Before combat starts, you need to answer a few questions:
- Where are the players standing in the Marching Order?
- Have the monsters or players noticed each other?
- What will the monsters do when they see the players?
Knowing where everyone is in the Marching Order is important for setting up the scene. The DM will tell the players how big the space is and how many characters can stand side-by-side. Characters who are not in front cannot engage in melee combat, but can use reach or ranged weapons. Having your Caller instruct the DM on where you want to stand can be helpful. A narrow passage may only support single-file travel!
Examples of how the marching order impact the game play:
If the party is ambushed, the marching order determines who gets surprised and suffers initial attacks. A perceptive character in front might avoid triggering an alarm, saving others.
The order dictates who interacts with puzzles or triggers traps first, potentially sacrificing themselves to save others or using their skills to disarm the danger.
For a monster to attack a middle of the party player, the player would be in 0-50% coverage, and therefor get a +2 AC bonus or vise versa players attacking a party of monsters going single file.
Setting Up An Encounter
⚠️ Check out the A Comprehensive Role-Playing Game Encounter Guide for an overview of how this feature of the game works.
To set up the encounter, make a Surprise Check by comparing the party’s highest Notice with d20 + the monster’s stealth or wisdom bonus. If the DM rolls above the party’s Notice, the monsters have the upper hand, and the players must roll on the Monster Reaction Chart to see what the monsters will do. If the DM rolls under, then the players have noticed the monsters before the encounter, and they can choose to try to Ambush, Evade, or Negotiate before combat begins.
If the players don’t want to fight, they can try to Evade the monsters by hiding or sneaking past them. However, this means they can only move at 1/10 of their usual speed, making it a slow process.
If the players want to surprise the monsters, they can try an Ambush. Roll a d20 and add the lowest Wisdom modifier in the party to establish the party’s hide DC. If the DM’s roll is equal to or greater than the party DC, the ambush fails. But if it succeeds, the party gets one round of attacks without the DM taking any actions.
Some monsters may be willing to negotiate instead of fighting. If the players can communicate with them, they may suggest making an agreement. This process is called Negotiation. Remember, not all monsters want to fight, and some may surrender, accept bribes of shiny things, or run away if they are scared.
- Declare Actions (some things are very fast or slow and may modify initiative)
- Roll Initiative (d20 highest goes first)
- One action taken (Move, Spell, Shoot Arrow, Hack with Sword, etc)
- Resolve Damage (if necessary)
- Optional: Spend a Heroic Point to gain an additional action
- Check Morale (continue fighting, flee or surrender are options here)
- Repeat Steps 1 – 6
ℹ️ Download the single page Combat Reference PDF to make it easier for your player to reference the rules at the table!
This is very important as some actions can be interrupted. Spell casters cannot complete spells if they take damage.
Action Points (combat codified – optional combat system)Each character has 5 action points in a round to spend however they’d like each round of combat.
Full Round Actions (5 points)
- Delay action. The character can choose to take their turn at any time after their initiative turn
- Full attack. If the character has multiple attacks then they make a full attack to use them all.
- Run. Allows character to move at double of their current movement rate
Standard Actions (3 points)
- Cast Spell
- Melee attack. Take one swing at an enemy.
- Ranged attack. Shoot an error, throw a chair, etc.
- Ready action. Prepare a specific action to respond to another specific future action (e.g., “as soon as something comes through the door I shoot it”).
- Equip Item. Draw a weapon, Put on a ring, Drink a Potion, Use a Device, Open a Door or Pick Something up.
Move Actions (2 points)
- Crawl. Allows prone character to move five feet
- Move. Allows character to move at their current movement rate
- Stand up
Free Actions (0 points)
- Drop an item
- Drop prone
Gifting Action Points
If a player has left over action points they can “gift” one action point to another player who has not taken their turn that round. That would increase that player’s total by one.
Everyone rolls d20 and add any bonuses noted in races, classes or monsters. Player’s roll individually, whereas the DM rolls for each combat group (i.e.: Group of Goblins would be one and the Dragon would be another – this is at the DM’s discretion).
Combat goes from the highest roll to the lowest.
