[D&D5e] Without the action economy?

edited May 10 in Make Stuff!
What do I want combat in D&D to be? I want it to flow conversationally, like Dungeon World. I want it to be fast, intense, chaotic, first-person, and visceral, like the Middle Earth game Silmenume plays. And I want it to have all the mechanical and tactical richness provided by modern D&D.

People talk about action economy in D&D a lot. It basically comes down to, each team has so many opportunities to make progress towards defeating the other team. It makes a fight feel like a team sport, rather than a personal struggle for survival; and it makes people feel that not spending their currency to contribute to the overall effort as efficiently as possible == sub-optimal & ineffective.

Here's a rough attempt.

Spotlight

Instead of rounds and initiative, have the spotlight move with the conversation. Say what's happening, turn to someone, and ask what they do. Keep going with that thread until you get a natural break point; often one side or the other's gone down, or taken some meaningful damage—or maybe someone else at the table is jumping up and down waiting to tell you what they're doing now!

When you can, move the spotlight to whoever's been most quiet or acted least recently.

Sometimes you'll spotlight an individual, sometimes a small group of characters. Occasionally the whole party. You might try to spotlight one person, but it'll end up naturally that someone else, or a slightly larger group, is the focus of action.

GM: Around the corner come three orcs and behind them, in chains, a cave troll. They're as surprised to see you as you are to see them! A, you're in the front, what do you do?
A: Rush to meet them in melee!
B: Me too! Nobody's getting past us!

Reciprocity

When a player says what their character does, the GM says how enemies respond in turn. Often one PC to one enemy, but not necessarily! If you're surrounded by foes, when you do something, maybe all or several of them respond. Or vice versa. However many foes react, it should be enemies who are directly engaging with the spotlighted PCs, or maybe using the conspicuous respite granted by the PCs' attention elsewhere to do the something important.

In general, however much "action" the PC uses, that's the amount of "action" the opponent responds with. In general, move for move, attack routine / spell / etc for attack routine / spell / etc... with bonus actions really being bonus!

GM: As ya'll charge down the corridor, the troll and two of the orcs scramble to meet you!

Exchanges and Bouts

Exchanges trade melee attack routine for melee attack routine, among everyone in a melee group! You can give up your attacks to disengage or dodge, or use some spell or special ability that basically amounts to a melee attack, but nothing else.

In a bout of melee, the GM will usually call for 2-3 exchanges in a row! If one side wants to withdraw and the other doesn't, they're gonna have to sacrifice their attack routine in a bout to Disengage, unless they can do it as a bonus action or whatever.

By a melee group, I mean a scrum where at most one of the sides has multiple combatants. So 1v1, or a PC and the foes that surround him, or a group of PCs surrounding their victim.

Let's call attack rolls maneuver rolls instead, here. You can choose to apply your damage from each maneuver as you roll it, or you can lump everything from a whole exchange or bout into one hit, at the end of the exchange or bout, whatever you like. Errol Flynn style fence-fence-fence-fence-STAB! Or bloody, gory hack, hack, hack.

Between exchanges, players should do stuff! Like try to wrestle, outmaneuver, whatever. This is where to try to grapple or disarm or push or shove or trip your enemy, or force them over to the bridge and fling them over the edge. If you try something and your opponent wins, they get to do something of equal-ish nastiness to you, instead. If nobody quickly jumps in with something they want between exchanges, the GM will just ask for a flat d20 roll. Natural 1s and 20s between exchanges are chances for the GM to apply the chaos of battle. People trip. Mounts rear and throw their riders. Blades shatter. Shields splinter. Quivers spill. Morale gives way.

At the end of a bout, combatants push away from each other, stumble back, have a bit of a space to breathe.

GM: A, throw an exchange against the troll, AC 15! (dice clatter). He's holding 18 damage over you.
A: Fuck, nothing. I want to scramble on his back where he can't reach me!
GM: Your Acrobatics against his Athletics! 19!
A: 14! Fuck!
GM: He plucks you off, throws you to the ground, and pins you there with his foot! You're prone and restrained! Roll another bout, at disad! (more dice clatter)
A: Miss and a hit! Spending a superiority die for Pushing Attack. 19 damage and I throw him off me!
GM: He lands another claw. You take 29 total from the bout.

Volleys

When the GM calls for a volley, PCs and their enemies in the spotlight sling spells and arrows at one another. Usually an exchange of ranged attack routines, with the option to give up your attacks to dodge or run for cover or cast a spell or whatever.

If you're smart and lucky, you might be able to get a volley unopposed: All the enemies are busy fighting your friends, nobody's trying to feather you in turn. If you're so free, and the action's been off you for a while, the GM might grant multiple sets of your ranged attack routine.

We'll call attack rolls aim rolls instead, here. If you like, each aim roll can be an individual arrow. Or you can bundle it all in to a single, deadly shot.

At the end of an exchange of melee, if there are unopposed enemies, they might get free volleys if nobody's trying to deal with them. Uh-oh!

What's my Speed good for?

When lines of battle are forming, faster characters or monsters get to choose who engages with whom. They get to shape the initial melee groups. Maybe you can Dash in order to choose your foe, forfeiting your first exchange in the bout of melee.

The Action Economy is Grist for the Mill

Of deciding what's "fair" reciprocity. But it's not the iron-clad law. Some characters may end up with more actions total, but likely because they're fighting for their lives, not mowing down all the opposition.

This is getting long. And I want to see what all these mysterious comments to the as yet nonexistant post are.
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Comments

  • edited May 10
    I've tried it. (ABT!) Wasn't into it!
    << reply forthcoming >>

    Edit:

    BTW Jeph♥ I'm sorry. I get (in hindsight) that it's patronizing to reply preemptively. I do dig the theory and above all the communication about theory that we're onto lately. I believe it is going to be a very very productive avenue of new design for me (learning from how you all run games, what works and don't work for you) and I am very grateful to you for that. Even more so I'm grateful for the chance to explain and teach things I've found out. (And yes I may very well be wrong in a bunch of those assumptions.)
    Jeph said:

    When a player says what their character does, the GM says how enemies respond in turn. Often one PC to one enemy, but not necessarily! If you're surrounded by foes, when you do something, maybe all or several of them respond. Or vice versa. However many foes react, it should be enemies who are directly engaging with the spotlighted PCs, or maybe using the conspicuous respite granted by the PCs' attention elsewhere to do the something important.

    In DW, (and in the OSR game Epées & Sorcellerie) there is Hack-and-slash. (Btw one idea I've experimented with—unlike my group social experiments downthread [wow, the life-changing magic of cataphoric reference enabled by post-editing] this was in a computer sim though] is that the hero makes one roll vs the moster's AC; the d20 + mod tells us whether or not the hero hit the monster (over AC means hit); the singles digit on the d20 tells us whether the monster hit the hero. (You'd want a lookup table of monster manual to-hit bonuses cross-referenced with hero ACs, for example +4 vs 15 means the hero needs to have a singles digit )of 6 or higher to avoid being hit)).

    Kutulu (also mentioned downthread) has the idea that you can only defend against one enemy. Which makes the combat situation have incredible coldness; if you attack, you can't defend. If you are attacked, you can defend… ONCE. Against one of the enemies you are attacked by.
    Jeph said:

    Some characters may end up with more actions total, but likely because they're fighting for their lives, not mowing down all the opposition.

