D&D 5E Review Part 13: Combat

We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post.

An elf swings his delicate bejewelled sword, puncturing a disbelieving dwarf’s heart with a graceful flourish. A paladin screams “Die Infidel Scum” as he murders orcish children for the glory of his bloodthirsty sun god. A bard inspires his companions with an ancient battle song, masturbating frantically the entire time. A reviewer can’t take much more of this “Time-Life Mysteries of the Unknown without the twist” shit that opens every chapter and a whole bunch of sections. Seriously, it’s tedious as fuck.

Once that shit’s over, they start with the basics, describing the order of combat. My memory may be flawed, but I remember a turn being bigger than a round, like maybe there were 10 rounds to a turn or something. The round was broken up into segments (6 per round, maybe?). In this edition, turns are smaller. The round is the amount of time it takes everyone to act, the turn is an individual character’s action. It’s much simpler, and nobody ever used segments anyway, so it’s probably for the best. Also included in this section are surprise (which includes its own Mysteries of the Unknown intro (“A gnome is happy that the orc complimented his pants, but is suddenly surprised when he remembers HE HAS NO PANTS!”)) which works pretty much how you expect, Initiative (individual initiative that’s rolled once at the beginning of the combat and stays the same the whole time; I realize it’s simpler, but that doesn’t make it not dumb when you think in terms of the story), and a discussion of things you can do outside of your regular action. This part was actually a relief, because some of the earlier rules explanations made it sound like every player’s turn had a dozen different phases. Luckily, that’s not the case. If you get a bonus action, you take it with your normal action. A reaction is kind of like an interrupt in Magic–if X happens, you can do Y. That’s all there is to it.

Next up is a whole lot of discussion about movement and how much space different sized creatures take up andzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….Anyway, they’ve got miniatures to sell, so there’s a page or two of rules that show how handy those little bastards can be, especially if you buy officially branded battle mats and terrain tiles and sharpies to go along with them. Next is a description of common things you can do with your action: Attack, Cast A Spell, Hide, Search, Get Down, Turn Around, Go To Town, Boot Scoot Boogie, etc.

After that, we finally get to MAKING AN ATTACK! Woo-Hoo! Finally, the simple joy of rolling a die and knowing that you’ve killed something! About damn time! You roll your attack roll and hit if the roll is higher than the opponent’s Armor Class. Since AC has been positive for a few editions now, this works without having to consult charts or THAC0 anything. Damage is based on another die roll, so the actual value of the attack roll doesn’t matter (unless it’s a 1 or a 20). It just has to be higher than the target’s Armor Class. Winning by 1 point is just as good as winning by 99 points. It’s a lot like the U.S. electoral system that way. The rest of the section chose the odd order of “Unseen Attackers and Targets,” then “Ranged Attacks,” then “Melee Attacks” (which includes rules for opportunity attacks, two-weapon fighting, grappling, and shoving), which seems to me like the exact opposite of the order that makes sense. Lots of stuff like reach and weapon range are so simplified compared to older versions that they could probably be eliminated if Hasbro didn’t have miniatures to sell.

After a brief section on Cover (which is once again simplified, though this time not to the point of being an extra step that’s unlikely to make any difference in the outcome), most of the rest of the chapter deals with damage. Most of it’s pretty standard stuff, but there are a few noteworthy changes and additions:

  • On a critical hit, you roll all your dice twice instead of just doubling damage. This still makes a critical hit potentially very brutal without guaranteeing an instant kill or giving an outsized reward to min/maxers by letting them double their modifiers.
  • Instead of every monster having its own rules for resistance or vulnerability to certain attacks, they now just have either the resistance trait (halves damage) or the vulnerabiliy trait (doubles damage).
  • You’re still unconscious at 0 HP and dead at negative Max HP, but the “death’s door” rules are a little different now. Instead of losing a hit point each round, you make a “Death Saving Throw” each round. 1-9 fails and 10+ succeeds regardless of level or constitution or anything else (except a special ability that specifically changes how this rule works for you). If you fail 3 times, you’re dead. If you succeed 3 times, you stabilize and no longer have to make death saving throws. I like this rule; it’s less predictable than the “lose 1 hp per round” thing, which adds a little drama to the situation. Your allies can’t just put off healing you for 8 rounds because you’re at -7 and won’t die until -16. If they ignore you for 5 rounds, your fate is sealed one way or another.
  • When you reduce an opponent to 0 HP, you can decide to just knock him out (he’s unconscious but automatically stable) rather than punch him up against death’s door. It seems a little weird story-logic-wise that this decision is made after the attack and damage roll, but I think anyone who ever tried to actually use the old rules for subduing an opponent will be totally cool trading a little weirdness for a lot of simplification.

The last two sections cover Mounted Combat and Underwater Combat, which you’re probably never going to use and will have to re-read anyway if you ever need them.

That’s it for Part 2, so we’re down to Part 3: The Rules of Magic (one chapter and like 100 pages of spells I’m probably going to skim at best), some Appendices, and some kind of summary/conclusion to this thing. I’m not going to finish by GenCon, but should be able to move on with my life sometime shortly thereafter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *