Timing, movement, and maps

I think we have created a solid mini-curriculum about some critical features of play. The first part is Movement and maps, the second is Horses on squares, and here’s my next part. I definitely include the comments to the prior posts as part of it. If you find any other posts or sets of comments that you think should be formally included, please let me know.

My videos for this post begin with really digging into the turn/order rules for The Fantasy Trip: Melee, because as I say there, I don’t really want to talk about movement and actions in role-playing with people who don’t know these rules. I even think that the next chance I get for in-person play will bust out that same ancient copy of the game for a few hours of duels and skirmishes, just to establish a community of people who’ve done it.

The purpose is met in the second half when I tackle the problem of when it doesn’t make sense, and I hope to move through the concept of it being a problem into a different understanding of the term “medium.” It would be most useful here if you would phrase what you see as this point in your own words in the comments.

I also encourage anyone reading this to choose one game they have played extensively to present here in the comments, using the terms and ideas I go through in the videos, as well as addressing anything that applies to it from the previous posts and comments. I’m talking about dedicated and thoughtful study and a good effort to inform everyone else. This is our chance to live up to the name seminar – please join me in this central goal of Adept Play.


46 responses to “Timing, movement, and maps”

  1. Traveller

    For Traveller (at least the rules from 77) it works like this. You have two ways of doing it, one without any positioning other than theatre of the mind, and one where you use a range table, like a paper with lines on it. It works out like this:

    Combat is simultaneous (if nobody has suprised the other side, if one side can attack without risk of getting hurt themselves), everyone declares movement first and that is resolved, and then everybody attacks. As it is simultaneous everyone gets to attack, even if you're knocked out by a shot. To move you declare to close or open range, if you use the rangeband you move one line closer/away, if not you need to declare close/open range for a number of rounds to change it (if both declares close/open, then it changes directly to the next closer/furter away). You can run, counts as a double movement, but then you cant attack.

    Bellow if the different ranges and number of lines/number of rounds that's related to each of the ranges.

    • Close range, that is touching/physical contact = Same or adjecant bands (1 round)
    • Short range, sword/pole arm-fighting range = 2-5 bands (1 round)
    • Medium range, pistol range = 6-9 bands from eachother (3 rounds)
    • Long Range, rifle range = 10-14 bands apart (4 rounds)
    • Very long, extreme range = Above (5 rounds)

    And the reason for moving (other than I need to get to the door five bands away, or need to save my friend thats bleeding medium range away from me etc) then is that every weapon has a die modifier connected with each range, so up against someone with a Rifle, get to short to eliminate that modifier or to close to force a -8, up against someone with a pistol try to move out to medium. etc.

    • Oh, and a mistake crept in of

      Oh, and a mistake crept in of course. If both declares close/open, then it changes directly to the next closer/furter away, is not in the rules but how we've played it when nothing oposes a change in range.

      The Rules instead says: you count it as two rounds of movement/move two rangebands, or four if running. In regards to changing the range.

    • The more of these from the

      The more of these from the 1970s, the better!

      When you get the chance, I'd like you to describe how these rules relate to the things I present in the video. Think of yourself as instructing some people who are really curious but haven't encountered anything about order/action except individual-character dice rolls for ordering, and full-IIEE between "freezing."

    • Sure! I’ll take a stab at it.

      Sure! I'll take a stab at it.

      Everybody at the table declares their movement status, this is a choice between four stated alternatives, Evade, Close Range, Open Range or Stand. Close and open range can also be done running, as mentioned this doubles the distance but you don't get to attack. This is also a bit like declaring what you're about to do, or at least that you are going to take some kind of action, as running and evading means not doing anything but evading and running for the round. Here I don't think the rules states anything about who goes when around the table, I treat it as free and clear and you're allowed to state what you do and change it around after you've heard what the referee want's the five ton heavy beast you’ve encountered to do.

      After the movement status have been declared, everything is in motion, the character are on the move, they are on their way towards where they aim to be, or they are dropping flat to the ground, or taking aim at a target, or whatever makes sense depending on the stated movement. Then we all declare attacks and target or other actions and after everyone done that, we resolve them. The attacks are made at the new range if you managed to close or open the distance. If successful roll for damage, as this is simultaneous getting killed or taken out doesn't mean you don't get to attack. Everyone’s stating an attack and a target and rolls to see if they hit regardless of if they remain standing at the end of the round or not. If the combat isn't over we go back to the declaration of movement status and start all over again.

      This is my reading of the rules and they leave out some stuff, as mentioned the ordering of the actual declaration that isn't mentioned at all. My take have been to interpret this as everybody declares movement until everyone is happy, then movement starts and we freeze and we go into declaring attacks and do that until everybody is happy to go on and resolve them.

    • The part that stands out for

      The part that stands out for me, and which I'd want everyone playing to understand, is that every single attack is going to come in on its target. Let me know if I have this right. Movement can alter things, and in fact one really ought to know how and use it, because it's the only way to pre-empt or defend. You can't "shoot first" except in the retroactive sense, using that concept to narrate why you hit and they didn't.

      I rather like its cleanliness and ruthlessness, but it's very definitely not narrated bit by bit, action by action, roll by roll. You can't say what's really happened until that unit of time is all over.

    • You got it. The only “shoot

      You got it. The only "shoot first" rule there is in the book is surprise and that happens outside of the combat round, it gives you one or more (depending on if your first round alerts the target or not) rounds without the enemy being able to attack back. But once in combat no, every attack is going to happen and it's a matter of moving out of the way or taking cover, or hoping the attacks on you miss or don't take you out.

      And yes, definetly not action by action, blow by blow, but very much two large chunks of time with freeze in between for everyone involved.

  2. D&D 1981 (Moldvay)

    If there was a place where I think Moldvay is better than Holmes (no edition war bs pelase) is that the '81 version of D&D Basic cleans up the encounter sequence (Combat Sequence). 

    But it is still a bit murky. Per the example a few pages on, if a character has a missile weapon out, even if the LOSE initiative, they can take a shot at charging enemies. Nowhere is it explicitly stated that one has this kind of reaction. (Nowhere that I saw, in any case.) The example also allowed characters to get their weapons out and ready for the attacking force. 

    So there is some sense of simultaneous action, both sides can be moving around and doing things, though generally one side has a leg up.  In play, at least my experience, we followed the example more than this sequence. Also, the text is explicit that a person only gets one ATTACK per round, but is a bit less clear on when (and how often) a person might do things like, drink a potion or drag a friend, but we used ATTACK and ACTION interchangebly. 

    Of particular note are the movement restrictions on melee and magic use. Fighting Withrdrawals and Retreat are covered and there is a sense of Zone of Control. (see next comment). Morale is not as relevent to our current conversation, but its inclusion in the order sequence is, IMHO, a call back to the wargame methodology present at the time in rpg (adventure game) design.

    • What’s going on here, I think

      What's going on here, I think, is abandoning the Melee attacking step that's ordered strictly individually. I confess I find it one of the oddest in play, when one realizes that every single character on the other "side" completes their actions and attacks before any of us get to do anything. The ordering of action type (missile, magic, et cetera) only applies to the characters on the same side. Therefore although arrows are faster than spells, if your side wins initiative, then everyone on your side casting spells goes before everyone on my side loosing arrows.

      It's especially odd when a bunch of characters on each side are attacking quite independently from one another and aren't, for example, a squad of infantrymen acting as an organized team.

    • Hey, you’re the one who said

      Hey, you're the one who said "better than," so no backsies. I'll describe the sequence in my preferred edition (it's better than!!) here, and Bahamut will know His own.

      In the Holmes D&D, there is no ordering across separate events, either within a side or across all the characters. Instead, you start by identifying who is occupied with whom – little duos or clusters of confrontation, at any range in which an attack matters. Then, which one of these is resolved first is all the DM's job, based on who is where, what is happening, and what they're trying to do.

