Sunday, 14 August 2016

Single-Round D&D Combat

Recently, I've been thinking about how one could speed up combat resolution in D&D. These thoughts began after a one-shot which I ran a few weeks back, for a reunion of the most part of my old LL campaign group. I noticed that, even with experienced players, the time taken to resolve each round of combat (assuming a decent number of combatants -- six to ten -- on each side) is significant. Rolling initiative, each player declaring their actions, making to-hit rolls, making damage rolls, describing what happens. Even without the laborious tactical discussions and tomfoolery that sometimes slows combat down even further, when one is dealing with a less experienced or more drunk group, D&D combat is just slow. (I dread to imagine how it gets in a more complex rule set! I'm talking low-level, Basic characters here.)

If a single, significant battle occurs in a session, I'm fine with it taking 30+ minutes to resolve. But when several combats occur in a single session, they can start to drag. Thus, my search for ideas to speed things up.

I recently posted an idea for a simplified D&D combat system, based on Chainmail (via the semi-clone Platemail). This was, really, just a step on the way, though. My ideal would be a single-round combat system. A complete battle resolved in one step. After some fermentation time, the following rough system has emerged:

Super Abstract D&D Combat
When an encounter occurs and it leads to combat, the procedure is as follows:
  1. Both sides determine their Combat Strength (CS) -- a simple number.
  2. The leader of each side makes a battle roll: 1d6 plus the CS.
  3. The results are compared. The side with the lower result is defeated.
  4. Based on the difference between the two battle rolls, damage is applied to the victorious side.
  5. The results of defeat are determined.
1. Combat Strength
The force is divided into combatants and non-combatants. My inclination, inspired by LotFP, is to say that only fighters, monsters, or trained 0-level soldiers count as combatants. Adventurers of other classes count as non-combatants. (Games using clerics or other half-fighting classes may say that they count as half-combatants.)

(Note that by declaring non-fighters as non-combatants, I'm assuming that spell casting has little impact on battle. This assumption varies significantly with the D&D standard, but I'm happy to go with it. I actually like the idea of this being an area where fighters can excel, while spell casting is useful in a different arena.)

Combatants add their Hit Dice to their side's CS. Non-combatants add 1 to the CS.

Many other modifiers may apply (to be fully elaborated... just some basic ideas for now):
  • Character below half hit points? HD counts as half, for the purposes of calculating CS.
  • Character AC 6 or 7? +1 CS.
  • Character AC 4 or 5? +2 CS.
  • Character AC 3? +3 CS.
  • Character better than AC 3? +4 CS.
  • Character armed with a magic weapon. +1 CS.
  • Tactical advantages (this is an area ripe for elaboration). Varies.
  • Surprise +4 CS.
  • Missile weapons which can be fired before melee begins. +4 CS.
2. Battle Rolls
Just roll 1d6 and add to the side's total CS.

3. Compare Battle Rolls
The side with the higher roll is victorious. The other side is defeated.

4. Apply Damage to Victorious Side
Of course, entering into battle is a dangerous business and even the victor may suffer losses. The losses suffered are determined by the victory margin (i.e. the difference between the two battle rolls):
  • Narrow victory. Less than 5 difference: 75% damage.
  • Sound victory. Difference 5 - 10: 50% damage.
  • Triumphant victory. Difference 11 - 15: 25% damage.
  • Rout. Difference 16+: negligible damage.
Damage is applied as follows:
  • The total Hit Dice of the defeated force is calculated (without any of the modifiers mentioned above). This is the number of d6 damage suffered by the victor.
  • The number of d6s is reduced by the percentage noted above. Fractions are rounded down.
  • Each combatant may declare how many damage dice they will take -- at least one die and up to their HD. The damage dice are rolled and the combatants' hit point totals adjusted. If damage takes a character below 1 hp, they are treated the same as an ignored, defeated character (see below).
  • Remaining damage dice are applied evenly to non-combatants.
Negligible damage means that the damage inflicted is one hit point per HD of the defeated force. This damage may be distributed between characters as described above.

