Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Miniature-less abstract combat in AD&D/OD&D

Sometimes I come up with weird ideas. Sometimes those ideas happen when I'm on the second throne, sometimes they happen when I'm reading totally non-related things.

r_b_bergstrom of the blog Transitive Property of Gaming wrote about WFRP 3e today and I was wandering through that post, having made a side trip to Delta's blog to print out the Target 20 system because I love it and must have it and have been using it already in my head...

... so r_b writes: "So I was pleasantly surprised that the game uses very abstract positioning rules, with the assumption that a melee is "like a rugby scrum" with everyone in constant movement. If you're part of the melee, you're engaged with everyone. If you _need_ to get somewhere, you just do, but it costs you a few fatigue points. This is a completely different paradigm, and it feels fresh and innovative."

Now a few months back, I played 3:16, a player narrative type of game that had 3 rangers. Close, Near and Far. It was easy to tell who the D&D'ers were because they wanted to operate on the range based on a number that gives a discrete amount. Once they/we wrapped our heads around what the various ranges really meant in terms of narration vs. actual mechanics, things worked better.

One of the games I'm running is an online Wave game in my Dark Ages world. In that setting, ranges can get fiddly as we're not dealing with minis or such. It occurs to me that the abstract 3:16 type of range could be laid on top of simple combat systems, such as OD&D/AD&D.

If you're at Close range, you're in melee. Mechanics such as flanking, back-stabs, rear attacks, 2nd row spears don't matter in terms of range, but in terms of spending time/abilities to do so[1]. Close could be 10' or a circle of 30' or whatever - it's more about going face to face with your enemy.

If you're at Near or Far, you're limited to missile fire. Near weapons are hurled or smaller missile weapons. If you're at Far, you're doing missile fire with Far weapons (long bows, firearms, crossbows) or adding +2 to Near range missile weapons.

If you're Out of Combat, you've fled the combat zone, whatever that is.

This doesn't take out determining who attacks who, and you can still deal with spell-casters being in melee.

[1] To flank or rear-attack, you would indicate an opponent (or just say you wish to try to do so on someone - if the DM rules that there's the possibility, say in a rough terrain area or the number of participants would mean a type of scrum, then I'd allow it, if it was a narrow dungeon corridor or very military based opponents with lines and shield walls, I'd disallow it - I would rule it would take a round to set up the flank/rear attack, next round's attack gets the bonus. Same with monsters. Back attacks require the thief to hide in shadows or move silently, whichever the DM ruled appropriate... then the next round, they get the back-attack.

I don't really use inches, grids or the like in my combats, and indicating abstract ranges can remove the argument of who is in the range of something exploding - if you're at Close and a spell is flung into the melee, say a Fireball, everyone at Close gets nailed. DMs can still rule on effects (I'll aim the sleep spell so that it affects the monsters only - DM makes a gut check if that sounds plausible... if the players have been describing a general scrum... PCs might be zzz'ing.)

I wonder if I'll lose my OSR card for this. It's an interesting thought exercise, nonetheless.


satyre said...

Would be interesting to see if this could be adapted to 3.xE/Pathfinder as spells have range categories of Close/Short/Medium/Long...

Wyatt said...

In the homebrew RPG system I'm working on, I've mostly adopted a mechanic like that, but it has 4 ranges. Close, Proximal, Distal, Far.

Close: You're in melee.
Proximal: You're not in melee but you're nearby an enemy, who could easily move in Close to you without moving much.
Distal: You're far enough away to safely use ranged weapons. Most things have to run to get to you in one round.
Far: You're skirting the edges of the combat, in relative safety. Unless a creature is very fast, it takes 2-3 rounds to move to you.

Though my game uses 10-second combat rounds.

I rather like systems like this more than counting yards/inches/squares myself.

Chris said...

Makes sense. I tend to think in terms of "in melee", "skirting the big ball o' violence", "lobbing rocks" and "elsewhere" anyway.

When did abstract combat become 'non-old schoolian'? I didn't get that memo.

Adam Dickstein said...

Never really using miniatures in a tactical sense (we used them to say, "This is what my guy looks like and roughly where he is compared to your guy") I've only ever used abstract combat in my games since, oh, 1977.

For me range will always be (in all systems regardless of the rules) point blank, close or Hand-to-Hand, short, medium, long, extra long and far. A round is when everyone goes. How long is a round? As long as it takes for everyone to go. If you are behind cover you are harder to hit than if you're not. If you are knocked prone you are on the floor.

Like Chris I'm not sure when 'abstract' became 'new' since I'm 41 and played that way since I was 8.

Anonymous said...

I'm way too into minis to give them up (at least in D&D, I've played many other games mini-less), but I totally understand why some people would go commando and this sounds like a very good way to handle it.

I actually assumed from the headline and past posts you were giving up on a mass-combat wargame extension for D&D. Phew!

Talysman said...

Yeah, I don't get why abstract combat is not old school. When I started in '75 or '76, I hadn't even heard of minis. Didn't use them until 1980... and they weren't even minis then, they were counters in Melee/Wizard/TFT.

