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D&D 3E
Veteran Newb Seeks Simpler Combat System 
8th-May-2007 02:21 pm
Snake and Ladder
I have a confession to make: I don't actually play 3E. Yet.

My last practical experience with D&D was with 2nd Edition; for that reason, I still understand the basics, and I've mostly come to understand the core changes in the system. Combat, however, confuses the hell out of me. The main reason I stopped playing D&D was because of the move to miniature-based combat; I was always a fan of abstracted combat.

Every time I pick up the Core Books for v3.5 that I've got at home, the combat section is what makes me put it back down. It seems like everything revolves so tightly around positioning now that no one's been able to come up with a workable abstract combat system; I know I can't.

So, fast forward to now. I still love to game, and run games - I'm the GM more than half the time - but time has gotten scarce for me, and it's become much harder to prepare in only a week's time for my next session.

Part of the problem is that the other games systems I've favoured all stink when it comes to encounter generation - there's no massive list of monsters to pick and choose from (every stat I do from scratch), there's no guidelines for telling if the encounter is balanced, and even goons (cannon fodder) are a pain to make. The swath of pre-made monsters in D&D is, therefore, quite appealing.

The length of combat is also a pain; I play exclusively online (chat-room style), and generally in the evening, so things are slow enough as it is without having combat drag on endlessly (another reason I prefer abstract combat - less to think about and slow the fights down).

I've recently had a few game ideas that might be easier to do in D&D than any of my other options... but combat continues to stymie me. The fact that I haven't actually played, let alone run, a v3.5 game doesn't give me much confidence either. As before, though, time is the problem - ideally I should find a D&D game online to play, but I don't know that I have the time to spare.

Thus... I come to you.

In a nutshell - is there any way to make v3.5 combat "simple"? Fast, punchy, without the need for miniatures? There are times when I want the fights to be a big production (boss fights, mostly), but at other times I just want a quick bash, something that I can resolve in five or ten minutes flat (bearing in mind that online, everything takes two to ten times longer to do).
8th-May-2007 09:32 pm (UTC)
well the main issue with combat in D&D is the mutliple attacks if anything else. You don't need miniatures, they just help at times. In such instanaces...am I flanking or being flanked. Most combats with small numbers (minus dragon attacks and creatures with 15 attacks) tend to go by quickly. However once you get into 3 or 4 attacks per player and 4 -25 attacks per monster you start to really slow down the game. I'm looking foreward to 4th Ed. where only 1 attack will be made a round.
8th-May-2007 11:16 pm (UTC)
I'm assuming that the 1 attack per round you mention is the rule detailed in the previews for the new Star Wars game?

There has been zero official mention of anything for 4e, indeed zero official mention of a 4e.
8th-May-2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
D&D has abstracted-based combat. It just uses mini-based for descriptions.
What's the difference between saying something is 15 feet away from you and having it be three tiles in front of your character? Just use your imagination. You don't have to keep track of positions, just give relative distances away and keep your battlefields simple.

Simplification has problems of its own though - you can run a simplified combat all you want, but when a player wants to grapple and throw his/her opponent into the oncoming spear of an orc, your simplified rules either give way to the complex stuff, or you have to outright say no to a perfectly reasonable method. Personally, when running such things online, I end up with players that make the combat more complex in order to do "cool" things.
8th-May-2007 10:01 pm (UTC)
I've actually done the latter in another game, but in that game distances were vague as opposed to precise - Short, Medium, Long Range, or the mobs were in a (loose) formation that could be hit by an attack with a Fan, Sphere, Circle, or Line AoE. Actual measurements don't come easily to me - I'm not very spatially aware, even away from the table.

I suppose one thing that would make it easier is if there were sizes to correspond to certain measurements - anything between zero and five feet, for example, would be "Short Range", anything from five to twenty feet would be "Medium Range", etc. Just not sure where I'd draw the lines...

With the latter example, I'd probably ignore whatever rules there are in favour of the quickest option that lets the player attempt it: pick a target number, roll, and based on the outcome, settle the results arbitrarily. (I've never let a game's rules overshadow the story - cool moves like that are encouraged and generally favoured.)
8th-May-2007 09:53 pm (UTC)
I played via AIM for about a year, and we never had trouble with our combats. Then again, we had no rogues and therefore no pressing need for flanking, so...

I think it depends a lot on your character selection. For example, if you have a halfling rogue (slow *and* needs to be flanking stuff) movement and combat gets complicated. (I lurrve you, Leora...heh heh heh.) However, if you've got a bunch of straightforward people with straightforward weapons and spells that have a range of "medium" or "long" (unless you're willing to roll with the approximations of "close" "medium" and "long" and not deal with the specifics thereof), then you shouldn't have a problem.

Man. That was kind of rambling. Oh well. Good luck!
9th-May-2007 06:53 pm (UTC)
Good point. The games I've been running lately tend to ignore facing/positioning outright in combat, but traditional rogues (the backstabbers, I mean) are more positioning-dependent than any other, now that I think about it...
9th-May-2007 09:04 pm (UTC)
And remember that D&D doesn't implement facing! (We just fought a hydra last night, but it KICKED our ASSES because of the stupid facing rule. 4 squares of length, 4 squares of movement, full attack with all seven heads with a ten foot reach IN ANY DIRECTION. Eek.)
8th-May-2007 10:39 pm (UTC)
just make it simple and fast and let the dm be the final arbiter. use the rules minus positional stuff and when the question "can i do whatever?" comes up you decide, "yes", "no", or "no but you can whatever instead?"
8th-May-2007 10:46 pm (UTC)
You don't need miniatures for D&D, though they can certainly help for getting a better idea of positioning. The only positioning mechanic that 3.5e has that 2e didn't is the Attack of Opportunity system, for which you just need to know "is he next to me?" And that doesn't require miniatures.

