Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Move Die and Tactical TotM Combat

I have a confession to make. I'm not a real OSR gamer. For most of my life I though AD&D was what people took Ritalin for. I started gaming in the 90s with a bunch of random systems. A mish-mash of abortive World of Darkness campaigns, some games in a system I think was called Don't Look Back(?), and I game I ran loosely set in Middle-Earth where action was resolved with a d6 roll and an ass-pull - those are the highlights. I was a gamer for sure, but I came at it more from the angle of freeform storytelling than tactical wargaming. I find it odd to call it table-top gaming because tables were hardly ever involved. So all this gridmap miniatures 40' of movement crap? That stuff and me are like oil and water - fine in isolation but together they're an ecological disaster.

I want what miniatures combat it trying to achieve, without actually using miniatures. I want tactical combat in with movement and positioning, without actually moving anything into a position. I want theatre-of-the-mind combat, without numbing-of-the-mind boredom. I want choices, and I want them to matter. And hey, I think I've found a way to do it.


This system relies on the Move Die mechanic.

A combat round is divided into seven phases  which happen in sequence: initiative, declaration, movement, melee, missile, magic, and mundane.

1. Initiative: one side or the other in a combat situation can be described as holding the initiative. Usually this can be determined by circumstance - ambushers hold initiative over the ambushed, defenders hold initiative over invaders, and those who can see hold initiative over those who can't. In an ambiguous situation, the high roller on a d6 holds the initiative. Re-roll ties.

2. Declaration: combatants who DO NOT hold the initiative declare what they want to do this round. This is movement and action, like "the orc is going to run up and try to chop Bargle's head off" or "the goblin is going to climb the ladder and pull the lever to open the wolf-pen." Then the combatants who DO hold the initiative declare. Like "Bargle is going to try to keep away from the orc while muttering the incantation for Magic Missile," or "Michael Fightersen is going to try to engage with the orc and keep it away from Bargle."

3. Movement: if the movement part of your declaration DOES NOT contradict anyone else's - congratulations! You do it. The goblin climbs to the top of the ladder. If your movement DOES contradict another combatant's, if there is no possible way you could both get what you want from your declaration, you'll have to get your move die and roll for it.

3.1: Get your Move Die: all combatants with contradictory declarations pick up their Move Die. Now adjustments have to be made for the circumstances. If you're trying to do more than one thing that contradicts another combatant's declaration, step down your move die one size for each thing after the first. In the example above, Bargle is trying to do one thing, keep away from the orc. Sometimes the things you're doing may be implied. This is the case with the orc - it may seem like it's just doing one thing (running up to Bargle) but in fact it's doing two things (also avoiding Michael Fightersen) because there's no way it could achieve the intention of its declaration without avoiding Michael Fightersen. This is because of Michael's specific declaration - if Michael had just said he wanted to run up to the orc, then there wouldn't be a contradiction: Michael could run up to the orc whether or not the orc had reached Bargle.

3.2: Roll for it: all combatants now roll their adjusted Move Die. Add an attribute bonus if it seems applicable. The high roller achieves their intention. In the case of a tie, the initiative holder is considered to have rolled higher. For example, if Bargle rolled a 3 and the orc rolled a 4, the orc would reach Bargle. Sometimes a low roller can get what they want as the result of someone else's high roll. If Michael Fightersen rolled a 7 in the above example, then Bargle would get to keep away from the orc, because that was Michael's intention. There are, however, also special considerations. If circumstances would give you some advantage in what's you're trying to do, after rolling you can say "A-ha" and explain how those circumstances give you an advantage, and if the referee judges it as fair then you may re-roll your Move Die. If Michael had rolled a 2 instead of a 7, he might say "A-ha, but Michael is wielding a spear, the longer reach of which would help him keep the orc at bay." This seems fair to the referee, so Michael re-rolls and gets a 1 (he shouldn't have gone into a fight carrying all those golden idols). However special considerations can also be used offensively - if circumstances would give you some disadvantage your opponent can say "A-ha" (saying "A-ha" is mandatory) and explain how those circumstances could keep you from achieving you intention, and if the referee judges it as fair you must re-roll your Move Die. Bargle might say "A-ha, but last round I o'erthrew yon tables and chairs, surely such difficult terrain would hinder any attempt to engage with my person!" and the referee might reply "Fair enough, but please stop talking like that," and re-roll his die, getting a 2. Another special consideration is extra effort - you may choose to sacrifice your main action for the round to re-roll your Move Die. Each player (including the referee) may only bring up one special consideration per round.

Bargle lives!

4. Melee: resolve melee attacks as in your system of choice. If you become engaged with someone whom you didn't intend, you can still make a melee attack against them with whatever weapon you have to hand. Initiative-holders get to go first.

5. Missile: resolve missile attacks as in your system of choice. You can also take a snap-shot to resolve your missile attack before the movement phase, however doing so precludes you from taking any other movement. You can also declare that you are aiming at a target, which also precludes you from taking any other movement but gives you the benefit of aiming in your system of choice (a benefit which will probably be lost if someone closes in to engage with you).

6. Magic: resolve spells as in your system of choice.

7. Mundane: this is when all other actions happen. Resolve as in your system of choice.


There's intentionally a lot of room for interpretation in the rules. The best part about the light combat rules of old-school games is the room they leave for players and referees alike to be creative, and the last thing I wanted was for combat to become a checklist of special moves. But you can do a lot with the Move Die and some smart judgment calls. Want weapon length and tests for positioning like Burning Wheel or Mythras? Give your knife-wielder a penalty or disadvantage against a spear wielder, and then use this system to see if your knife-wielder can get inside his opponent's guard and pass the penalties to him. You can also use this system for grappling, disengaging from melee, driving your opponent to another battlefield location, fleeing and pursuing, etc. The only limitation I would stipulate is that movement contests should only result in advantages or disadvantages, and not directly in damage.

Also I made a decision with the special considerations rule to make it a re-roll instead of roll twice and keep the highest. If you like dis/advantage systems better it's an easy change to make, but in my experience re-rolling keeps the action moving instead of front-loading negotiating the fiction.

This looks fun..

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