A stab at fixing combat

We played Vault of the Dracolich--my first chance to try out the new rules in about a year. Things seemed to have slipped a bit to us. The narrative module was a little clunky, trading to hit for dice of special effects--but we used them till we broke them and they were lots of fun. Now combat feels very old school final fantasy. You roll to hit, you roll damage--a bit more on a crit. You could cast a spell, but out of fear of wasting the few you have, you usually use your one attack cantrip or just attack like everyone else. You save your big spells for "that special moment" often never using them at all--or wasting them at what you thought was just the right moment, but it wasn't.

Mostly though your guy jumps forward, wiggles his sword and a number appears over the enemy and he jumps back. Repeat until someone is dead.

That said, powers were a huge hassle. They were supposed to make combat more interesting and give people more options (like feats were supposed to do in 3rd) but they just gunked everything up and got in the way. For those of us who liked dramatic narrative combat it was like you couldn't just play the game--you had to use all these annoying mini-game mechanics to interact with the world. Your powers were the tools in your toolbelt and trying to get around having to use them or use them in creative ways to emulate what you really wanted to do was such a headache and made you feel like such a probem player that most of the time you just relented and gave up trying to roleplay and just used the powers on your sheet...and resented the crap out of it.

So we got 5e's combat dice. They were fun and simple and for the first time in a long time, combat was really genuinely a blast. My guy could pin a zombie to a table with his rapier or add an extra d6 of pure intimidation value into a two handed screaming spear lunge to the chest. But as I read it over the next few iterations it got gunked up with a bunch of lists of manuvers and abilities and the ugly head of powers got reared once again-so it got yanked and we're back to taking turns stabbing each other.

My suggestion? There are some things in the new playtest that are beacons of awesomeness that could help us tackle all this in a fun way. The rogue tricks are so flavorful I fell in love with all of them. That making a rogue can let you be an assassin, or a treasure hunter, or a con man, or a scout. So much fun! It's like how the different cleric domains or wizard specializations used to give you a class that could be a dozen different kinds of character. Why can't every class have that? It would blow the creative lid off the whole system.

The other thing comes from the rock gnome racial stats: you get an additional d6 for Recall Lore rolls regarding technology, magic items or alchemy. Areas of specialization give you a bonus die. What if we applied this idea to combat. A rogue gets a d6 to attacks or defenses he does on the move with a light weapon. So someone hits you with a sword and you swirl your cape around you and backflip away to give him a less solid target to aim at...and you get to subtract a d6 from his damage roll. You duck between the ettin's legs and plant a bunch of caltrops under him--so he's slowed. You grab one enemy and use him as a human shield against his cohorts--your AC goes up by 1d6. You roll forward toward the orc shaman and with a sardonic leer put both daggers into his fat belly, add an extra 1d6 to damage.

If you fight in ways that go along with your character's combat specialties, you get a d6 to throw in to your defenses (defense or soak) or offenses (hit or damage) or to inflict a condition (1d6+level+10).

Looking at it I get excited. It's simple, it sounds fun to me at least, and it encourages dynamic fluid combat with an eye toward wild improvisation within bounded limits. And it feels like it wouldn't unbalance the game--it's a fairly small, conservative bonus once per round.

What do you folks think?
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I really didn't like the packet that gave everyone expertise dice and had them refresh every single turn. It made for interesting narrative sometimes, but ultimately caused a huge number inflation for damage and completely broke the game. I think they'd be better off not going back to that direction.
How did the expertise dice thing work? I've been out of the playtest for a while (since the Blindingstone adventure) and just got back for this last Gameday. Back when we were playtesting it the narrative combat module had just come out and we had nothing but fun with it. I saw it had gotten completely taken out. What went wrong?
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How did the expertise dice thing work? I've been out of the playtest for a while (since the Blindingstone adventure) and just got back for this last Gameday. Back when we were playtesting it the narrative combat module had just come out and we had nothing but fun with it. I saw it had gotten completely taken out. What went wrong?



Well, in the final version of it before it was killed, every combat class (Fighter, Barbarian, Monk and Rogue) had "martial damage dice", which were all d6s and grew at the same rate for every class (that was one problem with it, a Rogue was equal in combat to a Fighter) from 1d6 at 1st level to 6d6 at 11th level, or something. On any attack you could throw on a pile of these d6s to completely obliterate whatever you were hitting. They then refreshed on the next turn (not the next round, the very next turn of initiative), so you got an opportunity attack? go ahead and add in that mountain of martial damage. Fighters had one additional use of the dice, they could parry, using the dice to negate damage. This effectively made them near-invincible. The dice refreshed every turn, so every single time you got attacked you could parry the attack. I realize this comes off more as a rant than an explanation of the system, but the game at that stage was nearly unplayable, it was a terrible system. I rather like what the FIghter has right now for expertise dice, but I think it should just remain a Fighter feature, and other classes get their own unique features.
Eegh. That does sound bad. Not really what I'm talking about though. I'm thinking of something that grows along the lines of a skill die (at 4th level it might stage up to a d8 but nothing too crazy) that helps add a little mechanical oomph so people can create something akin to custom powers on the fly. The hope is to reward creativity and encourage dynamic combat. Certainly the hope would be to keep it flexible and balanced. The piles of dice every round of combat and long lists of class specific manuvers is about the most opposite of what I'd want as you could get.
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The dice refreshed every turn, so every single time you got attacked you could parry the attack. I



Parry was and still is a reaction, so you only ever got it once per round.

The dice refreshed every turn, so every single time you got attacked you could parry the attack. I



Parry was and still is a reaction, so you only ever got it once per round.




Right. Not that that made much difference unless you were fighting so many enemies that more than one would score a meaningful hit on the Fighter in one round.