Reel Melee: The Fateful Duel

About a year ago, as I suffered through a sunburn fever in the darkest, sweatiest part of Cabo San Lucas, my perception broke through a red and shuddery haze and tuned into the movie on TV, a swords-and-sandals extravaganza named The Scorpion King, starring several muscular and oily men. As I watched helplessly, I realized there was a certain rhythm to the battles, a swing and parry, a leap and tumble, a slash and dash and crash… a STANDARD and MOVE and MINOR. All at once, I saw that the action in this movie could be broken into pieces and reassembled into something like the Dungeons & Dragons 4E combat rules.

Now, I’d be only too happy to track down The Scorpion King with all of its Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gloriousness and watch it again and again and again to parse one of its battles, but instead decided to examine a movie that was better known and, presumably, more readily available (hint: if I were you, I’d start by searching online at a site that rhymes with Moo-Doob).

Perhaps you’ve heard of a movie called Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, which featured the breakout child mega-star Jake Something-Or-Other, who played an annoying little kid who couldn’t act. There was, I admit, quite a lot in Menace to fundamentally despise, but towards the end of the movie, there’s this massively wonderful light saber duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and Darth Maul, and which features music that rivals (exceeds?) The Imperial March. I know, I know, blasphemy!

In order to make the melee work, I had to figure out the characters and equipment, and then slowly go insane as I tried to stay within the game rules while determining the powers that I was seeing on the screen. I did everything I could to avoid simply house-ruling everything, though there were, I’m afraid, a few elements where I was forced to do a little tweaking (For example, when Obi-Wan fell to the lower catwalk, what the heck was he doing for all that time that Qui-Gon was fighting Maul? His nails?).

Here’s a quick shot of the characters as I see them:

  • Darth Maul 11th level longtooth shifter hybrid fighter/wizard, cloth armor & double sword (AC 25 Fort 19 Ref 19 Will 20, HP 75)
  • Qui-Gon Jinn 10th level human fighter, cloth armor & falchion +3 (AC 22 Fort 21 Ref 18 Will 18, HP 81)
  • Obi-Wan 5th level human fighter, cloth armor, falchion, & Hedge Wizard Gloves (AC 19 Fort 19 Ref 16 Will 13, HP 54)

And now, on with the combat:


Surprise Round

Maul HP 79 WNDS 0

Standard: Intimidate skill on Amidala and her guards ( 31)

Round 1

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 0

Free: “We’ll handle this.”

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 0

Minor: Throws off cloak.
Move: Walks forward.
Minor: Draws falchion.

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 0

Minor: Throws off cloak.
Move: Walks forward.
Minor: Draws falchion +3.

Amidala / Guards

Free: “We’ll take the long way.”
Double Move: Moves 12 through side exit.

Maul HP 79 WNDS 0

Minor: Throws off cloak.
Minor: Draws double sword.

Round 2

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 0+11

Move: Acrobatics skill to somersault over Maul. ( 21, success)

Maul Immediate: Opportunity Attack Basic Melee (atk 20, dmg 11)

Standard: Wicked Strike (atk 24, MISS)

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 0

Standard: Lasting Threat while flanking (atk 32, dmg 19, MARKED until end of encounter)

Maul HP 79 WNDS 0+19

Standard: Bell Ringer on Qui-Gon (atk 31 CRITICAL, dazed/prone with Overwhelming Critical feat)
Move: Moves back 6.

Obi-Wan Immediate: Opportunity Attack Wicked Strike (atk 16, MISS)

Minor: Mage Hand to fling debris to open door.

Round 3-6

Obi-Wan presses his attack on Maul while Qui-Gon recovers from the dazing blow. Maul begins changing, taking on a savage form, and then dashes away from the battle. Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon catch up, but Maul flips backwards to another catwalk.

Round 7

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 38+9+1=48

Move: Acrobatics skill to flip to Maul’s catwalk. ( 27, success)
Standard: Reaping Strike (atk 18, MISS, dmg 4)

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 37+12=49

Move: Athletics skill to jump to Maul’s catwalk. ( 30, success)
Standard: Sure Strike while flanking (atk 26, dmg 6)

Maul HP 79 WNDS 40+4+6-4=46

Regeneration 4
Standard: Dual Strike on Obi-Wan (atk 16, MISS) and Qui-Gon (atk 22, dmg 12)
Free: Action Point.
Standard*: Twofold Torment on Qui-Gon (atk 15, MISS) and Obi-Wan (atk 30, dmg 9, push 4 from catwalk)

Obi-Wan Save: ( 3, FAIL), falls prone 40′ to a catwalk dmg 13; Acrobatics skill to reduce damage ( 24, dmg 13-12=1)

Move: Shift 1.

