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Monday, April 20, 2020

Non-Combat Actions and Open-Ended Rounds

There’s a well-known divide between people who want to abstract combat and those who want to simulate combat. In other words, long rounds vs. short rounds. When simulating combat, you break everything down action by action: one roll equals one swing of your sword, one hack with your ax, one stab with your spear. When abstracting combat (my preferred way,) you bundle multiple actions: one roll determines whether your actions that round were a success.

But one thing people sometimes complain about when talking about abstracted combat is what to do about non-combat actions during combat. If using simulated combat, you can just replace one attack with one action. What do you do when each round represents multiple actions?

For very quick, simple actions, like drawing a sword, dropping a torch, or any action that can be done while walking or running, they just happen simultaneously. They don’t interfere with combat unless there’s a whole lot of them. If you need a guideline for “how many actions is too many?” assume combatants get at least one action for every 3 points of Dex.

A longer, more complex action can’t be done while moving. Combatants get one such action in place of their movement for the round, but can still attack. If they take another action, roll a d6: on 5+, they can still make an attack or try another action. Otherwise, what they’ve done so far took the entire round and they have to wait until the next round. They still get to block, parry, dodge, duck, or take other defensive action for the rest of the round, as well as any simple actions as noted above.

This approach means that we can keep the length of a combat round open-ended. It’s about one minute, but could be shorter or longer… we don’t care about the exact length, only when each combatant gets to roll again.

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  1. Having played a lot of GURPS with it's one second actions I tend to see this as not a problem. Despite what the rules say any sensible interpretation of most non-combat actions is that they take huge multiples of of the combat action. My take would be to scale your round to a convenient value to suit non-combat actions and then fit your combat system to that.

    1. GURPS has simulated combat, rather than abstracted combat. I played GURPS and The Fantasy Trip for years, but stopped and went back to OD&D partly because I no longer want to play simulated combat.

      In abstracted combat, or at least in OD&D, one minute rounds take about one minute of real time to resolve. Non-combat actions that take less than a minute -- probably the most common actions players might take -- can just happen naturally alongside combat. Longer actions would get a rating in minutes and the GM would just set a timer. That simplicity is part of the appeal.

  2. The way I do it: if you have to move, or draw you sword, put your shield, etc., you can roll to hit, but lose initiative and act last in the round.

    1. Somewhat reasonable, although it would not work for me, since I've mostly ditched initiative. Also, I allow one move and one attack every round, to keep same pattern as exploration turns, which have two moves.