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(D&D) Introducing late night fighting

Using with OSR/TSR D&D?

There are a handful of 5e-isms here you should address if you use this with classic games.
Basic movement in 5e is per round; so as per Moldvay Basic p B24 you can divide your character’s speed by three, or, easier, multiply the speeds in this document by three.
References to constitution checks you can replace with “roll of 3 or higher on 1d6” or a “save vs death ray” or whatever weird saves your clone of choice has. It should be a save fighters are good at.
Instead of looking at the 5e DMG p 253 you can just use your own imagination for what would make it easier or harder to hide.
If you don’t have 5e’s classes, just go “fighty → priesty → gishy → casty → sneaky”.
As for spells, when it says that cantrips don’t trigger an O dot, then obv not casting a cantrip is just as safe. For slotted spell, just read “spell”.
Finally, for “heroes” just read hobos. The reason I used the word “hero” was to include hirelings, not just PCs.

These are rules for doing fights in D&D without maps or minis, using only words and dice and the Theater of the Mind.
The normal actions, attacks, spells etc in D&D are in place but the system abstracts position and movement, and it also decides how the monsters act, how they attack, how they move and so on, so if anyone dies, you can blame the game, not the DM. It turns running fights into a logic puzzle where the DM is challenged, too—not challenged to kill the PCs (which would be a conflict of interest for their rôle as referee), but to find a set of attacks that fulfill the constraints. (Maybe this system would also be fun for solo games?)
I’ve boiled it down to dense a two page PDF where every rule refers to every other rule, and vice versa. Skip the stuff about Volley Rounds and Chases on your first couple of read-throughs.

We use this rule set in conjuction with Oh, Injury!; they work on a separate layer and you can use one without using the other, and vice versa.

Attacking downed heroes?

The procedures here means that sometimes monsters attack downed heroes, possibly finishing them off. That’s how it is at our table.
If that’s not what you want, add a house rule that downed heroes are placed at the bottom of the Target Order, or ignored by monsters altogether until everyone is down.

Instead of keeping track of the exact feet & inch where you are, it keeps track of who you are with, which is much simpler. Players and DMs, feel free to use spatiality in your descriptions: “I rush up to the skeleton” etc. Also, DMs, space may be abstracted but feel free to put in slippery floors, bookcases to topple or hide behind, stairs to throw monsters down etc. Interacting with those things seldom depend on exact position.

Inspired by Final Version, Wizardry, The One Ring revised, Dragon Union, and Kutulu. And by playing a ton of text games like Zork.

Volley Rounds & Chases

Usually there is no chase and only a single volley round.

How many rounds before mêlée?

Arctic, desert, farmland, or grassland6d6/6
Forest, swamp, or woodland2d8/6
Hills, or wasteland2d10/6
Jungle2d6/6
Mountains4d10/6
Dungeonalways 1

Round down! (Can get zero)

The rounds tick down as long as at least one side wants to close in, and if there are no ravines or similar in the way.

Chases

Compare speeds (spending actions and bonus actions on speed first—if people hesitate, have them commit and reveal secetly). Escaper more than pursuer? Add one escape point. Pursuer more than escaper+30′? Remove one escape point. Somewhere in between? Neither add nor remove escape points. Separate pools for each escaper/pursuer pair.
Make attacks if you have actions left. That’s how you catch them! You need ranged attacks if there are escape points.
Escaper can roll to hide from those with at least one escape point on them. Once an escaper has hidden from a pursuer, that’s it! That pursuer has lost that escaper. See DMG p 253 for ideas for hiding adv&disadv and complications. If there are still pursuers, start a new round of compare→attack→hide.

Dashing 3+con times is fine. Beyond that you need to make DC 10 constitution checks or rack up temporary exhaustion.

Ranged Attacks (in volleys & chases)

…can reach on the last two volley rounds, or up to two escape points. Two-handed ranged weapons reach up to ten (at disadvantage until the last two).

(Spells with a range of at least 300 feet: range/60 ← round up. (Without disadv.))

The Speed Number

can take terrain, conditions, encumbrance etc into account even though we’re not tracking exact positions.

Ranks

Front rank

Back rank

To be in the back rank, you need to be guarded, or able to Levitate or similar ability, or be in a safe or unseen place.

Guarded

If there are less than two monsters per hero and either at least two front rank heroes guarding you, or at least three front rank heroes for each monster.

The guards decide who they protect if there’s an argument. Conjured creatures can’t be guards. You also can’t guard against swarms or incorporeal movement.

Free Air

To be in the free air, you need a flying speed. You can go down to normal front rank by flying low.

Mêlée Groups

A fancy word for standing next to someone. Fights start with everyone unengaged. Join a mêlée group with an enemy in order to make mêlée attacks on them. And monsters do the same to hit you. Multiple people can join the same mêlée group.

