Having being involved in the 13th Age playtest, our group really liked the game approach to Theatre of the Mind combat, so we decided to try and adapt it for 4E. We've been running like this for a while now and it appears to be working quite well, so I'm sharing our notes in case anyone would be interested in giving this a go.
We found combat to run smoothly and have great cinematic feeling like this, without sacrificing much of the tactical depth.
Comments, input and questions are welcome.
The way the 13th Age system works is with zones of relative proximity (about the same as WFRPG 3rd Ed). Basically once in combat anything is either Engaged (melee reach), Nearby (1 move action away) or Far Away (2 move actions away).
It is still a good idea using minis or tokens for ease of visualisation (we do), but it's not required.
STATES AND MOVEMENTS
• Engaged = Melee (base contact)
• Nearby = One move action away (5 squares or more)
• Far away = Two move actions away (10 squares or more)
• Disengage = Shift; with # being the number of enemies disengaging from (shift 1 = disengage 1 enemy); no roll required
• Difficult Terrain = Slowed = Movement 4 or less : Nearby becomes Far Away, Shift is halved (round down)
• Flanking = two or more allies engaging the same target
RANGES AND AREAS OF EFFECT
• Range 10+ = any Nearby or Far Away target
• Range 5+ = any Nearby target
• Blast = Nd3 Nearby targets (3=1d3; 5=2d3)
• Area burst = Nd3 Nearby targets to origin (1=1d3; 2=2d3)
• Close Burst = All Engaged targets + Nd3 Nearby (2=1d3; 3=2d3)
• Walls = 1dN Nearby targets to origin per square of wall (round down). One move action to bypass the wall, if possible
• Friendly fire = allies engaged to affected targets need a saving throw to avoid AoE/Walls targeting ‘creatures’ in the area
• Pull = Move towards origin
• Push = Move away from origin
• Slide = Move anyway from origin
• 5+ = Specific position Nearby in the direction
• 4 or less = Generic position Nearby in the direction (roll 1d6 and add it to the forced movement: a total of 6+ means a specific position is achieved in the direction of the movement)
Heinsoo and Tweet have stated before that 13th Age can be also be to add rules to other systems... It's no surprise the TotM (wish i found it to be a bad name for it...i prefer to call it Abstract Space).
another thing i like from 13th Age i would like to use on 4e is how racial ability score bonus works in conjunction with classes
The system of itself seems reasonable enough, but I do not see how a battlemap or some substitute is less than mandatory.
For any situation of more than 3 combatants, the problem of describing what is going on seems horrible. A can be engaged with B, nearby C, and far away from D. At the same time B can be engaged or nearby with C. He can even be far away. And that is only 1 dimension. Allow creatures to the left and right, note that there may be 5 to a side, and describing the situation will be beyond most DMs. I suppose one could manage by limiting movement so the figures stand and fight. But that is clearly inferior.
I know it is possible to play without the battlemap. I used to play that way. But having played with a battlemap, I don't know why I would go back to matless play.
I invented something like this more than three years ago: SARN-FU, which is designed specifically for 4e.
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