BD&D Missile / Magic / Melee Phases clarification?
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  1. #1
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    BD&D Missile / Magic / Melee Phases clarification?

    I have a question for players of Basic D&D. I was just re-reading the combat rules in the Rules Cyclopedia and found a curious bit that prompted this question: Why does Magic get resolved before Melee Combat? Why does casting a fireball happen before swinging a sword? What is the narrative justification? Or is it just a rules necessity/construct and why?

    A quick refresher about BD&D...

    After group initiative is determined (individual initiative is optional in Basic), in which one side went first or there was simultaneous action in the case of a tie, there were phases in the combat sequence that went in this order:

    Movement
    Missile Combat
    Magic
    Hand-to-Hand Combat

    What is curious is that in each phase, you'd resolve the outcome and damage before moving to the next phase. It does make sense for missile weapons vs. melee weapons, but why does magic damage (assuming tied initiative) happen before melee damage? Why does a call lightning happen before an axe swing? I have always been used to thinking of magic being "more involved" than a melee attack, but maybe I just haven't been exposed to some underpinning literary inspiration for BD&D? I'm really curious why BD&D handles the missile / magic / melee phases the way it does.

  2. #2
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    I'm guessing it's largely due to action times and how melee attacking works. Lengths of actions is part of the reason why missile attackers can possibly attack twice in a combat round.

    Melee actions are considered occurring for the whole length of time two opponents are within melee weapon reach of each other. I mean, if standard defenses aren't dropped for whatever the reason.

    This goes even for spellcasters and missile attackers. If closed to melee range, their standard ACs are dependent upon them actively defending. That means dodge, parry, feint, and so on with whatever means they have available to them. If they are in melee and cast a spell or fire a missile, then they drop their melee defenses and the attacker gets to roll To Hit immediately. This isn't a d20 AoO, but the action their opponent's been doing all along. IOW the opponent's melee action is resolved immediately against a lower AC.

    The trick with initiative is, you can delay until your opponent goes or the round is over. If the melee combatant in the example above had already made his To Hit roll for the round, against anyone, any opponent in melee with him could drop their defenses for the rest of the round without worry.

    AoO's don't allow multiple attacks. They are possibilities, openings if you will, to land a blow early in the round.

    Anyways, all this matters if you're a spell caster or missile attacker and get into melee. Melees are resolved last in the combat round so the other two don't get "free" attacks in melees. They must face AoOs which could cause them to misfire or miscast unless they delay. If they fire or cast earlier in the round, in the sequence you stated for when those actions are supposed to be resolved, and they are also in a melee, then they risk disruption and a nasty hit while at a lower AC.

    That actually ended up sounding more complicated than I wanted it too. Does it make sense on your end?
    Last edited by howandwhy99; Sunday, 9th March, 2014 at 01:14 AM.

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    I should point out group initiatives allow players to sequence themselves so they act in the order they want to. That doesn't mean the PCs whats and whens the Caller declares for the round resolve themselves as declared. But that's part of the game. Players sharing initiative can have several of each PC's actions interspersed between other shared initiative actors. That's the benefit of going together. But if everyone is waiting on Grudo to shoot that second arrow, then the whole team is going to resolve the rest of their actions pretty late in the round. Sequencing still matters.

    Also, I do believe that some actions like specifically melee do not need to be resolved later in the combat round. A melee combatant could roll To Hit early. As their actions occur as soon as melee is reached, at the start of a round possibly. By going at the end they are delaying for the best possible attack. IOW a delayed initiative. Of course if they go early, then they stop threatening opponents for the rest of the round too, so... It's understood going last is the best option and so default.

    EDIT: That last wouldn't occur when squared off with other melee combatants, so... Yeah, I'm gonna say that's wrong.

    Or at least when two melee opponents face off and the loser of the initiative tries to go early in the sequence the other would have option to go before them. Something like that.
    Last edited by howandwhy99; Sunday, 9th March, 2014 at 01:19 AM.

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    Shorter version: Because D&D.

    Magic first preserves the power of magic. If it were magic later, the magic-user would likely never get a spell off, since they're so squishy and the obvious first target. With magic first, the magic-user can get at least one spell off to whittle down the opposition a bit before the weapons combat happens.

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    Because I seem to have the time tonight...

    Most spells aren't combat spells in D&D (not that wizard players don't try to make them all so), but the ones that are are show stoppers. They can flat out end the encounter. A well placed fireball, acid cloud, iron wall, sleep, hypnosis, it all changes the game massively. But to keep those spells balanced and yet that deadly and powerful they cannot be sure things. Instead, getting them cast is worked on by the whole group.

    In the 3e campaign I've been running a quick barbarian could move and tumble to the back of an enemy's line and smack a wizard damn well. But on the wizard's turn he's just going to take a 5' step backwards and firebomb his sorry backside.

    In BD&D a wizard in melee is in a sorry state in deed. The barbarian now runs up and the wizard now goes first incurring a potential spell disruption, lower AC to be hit, and damage. There is no 5' step or move and attack when leaving a melee. The wizard should really make a hasty retreat. The rest of the party works on how to defend him by creating a melee line of defense. Crossing that matters, but crossing it en masse might allow some folks to slip through without being hit and halted.

