JRPG Basic combat positioning

Black Mage

Black Mage (personal sketch)

Here is an abstract system for managing combat options that hopefully provides trade-offs regarding risk and effectiveness and interesting tactical choices. I think this system has intuitive guidelines for attempting things like breaking off from combat, or setting up a surprise attack, which are often somewhat hard to handle when not using tools like grids or other cumbersome procedures. These are only part of the combat rules. The initiative and turn taking procedures are still to come.

Many early JRPGs make a distinction between frontline and rear combatants. For now, I don’t think this distinction deserves separate positioning rules, as it can be handled by the intercept rules (a character that is protected by an interception is much like a “rear” combatant). It may be worthwhile to add more depth to reach weapons, though.

I may formalize some of the terms that are currently handled more descriptively. For example, I was thinking of calling casting spells or firing missile weapons while engaged in melee a perilous action, but I also don’t want to fall into the trap of legalism.

Rules for cover at ranged position will probably also be added later (which may end up just being a simple AC bonus, as is probably familiar from other games).

Tactical Positioning

The relationship of combatants to each other in battle is managed by abstract positions. These postions determine the combat options available and restrict movement in certain ways.

Combat positions include ranged, melee, and concealed.

The lists of actions provided should not be considered comprehensive. Anything may be attempted. The referee should adjudicate the outcome using the action examples given as a guideline and call for ability checks, contests, or saving throws as necessary. Particular class abilities or skills may provide additional options, such as a thief’s ability to use the steal skill. See the relevant ability description for details.

In general, attempting anything other than attacking in melee should probably be subject to a saving throw to avoid damage (following the example of firing a missile weapon while in melee), though more latitude is reasonable for combatants in ranged position.


Combats begin with hostile participants in ranged position relative to each other.

Ranged attacks may be targeted against specific ranged enemies, but targets are determined randomly if firing into a melee.

Characters in ranged position are drawn into melee if attacked by a melee combatant using a melee attack. Not all characters in ranged position are necessarily subject to melee attacks, however. For example, a combatant on a balcony above a room, firing arrows down into the room, is not subject to most melee attacks, and thus cannot be drawn into the melee barring special circumstances.

Common ranged actions:

  • Use a ranged weapon against a specific target not in melee
  • Fire into melee (determine target randomly)
  • Charge into melee and attack
  • Hold action in preparation for an intercept
  • Flee current combat, assuming there is an escape route
  • Attempt to hide using the stealth skill


Melee includes all characters in a limited, abstract space attempting to physically harm each other. Exact positioning is not tracked. Ebb and flow is assumed as combatants jockey for advantage and defend themselves.

A melee attack against a character outside of melee that is not intercepted draws the target into melee, whether or not the attack was successful. Characters in melee may retreat from the melee to ranged position as an action.

Area effects, such as some spells, target entire melees, which includes all combatants participating in the melee.

Ranged weapon attacks may not be made against specific targets in a melee. Instead, the target is determined randomly and then resolved as normal (attack roll and so forth). This abstraction represents the chaos of battle. Random targeting does not apply to ranged spells with individual targets, however. For example, a black mage may target a specific melee combatant with the shock spell.

Characters that use ranged attacks or cast spells while in melee must succeed in a dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 points of damage.

Common melee actions:

  • Make a melee attack against an enemy in the same melee
  • Engage someone at range to draw them into the melee
  • Retreat from the melee to ranged position
  • Make a ranged attack or cast a spell (this involves extra danger)


Concealed characters may take an action with surprise and may not be the target of individua effects. Concealed characters may, however, still be affected by some area effects, depending on the nature of the effect and how the character is hiding.

Characters at ranged position may attempt to hide. This requires a stealth check. If the check is successful, the character becomes concealed.

Concealment is not always an option. This is dictated by the environment.

Some effects allow the detection of concealed characters (such as spells of the heightened senses of some creatures).


Fleeing from combat is only possible from ranged position. Characters in melee must first retreat to ranged position (this is an action). When in ranged position, a character may spend an action to leave the combat, assuming there is an escape route. Any character at range is drawn into melee if subject to a melee attack (whether or not the attack hits). Melee attacks may be intercepted by other characters or effects, allowing retreat. See pursuit for handling situations where enemies attempt to give chase.

Multiple Melees

Most of the time, a single melee area is sufficient to represent an armed struggle. However, there are cases which require the consideration of multiple melees, such as an adventuring party being attacked from both sides in a hallway. Large open spaces may also sometimes demand the use of multiple melee zones which could potentially merge and divide based on game world circumstances. The melee/ranged abstraction is meant to structure combat in a way that logically represents the chaos and risk of armed struggle, and may be adjusted on an ad hoc basis as needed by the referee.

2 thoughts on “JRPG Basic combat positioning

  1. Ynas Midgard

    I quite like it; it reminds me of how 3:16 handles positions in combat. As for melee with reach, I have two solutions off the top off my head (but I just woke up, so I haven’t really given it serious thinking):

    1) Create a separate position called “reach”. Characters in that position may attack others in the same position or in melee without restrictions, and can retreat to ranged or engage in close combat (well, closer), as well. Characters in melee may have difficulty attacking those in reach position (they may be penalised, or it could be considered a perilous action). For ranged combatants, melee and reach positions work the same regarding targeting.

    2) Initiative or some other sort of opposed check determines whether characters with long weapons manage to gain or keep their advantage in combat. In some rounds they may have it, in some others they don’t – that largely depends on the flow of combat, abstracted into that check.

    1. Ynas Midgard

      This approach has been on my mind in the past few days; I always disliked strict measurements when it comes to combat and I often eyeballed such things (but I would prefer loosely codified rules and guidelines over simple eyeballing). Also, I came up with a few additions that may or may not have occurred to you (at least I saw no sign of these spelled out on your blog):

      * Combat positioning can be represented by drawing some boxes on a sheet of paper; there needs to be at least 4+1 areas (1 melee, 1 range for the players and 1 for the enemies, and 1 concealed for the party, plus possibly 1 for the enemies), but more can be added easily.

      * When surprise is determined, the surprising side altogether is considered concealed. Whether the surprised foes are in melee or ranged depends on the ambushers’ actions.

      * The option of fleeing should probably be extended to concealed combatants, as well.

      * The Thief’s extra damage against unaware foes could be conditioned upon his being concealed (as per the positioning rules).

      * I very much like the term “perilous action”, and I think I’m going to borrow that.


Leave a Reply