Narrative Combat: Story-Driven Action for the d20 System
Narrative Combat, a d20 System product from Adamant Entertainment, is a set of optional rules for combat that step away from the complex miniatures skirmish battles that d20 has become and tries to integrate combat with the narrative flow of the story. The great thing is that these rules don't change the character sheet at all, so Narrative Combat can be used "as needed". If you feel that the evening's first combat would be better served with a map and minis, go ahead. If you think the next fight would be faster or more dramatic using Narrative combat rules, you can do that. The Narrative Combat rules are designed so that "map-specific" feats like Spring Attack or spells that increase movement rate are still definitely useful, perhaps even more-so in certain situations. They also give the player characters options other than "kill or be killed". Need the rogue to sneak past the army of 2000 orcs and assorted baddies to backstab the enemy caster on the hill while the fighter helps the troops man the walls and the cleric heals the injured and the wizard lobs death down into the enemy army WITHOUT having to make 500 spot checks, 100 attack rolls, and 50 saving throws per round until everybody on one side or the other is dead? Good luck handling that with a battle-map. I'll stop by in a week to see how it's going. Using the Narrative Combat rules, that fight is not only possible, but shorter and can have meaningful consequences other than death.
You can get this supplement as a PDF from RPGNOW for $7.95 US, or get both the print and PDF versions for $14.95 US. Unfortunately for me, my print copy has occasional strings of random characters that push the formatting around wrong. It looks like the print-on-demand printer people might have had a problem with one of the fonts. I'll probably have to see if I can get a free reprint. The PDF itself works fine, though. The illustrations aren't too bad, I suppose. There's a bunch of medieval clip-art as well as some cartoony action-poses of adventuring types. I think the color cover could have been done a little better though.
So how does it work? It's all about "stances" and "templates". The stances are the general categories of things your character can do and the templates are descriptions of the encounters that tell what the dangers are, what the characters need to do to complete the encounter, and where the encounter goes if they do.
Perhaps to save the princess you have to make your way up to the castle through an army of bad guys and close the gate behind you to keep the army out, followed by a fight with the boss and his minions. So the template consists of the party making "movement" rolls to try to maneuver through the army. Meanwhile, they're automatically taking damage every round from attacks. While the Barbarian and the Rogue are making movement rolls to help the party through, the cleric can be casting spells to remove some of the automatic damage, the wizard can cast "fly" or something to increase the party's movement rolls, and the fighter can be tanking for the rogue. Once to the gates, it's more fighting until the characters can amass enough Disable Device skill check successes to get the gate to close. From here, it could be more Narrative Combat with the addition of the boss and his lieutenants, or maybe the map comes out and you finish the scene normally.
Now sure, this doesn't sound like much, but when the PCs are describing their intended actions and the results of those actions, "+5d6 (Fire) Undirected Damage" ends up like "Thrag swings his flame-axe in great swaths through the enemy troops, sending men and parts of men flying back into thier ranks. His teeth are clenched, his eyes wild and a bloody froth bubbles at his lips." It's also a bit better than, "Thrag attacks with his fire-axe, AGAIN. He's still raging. This is what, the 14th guy? How many are left?"
The rules, while conceptually simple, take some getting used to as figuring out which "stance" your character's proposed action falls into and how to resolve it can be a little tricky, but once you get the hang of it, it should go pretty smoothly. And besides, it's optional. I think this might make a nice tool for handling Play-By-Forum games where having a map and detailing each and every individual action just drags things out.
Despite the medieval fantasy art, the sample feats and NPCs the book uses seem to be all d20 Modern. However, the rules should work fine with D&D, and any feats not covered can be brought into play using the feat guidelines in the back.
Overall, I like the supplement for what it is. It's not especially pretty, and it's not for everybody, but the next time I run a PBF d20 game, I'm going to use these combat rules almost exclusively!