Friday, October 22, 2010

Fields of Battle: Fight Challenges

The Skirmish rules could also be used for mass battles, either with heroes fighting against overwhelming numbers or with players controlling small units attempting to capture a large field of battle. I call these Fight Challenges.

The idea is to use the mechanics of Skill Challenge to achieve tactical/story victory, causing a route or capturing a prize. Slaying foes would of course yield success, but the Fight Challenge opens up skill use as well.

Failure may come simply from players dying or taking enough damage to flee the scene, or, for a larger battle when a certain fraction of their forces have been defeated.

Alternately, a round limit to the battle could be imposed. For example, if they are not pushed back, hacked, blasted and intimidated in 10 rounds, the Rats of Nim overwhelm the castle walls.

Nuts and Bolts
  • Skirmish rules for gridless combat, simplified initiative, and damage (At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers do 1, 2, and 3 Hits respectively.
  • Hits per Success: This may vary with larger battles, but let's begin with 5 Hits per success. This encourages use of Dailies and Healing Surges to finish the battle quickly.
  • Skill Checks for Success: Using story appropriate skills contribute success. Skill Checks are a minor action in the Fight Challenge to encourage their use and speed resolution.
  • Opponents use standard Minion stats, damaging PCs normally.

Siege at the Red Dragon Inn
Perhaps the players are holed up in an in with a thieves guild up going to war against them, attempting to set the inn on fire. They rush the front door, they come in through the roof and from the basement. The Siege at the Red Dragon Inn could be played as a Complexity 5 Fight Challenge, needing 12 successes to win the encounter before the inn catches on fire and is over run, in 5 rounds.

First, using the Skirmish rules presented in the previous post, the Thugs will be 1 Hit minions, and Lieutenants have 3 Hits.

Every 5 thugs defeated equals a success. Defeating a lieutenant is one success. A successful skill check garners a success as well. However, characters may not use the same skill two rounds in a row.

Players are encouraged to embellish their turns with Skill Checks as Minor Actions, in fact they will need to do so in order to complete the challenge in time.
  • Intimidate and Bluff to encourage defections in the ranks and hurt morale. Moderate DC
  • Stealth to get the drop on someone, to get away or wait it out. Easy DC
  • Acrobatics swing for chandeliers to get to a lieutenant. Hard DC (Defeating a lieutenant is a success in itself.)
  • Streetwise for dirty tactics such as knocking down chandeliers & throwing bottles of liquor. Easy DC
  • Athletics to battle through the crowd or flip tables. Moderate DC
  • Arcana and Nature to put out fires. Hard DC
Failure would of course occur if the heroes decide to retreat, or, if they are not victorious in 5 rounds the Inn is burning, so destroyed that it is not worth saving, and they are more or less taken prisoner.

Here we have a dynamic way to run a very nebulous and complicated encounter with real consequences for the players and the story, a tasteful melange of abstract roleplaying and tactical combat.

Have fun storming the castle!

Fields of Battle: Quick Skirmish Rules

The rowdy dwarf picks a fight in a bar! The thief gets caught pick pocketing the town guard! The party fails to be stealthy and rouses the entire goblin camp! Diplomatic parlay breaks down! A wandering monster!

How many times do these situations come up in D&D? All the time! There are times during a session when a fight makes sense for a story, but the Dungeon Master knows that it will not be terribly challenging. It may seriously cramp the pace session. You were hoping to get to the crypt this session and here your players are getting side tracked! How to resolve this quickly?

One option is to just rush through a normal combat. But, I would like to offer the skirmish, a set of variant rules for playing fast-paced, abstract battles in D&D 4e. High fives to Mike Shea and the other participants of the "30 Minute Skirmish" thread over on Enworld.

Classic D&D fights are tend to be big set pieces, and those take time. They also work best when well prepared. I see the skirmish idea as a chance to switch up the style of play to a loose, free-form style that is resolved quickly. This could be great for ad-hoc low level encounters and also fights against overwhelming combatants. These rules are intended for multiple, usually lower level opponents. A wandering dragon should always be played straight!

Principles of the Skirmish: Be Quick, Be Creative

Be Creative: Player buy in is essential. The Dungeon Master needs to announce the skirmish rules in advance and the players need to be enthusiastic about a different style of play. They should be allowed a full range of tactical options, but encouraged by the skirmish rules to play in a more fast and loose style.

Be Quick: The the length of combat in D&D comes from a number of sources, difficult tactical decisions, loads of monster hit points, battle mat set up, fiddling with the mini figs, and rolling lots of dice. All these things are lots of fun, but the goal of the skirmish is to eliminate some extraneous parts and play through the story. DMs and players should try to keep the pace lively and move through their turns quickly.

Nuts and Bolts
  • No map or minis. The play must be described orally.
  • No damage rolls. Monsters do set damage and have 1, 2, or 3 Hits. Players may make tactical choices as to how much damage they will do. See Modifiers below.
  • Round-Robin Initiative: The highest initiative roll goes first and play continues around the table.
  • An At-Will or Basic Attack deals 1 Hit
  • Encounter attacks deal 2 Hits.
  • Daily attacks deal 3 Hits.
  • Area Affect powers hit multiple targets (Burst 1: 1d6 targets, Burst 2: 2d6 targets etc) depending on the narrative.

  • A roll of 20 doubles Hits.
  • Striker features like Sneak Attack and Hunters Quarry add 1 Hit.
  • Sacrifice of a Healing Surge adds 1 Hit. This would be a Minor Action, but may be applied after the hit roll.
  • Bluff and Acrobatics Skill Checks may be made as a Minor Action to achieve Combat Advantage.
As an incentive to speed play, offer 10xp per character level each time a player finishes his turn in under 60 seconds. This can really add up!

The purpose is to encourage fast moving and entertaining resolution to an encounter, perhaps with a bit of flair that can be lacking from grid-based roleplaying. Encourage players to think out of the box and let the 20s fly!