Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How I do Fighting

Someone on G+ started a thread about how to handle initiative in their basic-style game. We discussed it stylistically - some folks prefer very intricate steps to make sure each individual character is treated as an individual, and some folks prefer wargames style abstractions. I am in the second camp.

It is important to remember though that no matter how you do it, the unusual moves and cinematics are always possible because you have a referee, and not an AI, running things. For instance if you want to combine two attacks, or you want to have one guy throw another guy or something, that's covered in step 8, Misc. Actions.

Here's how I do it.

First here are the steps in a combat round.

Click to Enbiggificate
Here are the rules that go along with it!

0.       Combat Rounds Last One Minute, unlike in many other kinds of D&D. Therefore a lot of small actions can be presumed. 

1.      Each side checks morale, if appropriate. First the monsters, then the Henchmen of the Player-Characters and other NPCs on the side of the good guys. Check Morale for either side first when one side or the other has their first casualty, and then again when half of that side or more has been defeated. If the side passes both Morale checks, they will fight until death. Otherwise someone will surrender or try to run away.

2.      Once combat begins, each person and then the monsters declare what kind of action they intend. The kinds of actions are full movement, make a missile attack, cast a magic spell, make a melee attack, and “other” which includes anything else.

3.      Each side rolls 1d6 for Initiative. The side that rolls higher gets to make their actions first. In the case of a tie, everybody does everything simultaneously.

4.      Movement happens. Characters and monsters can move 1/3 of their base movement in scale inches for free. Moving farther than that precludes taking any other actions that Round.

5.      Ranged Attacks happen. Anyone with a sling or a bow fires off their weapon. In the case of hitting an enemy Magic-User, their spell is ruined!

6.      Magic Spells are cast. Again, if you are going second or there is a tie in the Initiative that Round, and you are hit with a missile weapon, your spell has been ruined and is lost from your mind.

7.      Melee Attacks happen. Anyone attacking with a sword or mace, for instance, makes their attack now.

8.      Miscellaneous Actions happen. Maybe you want to drink a potion, use a magic wand, or push over a table as a barricade. These actions happen last.

9.      Repeat for the side that lost Initiative. Go back to #1 and see what happens next!

Like a lot of things in Mythical Journeys this seems like a lot at first. But in actual play, it happens very quickly. Now, there are a few exceptions we should talk about.

The Surprise Round: For the first Round of combat only, each side must check to see if it has surprised the other. Have each side throw 1d6. On a result of 5 or 6, they have achieved surprise. In this case, the other side may not act in the first Round of melee. It is possible for both sides to be Surprised at once!

During the Surprise Round, the side which has surprised the other gains a +1 To-Hit. This bonus does “stack” with other To-Hit bonuses.

The Opportunity Attack: Should a combatant currently engaged in melee attempt a Full Retreat or if a character moves right past you (including on a Charge), you get to have one “free” attack out of turn. If this attack succeeds at dealing at least one Hit Point of damage, the moving combatant must stop moving. Only one such Opportunity Attack may be attempted per combatant per Round.

Tactical Movement: Clever players and monsters won’t simply stand toe-to-toe beating each other’s brains out, but will rather make movements within combat- advances, withdrawals, and even full retreats when the time is right!

Fighting Withdrawal: A Fighting Withdrawal is the only safe way to leave a place that is threatened by an opponent. When a character withdraws, he backs carefully away from his opponent without turning his back or creating an attack of opportunity for his opponent.

Withdrawing is a move that takes place at the beginning of the Round. A withdrawing character cannot attack or cast spells, although he can still make opportunity attacks.

He does not attack, but moves backwards up to one-third speed (usually 4” or less) and retains his full Armor Class.

Full Retreat: Any melee combatant may attempt a Full Retreat. He moves away from melee at full speed (usually 12” or less). His opponent(s) get a free attack out of turn against him and the character does not receive the benefit of his Shield or DEX bonus to AC. If any attack deals damage to him, the Retreat is negated and the retreater is stuck in combat for another Round!

The exception to this free-attack rule is if an ally moves into melee with the same opponent(s) to cover the retreat.

The Charge: A "Charge" is a melee action in which your character moves as fast as possible, planning to use a weapon at a point of impact, benefitting by the force added due to momentum.

A PC or other character can "Charge" anywhere as long as he expends at least half his base full move in the process, and only if he is holding and using a melee weapon.

A Charging character is +2 to hit, but -2 Armor Classes. If your man’s “Charge” hits, the damage inflicted is double normal; throw twice the normal number of dice, and then apply bonuses (strength, magic, etc.).

Charging creatures must have suitable weapons: a skirmish weapon or large horns or tusks. A monster without such weaponry doesn't have the ability to charge.

Setting the Spear: If a PC or another character is aware of an opponent using the “Charge” maneuver against him and is acting first in a Round, He can use a tricky maneuver to stop the Charge: he can “set” a spear or pole arm against the charge by bracing it with his foot or against some heavy object. On a successful hit, he deals double damage and negates the attack at the end of the Charge. Only Fighting-Men, Men-At-Arms and Demi-Men are able to “set” a spear in this way.

Rear Attacks: Melee attacks to the rear of the target (aside from being dishonorable), gain a +2 to hit, and the defender does not get the AC benefit from his shield if he uses one.

Other Combat Rules

Cover: Should a character in missile fire combat find his mark behind cover of some kind, throw 1d6 after determining a hit. A throw of 1-3 means the attack hit the cover instead. Of course, characters may “cover” one another, like a Secret Service man taking a hit for the President.

Firing into Melee: A missile shot into melee that is scored a hit has an equal chance to hit any character engaged in that instance of melee, even the attacker’s allies. So be careful! Henchmen and Retainers will never fire into a melee, for fear of hitting their bosses.

Mounted Combat: Mounted cavalrymen and knights gain a +2 to hit and a +2 to damage over combatants on foot. Lances have an extra 10’ reach as well, which makes it likely that cavalrymen automatically gain initiative if he uses one.

One the other hand, shooting a bow from horseback imparts a -1 penalty to hit, and only Shortbows can be used from horseback anyway.

Surrounding Individual Combatants: If you and your party want to surround an enemy, up to six Men may encircle a Man-sized opponent. Up to eight Men may encircle a larger opponent.

Fighting requires 5’ of frontage per man in any case, unless in tight formation. If a single target is at least halfway surrounded, the majority attackers get a +1 to hit.

Shields Shall be Splintered!: You get the usual -1 to your AC with a shield. However, any time you take damage, you can opt instead to say your shield absorbed the force of the blow. The shield is shattered and must be discarded, but you don't take any damage from that hit. It's quick, it's easy, and it's valuable.

Magic shields can be given up once per day without shattering, but then they are considered nonmagical for the rest of the day. If you give it up again, it is shattered permanently.

Shields made from the heartwood of the rowan tree (which is sacred to the Elves) can be given up to avoid one magic effect, even one that deals no damage or one that offers no Save.

Subdual Damage: Attacks made with the “flat of the blade” for non-lethal damage suffer a -2 attack penalty. Many weapons can be used this way.

If a character or monster reduced to zero Hit Points has taken at least some subdual damage, the he becomes unconscious rather than dead. A character knocked out in this way but not subsequently killed will wake up with 1-3 hit points in 1-3 Turns, or can be awakened by someone else after 1 Turn. This is one way to force a monster to serve you if you want.


  1. A thousand apologies for being so dense, but when you say "The side that wins initiative gets to do their actions first", do you mean that every character on the winning side does ALL their actions first (moving, then shooting, then casting, etc.), or is it more like, everyone on the winning side who intends to move does so, then the guys on the losing side who want to move, followed by the guys on the winning side who want to shoot, followed by the guys on the losing side who want to shoot, etc.?

    1. Thank you for asking! We do all the actions on one side then the other. So if the players win in a Round, they move, shoot, melee, cast and etc., then the monsters do the same.

    2. Interesting. I have no experience with a combat sequence like this, though I am intrigued.
      What effect does it have on the combat experience as opposed to the more-common “decide when it’s your turn” method?

    3. I don’t know that it grants advantage or disadvantage. What it does do is to cause everyone to hedge a little, since they don’t know who will act first. So maybe it adds a little bit of surprise?

      I play in another game where we do initiative by side, followed by each person declaring and acting. I don’t think either way gives one side or the other the upper hand.

  2. Totally off topic, but do you paint minis, build terrain for you rpgs? If so then you should post some stuff, if you don't do minis then get started!

    1. I used to do that when I was a boy, but the quality of pre-painted ones is so much better than what I can make.

      I'll think about it. It might be something cool to do with my son.

  3. When do you check for the monsters' reactions to the party? Do you check for reactions, or do you assume hostility or some other reaction?

    1. That's a good question. When it's appropriate to check reaction, I will do it right after I check for surprise at the beginning of the combat. Of course some monsters are nonintelligent and some will have predetermined reactions for other reasons, but I try to leave it up to the dice as much as possible because that's fun and surprising for me.

      Near the start of a campaign, I will prompt the several players to encourage them to think about what actions to take. We're all too programmed by video game AIs these days. I will say, "would you like to listen at the door? Would you like to check for traps or a secret passage?"
      Or, "Would you like to try to talk, or fight, or run away?"

      Very soon, they get the idea that they can try whatever they want to, and combat gets less common and less dangerous - but things are more fun that way.

      How do you do it?