## Saturday, 19 May 2012

### Zonal Combat

What do you say we lighten things up around here and talk about abstract mapping?

Diaspora has an interesting approach to combat, which would work equally well with D&D - indeed any game system you can think of with a bit of tinkering. I've been tinkering with it. It goes something like this:

When combat looks likely, the DM draws a map, and then divides it up into zones. Zones are not a grid, and do not represent strict distance. Rather, they represent a combination of space, ease of travel, view, and time to pass through. Thus, an open field might be one zone, but a nearby cottage with three rooms might be made up of three separate zones, because the time it takes to sprint across the open field is the same as the amount of time it would take to move between rooms cluttered with furniture. Likewise, a thick forest full of boulders might be divided up into three zones, whereas an area of light woodland of the same "size" might just be one zone - representing the speed with which one can move through each area.

With me so far?

If there are borders between zones (a hedge, a wall, a ditch, a door) these have numerical ratings indicating how long it takes to pass through them. So a hedge might have a rating of "2", indicating that it takes 2 "zones" worth of effort to cross over. (You can climb over in the same amount of time it would take to cross 2 zones.) This is called the "pass value".

Pass values can change if there is a doorway. If there is a doorway, the pass value is 0 - unless the door is shut, in which case it costs "zones" to open it, indicated by a number, called the "opening value". (A wall would cost 2 "zones" to climb over, so it has a pass value of 2, but it has a gate which would cost "1" zone to open, or an opening value of 1. So the hedge has a pass value of 2/1.)

Each turn, the player gets one zone of movement and an action. The zone of movement might consist in eroding pass value (e.g. getting half way over a hedge with a pass value of 2), or opening a doorway (e.g. eroding an opening value from 1 to 0.) The action would be the usual sort of thing (cast a spell, attack, whatever). Or he can give up the action to make two zones' worth of movement.

A turn is however long it would take to cross a zone. This means that combat can scale up and scale down to suit the situation. A fight taking place in an area covering a square mile of countryside, or taking place in a few rooms in a hotel reception, would follow exactly the same pattern - it's just that the zones would represent different levels of abstraction. The zones in the former would probably be bigger by area on average, and a turn would be longer (maybe two minutes in the former as opposed to around 10 seconds in the latter). But the rules are exactly the same. Only two things would really change. First, the larger the zones and the longer the turns, the more abstract attack rolls (the attack roll would represent a period of maneuvering and trading blows), and the smaller the zones and shorter the turns, the less abstract attack rolls would become (the attack roll would represent literal single attacks). The other thing that would change would be pass value. A hedge separating two open fields, each about 100 square yards and represented by a zone each, would perhaps have to have a higher pass value than a hedge separating two small gardens of 10 square yards each.

Example:

Here, the open spaces are fields and easier to cross than the woodland areas, so their zones are spatially larger. The stream and hedges have a PV (pass value) of 2. The barn in the middle is its own zone, full of bales of hay. Red lines indicate zonal boundaries; green lines are hedges; blue is the stream; the black line is a road.

1. interesting

2. Having played a bunch of Diaspora, zones is actually what got me curious about Red Box Hack. I'm not a fan of the implementation in RBH, but it's worth looking at for inspiration.

1. I downloaded RBH but it was way to anime-ish for my tastes. I didn't really read it too closely. Maybe I'll take another look.

3. I'm intrigued and kind of want to try it out.

4. I don't know about Red Box Hack, but I've run Old School Hack, which is closely based on it. It doesn't have the concept of border ratings, but, in addition to what you've described, it also has a concept of 'types' of zone: tight, hazardous, open, dense, and neutral. Each type gives a bonus to a wielders of a certain type of weapon, e.g. tight zones give a bonus to small weapons, like daggers. It's a very very simple system with many interesting applications - so, pretty much my favorite type of system.

