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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ale & Advice for Swords & Wizardry - Clearing Up Combat

Welcome to the inaugural Ale & Advice for Swords & Wizardry column. I'll be your bartender for the day ;)

We have a number of questions pending answers. Today's questions are regarding combat and were sent in by Carl B. Carl states:
I am new to S&W, and also I haven't played any RPGs for a couple decades now, so bear with me.  :-)  I do understand the intent is for the Referee to adjust the rules as they see fit, but I think it's important to understand and try the rules as they are written before deciding to make tweaks. 
Q1 - In the S&W Complete Rulebook, on page 36, there are 6 steps for combat.  The first step is to check for surprise; it says that "If one side is surprised, the other side automatically gets to take actions before the first initiative roll.  If they also win that initiative roll, this means they will have taken two actions before the other side has had a chance to do anything".  However, under the "Determine Initiative" step, it says that "If this is the first round and one group was surprised, the other side gets to go first automatically, without having to roll a die". These seem contradictory to me. It looks like the group that was not surprised gets a free attack (assuming the other group was surprised), and then it's not clear to me if there is an initiative roll after that, or if the not-surprised group gets initiative automatically.  Can you clear this up?
A1 - You are correct that if one side is "surprised" and the other is not, the side that is not surprised gets a free attack or action. After this free attack / action, roll initiative as normal.
Q2 - Under section 4, it says that "Each combatant on the side that won initiative may move, or may fire any missile weapons" (and then the other group may do the same). Then in step 5, it says that "Each combatant on the side that won initiative makes any melee attacks (if in melee range) or casts spells" (and again, the other group does the same).  This seems to be saying that in a round of combat, each combatant can do *both* a missile attack and melee attack; there's no mention of having to choose one or the other.  Is this actually the case?  I've been ruling that once someone is in melee combat, they can't fire missiles, as this seems reasonable to me, but I was hoping to get confirmation that I was handling it as intended.
A2 - In this example, "any melee attacks or cast spells" could be restated as "any melee attacks or cast spells if the combatant hasn't taken a prior action." 
G3 - OK, last question: on page 41, under "Spells", it says that "If the spell-caster suffers damage while casting a spell, the spell is lost".  What does "lost" mean?  Does it mean that the spell the spell-caster was going to cast is now no longer prepared for that day, or just that it's no longer available to cast that round, but still available for later use that day?  For example, if a first-level magic user goes to cast Magic Missile but is wounded before he gets the spell off, can he try to cast it again the next combat round, or does he have to wait until the next day?
A3 - "The spell is lost" means that it is counted as having been cast (although it has no effect). The caster would need to memorize the spell again before being able to attempt to cast it again. It's a good reason to keep your spell casters off the front line ;)
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  1. I have often added special effects to spell failure, small showers of
    sparks or a puff of smoke.

    1. You should have seen the mess when the enemy spellcaster got hit with a natural 20 crossbow bolt while he was preparing a fireball. Man, that caused a high body-count...

  2. I think the answer to the Ranged and Melee on the same turn?! question depends on if S&W allows changing weapons freely. I like the ruling that once you're in melee combat, you can no longer use missile weapons. You'd probably need to have some sort of thing about disengaging if a character wanted to get back to melee range. Either that or once in melee, always in melee, maybe with the exception of thrown melee weapons.

    1. That's how I do it, but I handwave distances to 1 ("in melee combat"), 2 ("in reach of melee combat this turn"), or 3 ("further away"). At 1, no change of weapon, at 2 you can but might get caught by a free opponent, at 3 you're safe to do so.

    2. I like that. Meaningful differentiation with near-zero overhead.

  3. Very Useful clarifications and great art - who did that adventurers & gold pic?

    1. Art is by Craig Brasco. He does amazing work!