Space. That’s the seed for day 5 of #RPGaDay2019, following yesterday’s “Share”. As I said in day 1 – First, I’m only interested in Dungeons and Dragons and a fantasy world based on mediaeval Europe, so although I know there are plenty of Role-Playing Games set in Space, the most obvious interpretation doesn’t fly for me.
Instead I’ll look at how the space affects combat in D&D.
When there is plenty of space, combat can easily turn into just a slugfest, where there isn’t a huge amount of scope for tactics to come into play. It’s when combat is inside in constricted areas that some of our most interesting battles have happened.
However, while you can have too much space, you can also have too much constriction. a narrow corridor only allows the people in front to engage, so anyone else is restricted to basically standing and waiting, or maybe taking potshots round the front line. (Are there any rules about how many people you can have in front of you before you can’t shoot, or whether they act as partial cover for the combatants? I don’t remember any, but thinking about it makes sense.)
The same happens when you’ve got the group opening a door and going into a room – the door is typically only 5′ wide so only one person can go stand in it at a time, while the rest mill at the back somewhat aimlessly. If it turns out the person in front rolled the lowest initiative count, that’s pretty much a whole round lost waiting for them to get their turn to move in and out of the way.
The most interesting battles have a mixture of space and constriction. Areas to hide, possibly areas where running battles separate into smaller mini-battles. Doors to hide behind, slam, contest control of. Back routes round for flanking. And remember the ceiling height as well. Certain maneuvers require a bit of headroom. And the ceiling space favours creatures who can climb, walk on walls and upside down, giving a different viewpoint and access.
One of the most memorable battles we had was at the end of Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands. The party had beaten the big boss ogre and his super-goblin consorts and were binding their wounds and looking for treasure when the shaman attacked with a group of void cultist goblins from Paizo’s recent Creature Codex (I was a playtester as a backer on Kickstarter).
Under a barrage of corrosive spittle, the characters managed to force the door shut and started looking for an alternative way out, but they were trapped. The shaman had a magic item which allowed him to cast Ray of Frost on the door, which was starting to weaken it, so the characters took up formation where they all had access to the door with the best melee fighters in the front and ranged attackers futher back, then one character flung the door open allowing the goblins to be attacked. They rushed into the room along with the half-ogre son (who had been in the next-door room), but eventually the goblins were killed, and the son broke and ran. At which point one character who didn’t have line of sight did a somersaulting vault over another, lay on the floor in line with the door and shot between the fighter’s legs, getting a critical hit and killing the son outright. High fives all round!
A large part of what made this memorable was the way the space eliminated some options and created bottlenecks, which which the players were then able to come up with tactics which used the space to their advantage and allowed them all to attack. Far more interesting than just a slugfest.