      Sometimes this order makes no difference, e.g., if two player-characters are in melee with four goblins over here, two others are in melee with three goblins over there, and one is in melee with seven goblins in a third spot. You could resolve each "clash" in whatever order you want and just say they all happened simultaneously. When it does make a difference, then the DM's decision still stands … e.g., if we add a seventh party member who's standing alone, not being attacked, and casting a spell, then the DM will probably say that this person's action will land first, before any of the fighting has time to resolve fully – remember, this is a minute we're talking about, not one to three seconds.

      Now, within a clash of any kind, you go by Dexterity, in fixed order. This would be the end of my description, except for two wrinkles.

      1. Movement isn't formalized. Therefore, for instance, if the seven goblins attacking player-character #6 have to run across the room to get them first, then the obvious delay in this confrontation would be incorporated as the above-described ordering. We resolve it last because it clearly happens last. Or if yet more goblins were similarly running to attack the spellcaster, then the spell might still be treated as an isolated first-strike rather than an ordered item in the upcoming clash. Things like "then the purple worm bursts up out of the ground" are treated … well, whenever the DM says.
      2. Non-player-character foes (people, monsters, whatever) do not have designated Dexterities. This leads to one of the quirkiest rules in the game, in that during the fight, you roll Dexterity on 3d6 for the foes, for this purpose. So your huge-ass scary monster might have Dexterity 3 (the worst possible) and one of those goblins might turn out to be the slipperiest little goblin bastard in history with an 18 (the best). I could forgive a DM for rolling them prior to play to save time, but I would encourage honesty – it really does turn out to be significant for dozens of role-playing decisions and for the opponents' options in the thick of action.
    • The rolling of DEX at the

      The rolling of DEX at the table is the part of the Holmes' system that I really like. In fact, if you wished, you could roll each creature right there in front of the players instead of rolling anything about them before hand. With a wondering monster most assuredly you could do this. There is an agility to Holmes that I appreciate and a degree of "don't overprep" baked into the game I think. 

    • So I have reread this post

      So I have reread this post and all the comments. Now, reading Holmes D&D I can't find much to go on in the text about when players should declare what they want to do next in combat. There doesn't seem to be a dedicated and named step (declarations of intent) at the beginning of the round or combat.

      I guess that all declarations must be given before the game master starts to decide in which order the "pairs and clusters" should resolve?

    • Hi Love, you’re absolutely

      Hi Love, you're absolutely right that the text never designates a player-announced-actions moment. That content is strikingly absent from many, many RPG texts, especially from versions of Dungeons & Dragons. I think it's not due to any absence of players saying things during play, merely due to the writers perceiving the activity as given and known. They're instructing about how to do the organized ifs and buts, not about how to do the basic activity. Knowing this makes a lot of D&D texts a lot easier to understand, even if one has to admit that the basic activity is often opaque if you weren't the author.

      Anyway, concerning the Holmes D&D, I agree with what I think you're implying: that the instructions are meaningless unless the players have all stated what their characters are doing, and these statements are probably integrated with the imagined activity of people leaping or sprinting or floating to wherever they can get to do those things (II in my terminology). That's why we do see rules in there for any "interrupts" e.g. spells or missiles which interfere between the two I's.

      One can't really speak for an author, but I suspect, or at least I know I would say, that the response to your inquiry would be bafflement. "Of course the players said what their characters were doing, what else on earth are players for?"

  3. Different Topic: Zones of Control / Being Engaged

    I am not entirely sure this observation belongs in this discussion, so I broke it out into its own comment. Several games have rules for engaged melee combatants moving out that engagement. I do not have the time to look up RQ, but Melee and D&D Basic have them. Later editions of D&D have attacks of opportunity or disadvantage for missile or magic users who are next to a melee combatant. This a very tactical passive reaction that can have an enormous effect on decision making. From the video I could see how the tactic of locking down a guy with your guy in Melee would be a real game changer. 

    It makes characters sticky and creates this fiction that combat is ongoing even when no rolls are being made. Just the threat of a dude standing close is enough to narrow a character's possibilities. 

    • Yes – that’s an important

      Yes – that's an important subtopic that I decided not to loop into and out of in the video, because I really wanted to stay focused on the main point. Having encountered engagement with Melee and Wizard almost at the outset of my contact with role-playing at all, I've always been surprised at how rarely later games used it. I almost added a simple version to Champions Now.

  4. My obligatory Legendary Lives example

    Legendary Lives is an interesting case, I think.

    Legendary Lives doesn't use a map for tactical situations: it has more abstract range categories (Brawling Range, Throwing Range, Missile Range, Too Far Away) to help keep track of the action which is occuring "in the imagination of the participants."

    It has turn structure which is meant to operate at all times, with combat being merely a specific case. "A turn structure is one complete cycle around the gaming table. It represents just enough time for a single character to perform a single action."

    Within the turn, player's take turns in order of their character's Quickness. They have the entire IIEE happening on their "go": in this way it is in the line of games like Champions.

    In practice, the action sequences/combats are a lot more dynamic and interactive than this simple set-up might suggest. There are two things that contribute to that. One is the Action Results Table (ART), which leads to there being a range of possible effects, rather than a binary miss/hit. On the best results, Superior and Awesome, characters end up being able to do more than they had intended. In play this means that until we've rolled and discovered where between Catastrophic and Awesome the action landed, we don't necessarily have a clear picture of what's happening fictionally during the entire go. 

    The second wrinkle is what I call the Foes' Turn: all of the foes (the game's term for all characters that aren't player characters: monsters, NPCs, etc.) take their actions after the players have all had their goes. There is no procedure to guide how the Referee is supposed to make this happen: the foes can go in any order that makes sense. The Referee also does not roll on the ART for the foes' actions: rather the target player makes some kind of defensive roll. In straight combat, the defensive skill is the actual Defense skill, and in those cases the Referee does a roll on the hit location table to see where the foe has targeted. (Note that there is no hit location roll when player characters are attacking foes). Because the Defense roll uses the ART and because there is a constraint on what body part the foe was targeting, there is opportunity for dynamic maneuvering and choreography to take place during the Foes' Turn (and this is not obvious from simply reading the text).

    So, I would propose Legendary Lives as an interesting example of how you can start with the standard "atomic" IIEE set up and still end up with combat that is much more dynamic, just based on how that ties into the other procedures in the game.

    • (Sean and I privately

      (Sean and I privately discussed some details of the ordering in Champions to a little private discussion, and some of that became relevant here after all.)

      First, a minor point, Sean identified Starfleet Battles as using the speed chart that was published in Champions a year later. Champions must be acknowledged to be one of the most opportunistic lifters of others' mechanics in RPG history: combat from Melee and Wizard (the latter for several important details), the speed chart and basic ordering from Starfleet Battles, and the point-structure and composition of powers from the barely-kind-of published Supergame. The functionality of the extremely humpbacked result is a minor miracle, made possible only by dedicated and determined play.

      Second, more to the point, that if you have absolutely known-and-fixed ordering per collective batch of characters' "goes," then the only Bounce comes from the rolls' outcomes' effects on your next options. For it to be real Bounce, these effects have to include consequences both of note and not under control. There must be a "new normal" for at least someone, and probably everyone, per collective round of action, due to the outcomes. People love randomized Knockback for a reason; the best rule in the game is the randomized Endurance expenditure when you Push a power; also, this is why Special Effects in Champions cannot be codified into a known list and specified per power – they must be ad lib and opportunistic to be bouncy.

