Friday, January 29, 2021

Friday Figures: Phased Turns

Phased turn poll (10 yes, 13 no)

Each of the next few Fridays, I'll present one of several polls I've asked in prior months -- usually either to the ODD74 web forum or the 1E AD&D Facebook group. (ODD74 is better for OD&D-specific questions, obviously, but much smaller membership and sample size; the 1E FB group gets much larger responses, but somewhat less focused opinions). 

For today, on the ODD74 forums, I asked: Do you use a phased turn structure? Now, this is of interest, because the OD&D little brown books famously lacked any turn sequence or initiative rules. One option is to look back at Chainmail, which had two different options for phased turn structures (e.g.: both sides move, then both sides shoot, then both sides melee). Swords & Spells maintains roughly that same structure, and some argue that should be taken as canonical for OD&D. 

That of course is quite different from the modern conceit where a particular character does all their moves, actions, and attacks, then proceed to another character for the same. At least by the 1E DMG Gygax had (on a per-side basis) one party does all its actions, then another party, and so forth. Moldvay in B/X asserts a system where one party goes through phases of morale-move-shoot-spells-melee, then the next party.

So for those playing OD&D "by the book" who need to fill in that gap, I wondered, is there a consensus? Which way do more people lean: look back to Chainmail, or forward to AD&D-style resolution? 

As you can see in the chart above -- surprisingly -- players on ODD74 are roughly evenly split. Ten people (43%) said, "yes", they use a phased turn structure similar to Chainmail or Swords & Spells. Thirteen people (57%) said, "no", they do not, and presumably use a per-party or per-character system like AD&D and later. That's a narrow lean towards the "no" side, and a break from what's in Chainmail. Also it's a small sample size, but judging from this -- it looks like there's no solid consensus. 

Which highlights that for classic D&D there's almost no "by the book" way to run the game; there are specific gaps that must be filled to personal taste by every judge and table of players. If you have an account at ODD74, see the link below for discussion that resulted from that poll (and of course continue it here if you like).

Phased Turn Pool at ODD74 (account required)

20 comments:

  1. I think phased turn structure is probably superior to complete turns when it comes to simulating everything happens within a x-second time frame. Without any special rules or procedures it solves a lot of problems that later editions come up with complex and baroque work-arounds for (attacks of opportunity, reactions, individual init and all the modifications that can be piled on top, etc.) That said, it's too war-gamey for almost every group I've played with; each player taking their complete turn is pretty much the only way I've been able to get to work at the table, whether I do that by just going around the table (my preference) or with individual init order (5e RAW). And I'm ok with that.

    My one strong opinion is that *if* you let everyone take complete turns then no matter how you determine initiative you should roll once at the beginning of combat and then just keep to that order, whether it's group or individual. Rolling for init each turn, IMO, only works when you're doing phased turn structures. Without the limitations of the phases to keep everything pretty much synched up (by this point everyone's moved, by this point everyone's cast their spells, etc.) I think it becomes impossible to keep pretending it's all happening in a fixed period of time. This guy got to take a full turn twice before I got to go again makes it painfully obvious that you're just standing there waiting for your turn to come around again, both as a player and in the game world. There's no getting around that randomly sometimes somebody can run 120 feet away before you can start pursuit and sometimes 240.

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    1. Those are great points.

      I think there are some early blog posts here where I was likewise arguing (mostly in the context of wargames) that there's never any need for "interrupt" type actions, as long as the movement time frame was sufficiently small/granular. I tried to do stuff in the 1st Edition of Book of War to make that necessary (mostly for units of pikes).

      Later what I was doing seemed overly burdensome and so now, of course, pikes in BOW get a special interrupt attack on first contact.

      And the point about non-phased needing to be linked to not-roll every round is intriguing because I think I've just accidentally never tried disconnecting those two things. I probably could have easily tried that at some point and not seen the problem in advance. I'm convinced, so thanks for that observation!

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  2. In our D&D5 games, we’re using the per-player system that is, I think, in the rules (I haven’t read the DMG, but we roll d20 and add our initiative modifier, and the highest roll goes first; the DM tends to make one roll for the opponents as a group rather than a roll for each opponent).

    In my own game when I run it, I use the PCs go first, and then the NPCs go, but everything’s happening at once, so that an NPC (potentially) killed still gets an action. Death or unconsciousness isn’t determined until the end of the round. This almost never makes a difference beyond a few hit points; once in eight years of using this rule, a character and a panther in a one-on-one fight managed to knock each other unconscious. Of course, the PC’s allies healed them.

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    1. Interesting! I have always had an attraction to rules that may possibly permit dual-deaths on both sides like that.

      On the other hand, I'll admit that personally I tightened up deaths to be immediate and not permit healing (if save failed), because I'm not fond of the I'm up-down-up-down-up-down cycle with in-combat magic healing.

