Saturday, September 19, 2020

AD&D - Why Segments make 1-Minute Rounds Work for Me

I used to hate the 1-minute melee round length in AD&D. It felt way too long for what happens. It did match those swords and sorcery books, where Moorcock and Burroughs and the like routinely describe people fencing for 10, 20, 30 minutes - even an hour - before a telling blow is struck. Realistically ludicrous, given the speed at which you can execute a strike.

But now, having run AD&D several times in the past couple of years with 1-minute melee rounds but using segments . . . I don't dislike the 1 minute round anymore.

Segments make a big difference.

It's something I wish I understood back in the early 80s when I was running AD&D.

If you're not familiar with them, here is a brief description based on my understanding of the rules.

Segments are six-second increments of time in AD&D. 10 of them comprise a round. Actions taken in combat occur on a specific segment of a round.

How we run them - and I believe this is by the rules as written, is that you roll initiative. Higher die has the initiative. The other side takes its first action on the segment number indicated by your die, and vice-versa.

For example, the PCs have encountered some hostile ogres. Neither side is surprised, and both are hostile - the ogres because they're CE, the PCs because they're PCs.* They roll for initiative. The PCs roll a 3. The ogres roll a 1. The PCs act starting on segment one. The ogres, segment three. Thus the PCs get to go first, and have a bit of time to act before the ogres do. The ogres still have a lot of time to act, it's just they don't get priority like the PCs do.

You can roll a 5 for initiative and the monsters a 4, so you go on segment 4 . . . and move (1 segment), ready a weapon (1 segment), and attack (1 segment) and resolve that attack on segment 6. If all they need to do is attack (1 segment) or cast Magic Missile (1 segment casting time), they resolve that attack on segment 5 and beat you out.

If you roll tying numbers - say they roll 4 and 4 on the next round when it begins - you start your round simultaneously. Weapon Speed matters if you're using it** as does the amount of stuff you need to get done.

I find that establishing initiative and then having possibly interspersed, pre-declared actions makes for an easy to run but chaotic-in-effect melee, and it adds a lot of tension. It's not roll, tune out, listen for your damage, ask who's still up, and then make your rolls.

Other reasons I like segments:

- you can have abstract combat with non-abstract timing, which is something players eventually crave. They want to throw a flask of oil and then slam the door. They want to wait for someone to come melee them. They want to move, attack, and then move back. You can make all of those pieces of one shorter combat round, but given segments you can organize them into an overall whole and require the person doing more to take more time to do it. If you come up on segment 2 from initiative and have 3 things to do before you strike, and your foe is on segment 3 and only needs one . . . he's going to strike first. It feels organic and excellent.

- it builds in hesitation. Someone I always admired in 1st edition Twilight:2000 was the Coolness Under Fire mechanic and hesitations. You were required to take a few "dead" moments in a series of turns, based on your CUF rating. (Aside - I didn't like the 0-hestitation for a CUF of 0, which everyone tried to angle for and would mysteriously roll up if you turned your back. But anyway.) AD&D segments do this. There is a real difference between rolling a 2 for initiative and winning against a 1, and rolling a 6 and beating a 5. One gives you a lot of time to act; the other contains some dead time, wasted moments. Those can be critical in a situation with timed effects.

- it allows for actions that are too long for a round. You can always spill over to the next round. This combines well with the previous situation - if you start a spell on segment 6 that takes 6 segments (Disintegrate, say), it won't go off until segment 2 of the next round. If your foes go on segment 1, they can interrupt you. If they have a 2, it's tied, and it goes off simultaneously. If they go on 3, your spell beats them. It adds a lot of tension to a decision to move and cast, because your segment or two of movement can mean the difference between getting the spell off or not. Depending on initiative.

I don't think you need segments to make combat work, but if you dispose of them I think shorter combat rounds are the way to go.