    This implies that the problem I had was that the "many-actions-taker" would be powerful or defeat many monsters. That wasn't the case. The problem was spotlight time. The "conversation" is not enough. Just look at that Dungeon World guide that the SA goons did (I really really hate SA but… this is a well-known PDF guide) and the examples in it. Count up how unfairly the spotlight is being distributed in this oh-so-natural conversation flow.

    For 5e, the math econ thing is easy (my singles-digit-hack being just a toy) if powerlevel is your only concern;
    whenever a hero takes an action, the resolution of that action also includes an amount of actions by monsters by this formula:

    [amount of heroes]:[amount of monsters].

    For example, two heroes, eight monsters: whenever a hero (either of the two heroes) takes an action, four of the monsters also act.

    Four heroes two monsters: every second time a hero acts, a monster acts.

    With this you can use the same CR/matchup math as you're used to.

    The monster actions need to be part of the resolution so that the heroes just don't fast-talk the DM.
    But, as I note downthread, the problem isn't the monsters getting fast-talked, it's the heroes fast-talking each other.
  • << reply forthcoming from me, as well, once I know what the topic of discussion is! :P >>
  • the D&D5e action economy is a proxy for a pacing mechanism which has grown to monstrous size, devouring the pacing as it is manipulated by optimization pressures from designers and players and GMs, and should be destroyed but cannot without unacceptable casualties as its tendrils reach too deeply into the rest of design

    ...um, change my mind? maybe via the OP :smiley:
  • IME (several tests with data) what happened was that loud-talky-guy got to do a lot more than shy-mousy-girl (not to generalize about gender, that's just what accidentally happened in the several groups where I've tried this with no overlap of players between groups.).

    As an experiment, run a game like w/o the action economy but make a note every time someone uses something that would've cost an action, a bonus action, or a reaction [note the three types separately].

    BTW everytime I did this, loud-talky-guy that did the most actions? He was under the impression that he talked *less* that everyone else, always impatient that his actions weren't resolved or addressed while in the actual fact he was given more attention and his actions were addressed more often, and more promptly.

    What I do in my game is that I don't have a turn order, it's just a chaos, but since I keep track of the action econ, I can correct it when someone is doing more actions than someone else. Thanks to Mikael Bergström for cluing me into this technique in his wonderful game Kutulu.
  • (I'm really enjoying these sprawling discussions too!)

    Ok, so what if, like, in addition to everything I just wrote, I track spotlight like you do? I have a little index card w/ each player's name, and put down a dot each time we shine the light on someone, and do our darndest to prevent anyone from getting 2 more dots than anyone else?
  • Jeph said:

    Ok, so what if, like, in addition to everything I just wrote, I track spotlight like you do? I have a little index card w/ each player’s name, and put down a dot each time we shine the light on someone, and do our darndest to prevent anyone from getting 2 more dots than anyone else?

    If you do that (which, yes, do that) you don’t have to do everything else you wrote. Each monster & each hero gets a dot when they do main actions. (Reactions & bonus actions you can keep track of in your head [relative to the main actions].)

    That’s exactly what I do. Then it’s a freeflowing convo and when we have a That Guy who gets impatient and thinks it’s his “turn” already (no, Jojo, there are three people that haven’t spoken a word since you did your last thing), the dots safeguard against that, and when we don’t have a That Guy, the dots stay out of the way.

    When someone is slow, I turn to someone else [while maintaining dot parity].

    Three good practices I know for doing this “dotting” is:

    1. What Mikael Bergström does: Y axis heroes&monsters, X axis turns. Looks like this.

    2. What Magic: the Gathering does. Each hero/monster their own scap paper (not square!!!) behind the screen, rotate 90° to indicate “taken action this ‘turn’”, turn back up when everyone has been rotated). I did this for like ten months

    3. What I do now.

    All that said: this is 5e without turn order, not without action econ. It has the action econ.

    The drawback when trying to Silmenumify it, or dungeonworldize it, has been that sometimes it’s boring that the skeletons (or w/e) hasn’t been allowed to move. In Mythic Bricolage, as in Everway and Dungeon World, they could always strike back as appropriate. In 2097e it can happen that Alice strikes at a skeleton, the skeleton strikes back, then Bob strikes, then the skeleton can’t strike back because it’s still waiting for Ted & Carol.

  • But just dotting alone misses the point! Maybe I should explain better. In no-initiative-order-but-you've-still-got-rounds 2097th Edition D&D, I still have these concerns:
    • OPPORTUNITY COST: If I don't use my actions as efficiently as possible, I'm being a big dummy. Trying interesting stuff is usually identical to poor tactics.
    • TEAM SPORT: I'm still thinking globally, like what play can I make that's best for the team? I want a little bit of that, but to really force that first-person perspective with some more continuity over time. Rather than, "John, what's this one thing you do? Judy, what's one thing you do?" I'll be all like, "John, what do you do? And then the orc does this, what do you do next? And next? Looks like you're in a tough spot—Judy, what do you do?"
    • TIME IS RIGID: I think I also wanna get very very far away from the idea that "one round is X amount of time." I want stuff to sometimes all happen in a rush, sometimes have lots of circling and waiting for an opening and just surviving and clearing your head. Rounds make this really hard... you have this big epic fight and then, "ok, so 36 seconds later...."
    I don't think I really want to totally toss the action economy. I still want two things:

    (1) Spotlight parity between players, you're 100% to bring this up as a major issue <3

    (2) Action parity between whoever's in the spotlight and the enemies they're immediately concerned with.
  • It is all "Orc does THIS, what do you do, John?!"

    They can't start talking and like kibbitzing about the best move or whatever! that is not allowed in 2097e!

    It is all "Alice, you get 30 arrows flying your way! Defense rolls DC 14! Bob, what do you do?"
  • The fundamental mechanical reason for why D&D has an action economy (that is, more actions = more success) is that each action is worth a number of enemy HP in the form of the attack you make. If you want to get rid of the action economy and make it so players don't have to take all their actions effectively, you need to change that.

    The secondary fundament for why action economy matters is the initiative issue: earlier actions in the fight are more valuable than later ones, and this is all the more true when characters have valuable actions that can actually impact the action economy, such as status effects that lessen the value of the enemy's actions. In the theoretical corner case of two infinite-HP fighters bashing at each other it of course doesn't matter what order the attacks occur - you could have one hit the other ten times and then the reverse, as the combat isn't ending and thus leaving one side unable to take their own turns. The fact that the combat ends at some point makes earlier actions more valuable than the later ones.

    There are three common mechanical developments in this regard that I know of:

    Symmetric actions: If "A hits B" and "B hits A" are essentially the same mechanically, then a player who chooses to forgo an attack is actually also losing an attack opportunity for the opponent. Insofar as the symmetry holds, it doesn't matter who acts and who reacts. Many games that don't have an action economy work on this basis; initiative is more for determining the combat pairings (the attacker chooses who they attack) than for seeing who hits first.

    Paying for actions: If taking an action costs you something, then that also neutralizes the action economy, as now a player choosing to not act is saving up whatever it is that they would've paid to act. Could be initiative or stamina or even a reverse-payment system of some sort - when you act you get a busyness token that harms you later.

    False actions: If all actions are not equally valuable, then the action economy doesn't matter, and instead what matters is the conditions that make an action valuable. Many realism-seeking games go this way: you might e.g. wait for the right moment to act, outright wasting actions just to make sure you are in the right place at the right time to take the actually important action. It's also common in drama games: if somebody has been quiet for a while, their next move is more effective for the surprise of their weighting in.

    If you want to implement the "symmetric actions" model for modern D&D specifically, the overall simplest way is to say that whenever you attack somebody, that somebody also gets to attack you (a standard action attack, to be specific). If it's a ranged attack, they get to move instead of attacking you (an outright edge for ranged attacks, but that's the simplest approach). Everybody still takes all of their turns. Your attack happens before theirs, so if your attack slays them, they don't get the counter-attack. Mull that over and you'll probably find some corner cases, but generally the math should work out.

    If you want to implement the "paying for actions" model, I suspect that the overall simplest way in the relatively complex modern D&D chassis would be the energy gauge approach familiar from video games: have every character start the fight with initiative tokens (a few more for those with more init bonus), and then every time somebody acts, they distribute one token to every other character in the fight. You can't act if you don't have tokens equal to the number of combatants to distribute. If two characters want to act simultaneously, the one with the more tokens gets to execute first. This doesn't really break action economy, but it does make it so that you can pretty much follow the natural action choreography most of the time and let characters act when they feel like it, within certain boundaries.

    The "false actions" model doesn't translate into modern D&D in an entirely trivial way, but the basic conceit would probably be something like dividing actions in combat into "minor" and "major" actions: the former can be taken rather freely as reaction to whatever else happens, but their mechanical impact is limited to causing minor damage or minor circumstance bonuses/penalties, or seizing the initiative. When the latter occurs, the character in question gets a "major" action, also known as a traditional turn, after which it's back to minor actions until somebody else succeeds in seizing a major action. The idea is to play a little jockeying sub-game of "minor actions" in between actually mechanically impactful moves. There would presumably be a skilled GM, ensuring that equally active characters using equally inventive tactics almost always end up taking roughly the same number of major actions per combat, plus or minus one. Basically, the more major actions you get, the more of a tactical advantage you have to demonstrate in the minor action jockeying to get one more, until the opponent finally seizes the initiative and takes their own major action.

    My treatment here is relatively conservative and constrained because I'm thinking of modern D&D - new school - specifically. There are more radical possibilities for how to arrange combat rounds in this sort of game, but modern D&D is generally speaking so mechanically intensive that you'll have to rejigger the entire system if you go too far. That's why a 5e action economy reformation basically has to end up as a different way to distribute roughly the same number of spell casting opportunities between the combatants. The trick is to find the way that's most intuitive for you, and best helps maintain a fun and vivacious action choreography.
  • Jeph said:

    Action parity between whoever's in the spotlight and the enemies they're immediately concerned with.

    This, though, certainly an area where 2097e could be improved; it's just so… like, with hack-and-slash in DW, before you know that the MC/GM can do hard moves (including inflicting harm) if you don't act, it's like "wait the monsters only hurt me because i hurt them?"

    2097e tries ensures that each front rank hero has a monster to tango with, right? this is for purps of approximating action parity. But it's been really difficult
  • Thank you Eero for such a detailed contribution. I specially like the initiative token game. Has anyone tested it in practice ?
  • Eero! Glad you popped in; in addition to Sandra's init-less round & DW & Silmenume's game, I was thinking about Jonatan's interpretation of your D&D combat system when I started the tread. The method in the opening post falls under your "symmetric action" categorization, pretty clearly.

    I'd maybe summarize it as:

    - Symmetric action
    - With a single player usually taking 2-3 actions in a row
    - And some spicily-interpreted "not-an-actions" / chaos of battle rolls interspersed
    - (per Sandra's comments) With spotlight parity between players
    - DGAF about the overall team-level ratio of player to enemy actions you'd get by the RAW
  • This is a bit tangential, but I just want to point out that sometimes people who talk more also talk faster. This is a huge issue for me. I'm very mechanically adept and aware, so whenever I try to be in the player role in D&D or in a similarly strict turn-taking structure, I actually end up with far less spotlight time than people who don't know the rules as well.
  • Interesting discussion. It's definitely worth trying.

    Two questions for you:

    1. Fairly important, I think, is "how do we decide when to move the spotlight?"

    For instance, I'm fighting the ogre, and I'm losing badly. I'd much prefer the exchange/whatever to stop, pause, and to move the spotlight to my friend Lucy, who I know can finish of her opponent easily and come over to me.

    (As Eero says, the hit point economy in D&D is what creates the necessity for an action economy, so when I'm winning I want my 'exchange' to go along for as long as possible, and when I'm losing I'd rather it end as quickly as possible. Your approach has to manage that somehow.)

    2. Exciting, flowing, fast, fluid combat is a great goal! But why in the world would you want to use D&D with that? (Honest question.) Nothing about D&D combat is designed for speed and excitement. Hit points often take away a sense of tension/uncertainty (e.g. I know how much damage a spear does, and I know how many HP I have, so I know I can handle at least three attacks safely), and every roll which results in nothing happening (from missed attack rolls to failed/successful saving throws negating effects to low damage rolls meaning nothing really changes) slows down the flow by creating "empty pacing" or delay without evolving the situation.

    So, why not design from scratch, or go with something else?

    (Silmenume/Cary's game throws out the rules of D&D combat pretty much altogether to achieve this effect, by the way.)
  • Oh Jonatan♥

    Playing w/ Jonatan (on either sides of the screen) has taught me so much.

    BTW I also want to say in this context of increasing the "time chaos" that we also have a house rule; in normal D&D you can spend your action to "dodge" (all attacks against you have disad for the entire round). In our house rule, you can spend your upcoming action to do that.
  • edited May 12
    Paul_T said:

    Exciting, flowing, fast, fluid combat is a great goal! But why in the world would you want to use D&D with that? (Honest question.) Nothing about D&D combat is designed for speed and excitement. [...]

    So, why not design from scratch, or go with something else?

    You cut me to the quick! Good question.

    I've been thinking a lot over the last few days in terms of handoff points between three, idunno, modes.
    • AUTHORITY mode: I say whatever the fuck I want! Ish. When I'm the GM framing a scene. When I'm a player saying what my character tries to do.
    • CONSTRAINED mode: Some mechanic is putting a salient, constraining pressure on what I can validly say. When the GM of Silmenume's game just saw a player roll a 1 or a 20.
    • DIRECTIVE mode: Some mechanic is mandating that I insert something very specific into the Shared Imagined Space. When it's the troll's turn in initiative order and it needs to take an action, a move, and a bonus action. When Bob failes his save vs. Hold Person and is paralyzed.
    I don't 100% know the answer to your question yet, but it's got something to do with inserting a little bit more of the authority and constrained modes, on both the part of the player and GM, into the D&D combat flow, without sacrificing the "realness" or sense of the objective imparted by the directive mode.
  • edited May 12
    Paul_T said:

    2. Exciting, flowing, fast, fluid combat is a great goal! But why in the world would you want to use D&D with that?

    That is a great question. For me the answer is that rpg systems for master-level play require hellishly complicated cybernetics. Newbies and basic interactions are one thing, but when you up the level of your play, you also require your systems to be quicker, with deeper interfacing, more precision, multitasking, error-correction and other such qualities.

    Now, there are many approaches for how to develop these heavy-duty systems, but there is one theoretical tack that the D&D system takes, which happens to actually be relevant here: when building a complex and dynamic SIS that gets used intensely, you start by creating a baseline formalism that gets to handle the overall rough parts of the process, and then deal with emergent complexity on top of that with situational rulings. This is what the D&D combat system does, near flawlessly; we've dealt with various "platonically perfect" treatments of D&D in the past, it can be taken as a given by now that the game's concept actually encompasses a perfect treatment of its topic in this sense.

