Actions in Echelon

Actions in D&D 3.x got fairly complicated in the end. They range from full-round through standard action, move action, swift action, free action, to immediate action. Plus ‘not an action’, but since those… things people do are by definitions ‘not actions’, I’ll ignore them. There are distinct differences between them, but that’s a lot of different things that can do.

  • Standard actions are, for the most part, the ‘standard things characters (and monsters) do’. In many cases this is a single attack, or casting a spell, or something similar.
  • Move actions are slightly less good, being anything ‘time consuming’ that isn’t their primary beneficial action. Take something out of a backpack, change position, whatever.
  • Swift actions are limited to one per round, but otherwise require a negligible amount of time.
  • Free actions are even less than that.
  • Immediate actions are much like swift actions but can be done out of turn, almost always as a reaction to an event or another creature’s action (but it uses your swift action from the next round, so it’s not quite free).
  • Full-round actions are usually specific things that can be done, often more powerful or beneficial than standard actions. Some spells (but not very many) are full-round actions to cast, and under normal circumstances the only way to get more than one attack in a round is to spend the entire round doing so.

The last point is one of my peeves with D&D 3.x. Unless you have a special ability that gives you additional attacks (such as a flurry of blows, Two-Weapon Fighting, or something similar) or high enough Base Attack Bonus to gain iterative attacks, there is no particular benefit to attacking as a full-round action instead of a standard action. Also, to actually use your improved attack rate you have to spend more precious time on it. In the meantime, your arcane artillery can move just as far (or farther, if augmented) as he could before, and open a bigger can of whoop-ass in the form of more powerful spells. On top of that, the bonus attacks almost always come at a decreasing attack bonus or otherwise suffer penalties.

This is kind of lame.

FantasyCraft has a pretty straightforward amendment to the action model used in D&D 3.x that looks like it addresses a number of my peeves.

You get two actions per round, which can each be used for whatever you can do with a single action except casting spells. Unless you have something that lets you do so, such as a feat.

So, ‘full attack’ is simply using both actions in a round to attack (your first-level fighter now has a benefit to standing and fighting instead of moving and attacking, or attacking or moving, or just attacking and doing… nothing). You can move and attack, you can move twice, etc. I expect that generally abilities that increase your attack rate are phrased such that they let you make more than one attack as a single action. For instance, Two-Weapon Combat at the Expert tier lets you, once per round, attack once with each weapon as a single action. A fighter could thus attack once with each weapon and move (which cannot be done under normal circumstances in D&D 3.x), or attack a total of three times in a round (twice with one weapon and once with the other), and so on. Unlike D&D 3.x, the ability to make multiple attacks is paid for – either by limiting you to just attacking in the round, or by paying permanent character costs (feats, or talent slots in Echelon) – so there are no iterative penalties. You may still take an offhand penalty for two-weapon combat, but that’s for attacking with your off hand.

This seems very simple and workable.

However, I still like immediate actions and plan to keep them. Each round you get a single immediate action, as a base, but there will be ways to get more. Some things you can do on your turn (such as taking a five-foot step or casting a swift spell), some you can do out of turn (casting an immediate spell such as feather fall) or making an attack of opportunity. Immediate actions taken out of turn come from your next turn’s actions.

This should make things much easier to adjudicate, and help rectify something I see as an existing point of failure in D&D 3.x.


  1. hadsil

    Presumably you’re going to give warriors the ability to use swift actions. To make an AoO as an immediate action means giving that up. If a warrior’s AoO is just hit for damage, it may not be worth doing because he needs his swift action next turn; thus, the provoker “got away with it”. Even if the AoO attack does more than just hit point damage, you’re forcing the player to make a choice. While what makes any game fun is its series of interesting deicsions, I’m wary that this particular decision is an unfun one to make. I only say “wary” because I do not have play experience using AoO with Combat Reflexes or otherwise do something other than hit for damage to know how much, if any, a nerf this is to making an AoO.

    Speaking of Combat Reflexes, if you make AoO an immediate action then this feat can’t work since you can’t take a second immediate action for another AoO when the second opponent provokes.