      Champions as shoehorned into the Hero System as such (1989) is boring as fuck specifically because everything after a roll was massaged into known territory before the dice hit the table, and not even damage did anything significant per hit. In a fixed-order system of this kind, the thing to avoid is only one optimal option per situation, at all times. It is a stone killer of agency merely to see where the rolls took you last time, then optimize anew in your current action space.

      Don't mistake me for saying, "Oh, you need lots and lots of options." I'm saying no such thing. Agency is not defined by "lots of things to do." In a game such as I'm discussing right now, you might have fifty options but there is only the one which any sensible player would do, every time; everything else is stupid. And that same situation applies every turn – a new optimum, which you take. That kind of play has no agency at all no matter how many options you have.

      Instead, what you need is new circumstances: any composition of reduced options, increased danger, new options, recovery, advantage, changes in context, something you've accomplished, something you've failed to accomplish …

      Legendary Lives is surprisingly good at this with unfortunately slapdash-looking rules which are no such thing when you actually use them.

  5. Melanda: Land of Mystery

    A second example:

    I haven't played Melanda: Land of Mystery (1980) yet, but since you were interested in examples from games that were contemporaries of Melee/The Fantasy Trip and since I've been reading through the rules in preparation for a game, I thought it might be worth bringing up.

    Essentially, Melanda seems to draw strongly from Melee. They recommend using a hex map and miniatures or counters for the characters.

    A combat round represents 30 seconds, and is broken up into phases:

    1) Intention Phase: "Clarification of the situation must occur first. Then, players must generally indicate their intent… This is done so that as the round proceeds we maintain the realism of character's following through on intention — remember the player who always changes what he was planning to do because of what happens to characters with faster impetus rolls? No more."

    2) Movement Phase: "A character has the option to put his intentions into practice." As in Melee, you have a certain amount of movement available based on your chosen intention. You can move 1/2 your movement allotment and still fire a missile weapon. You can move your full allotment and make a melee attack, however. There is no procedure for figuring out the order of movement.

    3) Missile Phase: missiles are fired. It isn't clearly spelled out, but it seems that missile fire is meant to be simultaneous.

    4) Strike Phase: here "face to face" attacks and "instaneous" magic spells go off based on the characters' Combat Speed rating.

    5) Magical Manifestation: non-instaneous spells have their effect here. This is also described as "less of a phase and more of a description of what the party may or may not see or experience. Learning the result of character's 'intended' magic release is an important part of this manifestation. (Note that this stage leads nicely into the clarification beginning the next round.)"

    There's a wrinkle in the Strike Phase in that some character's with hig Combat Speed and above average Agility may be eligible for extra attacks in a round, but there aren't rules about when those extra attacks occur (i.e., all at once or does everyone get one attack before speedy characters get their next one — when I play, I think I'd lean toward the latter interpretation.)

    I presented this example in such detail to show that: (a) the influence of Melee was stil very strong in 1980 (which makes sense) and (b) the authors of this game had a much clearer understanding of the importance of the first "I" in IIEE than 99% of game designers since.

    • Oooohh, Melanda! Please let

      Oooohh, Melanda! Please let me know by Discord about when you might play.

      It does seem philosophically grounded. A lot of its quality will ride on whether the attacks and spells really change-up anything, directly or indirectly, rather than bounce off defenses or merely dink away at big resources. Given its general inspiration, I'm looking for the magic especially.

  6. Still thinking in freeze-frames and 5′ squares…

    This topic is of great interest to me because after years of D&D 3e/4e and related games, I plan on switching to a retroclone with one-minute rounds and phased initiative (probably Swords & Wizardry Continual Light). I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around the older initiative systems of D&D.

    Some observations and questions:

    1. The one-minute combat round seems desirable to me because it can entail a lot more than just hitting people (e.g. picking a lock, nearby monsters being alerted and actually being able to enter the fray etc.).

     2. Rolling for group initiative every round (as in some versions of D&D) occasionally allows for back-to-back actions which is swingy (which I like) and which stops us from viewing the action as a clean sequence (sort of what Ron said in the videos about retroactively making sense of what's happening, if I am not mistaken).

     3. Moldvay does indeed seem weird. Why have phased initiative (missile phase, spell phase etc.) and then still have everyone on one side act?

     a. Can somebody explain the reasoning behind movement typically being resolved before missile fire? I've heard complaints in every system I've ever played when characters have an arrow notched or a pistol in their hands and get charged before they can get off a shot.

     b. S&W CL states that characters are in melee with everyone within 10' (rather than the 5' I'm used to). Does that mean you can attack (and be attacked) from the second rank?

     c. Some DMs require random targeting, i.e. you attack a random target within melee range (preventing focus fire, which is the bread and butter of D&D 3e and 4e, the latter of which accounts for its effects by increasing hit points for 'elite' or 'solo' enemies). I find this very desirable because it creates chaos and opportunity (as it's "not under control"). What is your take on random target selection?

    d. Older versions state that a character takes up 5', but it's also possible to walk three abreast in a 10' corridor. How are you supposed to handle bunching up characters at various densities? They'd be standing on the grid's lines!!! 😉

    • I have some thoughts, though

      I have some thoughts, though by no means are these deinitive answers. 

      2 – Initiative every round. I like this as well, for the reason that it can be potentially leaded momentum switching from round to round or one group have a dominant position, leading to more decision making for the players and a greater use of resources if they are on the back foot.

      3A – I suspect it is an artifact of able top or miniature wargaming. Movement phase and then combat phase kind of thing. 

      3D – I suspect it is possible for those games that are not explicitly on a grid, but make use of measuresments anyway. 

    • Here’s an obnoxious opinion

      Here’s an obnoxious opinion (neither the first nor last, I’m sure): why play a designated retroclone? If the term genuinely applies, then play one of the real games instead. Whereas if the alleged retroclone has some illuminating or playable feature of its own, no matter how small, then it obviates its own category and – this is a good thing – is its own real game.

      Anyway, in the spirit of casual musing,

      CL states that characters are in melee with everyone within 10' (rather than the 5' I'm used to). Does that mean you can attack (and be attacked) from the second rank?

      I don’t know. I especially can't say anything about Continual Light, as I don't know it, and I don't even know if the "second rank" is a designated rule in the game or something you're bringing to it as if it were supposed to be there.

      The concept is evident in games with grids and short time-units, e.g., striking from two hexes away is possible in Advanced Melee, given the right weapon, but “rank” as a formation applying to a group of characters is not set off in categorical terms.

      To address the issue comparatively, it really comes down to the time unit. If it’s big, as in a minute or minutes, then, however the action is managed procedurally, then the very concept of play includes whatever footwork or quick communications or shifting in position which makes an attack possible.

      Tunnels & Trolls goes so far with this as to obviate your question. In three minutes of multi-person action, we figure that the guy with a pilum managed to attack appropriately with his weapon just like the guy with two daggers did, without either hitting each other by accident … and similarly, when the characters take damage, both of them will take the same amount, so “back there in the second rank” doesn’t mean anything to protect the pilum guy. It’s all washed out by the retconned multiple moments of fighting.

      So let’s close in on a somewhat shorter round, still longer than the “couple seconds” single action unit, say a minute or 30 seconds or similar, but in which character location is honored as a consideration, with or without a grid-marked battle map (and you may be surprised to find, typically without). This is how I play Holmes D&D.

      Bluntly, retconning is always going to be necessary in any such game. We have to look at how it all shook out and then conceive certain elements of the action which must have occurred to make that possible. Remember, this is the default or original concept for playing RPG action! One-by-one freeze-frame came later and is arguably degenerate.

