So I started a new online campaign recently.
It's fairly unusual in that the party is enormous (more than a dozen players) and mostly newbies, there are three DMs, and we aren't using a virtual tabletop for various reasons. A more abstract narrative combat system would suit us better, we decided.
We started with something similar to this
, but after the first combat we came to realize a few things:
- The more characters in the encounter, the harder it was to visualize the action accurately;
- The harder it got to visualise the action, the more questions the players, especially the new ones, had to ask;
- All those questions made the game slow to a crawl;
- When our map guy sketched a quick map to show the layout of a room, tracking people's positions on it was almost as complicated as if we'd been using a regular grid battlemap.
We needed a new system. Being the mechanics guy, that job fell to me. Here's what I put together:
Region-Based Combat (For Online Semi-Narrative Play With Large Groups)
Encounter areas are divided into regions
of about 200 square ft / 20 square metres / 8-9 squares. Regions have no set shape or dimensions, but their placement should be intuitive and tactically relevant. Each region should have a descriptive name or some other unique identifier.
- e.g. "Stage left", "far side of pit", "kitchen", or even just "3a".
- e.g. if a 400 square foot room has only one door, "room, next to door" and "room, away from door" make more interesting regions, tactically speaking, than "room, left side" and "room, right side".
Characters' and creatures' locations are expressed in terms of the region they're currently occupying. Up to 8 Small or Medium creatures can occupy a single region. A creature's precise position within a region is not tracked; you're either in the region, or you're not. (But see "Maneuvers", below.) Each creature in a region is considered to be adjacent to every other creature in that region.
- e.g. a creature in region 2a is adjacent to and can make melee attacks against other creatures in region 2a, but not creatures in region 1, 2b, or 2c.
While regions have no set dimensions, for purposes of calculating ranges a region is about 13 feet/4 metres/2.5 squares across.
A (fairly rough) region-based map
Some range/distance/area conversions:
Range 1: same region
Range 2-3: adjacent region
Range ~5: 2 regions away
Range ~10: 4 regions away
Range ~20: 8 regions away
Close burst 1: fills your region
Close blast 3: fills an adjacent
region, or your own with a maneuver
Burst 2/blast 5: fills 2 regions
Burst 3/blast 7: fills 4 regions
- e.g. a creature in 2a could make a close blast 5 attack targetting everything in 2b and 2c; a ranged 5 attack targetting one creature in 2b, c, d, or e; or a ranged 10 attack targetting any creature in the room.
Movement works in two different ways. You can Travel
(movement between regions), or Maneuver
(movement within a region). You may not Travel into or Maneuver within a Full region.
When you Travel
, you leave your current region and enter an adjacent region. Travelling costs 2 squares of movement for each region entered.
- e.g. if you have a speed of 6, a Walk action lets you travel 3 regions and a Double Move lets you travel 6 regions.
Exception: If an action would allow you to move only 1 square, you may use that 1 square of movement to Travel to an adjacent region.
- e.g. a Shift action lets you travel 1 region.
- e.g. if you are slowed, a Walk action's 2 squares of movement let you travel 1 region. If that region was difficult terrain, you would only be able to move 1 square; however, by this rule, you could still travel to that region on that 1 square of movement.
When you Maneuver
, you move around within your current region. Each Maneuver costs 1 square of movement.
Maneuvering can have a wide range of effects: anything you might do with movement that isn't Travelling, is a maneuver. Some examples:
- Tactical Positioning:
You move around relative to the other creatures in your region to gain some abstract tactical benefit--usually, this means tweaking who can be targetted by an attack. (For example, you could use one maneuver to target your own region with a close blast attack (normally, close blasts only target adjacent regions), and a second to exclude an ally from its area of effect.)
- Go to Location:
If you want to be somewhere specific within a region, you go there. (For example: taking cover behind a pillar, climbing onto a table, hiding behind a door.)
- Interact with Obstacle:
If something would cost extra movement to bypass, you bypass it. (For example: vaulting a fence, opening a door, pushing a curtain aside, walking around a pressure plate.)
Choose a creature in your region. You, or one ally in your region, is/are now flanking the chosen creature. A creature flanked by two or more enemies grants combat advantage to those enemies. You stop flanking the creature if you leave your current region, or if the flanked creature moves.
- e.g. you are in 2a with an ally and an enemy. On your ally's turn, he uses a Maneuver to Flank the enemy; since the enemy is only flanked once, however, your ally does not gain combat advantage. On your turn, you also use a Maneuver to Flank the enemy; since the enemy is now flanked twice, it grants you both combat advantage. On the enemy's turn, it uses a generic Maneuver to stop being flanked; it no longer grants either of you combat advantage.
