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A Different Way to Slice the Pie
Legends and Lore
Monte Cook

W hen 3rd Edition D&D was released, a lot of people criticized the concept of attacks of opportunity, and the complaints were certainly not without their merits. The irony was that attacks of opportunity existed in the system long before that. In early D&D, if you turned from your melee opponent to run away, he got to make a free attack against you, which is, of course, an attack of opportunity. Also, you couldn't use a bow or cast a spell if you were standing next to a foe, but there was a common house rule that allowed you to do those things but, again, your opponent would get to attack you.

The term "attack of opportunity" wasn't coined (at least for D&D) until midway through the 2nd Edition of the game, in the Player's Option books. Codifying various exceptional situations into a unified rule seemed to be a great way to organize the material and manage the concept.

The problem with a newly codified rule is that it becomes one more thing to remember. Moreover, it becomes a component of the game that you have to learn even though it might never come up in play. As unlikely as it seems, it's possible in 3rd Edition for one to read and understand the "Attacks of Opportunity" section and then never actually have the rule come into play. Why? Because attacks of opportunity are triggered actions that don't happen on the player's turn. They're also situational and easy to forget.

So imagine slicing the pie a different way. Rather than calling out attacks of opportunity as an element of D&D combat, you simply add the rules where and when they are needed. So it would say, as in 1st Edition, that if you move away from a foe, or use a missile weapon next to him, the foe gets a free attack.


With this approach, rules appear only when you need them. There's less codification and fewer (potentially far fewer) rules to master before you can start playing. The rules are revealed on a need-to-know basis, as distinguished from rules that are "unpacked" and individually categorized and described in a large chapter of a rulebook.

One advantage to introducing rules when they are needed is that you can keep low-level game play simple. There are many elements of the game that one might argue don't need to come into play at 1st level, such as damage resistance. It's a fine mechanic, but at 1st level, you kind of just want to roll dice and see if you hit. If you package damage resistance as a concept only within the situations where it arises (spells, monster descriptions, and so on), and then make sure that these rules situations don't come into play at low levels, you're set. Both the new player and the experienced player who just doesn't want to deal with a lot of rules can sit down, play a 1st-level character, and never even know that damage resistance (or teleportation, or scrying, or mind control, or grappling, or whatever concept you want to label as being unnecessary or overly cumbersome for low-level play) exists.

If we adopt this mindset, we can peg an adventure as being 5th level or 12th level or 19th level and have it carry weight not only in terms of character level but also in terms of complexity. If we recognize that the game gets more complex the higher level you go, we can use that to our advantage. A DM browsing through adventures in the store might see that one is for 8th-level characters, and that statement alone tells him not only how tough the challenges are but also how complex the adventure might be in terms of the mechanical intricacy. This way, someone who just wants a simple, faster-moving game can stick to low level, and someone who wants a broader, more complex game can play at higher levels. We could even do that for rules supplements, pegging more intricate options as being limited to mid- or high-level play.

In the end, with rules packed properly, we can allow game groups to decide how complex they want their game to be, rather than allowing some game designer to do it for them. I don't want to tell anyone how to play the game. I would prefer to provide ways—perhaps multiple ways—for you to tailor your game to be what you want.

This Week's Poll

On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "not at all" and 5 being "very much," I agree with the following statements about D&D rules:

 Rules should be presented only when needed.  
1
2
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4
5

 Complexity should equate to PC level.  
1
2
3
4
5

 The ability for a game group to determine its own level of complexity is important.  
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5

Last Week's Poll

How often should the best solutions be within the normal bounds of the rules governing standard PC abilities?
1 57 2.7%
2 260 12.1%
3 987 45.9%
4 711 33.1%
5 135 6.3%
Total 2150 100.0%

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