Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fighter Love 2: Combat Stunts

We’ll start out our fighter love series with that house rule I talked about ripping off from Jon in my last post.

 One of the things I liked about DCC (yes, there are/were SOME things I liked about DCC) was the concept of special combat maneuvers for fighters, as well as the gradual increase in ability to perform those combat maneuvers. Having said that, I found the execution of those combat maneuvers (in play) to be frustrating in two regards:
  1. They happened too infrequently.
  2. Their effects were too limited (too rigidly or narrowly defined). 

But again (and just to emphasize) it’s the execution that tanks. The concept, the idea, is an excellent one:
  • It makes the fighter “special” in combat (where fighting should be the fighter’s specialty).
  • It gives a mechanic that can “spruce up” battle (less “boring”).
  • It adds another bennie that “levels up” (development/growth over time).

Currently, there is a certain “dullness” to Old School combat, only flavored/colored by the narrative of the DM and players. Now, yes, this can still be plenty exciting, especially at lower levels with dangerous encounters when a lucky blow can (or two) can knock a PC dead. But sometimes it would be nice to do a “special effect” with your attack, similar to DCC’s Mighty Deeds of Arms which include (for those who don’t know) blinding attacks, tripping and throws, push backs, disarms, troop rallying, precision shots, and defensive maneuvers. Done with a little tactical cunning, these things can add to a party’s effectiveness in addition to making the “hit point attrition mini-game” a little more interesting.

Because – especially at high levels, and when fighting large monsters – the steady drone of clacking dice and counting HPs becomes tiresome. How many successful attacks does it take to take down a 20 hit die T-Rex? Wouldn’t it be nice to blind the thing or do that cinematic maneuver where you jam something in its mouth (like a big bone or tree branch) to keep it from biting? Is there a way for the heroic fighter to defeat such a monster in heroic (and clever) fashion, rather than just standing toe-to-toe and swinging away? I’d prefer there to be something for the fighter, rather than just waiting for the spell-user to neutralize the big threat…why must my fighter be nothing more than a glorified bodyguard for the artillery?

So, yeah: combat stunts. That’s what I’m talking about. Interesting “add-ons” to the standard attack roll-damage roll game mechanic found in B/X.

Jon’s idea (if I’m remembering correctly) was to roll two different D20s for an attack roll, one a “regular attack die” and one a “special attack die.” If the “special” D20 scored a “hit” you could attach an effect of some sort to the opponent, even if you failed to do damage with your “normal D20” (i.e. even if you rolled a miss). The example he gave might be something like tossing sand in the opponent’s eyes so they suffer an attack penalty in the next round. If you succeeded with both rolls, you got to add damage, too. If you succeeded with the attack die, but failed with the special attack, you’d do normal damage without any added effect.

All that is too complex for my brain to remember, plus I hate asking players to call colors and whatnot (“Which die is the special attack? Which die is the normal attack?”). So here’s my riff:

-        Your character can choose whether or not to do a combat stunt.
-        If you choose to do a stunt, roll 2D20 for your attack instead of 1D20.
-        If both D20s (with normal bonuses) result in “hits” you can narrate your combat effect.
-        If either D20 misses, your attack misses.
-        A successful combat stunt always does normal damage, unless you choose otherwise.

[regarding normal damage: remember that I generally use the D6 default as standard in my B/X games or D8 for slow, two-handed weapons. I might adapt this as well saying, "you can do D8 damage if you choose a slow stunt" acting at the end of the round]

The B/X Companion has two-weapon rules.
This for me is simple and straight-forward. There’s a little risk-reward going on here (it’s easier to roll a hit with one D20 as opposed to two). Fighters, who have better attack rolls, will have an easier time succeeding at combat stunts…and their ability to DO those combat stunts will get easier as they go up in level. Yet other adventurers can still try stunts, too.

