Basic Dungeons & Dragons: Combat changes

If, like me, you’ve been happily playing with the interim Dungeons & Dragons rules included in the recent Scourge of the Sword Coast, Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle and Dead in Thay adventures – or with the public playtest that those rules are drawn from – you are probably wondering what has changed. What do I need to know as I adapt to the new version of D&D? (If you haven’t played the playtest or used the interim rules, try this article instead!)

In this series of articles, I’ll be hitting the major changes on how to run things. I’m basing this on the Interim rule set rather than the full playtest document because the playtest is still under NDA. However, the rules Wizards released commercially in the adventures are fair game for comparison.

This first article is all about the major changes to the combat rules. You’ll find them in Chapter 9 of the free Basic pdf.

Surprise: It has been clarified that you can’t take reactions until after your first turn comes up – which you’ll then skip. Note this also means that characters can take reactions from the start of combat if they’re not surprised.

Initiative: Although there are no changes here, it’s worth noting how ties are resolved: players decide amongst themselves for their own tied initiative, as does the DM for the monsters. In the case of a monster and a player character, the DM can choose the order – or optionally roll d20s as tie-breakers.

Bonus Actions: This is a new type of action (analogous to the swift action of 3E or the minor action of 4E) and you are limited to one bonus action on each of your turns.

Movement and Attacks: It is clarified that you can move between multiple attacks.

Dropping Prone and Standing Up: Dropping prone now doesn’t take any of your speed, whilst standing up takes half your movement instead of all of it.

Flying and Falling: There are now various triggers for a flying creature falling from the sky: being knocked prone or being immobilized are two.

Creature Size: Although the space taken up by creatures of different sizes hasn’t changed, the “surround” and “fills” numbers are gone.

Dash: This is what was called Hustle.

No Charging: the Charge action is gone.

No Coup de Grace: the Coup de Grace action is gone.

Dodge: You now lose the benefit if you become incapacitated, rather than if you can’t move or take actions.

Grappling: the Grapple action is gone, but it has been rolled into the Attack action. The grapple attempt replaces one of your attacks. Instead of straight Strength or Dexterity checks, Athletics and Acrobatics are used instead. There is now no option to restrain a grappled creature.

Shoving a Creature: This section replaces the action of knocking someone prone, and also allows you to move the creature 5 feet away. Once again, the bare ability checks have been replaced with skill checks; it is also now part of the Attack action, replacing a single attack.

Help: This now specifies that only the first attack against the creature gains advantage.

No Hinder: the Hinder action is gone.

Ready: Now specifies what happens when you ready a spell, which also requires concentration.

Search: Now specifies that Wisdom (Perception) or Intelligence (Investigation) can be used, depending on circumstances.

Unseen Attackers and Targets: Now specifies you must know the location of the target.

Ranged Attacks: You have disadvantage on ranged attacks if you’re within 5 feet of a hostile creature. This includes spells that make ranged attack rolls!

Hit Points: This isn’t new, but is worth emphasising: there is no such things as negative hit points. Once they reach 0, they can’t fall any further.

Critical Hits: On a critical hit, you now roll twice the normal damage dice (rather than maximising the damage and rolling one of the damage dice again). Non-dice modifiers are not doubled.

Monsters and Death: The DM has the option of having creatures die immediately at 0 hit points or just letting them fall unconscious.

Mounts and Underwater Combats: These sections are new.

So, those are the changes I spotted. Critical hits and no Charging into combat will have the biggest effect on our games, but some of the other little changes may surprise you. Good luck with your games!

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