: Choose an adjacent region to which you cannot
travel. Until the end of the turn, you count as being adjacent to creatures in that region, and may interact with them as if you were in that region. This effect also ends if you leave your current region. (You might use this maneuver to attack through a window, or into a Full region.)
- e.g. if region 2b is occupied by a Huge creature, you may not end your move in 2b because 2b is full. You may, however, stand in 2a and use a Maneuver to Approach region 2b; since you now count as being in 2b, you are adjacent to the Huge creature and may make melee attacks against it. At the end of the turn, the Approach ends and the creature is no longer adjacent to you.
Movement otherwise works much the same as in regular D&D. You provoke opportunity attacks from adjacent creatures (i.e. creatures in the same region) for walking, running, or crawling; pushes and pulls can only move creatures away from or toward you; and regions of difficult terrain costs an extra square of movement to travel into and maneuver in.
One thing that's somewhat different is charging. You must Travel at least once as part of a charge, and each Travel must take bring you closer to the target. You may not use the Flank maneuver as part of a charge, but you may use generic or Approach maneuvers.
- e.g. You are in 2a and want to charge an enemy in 2f. It would take 6 squares of movement to Travel to 3a, and your speed is only 5; in addition, 2d is occupied by an enemy. You charge anyway. It takes 4 squares of movement to reach 2d; you use your last square to Approach 2f. This Approach maneuver provokes an opportunity attack from the enemy in 2d. In any case, you now treat creatures in 2f as being adjacent to you, so you can attack your target. At the end of your turn, the Approach ends and you are no longer adjacent to the enemy in 2f.
If a region is occupied by 8 creatures or the equivalent, it is Full
. Large creatures count as 4 creatures for purposes of filling regions; Huge creatures count as 8, and fill an entire region on their own; Gargantuan creatures count as 16, and fill two entire regions on their own.
You also treat a region as Full if your enemies in the region outnumber your allies in the region by 4 or more. Creatures do not count toward these totals if they are incapable of taking opportunity actions.
You may not* Travel into or Maneuver within a Full region, for obvious reasons.
- e.g. region 2f is occupied by an ogre and two hobgoblins. Since there are only 3 enemies in the region, you and your allies may enter it freely.
- Another hobgoblin enters 2f; there are now 4 enemies in the region, so you and your allies treat the region as full and are unable to enter.
- Yet another hobgoblin enters 2f: 2f is now full for everyone. One Large creature and four Medium creatures are enough to fill a region completely.
- You push the ogre out of 2f: there are still 4 enemies in the region, so you and your allies treat it as full but your enemies do not.
- You then daze one of the hobgoblins; since there are now only 3 enemies capable of taking opportunity attacks in 2f, you and your allies no longer treat it as full.
- You enter the region, and the hobgoblin recovers from its daze; since the hobgoblins outnumber you by only 3, your allies continue to treat the region as not-full.
And that's it for now.
So yeah. This is what I've got so far.
It'll be easy to visualize the action, now: our map guy can draw as fast as he likes, but as long as he marks the regions we'll always be able to tell what's happening where. Even without a map, it'll be a lot easier to remember "These guys are in this corner and those guys are over there" when you don't have to worry about how they're lined up.
Our players won't have to ask so many questions, now; they can just look at the map and say "I go into the dining room and stand next to the door!"**
Not only will the game run faster, now, but I think it'll also be more dramatic in certain ways. Big monsters, especially: it's now physically impossible to just mosey in and start hacking at their legs. You have to keep moving, Approaching them every round to keep the pressure on. You'll need some clever tactics or crazy stunts to flank them, too.
Questions, suggestions, concerns? You know the drill.*Well okay, there are a few ways you can enter or maneuver within a Full region. If the region is filled mostly with allies or creatures two sizes larger or smaller than you and you're just passing through, that's okay because you're allowed to move through such creatures' spaces. If you're Tiny, that's okay because Tiny creatures can occupy other creatures' spaces. If the region contains a prone ally, that's okay because you can end your move in an ally's space if the ally is prone. See Rules Compendium p. 205.
Also, if you want to try a stunt like climbing onto a Huge monster, that's better than fine. Go for it.
**Actually, come to think of it-- if you're from my campaign and are reading this, it would be better if you typed out your movement in capitals to make it easier for Map Guy to see what you're doing. "REGDAR TRAVEL DINING ROOM 1, APPROACH KITCHEN" or something like that. Thanks.