Most combat stunts will probably be used in melee, seeing as how fighters (with their high prime requisite STR) will have a better attack roll in melee, but archer-types with high DEX might well attempt “ranged disarms” and “bullseye” type shots. Here are some ideas of the types of stunts that I'd allow:

Cripple: used to give a character a penalty for the remainder of the combat, no more than -2 (though additional crippling results might be cumulative). This could represent a cut that drips blood in the eyes, knee-capping or stomping an ankle, or giving someone a nagging wound of some sort. The opponent can withdraw and spend D4 rounds of self-ministering to recover from the crippling attack.

Delay: a temporary “stun” attack that prevents the creature from taking any action for a single round. This could be a kick in the groin, a trip attack, sand in the face, or a stick in the craw of a large monster (like a T-Rex). The creature cannot move or attack (or cast spells) while delayed. Usually only a single delay can be performed on the same opponent in a single combat. If the combat stunt occurs at the end of the combat round (after the opponent’s normal action), the opponent is delayed in the following round.

Disarm: usable against opponent’s with weapons only, though it may be possible to maim a claw/claw/bite creature’s natural attack (broken wrist, for example). If the disarm is temporary (the opponent’s weapon can be retrieved), the stunt automatically works. If the disarm is permanent for the remainder of the combat (breaking an opponent’s weapon, crippling an opponent’s natural attack), then the opponent is allowed a save versus wands to resist.

Hamper: hamstring an opponent (or leave a dagger in its paw or similar) to limit its movement. The opponent’s movement rate is halved for the remainder of the combat and for one turn thereafter.

Incapacitate: a knock-out blow of some sort. The character must have equal (or more) levels compared to the level or HD of the opponent; for example, a 3rd level fighter can’t knock-out an ogre. Giant monsters (larger than 7 hit dice), may be immune to this combat stunt unless the PC can provide some justification (like using a girdle of giant strength to slug the creature with a tree trunk or boulder). The opponent is allowed a save versus poison to resist this stunt. The creature wakes up shortly after the combat ends.

Intimidate: perform some incredibly intricate attack or maneuver to break the will of the opponent. If successful, the opponent must make a morale check. This combat stunt only works on opponents with fewer HD/levels than the PC performing the stunt. The morale check may be adjusted if the opponents outnumber the PC or PC’s party. When attempting to intimidate a group of opponents, the stunt must be performed against the leader of the opponents (i.e. the attack roll is made against the biggest badass of the opposing side).

Push: maneuver the opponent in the direction desired, driven and directed by the PC performing the stunt. This can force a creature back over a ledge, or back into a bottle-neck area (like a doorway), or turn a creature so a buddy thief can backstab the opponent.

Take-Down: this combines both the delay and push combat stunts as the character takes the opponent to the ground; the difference is that the PC goes down with the creature and must spend a round (their next available action) in order to regain his or her feet. The PC can decide to maintain the take-down, taking no other action, in order to keep the opponent on the ground in subsequent rounds, but the opponent is only delayed for a single action and may proceed to attack the PC while on the ground.

Okay, that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head for combat stunts (though others may think of others that don’t fit into these categories). I haven’t had a chance to play-test any of these yet, so I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has a chance to use them.

More fighter stuff sometime in the near future!
: )


  1. Aside: this is the same thing as 2d20, take lowest, which is attacking with disadvantage in 5E terms.

    My own method is just to listen to what the player wants to do and improvise potential dangers based on the desired outcome (so I might say something like, sure you can try that, but if you miss by more than five there will be the following consequences, or maybe require a successful ability check in addition to the attack roll).

    I do like how using the attack roll naturally benefits the fighter due to level progression (yet doesn't make such things impossible for other classes to try also).

    1. Brendan isn't this exactly what we were talking about back in May with your "Another Stunt System" post?

      I don't use set stunts, as long as it isn't entirely unbelievable it's fair game, but in addition to missing altogether if one roll fails, I have them suffer a non-lethal fumble if both fail, and increase the fumble range of both rolls based on how ambitious the stunt is (similar to Brendan's "if you miss by more than..")

    2. @Logan

      Yup! Should I be embarrassed that I sometimes forget about my own posts?

  2. @ Brendan:

    Hmm...I haven't seen this in the play-test materials; is it a recent iteration? Or one that was recently dropped?

