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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Keeping Undefined Rounds Undefined

In the last article, I started looking at three situations where conventional wisdom says you can’t leave the length of a round undefined. The first, moving a set distance before a deadline, was easy to dismiss (just don’t use rounds.) The second, finishing a task before someone is killed in combat, only applies to short tasks anyways, so just roll to see how many rounds the task takes.

But the third, moving a set diistance before someone is killed in combat, seems more critical. The example of reaching a tower 100 meters away to pull a switch before a troll kills your allies seems like it would require defining the length of a round. That’s going to piss off one group of players: short rounds and one-minute rounds each have plusses and minuses, and those that prefer one aren’t going to gleefully accept the other.

Or, since the length of an undefined round is fluid anyways, we could set its length just for that combat. When facing more dangerous foes, rounds get shorter. Rather than setting the round length explicitly, we could do it abstractly.
  1. Compare each side to find which one is stronger.
  2. Find the creature or combatant on that side with the most hit dice; that’s the number of dice the runner is going to roll.
  3. Roll below the runner’s Move score (3, 6, 9, or 12, in most cases;) Success means the runner makes it to the goal in less than a round.
  4. Otherwise, the largest number rolled on any of the six-sided dice is the number of rounds needed.
With this method, it’s important to weed out long distances. Anything that would take longer than three minutes to run can’t be reached before the combat is over, even with one-minute rounds.

The other alternative is to flip the problem on its head and randomize the distance run each round.
  1. Roll each attack roll as you normally would, but also look at the unmodified result.
  2. If the roll is less than the runner’s Move score, the runner moves that many yards during that attack.
  3. Otherwise, don’t count that roll when totalling the distance moved (the attack was just too fast.)
  4. Adjust the description of the combat based on the perceived length of the round; if the runner moves far, the round is longer and each roll may represent multiple attacks.
Whatever you do, one qquestion you have to ask yourself is “why did this situation arise in the first place?” If the players see trolls running towards them, and one of them remembers there was a switch 100 yards back the way they came that would release a small fire-breathing dragon from a cage, and maybe they could trick the trolls and the dragon into fighting each other if only one of them could run back and pull that switch, that might be reasonable. But if you are deliberately designing “combat encounters” that can only be won by making a hundred-yard dash while a combat is raging, any mechanical difficulties are your own creation.

Maybe you shouldn’t do that.

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  1. I really do not see the need to define the round at all. Instead of trying to define the round and how much time or distance can be covered during it, I would consider all actions to be occurring simultaneously during the turn. Initiative only decides the order of who goes first. Now it's simply a question of how far has this character already travelled during the turn (has he made a full move?) and can he cover the remaining distance in the allotted time frame remaining in the turn before the trolls slaughter his peers?

  2. on defining the round in terms of time. it is helpful for answering the questions dervishdelver posed. for the players. it gives them some idea about what they can accomplish in one round. for DMs, it gives a guideline so that he can appear to be impartial when a player asks if they can do something particular in the space between two events. nothing is ever really necessary, but something is always more helpful than nothing.

    on defining the length of a round for each situation. YES! we already do this! when characters go to sleep, do you play it round by round? no! and yet, you do! how often do you check for encounters when the characters are sleeping? that is the length of a 'sleep round'. how often do you check for encounter or events when characters are traveling in the wilderness? that is the length of the 'wilderness round'.

  3. I played in a session of 1st edition D&D where the monk was stricken with an advanced form of mummy rot. After the first round, we saw the effects and the DM gave us a guess at how long the monk could last before his flesh rotted away; a few rounds at best. In the midst of our panic, a player made a comment about a nearby temple, which we knew housed a power capable of curing this disease. The temple was too far away.

    Not too far for a monk, however.

    We only came to this conclusion after we crunched the numbers. We were able to do that because we were using consistent rules. The situation was not a forced one. We chose to fight the mummy and we chose the circumstances of the encounter. The rules were defined before we played the session and, because we used the same rules from one session to the next, we didn't spend time redefining them.

    I can see how this approach would work in some games. Exalted from White Wolf, for example. But that would require a different set of assumptions about how the world functions and how the players interact with it.