Back to Creations
D20 Rules by Justin Alexander
This material is covered by the Open Gaming License.
The rules for how to handle the beginning of combat, awareness, surprise, initiative order, and flat-footedness are some of the sloppiest and most poorly written rules I've ever seen in an RPG. A recent forum discussion at Giant in the Playground got me thinking about these rules again, and so I went through the muddle mess of the DMG and tried to pull out all the actual rules for starting combat.
STARTING COMBAT - BY THE BOOK
Combat can start in one of three scenarios:
Preparing for Combat: If one side is unaware of the other, the side that is aware may make preparations before combat begins. The DM may track this time in rounds to determine how much the aware side can accomplish before the unaware combatants become aware of them. If the unaware side becomes aware, combat begins normally. If the unaware side remains unaware, the aware combatants still gain a surprise round (see below).
Surprise Round: If only some creatures are aware at the beginning of combat, the aware creatures roll initiative and can take a single standard action during the surprise round. The unaware combatants are considered flat-footed during the surprise round. Once the surprise round is completed, everyone else rolls initiative and combat continues normally.
Newcomers - Aware: If new combatants join the combat, and they are aware of the combat when they join it, they take their actions before everyone else in the round. The order in which they take their actions is determined by their Dexterity scores.
Newcomers - Unaware: If new combatants join the combat,and they are unaware of the combat when they join it (e.g., opening a door and unexpectedly finding people fighting behind it), they roll initiative checks and take their actions normally during the initiative sequence.
Simultaneous Action: The DM can attempt to cope with the consequences of simultaneous action in a completely ad hoc fashion if it seems appropriate (e.g., having a trap triggered by a character during the round not take effect until the end of the round).
STARTING COMBAT - THE WAY IT SHOULD BE
The way in which a combat begins depends on the awareness of the participants. If only some of the combatants have awareness, then combat begins with a surprise round (see below). There are four basic ways in which a combat can begin:
(1) If everyone on both sides are aware of the other side, combat starts immediately without a surprise round.
(2) If only some creatures on both sides are aware of the other side, combat starts immediately with a surprise round for the aware combatants.
(3) If one side is completely unaware, then the aware side can choose when to start combat. They can also choose whether to start it with a surprise round or they can all delay their actions and start it with a normal round in which they get to take the first actions.
(4) If one side is completely unaware and only some combatants on the other side are aware, then the aware combatants make a choice of when to start combat (and they can wait to start combat while they make other combatants on their side aware).
A combatant has awareness if they know that combat is about to begin. At a bare minimum, this requires that the combatant be aware of the presence of their opponents. In most cases, therefore, awareness can be determined by using Spot check and Listen checks. In some cases, a Sense Motive check may be appropriate.
Spot Checks: A simple Spot check
Concealment: Even if a Spot check is successful, if the opponent has concealment the percentage concealment chance applies each round. (For example, if a party of orcs is approaching the party through a foggy forest, there is a 20% chance that -- even if the Spot check would normally succeed -- the orcs will not be seen.)
Cover: If a creature has total cover, it cannot be seen. (For example, if a party of orcs is on the other side of a solid wall, a Spot check cannot be used to become aware of the orcs.)
Sight Ranges: Use the tables below to determine the maximum range of sight in different terrains.
Listen Checks: If an opponent is not detected through a Spot check, it may still be possible to become aware of them with a Listen check. (Whether this results in an awareness that combat is about to begin will depend on how accurately the character identifies what they're hearing and what action they take in response to it.)
Sense Motive: If a non-hostile encounters suddenly becomes a violent one, a Sense Motive check opposed by the Bluff check of the person initiating hostilities is the most appropriate way to determine if a character is aware that combat is about to begin. (The character initiating hostilities, of course, is automatically aware.)
Once combat has begun, all combatants roll an initiative check (1d20 + Dexterity modifier + initiative modifiers). Characters act in order, counting down from highest result to lowest. In every round that follows, the characters act in the same order (unless a character takes an action that results in his or her initiative changing. If two or more combatants have the same initiative check result, the combatants who are tied act in order of total initiative modifier (highest first). If there is still a tie, the tied characters should roll again to determine which one of them goes before the other.
If some but not all of the combatants are aware of their opponents, a surprise round happens before regular rounds begin. Any combatants aware of the opponents can act in the surprise round, so they roll for initiative. In initiative order (highest to lowest), combatants who started the battle aware of their opponents each take a standard action during the surprise round. You can also take free, immediate, and swift actions during the surprise round. If no one or everyone is surprised, no surprise round occurs.
Combatants are flat-footed until they take an action during combat (either during the surprise round or during regular rounds). A flat-footed combatant loses their Dexterity bonus to AC (if any), cannot make attacks of opportunity, and cannot take swift actions.
If a new combatant becomes aware of the combat after it has begun, the new combatant immediately rolls an initiative check. The new combatant takes their turn normally in the initiative order, but cannot take any action during their first turn. (Note that a new combatant may become aware of the combat without the existing combatants becoming aware of them. If this happens, the new combatant may be able to safely "burn" their turn of inaction without revealing themselves.)
| | Link
RETURN TO THE ALEXANDRIAN - SUBSCRIBE