Friday, January 9, 2009

3E Reach Rules Were Silly

Yeah, I played 3E for like, 7 years. When I first saw the ruleset I seriously thought the "Reach" rules were consistent, elegant, and a nice systemization. Now I'm wondering what in the world I was thinking.

In 3E a whole bunch things were designated as having "Reach" -- namely long weapons for men (polearms), and really big monsters (giants & dragons). If you had it, you could attack multiple squares away. You also, as a major intended consequence, got a first-attack on anybody that moved into contact with you. Okay, so that's sort of a generalization of the "long weapon hits first in a charge" and "set a polearm vs. onrushing attacker" rules that you had in AD&D.

Except that it really doesn't make any sense. First, if you've got a polearm, somehow you're managing to threaten a full 360-degree radius around you at will. Anyone who attacks from any direction, you spin instantly and impale them with the weapon. Sure, you've got the 3E "always in motion, no explicit facing" philosophy, but in this case (yanking the end of a 10' pole arm around, moving the tip 20' lateral distance instantly, possibly in a cramped dungeon tunnel) that's just plain ridiculous. Compare that to OD&D's thesis that "these weapons are not usable in dungeons as a general rule due to length" (Supplement I, p. 15) and similar proscriptions, which seems to be a much more clear-headed treatment of the subject.

Secondly, those big monsters that get the same benefit -- that possibly makes even less sense. Presumably they're big and lumbering brutes; it doesn't make sense to give them implied Ali-like reflexes to snap off a blow as soon as someone gets in range. They don't have a long pointy stick to set in your way; they've got to rear back, ready, and deliver a big swinging blow. If anything, the rules should support you getting in under them for a first blow faster than against other creatures. (And that's similar to the iterative-attacks problem in 3E that also lends whip-fast multiple attacks to these same behemoths: the larger, the more attacks.)

The only thing that really makes sense to get a "first attack" is a long, pointy/stabby polearm, set in a particular direction of facing, preferably backed up by a bunch of similar weapons in case you're not statically pointing in the right place at the right time. All the rest of the "Reach grants first strike" rule in 3E was really an ugly mistake.

As an aside, no wonder my less hardcore friends had such a hard time following the "Reach" rule. While for some of us Aspergers-like math-heads, there's no problem applying an abstract rule in this case, but the truth is that it's very counterintuitive trying to visualize these actions in a common-sense way. If the only rule was "he's got a long pointy stick set in your direction, if you charge at him, you'll run into it", that would probably a lot easier to parse for inductees to the game.


  1. One of my players wanted to generate an Ogre Fighter wielding a Large Polearm on time.

    Suffice to say, I hit him.

  2. How about an opposed dex check if reach is about swiveling around? This could reflect you diving under the massive swing of the big monster.

    1. Of a Reflex save, I suppose. But I think it's both more reasonable and more playable for the big monsters to just not have those multiple or attacks of opportunity in the first place.

  3. I would opt for an opposed check. Maybe a Reflex save with DC = d20 + Dex modifier (of the monster). That feels more dynamic; monster does something and the player reacts.

    But then again, you have a good point of not allowing these attacks altogether.

    I would argue that in general you cannot obtain an AOO when engaged in melee. Your focus is on your direct opponent.