Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thoughts on House Rules Regarding Combat Movement

I’m interested in discussing possible house rules regarding movement in combat. The SW rules are, by design I believe, deliberately vague here to allow individual DMs to interpret them as they see fit. Here are the issues that strike me as most pertinent:

(1) The core rules state that a “character may both move and attack in the same round” (16).

Does a character’s attack have to come at the beginning or end of his or her movement, or can a character attack in the middle of his or her movement?

(2) Under what circumstances should a free attack be allowed? The core rules state that a character’s base movement rate “may be interpreted as the distance a character can move in combat without suffering free attacks from enemies or consequences a retreating character may incur” (14). Elsewhere, the rules state, “[m]ost referees allow the enemy a free attack if the character (or monster) moves away by more than its ‘combat’ movement of base movement rate in feet” (20).

This seems to imply that a character can move freely around and among enemy combatants as long as he or she does not exceed his or her combat movement rate or pass through the 3’ of space that an enemy occupies. Do we want to go with this?

(3) The rules also state that “[i]t’s only possible to make melee attacks when the two combatants are within 10’ of each other” (19).

This rule strikes me as a little odd, given that the core rules also suggest “[b]ecause most movement and combat increments are divisible by three, it is easiest to assume that a character ‘occupies’ an area about 3’ across for the purposes of marching and fighting” (20). Should not the maximum distance at which opponents can attack also be divisible by three?

Before offering my opinions about which house rule to use regarding these issues, I add the caveat that I have little experience actually playing SW. My ideas here are thus almost entirely theoretical. I therefore wholeheartedly welcome all suggestions and input from gamers with more practical experience.

I like a little tactical nuance, so my initially inclination was to allow characters to attack during their move. Thus, a character with combat movement rate of 9’ per round could move 6’, attack, and then move another 3’. In order to make things fair, opponents get a free attack if any character or monster moves out of an area that they threaten. The range at with characters can attack in melee should be reduced to 3’. After looking at this closely, I was struck by its similarity to 3.5. My instincts tell me that there might be all sorts of problems with this that might not reveal themselves except through game play.

Another option would be to rule that a character can either move and attack or attack and move. Free attacks are only allowed if a character or monster exceeds his or her combat movement rate or attempts to move through a space occupied by an opponent. This approach appeals to me because it seems more in keeping with the generally tactically light spirit of play implied by SW and old school gaming in general. While I have absolutely no qualms about taking liberties, even generous ones, with such implied assumptions, I am hesitant to do so without having first played the SW rules “straight.” In other words, I’m hesitant to get too fancy until I’m comfortable with the basics.

I’m not sure at this point. I always liked some of the tactical aspects of 3.5, but I’m hesitant to import them into SW where they just seem out of place.


post festum said...

Thanks for working some of the questions out on this topic. I agree that we should be mindful of importing 3.5 mechanics without very good reason.

Let me break up my responses to your (1) and (2) into separate replies since (1) is easier to address than (2), I think.

With regards to the question of order of movement/attack during each round, I was at first tempted to say that to allow movement-attack-movement would be to give the PCs too much power, almost an equivalent to 3.5's Spring Attack feat at first level. And giving PCs that kind of power seemed to me to be very un-Old School.

However, I think my first reaction failed to appreciate the length of a round in s&w. Unless this is something else you care to house rule, 1 round = 1 minute. Therefore, I need to really change my understanding of what a round of combat actually simulates.

If 1 round = 1 minute, and 1 turn = 10 minutes, then I think that allowing the PC any combination of their attack/move options is not only perfectly acceptable but is, in fact, the only way to go here. You can and would do a lot of things in a single minute. Any limitation on this freedom just seems artificial.

Now, I do think that during the course of such a combo PCs might expose themselves to free attacks of opportunity. But I'll save my thoughts on this for the next response.

Ironbeard said...

Post Festum - Thank you for the analysis. As I said earlier, I too was inclined to go with the more 3.5-ish rules, allowing characters to attack at any point in their movement and allowing a free attack against an opponent who leaves a threatened square. Let's call this Option #1.

But I have just run several "test" combats in which I pitted two teams of three opponents each against each other. All participants had identical stats (AC, hit points, hit dice, etc.). I ran two fights using Option #1 and two fights using Option #2 (characters can only attack before or after a move and opponents get free attacks in more limited situations).

I must say that I greatly preferred Option#2. The combat was much faster and more free wheeling. I did not feel like anything was lost in terms of the fight being tactically interesting. The melee shifted over a great surface area as well, something that I liked. Option #1 felt too much like I was playing 3.5.

Your point about achieving greater verisimilitude whens it comes to the one minute combat round is a good one. But still, I'm not too worried about it. What actually takes place in a minute of melee and what is actually supposed to be represented by the combat mechanics have been vexing issues in D and D from the start. I think our objective should be the achievement of better game play over greater realism.

Your thoughts?

post festum said...

"Better game play over realism." I like that very much.

I'm all for accepting option#2. And is there any reason we have to be committed to the 1 minute round? I can't imagine a reason this can't be significantly reduced without negative repercussion. Maybe we can return to this after playing for some time. It will probably end as a distinction without a difference.

So, what is the answer to free attack? Anytime a PC leaves a threatened square (3ft area)? Anytime a PC moves beyond normal combat movement (i.e., retreat)?

Ironbeard said...

In my test, which was admittedly rather limited in scope, I allowed no free attacks except for when characters moved at greater than their combat rate and passed through a square adjacent to an opponent. I liked the result. The combat was much more fluid, with opponents being free to circle around each other more as they were not concerned with provoking free attacks.

I think I'm going to go with this. As you say, if we don't like it, we can always go with something else.