      In this kind of game, again, in which we do know where the characters began moving and where they have gone, at least to some stated extent from inside play, then I think we have to specify what you mean. There must have been one or more characters who never came closer than 10’ to a foe, there was a friend in the way at all points when they might have, and the players want to know whether their attacks can be resolved. I know what I’d say: that unless you have a pilum or similar weapon, you’re outta luck – sure, you could attack from 10’ away if your pal weren’t in the way, but he is, so forget it. (Please note that “I” in this case isn’t the GM necessarily, but whoever we’re all relying on to say how we’re going to do things.)

      c. Some DMs require random targeting, i.e. you attack a random target within melee range (preventing focus fire, which is the bread and butter of D&D 3e and 4e, the latter of which accounts for its effects by increasing hit points for 'elite' or 'solo' enemies). I find this very desirable because it creates chaos and opportunity (as it's "not under control"). What is your take on random target selection?

      That’s not answerable. Can you say what you’re talking about without all the Christmas wrap, and ask a question that isn’t "whaddaya think?"

    • Common practices?

      Common practices?

      The Christmas wrap stung — because you were right. So…


      The primary reason I'm going with a retroclone is availability: One of my players' English skills are not good so he's mostly skipped on getting deeper into our current rules (despite usually mastering the rules of any board or roleplaying game we play). Hence, I want a German rulebook for my next project. There aren't many options regarding old D&D:

      • Mentzer (I haven't found a .pdf, legal or otherwise, and the books are collector's items)
      • Labyrinth Lord (B/X based retroclone)
      • Swords & Wizardry Continual Light (OD&Dish retroclone)
      • Translations for Old School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry Complete are in the works.

      Target selection, let's say in Holmes

      • Two vs. two in a 10' corridor. Can either side concentrate their attacks?
      • One vs. a dozen on a plaza. Can the lonely combatant choose his target?
      • Three vs. three on a plaza, one side guarding a VIP. Can the assailants get to the VIP?

      If the answer is "You have to work it out for your game, at your table", I get that and am certainly able to do that. However, this is also precisely the problem: I fear that I would be bringing my 3e/4e sensibilities to this, even if I don't want that. I'd much rather learn about a variety of tried-and-true approaches from 40+ years of the game being played. I'm not looking for someone's definite list of rulings, covering every possible situation, but some philosophies and illuminating examples, ideally including practices which are relatively widespread in the community. Only then I'll be ready to make it my own.

    • I hope not to sting any more,

      I hope not to sting any more, at least in this conversation.

      A quick correction! I was wrong about the minute in Holmes D&D, it's ten seconds, although still conceived as a collective "group" event rather than an individual's options in sequence. I'll pull out parts of the text, which include quite a bit of contextual phrases which are formalized as rules in other games. It's written more like an essay than a procedural manual.

      • The time-unit is a round, but the close combat activity within it is called the "exchange of blows" or "melee."
      • Movement is assumed to be sprinting, 10' for armored, 20' for unarmored.
      • Light weapons give you two attacks per exchange of blows, but it doesn't say when the second strike is resolved.
      • Heavy weapons (list included) get only one attack per other exchange (probably the most-ignored rule at the tables), the heavy crossbow gets only one attack per four exchanges.
      • Characters' placement sets who can attack whom, including unequal numbers of combats within exchanges of blows. No grid of any kind is used; the text encourages paper sketches for the players to see and refers to a map for purposes of sketching accurately, so I think that's the DM's private map. The DM is effectively expected to keep track of where everyone is on his or her side of the screen, and to represent what they can see or do with the sketches.
      • After the exchanges of blows, but before the start of the next round, you can move unengaged characters around, including joining existing exchanges of blows. (This implies "engaged" as a useful concept but there isn't a formal designation.)
      • Cover penalizes missile attacks.
      • Inside an exchange, surprise grants you the first blow, i.e., overriding the Dexterity order
      • Breaking off from being engaged is an action during the exchange of blows, and your foe gets a free attack at +2 as you do so. (I did not remember or realize this!)
      • There's an interesting option regarding giving up an attack to parry, which opens up a whole range of ideas about using two light weapons.

      There's more separation of spells, missiles, and melee than one might have guessed from the basic description of turn order.

      • When we're talking about groups closing to attack one another, and given statements to use spells and missiles, then their spells are resolved, then their missiles are resolved, and only then do we go on to the exchanges of blows. But this is specifically described only for those opening moments of a fight.
      • Once the exchange or exchanges of blows have begun, then anyone with ranged attacks outside of the exchanges is surprisingly limited. Missile attacks into them are not permitted; this is stated more than once. A magic-user can cast more spells only once per every other round, at the speediest. If an archer or magic-user is engaged by an opponent's movement, they must shift to melee weapons (wand, staff, or dagger for magic-users).
      • One phrase says that spells and missiles fired into a melee will hit one's allies in addition to the foes. Its categorical "will" is a bit alarming; I suspect Holmes did not encourage any such action during play. It doesn't say anything about how to resolve that, precisely, e.g., either-or, or how to explain one arrow hitting all three combatants, et cetera.
      • It isn't stated precisely when such attacks occur relative to the exchanges, so I asssume it's resolved using the same logic as the order of resolving exchanges, based on circumstances. There's probably nothing wrong with staying with spells first, then missiles, then exchanges for those characters, but it's not a textual rule, just a default I'd go with until circumstances override it.

      There are many phrases scattered around which go directly to your question!

      • If the placement of characters creates "rows" (ranks), then only the ones in front relative to the opponents can use missile weapons. There isn't any phrasing about longer melee weapons like spears, but if I had to choose, regarding your ranks question, I'd go with the many not permitted references not to attack into others' exchanges of blows.
      • It even says, "One would not expect to get more than two or three figures fighting side by side in a ten foot corridor, for example." Sadly it leaves your exact answer unknown, contained in the "or" between two or three, but this is an example of the DM deciding based on placement, so the real answer is, look at the placement and consider other factors, then say yes or no.
    • “Exchange of blows” seems

      "Exchange of blows" seems suggestive of simultaneous action resolution to me (i.e. no shenanigans like moving in, attacking, and moving away again as with some options in later editions / theoretically possible only with individual full completion of IIEE).

      Am I correct in reading the 'first round rules' as spellcasters getting a break at the beginning of combat (i.e. to get off a spell uncontested)? That seems like a big deal, especially if the *sleep* spell allows no save.

      I'm going to take specific questions about S&W to a dedicated forum but will continue to enjoy the discussion here. The comments are very helpful (whether it's Shimrod providing contrast via 3e expertise or your views on Holmes, for instance).

      For completeness' sake: Apparently, a German translation of the old D&D Rules Compendium (RC) exists, too (but is again a collector's item with no .PDFs in sight.

    • This is a good conversation

      This is a good conversation and it prompts me to look at rules I know pretty well with different questions in mind from my usual habits, and therefore I see new things in them.

      So, regarding what looks like a free spell-shot, the way the text is worded seems clear that we have two groups converging upon one another from significant distance away from one another, with mayhem intended by everyone for everyone. Instead of worrying about who is closest or how far this guy is when the spell targets him relative to how close everyone else is, or anything like that, you merely abstract the whole thing into "no one's within physical reach yet" and let the spellcasters and missile-shooters zap at foes during that abstraction. Remember, there aren't any segments or internal timing outside of ordering in this version. Rounds don't actually start until that abstracted phase is finished.

      There appears to be no way to hit-and-shift-away. It's absent from Melee too, and indeed, the more I think about it, seems to have been a given in everyone's mind through the play cultures I was in – making an attack stops you in your tracks, it's the law. I know that when I came across it pretty late in the day, I was surprised, and also, I knew that including "And Out" as an after-attack option for Martial Moves in Champions Now would be a unique change-up for those characters.

      I don't know if you're seen the Spartacus: Blood and Sand boardgame – and I hope Lorenzo and Shimrod see this comment too; we're getting spread across a couple of posts and comment streams – it includes a strikingly good skirmish combat system, in which deciding your order for hit-then-move or move-then-hit is tactical and exciting.