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  3. I use the by-the-book phases from Moldvay or Mentzer if I'm playing classic D&D.

    I'll use a freeform, side-based initiative structure (pretty much exactly like AD&D 2nd edition: DM decides what monsters will do, players declare what their side will do, roll initiative for each side, play out the actions) if I'm playing AD&D or an OSR system that doesn't make a phased structure explicit.

    I'm also writing a skirmish game (not an RPG) that happens to use a round-robin, individual initiative system — but I wouldn't use anything of the sort in any version of D&D.

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    1. Very interesting. I'll admit that I got away from pre-announcing actions, because for me that removes the immediacy/immersion of it's happening right *now*. Probably exacerbated by the fact that sometimes I've run up to 14 players at a table.

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  4. In theory, I like the idea of phased moves, but in practice, I'm a lazy non-wargamer. When I GM, I go round each player in turn and ask "what do you do?" and I am pretty generous with what they can do.

    I think this is probably to the benefit of newer players, as it's less systemy and more "what do you realistically think you could do in the next 10 seconds?". More FKR than OSR.

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  5. For years, I'd always used group initiative and ignored the phased initiative rules in the books. But last year, I switched things up and tried phased initiative. It made things more "tactical" but also more confusing, especially when I had larger groups (8 or 10 players instead of the usual 5 or 6). I've gone back to group initiative, just going down the table to see what everyone does.

    And since I use d6s to roll, those simultaneous action rounds are fairly common, and I enjoy them.

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    1. Yeah, that's cool! How do you handle the simultaneous action rounds, basically what's in DMG? Or just handwave that everyone gets an attack in?

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    2. I'm actually not sure what the DMG says on the issue. I tend to make the monster attacks/actions first, unless the monsters are running due to lost morale. But if any PC dies, gets paralyzed, or whatever, they still get their actions in before that happens.

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    3. That has a nice flavor. Players are much more incited not to forget they've got an action coming, too.

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  6. I used to run group initiative with a handful of modifiers for key actions (like making a missile attack), but I found that it was still cumbersome. Eventually I realized that my modifiers were only trying to structure the round in a certain order (e.g. missile weapons go first, so you can't run up to a guy with a drawn bow and stab him in the face while he stands there thinking of his potato farm or whatever), and just said screw it and switched to phases, so as to always get what I was clumsily trying to encourage in the first place. Despite the appearance of being more cumbersome ("the turn now has all these subphases?"), it's been far smoother in practice.

    As for declarations, I only mandate it for spellcasting. People have to declare that they're going to cast a specific spell ahead of time, but not the target, and no one knows what anyone else is casting--only that they are; spells aren't actually complete until the very end of the round. It's proven a lot of fun for shaping the battlefield, in that anything intelligent really goes all out to get the casters before it's too late, and each side works to protect their own.

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    1. Well that sounds really neat. How do you manage it it so that people don't know what's being cast? Just handwave that in the metagame?

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    2. In terms of amongst the party, I just assume that part of being a party is giving simple signs, code words or whatever that enable a team to understand what the other is casting: the rule is primarily there to make opposing sides operate in the dark, rather than to confuse friends. In that I don't see it as much different than most DMs allowing parties to be able to take up mutually-supporting positions, decide who to attack, or enact other battle tactics despite not having the chance to talk it over in the middle of combat.

      The players have no idea what the monsters are doing because only I know that, and I simply run the monsters on their own plans, regardless of what I know the party is doing, unless there's been some contact between the sides in the past of course.

      It's been working well for us so far: I really enjoy the element of mystery, and the anxiety as we see if someone interrupts the other when it comes time for the spells to go off.

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    3. That all makes sense. But you as DM know what the players are casting as you run the monsters, of course? Guess that's a minor issue. I think there was about a year or two I used advance-declarations for spells, the ran into a really big table (14 players) and at that point it got confusing.

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    4. Yeah, I know, but I just refuse to take advantage of it unless I think it makes sense that the monsters would know as well.

      Have you done a write-up on your specific experiences and lessons in running 14-person tables? I think that would be fascinating to read, as it's quite the outlier nowadays, as I'm sure you know.

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    5. Geez, what a great question. I don't think I have here on the blog, and I should... added that to the blog idea roster. Thanks for that suggestion!

      I did answer a question on Stack Exchange RPGs a few years ago that touches on those issues.

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  7. Sorry I missed the poll, but I thought I'd chime in: I do use phased combat, firstly because it feels nicely "gamey", and second because at the time I was discovering the OSR/retroclone "scene", it's what was modeled on the Swords of Jordoba actual plays, and I liked what I saw. This preference wasn't formed in a vacuum, btw; most of my play history is in 2e, where we played by-the-book.

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    1. Interesting, thanks for sharing that experience!

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