Combat & movement

Image from Dark Classics

Jack recently wrote about differentiating weapons. I have also in the past sought to make weapon differences meaningful over and above damage dice, with varying levels of success. Jack’s proposal has some Third Edition assumptions (such as critical ranges) that I don’t use, but I find one of the properties he gave daggers particularly interesting. In his system, dagger wielders may use movement actions to attack. Presumably, this is to represent quick close attacks and perhaps grappling.

5E is also experimenting with using movement as a resource that can be “spent” in combat. For example, five feet of movement can be used to stand up from prone, allowing a character to stand up, move (slightly less than normal) and attack all in the same round. Now, this particular rule might be too fiddly (and might be difficult to make work without using a grid). If doing combat only using a shared imaginary space, is there really much difference between 30 feet worth of movement and 25 feet worth of movement? Probably not.

I am, in general, not enamored of the action economy approach to combat. It tends to slow play down and make the decision process more complex without adding corresponding depth. For more on how this worked in 4E, and the proposed simplification for 5E, check out this blog post. Fifth Edition is also experimenting with other ways to spend combat time resources which look intriguing, such as spell concentration being required to maintain continuous effects (which should help control the problem of appropriately enchanted wizards being potentially better at any conceivable task, a problem that I gather can be relatively acute in Third Edition and Pathfinder, though I have never played high level games in either of those systems). For more on concentration in 5E, check out the second half of this Legends & Lore article.

Back to the topic at hand though, I still like the general idea of a tradeoff between mobility and other weapon properties. However, multiple attacks have the potential to be both cumbersome (extra die rolls) and unbalanced (that is, clearly superior to other weapons in damage dealing potential), so this needs to be handled carefully. Further, without a grid, it seems difficult or impossible to keep geometry and tactical placement relevant. Again, this makes me wish for a simplified and non-quantified representation of combat beyond conversational description. Something that would perhaps be gained by using miniatures in a loose, almost informal manner.

What kind of OD&D implementation based on movement might work for the dagger? Before a dagger wielder can get any kind of benefit from close fighting, they must first get inside an enemy’s guard. It seems reasonable to model that as a successful to-hit roll. They must also successfully bypass any kind of “hold at bay” active from pole-arms. Once the dagger has hit, the attacker is considered up in it and future attacks do “two dice, take highest” damage. Note that this also applies post-backstab for thieves. As long as the attacker chooses to maintain this disposition, no significant movement is possible, as they are focusing on carving up the target.

This is similar to a grapple (though there is no grabbing going on). Pole weapons are almost impossible to bring to bear against a dagger wielder up close, and all weapons other than a dagger or short sword attack at -1. The target may disengage by spending an action and making a successful dexterity check. Fighters may attempt a disengage maneuver along with a standard attack, but all other classes must spend all their efforts just to get the sharp thing away from them. Whether or not dagger work can be used effectively against non-humanoid enemies should be determined situationally (bear: sure, purple worm: not so much).

3 thoughts on “Combat & movement

  1. Gus L

    I am enamored with the idea of grappling, and the dagger being the most effective weapon for grappling. Something along the lines of a dagger may be used in the rounds after a successful grapple to do an automatic 1D8 (if using variable damage) per round as long as the grapple continues (even if you’re the losing grappler). Maybe other weapons can get in a solid pommel strike in grapple for 1D6 on a successful grapple while an unarmed grappler does 1D4 or 1D6 in plate? Of course this would require a functional grappling system with other advantages… say restraining weapon use penalizing AC/movement/attack of grapplers.

    I have been wondering about simple tactical fixes lately as when the whole party of 8-10 can attack the same baddy a first level party can do in a 4-5HD thing in a round. Plus some tactics seems fun.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah, that seems reasonable.

      I do find that it is hard to make tactical house rules “stick” in hangout games (I’m sure you have noticed that as well). On the fly maneuver rulings seem to work better. Basically, the informal guidelines that I’ve been using in Pahvelorn are less damage than normal (or no damage) plus an ability check along with the attack roll (if appropriate) to determine if the stunt effect occurs.

    2. Gus L

      Yeah I was thinking of the death of certain weapon specialization rules when I thought about the dagger. Of course we haven’t had a PC fighter for a while. I think armor vs. AC to hit rules are too fiddly because the players don’t know the AC they are attacking. Perhaps a few weapons with odd rules – like daggers do 1/2 damage without a grapple, maces do more against most corporeal undead and full damage to constructs while swords do more damage to normal humanoids and axes more to large creatures (which take 1/2 from maces) or something. I notice you’ve been having arrows do less against skeletons and I think swords less against statutes. Weapon immunities are a good idea I think.

      With the dagger – I suppose it could be a neat way to redo backstab as well. Backstab being a sort of close range grapple attack – very intimate where the thief can use DEX instead of STR to perform a grapple that does an automatic 1D6+level per round as long as it’s held with both the thief and grappled character unable to do anything other than wrassle. It might remove the multiplier difficulty and introduces an interesting thing into backstab – how long do you keep stabbing the one bugbear when all his friends can wail on you. Makes daggers/shortswords a necessity for thieves as well.

      For everyone else a dagger is a good backup or useful when unarmored – leap on that armored orc and start stabbing away for 1D6 a round as long as your STR check beats his.


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