  7. Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

    Compared to a lot of these described already, D&D 3E seems very straightforward to me, but maybe that's becasue I've played so much of it that it's become second nature.

    At the start of combat, every player rolls initiative, d20 modified by Dexterity. For a typical character -1 is low, +10 is very high, so luck carries a lot of weight.

    The book says "Typically, the DM makes a single initiative check for the monsters. That way, each player gets a turn each round and the DM also gets one turn." Interestingly, this doesn't seem to consider the rather common situation when this results in separate turns for the DM's creatures anyway, due to their different modifieres (player A gets 5 total, player B gets 10 total, DM rolls 10 but some of his creatures have -1 and some have +5). The book goes on to say that at the DMs discretion, they can roll separately for groups or even individual creatures. In my experience, the second is the actual typical approach: groups of creatures sharing a stat block also share the initiative roll.

    High results go first. A round of combat, a chunk of combat where everyone gets to go once, is about 6 seconds, and "Anything a person could reasonably do in 6 seconds, your character can do in 1 round". Your turn, the part of the round when you get to go, does not have a duration explicitly specified but in effect covers almost but not quite the whole of those 6 seconds.

    It seems clear to me that the turns which the players take sequentially, are "actually", in the fiction, significantly overlapping, and the weirdness that arises is a limitation of the model. But the weirdness is not "why is he, in the fiction, standing stock still while I am taking my turn to move up and attack him?". That is just reading the output of the model incorrectly. At the same time you are moving up to attack he is also moving, it's just that we have resolved his movement already, on his turn.

    So on your turn, the basic idea is you get to move and attack. Typically, all of IIEE is completed on your turn. You decide where to move, who to attack, roll your attack roll, hit or miss, roll damage, all that. All sorts of actions count as "move-equivalent" (you can do them instead of your move) or "standard" (you can do them instead of your attack), but the overall intent is clear: the big, impactful actions (like casting a spell) subsitute for your attack, supplemental actions (like drawing a weapon or opening a door) substitute for your movement. If the most imporant thing is to move, you can also use your attack/standard action for another move, to move twice the distance in total. Typically, you don't get to split up your move, you either move before or after, not both.

    A notable idiosyncrasy of 3E compared to other versions of D&D is how this interacts with multiple attacks. As in many other versions D&D many  creatures, from player character fighters to various monsters, have the ability to make more than one attack in a round. But I think uniquely to 3E, doing that eats up their move. This design decision has become quite reviled as making fights too static, but I think the intent at least is laudable: even if it's at the cost of making combat more static in physical space, it's more dynamic in the decision space, because each turn, there is always the choice between making one attack from an ideal position, and making multiple attacks from a less than ideal position.

    Undercutting the previous point perhaps, there is the concept of a 5-ft. step: if you don't otherwise move on your turn, you can move 5 ft. So if your taking your multiple attacks, or spent your move on something else like drawing that weapon, you can move 5 ft. Which makes it all a bit less static again in physical space, but often lets you have your cake and eat it in terms of move-and-attack vs. attack-attack-attack.

    Once everyone's taken their turn, we've gone through an entire 6 second round, and the next round begins from the top of the same initiative order, no rerolling initiative, just taking turns in that order established at the start.

    But the order is not as fixed as all that. On your turn, you can choose to delay, letting the next person in the initiative order take theirs. This means that any uninterrupted sequance of allies can go in any order they like at no cost. My impression is that this is easy to miss for new players, and it's very tactically useful. For example, with an initiative order of fighter 20, barbarian 15, cleric 10, orc 5, the fighter and barbarian might want to go after cleric casts bless, to have that bonus when they attack the orc, and there is not compelling reason not to do so. The order will be rearranged to something like cleric 10, fighter 10-, barbarian 10–, orc 5 (there's no limit to the number of creatures at the same initiative number, but they still go in some order), but that pretty much doesn't matter because if they want to go in the original order, the cleric just needs to delay until after the barbarian has gone.

    A superficially similar, but substantially different way to mess with initiative order is to ready an action. This is to prepare a standard action (so a single attack, spell, or move, because, remember, another move is one of the options for your attack/standard/main action), with a trigger, that will be resolved after the triggering action/event is initiated, but before it is executed. The classic example is: "if the wizard tries to cast a spell, I punch him". The punch will land after the wizard has begun to cast the spell (too late to change his mind now!), but before the spell takes effect. This is the way to disrupt spellcasters in 3E, as the normal turn taking won't do it, because the wizard will complete his spell on his turn, and then when you punch him on your turn immediately after, there's nothing to disrupt. If your readied action isn't triggered, you don't get to abort or trigger it anyway or anything like that; you missed your opportunity waiting for an opening that never came and you just get to go on your turn in the next round. If your readied action is triggered, your initiative going forwards is set to just before the triggering event. So in the wizard puncher example, you're still before the wizard, and in the next round you can again ready another action to punch him if he casts a spell in that next round.

    One important and common source of simulataneity (and spatial staticity, in addition to the multiple attacks mentioned previously) is attacks of opportunity. The basic idea is: if you leave melee or disregard it to attend to something else, you provide an opening, and the enemies can take an attack, out of turn. Again, it comes from both a fictionally and tactically compelling place: once you got yourself into a situation where someone is waving a sword in your face, you can't just saunter away, or cast spells, or shoot them with a bow, or read a book. Most creatures are only allowed one attack of opportunity per round, which can combine with delaying and readying to create interesting tactics and choices. As a simple example, a wizard looking to scurry out of melee might delay until after the allied fighter, who on his turn provokes an attack of opportunity intentionally, allowing the wizard to now move away. Especially remembering that all this action is more simultaneous than sequential, I think this is a pretty neat cinematic moment emerging from these couple of rules: the fighter exposing himself to danger to draw the monster's attention just long enough for a more vulnerable friend to get away. In my experience this also asks a more than basic grasp and engagement with the rules from the players. At the level of "what can I do on my turn" this just isn't there, this tactical option emerges only when you're considering how yours and the allies' turns interact.

    Attacks of opportunity might a bit of a double dip with the no move on multiple attacks rule. Both cutting your own offense and increasing the enemy's offense does mean that moving around too much becomes a bad idea once you're in melee. 5-ft. steps, also mentioned before, don't provoke attacks of opportunity so there's that. A typical 3E melee is more like a boxing match than a wuxia fight, opponents slowly circling each other rather than darting this way and that.

    All of this means the end of one round and the beginning of the next doesn't really have much substance. There's no appreciable difference between, for example, delaying so that you're last in one round, and so that you're first in the next. Nothing in particular happens at the end, or at the start of a round. Effects, which in D&D are many, which last for a number of rounds, last until (just before) the initiative count they began on that many rounds later, not until the end, or start of any given round. For example, if we have an initiative order of fighter 15, wizard 10, orc 5, and the wizard on his turn blinds the orc for 1 round, the orc goes on 5 making his attacks more difficult because he's blinded, the next round begins but that doesn't really do anything, the fighter goes on 15 making his attacks agains the orc easier because the orc's blinded, and then immediately before wizard goes on 10 the orc stops being blinded.

    Going back to the Mongol archer dilemma raised in the Horses on squares post: "how do you keep your distance in figure chess? You have to pre-empt how fast and to which direction the enemy is going to move." It seems to me there is a solution that is strictly within 3E's figure chess model, and that is sufficiently close to my intuition of what the fiction should be, how I would expect this to play out: delay until you go right after them. If they close, move away and shoot them. If they run away, pursue and shoot them. The sequential turn taking still means there's this rubberbanding effect where you cannot keep them at a steady, say, 100 ft. at all times, but instead they close to 50 ft. and then you retreat to 100 ft. again and again. The numbers can get a bit large, but in principle I don't think it's unreasonable that it turns out that it's impossible to keep someone who's pursuing you on a perfect tether of exact length, but instead that the gap closes and opens as one or the other gain the upper hand in the chase.

