... now with 35% more arrogance!

Friday, January 25, 2013

d20 Combat Maneuvers

I have a couple 3e/d20 blogs I subscribe to, because even though I don't like 3e, it keeps a little variety and might occasionally clue me into something interesting. I had never explored many of the supplements to 3e, even stuff that appears to get mentioned a lot, like The Book of Iron Might. So I didn't know anything about the combat maneuvers system, other than it seemed to be really popular and people cite it as a great innovation. So today, one of the d20 blogs gave a summary of the maneuver system from that book:
The maneuver system (I’ll use the American spelling to stay consistent with the book, as it’s a game term) allows you to perform a wide range of combat techniques without taking a feat, but at the cost of a large attack penalty of -10 or greater. This penalty can be offset by taking drawbacks.

Lets say you wish to knock an opponent prone. You can do so, at the impossibly high penalty of -20 to attack. However, you can reduce that penalty by 10 if the maneuver provokes an attack of opportunity, by a further 5 if your opponent gets a saving throw or opposed check, and another 5 if the attack only knocks prone and doesn’t deal damage.
I'm sorry, but that sounds like one of the worst designs ever. I can understand the appeal, because back when I played a lot of GURPS, I thought the enhancement and limitation system from GURPS Supers was really great; it added a lot of possibilities. But of course the downside was that you wound up doing a lot of fiddly accounting to tweak a power just right, looking up values for different limitations ("was 'DX roll to avoid' -20% or -30%?",) ambiguity in more free-form limitations, and limitations chosen for their point-value instead of thematic interest. This maneuver system, assuming the description is accurate, looks like it has all the same "benefits".

I've said before: the purpose of mechanics is to make interesting things happen. The maneuver concept certainly seems like an interesting thing, worthy of being added; but the tiny maneuver build system shifts focus to maneuver building, which isn't interesting and doesn't make anything happen. That's why my current maneuver system is "if you do this interesting thing, either the extra benefit only happens on a 5+ on 1d6, or there's a risk of a side effect on 5+, or both."


  1. The combat maneuvers in the official D&D versions have always been an afterthought to the system. I'm impressed by the way Pathfinder solved the issue with a single roll.

  2. I'll second Rod's comments. Regardless of what version of D&D I am playing now I typically port the Pathfinder combat maneuver system. It's simple, streamlined, and gives GMs a way to adjudicate any crazy idea the players come up with--rather than saying "no" just say "awesome, roll a combat maneuver check".

  3. Addendum--You can check them out here: http://www.d20pfsrd.com/gamemastering/combat#TOC-Combat-Maneuvers

    Note that while they give examples (tripping, rushing, disarming, etc) the system is easily extensible to any maneuvers you or your players can dream up.

  4. For old-school D&D, I've mused on the possibility of making an attack roll vs the defender's Hit Dice (i.e. its overall combat ability), rather than its AC. Unfortunately, with a descending AC system, this would mean something slightly cumbersome like attack vs 10 - Hit Dice.

  5. In Sword & Magic, these combat techniques (called +5 and +10 manoeuvres) work as opposed attack rolls; the side who beats the opponent by 5 or more wins. If the attempt is *almost* impossible (the example, if I remember correctly, is disarming a giant with an ordinary weapon), it requires beating the opponent by 10 or more.