Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If you play pen & paper roleplaying games only for the roleplaying part, there are hundreds of excellent rule systems available. If on the other hand you think that there should be a strong tactical game element to these RPGs, your choice is much more limited. Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition is pretty much it. But now that Wizard of the Coast is busy preparing D&D Next until 2014, and many 4E fans feel they have been thrown under the bus, there is an excellent opportunity for other companies to publish 4E-compatible material.

One such 4E-compatible material is Combat in Motion by Enhanced 4th Edition, available as downloadable pdf file for \$10.95 from Enhanced4E.com. I received a free review copy, which is the base for this post. As the title suggests, this is an optional rules module for 4E combat. It has seven chapters, which can be used separately to some degree, but often the later chapters are based on rules in the earlier chapters.

Chapter one deals with one particular problem of 4th edition geometry: In 4E basic rules π equals 4, and a fireball is square, because a diagonal is counted as 1 square distance instead of 1.41. The rules provided in this chapter basically round the angles of the 4E geometry by counting diagonals as 1.5 squares, with some adjustments for small distances. Obviously on a battle map with a square grid, where each square either is or isn’t in range that can never lead to really round fireballs, but these rules make fireballs rounder, and distances a bit more realistic.

Chapter two can be considered the core of this book. It describes the new “in-motion” state which gives the book its name. This new state considers that if you move multiple times in a turn, these movements are not completely independent from each other. And as your character can now be in-motion, he also gains a direction or facing, which don’t exist in standard 4E rules. Note that this isn’t the motionless facing earlier editions of D&D had, for example with the “back stab” concept; instead you being considered moving forward means that it is actually harder to hit you from behind with a melee attack. Being in-motion also changes how easy it is for you to attack somebody before you, behind you, or to your sides. And of course you being in-motion affects further movement.

Chapter three introduces off-turn actions. In standard 4th edition combat you can’t react to something another character on the battlefield does until it is your turn, or unless you have special immediate reactions available. This chapter has rules on new actions like “outpace” or “interdict”, which trigger on somebody else ending a move “in-motion”. The idea is to make combat more interactive. Chapter five continues off-turn actions with active defenses and counter-offensives, adding more options to act while it is not your turn.

Chapter four is very specialized, dealing with special movements, such as running, flying, or vehicles. The somewhat weak “running” option of standard 4E is replaced by a more advantageous “sprinting”. The equivalent when flying is the new “soaring” option. For vehicles there are rules for “cruising”. All of these obviously make use of the “in-motion” state. Chapter six adds terrain dimensions, like higher and lower ground, adding more tactical depth to terrain.

The final chapter is probably the most complicated, as it messes with the order in which combatants take their turns. During a typical combat many things can happen in parallel, and the turn-based structure results in an action not necessarily being followed by some reaction, but instead by something that happens elsewhere on the battlefield. Chapter seven tries to get things into narrative order, by putting “faster” actions at the start of a round, and “slower” actions at the end. Participants can be “called to action” by being attacked, for example. Or they “keep rolling”, by getting to act earlier if they are “in-motion”. All this aims at making combat more fluid.

Overall Combat In Motion clearly aims at making combat more realistic. Unfortunately that comes at a price: Added complexity. Square fireballs aren’t logical, but they make it very easy to see who is in or out of the zone of effect. A more or less fixed turn order doesn’t play out like combat in a movie, but makes it easy to determine who can do what when. So maybe I am not the best person to review this, because I have always been on the side of playability in the old convenience vs. realism controversy.

I do believe that there is room to enhance 4th edition by publications of 4E-compatible material by other companies. But if I were to ask people what they think is missing in 4th edition, I doubt that many players would demand more complex rules. The kind of product I would love to buy would be better adventure modules (WotC published some very weak ones), preferably with good battle maps, tokens, and other props in a box. I can also see room for optional rules for character creation, where the choices are more based on roleplaying than on min-maxing. Either by adventures, by optional rules, or by DM guidelines 4th edition could be improved to create a better balance between roleplaying and tactical combat. But with tactical combat already being rather strong in 4E, I personally wouldn’t add more complex combat rules to my game. But if you happen to disagree, Combat In Motion is not a bad option.

/cough

Savage Worlds.

Considering how lengthy combat can be, and the complexity involved with higher level characters and the already large number of options for taking out-of-turn actions, I really don't see a requirement for adding more to that. Granted, I'm with Tobold on Playbaility vs. Realism, I'll take playability each and every time.

I think I agree with your analysis. 4E is already complex enough. True, the "in-motion" thing probably fits well on the "realism" scale. But I'm not actually looking to add complexity.

Square fireballs are annoying, true. The real problem is that you can too easily move diagonally to avoid "defenders". Bringing back the D&D 3.5 diagonal move penalty is one approach, but I generally chose to use hex-maps instead. Much more elegant.

The best place for complex combat rules is in a computer run scenario otherwise things get too slow and rules lawyers some into play. If you motion or terrain then just add modifiers to the basic rolls.

My preference is a hexagonal grid. That adds enough realism for me.

Tobold I need a small advice from you. I've been a (very) avid D&D player when I was around 11-14 years old. Then I switched to AD&D up to my 20's.

I'm now a proud father of 2 little fellas, and one of them loves dragons, swords and action. He's 5 years old though, so the D&D mechanics are stil la bit too intricate for him (I guess?).

Is there any kind of D&D pen'n'paper game for little kids? Something with simplified rules that still could give fun and challenge.

Hmmm, you might want to try DnDish.

Thank you Sir!

Hello!

My name is Christopher F. Ash. I am the author of the book being discussed here.

First I want to thank Tobold for taking the time to read and review my book. I appreciate his consideration. To this I would like to add a little explanation of my own take on the book.

My goals for Combat in Motion can be summarized in two words: Action and Drama. The Combat in Motion rule-set for 4E increases player involvement in all aspects of the combat round and it facilitates a better model of many dramatic situations that exist in our imaginations but could not otherwise be represented by the core rules on the battle-grid. "Realism" is not a goal of mine nor does the word appear anywhere in the text.

On the other hand, it was my highest priority to achieve this increase in the action and drama of combat while keeping the additional systems as simple as possible. It was the overarching need for simplicity that made this effort a four year project. Indeed, simplicity is the reason why Combat in Motion officially maintains the use of the standard grid rather than the hexes preferred by many players seeking a more "realistic" model (Combat in Motion can be adapted to hexes).

Again; my thanks to Tobold for sharing his space.

I invite anyone curious about the book to write to our staff at Enhanced4E@gmail.com. You can also like us on Facebook: Enhanced4E: Combat in Motion.

Respectfully,

Christopher F. Ash

"But now that Wizard of the Coast is busy preparing D&D Next until 2014, and many 4E fans feel they have been thrown under the bus, there is an excellent opportunity for other companies to publish 4E-compatible material."

Good riddance.

For what it's worth, I've also reviewed this product and found a lot of merit to some of the new mechanics. Yes, you'll have to learn some additional rules, but the increase in rules complexity isn't huge. Plus it's modular, so you can use what you like and ignore what you don't. It shouldn't slow combat down too much, either (for example, off-turn actions borrow actions from future turns as opposed to giving you more actions overall. If anything you might rely a little less on the powers system, and IME choosing powers is the big time suck).

Here's a link to my review: http://thechamberofmazarbuldnd.blogspot.com/2012/11/review-combat-in-motion.html