Friday, October 22, 2010

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!