    In practice: D&D's baseline formalism in combat is that everybody in turns gets to deduct HP from each other until only one side is standing; we call it a "round" when everybody's gotten their chance; you can fine-tune the efficacy of any given action up or down by messing with the action check (hit roll) the character makes to find out if they whiff or act each round. This is simple, this is reliable, this does not break. The formalism reaches its tendrils into fundamental tables (so fundamental that they are not actually printed into the rules as themselves), things like "you get about 4 HP per level" and "a sword stroke causes 4 HP of damage" and "10 feet of fall is like a sword stroke" and so on. A GM can internalize this math and this arrangement, and, bestowed with this power, make it utterly trivial to organize a work-flow for dealing with 10 combatants on a side, of differing power levels, each with their own variety of situational weirdness.

    Once you have this formalism running as the baseline of your combat procedure, you get to the part where the combat becomes exciting, flowing, fast and fluid: because the baseline formalism is so simple, even-handed and one-dimensional, it is very easy to build emergent complexity on top. Specifically, you can simulate all kinds of events in the fiction with well-known, instinctive knobs that the baseline interface offers you. Slippery ground? -2 to hit for everybody! An explosion? 3d6 damage! Fire resistance? Halve in-coming fire damage! Clever tactics? Attack bonuses for everybody! Reactive action? Take your action now instead of later! Clever stunt? Take two actions instead of one, but both at -2!

    D&D specifically doesn't get to the goal line with its base formalism. That formalism is dull, simple-minded, repetitive and inflexible. I think, however, that it is a realistic design goal to make it so that your dance on top of the formalism, the things you do to gild it up in actual play, can well achieve the goal. And it does that specifically because the baseline formalism is so functional in what it does. The formalism doesn't do anything except tell us when somebody goes down in combat, but it also allows us to push modifiers into that process quite freely for everything else that could possibly happen. This is far from trivial, there are rather few games in between D&D (1974) and Hero Wars (2000) that can claim to run on an universal formalism like this. And D&D's is, ironically, the prettier of the two in sheer mechanical simplicity.

    I hope that answered the question. I freely admit that this gets into the abstract territory where people's eyes start glazing over.
  • edited May 12
    Yeah, I don't know, Eero. Perhaps you have a point (if I'm even understanding you correctly; this is one of your less lucid posts, at least for me - perhaps I'm just being dense, though!).

    Even if you are right, however, I still maintain that modern D&D isn't built for speed or drama. And Jeph is specifically talking about D&D5e (the edition is specified in the OP's subject line), not some kind of platonic D&D-inspired ideal:
    Jeph said:

    And I want it to have all the mechanical and tactical richness provided by modern D&D.

    There's a lot to consider in running modern D&D "by the book". When I played with a group of relatively veteran players (there was one newbie in the group, admittedly, but everyone else had played for years, and the campaign was a year and a half old), a turn of combat would often take about 30 minutes, and we often had to stop to look up effects and rules in the books (and/or debate them). (I actually kept stats on the timing, and could dig them up, if it matters! But that, in itself, is telling: if I had time to by writing down how long everything took, that says a lot about how unengaging and slow the process was.)

    This is not too different in other groups that run 'expert level' D&D5e. Critical Role, for instance, which is made up of people who have been playing the same campaign and the same characters for years, mostly exclusively play not just D&D but specifically 5e, and have a support team helping them look up rules. Despite all that, their combats are typically about an hour long (someone collected stats on this over in the Critical Role thread). Their longest combat was over 3 hours long!

    That's not exactly "fast, intense, chaotic, first-person, and visceral".

    I get your argument that there is a platonic simplicity about the basic format of D&D combat, but it's not built for any of the terms Jeph used ("fast, intense, chaotic, first-person, and visceral"). And the basic premise has a number of "time-wasting" elements built into it, like the whole "roll to hit" (often creating "dead moments", almost 50% of the time) and separate "roll for damage" (which, again, usually results in no actual action or outcome).

    I mean, the whole point of the hit point system is to pace the combat, stretching it out: to keep anyone from making a decisive victory early in the fight, basically. And, furthermore, the whole concept of hit points and tightly bound action economies and damage numbers is about reducing uncertainty and chaos. Giving the players control over tactical decisions as they move turn-by-turn, at a level which never happens in real combat (you can stop to chat with your friend about whether you should use this maneuver or that, for instance).

    Strict turn order is all about reducing chaos. Jeph recognizes this, so s/he wants to remove the action economy... but so many other bits and pieces of the system are similarly there to reduce randomness, chaos, and intensity.

    Almost any other RPG system seems better suited as a starting point (maybe with the exception of Burning Wheel or Rolemaster, but even the former has D&D beat on the "chaotic" front because of blind action declaration).

    What if we slapped down cards at each other or threw tokens at each other? What if I could do everything I need to be ready by the time my turn came around? What if I could act at any time instead of waiting for my turn? What if waited until combat was over to determine the severity of our injuries? How about drawing from a Jenga tower with a ticking timer?

    The "Cary spicy dice" game does this very well by removing formalism altogether - combats are incredibly intense and visceral (to the point that some players quit the game because they find it too stressful!), because someone's yelling at you (and sometimes physically miming an attack coming at you!) and you only have, at most, seconds to decide what you will do.
  • edited May 12
    Well yeah, I obviously agree with you about D&D 5e - that thing's basically never going to become a slim, mean combat engine [grin]. The D&D that does that resembles the '74 text much more than the current edition.

    But it's not taking the D&D as your starting point that's the problem there, it's the desire to retain much cruft that is not essential to the concept, nor particularly well-designed for the goal on hand. Much of that goes into modern D&D is massively contrary to the ideal of responsive, exciting combat. You'll need to drop all the petty circumstantial bonuses for one, just to get rid of that whole "did I count all my bonuses" dance, and while 5e seems to have less of those than e.g. 4e, this is basically a case where everything's gotta go if you're ever to get anywhere.

    Regarding my argument about D&D's potential, perhaps this helps understand it better: I am arguing that the baseline engine chassis by its very conservative nature allows you to play a more free-wheeling game on top of it without making regrettable decisions that cause unexpected, unworkable consequences. That is: the system being as staid as it is is what allows the players to be zany, inventive and imaginative.

    A system with less solid fundamentals would not be able to give us the amount of freedom that D&D does in this regard, while retaining a core structure.

    The rules systems you suggest as comparison are either not as nimble as D&D, or they're not capable of actual simulation of a SIS. Obviously you can draw Jenga blocks or flip coins to resolve combats, but how are you going to simulate the differences between a spear and a sword in that system? Is your solution going to make the game rather less nimble than it seemed at first?
  • Hmmm! Interesting. I'll ponder that; if I understand you correctly, it makes some sense.

    What do you mean by "nimble" here? Can you give an example and a counterexample?

    What's an example of a "a system with less solid fundamentals" "while retaining a core structure"?
  • Well yeah, I obviously agree with you about D&D 5e - that thing's basically never going to become a slim, mean combat engine [grin]. The D&D that does that resembles the '74 text much more than the current edition.

    I obv disagree

  • edited May 13
    OK so what I'm experimenting with now is separating narrative beats from action-econ “actions”, the latter being treated more as a currency than as ticks in a schedule. The "actions" limit your ability to engage with the dice; and that limit in turn helps somewhat in directing spotlight for narrative beats.