Qui-Gon Immediate: Combat Challenge Melee Basic (atk 19, MISS)

Round 8-15

While Obi-Wan gets to his feet and collects himself (Second Wind), Qui-Gon punches Maul across the face, sending him 20′ down to a catwalk and jumping down after him.

As Qui-Gon chases Maul toward the shaft room, Obi-Wan leaps back up to the catwalk and follows them, but they are all caught inside the laser shield array. While waiting for the array to deactivate, Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Maul use a short rest to recover hit points and encounter powers.

When the array deactivates, Qui-Gon chases Maul into the shaft room where they engage in a deadly battle, but Obi-Wan is caught inside again, and can only watch as the fight unfolds.

Round 16

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 0

Ready: Charge when shields deactivate.

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 61+26=87

Standard: Sure Strike (atk 27, dmg 5)
Move: Shift back 1.

Maul HP 79 WNDS 38+5=43

Standard: Brute Strike on Qui-Gon (atk 31 CRITICAL, dmg 26) – Qui-Gon falls, dying.

Round 17

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 0

Ready: Charge when shields deactivate.

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 87

Save: Death saving throw ( 1, FAIL), 1 miss.

Maul HP 79 WNDS 43-19=24

Standard: Second Wind

Round 18-21

When the shield array deactivates, Obi-Wan charges in at Maul, driving him back with the fury of his attacks. They exchange blows as Qui-Gon lays dying, with Maul matching Obi-Wan’s ferocity, clearly thrilling at the death in the air (Longtooth Shifting). Just as Obi-Wan starts getting the upper hand, Maul attacks with a blast of energy.

Round 22

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 38+9=47

Standard: Wicked Strike (atk 26, dmg 12)

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 87

Save: Death saving throw ( 12, pass), 1 miss.

Maul HP 79 WNDS 53+12-4=61

Regeneration 4
Standard: Thunderwave (atk 22, dmg 9, push 2 into pit)


Obi-Wan Save:
( 7, FAIL), falls into pit; Athletics skill to catch self ( 24)

Round 23

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 47

Move: Acrobatics skill to somersault out of pit over Maul. ( 27)
Minor: Mage Hand from Hedge Wizard Gloves to get Qui-Gon’s falchion +3.
Standard: Brazen Assault (atk 31 CRITICAL, dmg 58, push 2 into pit)

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 87

Save: Death saving throw ( 5, FAIL), 2 misses.

Maul HP 79 WNDS 61+58=119

Dies (Below negative bloodied)

Round 24

Obi-Wan HP 54 WNDS 47

Move: Rushes to Qui-Gon’s side.
Standard: Heal to stabilize ( 4, FAIL)

Qui-Gon HP 81 WNDS 87

Free: “It’s too late… promise me you will train the boy…”
Save: Death saving throw ( 2, FAIL), dies.


So, we’ve reached the end of the scene, and you find yourself sitting there wondering, “Just what was that for anyway?” A fair question. I’ll admit that part of what appeals to me is the “oooh shiny” aspect, but that’s only small part. Mostly I like this because it demonstrates the truly cinematic nature of 4th Edition, since I was able to represent a full-on movie scene and only cheat a tiny little bit.

With a bit of reskinning, some reasonable interpretations of rules (no, really), and a DM all drenched in cool, there’s no reason that these sorts of battles shouldn’t happen all the time. Just a few take aways that I see and that I would definitely use:

  • Open a scene with “scary face” (Intimidate) to drive away some minions. Personally, I think players would get a huge kick out of this, though it may become yet another skill that causes everyone around the table to just start throwing dice.
  • How about everyone (PCs and NPCs) burn their first turn not doing a whole lot of anything? No instant attack, no foolishness like that. Just roll initiative, throw off your cloaks, and draw your weapons. “But wait, I have this standard action just hanging around…” So what? Sometimes it’s cooler just to strike a pose. Just ask Madonna.
  • Maybe those fancy Dexterity characters can use Acrobatics in place of Athletics to “flip” across a distance. There is a precedent for this sort of thing in the rules about Escape.
  • Movement, movement, movement! I love all the movement in this battle, even though it meant provoking an alarming number of opportunity attacks. Just about every player reacts to opportunity attacks like they are Kryptonite smothered in lima beans, but that’s no reason the monsters have to act like whiny little… monsters. To the DMs I say this: have those monsters move, have them provoke, have some fun!
  • I really do like the representation of second winds and short rests. As I was making my way through the video, the force field scene just about leaped off the screen at me, ricocheting around the room and making quite a racket. “Holy [very bad word], they’re taking a short rest!” I shouted, and my wife took the kids to her mother’s house.
  • Oh, them crazy dying words. Allowing a dying character to be passively interactive is very much a movie thing: “”To prevent war… the galaxy… is on… Orion’s… what is word? B… b… belt.” Of course, you have to exercise extreme caution with this, since some players might see some opportunity for exploitation. “Hey, if I can talk, I can use a power. I’ll attack the dragon!”