    • I started writing this with a

      I started writing this with a note it's about D&D 3E, 3.5, and Pathfinder 1st Edition because they all work the for this purpose, but actually checking the book I was surprised to find more difference than I remembered.

      Most strikingly, the 3E Player's Handbook assumes the grid only tacitly if at all. The combat example maps have tokens arranged as if on a grid, but with no actual grid shown, spell areas are not pixelated to the squares, and the language is all about distance in ft.


      The 3E Dungeon Master's Guide already shows the grid and even though it talks about it as optional, clearly consider it so useful.


      The 3.5 Player's Handbook opens the combat chapter with a new section that starts with "To help visualize events in the fictional world of the D&D game, we recommend the use of miniature figures and a battle grid." It's still optional, but it's now clearly the assumed default, and plenty of rules now reference it directly, for example talking about moving into or out of squares, how to count squares on the diagonal, what happens when you and another creature are in the same square &c.


    • That’s a great summary and I

      That's a great summary and I appreciate your thoughts on "meaning" – e.g., when sequentially-resolved actions are concluded to be fictionally sequential, vs. when they are interpreted in terms of what actually happened.

      I'd like to play Melee/Wizard with you some time to display the historical power of these two little pamphlets, just for the fun of it.

    • Thanks. I’d appreciate that.

      Thanks. I'd appreciate that.

      Two more points that might be of interest, one I wanted to mention at one point but left for later and never get back to it; and one that seemed like a specific edge case that I didn't want to get into but now occurs to me is interesting in how the timing and spacing interacts.

      I wrote above how a round (a full cycle of everyone getting an opportunity to act) is about 6 seconds, and how a turn (one character's opportunity to act) is almost but not quite the whole of those 6 seconds.

      First, something that says it's the whole or vast majority of those 6 seconds: the combat movement rules per round have a normal person moving 60 ft. per round, all on their turn. The "local" (I guess dungeon exploration) movement rules per minute have a normal person moving 600 ft. per minute. So clearly, the duration of someone's turn in a 5-person fight isn't a mere 1/5 of a round, it's pretty much the whole round (even though there's 5 of them to a round).

      Now something that says the duration of a turn is not in fact the whole round. Most spells take 1 standard action to cast. As above, that means on your turn you can move, start and finish casting the spell. However, some spells take 1 full round to cast. Going by the above (your turn covers your actions in the round) and how multiple attacks work (too much time/effort to also move, but still start and finish on your turn), I've seen people assume that just means they cannot move in that turn. In fact it means that they cannot move, but also that the spell begun on this round only completes and takes effect 1 full round later, i.e. just before the start of your own turn in the next round (this is the same as the 1-round duration blindness in one of the examples above). In this case, your turn alone clearly did not cover the entire 6 seconds of the round. Obviously, these kinds of spells are especially vulnerable to disruption because instead of having to ready in advance, everyone in the fight now has a shot on their own turn before the spellcaster's next turn is up and the spell takes effect. These spells are somewhat rare, and other activities that work like that are even rarer, to the point where I can't think of any commonly used.

      The other point is about reach weapons, pikes and such. There's no individually measured reach per weapon, just two buckets: normal (can reach about 5 ft., which is conveniently the adjacent squares if you're using the grid) and reach (can reach about 10 ft.) Remember, moving around in melee provokes an out of turn attack of opportunity. With the reach rules, this combines to create a "pikemen strike first" effect: a swordsman with normal 5-ft. reach, approaching a pikeman with long 10 ft. reach, will provoke an attack of opportunity by moving around in melee at the point where they're 10 ft. apart (so in melee for the pikeman, but still too far to attack for the swordsman). So the pikeman will have an opportunity to strike out of turn, on the swordsman's turn, before the swordsman completes his move and is ready to attack himself.

      Most reach weapons cannot attack within 5 ft. so once the swordsman closes, the pikeman cannot attack at all without moving. However, since 5-ft. steps do not provoke attacks of opportunity, this is often a non-issue: the pikeman can keep backing away and attacking, and the swordsman can keep closing in and attacking, for the rest of the fight, tending towards the same inching, circling movement as a fight between two swordsmen. But if the swordsman manages to corner him somewhere where he cannot back away, the pikeman is in a really bad place.

    • More great points! Your first

      More great points! Your first point illustrates exactly how the whole-round resolution, which often captures a character in motion although the player is finished with II+Execution, so that we don't really know how it plays out (+Effect) until every player is done, gets replaced by "IIEE, freeze, IIEE, freeze." A related point, perhaps more extreme, is how I've observed every-other-phase rules for attacks, based on more cumbersome weapons, to be fully abandoned at tables, with no "it says here in the rules" discussion at all.

      This replacement seems to me to have occurred at the tables of the late 70s and early 80s in a diffuse, possibly multiple-origin way which only shows up in texts as evidence of its appearance(s), rather than historical cause. Champions is clearly involved. I also note the disappearance of RuneQuest's Strike Rank from BRP, and from general understanding; I have to teach it from the ground up during play, and as you can see in Lorenzo's recent comment in the Situation post, his game design process reinvented it from scratch.

      The second point about long weapons is solidly grounded in Melee for the rules and procedures, and also, a bit differently, in RuneQuest, so, that's another vote for a meet-up for play, for the fun and to see where these questions and methods for play all began.

    • A pikeman should never let

      A pikeman should never let themselves be cornered 🙂 The 3.X texts are a game of gears, especially when it comes to character improvement. A sufficiently high level character with the right feats could deliver as many as 8 hand to hand attacks a round depending on several factors. This would include several attacks of opportunity. It is fun, not sure it is good design or not, but the gears fit together in a more or less logical way. 

      Logical or no, it stretches the fiction almost to breaking, more so than the horse in my opinion. Add in the ability to delay actions, questions about movement, and those six seconds become an eternity of play. 

      As for Runequest, I remember thinking the weapon SR seemed counter-intuitive at first. Part of this was coming from the AD&D1/2 tradition where bigger weapons had bigger initiative penalites. But once I used it in play and realized that having a weapon with reach was an advantage, it became much clearer. You are not punished for wanting to use a tactically effective weapon. Where as in 3.X, where the ability to use a reach weapon up close is removed, you are punished for it or it is discouraged to put it in milder language. This (I think) reflects the idea of having to balance all the gears to keep the whole machine moving, which at least hyperbolically pervades D&D design. 

    • Oh yes, everything I wrote is

      Oh yes, everything I wrote is just the generic core of 3E combat rules. High levels and special abilities and feats are all about exceptions and special cases to pretty much everyhing that's been mentioned: more attacks on your turn, more attacks out of turn, avoiding others' out-of-turn attacks, move-attack-move instead of just move-attack or attack-move…

      Regarding reach weapons, I think even "discouraged" is an overstatement. There is a downside, but it's more than outweighed by the benefits.

  8. Stormbringer 1st ed. – Other BRP

    Runequest has been mentioned, but I wanted to share another of my favorite, older games. This is Stormbringer 1st edition, which also uses the BRP system as its base, but a few notable differences from Runequest

    It mentions the 12-second round, but the paragraph before mentions that (paraphrase) that no set amount of time can be attributed to one round, but it is enough time for each person to make all legal attacks and parries once. It goes on to meantion that a sword and shield count as two weapons, and a person has two fists, each of which are weapons (assuming they are not holding something).