My current abstract approach is similar to this: if one combatant wants to maneuver in or out of reach, both sides roll d6 reaction, lowest goes first, adjusted for relative DEX and movement rate. Maneuvering character that begins within range can attack while maneuvering at a penalty; on the next round, the combatant with the shorter reach must flee or break off, throw a weapon, take some other option, or attempt to move closer to attack.

trollsmyth said...

Honestly, I've nearly always gamed this way, only breaking out the minis when my college 2e game got complex with hirelings, followers, and the like.

Generally speaking, you can move one band of distance and then you get another action: move another band of distance, attack, drink a potion, cast a spell...

I generally don't allow backstabbing in combat. Yeah, I know, but I've always thought that backstabbing and assassination were assumed to be on targets that were standing still, or at least not engaged in the wild scrum that is melee.

Unknown said...

I've almost always used abstract combat.

In our current game I'm finding the different types of ranged weapons are making short/long range difficult to keep abstracted. It will probably make more of a difference depending on the genre you're playing but a thrown spear probably won't have the range of a bow.

Blair said...

I can't believe I'm the first to say this, but that's how Traveler did/does it!

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Blair - I think you're right and if so, I'm an idiot for not remembering. Then again, I played the chargen in Traveller obsessively but never found enough people to run a full campaign. :/

Anonymous said...

Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits is a new, apparently "retro-style but not cloned" simple rpg that does something kinda like this - you have a battlemap with various zones. Farthest, Closest, Enemies, Sneaking (flanking the Enemies) and Behind. To get to Behind, you have to Sneak by, and so on. It's a pretty good model, although it could be improved by allowing for enemy flanking and sneaking, or allowing someone (PC or enemy) to move an opponent rather than themselves in certain circumstances.

I've been meaning to buy a copy, but forgot. I think you just reminded me...

Unknown said...

The Agon RPG uses this type of system, but there are 7 range strips. I love it.

Movement happens in reverse initiative order, and you can move yourself or someone who has already moved. ('seize the initiative' sort of thing). Highest initiative gets two moves.

All weapons have a range (roughly)
Fists/Dagger/Shortsword: 0
Broadsword/Warhammer: 1
Spear: 2
Javelin: 2-3
Bow: 2-5

Using a weapon outside of its ideal range incurs a -2 penalty to-hit.

Attacks go in order of range.

It's a great mechanic because it's simple, but tactical and crunchy. The advantage of small/light weapons is that they strike first.

Initial combat range depends on conditions of space and visibility, ranging from:
Darkness in a Small Room: range 2
Daylight in a Field: range 7

Flynn said...

I would second the comment on Traveller. The use of range bands makes for an excellent means of abstracting combat. If you are interested, the range categories are spelled out in the Traveller SRD, but since you already have the books, you really don't need that. :)

Thanks For The Reminder,

Alan said...

The range band system works well, so long as you have one group which is content to stay bunched up and act as the "center point".

Once you have multiple targets in different areas, then the range band method falls down quite a bit, since you need to maintain different position for each participant on separate bands, and it is just easier to sketch out a scene.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Alan, in 3:16, I didn't experience that problem.

Let's take a theoretical combat, where a group of adventurers engages in combat against, oh let's say, crab-creatures.

PCs A, B, C and D are at Close range, meaning they can engage in combat. PC E is at Near range, missile fire only. One group of crab-creatures are at Close range as well, and the rest are at Far.

The Far monsters don't fire missiles.

PC E fire's missiles

All those in Close range go into melee.

Round 2 - PC A and B are going to do a fighting withdrawal to the Near band. Two of the creatures stay with them, which keeps them in the Close band. Everyone else stays the same.

Round 3 - PC E decides to move to Close range and enter Melee. PC A and B try to withdraw again, and this time they are successful. Creatures stay in Close band and continue melee. But a group of Far creatures moves to Near.


I think it could work. Do you have an example of where it would fall down? I'd like to work it out.

Lead Addict said...

I play in the Wave game and we are doing just fine having everything abstracted. I think that goes as much to the group and there willingness to not get bogged dowwn on tactical situational detail.

But I have played 3:16 and loved the combat mechanics. Its so simple you wonder why nobody thought of it before. It could easily be overlaid on D&D for simplification and abstarction for what is already a simplification and abstraction that, with the newer editions (3 &4) has turned into such an unenjoyable grind.

Randall said...

I've used a system like this before, mainly when I had a lot of PCs, hirelings, etc. facing a lot of monsters. I based bands on the system in Traveler (err, that's classic Traveler). I'll have to see if I still have the rules I wrote up for it ages ago.

thekelvingreen said...

Well, I read this post soon after my last Rogue Trader game, in which I had an unsatisfying encounter with the starship combat rules, and I decided to mash the 3:16 system in so as to make things a bit more abstract and elegant. I don't know how well it will work yet, but I feel confident in its success, so thanks for the inspiration.