Tuesday, June 10, 2008

PHB - Combat

Because we were playing this weekend, I skipped a bunch of chapters to read Chapter 9 - Combat.

For those who have played 3rd edition, the round/turn idea is still present and familiar, as are surprise rounds and the limited actions available there. The biggest addition is that the standard and move actions (and free actions) have been joined by the minor action. This was a sorely needed piece of a character's turn, but one that I probably couldn't have put my finger on if asked.

No longer are characters using move actions to draw a weapon (or feeling like they ought to move just to take advantage of drawing for free); drinking potions is more reasonable; and opening a door doesn't seem to take forever. It's such a minor thing (ha. ha.), but this was a much-needed addition.

The terms "interrupt" and "reaction" have been added into the immediate action section. These are obvious carry-overs from Magic: The Gathering and Jyhad/Vampire: The Eternal Struggle, both WOTC properties. But they fit here, if only because the idea they represent was around in 3rd edition Ready actions anyway; we now have formal terminology for such actions.

Also seemed to be carried over from the Collectable Card Game universe are the explicit Start of Your Turn and End of Your Turn "phases". These phases will be useful to help remember all of the ongoing effects that need to be handled; I know that regeneration and fast healing were often forgotten in 3rd edition.

The actual act of attacking is a little more involved now. Third edition kept the idea of a melee/ranged attack separate from casting a spell; now they're all the same thing. The close attack blurs the two, including both an arcing swing with a blade along with a pulsing magical aura. With the change to the saving throws, spell casting and other effects is now considered an attack (we voiced our opinions about this in previous posts), which I think we've warmed to. While playing on Saturday, I kept thinking, "they automatically take this damage?? Where's the save?", but of course the save was in the Defense score that the attacker beat. Saving throws are now relegated to the removal of ongoing effects. As mentioned here before, this does simplify the flow of combat (attackers roll, not defenders), but I think it will take a bit of time to get used to one of six ability scores versus one of four defense scores, though I suppose there are some combinations that don't make sense (Strength vs. Will?)

The part that most complicates combat is the fact that, unless you're doing some fancy charge or other combination move, you are unlikely to use the Melee Basic Attack or Ranged Basic Attack -- one of your character's at-will powers will almost certainly have a better effect. This might be harder for seasoned D&D players to get used to than newcomers, but it took effort to NOT "just swing my mace" at the kobolds. The character sheet isn't quite designed for laying out your various attacks, showing the X vs Y roll, the damage and the typical extra effect, so I found myself flipping back to the cleric level 1 at-will powers page all the time. I'm sure I'll get used to what I have, and it will become quicker, but for now, it slows down combat having these choices available.

The page on Conditions was nice to see, better laid out than in older versions, and helpfully spelling out all of the effects of the condition. No more do I have to flip back and forth trying to figure out which of stunned or dazed is worse, which stops you from taking an action, which leaves you vulnerable for a sneak attack, etc.
Now, we see that Dying implies Unconscious, which implies Helpless, which has its list of penalties. Much simpler.

I'm torn about the critical hits. Max damage - yay! No extra dice - boo. I rolled my criticals in my role as DM than the party did, so it really comes down to the players whether they prefer getting beaten consistently or with that sense of randomness. *:^)

I'm also confused with the ongoing damage. One of the tenets mentioned early on about 4e was reducing bookkeeping, yet many of the powers have ongoing damage and effects, which means you need to keep track of them. Interestingly, we didn't seem to have much of a problem there - one PC was on fire and immobilized, and we never forgot to roll the saves. I suppose players are more likely to remember to shake off effects than they are to remember to remind the DM to ascribe more damage from that ongoing acid arrow... Also confusing this issue is that some powers are removed with a saving throw, some are Until the Start of Your Next Turn, some Until the End, and some Until the End of the Encounter.

With the move of the traditional saving throw into an attack roll, it's nice that what's left of saving throws is a static value, rolling 10 or higher to succeed. As the PHB says, "[w]hat makes a giant snake's poison worse than a normal snake's is not how hard it is to shake off the poison's effects, but how easily it affects you in the first place (it's attack bonus) and what it does to you while it remains in your system (its ongoing damage or other effect)."

Cover and concealment have been simplified a bit, so there are only two types of penalties, -2 and -5, that apply to attacks. No more percentage miss chances, and no more defense bonus - just an attack penalty. This is nice, and I agree that this was needlessly complicated in 3rd edition.

Diminutive and Colossal have been lost as sizes. That's too bad, but I suppose there's no reason to keep them, especially since it seems that size no longer affects your armor class. The new Squeeze action is interesting, allowing a creature to suck in its gut to squeeze into tight spaces, with listed effects. Most of the movement rules are similar to the older version, with a few exceptions.

Run is now just +10', instead of triple- or quadruple-speed. This is good to prevent long over-ground chases, of which we've had a few. The terrain has taken on Miniatures terminology and effects, costing an extra 5' to move through difficult terrain, and taking a certain amount of movement to move atop obstacles. The Push/Pull/Slide idea seems to be quite prevalent; sliding nee five-foot-adjustment is needed for the feel of fancy footwork in combat, but the pushing and pulling ideas are more than just bull rushing being put into concrete terms. Many powers have these effects, which lends to a more strategic feel to combat in general. And having kobolds that can slide in response to the characters' movements is great.

As for the other miscellaneous actions that are available, Crawling now lets you go at half-speed instead of just 5'. Grappling (Grab, now) and escaping are simplified, which is nice. They were always good mechanics to use in combat (monsters crushing PCs, or PCs grappling NPCs when they couldn't do anything else effective), but always required going to the books to find out the order of the checks, who-could-do-what, etc.

We've yet to try out the new death and dying rules, but they definitely seem designed to help the PCs live to see another day, provided their companions can finish the battle without them, or heal them quickly. The dynamic lower-limit for death is definitely an improvement, using the bloodied number as a negative instead of the static -10. No mention of massive damage that I could see, though. I don't think it'll be missed.

No comments: