Saturday, April 21, 2012

Time and Movement in Combat

As I've said before, I started gaming with wargames. Wargames have very strictly defined rules, including rules for time. OD&D has pretty strict rules for time, too, but they are a little loosely presented. I've never been comfortable with the one-minute combat round. Combat is supposed to be abstract enough to encompass multiple swings and feints and parries in that minute. Yet, paradoxically enough, in that abstract melee, time is supposed to be very closely tracked.

There are two reasons to track time:
  1. Timing (duh): Seriously, the timing of disparate movements so that their individual effects on the battle as a whole can be understood. If you have a unit of cavalry attempting to sneak around a small grove of trees and make a flank attack, it is vital to understand the state of the battle when they complete their movement and launch their attack. It is also important to understand when effects become active and when they no longer apply.
  2. Movement: It can be important to know how far a character/creature can move in a specified amount of time. Or, more to the point, how long it takes a character/creature to cover a given amount of space.

I've never been happy with the idea that a combat can last 10 minutes or more. That is a lot of work to swing a weapon weighing 8 lbs or more, virtually continuously. The lack of fatigue rules makes it worse.

I think time and movement should be abstracted the way the rest of combat is. For time, I am thinking about randomly determining elapsed time. Maybe roll d4, +1 per HD of opponents in excess of characters' level. So, a 2nd level fighting-man, a 1st level fighting-man, and a 2nd level magic-user engage a group of 7 orcs. At the conclusion of the battle, roll d4+2 to determine how long the battle lasted.

Wandering monsters being attracted to the noise of a battle can be checked after a certain number of exchanges in the fight. I would likely just judge the progress of the battle. If the battle seems to be dragging, I would avoid wandering monsters like a plague. If they would add some spice to the session, I'd roll for them.

When you take away time, you take away movement. At least in the sense of covering distance in time. I like the idea of Arenas from Old School Hack. I can see them having a place in a more abstract time keeping scheme. It's a fairly simple concept and I think it really lends itself to exciting, swashbuckling combat. More importantly, movement in the system doesn't rely on accurate time keeping.

Thoughts? Comments?


  1. fatigue and fighting: most weapons didn't weigh 8 lbs or more, the average fighting weapon is about 3lbs, with 6lbs being the top ends for a great swords people would bring to battle.
    I've been in an hours long fake fight with a 3.5 lb sword and found it necessary to break off every 20 minutes or so for a 5-10 minute breather. It creates a curious look of hundreds of combatants beating each other savagely with small packs of people scattered about here and there off to the side seemingly picnicking as they recuperate ever on watch lest some skirmishers catch them unaware or the fight shifts quickly and envelops them.

    Abstract time isn't bad at all when all one is concerned with is the battle itself but what about situations where the battle is a delaying tactic or distraction for other timed events?

    1. I think I like that. Though I could see players in a game getting pissed if someone was role-playing fatigue. Not that combats ever take that long in-game...

  2. Right you are, JD. I was going by the encumbrance values in Book I, which lists swords at 50 encumbrance points, and two-handers at 150, which translates into 5 and 15 pounds respectively. But historically, the weights you give are in a more realistic range.

    Your questions about abstract time are ones I am working with. I like the idea enough to try to work them out, at least in a rudimentary fashion. I have to remind myself that in dungeon environments, intricate tactics that do require precise time-keeping, are probably going to be rare enough to virtually disregard. At least in my experience.

    My larger, unanswered concern, is of a battle that splits, like when a segment of the fight shifts into an adjoining room. One fight finishes in two swings and the survivor rushes back to the other fight, essentially becoming a "reinforcement". I suppose in that case, I could play it swing for swing. In other words, two swings of the "split" battle takes two swings of the main battle, then roll time all at once when it is all finished.

    I'll have to think on this more.