    Declaration of Intent. This appears in older games and perhaps even in some more recent designs, but I wonder how many use it or understand its full implications. We talk about what a charcter knows about a given situation, often in terms of skill use or powers or attributes. But with DI, everyone's general intentions are known. I suspect this is as much a subtle way of getting players to communicate before a round begins, as much as it is designed to simulate any kind of combat awareness. There is little ambiguity: if someone is summoning an elemental, everyone knows its coming. Information here is available for everyone to react to, and possibly do so with some advantage in deciding their own actions. And it locks a player into their actions. 

    A couple things of note:

    • The "fighter", which is not a class but anyone who is actually fighting, may move up half their movement if they kill or incpacitate their opponent. That little perk of victory seems like some kind of momentum to me, to represent the ability to re-position oneself after scoring. 
    • Magic in this edition (and the source material) is about controlling and summoning beings from other planes and such. There is no fireball or invisibility as such. And that means that, for the most part, combat is about hand ot hand or ranged combat. 
    • High DEX is good for everyone. There are no Strike Ranks and such. 


  9. Warhammer FRPG 3E

    WFRPG3 is quite the unique game, and the initiative and movement system is a good example.

    At the beginning of combat, each partecipant makes an Initiative check, using Agility for Combat or Fellowship for Social Encounters; the GM may assign a higher difficulty (represented by 1 or more dice added to the pool that produce "negative" effects or cancel out successes; the higher the difficulty, the more dice you add) to each partecipant depending on their situation.

    You build a track using the boardgame-esque pieces in the game box, at least 6 spaces long. You have color coded initiative tokens, blue for players and red for enemies. Each partecipant adds a token representing their "side" on the space on the track that corresponds to the number of successes rolled.

    Example: we have 3 players fighting 3 goblins, 2 orcs and a troll.
    The first player rolls 1 success, the second gets 4, the third 3. The goblins get 5 successes, the orcs get 3, the troll gets 0.
    Now, we place one red token on the 0 spot in the track, one blue on 1, none on 2, one red and one blue token on 3, one blue token on 5 and one red token on 5.

    Note that I'm having the opponents act as groups; I can do that instead of rolling for each creature, but only up to the party size, so if I had 4 goblins, I would have had to split them in 2 groups.

    Once initiative is rolled, it's fixed, unless a player chooses to refocus during the rally step (they re-roll initiative as an action, and move the lowest token on the track to the new spot. This is actually a crucial maneuver as you'll see).

    This is where things get funkier. The GM starts calling initiative from highest to lowest; hero tokens break ties (in our above example, players go first on 3).

    Tokens can represent any player or NPC (depending on color); that means the players may decide that on the first turn A goes on 4, B goes on 3, and then C goes on 1. Then next turn B goes on 4, C goes on 3, and A goes on 1.
    Same for the other side. Nobody can act twice (you flip a token – of course, FFG – on your character sheet once you acted) but aside from that, ordering is free.

    Small note: if players can't agree on who goes when, the GM adds one Tension to the party sheet (which is a "group" sheet where you can attach talents and that tracks how well the group gets along). If they still can't get along, they skip their first activation. This has never happened to me in play, and I consider it a completely redundant and useless (if not dangerous) rule.

    Distance in the game is handled by range bands – close quarters, near, far or something like that. You track where everyone is relative to everyone else with index cards and tokens. At each turn, you have one maneuver (free); you can get more actions by taking Stress (which is EXTREMELY dangerous).
    Moving one range band costs 1 maneuver.

    When some partecipant dies or gets incapacitated, their token is not removed; the others have now more flexibility for when to act.

    The system is quite hard to visualize on paper but leads to some interesting interactions. For example, let's say that A is close to the troll, and the troll (acting on 0) hits him really hard; on the next turn, the troll may act on 5 before players get to do anything and stop the poor guy.
    Let's say that the troll was acting on 2, and players had 1 token on 1 and one on 5.
    The troll beats up the player on 2, then on 1 the player decides to move away 2 spaces (taking 1 point of stress), and then on 5 on the next turn the same character moves again. At this point the GM may send the troll on pursuit but he can't get there and attack; and if he activates first, the other characters get to act first in their individual bouts.

    As baroque as all this may sound, combined with the dedicated dice system this ordering system has been quite exceptional for me in terms of having mechanics that help you visualize the action. There's a strong sense of "this is happening, so we should do this" in the way the game is played, with the camera naturally linging on the action and nobody fading out, at least compared to the IIEE-freeze model of D&D. 

    • I like the idea of the tokens

      I like the idea of the tokens representing a side or group. In practice was this something the group did every time or was there a tendency to choose a rotation and stick to it?

    • It was used; it’s very

      It was used; it's very dynamic in play, and while I'm sure this is not the first instance of something like this in a roleplaying games, it worked so well (according to the fanbase) that it carried over to all other Fantasy Flight Games roleplaying games (mainly Star Wars and Genesys). It's often referred to as "slot initiative" (as you don't have a fixed position in the ordering associated with a specific actor, but anybody on their side could "use" the slot).

      In my experience it does work in interesting way. The most important one is that while the game has all the trappings of a "freeze frame" ordering system, having to constantly decide who goes when forces you to constantly assess the fiction, which makes everything feel quite dynamic.


    • To clarify a little, it’s not

      To clarify a little, it's not merely flavour: the system is plenty brutal and if you just stuck to a rotation you'll lose. A few extra considerations on this topic:

      – if you have the first and last slot in the ordering, you can have one guy technically acting two times in a row (as the last of the turn and the first of the next). This can have powerful implications expecially for spellcasters. You could take a risky action last in the turn knowing you'll get to run away immediately after, or heal 2 different allies. 
      The GM can use it too (I had one scene where a pack of goblin climbed screaming and spitting on the back of a troll while the group was running away in slot A, then the troll started running in B, then in the next turn the troll started throwing the goblins in A and the goblins resumed chase in B). 

      – through the use of index cards, the system supports having actors that are really far away from each other. In these cases deciding the ordering can have even greater implications.

      You just need to accept the meta elements and not get stuck in "simulation mode".

  10. Bushido (1981)

    Bushido is unequivocal about the importance of miniatures or other tokens to keep track of where characters all in space.

    "While  it  is  certainly  possible  to  keep  track  of  characters'  movement on  the  Gamesmaster's  map,  this  often  leads  to  arguments  over  who was where  and  how  long  it  takes  to  get  from  one  place  to  another.  It also  puts  an  even  greater  burden  on  the  already  overworked Gamesmaster.  We  definitely  recommend  the  use  of  miniatures  to add  color  and  character  identification  to  the  game."

    It calls for a 1" = 1 yard scale. Weapon length is a major factor. Characters with long weapons can Engage an opponent at 3 yards, stopping their free movement and limiting their range of actions. 

    Time is similarly fine-grained.

    Detailed Turns are 6 seconds long. During this time all sorts of tasks may be carried out, including but not limited to conflicts of magic and violence. Characters who wish to communicate may "Give Orders" and say a sentence that might fit in a 6-second span.

    The GM has final say, but when a character delcares that they are executing a combat option or other action that is resolved at the Detailed Turn scale, the game normally enters Detailed Turns. Characters moving in Strategic or Tactical time might surprise others or be surprised. The surpriser gets to make one free attack before the Phases of the Detailed Turn begins.

    These Turns are broken down into up to 20 (!) Phases, counted from 20 down to 1, which is a bookkeeping phase. There is no randomization of initiative or a character's place in the succession of Phases. The character's traits determine when their first, and possibly second or third action will take place.

    Every character has a Base Action Phase that indicates on which Phase of a Detailed Turn they may carry out their Basic Action. Characters with more than 1 Maximum Number of Actions may act again in this Turn. A character with 2 actions may do a second action at 1/2 of their Base Action Phase. A character with 3 actions may act on 2/3 and 1/3 of their Action Phase.

