10 Minute Rounds

First off, I’m finally back into a game. Currently running B2: Keep on the Borderlands using Labyrinth Lord as the rules system. Two sessions in and things are interesting. Goblins and an ogre died in a fantastic couple of combats, but at the loss of a couple of mercenaries and the near death of a cleric and thief.

Once again reading the Penny Arcade forums turns up more blog fodder, this time in the form of this post, wherein user Forar laments the results of missing in a combat round in 4e:

It can be highly frustrating, especially in a larger group, where it might take 10 min or more to get back to your turn, only to have some spectacularly bad rolls mean you whiff and spend another 10-20-30+ minutes staring at the map, hoping your next daring plan isn’t foiled by an inexcusable number of 1’s rolled.

This is one of the things which has bothered me greatly about the 4e campaigns I’ve played in, and certainly doesn’t seem to be a rare complaint. With how tactical and crunchy 4e combat is, it really can take 10 minutes or longer to go though all the player turns in a single combat round. Obviously this really does make missing on your turn one of the worst things that can happen. What’s more problematic than missing, however, is that 10 minute round. Part of the reason why a combat round might take 10 minutes is the crunch of 4e, but part of it is the way new RPGs run their combat rounds as well. Even in my LL sessions, you can drag a combat round out to minutes per round by dealing with each player independently, especially as each successive player reacts to the changing landscape of the battle as molded by previous players. But that’s not how you’re supposed to run combat in LL, by the book a combat round is handled as so:

  1. Declare Actions
  2. Roll Initiative
  3. Winning side goes first
  4. Move
  5. Missiles
  6. Spells
  7. Melee
  8. Losing side goes through steps 4-7
  9. End of the combat round

Notice something missing? No talk about walking through the player actions one player at a time, the whole side acts as a whole. So does this eliminate the 10 minute round? Not necessarily, but it does do one thing very well, it keeps all the players involved in the round through most of it. So how is it better? Well I’ve run a few combat rounds in this manner, in particular the fight in which the party took down the ogre, and it they were to my mind the most fantastic combat rounds. The whole party spends the first bit of the round discussing their tactic for the round, and then the individual actions in each step are performed in rapid succession around the table. Each player is disengaged from the action for perhaps 30 seconds at a time, and everyone seems to stay more involved. Even if the whole round takes a full 10 minutes (which they usually don’t) players can’t zone out for 9 minutes of that time. In this combat system, missing on your combat roll may suck for the party as a whole, but you’re not sitting around “staring at the map, hoping your next daring plan isn’t foiled” because the actions are flowing by too quickly.

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  1. #1 by micahblackburn on April 4, 2012 - 15:55

    I’m always cautious about ‘whole group’ initiative. Never liked it back in the day, and now that I’m back to the Old School with ACKS, it uses the individual initiative rules. I break the monsters up into groups (based on type usually) but I’d be afraid that with a mixed number of PCs and Monsters, if the Monsters went first in their entirety, they’d decimate the PCs…heaven knows I’ve seen the PCs do it to the monsters often enough!

    Otherwise though, like you, I’m really finding the short, quick rounds of old school play so much easier to run and a breeze to play. We shoot through 4+ encounters, and possibly some roleplay, in an hour, where in the old days 2 encounters a /session/ might be considered lucky!

    • #2 by tpmoney on April 4, 2012 - 16:22

      The risk for party decimation is definitely there if the monsters win initiative, but equally, the monsters are in for a world of hurt if the wizard can get his sleep spell in first. I suppose that encourages trying to avoid head on combat where possible. To be honest, sometimes I’m torn, I like the intermixing of monsters and players that individual initiative can provide, but I really like the “symphony of attack” that group initiative and group action as per the old school combat rules provides. It really makes those combats seem more cinematic, and I really like the ebb and flow of combat that it simulates. The monster doesn’t always act last, and the party keeps hoping their luck holds and they get to go first next turn.

      • #3 by micahblackburn on April 4, 2012 - 16:37

        Yeah, I can certainly see the appeal. It also just lets everyone sort of go when and where they naturally would (i.e. the guy’s up front attack and then you move down the line till everyone has acted).

        ACKS has a few classes that have initiative bonuses so I think you would lose out without individual initiative, but then you might gain with speed of play. It’s a hard one.

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