    Edit: and/or saying things like "you don't have time, as…"
  • A system with less solid fundamentals would not be able to give us the amount of freedom that D&D does in this regard, while retaining a core structure.

    Paul_T said:

    What's an example of a "a system with less solid fundamentals" "while retaining a core structure"?

    A system with less solid fundamentals is one that is more arbitrary in how it goes about things. For example, something like Runequest has less solidity to its fundamentals in that there is no clear way to make combatants stronger or weaker, there's no default interface for circumstance modifiers, and scaling combatants or circumstance modifiers is non-existent.

    What this means is that the core process in Runequest is less stable and more prone to unexpected outcomes (judgement calls that need to be revised due to unforeseen consequences, that is) than it would be in D&D, requiring you to play things closer to the designed norm to keep the system operating as advertised. I'll provide a practical use case to demonstrate:

    This GM wants to create a Neanderthal Warrior

    The concept is that neanderthals are sort of like the orcs of the setting; they challenge the modern human to prove its mettle against a physically mightier alternative. Greater grip strength, stronger punches and so on.

    The neanderthal warrior should be a formidable foe; a single individual would be a shoo-in for the Roman Colosseum, a star gladiator. Conan the barbarian would fight them and only triumph after a hard-fought battle. It has a clear advantage against a single ordinary human, but it is by no means undefeatable.

    In D&D the neanderthal warrior is a very quick design to create, mechanically speaking: 2 HD (or maybe 3) and... that's it, actually. The rest is largely procedurally emergent for a D&D optimized for fluid, quick, etc. what the list of adjectives said. (You could instead do the miniatures skirmish combat modern D&D thing and spend five hours crafting a stat block if you wanted, but that wasn't what we were doing, right?)

    This D&D version of the creature does exactly what we want it to do: it is a formidable foe, but not out of reach of a heroic individual. We could see an adventure party battle an entire troop of them. Everything that makes it "neanderthal-y" is in the fluff and emergent rulings: it's sort of slow-moving and might have a disadvantage in sensing stuff, for example, if that's what the GM understands the concept to be. Its AC comes down to whatever armour it wears, as the thick skin gets counter-balanced by being less nimble than a human would be. Maybe give it a point or two more damage on a successful hit than a human would get, if that's the mechanical flavour of the overall system.

    How do you create this being in Runequest? Will your solution end up actually more powerful than a human warrior, like the D&D version is thanks to its greater HD score? Presumably whatever you do is going to involve determining a Strength bonus and probably a Dexterity penalty. Take care fiddling those knobs, it's going to be easy to create something completely overpowering or completely underwhelming! There is no universal power scale in Runequest the way there is in D&D.

    The flimsiness of Runequest's core structure becomes evident: it's fine as long as you're pitting player character types against each other, or using monsters out of a book. New monsters are more difficult, requiring careful stat block design to get the effect you want them to have. Essentially, you're playing with a system that does unexpected things when you postulate a fantastic combatant, forcing you to choose to either slow down (spend the time to create the considerate stat block carefully) or take a shot in the dark.

    Of course the point here is not to rag on Runequest; it does its own thing. The point is to realize that D&D is actually very solid in what it does, and that this solidity essentially translates into more freedom of imagination in what you can practically perform at the gaming table. The core structure of "more HP equals more combat strength" does not mind an improvised monster like the neanderthal warrior. D&D, having clearer and more universal fundamentals, actively enables creative freedom without descending into chaos.
  • I’m only very superficially familiar with Runequest, but it also has hit points, so couldn’t you do exactly the same: this guy has twice the hit points, so he’ll be that much harder (but not impossible) to put down, and let’s say the rest is largely a wash?
  • The D&D HD directly influences a number of other things aside from hit points. What exactly depends on the flavour, but usually at least the hit bonus and save scores. It's a sort of top-down approach to monster creation where you start with its metaphysical "stature" and develop down from that, rather than starting with how much it lifts and trying to figure out dangerous it is based on that. It's not quite as absolutist as Tunnels & Trolls - that literally only has a one-score monster stat block - but it's not far behind.

    Also, saying that you can do the same thing in RQ as you do in D&D is just saying that you can play a sort of clumsy D&D with lots of superfluous stuff with the RQ rules - it's not an endorsement of the RQ system, just an observation that if you ignore most of it you're left with something that sort of resembles D&D.
  • Paul_T said:

    Nothing about D&D combat is designed for speed and excitement.

    I have a hard time thinking of a faster tactical combat systems (I suspect T&T might qualify). I do not count rules that resolve an entire battle with one set of rolls (i.e. conflict resolution) because that cuts out the ability to adjust one's tactics on the fly, reacting to battlefield developments by leveraging terrain, unleashing limited-use powers etc. (i.e. the mechanical and tactical richness Jeph desires).

    A low-level ten vs. ten battle in early D&D (and not 3e/4e, for instance) seems plenty fast to me (and exciting on account of the deadliness, though not in the sense of The Riddle of Steel with its guessing game, for instance).

    Could you give examples of systems with some tactical depth that you think of as fast and exciting?

    *-*-*

    One thing I really like about simpler combat systems (early D&D but also the aforementioned conflict resolution systems) is that they leave some mental capacity to actually imagine the scene, describe things with a flourish, or come up with interesting stunts or maneuvers etc. When you are adding up modifiers, counting squares, rolling multiple attacks etc. there is little time for that in my experience.
  • edited May 13
    Do you need spatiality with your tactics ? Because Dogs in the Vineyard seems heavily tactical to me. Only, without much space involved.
    Or do you mean "wargame" when you say "tactics" ?
    Edit : oops, clearly, "combat" in ghe OP refers to warlike actions. So wargame tactics I'd say.
  • Everyone, keep in mind that the OP is specifically referring to "modern D&D" (and 5th Edition). That's a very particular kettle of fish!

    (Old-school D&D really shines when it comes to large groups battling it out, true. That's a big selling feature for me, too! But it's not really relevant to this thread, I think.)

    However, even aside from that:

    The comparison being made here is to "the Middle Earth game Silmenume plays", where people literally shout and jump up and down and you have to decide what you're doing within seconds or you're dead.

    I hope you can see how, in that context, D&D is at the far, far other end of the spectrum.

    For instance, I would never design a game which is supposed to move fast (as the main design goal!) to have multiple rolls to resolve single actions (e.g. to hit + damage), arithmetic you need to write down (e.g. subtracting hit points, adding dice pools), and rules particulars you need to look up in a book (like spell effects).
  • edited May 13
    While I'm talking about modern D&D, I'm used to running it in an OSR style.

    The initiative system I currently use does away with turn order, resolving things in each "phase" of the round simultaneously.
    1. So I shout out, "MAGIC" and someone yells "Fireball! 36 damage!" and I roll some saves and mark it off.
    2. Then I yell "MISSILES!" and folks yell "Buncha nuthin'" and "Three hits for 7 from my mooks!" and "21 from my crossbow on the big guy!" and I say "Two of their frontliners go down and the big one's pretty wounded!"
    3. Then I call "MOVEMENT! Two more come in to fill in the gaps in their front rank!" and someone says, "I'm falling back!" and someone else says "I come in to replace her!"
    4. And then I yell "MELEE!" and roll a bunch of dice and say "Two hits to you from the little guys for 6 each! One hit to you from the big one for 12!" and they call out "Whiffs!" and "One hit fir 17!"
    Each round takes like 2 minutes, for like half a dozen PCs + half a dozen hirelings vs a dozen monsters around 4th-6th level in 5e. It's so fast!

