As pretty much each post about zones has begun, I’m sort of flying from the seat of my pants and posting as I develop; chalk it up to excitement. This has lead to about three different sets of vocabulary being presented and a relatively incoherent vision set forth. I’m going to try and clean all that up in this post so we can (hopefully) all be on a more similar page. This post also introduces new ideas, but it is an up to date summary of zones so far.
I also apologize for the length. I’ve been working to get my post lengths down and convert more of the ideas into pictures and diagram because I know I shut down when I see a block of text like this.
The broadest strokes
In D&D, tactical positioning is resolved through the relationship between squares. Characters and monsters occupy these squares and use the relationships of the squares to inform how their character interacts with others. In zone combat, the zone replaces the square as the basic element through which relationships are defined. Just as a battle in normal D&D is made up of many squares, a battlefield with zone combat is made up of many zones. Characters and monsters occupy zones, and that occupancy informs how they relate to other creatures in the battlefield. Unlike D&D, multiple characters often occupy the same zone.
What is a zone?
A zone is an area of a battlefield sharing a unifying trait. A zone could be a forest clearing, a narrow hallway, a cluttered kitchen, or a portion of a gladiatorial arena littered with enough corpses to make it difficult to maneuver through. Zones can be any shape or size and do not necessarily have discrete borders; a forest clearing can gradually give way a forest without any hard lines and each is a separate zone.
How are zones connected?
Zones are connected to other zones by causeways and stuntways.
- Causeways. Causeways are basic connections between two zones and are often not discrete. The forest clearing that gradually returns to forest has a causeway connecting the zones. Causeways may, however, be discrete like a doorway or the first step onto a staircase. The important thing about causeways is that they are not exceptional and so all movement through causeways is aggregated into a single check. Mounts can move through causeways.
- Stuntways. A stuntway is a non-standard connection between two zones like jumping through a window, scaling a wall, or jumping onto a catapult to launch over a wall. When a character takes a stuntway, they are undertaking exceptional movement. Because they are exceptional, stuntways are handled separately from other movement (although they may be *part* of a longer move action). Mounts cannot normally move through stuntways.
How does movement work in zone combat?
Characters spend move actions to move in zone combat just like in D&D. The difference is that positioning is more abstracted. Creatures don’t fight to occupy a 5x5 square of dirt, they fight to occupy “the bridge.” The way movement works differs if you are using the move action to move between zones or using a move action to gain positioning within a zone you already occupy.
Moving between zones
Moving between zones requires an, aptly named, move check. A move check is a Dexterity check (aka Agility, I’ve used both terms at various times) that can be modified by racial features, class powers, and so on. The DC of a move check is equal to 2x the number of zones entered plus the highest modifier of any zone entered.
Example. A character beginning in a jungle zone enters a clearing (+0), a ridiculous lava flow (+3), another clearing (+0), a rickety bridge (+2), and a ruins (+0). The move DC is 13 (2x five zones +3 from the ridiculous lava flow). Note, this sample the map from this post, but the rules differ from the samples provided in this link. The change is cosmetic but makes calculating move DCs a bit faster.
Creatures may use a passive move check (i.e. take-10) if they don’t enter too many zones in a single move. This limit of zones is known as a movement class (MC) which is based on race and modified by powers, feats, and so on. If you enter a number of zones in a single move greater than your MC, you must roll.
Many zones, but not all, have a penalty that is incurred if you fail a move check. The penalty relates to the trait of the zone, so a zone that requires some measure of balance might impart the off-balance condition and a zone filled with razor grass might deal 5 damage. As a result, the longer the move, the more likely you are to fail the move check and the more punitive failure becomes. However, MCs are set high enough (currently 3-5 starting) that only ambitious moves will have to roll.
The penalties from zones should not be things that halt movement. The ambiguity of non-exceptional movement is not “if you’ll get there,” but “what condition will you be in when you do.” This allows play to proceed faster because actions are declared and resolved instead of requiring players to ask if they are able to achieve certain ends. Although the penalties should not halt movement, severely failing a check can halt subsequent movement (or worse). This ensures that creatures don’t move absurd distance and decide to accept the penalty for failure with the belief that they’ll be far enough from harm that penalties don’t matter.
