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Telegraphing Attacks

Xeviat

Explorer
Hi everyone.

I've been working on a lot of homebrew things lately, looking at balance and trying to bring in some 3E and 4E concepts to round things out, add options, and address perceived imbalances. While I've been working on those, I've been toying with more complex ideas that I don't think would really work in 5E D&D, but I'd like to discuss a little anyway.

The idea I'd like to go over here grew out of me thinking about the Controller Role in 4E, but it quickly melded with some thoughts I had on making more compelling set piece/boss encounters.

How do you think telegraphed attacks would work out? Spells that don't fire off until the start of your next turn (meaning they could be disrupted). Big wind up attacks like an ogre bringing a tree trunk high up, a spellcaster chanting a spell, or a dragon inhaling. Characters and enemies would have the opportunity to try to disrupt the oncoming action, or more pragmatically to defend against the action. You could get out of the area of the oncoming attack, take cover, or go all out on offense to try to prevent the attack.

If done well, I think it could lead to making combat more dynamic. What do you think?
 

Teulisch

Villager
some systems already do this- the slowest initiative declares their action first, and the fastest last. then actions try to resolve. I dont think it would work very well for D&D however, as a slow fighter would see his declared target run away too often, and make things less heroic. it would also either screw the slowest initiative over for the combat, or need an initiative roll every round.

in the DMG, there is a speed mechanic in place for actions changing initiative. look at the dmg, pages 270 and 271. light or finess is faster, higher level spells are slower. creature size means the small heroes are faster, and larger creatures are slower.
 

Satyrn

Villager
It's an excellent idea.

You can also have spells that activate immediately (so they can't be disrupted) but they don't have any negative effects until a round or two pass. Like, a spell called Satyrn's Gathering Storm could immediately fill a 20 foot radius with a roiling wind and light fog that has no effect at first. Then 2 rounds later, BOOM! Thunder and lightning kills everyone stupid enough to stay in the area.

Or something a little less fatal, like 12d6 damage.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
"If done well, I think it could lead to making combat more dynamic. What do you think?"

Well, as dynamic is in the eye of the beholder, my bet is you are right for some and not for others. Usually changes just swap the old "here is how to..." with a new one.

This is the kind of thing practically impossible to add after-markrt and have work. Systems need to be built around and balanced around the basic nature of play. So many things are scaled based on "what they do" that making a fundamental change to the mechanics changes a lot.

So, if a lot of the vote design had been built around slow vs quick options - with a lot more detailed sequencing of sctions - this would be part of that and do fine.

But, a lot of things go into overdrive if you just add this.

Premise - the slow choices thst hit next turn and allow interruption on other folk's turns have to be better than similar quick options thst happens now. Otherwise, the slow options wont be used.

Given that premise, the adding in a variety of slow options adds value to all the "deny response" and "interrupt" options.

Hold Person or Hypnotic Pattern now begs for slow attacks. So foes grapple. Meanwhile, sight blockers like wall if fog or silent image get big, as does sanctuary.

Almost certainly instead of a variety of options you wind up with "get the combos in" as a primary goal, leading to less variety, not more.
 

DEFCON 1

Hero
I suspect before you telegraph the attacks, you'll need to telegraph the idea that these attacks can be interruptable in the first place. Otherwise, if they see an ogre wind up a tree-trunk to swing it but not actually follow through in the same round, they'll probably just assume it's an "every other round" attack and just make two rounds of attacks themselves in the meantime... not that they can actually use their actions to disrupt the swing or dodge out of the way.

Heck, even if they do know they can interrupt or dodge telepgraphed attacks... they'll still probably just use their actions to attack twice. Because two offensive maneuvers are usually more effective in the long run than one offensive and one defensive one.
 

Satyrn

Villager
. . . if they see an ogre wind up a tree-trunk to swing it but not actually follow through in the same round, they'll probably just assume it's an "every other round" attack . . .
Oh, that reminds me of the other suggestion I had, @Xeviat. In this case, you could have "winding up a tree-trunk to swing" be a bonus action that the ogre takes at the end of his turn. This would let the act of take a normal weaker attack on round 1 and begin his wind up.

On round 2, he can compete his devastation blow . . . or if his wind up is interrupted, make a normal weaker attack. Then, either way, he can begin another wind up attack.

In this way, the ogre could still get to attack every round - but do a lot more damage of he's ignored. Getting the balance right between the heavy hit and the weak one would give the players an interesting choice whether they want to risk the heavy hit, or take the time to interrupt him.

Edit: I should add, I think interrupting the wind up would have to be pretty near automatically successful to get the players to bother. As DEFCON said, offensive actions are far more tempting for players than defensive ones. If the defense isn't real likely to work, I don't tend to bother with them.
 
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Krachek

Explorer
If I consider the standard player behavior, telegraphed attack will be interrupted most of the time.
To compensate this you will need to give those attacks devastating effect, that players will complaint about.
maybe a not so good idea.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
.. / - .... .. -. -.- / .. - / .-- --- ..- .-.. -.. / .-- --- .-. -.- / ..-. .. -. .
 

Xeviat

Explorer
The idea isn't to make something every other round, though that could be part of such a system with more work. The idea is that certain attacks won't go off until the start of the creature's next turn, but they still get actions on their turn.

It would be a little different than the variant initiatives, but not entirely so. I've done some thinking on the "declare action lowest initiative score to highest, roll initiative, then perform actions". You're definitely right, that slow melee characters would have a very tough time, but movement could still allow that to be less of an issue.

Another thing I've been thinking about is having active defenses. When someone attacks you, you declare your reaction. Simple things would be like Dodge, block, party, but reaction spells or special actions could come in here too. If you are unaware of an attack, you wouldn't be able to react to it, and multiple reactions would come at a penalty (which would bake in a big penalty for getting ganged up on).

But you're right, big changes like this would require a system built for the ground up around them.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
How do you think telegraphed attacks would work out? Spells that don't fire off until the start of your next turn (meaning they could be disrupted). Big wind up attacks like an ogre bringing a tree trunk high up, a spellcaster chanting a spell, or a dragon inhaling. Characters and enemies would have the opportunity to try to disrupt the oncoming action, or more pragmatically to defend against the action. You could get out of the area of the oncoming attack, take cover, or go all out on offense to try to prevent the attack.

If done well, I think it could lead to making combat more dynamic. What do you think?
Reminds a bit of the difference between the striker and the Defender .... the 4e fighter has a form of telegraphed attack that says if you do not pay attention to me thing I will be dishing out even more damage in extra attacks but if you engage with me of course that is much more under control but my allies are safe to tear you up. A little sharper form of this could be like having an extra attack against a target you are scanning but you always use up in defense if they attack you... when they do not they regret it. The striker does not provide the opportunity to be interrupted in a sense. (this defender model doesn't care who they attack just whether they attack you). The extra attack might be seen as a saved option.

Not exactly the same obviously but it has an interesting feel.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I do this in my games with any monster attacks that have a recharge mechanic. I just narrate some sort of wind-up the turn before I have the monster use their recharge attack so that the players know it’s ready to go and have that turn to scatter, duck and cover, quaff a potion of fire resistance, take the Dodge action, whatever they want to do to try to mitigate the big attack.

Also, seems like this article was written for you: https://theangrygm.com/barking-at-your-players-advanced-combat-narration/
 

Nevvur

Explorer
From my perspective, there's already precedent for wind-up attacks in the standard rules: all those monsters that activate some type of powerful attack after landing a basic attack. A roper grabs you, then it bites you. A succubus charms you, then she kisses you. Also the monster descriptions generally tell you how to interrupt it. You cut the rope, you break the charm.

I wouldn't change the rules, per se, I'd just homebrew more abilities that fit into the combo design. If the ogre lands a grapple attack, on its next turn it can make an unarmed attack against you for 4d8 + 4 (or w/e) as you get the Hulk-Loki treatment.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
"If done well, I think it could lead to making combat more dynamic. What do you think?"

Well, as dynamic is in the eye of the beholder, my bet is you are right for some and not for others. Usually changes just swap the old "here is how to..." with a new one.

This is the kind of thing practically impossible to add after-markrt and have work. Systems need to be built around and balanced around the basic nature of play. So many things are scaled based on "what they do" that making a fundamental change to the mechanics changes a lot.