I do also agree with the complaint that, if I can do XYZ and finally attack on segment 10 and get a normal attack, it's reasonable that I could attack multiple times. Start on segment 1 and get 10 segments worth of attacks if you're not moving and neither is your foe - shoot 10 arrows a round, say, or swing 10 blows. Yeah, that does make some logical sense. But I feel like you lose some of the above - the need to time things, the overlap of actions, etc. And you really end up with straight-up GURPS style overlapping turns, and really should dispose of per-round initiative as something of no value to the system. You lose out an the fiction-like approach of a few telling blows landing and lots of action going on in favor of maximized attacks and a lowered ability to non-combat things. "Hold them off while I pick this lock" is a one-round thing in AD&D; in GURPS it's a whole combat and you may as well just drop the picks and join in and pick the lock later if you win.

If you'd like to read more about segments, check out The Blue Bard's post on them. I found these after we started using segment-based combat in our run through of WPM. Or read ADDICT. Or both.

* Aren't PCs always hostile to things with treasure and/or worth XP? The whole idea of clearing a dungeon is centered around maximizing both.

** I don't, but it's a post worth of explanation why not.


  1. I mostly like the Vampire the Masquerade definition - long enough to do something

    I really think whether a round is 1 microsecond or 1 fortnight is the reddest of red herrings in RPGs, and prefer to talk in terms of rounds or turns etc once combat starts

    1. See, I'm the opposite. I found the Vampire definition maddening in concept, and subject to a lot of issues in play. One PC would get off a punch, another would pick a lot, another would draw guns and spin and shoot - because the GM thought that was a single "something."

      I think a concrete definition is really helpful. It's good enough for the people with vague "one panel of a comic book" visions of play and good enough for people who really want/need/think in terms of specific times. Specific can work for both; vague only works for the former.

  2. I find VtM works pretty well, but mostly just hate bringing real world time units into games. So when I do GURPS I've eliminated a lot of things that reference days/seconds/whatever

    Mostly the time I hear people mentioning time is people complaining 'you can only swing once in a minute!?' In D&D or 'what do you mean someone swung multiple times in one second!?' In GURPS etc. A solution of 'a round is a round, it has as much connection to the passage of time as moving a piece in chess' works infinitely better for me

    1. We have opposite experiences with the WW turn length. I'm not saying it can't work, just that it didn't work satisfactorily in the game I played using it.

      Plus I'm one of the people who finds the lack of a specific round/turn length really unsatisfactory for the way I run games.

  3. Your explanation of AD&D combat segment usage was really helpful to me. Back in the day we couldn't figure out AD&D combat rounds so we used BECMI combat rounds, or maybe since I hear there are three combat systems in AD&D we used the simplest one. AD&D2 explained segments but apparently changed things from your explanation that make it inferior in my opinion. In that iteration initiative was based on d10 but all actions still complete in the round they start, so people initiative would tick off 1, 2, 3, ... but often continue 12, 13, 14, ... So the 6 second segment became abstracted and variable length to fit all the action into a 1 minute round. I like the elegance of your explanation with d6 starting segments, dead time, and long actions sliding into the next round (though I then wonder does the character straddling two rounds get to act in the next round when all his companions see another initiative die).

    1. I'm glad it helped. I'm not 100% certain it's correct, but it's how we run it. It really does hold together well if you run it the way I do.

      I never played AD&D 2nd edition, no read anything but modules and some monster entries, so I can't really compare. I think I may have suggested a similar system in today's Weapon Speed Factors post.

      For the actions that roll into another round, that's your action for the next round. It's tough, but it only affects spellcasters casting long spells. They're just as happy to have the monsters go on 4, start a 5-segment spell on 6, and only worry that a 1 might interrupt the spell if their party rolls a 1 and the monsters hit. That they "lose" a turn isn't a bad thing. I allow movement (not casting or attacks) once their side's initiative comes up. The only oddity is where to place pre-initiative multiple attacks and missile fire . . . I just say it's first and would finish during segment one. I'll make it clear when I post on multiple attacks + segments later this week.


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