    (EDIT: We have other tricks to make it go fast. We know the rules backwards and forwards. We roll entire attack routines for individuals and groups in parallel, not sequence, with different colored d20s lettings us distinguish attacks with different characteristics. We don't roll damage for monsters and hirelings. We usually omit stating targets, or even the fact that we're attacking; we just call out hits.)

    I've also run a short campaign using my take on the methods Silmenume's described. Complete with no action economy at all, shouting up and down, and so forth.

    I strive for some sort of happy marriage, perhaps impossible.
  • But Paul - you were the one who claimed that D&D is the wrong starting point for development if you want fast. That was the whole point - that Dungeons & Dragons in itself is the wrong thing to start with. It just ain't so. Admittedly 5th edition is pretty far away from anything elegant, but it's still the same base chassis. It is not a fundamentally wrong choice in the way you implied.

    Remember, I started from a 3rd edition chassis myself when I started paring down and building up towards my own happy house system. After what, 15 years at this point, it's nigh unrecognizable. I got rid of the action economy thing on the way, too, by the way, using a combination of the "action cost" and "false actions" conceits from my overview upthread. I don't think that it's impossible to end up somewhere similar starting with 5e.

    Had you said that "Nothing about 5e combat is designed for speed and excitement" I wouldn't have batted an eye, but that wasn't the point: you were suggesting that the entire D&D chassis should be discarded.

    Note that this is all very relevant because hacking the action economy in modern D&D is some pretty radical deep-trough diving into the messy guts of the game. We're not talking about cosmetic changes here any more. My own analysis of the matter basically stopped at the point where I'd have had to scrap the actual class design of the game to go any further, leaving little of the particularities of 5e.

    In this context a perfectly viable answer to your claim that D&D is not fast is that it actually is fast, even if 5e isn't. Presumably you'd want to look at those fast variants of the game to make 5e run faster, wouldn't you? Knowing that they exist is useful, and prima facie evidence that it's not outright impossible to achieve a happy solution. It's the opposite of what you implied, that the project would be doomed to failure at the start because D&D can't be agile.
  • Wow! That’s wild. :D
  • Wow! That’s wild. :D
  • The D&D HD directly influences a number of other things aside from hit points. What exactly depends on the flavour, but usually at least the hit bonus and save scores. It's a sort of top-down approach to monster creation where you start with its metaphysical "stature" and develop down from that, rather than starting with how much it lifts and trying to figure out dangerous it is based on that.

    Ah, got your point now.
  • Jeph said:

    Each round takes like 2 minutes, for like half a dozen PCs + half a dozen hirelings vs a dozen monsters around 4th-6th level in 5e. It's so fast!

    Do the PCs use all the standard 5E PC special abilities, or are they somehow pared down? What about hirelings?

    In my experience, it's not the iteration through the initiative order that takes that much time (although I see how your method is noticeably faster than the usual), it's peopel choosing between their special abilities, which sometimes needs the DMs attention for clarifying questions, and looking up or discussing details of those special abilities.

    Do you have some specific method to address that part, or do you just not have that problem?
  • I'd say, based on my 4e experiences, that getting rid of the action types thing would speed up the modern D&D chassis immensely. The action typing may be a good thing for rigorous miniatures gaming, but the old way is better for being quick and intuitive, and not getting players stuck in analysis paralysis.

    (The "old way" here is what D&D used to do: on your turn you can do one action, moving if necessary, plus some stuff is so minor you can do it on the side. It's basically the same, except when you phrase it this way it doesn't devolve into abstract puzzle-fitting.)

    The big, fat advantage of the old approach is basically that it encourages a SIS-based evaluation of the course of action: the question that the GM asks you on your turn is not "what combination of mechanical levers do you pull for maximum effect" so much as it is "given that you've been paying attention, what is the correct tack to take in this combat situation?" It's a single unified question. Aside from it being much more fiction-based (which isn't at trial here, although it is an advantage in my opinion), it is more unitary because you're asked for one course of action instead of a set of three actions.

    The practical problem in importing this to modern D&D, however, is that not only is your turn broken out into three actions (standard, move, minor) that you puzzle out separately, but also the actions themselves are typed. Some things that you might want to do are standard, others are minor, and you gotta care of the distinction, or you get the particular joy of rewriting the classes to account for the minor action type no longer existing.

    An idle thought on a starting point that might lead somewhere on this: what if you could use your minor action, and possibly the move action as well, as immediate reactions? (We'd lift the cap on the number of those per round, of course.) Combine that with a culture of not waiting around for the player to finesse their turn, and you should technically speaking be back in the unitary action situation, more or less: the player's turn is one action, and they can mull over their move and minor while the others are playing, holding them in reserve or doing them when they figure out what to do or whatever.

    Would something like that require major revision to the various ways 5e uses minor actions?

    If not, then one could consider going a step further. Stealing from myself, I think that the modern D&D combats would be much more exciting if players had reaction moves. If it were possible to use your minor at any point of the round, and there were one or two generically useful minor combat actions, wouldn't that be interesting? I'm thinking of something like "Focused defense", gets you +4 AC against a single attack, or "Riposte", lets you attack back if somebody misses you. Might help keep players engaged and paying attention throughout the round if they always had some reactive opportunity outside the vapid opportunity attack thing. (Vapid because it's a no-brainer and not something you choose - the enemy chooses to suffer it, you're just forced to take your eyes off your phone to roll the dice.) The fact that this would also ensure a certain baseline of effectiveness in action economy doesn't hurt; I've always found it a flaw in modern D&D that players need to understand action economy to build optimal characters that actually expend their actions usefully, rather than wasting their minor every round because the player didn't realize to pay attention while picking their powers.
  • edited May 13
    shimrod said:

    Do the PCs use all the standard 5E PC special abilities, or are they somehow pared down? What about hirelings?

    In my experience, it's not the iteration through the initiative order that takes that much time (although I see how your method is noticeably faster than the usual), it's peopel choosing between their special abilities, which sometimes needs the DMs attention for clarifying questions, and looking up or discussing details of those special abilities.

    Do you have some specific method to address that part, or do you just not have that problem?

    All the mechanical gizmos, nothing's pared down. Hirelings don't typically have any sort of special abilities.

    We still have people waffling about using special abilities! It just happens a lot faster. I think the difference is that everyone in the damn room is breathing down your neck to get on with it, when we use phases, which is a lot of social pressure. In standard initiative, it's just Betty waiting on you, everyone else is still scratching their butts whether or not its your turn or Betty's turn...

    And whatever bits of waffling don't require verbal back-and-forth interaction happen in parallel, too!

    Also, phases make it really, REALLY obvious when one person is a lot slower than everyone else at the table. It lets the group identify what they're having trouble with and help them remove that obstacle. Like, "Hey, you should be rolling all your attacks at the same time." Or, "You take the -5 attack for +10 damage whenever their AC is less than {whatever}, or if you think you can take 'em out without the bonus."