So, if a lot of the vote design had been built around slow vs quick options - with a lot more detailed sequencing of sctions - this would be part of that and do fine.

But, a lot of things go into overdrive if you just add this.

Premise - the slow choices thst hit next turn and allow interruption on other folk's turns have to be better than similar quick options thst happens now. Otherwise, the slow options wont be used.

Given that premise, the adding in a variety of slow options adds value to all the "deny response" and "interrupt" options.

Hold Person or Hypnotic Pattern now begs for slow attacks. So foes grapple. Meanwhile, sight blockers like wall if fog or silent image get big, as does sanctuary.

Almost certainly instead of a variety of options you wind up with "get the combos in" as a primary goal, leading to less variety, not more.
Oh yes now I remember I was considering a multi-action idea where to build up the awesome it takes more than one of your turns. They definitely have to be awesome ... in 4e terms you may be able to do a basic attack while coordinating for the bigger one or maybe not. And some big attacks leave you less able to act in the round following. In effect one can get 3 rounds worth into one big daily like action.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Video games in particular are abundant in good examples of this kind of enemy design.

Take the Guard Scorpion boss from Final Fantasy 7. It scans the enemy it is going to attack next. Additionally, when it's tail goes up, it will react to any attack with a devastating counter.

This could easily be adapted to 5e. Give it a powerful attack, which requires targeting the PC on the previous round. Also give it a defensive action where it raises its tail (or whatever) and can unleash an even more powerful reactive attack if it is attacked during this time. That's just the most simplistic implementation. If you give it legendary actions, you can potentially make things even more interesting.

That's one example, but there are undoubtedly plenty of other interesting mechanics that could be borrowed with a little Googling (or just thinking back to games you've played). The only caveat being that video games typically allow you to retry a boss until you succeed. Tabletop RPGs tend to be less forgiving. A challenging boss mechanic is a good thing, but in most cases you should take some care to avoid making it so complex as to be insurmountable on the first try.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
How do you think telegraphed attacks would work out? Spells that don't fire off until the start of your next turn (meaning they could be disrupted). Big wind up attacks like an ogre bringing a tree trunk high up, a spellcaster chanting a spell, or a dragon inhaling. Characters and enemies would have the opportunity to try to disrupt the oncoming action, or more pragmatically to defend against the action. You could get out of the area of the oncoming attack, take cover, or go all out on offense to try to prevent the attack.

If done well, I think it could lead to making combat more dynamic. What do you think?
Some you could just add - have the dragon inhale after it finishes it's actions on the turn before it breaths. Makes avoiding the breath a little easier.

Others the rules have options for - but little to take advantage of them. For example that casting a spell - there are rules for spells that take more than one action to cast, but very few spells in the book that take combat time but longer than an action. So make up some powerful (!) spells that take 2 or 3 actions to cast. Powerful enough to give up an action, weak enough that it shouldn't be two slots worth.

5e has already given all of the tools for this, it's easy to add in - though a bit more complex to balance if you intend the party to get a hold of it. A worst case is a spell that's worth it but leaves a player with "I continue casting" because that's boring. Citation: did it plenty casting spells in Earthdawn. Hated it.

Others, like the ogre winding up for a haymaker is a bit harder. That's the sort of thing that I'd usually do as a power for the foe, with the thought that it needs to be mondo effect - something like advantage is a huge depower. (Two d20s of different rounds that could give two hits is inherently better than nothing on the first round, and two d20s on the second round that could only give one hit.)

I think one of the challenges is that once a combatant is focused on, excepting bosses they only seem to last 2-3 rounds on average. So there's a good chance of inflicted "condition: dead" on them before it goes off. Especially with somethign like trying to disrupt concentration on a spell where damage is what you want anyhow.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
If I consider the standard player behavior, telegraphed attack will be interrupted most of the time.
To compensate this you will need to give those attacks devastating effect, that players will complaint about.
maybe a not so good idea.
Amusingly, I was about to say the exact opposite.

No player is going to give up their action to interrupt an attack when they could be contributing focus fire to kill the attacker and stop them permanently. The only time they would is when it's automatically part of inflicting damage, like attempting to interrupt Concentration for a multi-turn cast, or part of the win conditions of an encounter, like stopping a ritual.
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
A rule I have considered is "Dive Out of the Way."

