Combat is a large part of D&D (some would say the largest part). When I did up my flowchart for Project Phoenix, the combat system ended up at the very bottom - all other systems and rules fed into it, to some degree. My intent with Project Phoenix was not to reduce the emphasis on combat - that would be a near-impossible undertaking, and it's much easier to write rules for combat than roleplaying - but to streamline it. Here's what I've done.

First, the grid had to go. I like using a combat map, personally, because I have lousy spatial perception and it's hard to remember where everything is in the heat of battle. (And I love all the little figures - I've got a few dozen myself.) Our group made use of the map often during battles and sometimes to show marching formation when it was applicable, but we never did it to the degree shown in the PHB - we didn't draw lines to determine cover or flanking, for example. If I wanted to play a game like that, I'd play Battletech, where they use tape measures to determine distances (not to bash on Battletech; I've played it, and it's quite fun, but it's a completely different system). Also, since this is a site, not a print product, and I have no artists, no access to a scanner or Photoshop, and little artistic talent of my own, I was forced to forgo the diagrams and such.

Second, combat was overly clunky - battles take far too long in real time, AoOs are confusing, and options for fighers often boil down to "full attack". Making changes to the classes themselves resolved some of these issues (CoDzilla is gone, and fighters can do more), but this required a goodly number of changes to the combat system itself.

Combat Maneuvers

One thing I really liked about Pathfinder was the combat maneuver bonus, aka the CMB. They combined the rolls for bull rush, disarm, grapple, overrun, sunder, and trip into a single, easy-to-remember mechanic: 1d20 + CMB, where CMB is BAB + size modifier + Str bonus, vs. a set DC (15 + opponent's CMB). The problem is, it's still an opposed roll, and 15 + CMB (as proven by playesting) is too high. So, I changed it to 1d20 + size modifier (the normal size modifier, not the +/- 4 per size category) + Str or Dex (I changed disarm and trip to use Dex because they are, to my mind, Dex-based skills and thus used the Dex modifier, not Strength). I originally used the scaling success results for grapple because I liked it and it fit with the mechanics I already had, but further feedback (and better suggestions) gave me a new system that I modified (see Design Diary 19 for more details). Sunder was changed to a called shot vs. an item; I really didn't see the need to make a special rule for attacking weapons and armor vs. attacking any other held item.

All the maneuvers now use penalties instead of incurring AoOs, both to make them easier to use and to make combat flow more quickly.

Death and Dying

This one is a rule of my own making. Well before I started PP, I came up with a couple ideas for temporary hit points and the death/dying rules. Temporary hit points was simple - all temp hit points, no matter the source, stacked; they go away at the rate of 1 per minute, starting 1 minute after you got them (except for hit points gained from a spell like aid; those still go away when the spell ends). This greatly simplified things - you no longer have to track where the hit points are coming from, how many you've got, and whether or not they stack.

As for death and dying, I just used a popular house rule - you die when you reach negative Con score hit points. I called this the "death threshold" for ease of reference, then came up with some better rules for dying to make it more exciting. I also changed the save or die spells to work into this system; instead of "Bam! You're dead!" it's "Bam! You're dying with a very good chance of being dead in a couple rounds!" SoD spells are still effective against the bad guys, but they give the PCs a chance to survive now.

Combat Movement

The largest change here was the 5-foot step. Does anyone else out there think it silly that everything, from a Diminutive pixie to a Colossal dragon, can take only a single 5-foot step? I mean, think about it - the pixie's base speed is probably about 10 feet, and the dragon's is 60-70. The 5-foot step is supposed to simulate a long stride (a human's stride is about 3 feet, so it's rounded to 5), which means creatures take different-sized steps according to size. So, I changed it, and renamed it to a combat stride - creatures below size Small can't take one at all, because they're too small; Small to Large is still 5 feet, and it goes up by 5 feet per two size categories after that.


Getting rid of the combat grid changed a lot of things related to cover and flanking - since you can't draw lines, I had to create a more free-form system. Cover is based on DM adjudication now, but there are five categories, like there used to be: 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 9/10, and full. By "DM adjudication", I mean the DM determines if the target is behind cover relative to the attacker, and to what degree. Concealment now grants a flat AC bonus, which stacks with the cover bonus - having a percentage roll, which it kind of made sense, just slowed things down (more dice rolling).

Critical Hits

And speaking of critical hits… this is an idea I borrowed from a random comment on the Paizo forums. Someone suggested a variant crit system whereby the first die is automatically maxed, then you roll for all the rest of the dice of damage. This eliminates the "Natural 20! I did… 3 damage!?!" problem and makes crits more special.

Flanking, Uncanny Dodge, and Sneak Attacks

Obviously, sneak attack now works against a lot more creatures. The change to uncanny dodge came later; I don't recall where I got the idea, but I thought it a good one - changing 4 or more levels of rogue to 4 or more points of BAB. Since fighters gain IUD, the change was necessary - otherwise they could still be flanked by L4 rogues, no matter how many fighter levels they had.

Being flat-footed grants all attackers a +4 bonus to hit you. This is a benefit to the attacker, NOT the defender - 95% of monsters' flat-footed ACs are worse with the -4 penalty than they were before. I also did this because it's easier to calculate: a simple -4 vs. trying to remember which bonuses apply when flat-footed, not to mention I can now change the line "when the target is denied its Dex bonus to AC" to "when the target is flat-footed" (which is shorter and much less awkward). Since many creatures don't have a Dex bonus to AC, it's kind of silly to refer to it as such.

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