Thursday, June 11, 2009

Facing, Flanking, and Blocking

So, for wanting a rules lite game I'm sure talking about a lot of rules in this this series. I've read and do read so much RPG stuffs that all Phillip K. Dick like I forget what's mine and what I only imagined. I need to fixate in my mind how I'd like to adjudicate situations in a "rulings over rules" type campaign. The other big reason is to provide a place for people to tell me I'm doin it wrong.

Goals and assumptions: Rules-lite & slightly crunchy. Want to encourage tactics but not tactical miniatures combat, no tactical map. Although miniatures might be used to show marching order, general positions/groupings of combatants. Melee combat is abstracted and represents many (6-60) seconds of feinting, dodging and maneuvering aka "the dance". Melee is dynamic, participants are not stationary but do stay in a general area.


Facing
Is the direction a creature* is oriented towards.

Melee facing is abstracted and folded into the Flanking rules.

Ranged facing only matters when using a shield to defend against ranged attacks and is folded into Cover & Concealment. When it matters it must be declared during your initiative and lasts until your next turn. If facing is undeclared (e.g. during surprise or due to forgetful player) it will determined by logic (the DM's, not yours) or die roll.


Flanking
Is attacking from the side or rear. Either of which negates the benefits of a shield and provides a melee to-hit bonus +2 side, +4 rear. Note: attacking a totally unaware opponent garners a +4 to-hit bonus (separate from flanking). Flanking bonuses are due to not being able to clearly see attacks. Creatures with multiple eyes, > 270deg vision, special senses, special training (monks), or super speed generally provide reduced (+0 / +2) to-hit bonuses or none at all. They can still being "flanked" though, which is important when determining Blocking.

Ranged attacks do not get to-hit bonuses for flanking but may get the unaware bonus which often applies when shooting someone in the back.

In general a creature with room to maneuver can always keep a single opponent to their front. A second opponent will generally be able to attack from the side and a third could get around to the rear (4th front, 5th side, 6th rear). At most six (2 front, 2 side, 2 rear) creatures may attack a given opponent given that they are all of similar size. Attackers decide in what order they attack and thus generally decide which among them get flanking bonuses, but fast, sneaky, or tricky opponents might override that.

Two creatures fighting next to one another can keep two opponents (regardless of who those opponents are attacking) to their fronts. A third opponent would side flank. The general formula is # of creatures fighting together = # of opponents denied flanking. Fighting with friends also limits the total number of opponents that may assault you. If needed, place figures on a hex grid, max attackers = number of exterior adjacent hexes.

Two or more creatures can fight back to back or in a ring thus preventing any opponent from getting a rear attack. This is trades defense for ability to block movement. (see Blocking below)

Restrictive terrain tosses the above guidelines out of the ring and slams them with a folding metal chair. To be adjudicated on a case by case basis but should be pretty darn obvious. Ex: If you're up against the wall then 3-4 opponents max only two of which would get side flanking.

Optional Rule: Weapons with reach (pole-arms, long spears, etc.) allow 2x the number of attackers. Thus the idiot fighting alone in the middle of the room can be attacked by 6 scimitar wielding orcs and 6 Glaive-Guisarme wielding orcs.


Blocking
Is preventing opponents' movement around your position or around your defense to engage something you are defending.

In general a creature can prevent one creature from moving "past" (assuming size, speed differences are not great). [visualized in the scene to the left from "The Princess Bride". Alternatively, a creature can prevent all non-rear flanking opponents from moving through it's area. [best combined with formations or terrain.] The area for humans and the like is 5'. In a similar way a creature can defend another (deny option to attack defended by interposing themselves) from all non-rear flanking opponents. What this generally means is you can keep two opponents from moving round you, but once you face three or more they will slip by. General formula is # of creatures fighting together + 1 = # of opponents blocked. This is all "automatic", no need to declare anything, the DM will handle it.

Again terrain is were it gets interesting. When the situation is non-obvious laying it out on a hex grid is sure to elucidate. But melee is messy and fluid, best effort guess is fine as well. In general, if creatures can make a continuous line (based on their areas) between two obstacles they block all movement. Ex: Two 5' area creatures or one 10' area creature can block movement down a 10' corridor. If creatures can make a nearly continuous line but with gaps where an opponent could side flank them they block movement until overwhelmed by superior numbers (those side flankers start slipping through). One 5' creature could hold up movement down a 10' corridor, but would probably have to give up space to keep a third opponent on his side from passing.


Commentary
Simple (in practice, annoyingly hard to describe) algorithmic method to determine flanking. Given open ground, circle formation and X defenders, the attackers get X front, a side flank, a rear flank (convert to side cause of circle formation), then repeat until run out of attackers or spots for them to attack.

Ex: for one, two, and three defenders. Front, Side, Rear attackers.
1 FSR FRS
2 FFSS FFSS
3 FFFSS FFFS_ (underscore cause 3 defenders face a max of 9 attackers)


No flanking to-hit bonus for ranged. Saying ranged weapons are too fast that the feinting, dodging, maneuvering one does in melee don't apply. And inability to do the "combat dance" effectively is origin of the flanking bonuses. If you know there's missilery about, you keep your head down, you weave and hustle. It doesn't matter much that projectile death comes from behind. But, if some yahoo is standing up picking his pignose, thats the +4 unaware bonus. Again front, side, rear don't matter. One moment orc happily picking your pignose, next arrow in the eye. The only time I can see the unaware attack applying to melee is thief's surprise backstab from the rear, +8 total to-hit, wowza!

I originally had this in flanking: "A creature normally gets to decide which of several opponents it is keeping to the front, but fast, sneaky, or tricky opponents might override that." Which seemed realistic. But, thinking ... that giving players a new "decision point" outside of their turn (i.e. when they are being attacked) would bog down combat. It's better to be the attacker's decision as it will be made on the attacker's turn as an integral part of their decision on whom to attack. It also promotes players to think tactically as a team. "Gor and Thumak will attack first so thief boy can get around and poke'm in the ass." [btw Assumes team based initiative that is players roll one initiative and all go together.]

Blocking is how meat-shields keep the nasties from bothering the casters while they are busy talking in tongues and making funny shapes in the air. Or how one heroically saves the virginal sacrifice from the EHP's obsidian dagger. Basing off of flanking isn't perfect but having only one set of rules is better than perfect. Also, allowing one dude to block two attackers is a bit off but creates tactic possibilities.

I've thought about not allowing weak fighters (wizards) to block nor be able to keep an opponent in their forward facing. But there is already strong enough incentive to defend the paper cannons and enough "I am the lord of combat" stuff for fighters. That there was no reason to complicate.


Tactics:
- Find and use terrain to defend your flanks.
- Fight in teams of at least two or get poked in the ass.
- When overwhelmed in the open form a circle.
- Defend your casters.
- Casters, hire some body guards.
- Hirelings are cool, even if all they do is sit there and defend themselves they are protecting your flanks and rear.
- Archers, hire a shield bearer.
- When you have superior numbers gang up and get those to-hit bonuses.
- When facing hard to hit foes it might be better to gang up to flank one at a time, even if the others will get round and rape your wizard. (He should of hired some guards.)
- Blocking is not symmetrical. A shield bearer can deny two creatures from attacking you but you can attack them back, even without a reach weapon. Note: life expectancy of shield bearer, low.


* "creature" means monster/character/npc/etc.

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