    The rules may look more complicated and unnecessarily fiddly, but it's a nuanced system.

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    @howandwhy99

    It's been a while since I've played, and I am re-reading the Rules Cyclopedia, but I don't recall the rule you're referring to that sounds a lot like an opportunity attack. Could you clarify that?

    What I do recall is that spellcasting is ruined if the caster is hit in combat. So maybe the missile/magic/melee phases are to allow spellcasters to get off their spells in the event of an initiative tie?

    @Olgar Shiverstone

    Well, the way BD&D works is that if one side wins initiative (a straight opposed d6 roll), then that side takes all of their phases at the same time. Side #1 gets their missile, magic, and melee phase BEFORE side #2. So your theory about it being to let mages get off their spells is, at least from what I'm reading on Rules Cyclopedia page 102, appears to be mostly incorrect.

    The *only* time that it seems that mages are favored this way (spells first) is when initiative is tied and both sides go simultaneously. My understanding, in that case, is side #1 and side #2's archers go first, then both sides casters go, and lastly both sides melee combatants go. Do I have that wrong?

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    The distinction is basically ranged versus hand-to-hand. Missile fire and magic are ranged, so they go before melee. Magic requires standing still and spellcasting, while missile fire can be done even after moving, so missile fire goes first.

    Another thing to consider is that B/X combat is intended to be extremely abstract, viewed from above rather than in the thick of things. The game is designed to give you movement at range, but lock things down in melee. So a typical combat would see combatants attempting to close distance, missile attacks from afar, magical attacks from afar, and then getting bogged down in melee as the combatants clash.

    But above all, it's not designed to realistically simulate combat, but rather to quickly and easily resolve combat.

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    Well, the way you guys are talking about it makes sense:

    Side #1 Move
    Side #2 Move
    Side #1 Missile
    Side #2 Missile
    Side #1 Magic
    Side #2 Magic
    Side #1 Melee
    Side #2 Melee

    Except the version of the rules I'm looking at - the 1991 D&D Rules Cyclopedia (with the knight on a horse outrunning a black dragon thru water) - explicitly says it doesn't work this way.

    Instead, on page 102 it says:

    Combat Sequence Checklist
    A. Initiative
    B. First Side Goes (morale, move, missile, magic, hand-to-hand combat)
    C. Second Side Goes (morale, move, missile, magic, hand-to-hand combat)
    D. Special Results
    So it's...
    Side #1 Move, Missile, Magic, Melee
    Side #2 Move, Missile, Magic, Melee

    This is not my interpretation, this is BD&D RAW, as borne out by this passage:

    Initiative and Multiple Attacks
    If a monster that wins initiative has more than one attack, it will get all of its attacks before the player characters can act. If a high level character with multiple attacks wins the initiative, he gets to make all his attacks before the other side gets to move.
    What I *think* this means is that the rules are intended to be used in combination with Encounter Distance being a defined element of play. So when an encounter begins, those who intend to fight in melee run 120' (using dungeon movement as an example) to close the gap. In a dungeon with dim light starting encounter distance is 2d6 x 10' and with bright light it is 4d6 x 10', so most of the time the starting encounter distance will be greater than character's movement of 40' per round. So running.

    Now, given that this will be the case most of the time...of course missile and magic attacks happen first. The melee guys haven't closed the gap yet.

    So my questions is: why the Phases in the order they're in? (I mean besides for organizing things at the table) The assumption is that swinging a sword is slower than loading & shooting a bow or casting a spell. It seems like a double penalty for melee guys who already had to endure a bunch of missile/spell fire for closing the gap which the system assumes is there.

    Keep in mind that, as far as I can tell, BD&D (as presented in Rules Cyclopedia) has no attacks of opportunity. So even if the fighter manages to run right up next to a spellcaster or archer, when the enemy's side comes up, that spellcaster or archer can perofrm a Fighting Withdrawal or just shoot the fighter in the face.

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    I'm well aware of how combat is sequenced in B/X, BECMI, and RC. I stand by my post, particularly the last line.

    Quote Originally Posted by Quickleaf View Post
    Keep in mind that, as far as I can tell, BD&D (as presented in Rules Cyclopedia) has no attacks of opportunity. So even if the fighter manages to run right up next to a spellcaster or archer, when the enemy's side comes up, that spellcaster or archer can perofrm a Fighting Withdrawal or just shoot the fighter in the face.
    Certainly, being shot in the face is always a danger when you decide to melee an archer or magic-user, but the archer or magic-user doing a Fighting Withdrawal is impossible. It has to be declared before initiative. Not to mention that if the fighter runs right up to the spellcaster and hits him, the spellcaster is not going to be able to shoot the fighter in the face on his turn, because he'll lose his spell.
    Last edited by Iosue; Monday, 10th March, 2014 at 02:17 AM.

  10. #10
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    @Iosue I'm asking because it has been a looooong time since I last played Basic, and because I'm trying to get a better feel for WHY it was designed as it was. Just getting clarification for myself, no implications about your level of awareness

    I'm also trying to ascertain the advantages & drawbacks of a phased combat round....and the way BD&D does it specifically. That they are not readily apparent to me is only a reflection of me not having played Basic since I was a kid! Cut me some slack?

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