by swmabie, Sep 3,2012

3-Dimensional Combat

(c) "Steph" Mabie, 2011
The following stuff is of my own design, which I use to speed up the 3rd dimensional aspect of combat. If you like them, you may use them, so long as you're not getting paid for them. :)

How to visualize in 3D

There are three dimensions to take into account - length (rows or ranks), width (columns), and height (elevations or levels). When you look at a map from the overhead perspective, you're looking at length and width together. Usually, you only need one more perspective - from the side, usually - in order to determine if there's anything "in the way." Here's what I do:

• Take a scratch piece of graph paper (or a notepad with a grid sketched on it) and a pencil (unless you can visualize it in your mind's eye).
• Mark where the attacker and defender are, by elevation and whichever of the two remaining dimensions is the greater separation of the two.
• Sketch/mark anything which might be intervening - walls, other combatants, etc.
• Between the two layouts, you should be able to "see" where everything is.

If you're at the table, you can be doing these while each player is taking their turn; it's no different than tracking HPs or anything else, especially if you're using a piece of paper to do it. With practice, you probably won't even need the paper anymore, but can do it on the spot. Even without it, there's other "tricks of the trade" to help you along listed below, with the rest.

Higher Ground

Except with Area attacks: When the lowest space the attacker occupies is higher than the lowest space a defender occupies, the attacker may take a bonus of +2 to attack or +1 to damage. (The choice must be made prior to the attack roll, or else it is forfeit.)


Normally, flanking is determined by drawing a line from the center of the two allies' spaces, and determining if the line goes through the enemy's space. However, this results in scenarios where allies are flanking from a horizontal point of view are not from a vertical point of view. (For example, two allies standing at the top of a pit, dealing with a target one level below them, or two allies attacking a flying creature just over their heads.) Thus, to include such situations (without including other situations), extend the "headspace" and/or "footspace" of the target by 1 in that direction, for the purposes of determining flanking.

Determining Cover


Melee cover is determined using the same method as normal. As a result, if a melee attacker is standing on a different level than the defender, there is a -2 penalty to the attack (which may be countered by the Higher Ground bonus, if taken). (This includes stairs, ledges, tables, etc.)


Ranged cover is determiner by using all 8 corners of the cube taken up by the target. If more than 1 of the corners is blocked by the normal methods, there is a -2 cover penalty. If there is more than 5 corners blocked by the normal methods, there is a -5 cover penalty. Again, this can be countered by the +2 higher ground bonus.

• If the attacker is higher than the defender, unless there is something intervening, all the top corners will be open, meaning there's at worst a -2 penalty, and only three more corners need be open for no penalty at all, and you'd see those on the 2D perspective.
• If the attacker is higher than the defender, and the defender is standing on something (as opposed to flying in the open air), then there's at least 2 corners blocked, meaning a -2 penalty. If the target isn't standing at the edge of whatever it is (a cliff ledge, for example), then there's at least 4 corners covered. If the elevation of the target is greater than the horizontal distance between the attacker and the cliff face (which makes the upward angle greater than 45°), then there's at least 6 corners covered, and thus a -5 penalty, which means you don't have to do any more figuring.


Same as Ranged, except there's no Higher Ground bonus for Area to offset any cover penalties, and enemies can't be used for cover for either. Remember: Area and Cover goes the same distance up and down as it does side-to-side.

Line of Effect / Ballistics

Non-weapon effects

Similar principle as 2-D: If you can draw a line to it, you can do it. The further back someone is from a ledge, though, the more "unseen" area there is, either above or below (depending on which angle you're going).

Weapon effects

Ballistics is the science (or art, depending on how you look at it) of hitting things at a distance. Basically, what comes up must go down. As a result, targets which aren't necessarily "direct line of sight" may still be targetable, using a bit of an arch.

From Low attacker to High target:
• Start by counting the distance from the attack to the ledge, using whichever dimension is greater (horizontal or vertical); it should be a simple enough number to get.
• Then, from the ledge, count the distance (horizontal) to the target. Half that number is the minimum ceiling required once the ledge is reached; if the ceiling is lower than that, the weapon cannot reach.
• If the ceiling is cleared, add the second distance to the first; that is the distance for the shot. If it's beyond far range, it cannot reach; if it's beyond short range, there's a -2 penalty. This is in addition to the -5 penalty each for cover and concealment (since there is no line of sight).

From High attack to Low target: (basically reverse the process)
• Count the horizontal distance from the attacker to the ledge. Halve that number; that is the minimum ceiling required. If the ceiling is too low, the shot cannot be taken.
• If the ceiling is cleared, then add the longer of the vertical or horizontal distance from the ledge to the target. That is the distance for the shot. If it's beyond far range, it cannot reach; if it's beyond short range, there's a -2 penalty. This is in addition to the -5 penalty each for cover and concealment (since there is no line of sight).

Falling Charges & Flying Tackles

One can use their move action to fall down before attacking; but the same rules for falling happen: unless you're trained in Acrobatics (in which case you can try to avoid it), you take damage and end up prone, which then gives you a -2 penalty to your attack.

However, one can also try to "charge" while falling:
• Maximum distance to the space over target (the legal space for the charge attack; include any part of the move before the fall, if that was legally possible) must be equal to or less than your charge distance, otherwise it fails.
• If necessary, make an acrobatics check to see if you can reach the horizontal distance required. As long as each space is closer than the one previous, and you can jump far enough, you may move to it.
• Once adjacent to the target, you may make a Melee Basic Attack (or use any power substitutable for the same); there is no bonus to damage, and only the +1 bonus to attack common to the charge.
• On the other hand, you can make a Bull Rush attack instead. Treat it as a normal Bull Rush (Str +1 (for the charge) vs Fort), except: half of whatever falling damage you will be taking (before being reduced by Acrobatics) is also taken by the target, and unless the target is flying, the target is knocked prone.
• You then choose which space below you to "land" in, as per normal end-of-movement rules (since you'll be prone, unless you avoid all the damage, you may land in an otherwise occupied space).

Note: Falling is treated as Forced Movement. Once you are falling, your movement is no longer considered toward your movement — this includes if it happens in the middle of a move action (though if the fall is as part of a Climb, the original intended distance is still used, even if not successful). If one ends up Prone after a fall, but still has movement left, they may Crawl, or if they are capable of using a Free or Minor action to Stand Up they may do so, but otherwise they remain Prone for the remainder of the current action.