    "Zanshin" indicates the quality of the actions after the first. A character with Zanshin 2 can do their second action without a reduced chance of success. A character with Zanshin 3 could do their second and third actions with no penalty

    Characters may Move, or Cast Spells, shoot a Heavy Bow on their Base Action Phase. They may also do Primary Actions (which include Attack + 1 yard move, shoot a Light Bow, Give Commands) or Secondary Actions (Atttack w. no move, Draw a Weapon, Parry, a task like pick a lock or activate a ninja device). On later Phases, most characters will only be able to carry out 1 or 2 Secondary Actions. But some competent characters or monsters will be able to do 2 or 3 Primary actions during one Turn.

    A first level Yakuza will be able to swing an iron pipe and bark out a command to underlings. A fourth level Samurai will be able to get off 2 shots from a light bow. An Oni could shoot that bow three times in six seconds. Characters' speeds are measured but their mastery is taken into account too. Skillful characters can act more often, do a greater variety of actions, and do them with a higher chance of success, than low level or unskilled characters.

    Most characters will have their Base Action Phase, and possibly a Primary action where their chance of success will be lowered.

    So there are XXX factors that interact: Clearly-mapped space, characters' number of actions, the phased occurence of those actions, and the differing ranges of actions that characters with different levels of mastery (Zanshin) bring to the conflict.

    Almost everything happens sequentially. Almost as if one were doing stop-motion animation with little samurai figures. But there is some "ret-conning." For example: a character can execute a Charge on their Base Action Phase. That can get them proximate to a foe. However, the results of that Charge are determined only at Phase 2. Now, the character who was the target of that charge will be able to get in a hit before the full consequences of that charge are determined. So the attacker's figure will be put at the end of its movement, the target might shift a yard here or there and then get in a blow, and THEN the impact of the spear thrust will be calculated. And during that time another character might have given an order or cast a spell. In reality the spear would strike at Second 1, the target would never get a sword thrust in and the bystanders would have no time to speak. But most combats would be resolved without a moment where we say "OK, like I guess the spear hit you but it didn't hit deep and that's why you were able to pivot around it and ding me with a katana hit while the priestess yelled at us."


    • Forgot to Plug in a Value

      So there are 5 factors that interact:

      1. Clearly-mapped space
      2. characters' number of allowed actions,
      3. the sequential completion of those actions
      4. differing scope of actions that characters may undertake 
      5. different levels of mastery (Zanshin) determining the quality of those actions
    • I have a PowerPoint

      I illustrate what happens across 3 turns of Detailed Time on this slideshow:


      I work through 3 Detailed Turns of an encounter between a Shinto Priestess, a Samurai, and a Bakemono goblin guy with a naginata. The Bakemono would normally only act on 2 Phases. However, he elects to Charge, and that means the resolution of that move/attack combo take place on Phase 2, meaning we keep track of the goblin's activities across 3 Phases.

      The Bakemono has a Zanshin of 2, which means that both of his actions can be carried out with full chances of success. The Samurai has a Zanshin of 1, which means that only his first action will be carried out with a full chance of success. The Priestess has a Zanshin of 1 but only 1 action. That first action will be carried out with a full chance of success.

      Phase 14: Bakemono's Basic Action (or Primary or Secondary, if wished), full chances of success

      Phase 10: Samurai's Basic Action (or Primary or Secondary, if wished), full chances of success

      Phase 7: Bakemono's Primary Action (or Secondary, if wished), full chances of success

      Phase 5: Shinto Priestess' Basic Action (or Primary, or Secondary, if wished), full chances of success 

      later in Phase 5: Samurai's Primary Action (or Secondary, if wished), 1/2 chance of success

      [Basic Action precedes Primary Action, which precedes Secondary, ties resolved by roll, GM may determine that some actions are simultaneous]

      [however, damage taking and giving during any Phase is considered to happen simultaneously]

      Phase 2: The resolution of the Bakemono's charge.

    • There is no “declaration of

      There is no "declaration of intent" step. The GM or player decides what the character will do when their Phase comes up. They may discuss their Intent or formulate it internally. But they Initiate their character's activity on a pre-determined Phase, and in 98.5% of cases they Execute that action during that Phase, and the Effect of that action is determined before moving to the next Phase.

      [The one exception I can find is that delayed Effect of a Charge; however, the Charge Engages a foe if the charging character comes in range of the target, so part of the Charge's Effect — making an Unengaged Character into an Engaged one — is immediate.]

    • A JFK reference?

      "An Oni could shoot that bow three times in six seconds. Characters' speeds are measured but their mastery is taken into account too. Skillful characters can act more often, do a greater variety of actions, and do them with a higher chance of success, than low level or unskilled characters."

      Was Lee Harvey Oswald an Oni?

    • Fog of War, Limits of Time rules

      Fog of War, Limits of Time rules

      Forgot to mention: a character is aware only of what is immediately in front of them unless they choose the "Observe" action. Our samurai engaged with the bakemono would not be aware of characters sneaking up behind him unless he took that action. The player could see the GM putting 10 minis on the board but the character would not be aware of their existence. The GM controlling the bakemono would be aware that the priestess was sneaking up behind but would be system-bound to Initiate only those actions that were consistent with the bakemono being unaware of what was going on behind him.

      The priestess was positioned in such a way that she could observe a lot of what was going on on the board. She wouldn't have to waste her time using an Observe action. If she had stayed in her removed position, she would be automatically aware of threats to the samurai's Rear. She could have used the Give Orders action to inform the samurai what was up.

      Exchange of information is an action. The system prevents players from Initiating actions that are predicated on information unavailable to the characters, who perceive only part of the situation and who must depend on the limited perceptions of other characters. Defecits in perception can be made up for by tactical exchanges of information between characters. The players may say whatever they want to each other. Characters send packets of information in 6 second bursts.

      The rules constrain the players to putting 6-second speeches in their characters' mouths. And talking counts as an action in a system where characters can only do one action at a time.

      Spotters, advisors, ranged attackers have very important roles to play in conflicts.

  11. Sorcerer-y interpretation of Melee rules?

    I just watched Ron’s video and since I am running a phantasy game with Sorcerer rules this topic caught my interest.

    In the combat rules of Sorcerer there is no explicit statement of that Melee idea of stating the movement first and then committing an action, but there is paragraph in the Sorcerer combat rules mentioning “little action” like movement. I – maybe wrongly – combined that in my mind into one thing and use this in the free and clear stage of the conflict rules.

    My example was that the movement can be used to establish why for example someone can use bonus dice in the first place, like running for cover to hide behind a stone wall.

    Maybe Ron can clarify how he would handle a combat situation in Sorcerer with this movement / action separation in mind?

    • Hi! Thanks for bringing this here. I’ll try to answer but if I didn’t quite get it, please let me know and I’ll focus better.

      I think I see what you mean, though: when we’re in free-and-clear, and someone includes movement in their statement, among everyone else’s statement, prior to the roll(s). I think you’re right to an extent.

      Meaning, yes, when you say in such a statement, “I run over to the guy and hit him,” then we can all visualize your character doing so. For purposes of the roll, we might consider your guy to have run over there already.

      However, I have two small qualifiers. First, that the statement isn’t binding until everyone is finished saying what they want, and may be revised during that process. So the initial act of saying something like that doesn’t establish the movement as a given in the way that moving your guy four hexes does so establish it in Melee.

      Second, that the extent of the movement isn’t fully established until after the roll is over and someone says what actually happened. That someone has the prerogative to utilize any part of the stated action as the “failure” part, and it obviously has a lot to do with whatever the defending character was doing. Let’s say the attack fails, and that the targeted person was defending in some way which kept you from even getting to them: then perhaps the person describing the outcome would utilize that as the primary defensive factor, and your movement didn’t get very far.

      Does that make sense? “Yes,” but also, more provisional and subject to finalized outcome description, in ways that Melee is not.

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