Initiative is rolled for each round of combat.
The spell caster must roll d20 plus their casting modifier (WIS/INT + Focus) vs a DC 10 + spell cost/level. If the roll does not meet or exceed the required number, then the mana is used, and the spell fails.
For example a 3rd level wizard with +3 INT casting a 2nd level spell roll d20+5 vs DC12
If a spell caster is injured BEFORE their turn in initiative, then their spell is interrupted (not cast) and mana is deducted from their mana pool. See Spell Casting for additional rules.
To attack, a player rolls d20, adds any bonuses they get from either their Strength and weapon. Compare that roll to the Armor Class of the target of your attack. A tie or greater than an Armor Class is a hit.
To attack, a player rolls d20, adds any bonuses they get from either their Dexterity and any bonuses for their ranged weapon. Compare that roll to the Armor Class of the target of your attack. A tie or greater than an Armor Class is a hit.
The two numbers listed as range for a weapon represent:
- The max distance used without penalty
- The max distance possible.
Penalties are -2 for each additional short distance.
For Example: A cross bow has a range of 80/320.
- From 0-80 feet there is no attack penalty.
- From 80-160 attack rolls are at -2
- From 160-240 attack rolls are at -4
- From 240-320 attack rolls are at -6
- 320+ no attack is possible
Throwing other items, like rocks, flasks or furniture, go about 20 feet plus your strength bonus (in feet), minus 1 foot per pound and do 1 damage per pound
Each weapon has a damage listed. Roll the dice listed, and if you have any bonuses to damage, like Strength or a Magical Sword, etc. then add that to the total number. If you roll a Natural 20, roll for damage once, add all bonuses, then double the final result. Note: Ranged weapons do no benefit from strength or dexterity bonuses.
Killing Monsters and Character Death
If a monster falls to zero or less hit points the monster is defeated and the players are rewarded experience.
If a character falls to zero or less hit points the death check is triggered.
Check Morale (DC 20 vs Wisdom / Morale)
When a creature or player drops below 50% of their hit points they must make a morale check (DC 20 vs d20 + morale or wisdom bonus) or become broken. If the last attack was with a natural 20, then the check is made with Disadvantage.
Broken combatants have two options:
1. Flee the combat. Move away from combat at double normal movement speed. If a player character (or monster) has a ranged weapon readied in hand, they can make one attack against the fleeing monster.
2. Surrender the combat. Literally throw down their arms and plead for their lives.
Example: A goblin is hit for 4 damage. The DM rolls d20 (5) plus the Goblin Morale (+5) Fail! The goblin takes off running at twice its normal rate. The player shoots an arrow at the fleeing goblin, killing it with ease.
Example: A brigand has been epically wounded with a critical strike. Rather than continue and die, he throws down his sword and offers important information to the party in exchange for his life.
Special Combat Moves and Actions
As a Full Actions (5 points) the character can choose to charge a target. In doing so, they move at up-to double their current movement rate and attack with a +2 but suffer a -2 to their Armor Class in the following round for all attacks. Note: The character cannot be in currently engaged in combat (toe-to-toe), but could charge another opponent if the current combatant is defeated.
As a Standard Action (3 points), you may attempt to disarm your opponent. You and the defender make opposed Strength checks. If you beat the defender, the defender is disarmed. If you attempted the disarm action unarmed, you now have the weapon. If you were armed, the defender’s weapon is on the ground in the defender’s square. If you fail on the disarm attempt, the defender may immediately attack with Advantage. Note: The wielder of a two-handed weapon on a disarm attempt gets a +4 bonus on this roll.
As a Standard Action (3 points), and with two free hands, you may attempt to grapple your opponent. You and the defender make opposed Strength checks. If you beat the defender, the defender is GRAPPLED and loses their next attack. If the defender wins, the grapple is unsuccessful. The only action a GRAPPLED monster / character can do as their next action is to try and break the grapple by making another opposed Strength checks. If the one initiating the grapple beats the opposed roll by 5 or more, then the person being grappled becomes PINNED. Pinned combatants can be easily immobilized by using rope or other restraints.
