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:
- Declare Actions
- Roll Initiative
- Winning side goes first
- Losing side goes through steps 4-7
- 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.