D&D Next Blog: Modularity and Combat Subsystems

In 3rd Edition (and probably older editions) there were combat actions that anyone could try to do; disarm, trip, bull rush (ie, pushing), sunder, grapple, etc. Given that trying any of these things usually let your opponent make a free attack, you did so at a penalty, and the creature's size, number of legs, Strength, and Hit Dice (of which the latter two usually exceeded your own) could be a factor, the key word was try. Now, if a player chose to specialize in a particular maneuver (gattling chain trippers come to mind) you could pull these off fairly well until you started going up against big and/or mult-legged adversaries (giants and dragons).

Ultimately this resulted in my group basically never really bothering. The risk was too great, and both the chances and payoff were often pretty low. 4th Edition made grab and bull rush pretty easy--yet pretty pointless--to do, but largely got rid of the other maneuvers by restricting them for better or worse to specific powers; if you had a power that knocked a creature prone, or push/pull/slide, then it basically always worked even if you factored in size. Otherwise you "officially" could not do any of these things, even tripping, unless your DM was willing to houserule an exploit in (which from experience was actually pretty easy).

The current proposal is to create a 3rd Edition-style list of maneuvers that anyone can take a stab at, penalty and all. Want to knock someone down? Make an attack at -5, unless they have 3-4 legs, in which case it is -10, and it will not work at all if the target has more than 4 legs or is bigger than you. You can also take a -2 to hit in order to deal bonus damage, which is not nearly so punishing (and can be largely offset if you use the proposed +1 bonus from flanking). Tom mentions that the "fighter's actual maneuvers don't require a penalty to the attack", though I am not sure if this also applies to maneuvers that anyone can take via feats, if non-fighters get reduced penalties, or what (and I wonder how well this will hold up with those dissatisfied by 4th Edition's justification of martial-exploit narrative control).

On one hand I dislike this approach, because imposing an attack penalty goes back to 3rd Edition's risk/reward issues. -5 is pretty steep, even without giving the enemy a free attack for your troubles. In other words, it kind of gives you the illusion of choice; yeah, you can try these things, but why not just stick to the tried-and-true attack/spell/whatever you are actually good at? On the other hand I guess I kind of like it in that it discourages special-attack spamming for non-fighters, who can basically cash in attack advantage to negate the penalty (well, the -2 and -5 ones anyway). I could see such characters using opportune moments to do something cool.

Personally I would prefer a system that allowed characters with maneuvers to make an attack, and if the attack hits do something else by spending a resource (ie, Dragon Age's stamina), having feats from a tree (something like Fantasy Craft's weapon trees), or force a saving throw (potentially with a penalty if the weapon makes sense, like hammers for knockdown or spears for tripping). You could even combine one or more. Unfortunately as I mentioned above, I do not think this will sit well with the people who disliked martial-attacks-as-narrative-control.

As a side note, I find it odd that Tom seems excited about facing rules.


  1. I like the way Pathfinder created CMB and CMD. It makes it really easy to judge anything that's not a normal attack. Things like pulling a Zorro to mark your opponent or doing a Bugs Bunny and kissing your opponent.

    These effect should be a little harder than a normal attack, but still doable. This gives room for somebody to train in them as a specialty. It alos prevent s spamming them. However I won't like it if fighters will be the only people able to specialize.

  2. I read an interesting idea in a comment of one of the WotC blogs where fighters could spend excess hit values on extra effects. For example, if you needed a 13 to hit something, and you rolled a 17, you could add a 4 point "special effect" or maneuver on top. It doesn't really solve the problem of wanting every class to be able to attempt something, but it still sounds like fun, and would coexist well with bounded accuracy.


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