Tactics (Part 2)

Last week I talked about my formative experiences with tactics in roleplaying games. As you can guess by that blog and my previous work, I’m a fan of grid-based, tactically involved game experiences—at least where they fit. While I love story, intrigue, and revelation in my games, when it comes to encounter play, give me a good structure with permissions, challenges, and a handful of denials. One of my former players used to call it “combat puzzles.” I like that term.

This week, let’s explore Delve’s take on the riddle of steel and spells.

Within the encounter mode, Delve’s default is a grid-based play space, much like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, with some fundamental difference. First and foremost is the scale of the grid. Both Pathfinder and D&D use a scale of one square = 5 feet. It’s perfectly suitable, but it also has some challenges. 5 feet is a lot of space. Do yourself a favor sometime and draw out a 5-foot square in your garage. It’s a lot of space for a person. Now either draw or imagine all the 5-foot squares around that one. In the 3.5 paradigm, you threaten all those squares. Now watch nearly any form of martial arts, from boxing to fencing, and ask yourself if those folks really threaten that kind of space. Consider a boxing ring is usually 20 feet by 16 feet and a wrestling ring is a little smaller. This scale also distorts the sizes of ordinary things in the game world, creating genuinely massive ships and taverns.

Size Space and Reach Table

Just a little bit of reference for some concepts later on in this blog.

Meditating on this has led me to change the standard measurement of a square to roughly 1 meter each side (or if, like Tucker Carlson, you’re stuck on the Imperial System of measurement, approximately 1 yard). Not only does it create more reasonable combat areas, control areas, reach areas, and sizes for structure and vessels when creating combat-based maps, considering that as of 2014 only three countries have held out against using that system of measurement, I can assume localization of Delve will be much easier if that day ever comes. Of course, most of the time this stuff really doesn’t matter. For actual play, everything is measured in squares. If you have a Speed of 4, that means you can move up to 4 squares when you Stride.

Stride Talent

A tad controversial, I know. But wait, there’s more.

What about diagonals? How do you count those? One by one. Move diagonally to your heart’s delight…well, sort of.

I’m all for creating the semblance of realism when it can be quickly done and does not slow down play, but over my time teaching folks grid-based tactical movement, I’ve found that the staggered approach (the first square counts as one square, while the second square counts as two squares) slows down play and provides very little real verisimilitude. Some of you will notice that this was the same movement paradigm of 4e D&D (and the baseline grid-based movement in 5e, though that edition Dungeon Master’s Guide provides the staggering diagonals as an optional rule). I know, I know, I can hear some of you grumbling. “What about Pythagoras, Stephen. Bah, fuck him. He was a cult leader who drowned a dude that discovered irrational numbers. Do you really want him influencing your game? I kid, of course. I like my games to go quickly and have just had enough with the staggered counting of diagonals. If you really, really, really want to do it, I’ll provide a sidebar.

But, as some of you might suspect, you can’t use diagonals to cut corners. Basically, you draw two lines from either side of your space, and if either goes through a bit of blocking terrain, best change your tactic and go around. You can see a couple of examples in Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1.

Taking a look at Figure 1, you’ll see that Actor A’s prohibition if reasonably straight forward. She’s trying to cut through a corner of blocking terrain, and that’s a no go. But there is something a little more subtle going on with the actors B and C, that needs explaining. You’ll notice the area around actor C is grayed. This is a shorthand for the idea that it is sometimes blocking. So when does a creature’s space function as blocking terrain?

  • When the creature trying to cut through the space of an enemy, it might be blocking, if:
  • That enemy is the same size, one size smaller, or one size larger.

For example, let’s assume that B is a human, and so is C, and they are enemies. Since they are the same size, C acts as blocking terrain for B. Actor B would have to go around. Now, if they were allies, we ignore such prohibitions. Allies don’t treat each other as blocking terrain, moving diagonally around them is absolutely fine, and you can even move through your allies (as long as you don’t end that movement in the same space as an ally).

Figure 2

Figure 2

But let’s assume something different. Let’s look at Figure 2, which is an alternative version of the positioning of actors B and C. In Figure 2, actor A is a Small creature (let’s say a halfling), while actor C is a Large creature (let’s say a troll). Because the halfling is two sizes smaller than the troll, the troll’s sometimes blocking space is not blocking at all in this instance. The halfling is free to move diagonally to its second space, and can even move through the troll’s space, though it is Risky. But keep in mind, the converse is true.

Of course, these are the baseline rules. Exceptions can always occur. The Noticed Stalwart Talent grants a halfling a talent bonus to Armor and Endurance Defense against Large or larger creatures and Large creatures treat their space as blocking terrain. On the flip side, the Tricky Giant Slayer talent grants dwarves the ability to move through a giant’s space as if they were a small creature, along with counting as two creatures when determining whether a giant is Vulnerable to that dwarf.

But we will get into the Vulnerable state, placement, and the fun of Dirty Fighting and similar talents in the third Tactics installment. See you next week.


If you want a little taste of what’s to come next week, you can find the Dirty Fighting talent and Vulnerable State talent on the Patreon site. It was a sneak peek just a couple of weeks ago and open to all viewers now. This week, the Shield Master sneak peek is open to all viewers, and this week’s Friday Sneak Peek is the full text for the Noticed Halfling Stalwart and the Tricky Giant Slayer talents.


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