It gives players fun, crunchy decisions to make when choosing weapons, and gives characters a reason to run around, take cover, and push and throw enemies in combat. Like d7 said about Red Box Hack, it's worth looking at. Having run several sessions I can't say I love it unreservedly, at least not yet, but your mileage may vary.

1. Link to both Red Box and Old School Hacks: http://www.oldschoolhack.net/redboxhack/

2. I like the idea of giving bonuses to different types of weapon. I was always a fan of weapon speed factors in AD&D for this reason, even though everybody else in the world seemed to hate them.

5. When I ran Diaspora for a while, it turned out to be less exciting than it sounded. I had just moved away from the D&D 3.5 battlemap to either no map at all or simple sketches. If players wanted to get tactical, they would still say things like "I take cover behind the corner" or "I stay in the back" and then as a game master I could either say "that's a maneuver to give you an aspect" or "well, combat moves fast and you're all in the same zone"—what we gained in abstraction we lost in discussions and unsatisfying resolutions. In addition to that, when we wanted more tactics (multiple corridors to allow for pincer attacks, falling back, ambushes) the map ended up having a lot of zones (like the many forest zones). If we had few zones (forest, plain, village, path) then we'd wonder about "in the forest but on the path" or "in the forest and hiding in the undergrowth"—again, add temporary aspects using maneuvers? All the elegance gained was soon lost.

Thus, I think it's very important to figure out why you want to switch to zones. I wanted combat to be fast and get rid of the positioning tactics. The appropriate compromise turned out to be a rough sketch and lots of arrows indicating who moves where and improvised modifiers. Zones and passage values introduced a whole new set of questions and discussions I didn't care about.

1. Interesting you should say that. I haven't got enough experience of it to agree or disagree.

As to why - it's not to get rid of the positioning tactics. It's that the positioning tactics always end up being quite vague and abstract anyway, as do distances and times. (Have you ever had a D&D DM actually say, "No, you can't do that, it would take 15 seconds and the round is 10 seconds."? Or, "Well, you are 43 yards away, so you fall short by 3 yards..."?) At least in my experience. The zone thing recognises the inevitable and systematises it, and that I quite like.

2. Have you ever had a D&D DM actually say, "No, you can't do that, it would take 15 seconds and the round is 10 seconds."? Or, "Well, you are 43 yards away, so you fall short by 3 yards..."?

You've clearly never played GURPS. ;)

I'm hoping to run a game of Old School Hack this year--this post has only added to the interest factor.

3. Exactly, I think that's it's big strength; it gets people (like me) who veer between over-accuracy and extreme roughness into the headspace of working at the appropriate level of accuracy.

It matters how hard something is to move in, how long it takes to move through and how cramped/confined/exposed it is, and that's about it!

I got bored of subdividing bigger zones, but I still keep the subzones in the form of "this'll take 3 rounds to cross", (which you can also handle with chase type mechanics) or impromptu zones if someone sets up a fighting position in the middle of a field or something.

6. This sounds like a way of providing players with a tactical map to let them plan out movement, rather than waiting for the DM to declare how much of their move is used up by opening doors, moving aside corn and so on.

Where it might have the most utility is in planning longer distance ranged fire, as the map now gives you a way to express the range of weapons in a more practical way than just "120'" or whatever.

1. It definitely helps with the tactical stuff, because you can look at things as an overview and plan out how long it's going to take Player 1 to get into position before Player 2 makes his attack, etc. etc.

7. You could mix this with LOTFP very easily by simply saying that the price for crossing boundaries is the same as your encumberance pips.

8. Like. A lot.

I've been havering back and forth between using abstract (Pendragon-style) combat zoning and representative location for a while now. This is good grist to the mill.

9. NGR uses "Areas" that function much the same, abstract areas that may have modifiers assigned to them (like its dense so no large weapons, or its on fire so everyone will take d6 damage per round, etc).

The only time I ever have any problems with it is when PC's have a plan that involves something they own/can do with a specific range, distance or length.