    EDIT: Oh, OH! Another thing that matters HUGELY. In phases, the state of the game changes at most 4 times per round. In turn-based initiative, the state of the game changes all. the. fucking. time, twice (move + attacks) for each combatant. This means that, in phase-land, you often know whether or not you want to use a special ability WAY ahead of time. I know whether Fireball is gonna hit a good number of enemies without roasting my friends as of the end of the previous Movement phase. By the time the Magic phase comes up, I just yell it out; I don't have to re-analyze where everyone's at.
  • That's actually really interesting, Jeph; the phase initiative system is an oldie and goldie, but I've never realized that it has such pedagogical strength with a modern complex game. You usually see that initiative system in games that are handling-simple (as '80s games used to be, even when otherwise complex), so it's never occurred to me.

    I can totally see how my own 4e game could be hell of a lot faster with something like that. The campaign's almost over, but now I regret not starting with a militant group initiative in the first place.
  • I hadn't really considered that the more is spent waffling, the more is actually gained by having it happen in parallel.

    And the insights about highlighting the stumbling blocks, and fewer state changes and therefore fewer reevaluations are great.

    It might actually be more of a time saver over sequential turns in a more complex D&D like 5E than in one where it's mostly move-whack anyway.
  • Jeph, how are you adjudicating who hits whom? Like, those people who call out, "3 hits for 7 each," are you just, as GM assuming they're hitting the most wounded target they can reach? Do you ever use minis? On the "move" phase, do people get to do Opportunity Attacks if the moves would trigger them?

    Also, I definitely love not rolling for damage in 5E, especially for monsters and NPCs. Even when they crit, you can just have them add an extra half-die of each damage die they normally do. This does require being good at arithmetic, which... yes. D&D does require that, especially of the GM, but really of everyone.

    It's also interesting to me that your broader point, Jeph, is that for D&D combat to be fast and exciting, everyone needs to know the rules really well. Which is also a kind of "duh" thing, but I think it's actually quite rare.

    The so-called veterans of 5E that Paul played with made routine and repeated basic errors in the rules. What happens with long-term groups when the GM has a very... loose... relationship with what's written in the books is that they will "play a system" for a long time, but what that actually means is that they develop extremely rigid procedures that are both unfun and flat-out against the printed rules. But no one in the group has the social capital to make changes to make the game more fun; if anyone does notice, their only choices are to put up with it or to leave the group. This is really, really common.
  • edited May 14

    Jeph, how are you adjudicating who hits whom? Like, those people who call out, "3 hits for 7 each," are you just, as GM assuming they're hitting the most wounded target they can reach? Do you ever use minis? On the "move" phase, do people get to do Opportunity Attacks if the moves would trigger them?

    If all the enemies have the same stats, yeah, I'll just assume they focus fire to the best of their ability. If there are two types of enemies, it usually becomes quickly evident that players will assume one is default, and not mention the target when they attack that one; and the other is specifically called out. When un-obvious, there might be an exchange like "3 hits for 7 each!" "The big guy?" "Yeah."

    Are ya'll familiar with pro-drop languages? Finnish, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, all to some extent, will omit pronouns and even entire noun phrases when the entity the speaker wishes to refer to is obvious from context or the inflection of verbs & adjectives. It works like that.

    (I should do a primer on the applications of linguistic pragmatics to playin' games, some time.)

    We don't use minis, but sometimes we'll push dice or beads into clumps to visually demonstrate some spatial relationship.

    We play that opportunity attacks happen when one character moves away and an enemy in reach chooses not to follow. There are frequent little exchanges like, "He's falling back, follow or OA?" "Hit for 9!"

    Or, "He's falling back." "I stay with him." "He'll dash to escape."

    Or, "I drop back!" "He's gonna OA." "I'll Disengage."

    As much as I love the phases we use, it's very different in feel from what I've got in my minds eye when I think about the system described in the OP.

    EDIT: I don't mean to imply that we're all preternatural 5e rules-wizards, but most of us have been playing since we were 10 and we're 30 now, so. One guy is new-ish, but he went head first into the hobby and started DMing for another group like 10 sessions into the first campaign we played (and for the moment I'm taking a break while he DMs!). And another is less rock-solid on the rules, sometimes forget things, but those negotiations are quick. "Fuck, I shoulda used Hunter's Mark last turn." "No prob, we'll say you did it. Melee!"
  • edited May 14
    Hunting down management time and a social synergy to play fast. It's crystal clear : good job and thanks for the list of pronoun dropping languages !
  • The conversation has moved on a fair bit... but I just wanted to say that, unfortunately, I'm not at all familiar with Runequest. How does it shoot itself in the foot in this sense? (Or use another example I might know better?)

    Jeph,

    Your group sounds incredible. I find it hard to even imagine that level of familiarity and fluency.

    For a comparison we can all easily look at, the Critical Role folks play weekly in front of a huge audience, certainly are familiar with the rules, have a rock-solid and astute GM and the same characters week to week, and even people helping look up rules alongside to help move things along. Their average combat takes just under an hour (someone actually made a log of every combat in their campaign in a spreadsheet!), meaning that many, many fights take far more time.

    I find it hard to imagine getting a group to be that committed to D&D (the same game, weekly, for years on end?), never mind beating that.
  • Meanwhile, here's a simple design idea:

    * Hit points are a pacing mechanism. They tell us when the fight ends.

    * We want to get rid of the action economy but to maintain the effects of actions.

    * Give each player a pile of tokens (equal to their HP).

    * Whenever you act, you give away/lose/spend some number of tokens.

    That sort of thing could work fairly seamlessly without any kind of order or action economy, since you have a built-in pressure not to act too much or too often.
  • edited May 14
    That's strange and wobbly for different levels of HP / damage output. A more classic view would be each action opening rights to reactions.
  • edited May 14

    Dear Jeph♥

    it seems like you’re moving between extremes? I opted out of the “phase” style because I wanted the more fluid & dungeonworldy feel (or as I called it for a while, the “seamless” feel – no difference between exploration & fighting; ofc your exploration time system is also pretty explicit/visible).

    So what I’m gonna try tonight is to maintain action econ; but…

    1. separate it from diegetic beats. Instead of “saying one thing and then having a roll associated with it”, it’s gonna be more “threat+what do you do?” “i do this!” “ok roll this vs that”.
    2. I’m gonna try to get some iniation&execution in before every roll. It does not have to be varied, you brandishing that shield for the 1000th time is just as effective
    3. Also adding in a separate diegetic beat step for spending hit points
    4. I’m going to try to have a diegetic response to people speaking out of turn. “While you’re reaching for your sword, Alice, you see Frankie going straight for Bob! Carol, you had more time to react, what do you do?” or w/e

    Combats are going to take around triple the time is my estimate or somewhere around three or four times as much time for each fight. So this level of clarity has a significant cost.

    Jeph, how are you adjudicating who hits whom? Like, those people who call out, “3 hits for 7 each,” are you just, as GM assuming they’re hitting the most wounded target they can reach?

    (I’m not Jeph and prob Deliverator knows most of my answers but gonna answer anyway.)

    We had the default that they were going for most hurt; they were pretty good at calling out when they wanted exceptions to that rule. (Which is common; hoping for a cleave even though slim chance, or not wanting to waste a “Dread Ambusher extra d8 plus I spend three charges on our Staff of Frobnication” or whatever on someone with 3 hp left.)

    Do you ever use minis? On the “move” phase, do people get to do Opportunity Attacks if the moves would trigger them?

    No & yes! Not having move phases but… OAs are common af in my game!

    Also, I definitely love not rolling for damage in 5E, especially for monsters and NPCs. Even when they crit, you can just have them add an extra half-die of each damage die they normally do. This does require being good at arithmetic, which… yes. D&D does require that, especially of the GM, but really of everyone.

