Review of Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) by Christopher F. Ash

The author's blatant rip-off of WotC's 4E trade dress turns me off right there. I know you "shouldn't judge a book by it's cover", but it's a sign of lazy production, lack of creativity, and lack of understanding of what's okay and not okay when using other's work.
 

Neuroglyph

First Post
From the earliest days of Gygax and Arneson, there has been a long-standing and almost sacred tradition regarding the rules of every edition of Dungeons & Dragons: house rules trump book rules every time!



And certainly D&D 4E has been no exception to this tradition.


From its very release, the current version of Dungeons & Dragons has been scrutinized by critics and fans alike, with its rules and concepts debated on numerous forums and by a myriad of bloggers. And from this quite spirited discussion and debate, fans of 4E have come up with a wide range of house rules to streamline combat, create more interesting encounters, design better monsters, and add more fun to their favorite role playing game.


Recently, author Christopher F. Ash released a variant rules supplement for use with D&D 4E for the purpose of creating more realism in combat. This supplement, called Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) offers a set of additional rules which the author claims “adds new depth and dynamism to battles and a truly cinematic feel to every combat encounter”.


Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E)

  • Design: Christopher F. Ash
  • Editing: Stephen Carr
  • Illustrators: Christopher F. Ash; sketches courtesy of Peter Seckler (Fearless DM); CGI images and
  • cover art under license from depositphotos
  • Publisher: Christopher F. Ash
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (82 pages)
  • Retail Price: $9.95 available from Enhanced4E.com)

Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) is a role-playing game rules module authored by Christopher F. Ash for use with D&D 4E. This rules module contains a collection of supplemental variant rules for use with D&D 4E combat, and can be used all or in part to modify game play. The variant rules contain 10 new combat actions, four new terrain effects, two different types of movement, and a new state of motion which alter the way in which standard D&D 4E combat takes place.

Production Quality


The production quality of Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) is generally good, with a nicely structured layout and logical presentation of the rule variations. The writing is fairly solid overall, but there is a tendency towards run-on sentences, in some sections, which makes grasping the concepts of new rules a bit troublesome. However, the author’s use of sidebar rules sections with bullet points - quite like Wizards of the Coast uses in their own rule books – aids understanding of the new combat conventions.

For easy reference, the authors supplied the PDF with both a table of contents and handy bookmarks. Using these, it’s fairly simple to navigate through the document to find a particular rule as needed.

The author’s use of grid diagrams and images of dioramas with miniatures provides ample illustrations to make some of the more complex rule concepts easier to visualize. There are also some pencil sketches and other illustrations in the supplement which are pretty decent, and generally enhance the overall aesthetic of the product.

More rules - more realism - more complexity

Generally speaking, when you try to add more realism/simulation to a combat system in a role-playing game, there’s a tendency to also add additional levels of complexity. Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) tends to fall into this generalization from start to finish. While the author speaks of these rules as being modular and usable piecemeal in a 4E game, the reality is that many of the rules variants build upon each other, making them generally inseparable, which further increases the complexity of use.

Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) is divided into seven chapters, with each chapter covering a specific category of the variant rules. As previously mentioned, rule concepts are explained, and illustrated using grid map diagrams, as well as color-blocked sidebars with bullet points.

The first chapter details the New Battle Grid, and introduces the concept of “paces” to more accurately measure movement. The concept is introduced in order to resolve the “problem” of diagonals on a square grid, which allow characters and monsters to move farther than they would if they moved in straight lines. Under this new variant rule, a character which would normally move six and instead move 12 paces, with each second move on a diagonal costing an additional pace. And the author does not stop there, but increases the complexity of the new rule by making auras and area effects subject to paces, which greatly lessens and distorts the areas covered by attacks. Of course, an easier way to handle this concept would be simply to count diagonal movement as one and a half squares as was done previous editions, like D&D 3.5, or to simply adopt the use of a hex grid rather than a square grid.

Chapter Two discusses the concept of Motion States, introducing of the idea that a character or monster can be “motionless” as the current start-stop moved in a system of 4E utilizes, or “in motion” from one round to the next. Being “in motion” subjects the character or monster to both bonuses and penalties to hit and to be hit with depending upon the “facing” and where the attacks are coming from. Of course, “facing” is a concept which is deemed unimportant by standard 4E rules, but is now a major issue for players and DMs to have to consider in order to use these rules. Motion states are a rules convention which is required to be used for pretty much every subsequent rule found in this supplement. Personally, it seems to this reviewer that this new rule simply adds additional complexity to the combat, which is then further complicated by the addition of even more complex rules.

The third chapter introduces rules for Off-Turn Actions, which borrow standard and move actions from subsequent terms to be used as an immediate interrupts and reactions. This concept is further expanded in Chapter Five: Active Defenses and Counter-offenses which add nearly a dozen “everyman” combat maneuvers which any player can take on anyone else’s turn. As has been discussed on many message boards and in numerous 4E fan blogs, immediate interrupts and immediate reactions are one of the major culprits in standard D&D 4E game play which slow the pace of combat considerably. While the author offers some interesting ideas here, they are based upon a premise which exponentially increases the number of immediate interrupt and immediate reactions which can occur during game play, and will clearly lengthen combats to an extreme degree.