5. Determine Results of Defeat
Characters on the defeated side may attempt to flee the battle, realising it is lost:
  • Attempting to flee incurs automatic damage: 1d6 if a narrow victory occurred, 2d6 for a sound victory, 3d6 for a triumphant victory, and 4d6 for a rout.
  • A DEX check determines whether a character manages to escape, with non-combatants gaining a +2 bonus to the roll. If the roll is successful, the character escapes and is not counted in subsequent defeat resolution. (The victorious side may decide to pursue escapees, however, which should be dealt with separately.)
Characters who do not escape battle suffer one of the following fates, as chosen by the victorious side:
  • Killed: eaten, finished off, dismembered, sacrificed.
  • Captured.
  • Ignored. (This may occur if the victorious side immediately leaves the battlefield, for example in pursuit of fleeing characters.)
Characters who are lucky enough to be ignored or forgotten after being defeated in battle may make a saving throw versus death to determine their fate. If the save fails, the character is dead. If it succeeds, he is alive with 1hp and an injury which permanently reduces a random ability score by one. (A "death & dismemberment" table may be used at this stage, instead.)

As before: this is completely untested. Thoughts welcome!


  1. Maybe: an offensive spell can increase the damage by % or the CS by a modest factor

    A defensive spell may do the same

    Turning before battle to reduce the # of
    Enemy combatants and a spell cast beforehand (assuming no surprise in the opponents' favor)

    I like this

  2. I cann't see people I've playeed with ever dealing well with this idea except possibly to resolve surprise combats. It removes a lot of options and tactics from play and feels like it takes away far more play than is added by the option.

    1. It's not for everyone, of course.

      What it's supposed to add to play is more time to deal with other aspects of the game... exploration, intrigue, puzzles, etc.

  3. I posted something similar to this on Reddit the other day:

    Essentially, DM and players get dice pools, they roll them, resolve, repeat until combat is over (win, lose or retreat). I won't go into the specifics; you can read those on the link if you're interested.

    We tested it out in our group last week. Seven PCs (six level 6, one level 3) against 8 werewolves (CR 2, iirc). It was one round of rolling. Results were the PCs winning, 72 damage being handed out to PCs, two max level spells used, one lower level spell, one druid wildshape used. Took less than 10 minutes, and that included explaining how the system worked.

    Like JDsivraj, we had one player that really didn't like the lack of tactical him, the combat was considerably less fun. If you have players that love tactical combats, this system is definitely not for them. I question how tactical you're going to get with some of the random encounters you'd be likely to see, but it's an emotional reaction that I can't really argue with.

    Much like my system, I'd recommend trying this for random encounters or optional encounters. I hesitate to call them throwaway encounters because what you're really doing is abstracting away the fiddly bits in order to determine what resources were used up during the encounter. For mandatory encounters (BBEG, drastic plot changes) this is probably suboptimal, but the risk-reward of fighting additional combats for additional xp/loot/gains has previously been limited for us by real life time. If this method results in more story options, I'll consider it a win.

    1. That sounds like a very cool idea for accelerated 5e combat! I like that a lot. It doesn't have the "one round only" quality that I was going for, but certainly sounds like it'd be significantly faster than standard combat.

      Agreed about probably not applying this to major battles. I think it's really nice to have a few different resolution systems at different levels of abstraction, that the group can apply as they see fit.

      I've not had a chance to try my system out yet (my game is on hiatus at the moment), but your positive experience makes me even more keen to give it a go.

  4. I'm thinking of somehow adding more possible outcomes to combat, in addition to losing hp. Damaged armour, broken weapons, lost equipment, bolted mounts... that sort of thing. Little complications that could be rolled on some kind of table or something. I'll have to see if I can think of a way to integrate it into the system without adding extra rolls...

  5. I'm about to start a Carcosa campaign and I might try out these rules in situations where the characters might take on a full village or other large group of people. Will let you know how that works out if I do. Any other ideas for resolving mass combat quickly?

    1. That sounds fun! I'd be very interested to hear any feedback you have after trying it out! (I've not gotten a chance yet.)

      Regarding mass combat, I had imagined that the same system might work. I'm not sure how far it would stretch, though... would adding up all those numbers get tedious with many dozens of combatants? I suppose you'd have to divide larger groups down into units of like troops.