Threshold d20 Review: Running an Encounter

In this review I look at http://www.d20openrpg.com/gamemastering/combat-encounters and the pages under it.

Encounter Checklist

The encounter sequence looks fairly reasonable.

Surprise and Initiative

It might be worth changing “those that exceed the DC by a large margin” in the Perception check description to “those that make the Threshold on their Perception check” (or whatever text is used to describe rolling higher than the Threshold.  There is a mechanic specifically for this purpose, evidently important enough that the system seems to be named after it, I’d use that.

If rolling above the high Threshold gives a bonus on the Initiative check that follows, does rolling below the negative Threshold give a penalty on the Initiative check?

Using a -20 penalty to surprised creatures is an interesting idea.  The primary effect of this that I see is that it means that a ‘surprise round’ no longer is, it just ensures that the surprising group probably goes first.  There is no doubling up of actions against the surprised creatures.  There is later the option of rerolling Initiative each round.  This can lead to one side having multiple turns before the other side gets another one.

This leads to a situation where having the drop on someone and ambushing them can have less real effect on turn order than could be gotten ‘just because’ during the fight.  This seems a little odd to me.

Action Points and Phases

I’m not sure how I feel about Action points only being spent during the Main Phase except when they can be spent as reactions.  Do I have to plan my reactions?  Or are such reactions taken from the next round’s budget?

Actions in Combat

I see that ‘full attack’ is still an action option.  I still don’t care for it, especially if iterative attacks (with decreasing bonuses) are involved.  I rather prefer FantasyCraft’s approach: two actions per round, which might be both attacks, both move, move and attack, and so on.  Additional attacks due to skill or specific attack option (such as two-weapon fighting) usually modifies what can be done with an action.  For example, two-weapon fighting says that when using two weapons (one or both of which may be unarmed attacks) once per round a character can attack with each one as a single action.

This means that when using two-weapon fighting a character can:

  • Attack three times (twice with one weapon and once with the other), or
  • Attack twice (once with each weapon) and do something else, or
  • Attack once (with either weapon) and do something else.

I don’t remember what they do for penalties when making multiple attacks and offhand penalties, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find that they are reduced or removed entirely.  By and large FantasyCraft tries to keep things as simple as feasible.

Which brings back a concern I had in one of my first reviews, I prefer less granularity in action management.  Is there really much gained by having six different costs (0-5 Action Points), plus reactions?  This is no less than D&D 3.x has (Attack of Opportunity, Immediate, Free, Swift, Move, Standard, and Full-round).

True, there is a little less funkiness about when each kind applies and the consequences of it (using an Immediate action means losing your Swift action in your next turn – though again I’m not sure of where the Action Points for those reactions that cost points come from).

Cover & Obscurement

Lose concealment miss chance in exchange for a simple modifier to the attack roll?  Sure, why not?

I’d be inclined to use the word ‘concealment’ rather than ‘obscurement’, it’s more a common word (‘obscurement’ doesn’t even show up in spell check!).

I think the use of ‘soft cover’ to be cover specifically provided by creatures is a D&Dism.  I’ve seen other references to ‘soft cover’ meaning “something that probably won’t stop a bullet” (;hard cover’ probably will).  Of course, looking for a definition to cite gives me lots of links to books (‘softcover’ here meaning ‘paperback’).

Making Multiple Attacks

A full attack costs four Action Points, but Making Multiple Attacks has all options allowing more than one attack in a round cost five Action Points.  What does full attack do, then?

Movement

This looks reasonable.  Again, I’m not really fond of such high resolution (in Echelon, I suspect that in most cases once a character gets past a certain point it takes some extreme terrain to hamper movement).

Combat Maneuvers

Once again, the number of different costs for actions is irksome to me.  If people have trouble in D&D 3.x remembering what action types things are, I expect this will be even more challenging.

That said, I do like the Dirty Trick maneuver being able to cause conditions for a time.  I think Iron Heroes (or was it the Book of Iron Might?  I’m pretty sure it was a book from Malhavoc Press) had a similar mechanism for building up combat tricks that may have been similar to this idea.

I don’t really have time right now to examine the other action types in detail, but they don’t seem unreasonable on first glance.

Size and Space

I have to wonder why ‘Size 1’ was chosen to be equivalent to D&D’s ‘medium’ size… especially when I see various calculations using ‘Size-1’ so often.  Why not make ‘Medium’ be ‘Size 0’?

Okay, I do see that a ‘Size 1’ creature takes one square, but honestly, is it more hassle to figure out that a ‘Size 0’ creature takes one square, or that a ‘Size 1’ creature has a (Size-1) penalty to Defense and any Dexterity-based checks, but gains a (Size-1)*2 bonus to attacks and Strength-based checks?  And a Size 3 creature has a +4 bonus to Strength-based checks?

Targeting and Areas of Effect

This looks pretty standard.  Simplifying the ranges (short and medium are fixed amounts rather than based on level) is nice.  Making long range mean ‘within site’ is simple, but it may be worth looking up how HERO addresses ‘speck on the horizon’ effects.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Nerdgasm.

    Shield Usage is almost exactly what I want talents to look like. I’d tweak it a little, but not very much. SR comes at an appropriate level, but drops off in utility at higher levels (grows slower) than CL of opposing casters… but that may be appropriate, for those who don’t continue to train it. If we instead have following tiers increase it to by two per tier (“SR increases to 14 + shield bonus + level bonus”) it should keep SR fairly close to level+10. This one feels really good.

    Armor Focus is… boring. Purely numeric talents are mostly really boring. If we can get it to work somewhat more like the Shield Usage it’d be more exciting. I originally wrote the same one and was disappointed with it, and eventually decided to fold AC improvement in the Base Attack Bonus (or rather, add BAB to AC, so it scales with combat ability automatically).

    Mounted Combat from Master tier and up could use some more Awesome Juice. I’m not sure what flavor it would be, though.

    Darkvision… again, a kind of unexciting one. This one might be just a short-tier talent, only up to Expert, maybe. Unless perhaps you could share it? This is a really passive ability, so it’s hard to write for.

    Beastly Fairie Capstone… not sure about this one, but I haven’t thought about it much. In principle it looks good, but I would be inclined to rearrange things a bit. Some might even be moved out (if you want a natural attack, take Natural Attack — or it might even be a prerequisite before taking this capstone); as much as possible capstones should probably do things you can’t really do with other talents.

    Overall, a good start. Some need more polish than others, and Shield Usage is wonderful, almost bang on what I want to see from a talent. Useful at low level, shiny at mid-level, rather cool at high level. And, importantly, not just about numeric bonuses, at each point you actually get to do something you couldn’t before.

  2. GreyKnight

    I’ll browse the armour catalogue for some more interesting effects, and see if I can’t make mounted combat more juicy too. Meanwhile, I made the suggested SR change for shields and put in a few tentative changes to darkvision to try and make it more interesting (extending the flavour slightly in a “see what others can’t” direction).

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