Combat; Another Important Aside

March 15, 2017

So, we’ve got to talk about combat, the wading into and the rivers of blood. The gritty crush of metal and wood, flesh and bone, rage and focus. Powerful mages firing spells into a melee of warriors and rogues deftly avoiding arrows fired from the rangers and snipers hiding on the edges. The rush of the cleric’s healing saving a brawler’s life before they throw a barbarian into the enemy’s paladin. The fast, brutal way combat must be portrayed.

It’s time to talk about combat economics.

Yeah, that kind of sounds boring, but stay with me. It’s important that we understand the economics of combat to really dig into how we can fix it.

We’ve got a few important ideas to work with; Actions per Round, Damage per Round, Mobility (this isn’t just how far you can move, but how free that movement is), Reactability, Combat Effectiveness, and Range. All of these create the ecosystem that combat lives in, and they define if combat feels good, like it does for most D&D players in their favorite systems. These are, in some ways, the most important rules in the game. Combat defines almost all of our classes in one way or another and combat rules are used all over the place to adjudicate interactions with traps, surprise attacks, disasters, even simple mistakes. So, let’s define our terms.

Round, or Combat Round, is a single cycle of each combat participant taking their Turn.

Turn is the total number of choices that a combat participant can make before the Round finishes, usually made all at once according to Initiative.

Initiative is the order that combat participants go in so that there isn’t confusion about what’s going on. There are traditionally two ways of doing Initiative; Straight Down (Highest Initiative choses their actions first and executes them immediately, then the next, and so on), and what I’m calling “Top Tactical” (Lowest Initiative participant choses their actions, and choosing continues until the highest Initiative, allowing “faster” Initiatives to react to “slower” actions, execute in highest Initiative order).

Actions per Round is how many and what kinds of choices can be made by a player in each combat Round.

Damage is the amount of HP loss incurred from being successfully struck in combat by a damaging ability.

Damage per Round is how much theoretical, average damage a combat participant can put out. This is usually found by looking at the average to-hit outcomes and the average damage if an attack strikes and can be described as “30 DPR” implying every round the attacker does 30 damage, on average, to their target.

Mobility is every movement-related rule for a character within a combat Round. This includes their movement options (how far and how) as well as their restrictions on moving through spaces (such as hard terrain, occupied squares, or impassable obstacles).

Reactability is how a combat participant can immediately act in reaction to changes in combat or in effects on their persons. This includes things like Opportunity Attacks, Held Actions, Reaction rolls such as Saves, Bonus Actions, and response mechanisms like Healing or spells that provide temporary HP or defenses when triggers happen.

Combat Effectiveness is related to DPR in that it’s a participant’s ability to influence combat and how effective that influence is. This is a strong problem in historical D&D as Wizards and similar characters have extreme Combat Effectiveness at high levels while melee warriors like Fighters and Paladins tend toward nil at the same time. It can be summed up as the damage output, the difficult of being taken out of combat, the ability to interact with opponents, and the ability to reach opponents effectively taken as a whole.

Range is how far away from a target an attack can be made. Ranges are measured in Squares, which translate to 5 feet each (or 1 meter, depending on your choice of measurement systems). While this isn’t quite the amount of space a person takes up in combat, it’s a decent abstraction. Melee is defined as “adjoining squares”, or 5 feet in most instances. Because this is already an abstraction, squares are treated as adjoining if they touch on the corners or the sides. While this does make for “square balls”, this more accurately describes the give and take of space in a melee.

Wow, that was a lot of defining. We’re gonna have to make this into a series, it looks like.

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