Yesterday I introduced a potential fix to some of the early issues with zone combat that cropped up. I began by describing the three basic design goals that I wanted to make sure weren’t violated. To recap:
- Quick to adjudicate. Most of the time, it has to be seamless. It should only slow down play when someone is doing something worth slowing down play for.
- Scale across levels. The solution has to easily scale throughout play. If it lets high level characters (or characters who overly focus on movement) move ridiculous distances, then it really isn't a great solution.
- Represent a wide range of scenarios and styles of play. The solution has to be adaptable enough that it works for most people and lets GMs customize it to their style of play. This adaptability and customizability must be achievable without introducing additional rules, such that different combats in the same session of play could be run differently.
Quick to adjudicate
The move score (i.e. how many zones you can move without having to roll) is set high enough that most movement won’t cross the line and is simply declared without much fanfare. If a character moves a ton of zones (higher than the move score) or passes through exceedingly difficult terrain (DC high enough that the passive move check will fail), then play slows down with the check. But this is interesting enough action that it probably warrants the check and the extra time.
I also think it will be quick to calculate DCs (highest DC of any zone passed through +2 per additional zone) and, on a fail, easy enough to apply penalties for failure. Since I am planning on avoiding penalties that stop your movement, there shouldn’t be too many scenarios where the move is interrupted and we have to go back and figure out what zone you were stopped in. The two exceptions to this are stuntways (which we treat differently and are not “basic” movement) or if you pass through a zone with a creature that can block/halt movement. Those, again, are interesting enough scenarios that they probably warrant the extra time and attention. I’ll keep an eye on them, though, because they could be problematic if not handled carefully.
Scale across levels
I think the fix hits this one out of the park. Assumedly the movement check will increase by ½ level like any other check, so you basically just increase the DC of the terrain as players increase in level. This increase should correlate to more fantastic terrain, so at a low level they may have to jump 10 feet onto a 2-foot wide log spanning the gorge, but at a high level they rush across the single rope remnant of an old bridge that once spanned the gorge. Or the “clearing” is replaced by a field of razor grass. In some battles, you may not want to make the terrain more fantastic and then the players are just able to move more easily. The move score (# zones before you roll) still puts a general cap, though, because you probably don’t want to risk rolling low and piling on the penalties. The penalties won’t have to change much because a -2 penalty to attack naturally scales across levels.
This also highlights something really, really awesome. Because battlefields can be easily tailored and adjusted by level, they become a useful work product that people can share. Right now, it is pretty hard to get someone else to be excited about the battle you set up with a farmhouse and a grain silo unless you are a professional artist. But with zones, the exciting stuff are the ideas, the placement of stuntways, and the general feel of a battlefield. That is stuff we can actually share with each other and reuse.
Represent a wide range of scenarios and styles of play
This probably should have been split into two ideas. The first is that I didn’t want the fix to tell you how to play your game. The second is that I didn’t want the fix to bias zonal combat towards, say, the simple battlefield over the complex battlefield. I still want the gridded and gridless folks to have interesting tactical options.
On the first idea, the mechanisms are simple enough that a GM that wants a gritty, tactical game could just reduce the move score (# zones before you roll) to make people move less far. Someone who didn’t want to bother could raise the move score. Adjusting the DCs of terrain has a similar relationship and allows a GM to quickly tailor zonal combat to their preferred style without much interruption on the rest of the rules.
One the second idea, most movement will still be declarative (as discussed above). But the problem was that we don’t want someone moving 10 zones, picking up the artifact, and moving back 10 zones. Under my first draft, I envisioned the “large” trait being the mechanism that blocked off too much movement. With this fix, you can put a lynchpin around a particular zone just by giving it a high DC or high penalty for failure. That is equally simple to place in a battlefield of any complexity and equally simple to adjudicate.
Overall, I’m actually pretty satisfied with the fix so far but would appreciate feedback to help me see the stuff I’m missing.