OD&D Movement and Combat Sequence

So, about a week ago my girlfriend & I were bored one night. We're both moderately geeky, so I offered to play a bit of D&D... whereupon I grabbed my annotated copy of module B1, and my original white-box OD&D, and ran that. This was actually my first and only time running OD&D.

It's an interesting way to experience it, with no prep time whatsoever, and just being thrown into it cold. First, my girlfriend really enjoyed it, felt it was a lot of fun, and found it much more favorable than the game of 3E she'd been in for about a year. "Hey, that's what I thought an adventure game should be like," in her words. Now, that's universally the reaction I get from players who are (a) my age, (b) not hard-core gamers, (c) introduced first to a 3E/d20 System game, and then (d) later introduced to an early pre-1985 TSR role-playing game.

Secondly, I had to run full-tilt into all the obvious gaps in the OD&D rules, things that were implied from the Chainmail rules, etc. I have a simple resolution system I call "Target 20" (generally d20 + level + modifiers/AC, success on 20+) that got me through combat, saves, and thief skills nicely. But what I really had to make up on the fly in makeshift fashion was the combat movement-and-resolution cycle. Afterwards, I sat down and thought about it for a few days, and finally had an "aha!" moment, something I'm really happy with, and I hadn't seen elsewhere. Here's the key points in boldface, with commentary following in normal text:

Scale: Combat scale is 1” = 5 ft, and one combat round takes 10 seconds. Movement and ranges are as written in the core rulebooks. Running is at double speed, but requires dropping all held items.

I've written before that I felt EGG's distance and time scales were faulty, and not really thought out very carefully. I do like a scale of 1" = 5' because that matches your miniature scale (as opposed to the Lovecraftian mangling proposed in the front of the 1E DMG). 10-second rounds are nice for a lot of reasons (matches Holmes basic, allows holding breath to be equal to Con score, etc.)

The other thing is that you can use the move-in-inches from OD&D/1E directly as written. The basic 12" move now realistically converts to what I'll call a standard "combat jog" rate of movement (equivalent to 2 m/s, 7 km/h for an unburdened man), avoiding the need for EGG's complicated justifications regarding 1E's extremely slow movement. Halving this rate gives you a realistic "careful walk" (1m/s, 3.5 km/h); doubling this rate gives a realistic "full run" (4 m/s, 14 km/h).

Combat Sequence: Roll d6 initiative for each side; play goes around the table. The first round permits ranged attacks, but no movement. In each subsequent round, each side moves and then attacks in order. Figures must stand to fire missiles, spells, and ready weapons.

I've established that I really like a simple "play moves around the table" combat sequence, for a lot of reasons. It automatically advertises to all the players who's going next (without complicated and messy tracking with whiteboards or counters or play cards). My understanding is that this is what EGG would do in convention games. There are enormously good reasons why standard table games function this way. And finally, I absolutely loathe written-orders in the context of an RPG.

But let me focus on the "first round permits ranged attacks only" part, which I felt was the real breakthrough here. First, it solves the standard simultaneous-movement problem, where one side with initiative is able to charge across the battlefield before an enemy with a drawn bow can fire it at them (call this effect "pass-through fire" as per Chainmail if you like). Secondly, it automatically generates the desired-but-rarely-accomplished result of archers and spellcasters firing stuff through the air at the enemy just before the ground troops charge in. Thirdly, it's a good simulation of EGG's more refined turn sequence from Swords & Spells, which begins with a segment devoted to firing readied missiles, before any movement. (This latter was actually my own initial motivation -- if we only had the turn sequence from Chainmail/Swords & Spells as inspiration, what would the result be for D&D?)

First Strike: Pole weapons (spear, halberd, polearm, lance, and pike) get a free attack when readied against an onrushing attacker with a shorter weapon. However, in each later round of melee they permit a free attack on the part of the enemy.

This is as simple and realistic as I could make it. Chainmail has every man-to-man weapon categorized by length/speed factor, but I don't think that's necessary. The real issue is whether you're using a stick-it-straight-ahead pole weapon or not. The disadvantage listed here is both realistic and implied by Chainmail (and AD&D DMG speed factor rules), but can be resolved with much greater simplicity, as above. The goal is for these weapons to be "not usable in dungeons as a general rule" (Supplement I, p. 15), and for that result there's no need to be complicated.

Surprise: A roll of 2 in 6 indicates suprise (negated by light, noise, ESP, etc.). A surprised party is delayed by one round (no action in round #1; no movement in round #2; normal actions in following rounds).

You can see how the surprise rule now interacts with the dedicated "ranged attacks only" segment at the start of combat, quite easily. You'd roll initiative at the start of round #2, which may or may not result in the surprised party getting their first missiles off before the enemy has already closed and meleed with them.


  1. This is great stuff! It seems you've very neatly solved some problems that have been plaguing folks for years!

    I like going around the table as well. Sometimes I alternate the starting person and/or direction, just so the same person doesn't go first and last every round.

  2. I actually wouldn't apply a penalty for polearm use on the second round. A polearm that's not excessively long gives you a very wide range of attack options at closer ranges, from striking with the butt to shortening your grip and thrusting with the iron, to applying leverage for locks and throws with the haft. You only really lose those advantages with an excessively long polearm like a pike. Except in very space-constrained environments, a polearm really is just a better weapon than a sword, mace, etc.; it's one of life's little imbalances that you can't really try to balance out in gameplay.

  3. Jeff: Thanks for the kind words! One thing I say to my players is that they're free to switch seats if they want to change the order on their own (to whatever way gives them an advantage).

    JFM: There may be some gray area there that I'm willing to keep an open mind about. My reading of historical literature (Oman's "Art of War") is that sword & shield uniformly has an advantage against long spear-like weapons.

  4. Re: "Going around the table"

    I did the exact same thing. However, I have each player roll 1d6 rather than do it monster group vs player group. Highest result goes first, and THEN clockwise around the table.

    I allow mods. for dexterity & situation. It's fast, and it also mixes it up a bit.

  5. Verhaden, good suggestion. However, when I try an "everyone rolls initiative" method, I find that it slows the game down -- someone's distracted or not finding their dice or out of the room. If I can get just one person to roll and get the combat started, I'm happy with that.

  6. Most (if not all) DM's I know, roll group initiative for (groups of) monsters, but individual initiative for the PCs. The main drawback of this (apart from speed considerations) is that the monsters are very rarely first.

    That's the main reason for me to have group initiative. Although this leaves out high dex mods etc.

    Maybe first a group initiative to decide which half goes first and then Verhaden's option to use modified rolls for the order within the PC group.

    Or maybe that is actually what he was suggesting ...