Doing combat wrong when it was right there in the book

Combat wrong

How is it that I’ve been doing combat wrong for 15 years on both sides of the table?  A lot of you guys out there are probably doing it wrong too, because I did it wrong as a player years before I did it wrong as a DM!

A lot of this is right there in the book, too.  ALL OF IT, ACTUALLY!

Spell interruption

Magic users declare spells at the top of the round BEFORE initiative; if they are struck, they lose the spell.

“The caster can do nothing else in the round a spell is cast. The caster must inform the DM that a spell is being cast and which spell will be cast before the initiative dice are rolled. If the caster loses the initiative and takes damage or fails a saving throw, the spell is interrupted and lost.”

Magic users can’t even MOVE and cast, only cast.

I’ve played in one game once that spells didn’t go off on a magic user’s init.

Combat Phases

I tried to wrap my head around the idea of separate phases for missile, magic and melee. It’s less of an issue than I imagined, since individual initiative IS allowed and means that each character runs through the actions of the combat sequence.

But, if you’re doing simultaneous combat, you can have a character move and get attacked and shot at BEFORE he is able to make his attack.

In simultaneous combat, the mages start casting, the archers ready their bows, the melee fighters move in, the archers shoot, if the caster isn’t shot, his spell goes off, then the melee fighters attack.

If you apply initiative to simultaneous combat, I’d imagine that magic users who are casting simply begin casting at the top of the round, archers ready their bows, melee fighters move, archers fire in order of their initiative, magic users who aren’t arrowed cast in order of their initiative (and may be interrupted by a magic user with a higher initiative, then melee fighters attack in order of their initiative.

Individual initiative may be the easiest way to go, which is why every game I’ve played or run has been a mild corruption of this method. Everyone rolls initiative, moves, then shoots/casts/attacks in order of descending initiative, and the monsters all go off at the same time. But based on the options the combat rules give us, I think that while rolling a single initiative for monsters is easier to keep track of, it’s a mistake that goes against the spirit of the combat rules, which imply that they’d really like to see the chaos of simultaneous combat in which actions are interrupted by the actions of faster combatants.

So, I think I’m going to see what madness I’ll introduce by rolling individual initiative for monsters and forcing magic users to declare their spells at the top of the round. Y’know, following the rules. Because of how melee works in Basic, a monster getting in a character’s face locks him down; it potentially steals his turn, because a character “engaged in melee” can only fight or slowly withdraw (and only if there’s room).


Players aren’t supposed to roll their own damage! That blows my mind! They aren’t even supposed to know how much cumulative damage they’ve put on a monster! ::head explodes::  But there it is, page 24 column 2 of Moldvay, right there in Combat Sequence. “DM rolls damage.”  Page 25, column 2: “If an attack hits, the DM must determine how much damage the attack has done.”  That is the FIRST sentence of the subsection on Damage.  In the Example of Combat when Morgan Ironwolf and Fredrik the Dwarf attack the hobgoblins, the DM rolls for both of their damage!


7 responses to “Doing combat wrong when it was right there in the book

  1. “The DM rolls the damage.”

    Augh! So much bookkeeping! I guess if PCs and monsters tend to go down with one or two hits this isn’t such a big deal, but I invariably delegate the tracking of damage and hit points to one of my players.


    • Well, generally, monster HP is supposed to be seeeekrit, and the DM just writes down how much damage everyone has been doing. But apparently it’s supposed to be so secret that the players only know that they hit the monster and are given a sense of how hurt the monster is by descriptions like “It seems to be injured pretty badly.”

      At this point, though, trying to convince everyone that they’re not supposed to be rolling their own damage would be like trying to convince medieval peasants of heliocentrism; it won’t matter if you’re right, everyone is going to be mad at you.

  2. Pingback: Best Long Form Dramatic Performance: Some (almost) Final Thoughts on the Hugos | Cirsova

    • I’ll take a look. It certainly made things more interesting. It felt more like controlling “squads” of monsters to react to different hero moves in different ways at different times rather than a single wave. I’ve not yet tried true simultaneous combat because I feel like it would take some retraining of my players and I’m not DMing currently to try it out.

  3. DM rolls damage is the best, fairest thing ever. Players still track their own HPs though. Speeds up the game.

    Individual initiative is a hateful option. I kick it to the curb along with the variable weapon damage. Gross.
    ; )

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