If a move between zones includes a stuntway, all of the above equally applies and is aggregated into the single move check. The difference is that a stuntway pauses the move and a check is immediately resolved for the stuntway. Stuntways often have penalties for failure that can halt movement (i.e. on fail, you fall in the 100 foot gorge). In this case, the move ends and the move check is calculated for the movement that was completed. In any instance, the move check is only rolled once the destination zone is determined. This makes it possible that a scenario would arise wherein a stuntway is successfully passed and then, later, the move check is failed, resulting in a penalty that would have made the stuntway check fail had it been in force at the time the stuntway check was made. This is regrettable but is the cost of abstraction.
Movement between zones provokes. The provocation occurs when you enter the zone and all threatening creatures are provoked. A threatening creature is one able to attack (i.e. wielding a melee weapon) that is hostile (i.e. you don’t provoke your allies). Unlike D&D, provoking doesn’t generically allow a creature to make an attack, but gives them a resource (“a provoke”) that expires at the end of the creatures next turn. The generic power of a provoke is that it provides a bonus to an attack against the provoking creature. Because creatures move through many zones, many creatures will elect to allow the provoke to expire rather than chase after the provoking creature just to gain the bonus. This is intentional, the provocation aspect of combat is intended to be less time consuming than in D&D.
In addition, different classes or powers may allow a provoke to be used immediately. Some classes or weapons allow a character to spend a provoke immediately to make an attack, other class powers might allow a character to immediately learn the weaknesses/powers of a provoking monster, refresh a second wind, or anything.
A character can only have one provoke at a time, but it can be used against any creature that provoked them. For example, if five goblins enter your zone and you have no way to immediately use a provoke, you can gain a single bonus to attack against any of the goblins. If, on the other hand, you have the ability to immediately use a provoke to attack, you could gain and use a provoke on each of the goblins’ turns.
There are also a number of ways to make movement not provoke. Entering a zone via a stuntway, wielding a heavy shield, actively using cover, and class powers (i.e. tumble) all make the basic tactical move not provoke. In addition, there is a tactical shift move that allows you to move a single zone without provoking.
Moving within zones
Characters will often enter a zone and not leave. Move actions remain an important resource within a zone as they fuel maneuvers. Many basic maneuvers are available to all characters. (As you read the following, keep in mind that I plan for most benefits to terminate at the end of a character’s turn so these maneuvers would have to be reactivated each turn). A sampling include:
- Active cover. You benefit from available cover in the zone and your actions do not provoke.
- Against the wall. You are immune to flank. The zone must have a wall or other barrier.
- Back-to-back. You and one ally (who doesn’t have to spend a move action) are immune to flank. You must have an ally in the zone to use back-to-back.
- Behind me!. Create cover for one ally. That ally benefits from cover without having to spend an action. You must have an ally in the zone to use behind me!.
- Combat trick. Interact with the environment (i.e. grab and toss a fist of flour) to gain a +2 edge (i.e. bonus) to attack against a target in your zone. You must pass a heroic level appropriate check. You cannot use the same combat trick more than once in the same battle.
- Flank. Gain a +2 edge (i.e. bonus) to attack against a target in your zone. You must have an ally in the zone to use flank.
There are many ways to gain access to new maneuvers. For instance, a mount (if the rider is properly trained) may grant access to a Trample maneuver which gives your successful strikes a chance to knock targets prone. The knight’s “Rally on me” power gives all allies in the zone access to a maneuver that increases their defense. Even a zone itself might provide access to a new maneuver.
How does attacking work?
Characters can attack any creature in range. There are three ranges that describe a weapon’s maximum distance; you may always target something closer. The max range of a weapon is the max, there are no range increments.
All ranges require line of sight. Because creatures are constantly moving in a zone, line of sight is presumed unless it is clear that it is not possible. Line of sight is presumed through a thick forest (although a miss chance could still apply) but is not presumed through a wall.
- Near range (possibly revert to just call it melee range. My concern is that melee range implies too strongly it is just for melee weapons). You may target any creature in the same zone. This is the range for most melee weapons and strikes.
- Short range. You may target any creature in an adjacent zone. A zone is adjacent if it is connected by a causeway or stuntway.
- Long range. You may target any creature in any zone.
After this, attacks are resolved similarly to D&D; pick an attack, roll high, compare against defense. The main exception is that because any creature in the zone is in range, the targeting rules for things like area of effect have to be written differently. I actually anticipate this to open up more interesting design space than it closes.