My Tactical Combat House Rules

So I thought it would be interesting to post my Tactical Combat House Rules for 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and see if they illicit any comments or feedback.

I should point out that we started playing AD&D using Theater of the Mind (TotM) combat, but by 1982 or 1983 we were using full tactical combat and those rules with little change survived until 2000 with the release of the much more tactical 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Originally we penciled letters or numbers on the graph paper we used to map out the dungeon and erased when someone moved, or died.  Around 1989 with the advent of 2nd Edition AD&D we finally had enough lead miniatures to actually use them in combat, instead of just to illustrate what the “standard” version of the monster looked like.  We started using Chessex BattleMats, and MegaMats almost as soon as they were available, and we even bought a MondoMat for a rather large table we used as our gaming space for a while.

I am attempting to hone these rules a bit more in anticipation of a new 1st Edition (or maybe 2nd Edition) game I would like to start in the new year.  Any comments or suggestions would be welcomed.

Now without further adieu, here are my…

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Tactical Combat House Rules

The following rules will be used for Tactical Combat. They are based on the 1st Edition AD&D combat rules, the SSI Gold Box AD&D tactical combat model, and some house rules common to my table circa 1987.

Combat Round = 1 minute divided into 10 6-second segments.

Surprise and Initiative


Surprise will be determined by the table on page 62 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. In instances where the party is aware of, and trying to surprise a group of monsters, someone in the party will roll the d6. Otherwise the Dungeon Master will roll dice behind his screen and compare the results to the table.

Lost segments due to surprise will translate as a negative modifier to initiative.

tiative will be determined for all individuals in a melee. All characters roll, as well as each monster. Players will roll openly for their character. The DM rolls behind the screen for the monsters. While the characters may have some inkling of when and how their comrades will react, they do not possess enough knowledge of individual monsters to make that assumption. I am ambivalent as to whether initiative is rolled each round, or only once for the melee. Should tactical combat win out in the poll there will likely be another poll about initiative.

Individual initiative will be determined with the roll of a d10 for each participant in the melee. This roll will be modified negatively by surprise lost segments (1 lost segment = -1 to initiative), and will be further modified by Dexterity Reaction Adjustment, and Weapon Speed Factor or Spell Casting Time. Dexterity adjustments are applied as displayed on Dexterity Table I on page 11 of the PHB. Weapon Speed Factor or Spell Casting Time (if segments) is applied as a penalty (minus) to the roll. Spells that take an entire round or more to cast will be loosed on the caster’s initiative in the next or subsequent round(s). Multiple attacks in a round will be handled by reapplying the attacker’s Weapon Speed Factor to their initiative again for each attack.

Ex: A fighter has two attacks every other round. On rounds that he gets two attacks he rolls a d10, modifies the roll with Dexterity Reaction Adjustment, and Weapon Speed Factor.

d10 = 9 + 1 [DEX 16] – 5 [longsword] = 5 initiative.

For his second attack, the fighter again subtracts his Weapon Speed Factor.

Initiative 5 – 5 [longsword] = 0 initiative.

So for this round the fighter attacks on initiative count 5 and 0.

Monsters will be handled slightly differently since they don’t have listed DEX scores, and therefore cannot have a Dexterity Reaction Adjustment.  Monster movement will instead be used to determine the “quickness” of the creature.  Movement baseline is 12”, and is almost always divergent in 3” increments.  Monsters with a 12” movement will have no bonus or penalty to initiative being ±0.  For every 3” divergence from 12” (or rounded to the nearest 3”) the creature will gain a bonus or penalty to their initiative.  For example a creature with a 15” movement will gain a +1 bonus to initiative, whereas a creature with a 3” movement will have a -3 penalty to initiative.

The character or creature with the highest modified initiative roll acts first, and then the second highest roll and so forth. Initiative numbers less than zero should be recorded accurately.

In the case of ties, all actions and damage occur simultaneously. We will allow the player character to act first in practice.