    The suggestion in the DMG p 248, and I only found this the other day by accident when I was looking for something else, is that you add the damage die in again. Their example is that a monster that normally deals 5 (1d6 + 2) would deal 5+1d6 on a crit. That is math-accurate & easy & I can’t believe I never thought of that.

    What we’ve been doing has been rolling for damage when the monster crits. I.e. it’d be 5, 5, 5, 2d6+2, 5, 5, 5 etc.

    Our rule has been that the DM can decide whenever she likes whether to use the static or the rolled number. Talking to the player the other day, we decided to start using rolled numbers more often. I was gunning for a particular character (she knows what she did—she was maintaining concentration on a Magic Weapon spell) so I had the monsters deal rolled damage to her especially.

    (and, oh, wow, btw, using tokens for insp is also RAW! p 241! I saw that just now when looking for the crit rule. So when I was accused of “insp only works for you b/c your houserules” a few years ago, well, I wasn’t using any house rules at all! Since then I’ve added a ton of house rules.)

    It’s also interesting to me that your broader point, Jeph, is that for D&D combat to be fast and exciting, everyone needs to know the rules really well. Which is also a kind of “duh” thing, but I think it’s actually quite rare.

    We have 6 people in our group and 3 of us are SICK at knowing the rules! (The other person who also DMs is not among those three.) One of the three who are less comfortable could be like “Wait, is it really so-and-so” and I go “Yeah check out your peachbee p 176!”

    I also ask the other rules masters to help&teach the other two.
    All of them are really on top of any house rules we add! Two players have played with us shorter; a little less than a year, and when they joined I was like… “we kinda have a lot of house rules” and they were like COOL! They’re both programmers and dig hacking into source code etc. One of them isn’t a rules master but does their best.

    But no one in the group has the social capital to make changes to make the game more fun; if anyone does notice, their only choices are to put up with it or to leave the group.

    Luckily (sometimes unluckily), my main and by far strongest kick out of D&D is adding & removing rules. D&D is my ~/.emacs. I’m always looking to automate things, make things smoother etc. Btw when posting at S-G I literally use emacs. I’m pretty good at out all the <blockquote> stuff by hand when I’m away from my own desk but it’s soooo nice to have it do it for me when I’m at home. This started at WRNU (another forum); where people were like “Sandra, if you’re gonna post so much, you need to start linking to everything you reference!”. (Which, uh, gift horse much? But sure.) So I set up a “chewing gum & hanger wire” mashup of elisp, pandoc, zsh, zenity and sqlite to help me search through my firefox browser history (which it stores in sqlite) and add links. I also recently added a way to quickly add abbreviations since I use so many acronyms.

  • Speaking of social capital…

    it’s weird, one of the reason I had to rely so much on rules is that I started out with like zero authority as a DM. People would run roughshod over me when I tried to speak (#patriarchy…? I mean, maybe?). Creating rules was the one thing I found that worked. It’s hard to create a rule that kind of enforces itself but one way to do that is to make rules that answer questions. Like, people would be like “OK, who can I hit from here?” and I’d be like “You can hit that goblin” and Bob’d be like “Well, that’s just your opinion, Sandra, how about you, Ted, don’t you think I could hit the stirge from here?” and Ted would be like “Yeah, for sure!” and Bob’d go “OK, then I kill the stirge”. Whereas if I can quote page&paragraph it’s no longer “just my opinion”.

    But now after DMing for years and gradually building up social capital through my rules mastery I’ve also found that I’ve learned how to become more assertive in other contexts even with people I’ve never played D&D with. It’s been pretty interesting. I also run a shikantaza group Wednesdays and I’ve slowly grown from being a weirdo mousy girl that’s that shyly says “ok it’s time to start now… if you wish… please…” to like loudly & cleary be like “OK! Welcome, everyone!” etc.

    (Hmm although.. the increased social capital kind of coincided with getting inked! Maybe it’s tats more than rules mastery! Otoh the third and probably biggest factor was going through 2 years of pretty intensive therapy where we did tons of exercises on being assertive in relationships. Offhand throwaway truth bomb)

    But seriously I do think the rules mastery was a giant part of it. Between our first and second session ever (this was in LMoP) I learned about the Petitioner/Granter stuff. I had had a weak af NPC interaction “this town, uh, hmm, looks for heroes! that’s right!” which was weird because when I was doing improv I could always do NPCs just fine; but post mirror story I had a harder time. So I decided to look for books on it and found Unframed & Law’s chapter in it and wow, that was dynamite, made dialogues so much crisper! Because it turns out there are rules for talking♥ BTW I also use the petitioner/granter skills at church! Come to my congregation & get emotionally validated♥

    Another clear example of where rules mastery was crucial was date selection; this was post therapy, post tats, post everything but they would still just be complete fucks about scheduling until I codified the rough heuristics I had bricolaged rattling round in my head into an explicit algorithm and put it in git. That was a godsend♥ I mean I had to do all the work but still. #lawfulevil2097

  • Paul_T said:

    Your group sounds incredible. I find it hard to even imagine that level of familiarity and fluency.

    We're not wizards! We just know the rules pretty well, just enough that we only rarely have to look stuff up in play, and when we do we usually can find the reference very quickly. And we have a few good habits around rules lookups:

    People start looking stuff up when they have a jonesin' to use an ability they don't remember 100%, not at the point of application, not "Rebuke! Fuck how does Rebuke work again?" Maybe because you don't have a sacrosanct Turn, where you get to dominate table time and force everyone else to wait until you're done making decisions and doing things?

    And we're good about punting. If we try to look something up and it's not in the first place we check, I'll say, "This time, it'll go {whatever arbitrary way}, and we'll look it up later."

    Last, we don't use any supplements. Core + a campaign google doc only.

    We're not godly rules-savants, we're just numerate, experienced, courteous, and hygienic.
    2097 said:

    Dear Jeph♥

    it seems like you’re moving between extremes?

    Haha, yes. Or actually no!

    I've already vacillated between the extremes. The phased rounds we've been chatting about, and my attempt at recreating Silmenume's and Cary's play style. Those are the extremes!

    This thread is about an attempt at a gentle and moderate median between the two.

    Your comment around dilated handling time for this sort of IIEE structure fills me with fear, because I bet you're right but don't want to admit it.
  • It took around 6 times longer

    The time it takes to get one round around the table (six people) is approx the time it took to do one player's thing
  • Holy crap, that's a lot longer!

    From the other threads, it sounds like everything else about the fights you ran was excellent.

    But, like, that's a lot longer!

    You and I share a lot of goals at the table, but also run D&D very differently; for instance like you've pointed out I tend to say "here's a rules framework, interact with that please," while you tend to say, "act only diageticaly, here's the rules framework I'll use to interpret your actions but you don't need to pay attention to it during play."

    With that in mind. I'm reading your play descriptions and thinking, "This is awesome but it would never work at my table!" Why? Maybe:
    • I can't identify points where all the additional diagetic steps ("I roll laterally, to the side!" "OK, you can spend 9 HP to do that") feed back into the dice. The player could have said, "Kerfuffle, xylophone!" and you would have responded, "OK, you can spend 9 HP to do that."
    • The increased handling time! That's hella big! I'd be worrying, hey, this is eating into the amount of stuff that happens in the session, the number of meaningful choices per human per hour. It's reducing the total entropy of the product of all the choices made over the course of the entire campaign!
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