Dive Out of the Way. When a creature that you can see targets you with an attack or effect, or creates an area effect and you are in an area, you can use your reaction to take the Dodge action. The effects of the Dodge apply to the attack or effect which triggered the reaction. After the attack or effect is resolved, you fall prone and become incapacitated until the end of your next turn.​

My goal was to give players an interesting option when attacked, instead of "just sit there like a lump and just take it." Some characters already have options like this (Uncanny Dodge and shield come to mind), but when I put myself in player's shoes, I kind of want an option like this all the time. I think most of us have been in that position where you take your turn, blissfully attacking, when suddenly the giant turns from the tank to face YOU and then ohcrapohcrap here comes like 50 damage... It would be nice to be able to heroically dive out of the way or something.

The cost is that you lose your next action. It's kind of like "Ready" but backwards in time: you use your reaction to take the Dodge action, but then get no action on your next turn. Because backwards-in-time is very powerful, I added the "fall prone" bit, which is both very flavorful and neatly cancels out the benefit of Dodge for any further attacks. I think this makes Dive Out of the Way fairly balanced, as it's a one-time benefit that can be quite costly: it's more efficient to Dodge ahead of time than to wait for an emergency (because Dodging on your turn doesn't knock you prone). I think this would also encourage more tactical use of Dodge; many players focus on attacking and sort of forget that Dodge even exists.

I've never actually tried this rule in play. My current group is very large, and some of them are still learning the action economy. (Although Mutant: Year Zero's defense rules are similar, and they seem to work OK.) I'm just presenting it here because it seems tangentially relevant to the "wind-up attack." If something like Dive Out of the Way were an option, then you wouldn't need the ogre to start winding up at the end of one turn and attack in the next. The ogre could wind-up and attack right away, because the targeted players could respond to the big wind-up immediately by using reactions. Just some food for thought.
 

Nevvur

Explorer
[MENTION=12377]77IM[/MENTION]

Reactive combat is a guiding principle in a loosely SRD5-based system I've been tinkering with off and on for a couple years, and it features a Dive action very close to what you describe. It's not quite as punitive. Instead of incapacitated, I apply a new condition called "exposed." Exposed condition provides an advantage die to attackers and procs some other teamwork oriented tactics, but I'm going to stop there before I try to communicate an entire system.

I think your proposal would work fine in DnD. In combats where HP attrition is the only means of victory, the loss of an action would be too costly for most of my players, and it would almost never see use. However, it remains a good option to have on standby, and to design occasional encounters around it. For instance, a fight where the boss is invulnerable to all damage until all his minions have been destroyed. Whoever's the target of his special attack that round better be prepared to Dive.

If I were to seriously consider adopting a Dive-style action in my current 5e campaign, I'd want to see it pop more often. For that reason, I'd strip the incapacitated penalty and... done. Seriously. I'm competent to make adjustments to my combats to account for the higher survivability of the party.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Reminds a bit of the difference between the striker and the Defender .... the 4e fighter has a form of telegraphed attack that says if you do not pay attention to me thing I will be dishing out even more damage in extra attacks but if you engage with me of course that is much more under control but my allies are safe to tear you up. A little sharper form of this could be like having an extra attack against a target you are scanning but you always use up in defense if they attack you... when they do not they regret it. The striker does not provide the opportunity to be interrupted in a sense. (this defender model doesn't care who they attack just whether they attack you). The extra attack might be seen as a saved option.

Not exactly the same obviously but it has an interesting feel.
@Xeviat

The dynamics above now has me looking in to how the defender is done in 5e not liking a lot of what I have seen so far. 4e marking had some quirkie bits but.

I have started looking in to how the "Protector Fighting Style" is handled in 5e and using up your reaction in the Fighting style even if the attack against your ally isn't going to hit is kind of very bad. Opportunity attacks are also tied to that reaction.

I think an intimidating glare which requires you hit with an attack and which influenced an enemy towards attacking you via reducing the damage of their attacks until they manage to hit you might be just the trick. (attacking your overcomes the effect)

The amount it protected might be based on proficiency to allow for it scaling.
 
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