No Initiative Rolls

Just let everyone get an action every round. Holding light, or being in the same mêlée group as an ally with light, lets you strike before than your foe. If the light situation is equal, the side that didn’t start the fight can strike first.

“Reach Attack”

If you are unengaged and have longer mêlée reach than your target, you can make “reach attacks” against enemies without having to join their mêlée group (even if one or both of you are in the back rank).

Movement

You can always switch ranks unless you’re restrained or grappled, but to change mêlée group, you need to move.

Speed 1′–24′
you are slow. You can move into one group if you’re unengaged, or move out of one group.
Speed 25′ or more
you are fast. You can move in and out of any amount of groups.

You can use your reaction to make an opportunity attack on enemies in your mêlée group (or the enemy last you hit with a “reach attack”) if they move away from you without disengaging; “moving away” means moving anywhere except into your group.

Targets in AoE

How many?

x/5, cone/10, line/30 ← round up
So a fireball (20′ radius) hits 4 targets.

Where?

If you target someone in a mêlée group,
you need to target everyone in that group
before selecting new targets from another group.

Keeping Track

Square grid, dotted, or lined paper all work great! But use pencil so you can erase dots and Xs.

Fighting Example

Example: six heroes vs a wight and three skeletons!

Conflict dots

C for…

common sense around concentration, conjurations and other considerations, such as Armor of Agathys.

O for oh-no-you-didn’t.

Normal and extra attacks and cantrips are fine, but if you use slotted spells, Sneak Attack, Action Surge etc and manage to deal any damage, you get a mark here that remains until the fight is over.

N for knocked down

or other things that lets the monsters gain advantage or avoid disadvantage.

F for front rank,

L for light.

Heroes

Any non-halflings in class order (fighters first) then any halflings, also in class order.

Class order

Actions

In this example, it’s the sixth round, and Doris and Terry haven’t acted yet.

Monster columns

Monster columns! I usually use the starting HP to identify them but you can also jot down a name or initial. I like counting up the damage the monsters have taken until the damage reaches that starting HP. Jot down status effects like Vicious Mockery or conditions in these columns too.

Engagement Xs

An X means the two are in a mêlée group. In this example, Mike and Wendy are both unengaged, Cecilia is in a mélée group with one skeleton, Terry in one with another, and then there’s a big group with Felix, Doris, the wight and a skeleton.

If you don’t have any Xs, you’re unengaged and can go join a group. Otherwise, as you leave a group, erase your Xs (and take opportunity attacks from them). When you join a group, get an X with every enemy in that group (copy the Xs your allies in that group have).

In a chase write the number of escape points instead of Xs, and (unlike mêlée Xs) don’t keep the rows in sync; allow each pursuer/escaper pair to be independent.

Monster Limitations

Limit on Rank

Monsters don’t need to be guarded to be back rank, but they can only be back rank if there is at least one front rank monster for every front rank hero. In addition, front rank monsters that have a mêlée attack are not allowed, even at disad, to use ranged attacks.

Limit on Ganging Up

Multiple monsters can’t join a mêlée group until all groups have one monster per hero. Once that is so, the next limit is three monsters per hero, then eight, then no limit. So 9,3,3,3 is bad, it’d have to be 8,4,3,3. A group with two heroes and two monsters satisfy the one-monster-per-hero requirement and then the monsters in that group are free to attack the same hero. Ranged attacks can be aimed at anyone, so it’s often better to leave monsters in the back rank to shoot.

Limit on target order–C↓O↑N↓

The heroes are listed in the starting target order (it’s not a turn order). It is the DM’s job to make sure that the heroes at the top of the target order get the most (and the most dangerous) attackers, given the limits on rank and ganging up. Dots in the CON columns make the heroes count earlier when determining this order. First, C dots are read top down, O dots are next and are read from the bottom up, then N dots top down, and lastly those without any CON dots. C dots (unlike O or N) require common sense and could mean either most or least desirable target.

Example

In the example, the order is Wendy, Doris, Mike, Felix, Cecilia, then Terry. This complex situation has gradually built over six rounds
Mike and Wendy are in the back rank, and the limit on rank makes the undead all be front rank and unable to shoot them.
That leaves Doris, Felix, Cecilia, then Terry.
Doris and Felix are in a group that already has one enemy per hero; the limit on ganging up means the other two skeletons can’t join that group unless someone took their place fighting Cecilia and Terry.
So the wight, being the most dangerous, attacks Doris. The skeleton in the same group also attacks Doris, while the last two skeletons attack Cecilia and Terry.
The limits create a puzzle for the DM, making the system engaging while still deterministic.