Thieves and Halflings are weak in toe-to-toe hacking matches, but they are masters of the knife in the back. When attacking someone by surprise and from behind, a thief attacks with Advantage and greatly increases the amount of damage his blow causes.
To use this ability, the character must be behind his victim and be hidden. Opponents in battle will often notice a character trying to maneuver behind them and the first rule of fighting is to never turn your back on an enemy! However, someone who isn’t expecting to be attacked (a friend or ally, perhaps) can be caught unaware even if he knows the thief is behind him.
The multiplier given in each character type, applies to the amount of damage before modifiers for Strength or weapon bonuses are added. The weapon’s standard damage is multiplied by the value given and then strength and magical weapon bonuses are added.
Backstabbing limitations. First, the damage multiplier applies only to the first attack made by the thief, even if multiple attacks are possible. Once a blow is struck, the initial surprise advantage effect is lost. Second, the thief cannot use it on every creature. The victim must be generally humanoid. The victim must also have a definable back (which leaves out most slimes, jellies, oozes, and the like). Finally, the character has to be able to reach a significant target area. To backstab a giant, the character would have to be standing on a ledge or window balcony. Backstabbing him in the ankle just isn’t going to be as effective.
Special Attack Conditions
Many monsters (and spells) have Special Attacks, which are mentioned in the descriptions. A character or monster can usually avoid the effects of a Special Attack if a Saving DC is successfully made (although Energy Drain has no save). Read the following explanations carefully, and refer to this section whenever Special Attacks are used in a game.
Energy Drain: This is a dangerous attack form, with no Saving DC allowed. If a character is hit by an Energy Drain attack (by a wight, for example), the character loses one Level of Experience! (A monster would lose one Hit Die from this effect.) The Energy Drain removes all the benefits: hit points, spells, and so as soon as it occurs. The victim’s Experience Point total drops to the midpoint of the new level.
A 1st level character hit by an Energy Drain attack is killed. There is normally no way to cure an Energy Drain. The character can only regain the Level through normal adventuring and earning the Experience Points all over again.
Poison: Poison is a danger to all characters. If a character is hit by a poisonous attack (by a snake, for example) and misses the Saving DC vs Constitution, the character will usually die. Individual poisons will have differing effects. See removing poison.
For additional character or monster conditions, check out the master list here.
Environment Modifiers (optional)
By considering the environment and how it affects combat, players and DMs can add an extra level of strategy and depth to their battles.
- Dropping to prown gives characters a +4 Armor Class vs ranged attacks
- Terrain: Certain terrain types can offer advantages or disadvantages to combatants. For example, fighting in difficult terrain like mud or dense foliage can slow down movement and make it harder to maneuver, while fighting on elevated terrain like a hilltop can give archers or other ranged attackers a height advantage.
- Light: Light levels can make a big difference in combat. Fighting in complete darkness can give attackers with darkvision an advantage, while fighting in bright light can make it harder to hide or sneak around.
- Weather: Weather conditions like rain, fog, or snow can make it harder to see or move around, which can affect combat. For example, rain might make it harder to see or hear, while snow might make it harder to move quickly or keep your footing.
- Obstacles: Obstacles like walls, buildings, or natural barriers can affect combat in various ways. For example, a wall might provide cover from ranged attacks, while a narrow hallway might limit movement and make it easier to bottleneck enemies. If a character’s body is 0 – 50% cover they gain a +2 to their Armor Class, if they are 50-99% covered, then add +4.
- Hazards: Hazards like traps, pits, or environmental hazards can also affect combat. For example, a pit might provide cover or make it harder to maneuver, while a poison gas trap might inflict damage or debuffs on combatants.
Examples of Environmental Modifiers
Player 1: I will move towards the monster through the muddy swamp, trying to gain some cover behind the dead trees.
DM: The muddy swamp slows your movement, costing you 10 feet of your normal movement speed. You gain half cover (+2 AC) behind the dead trees.
Player 1: I will use my ranged weapon while still hiding behind the dead tree.
DM: You still have half cover (+2 AC). However, the thick fog in the area makes it difficult to see and aim, imposing a -2 penalty to your attack roll.