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C Series • #5

Role playing games are action-packed affairs filled with exploration and encounters. The time within these events is broken down into rounds in which the player characters and their foes take various actions. An earlier column explained the sequence in which those actions are taken but now we will look at what those actions can be.

The types and amount of actions that can be made in an encounter round are different between game systems. In GURPS, for instance, only a single action can be made in a one second round. The core D20 System, a round is six seconds and characters can do one or more things within that time depending upon exactly what is being attempted. (A couple of other rule systems will be explored in a future column.)

Looking at the literal split second one has to act in GURPS seems very limiting. In practice, however, it simply makes player character’s think logically and efficiently about what they want to accomplish in a way not too dissimilar to chess. Move at standard pace from “here” to “there.” Open a door or tip over a chair. Draw a weapon or pull something from a pocket. Swing a blade at an opponent or take aim with a ranged weapon. Block an incoming blow or dodge something thrown. Taken singly, it seems simplistic and maybe agonizingly slow but, in practice, it ends up offering a measured and realistic way of depicting action. It also greatly reduces the complexity of combat-based encounters.

For an approach that tends to promote a degree of complexity, consider the D20 System which was an expansion and refinement of classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Time is broken down into six second rounds and within that brief span various potential actions may be taken. These acts are categorized in six different ways: standard; move; full-round; free; swift; and immediate. All normal attacks, most spellcasting attempts and some mechanical activities fall within the “standard” category. Certain special attacks and spells require a “full-round” action in order to complete. The other three types are limited, specific and/or otherwise inconsequential things that do not take any appreciable time to complete or are things that are an inherent part of some other act. But even with that, there are limits to how many of these types of actions can be taken in a six-second moment. Typically, a character may take one move and one standard action or two moves or a full-round action in a given combat round.

The current edition of Pathfinder (which essentially is D&D version 3.75), follows the very same structure for actions. However, the forthcoming Pathfinder 2, has revealed an economy of actions during its beta test period. The round remains at six seconds in length but characters now are allowed to take three actions during that span. This can be any combination of move, standard or attack actions desired. What are referred to as “full-round attack actions” in the earlier iteration now require all three actions of a round in order to be completed. Most spells are either two- or one-action efforts but if more actions are taken to cast then there are heightened effects. If a character chooses to make an attack of any kind for more than one action in a round, then the subsequent attacks receive negative modifier much like the multi-attack profile of earlier D20 models. As the beta wraps up and the final rules are released in August, this system will be defined more clearly but so far it seems to be a very flexible yet streamlined approach to an otherwise cumbersome component of the game.

The means by which actions are delineated in a game go a long way toward establishing the feel of a rule system. There also is value in exploring how different methods can be adapted to one’s game of choice. Talk with your players and see if they would be interested in trying a session with an alternate action framework and everyone might be surprised to find that they like the results.

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