Block, Dodge or Soak Alternative Combat System
Block, Dodge or Soak is an alternative combat system for Basic D&D and its compatible games. It was devised by Brendan from the Necropraxis blog to give players a little bit more agency during combat resolution. You can read about it here and here but I’ll go through it below as well.
Normally in D&D the attacker will throw an attack throw and then compare that number to a chart with the defender’s Armor Class listed. This means when monsters are attacking players, the players are just sitting there waiting for their character to get it in the neck.
A more fun way to handle it is to give the player the d20 and let him roll to defend! Mechanically it’s the same but you’re putting the strands of Fate into the player’s hands – or tying them around his neck as the case may be.
The player rolls. The Ref compares the result to the chart, and the character either gets hit or is able to soak up the assault and avoid hit point damage. We will call this standard action a Soak roll (rather than a monster’s attack roll) because the player is trying to let his character soak up the onslaught.
Now, rather than just allowing one kind of defense action, let’s give the player a chance to use his character’s ability scores to maximize his chance to defend.
If “Soak” is a kind of passive defense based on Armor Class, then the first kind of active defense is called “Block” because it means you’re counter-attacking and using brute force to keep the enemy off balance in an attempt to blunt his assaults. The way we “Block” is to make a Strength check. If the check succeeds, then the attack is blunted and there is no Hit Point damage. This makes sense for doughty Fighting-Men but probably not for wimpy Magic-Users. You can imagine Conan being overwhelmed by several lesser men and just throwing them off with a great heave, his bare chest glistening with sweat.
So the second kind of active defense is called “Dodge” because it represents your character dodging and running around rather than standing to fight. It is represented by a Dexterity check. It makes sense for characters with a high Dexterity score but not a very high Strength score. A tricky marital artist like Jackie Chan could fight dozens of men by repeatedly dodging out of their way!
Now if you pull apart the math on this, Block and/or Dodge will almost certainly be better options on defense than standard old Armor Class. So how do we mitigate that big advantage?
During the round that a player elects to Block or Dodge but before the Block or Dodge attempt happens, have the player roll a Constitution check. If it fails, then he can no longer Block or Dodge until he’s rested for a Turn after combat. He can only Soak. This means it is still good to wear good armor because you never know when your muscles and reflexes won’t be up to the task!
Furthermore, the Referee should impose a -1 to the Block or Dodge roll (but not the Soak roll) for every attacker beyond the first. This makes it harder to fight off groups of bad guys ganging up on you.
Advantage and Disadvantage in Combat
Big admission: I have never tried 5th edition D&D. Kid you not! I'm not an edition snob or something, I've just never had an opportunity to do it. Actually it seems like it hits the sweet spot between modern and older editions (the monster manual however I could do without.)
One of the super innovations put in the middle of the 5E rules is advantage/disadvantage. It just feels right. It feels like D&D. It feels simple and powerful too. It marries a narrative element to a rule element to a game mechanic element so good! I used a version advantage in Treasure Hunters prolix edition to simulate the use of a two-handed weapon and then use of two weapons in skirmish. It turned out exactly right.
What if, instead of worrying about a Constitution check, you just make Block or Dodge subject to Disadvantage? Like, you have to pass two Str or Dex checks to succeed? That would be cool but it would also get rid of the need for armor entirely. So I don’t think that’s exactly right. Let’s keep thinking about how to use this kind of active defense combat system.