In Chapter Four, the author discusses Special In-motion Movement, and offers a variety of new rules to handle both flying and vehicular movement, as well as a new speedy movement type called Sprint. The new rules for flying and vehicular movement to bring into play details such as turn radius, ascension and decent, and the effect that movement and motion can have on accuracy, the daily for passengers in a vehicle. And the new movement type, Sprint, is a more enhanced version of the Run movement, but using the new rules covering motionless and in-motion states. The ideas here in Chapter Four are interesting, but he can increase complexity for standard D&D 4E combat, and are almost guaranteed to make combats take longer than they would under normal circumstances.

The sixth chapter in Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) discusses new rules for Terrain Dimensions, specifically the advantages and disadvantages to having higher ground, lower ground, and a concept which the author calls support. Heading higher ground or lower ground grants bonuses and penalties to attacks, with creatures having higher ground gaining advantage over creatures on lower ground. This concept was originally discussed in the Dungeon Masters Guide as one of those “+2” bonuses which can be applied by the DM at any time, but the author has given the rules greater detail. Support is a very interesting new concept, offering increased fortitude and will defenses if the target has solid blocking terrain in one or more adjacent squares. Presumably, the idea is that will and fortitude attacks can be more easily weathered if the target has something to lean against. Of all the chapters, Chapter Six offers some of the only rules which I might consider using in my own D&D 4E game, although I personally find the idea of the support feature to be a little wonky in its logic.

The final chapter of Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) details new variant rules for handling the free flow combat that using the previous rules will create. With so many standard and move actions being borrowed from future rounds, the integrity of the classic D&D 4E combat round is under great strain. So the author has created rules to handle changing initiative order in combats, and even for ordering actions during the round. Under these guidelines, quicker and faster actions will occur at the beginning of a combat round, while slower actions will take place later in the round. It’s an interesting throwback to early edition D&D game play, but like most of the other roles in this supplement is almost certainly guaranteed to extend the length of time it takes to complete a combat by adding increased complexity.

Overall Score: 2.75 out of 5.0


Conclusions

Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) sets up some very lofty goals to enhance D&D 4E combat, but is essentially a non-starter. For most gamers, house rules are used to correct an odd official rule so it makes sense for their style of play, to minorly tweak a rule to make it more logical, or to add a couple of minor conventions to combat to make it more fun or exciting – like the open-ended multiple critical git rule that always seems to crop up in D&D play edition after edition. But the author of Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) has created a massive and drastic set of rule changes which completely alter many facets of D&D 4E combat. Instead of a collection of tweaks or nifty little ideas to make the game more fun, this rules module reshapes 4E combat and “fixes” problems that most 4E gamers clearly don’t perceive AS problems. I’m sure that there are some D&D 4E fans that might like to try a set of rules which add greater complexity to their game, but I think that few of them are willing to sacrifice their precious game time by running super long combats filled with interrupts and reactions just for the sake of the author’s vision of “realism”. My final analysis after reading Combat in Motion (Enhanced 4E) can be summed up by the old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.25
  • - Design: 3.0 (Fair writing with a tendency to run-on; good layout; logical presentation)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Good illustrations; grid diagrams are helpful to understand concepts)
  • Content: 2.0
  • - Crunch: 2.0 (Overly complex rules do little to enhance the 4E experience)
  • - Fluff: NA (It’s rules – too little fluff to rate)
  • Value: 3.0 (If you’re into complexity, it’s a lot of rules variants for the price)

Author’s Note: This author received a complimentary copy of this product for use in writing this review.
 

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Grimmjow

First Post
The author's blatant rip-off of WotC's 4E trade dress turns me off right there. I know you "shouldn't judge a book by it's cover", but it's a sign of lazy production, lack of creativity, and lack of understanding of what's okay and not okay when using other's work.

but the book is about 4e? right? so shouldn't it look like that you you see it on the book shelf?
 

Pour

First Post
but the book is about 4e? right? so shouldn't it look like that you you see it on the book shelf?

Yeah this doesn't bother me in the least. Not sure I want to add complexity to 4e, though. Then again it's still worth a look. 4e 3rd party is worth supporting.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
The author's blatant rip-off of WotC's 4E trade dress turns me off right there. I know you "shouldn't judge a book by it's cover", but it's a sign of lazy production, lack of creativity, and lack of understanding of what's okay and not okay when using other's work.

Trade dress is covered under s9.1 of the GSL.
 



Gsl

Yes. And it also means that the author of the above product (me) may have misunderstood his obligations under the terms of the GSL (an error with respect to "trade dress" absolutely does not imply any lack of creativity on my part -- just naivete).