    If it was dropped, maybe they found a flaw in using it during play-tests.

  3. What Brendan is talking about is the D&D Next mechanic of "advantage" and "disadvantage," which replaces quite a number of positive and negative modifiers with the idea of rolling 2d20 and taking either the higher or lower result, depending on whether you are advantaged or disadvantaged. Your mechanic for special attacks is essentially "Accept disadvantage and if you succeed anyway, get this extra result."

  4. Telecanter has a set of Combat Maneuver rules that I like: declare the maneuver that you want to do. If you hit, the target gets to decide whether to let the maneuver work, or to take regular damage.

    I use that, but use a saving throw for the target rather than try to decide if kobold #30 wants to be tripped or not. On top of that, if the attacker scores a natural 20, there's no save for the defender; if the defender scores a natural 20 on the save, neither damage nor the maneuver are applied.

  5. @ Dead:

    Still drawing a blank for me. What's the "advantage" of being "disadvantaged" in this way? Extra damage? Special f/x?

  6. @ Amp (sorry, cross-post):

    In my version, I don't care whether the declaration is
    made before the roll or not; the maneuver only matters if the stunt succeeds, after all. Saves are only required for some stunts...I want to cut DOWN on the number of dice rolls, not slow stuff down.

  7. JB -- In Next, Disadvantage is a negative modifier. You don't get any bennies in exchange for having it. You want to get Advantage instead. It just happens that your stunt mechanic resembles Disadvantage in exchange for a special result.

  8. @ Dead:

    Okay, but what does "advantage" get you?

    This sounds surprisingly "indie-ish" just BTW.

    1. @JB

      There are a number of indie flourishes in the 5E materials. See also the "inspiration" system:

      Mechanically, we're looking at a fairly simply system that we're calling inspiration. When you have your character do something that reflects your character's personality, goals, or beliefs, the DM can reward you with inspiration. The key lies in describing your action in an interesting way, acting out your character's dialogue, or otherwise helping to bring the game to life by adding some panache to your play. By demonstrating that the events in the game are critical to your character's goals and beliefs, you can allow your character to tap into reserves of energy and determination to carry the day.

      You can spend inspiration to gain advantage on a check, saving throw, or attack attached to your action. Alternatively, you can bank it to use on a roll that happens during the current encounter or scene. Additionally, you can choose to pass the inspiration along to a different character during the scene. In this case, your character's determination serves as an inspiration for the other party members. You can have only one inspiration at a time.

      (Which has some similarities to the "push" mechanic in 5AK, actually.)

  9. Here is an example of the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic:

    When you take the dodge action, you focus
    entirely on avoiding attacks. Until your next turn,
    attack rolls against you have disadvantage, and
    you make Dexterity saving throws with
    advantage. You lose this benefit if you cannot
    move or take actions, such as if you become
    paralyzed by a monster’s attack or stuck in

    1. While dodging: everyone who attacks you rolls 2D20 and takes the lowest value while you get to roll 2D20 and take the highest for any Dexterity saving throws.

  10. JB: Sorry I missed your blog for a few days. Thanks for recalling that conversation and the plug.

    But I think your version here penalizes you for attempting the stunt, in that both d20s need to succeed. I think you're getting that.

    That penalty was what I wanted to get away from - I wanted stunts to be "free" and not to penalize players for attempting to do something cool.

    Another thing was that I didn't want to slow combat down too much. While I want choices in combat, choice inevitably slows things down. 3.x style combat on a grid demonstrates this: choosing even which square you're going to be in slows things down. Combat without miniatures/maps has fewer choices and can play faster.

    Inevitably, adding choices slows things down but I figured, why waste that choosing time if you aren't going to succeed. So you don't have to declare what stunt you're attempting (unless it's required, like jumping to grab a chandelier to land on your target) until you've seen that you succeed.

    My co-DM and I have a rough draft of our idea, with one page of explanation and one page of examples. I should post it as you've expanded the conversation. We've talked about using it, but haven't yet as we've been adding some new players to the campaign and have other house rules we're struggling to polish (involving interacting with organizations, spending time outside the dungeon, etc.)