The question is: what do you see as NOT simple about 3.5e combat that you would like changed/explained/whatever?
9th-May-2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
I think what was bothering me most was the density and presentation of the rules, and the only comparison I can make is to GURPS - that book is very clean (drab, but easy to read), and combat is broken into "basic" and "advanced" sections, where in the D&D book the combat section is not only terribly busy (I find the black-on-brown, font choices, and other visual noise like the page borders all make it nigh-impossible to read), but (to me, anyway) badly organized and lacking in a quick checklist or simple version without all of the exceptional cases.

It's still painful to read that book, but after all the comments last night I took another look, and I think I might understand enough of it now that I can start picking it apart on my own if need be.
9th-May-2007 07:35 pm (UTC)
Good! Well if you have any specific questions, just let us know.

I'm not sure I ever did read the combat chapter end to end. I learned AD&D from a friend, then looked up the stuff in that book I didn't understand. When I moved to 3e I looked at what had changed (stuff like converting from thac0 to BAB), and so would only look at small sections of the combat chapter if I needed clarification on stuff.

You might also check out the various SRD sites for easy reference, or even download the SRD from Wizards so that you can read it without all the borders and with your own font choices and stuff.

Oh yeah, and if you want to avoid slow combat, avoid grappling ;p
8th-May-2007 11:41 pm (UTC)
Look at BESM (Big Eyes Small Mouth). It uses a mechanic which cuts combat down to three ranges (Long, Medium, and Short). That gets rid of movement issues. Other than that, it's just having players that know how to add quickly.

Also, you might want to consider telling your players what the AC, hardness, DR, DC, etc. of a given monster or task is. Then just tell them to take their rolls and tell you the result.

It's anathema to any DM that believes that players must be surprised that troglodytes emit a stench cloud and monster x has DR 5/random material you don't have, but it's an honest to god time saver.
8th-May-2007 11:44 pm (UTC)
Also, D&D 3.x has the easiest combat mechanics in the world if you keep it simple. At it's core you have attack, damage, and movement. Compared to about 70% of the games out there, it couldn't get any easier. The time lag really comes in when the DM has to resolve the action or the player decides to use "Crazy Combat Action Z".
9th-May-2007 07:10 pm (UTC)
I have BESM, and I've done games before with a similar mechanic, but until last night I didn't actually realize that most spells HAD a range label in addition to an actual measurement. Call it an outgrowth of how I "learned" the system - starting largely with the SRD, which isn't much easier to read than the book itself and missing bits and pieces that I knew should've BEEN there, and being accustomed to essentially speed-reading manuals (and thus missing subtleties).

I've toyed with the idea of revealing defensive stats to players before just to simplify things, and it's starting to sound like a good idea. (If I was a better bookkeeper, I'd keep track of the PCs' defensive stats as well, but I haven't yet gotten my players in the habit of sharing their sheets with me regularly.)

As far as the speed of combat - resolution is a pain, admittedly, but it's got to be easier in D&D (where DR is rare, as opposed to commonplace, and HP/damage values tend to stay in the low end of the double-digit range). Bookkeeping is my bane, though; I'm one of those guys who's very fond of status effects (partly as compensation for a lack of complexity in battle formation), and keeping track of when and if those apply is tricky. (They really ought to warn you that GMs need a good memory; I keep forgetting that fact. =P)
8th-May-2007 11:51 pm (UTC)
the positioning stuff is really fun for a number of folks, so if your group likes it, I just say go with it. However, I've run plenty of combats where I haven't drawn the map on our battlemat and haven't had the players put minis down, I've just marked them down on my own graph paper map, and played a little loose with the positioning, basically assuming where folks are, not worrying too much about exact movement and positioning. It does tend to make the feats a little less fun, since players feel accomplishment when they manage to maneuver to activate their abilities as opposed to just telling me they want to do thing X and having me go 'sure, you're able to move into position for that'. Overall having run tons of combats both way, it mostly comes down to (for me) if it is small enough to draw easily on the battlemat, draw it out and let them use minis, if it isn't, just keep notes on graph paper (huge flying battles over large distances, etc.).
8th-May-2007 11:57 pm (UTC)

I've never had anty problems playing or running D&D3.x without minatures. Just let the DM adjudicate. Or better still, scratch paper or a whiteboard to show rough positioning.
9th-May-2007 02:35 am (UTC)
I never use miniatures in D&D, or any other game. I find they bog down the story too much with people overanalysing positions and whether I get half or quarter cover and so on.

Also I have adapted the "Dramatic Tactical System" from Paranoia - which runs as follows: Put on a good show, and the GM will smile upon you. Be boring, and you're dead.
9th-May-2007 03:20 am (UTC)
My DM once gave me 50 XP for coming up with a really cool description of a spell-like-ability. It's not the type of thing that gets repeated, so it can't be munchkinned, but it's really awesome and encourages a lot of game flavor and Awesomeness (tm).
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