I have made every effort to conform to the agreement and will continue to do so. This is my first foray into publishing of any kind. I am reexamining thr GSL and will make changes to the cover where required.

Oh yes. Though I thank ENWorld for indulging this first-time author with this review, I do disagree with their assesment. :)
 



Marius Delphus

Adventurer
Specifically, the following portion:
GSL said:
Licensee understands and agrees that it is not authorized to, and will not utilize, any Wizards Intellectual Property (other than Licensed Materials).... “Wizards Intellectual Property” means any patent, copyright, trademark, trade dress, trade name or trade secret right and any other intellectual property or proprietary right owned by Wizards....
(emphasis added) means, basically, that you are not permitted to make any Licensed Product that looks like a WOTC publication. (There's more to the section, but that's what the inclusion of "trade dress" in this section means.)

A quick change of cover design should do the trick. IMO.
 

alien270

First Post

I have also reviewed this product (if anyone's interested, check it out), and IMO the generalization that it's simply more complexity is a little unfair.

I can't disagree too much with your assessment of the first chapter; I personally don't have a problem with 4E's gamist grid and think of it in the same way that I think of distortion from map projections. I do see the value in providing an alternative for those groups who favor simulationism more. I don't see paces as being any more confusing that the 3.x method; some may prefer using an in-world concept as a reference point, and I think that's the biggest value of paces.

Motion States are a baseline for a lot of the material, yes, but plenty of the more interesting options don't require them, and even those that do can still be useable without them with some tweaking. Really it's just the special in-motion movements (sprint, soar, and cruise) and two of the off-turn actions (outpace and interdict) that require using the in-motion rules, and the more important of those (outpace and interdict) can be ruled to simply trigger when it makes narrative sense. For example, and alternative wording that makes these actions useable without motion states could be "Trigger: another creature that you can see moves twice on its turn (for example, by making a double move, for moving and then charging, or for using a standard action power that grants movement)." I personally think it's worth incorporating these rules even without using motion states to solve the problem of creatures moving great distances without affording their opponents an opportunity to respond.

This "problem" may not be evident to gamers used to turn-based systems, but after reading Dungeon World I've been thinking a lot about how to use game mechanics that work with the fiction in ways that make sense, as opposed to simply ruling that things work "just because those are the rules."

Regarding off-turn actions in general, yeah immediate actions are a problem but they mostly slow things down by giving players a greater number of actions. The new actions presented in Combat In Motion "borrow" actions from future turns, which will make those future turns go faster. Indeed, reducing reliance on the powers system seems like something that would speed play up since players would be flipping through their cards less (that's the big time-suck at my table). Ultimately I haven't playtested any of this so I feel I'm not qualified to judge whether or not the new rules slow down or speed up play (or leave play time unchanged). I imagine that it would depend on whether or not every single new rule is used, as well as how much experience players have with the rules. Yeah, it'll slow things down as everyone is learning them but a lot of this stuff seems like it could be mastered pretty quickly. The advantage to having a universal set of options is that players will eventually learn them well enough to have them memorized (unlike the staggering number of unique powers, many of which get trained out through play).

Finally, I'd like to comment on Chapter 7 because I really don't think that you gave it a fair shake. I'll first note that while the "Keep Rolling" Dramatic Direction relies on motion states, the other two do not. In fact, Dramatic Directions are so universally applicable that I'm strongly considering using them in pretty much every initiative-based game that I run. My fondness for this mechanic is again partially influenced by my recent reading of Dungeon World. Combat will always flow in a way that makes narrative sense because there are no turns. While that loose a structure isn't possible with many games (4E unequivocally being one of them!) it's still worthwhile to try to incorporate elements of narrative-driven structure into the initiative order. IMO it makes more logical sense than simply using randomly rolled numbers to determine who goes when.

In fact, as a GM I'd say it many cases it's outright preferable! Who wants to sit there and watch the GM roll 6 attacks in a row for the group of goblins? Are the players at the edge of their seat when this is going on? Not at my table. Doesn't it make more sense to allow them to act when they're attacked, preserving the cause and effect relationship and forming a cohesive "scene?"

Regarding the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, that might be one way of looking at it. But if you don't try alternatives how would you know whether the way you're already doing it is the best? The way I see it, my favorite new rules from Combat In Motion allow games to be run with more emphasis on dramatically appropriate actions and descriptions. Personally I'm on the fence about using Motion States because they are a bit "crunchy" and until I playtest it I'm not sure if the additional "crunch" is worth their benefit. The answer to that will definitely depend on the group, though. I know I won't be using Chapter 1 because the existing grid simplification simply isn't an issue for my group. Everything else, though, I'm excited to incorporate into the game. I think it'll add depth (from both a mechanical and story-telling perspective), and especially if motion states get nixed I see the additional complexity as minimal (once everyone becomes familiar with the new actions; there's a learning curve with any new rule(s), though).
 


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