Combat Actions


The actions a player character may take in melee are described below. All actions should be declared before initiative is rolled and players should endeavor to stick to their declarations. Only when a declared action is made impossible by previous actions in the initiative order may a player change their action. If the new action would have resulted in a better (higher) initiative total, the character acts immediately on their previous initiative score. If the new action would result in a worse (lower) initiative total, the character must wait until that initiative comes up in the order.

  • Move – Characters may move up to their full movement in a combat round.
  • Attack – An attack is made by moving into an opponent’s space. An attacker may move up to their full movement and still attack, as long as their last square of movement takes them into their opponent’s space. When an opponent is killed, the attacker does not enter the vacated space, but remains in the space from which they attacked.
  • Missile Attack – A missile attack is made by choosing a visible target in range of the weapon. Targets can gain the benefit of cover or concealment as listed on page 64 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. Grenade like weapons will use the splash rules on the same page. On a miss the attacker rolls a d6 and a d8 to determine how far, and in what direction the miss occurs. It is possible that an ally is hit in these instances. If another target could be hit by the missed missile a new attack roll is made against the new target.
  • Cast – Spell casters may choose to cast a spell in combat. For initiative purposes a spell caster is considered to be casting from their base initiative (d10 ± Dexterity Reaction Adjustment) until their final initiative (base initiative – Spell Casting Time). During this time being hit (and taking damage) from an attack disrupts the spell caster and spoils the spell. On the spell caster’s final initiative, if they have not been disrupted, the spell is cast and effects are applied per the spell description.
  • Disengage – Melee combatants may attempt to disengage from an opponent if in melee weapon range. The disengaging combatant’s opponent gets a free attack at their back (+2 to hit, no shield bonus, no DEX bonus) as they flee. Opponents with multiple attacks, or an attack routine will only get one attack. For instance a monster with a claw/claw/bite attack routine can either claw (once), or bite at the fleeing combatant. Other enemies also get this parting shot, or attack of opportunity as a disengaging character moves by them in melee weapon range, though it is more likely to be a flank attack (no shield bonus). Those not engaged in melee simply move away using their movement. For purposes of the battlemat, any combatant leaving the combat area at a speed which does not allow an opponent to be within melee weapon rage of them at the end of the round has fled the battlefield.
  • Use an Item – Combatants may use an item during combat.
  • Turn Undead – Clerics and Paladins may attempt to turn undead. This is subject to initiative determination, and cannot occur in a round in which the character is engaged in melee combat. Turning undead can occur in a round in which the character is making a missile attack, using a magical device, and/or spell casting, however the character must have multiple attacks in the round to accomplish this.
  • Use a Skill – This applies mostly to thieves. A character can attempt to use a skill during combat, however they may not take any other action that round. Furthermore a character using a skill is extremely vulnerable to attack while focusing on skill use. Any attacks directed at a skill using character are at +2 to hit, and the skill using character gets no shield bonus, or DEX bonus to their Armor Class. As with spell casting, if a skill user is hit during the process of applying their skill, the result is an automatic failure and the task will need to be started all over again in the next round.
  • Wait – Combatants can choose to wait until a later segment in the round to take their action. This has the effect of pushing back the completion of a spell (also started at a later initiative), or delaying subsequent attacks in multiple attack rounds. If initiative is rolled each round there is no further effect, but if initiative is only rolled at the beginning of combat, the combatant is permanently repositioned in the initiative order.

Zero Hit Points

Some are under the misconception that 1st Edition had a death at Zero Hit Point rule. This is not the case. A character is unconscious when brought to 0 hit points (or as low as -3 if from the same blow). In each succeeding round, on the character’s (first) initiative segment, 1 additional negative point will be lost until -10 is reached and the creature dies. This hit point loss due to bleeding, shock, etc. ceases immediately on any round a friendly creature administers aid to the unconscious one. Aid consists of binding wounds, starting respiration, administering a healing potion, etc.

The Grid


In AD&D combatant movement is expressed in inches (ex. 12”).  This translates on a 10’ per 1” square grid to rather large movement rates.  We will use a 5’ per 1” square combat grid without altering the movement expressions.  This effectively halves the movement rates of all combatants, but keeps the playing field level.

This still allows the combatant with the example movement rate above to move 60’ and attack (instead of 120’).

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