Combat as a skill challenge

D&D 5th edition says it has three pillars: social interaction, exploration, and combat.  Combat is last in the list, but most of the rules deal with combat, not the other two pillars.  Indeed, most d20 games (previous editions of D&D, Pathfinder, etc) share this focus on combat. Yet when I hear people talk about their role-playing experiences and the characters they play, personality and story are more important.  Sure, we talk about the time the Fighter dove into a pack of Ghouls and got paralyzed, but the point of that story is the fighter’s hubris, thinking she was untouchable, not the +2 bonus from flanking or the DC of the paralysis attack.

In this post, I suggest a hack that makes combat work like the other two pillars, thereby excising most of the game.  This makes the “three pillars” equal in complexity, and is also pretty boring.  This is how two of the three pillars of the game have been treated for decades.  The rules for social interactions are so simple that most parties have a guy who does all of it, in addition to his combat duties.  One of the pillars of the game, the part that most people remember when they talk about their games, is a part-time job for one out of four or six people.  Fortunately, humans are good at telling stories, and GMs have been picking up the slack, and games are full of great social interactions completely unsupported by the rules.

In summary, since people care most about their characters and stories, shouldn’t the game focus on those elements first?

Combat as a skill challenge

Add three new skills:

  • Combat (melee) (Str)
  • Combat (ranged) (Dex)
  • Combat (magic) (Int)

Each class gains one or more of these skills as class skills, and gets 1 or 2 more skill ranks per level.  All Combat skills may be used untrained.

Some classes get class features to change the ability score associated with the skill.  For example, Rogues use Dex for melee combat, and Clerics use Wis for spell combat.

Combat is a series of opposed skill checks.

Check: You can change the battle state of nonplayer characters with an opposed check.  The opponent receives a bonus on the check based on its current battle state.   If you succeed, the character’s battle state is decreased by one step. For every 5 by which your check result exceeds the DC, the character’s battle state  decreases by one additional step. A creature’s battle state cannot be shifted more than two steps up in this way, although the GM can override this rule in some situations. If you fail the check by 4 or less, the character’s battle state is unchanged. If you fail by 5 or more, the character’s battle state increases by one step.  If the enemy’s battle state reaches “Defeated”, it can no longer participate in the battle.  It is slain or captured, your choice.  If the enemy’s battle state reaches “Victorious”, you are incapacitated and can no longer participate in the battle.

Most enemy creatures start with a battle state of “even”, although circumstances like favorable terrain or surprise may change this initial state to “winning” or “losing” at the GM’s discretion.  A difference in power between you and your opponent also affects the opponent’s initial battle state.  Subtract your character level from the opponent’s CR and divide by three.  Increase the opponent’s initial battle state by that many steps.  (This will decrease the opponent’s battle state if you are more powerful.)  This may change the opponent’s battle state to “Defeated” or “Victorious”, which means the battle is over immediately.

Defeated              --
Routed                -10
Losing                -5
Even                  0
Winning               +5
Dominating            +10
Victorious            --

Action: a combat check represents one minute of combat.

Try again: You may try again until the opponent’s battle state is “Victorious” or “Defeated”, at which point the battle is over.

Special: allies may use the “Aid Another” action with any Combat skill.  For example, a Fighter making a Combat (melee) skill check may be aided by a Bard making a Combat (magic) check and a Ranger making a Combat (ranged) check.

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