The Combat Sequence
In real life, combat is one of the closest things to pure anarchy. Each side
is attempting to harm the other, essentially causing disorder and chaos. Thus,
combats are filled with unknowns--unplanned events, failed attacks, lack of
communication, and general confusion and uncertainty. However, to play a battle in
the game, it is necessary to impose some order on the actions. Within a combat
round, there is a set series of steps that must be followed. These are:
1. The DM decides what actions the monsters or NPCs will take, including casting
spells, if any.
2. The players indicate what their characters will do, including and casting of
3. Initiative is determined.
4. Attacks are made in order of initiative.
These steps are followed until the combat ends--either one side is defeated,
surrenders, or runs away.
NPC/Monster Determination: In the first step, the DM secretly decides in general terms what each opponent
will do, such as attack, flee, or cast a spell. He does not announce his
decisions to the players. If a spell is to be cast, the DM picks the spell before
the players announce their characters' actions.
Player Determination: Next, the players give a general indication of what their characters are
planning to do. This does not have to be perfectly precise and can be changed
somewhat if the DM decides that circumstances warrant.
If the characters are battling goblins, a player can say, "My fighter will
attack" without announcing which goblin he will strike. If the characters are
battling a mixed group of goblins and ogres, the player has to state whether his
character is attacking goblins or ogres.
Spells to be cast must also be announced at this time and cannot be changed
once the initiative die is rolled. In any situation where the abilities of a
character could make a difference, a clear description must be given.
Before moving on, the DM will make sure he has a clear idea of not only what
the player characters are doing, but also what actions any hirelings and
henchmen are taking. Once he has a clear view of everything that's likely to happen,
the DM can overrule any announced action that violates the rules (or in the case
of an NPC, is out of character).
He is not required to overrule an impossible action, but he can let a
character attempt it anyway, knowing full well the character cannot succeed. It is not
the DM's position to advise players on the best strategies, most intelligent
actions, or optimum maneuvers for their characters.
Initiative: In the third step, dice are rolled to determine initiative, according to the
rules for initiative.
Resolution: In the last step, PCs, NPCs, and monsters make their attacks, spells occur,
and any other actions are resolved according to the order of initiative.
The above sequence is not immutable. Indeed, some monsters violate the
standard sequence, and some situations demand the application of common sense. In
these cases the DM's word is final.
Here's an example of the combat sequence in action:
Rath is leading a party through the corridors of a dungeon. Right behind him
are Rupert and Delsenora. Rounding a bend, they see a group of orcs and trolls
about 20 feet away. No one is surprised by the encounter.
The DM has notes telling him that the orcs are hesitant. He secretly decides
that they will fall back and let the trolls fight. The trolls, able to
regenerate, are naturally overconfident and step forward to the front rank (cursing the
orcs at the same time). Turning to the players, the DM asks, "What are you
going to do?"
Harry (playing Rath, a dwarf who hates orcs: "Orcs?--CHARGE!"
Anne (playing Delsenora the Mage): "Uh, what!? Wait. Don't do that . . . I was
going to . . . now I can't use a fireball spell."
DM: "Rath is charging forward. Quick--what are you doing?"
Jon (playing Rupert, the half-elf, to Anne): "Cast a spell! (To DM) Can I fire
my bow over him?"
DM: "Sure, he's short."
Jon: "OK, I'll shoot at orcs."
DM: "Anne, tell me what Delsenora's doing or she'll lose the round trying to
make up her mind."
Anne: "Got it! My acid arrow spell at the lead troll."
DM: "Fine. Harry, Rath is in front. Roll for initiative."
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