-turn could be a good vector for unique monster abilities). 

Weapon Speed

Each character has a "combat speed" attribute which begins at 6 and improves slowly by level depending on character class. Each weapon has a "weapon speed" which is defined as a type of die (d4, d6, d8, d10). On each player's turn, they roll their weapon speed die as many times as possible without exceeding their character's combat speed. This determines the number of attacks (to a minimum of one) they are allowed to make with the chosen weapon. A character may forgo the opportunity for additional attacks to instead use their speed die as additional damage on a single attack. As you'll see below, the opportunity to make additional attacks is frequently a currency for purchasing special conditions (fighting defensively, making attacks of opportunity, etc).

The benefit here is that it includes an exciting element of luck, tactical considerations, and meaningful choices for the player which are influenced by their class and weapon choices. The barbarian with the greataxe is encouraged (but not required) to hit slow and heavy. The thief with the dagger is encouraged (but not required) to get in there and shank away (picture the prison assassination scene from Breaking Bad). It's trivial to come up with conditions in which the obvious tendency would be subverted, as in the above barbarian being mobbed by low-hp kobolds, or the thief making the most of his surprise backstab. It also builds additional, but situational and optional, de facto competence into the fighter via the following mechanics, due to his tendency toward slower weapons with higher damage making multiple attacks less likely (and therefore less valuable) at lower levels.

Defensive Fighting: A character may choose to forgo the possibility of additional attacks to instead fight with care for his own defense, gaining a +4 to AC until his next action.

Attacks of Opportunity: A character may choose to forgo the possibility of additional attacks to instead gain a free attack on any and all opponents who enter or exit his threat range (or otherwise open themselves up to attack) until his next action. This allows the fighter to control the battlefield somewhat, preventing opponents from reaching his companions, for example.


Each character has a "movement speed" (default of 6 for humans), which translates into 5' per point of speed. A character chooses at the beginning of their turn whether to move, attack, cast a spell, use an item, etc--but it is possible to move and act at the same time by taking a -2 penalty to Armor Class. Moving in a straight line and attacking qualifies as a charge, granting +2 to hit.


So that's the basic system. In part 2 and beyond we'll cover some non-traditional combat options, such as unarmed fighting, grappling, spell-casting, and non-lethal damage. I'm curious to hear your thoughts so far though.


  1. I'm very happy to have come across this as I've been messing around with combat (again) in recent weeks.

    Initiative: Great. This is basically the group-style initiative we played in AD&D with the DM assuming the party has won the roll. After any surprise actions we'd roll a d6 for each side and the monsters either went first or last which gets rid of all that "whose turn is it?" crap.

    Weapon speed: This is a fun take on the old weapon speed factors that we always ended up ignoring because it was too much hassle. Seems like a net increase in dice rolling after dropping the initiative roll, but I'm intrigued to see how it would play. I do worry a little about how much this increases characters' combat power. I personally like a flattish and low power curve for player development. If this adds some power up front (which it would seem to) while dampening the growth of power at higher levels I'd consider adding something similar to my game.

    Defensive fighting: I like the option, but I think I'd forgo all attacks for this rather than merely the possibility of addition ones. I'd be curious to know what your play test experience was like with this, because once again it feels like a bit too much power.

    Attacks of opportunity: ditto the defense fighting thoughts.

    Movement: I have been back and forth between a feet per round allowance and an action points concept similar to Alexis Smolensk's. I was kind if settling away from the AP idea because it felt accounting heavy, but you've inspired me to reconsider.

    Thanks for sharing this. I'm very curious to read more.

    1. Thanks for the response!

      Weapon Speed: My players loved the mechanic in play, but I'm still uncertain. The speed factors of the weapons are very important here, and require a lot of tweaking.

      What I hoped to see was that fighters would make an attack and then engage with either the attack of opportunity or defensive fighting benefit. It was meant to translate as greater competence as a combatant, choosing to either control others' movement options or "hold the line" as needed. In play, the fighters mostly couldn't resist the lure of extra attacks, and so mostly rolled for (and failed to reliably get) those freebies. Might be a case of ivory tower design, and maybe I should be more explicit in the thinking behind it.

      I actually really want to use a movement system that lets everyone move constantly, one space at a time. I played around with some ideas, and they made combat super dynamic and kept attention on the table during other players' actions and everything. Loads of benefits. The downside is that it made playing without a battle mat impossible. I enjoy battle map set piece combats, but a little goes a long way.

      I've considered having some kind of modular system where complexity can be ramped up according to the significance of the fight, but I think that's probably a lot of work that only really lets me throw all my ideas in the pot instead of making the choices that I need to make in the design.

    2. *Another thing about the AoO's and Defensive Fighting was that they sort of balanced out the fighter's advancement. If employed "correctly," the fighter makes some calculations as he gains benefits to weapon speed and so on, eventually moving over the multiple attacks instead of the combat techniques. The hope is that fighters will get reliable extra attacks around the same time they would in AD&D (and an average of 3/2 with a specialized weapon right off the bat), but with the option to put that effort into some other application.