  2. I long ago had Combat Reflexes grant an additional immediate action per round (may be taken more than once); you only lose your next swift action if you use all your immediate actions. Of course, I also had to place a limit of ‘your base move per round’ on evasion as written here after someone pointed out the friendly-/fireball/ run across the combat area.

    I do expect to have swift actions for people other than spell casters, though I haven’t decided yet what all the options may be.

  3. GreyKnight

    WRPS does something vaguely similar; a character has an “action speed” which is normally 2. You can take up to this number of actions in a turn (move, attack, aim, concentrate, use item, wait, do nothing). You also have a number of defences, each of which can be used once until your next turn (dodge, block, parry, plus 3 mental defences).

    We have a slightly different take on responsive actions more general than defences: rather than defining a special action class like D20 immediate actions, we borrow GURPS’ 1-second turns. The more granular time structure means that things like reactive spellcasting and attacks of opportunity can generally be carried out as a regular action, especially combined with judicious use of the Wait action to explicitly delay until a triggering event occurs.

    (PS: any idea why your December post is stuck at the top of the blog index? I hadn’t realised you’d updated because I just glanced at the topmost timestamp.)

  4. I made that post sticky because it contains news about the site. I’d migrated almost all my old content to this site, so when people showed up I wanted them to know. I’ve removed the sticky, I think the news is old enough now.

    One-second turns are too short for my taste. I think that if you’re going to that level of time detail, you should have a similar level of action detail… and I don’t do such fine detail so well. I like having a certain level of abstraction available. Also, even if you get 60 actions a minute (which sounds tiresome to play out, to be honest), burning ‘an entire action’ on defense sounds crappy. I suspect most players don’t mind using a minor action out of their turn to defend against something, but using a ‘full action’ on defense instead of on beatdown is unattractive.

  5. GreyKnight

    Yeah, I don’t think that GURPS-length turns would mesh at all well with the D20/Echelon style of play; I mentioned it as a point of interest to the discussion. Your approach above seems better for that. Having a single action length seems like it will help players decide what to do. Losing iterative penalties makes attack bonus tracking easier too! You mention modelling attack-rate increases by allowing two “strikes” per attack action; another possible tack would be to allow an extra action that’s only usable to continue an attack, and then make strikes/attacks synonymous. Question of taste I suppose.

    There is a noticeable mental shift involved when players of one style start learning the other (1-second versus 6-second turns, I mean). One of the key points in the shift seems to be the realisation that you can spend actions like water; I’ve noticed the phrase “burning an action” seems to fall out of vocabulary, which is interesting. Of course, there is a shift when going the other way, too.

    Actually, in practice I found that 1-second turns don’t make as much difference as I previously thought! Partly because a lot of the time the next action is obvious and largely orthogonal to outside events (if you’re being chased along the rooftops, it doesn’t seem much more troublesome in practice to do it in a 1-second or a 6-second structure; you still make the same number of jump checks either way, for starters). Also, if the players are used to using AoOs and readied/immediate actions in D20, it seems to work out kinda the same; some of the actions are reordered a bit is all.

    (In general I think WRPS works slightly better than GURPS because we have a simpler set of actions and rules, which helps people get into a faster “flow”. Having to run to the rulebook all the time is a big no-no for me. I do think the WRPS action speed system needs some work still, as there’s a decision point around use-one-action-or-two that is slowing things down slightly.)

    Oh, are you doing anything interesting with initiative waiting/readied actions, while we’re on the general topic? One interesting suggestion for initiative is to roll it at the end of combat time, in readiness for the next one. Handy for ambushes and surprises where you want to drop the players in it without giving them time to stop and think.

  6. I’m probably going to continue with the 3.x-style initiative, except that I suspect it’ll be treated more like a skill (d20+level/2+modifiers — higher-level characters *do* react faster in times of danger, a typical ’20th-level fighter’ damn well should react before a ‘1st-level anything’, most of the time). Still keep the cyclic behavior from D&D 3.x rather than the pre-3.x style of rolling each round.

    I’d like to institute something like the Edge rules or the like, where one person has a specific advantage in terms of controlling the combat, but I need to investigate my options there. I do kind of like the idea of combat control not necessarily being a matter of ‘who goes first’ randomly chosen, but because one person can better direct the fight than the other. It would clearly be necessary to have a way to shift that control, of course, but I’m interested in exploring this further.

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