Friday, February 3, 2012

To Draw or Not To Draw

Today I want to address a pet peeve of mine from both sides of the screen. In just about every group I have played or DM'ed with is the one player that always thinks their character walks about with naked steel, wand or great axe at the ready. This player never expects any adverse effects like fatigue, accidental damage or npc reaction to come into play. In fact if any of these are mentioned they seem surprised. However, once combat starts they never declare the action to draw down. The action economy of their first turn always includes a minor power and they can't be bothered to invest/waste a feat in quick draw due to their absent minded playstyle. As a player it breaks immersion for me, either because the DM has to remind them or because they get that little extra boost. As a DM I find it unfair for those who do declare their intent and spend the actions. Not drawing shows a lack of commitment to a course of action, especially in the type of situation below. I realize this playstyle may not fit everyone's expectations but it does serve to illustrate my point.


Two forces approach each other. One group is hunting. They are armed with spears and bows and actively pursuing the quarry. The second group is traveling along a cobblestone road. The scout is in a forward position moving stealthily and silently thru the underbrush between the party and the hunters. Those on the road are not being quiet but are alert. Neither force would immediately be enemies on sight but violence is not out of the question.

At this point the DM makes a judgement call. A few questions run thru my mind in this moment.

1. Are the hunters moving at speed, if so what penalty do they get for passive perception? Are they making a lot of noise? Is the quarry making a lot of noise?

Yes, they are elves moving in haste to catch a fleeing boar so -2 circumstance. Hearing the boar is a DC 2 check. Hearing the level 4 npc party of elves moving is a DC 18. (level 14 mod dc +2 for greater than 100 ft) the elves are xenophobic and will not like to stumble across armed "brigands"

2. How far is the scout ahead of the party? What is the scout's passive perception or active? What instincts do my party have listed? Is any one in the party paying particular attention to the scout's location, if not are they aware thru passive perception or any other talents? Does anyone have the Alertness feat?

50 feet, 18 percept, none that apply, one member is actively keeping an eye on the scout, yes. The level 2 party has a combined passive stealth of 11 (clanking fighter and paladin), the scout gets the roll of 21.

Now to determine awareness. Everyone is aware of the boar's position. The elves are unaware of the party and the only the scout is aware of the elves, but only in as far as that there are more things in the forest moving quickly behind the loud noise.

Now the scout gets a single action for a surprise round and the one party member keeping an eye on the scout gets an insight check or perception check based on the scouts action.

Read aloud text

Fifty feet ahead something shakes the underbrush as it rushes at you. A half dozen creatures follow in its wake moving with stealth thru the foliage. You're confident that your current position affords you a measure of concealment. Those on the road are out in the open. What do you do?

The scout has a few options here and this decision sets the tone for the entire encounter

  • Free action shout a warning and give away position (in this case make the other side aware)

  • Minor draw a weapon (this is where feats like quick draw come in handy to delay the decision on what your facing)

  • Move back and maybe lose the advantage of concealment

  • Standard ready an attack or make a ranged attack (again quick draw is handy)

  • The watcher is going to take a cue from the scout.

    Initiative is now rolled. If there is no boar things could be more complicated...

    Everyone on the road who hasn't acted has had no chance to draw yet. The watcher may or may not have drawn. As could have the scout.

    A boar bursts from the tree line it crosses the road mere feet from your scout. Six tall slender humanoids with spears and bows raised follow. The first two rush across the road. The other four slide to a halt on the road. Roll For Init!

    In this situation the actions of the scout and watcher dictate the starting attitude of the elves from startled to hostile. The ensuing skill challenge will be heavily weighted by this attitude. Failure could result in a fight and more importantly take away the opportunity for the party to find out valuable information on the goblins they are tracking.

    Now imagine this scenario where everyone has QuickDraw without expending any feats. No one has to roleplay their expectations on what is crashing thru the woods. They can delay indefinitely until one side attacks. It's like having a party with every member having a +30 bluff score and they are all sitting down to play poker. There is a decided advantage. What of staff wielders and glaive masters?

    I see house rules out on the web for adding weapon speed penalties to initiative rolls. I have played in games where DM's ignore drawing. What do you do in your own games?

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