This was a colossal challenge, but now that I’m done, I never want to do it again ever. No wait, maybe I do. My first goal has to be getting feeling back into my typing fingers and reading eyes, and then seeing if my wife will come back with the kids.

Comments

  1. Wow, this was fascinating to read in a very bizarre way. Probably because I can see myself not only doing this kind of thing, but also because I’ve actually thought about stuff like that before. Though I’m not a big fan of putting the Sci-Fi elements into Fantasy terms, I still really enjoyed seeing how you went through the whole thing!

  2. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Bartoneus: Fascinating in a very bizarre way… that’s exactly how my wife describes me. I was somewhere in the 12th or 13th hour of working on this when I sat back, stretched my screaming back, and thought, “Just what the heck am I doing?” It was simultaneously tons of fun and a total nightmare to write. Thanks so much for reading!

  3. “DM all drenched in cool” indeed. More DMs should allow all kinds of cinematic stuff that even breaks the rules, such as scaring off minions at the start of the fight (as a standard action, why not?).

    I allow Acrobatics and Athletics crossover, and I allow characters to use those skills to cut corners and all sorts of other stuff. Doing a handles cartwheel to gt around the corner and avoid an opportunity attack is fun making. Also, what’s good for the characters is good for the monsters.

    I want movement! So, of course, the monsters move and provoke, occasionally ignore marks (drama!), and stuff like that. It not only makes the combat seem dynamic, it also lets players use their cool toys. Everyone loves it when a monster goes to attack the bloodied healer and the fighter’s combat superiority stops it in its tracks.

    Good stuff.

  4. Chris: Agreed! My monsters will pretty regularly attack and ignore a mark, which results in the Swordmage or Warden in my game actually getting to use their super cool interrupt powers and is probably one of the reasons they have so much fun! It’s tough to get over the frustration where as the DM you want your monsters to do things and they are interrupted, but the players having fun makes it fun for me also, and I just set them up to be interrupted as well!

  5. Holy crap, this was an awesome post. My favorite line: ” “But wait, I have this standard action just hanging around…” So what? Sometimes it’s cooler just to strike a pose. Just ask Madonna.”

  6. Makes me want to add a rule to use Insight or Perception to determine the quality of your foe (vs. Bluff). If you succeed, you get an action point and the ability to use two action points during the fight. That would encourage the whole drop cloak get prepped for the fight feel.

    JesterOC

  7. Overall, excellent. Great job!

    I’m also nodding in agreement with all the comments thus far.

    One last note..I love the thought of using short rests as bridges between scenes in the same combat. That captures that long combat feel perfectly!

    Again, awesome stuff.

    Thanks!

  8. Sweet!

    If you ever do this again, I have a suggestion: Jack (and friends) vs. Darkness in Legend (one of my all-time personal favorite movies). To me, it’s a quintessential PC vs. BBEG battle.

  9. I’m really digging this article. My group has always been in the “fun trumps written rule” end of the pool. Even with rules as written though, making lasting play memories has always been my goal as a DM and 4e let’s me do that very well.

    On the intimidate point, I had one guy who used it so well (with great RP to back it up) that it became one of his go-to powers in combat. Having that interact with environment (water, fire, rickety boxes) makes for some really great and funny moments in combat.

    It really helps that I have great players dedicated to having fun with RP than with hacking and slashing.

    Good and thorough work, Mr. Trimline.

  10. Why didn’t you just use SAGA Edition rules? They’re close enough to 4E to be familiar, and they accurately represent this kind of thing

    /troll

  11. I really enjoyed this post, like a alot. True there was a bit of cheating done, but it makes the fight awfully fun. You did a great job breaking it down in 4e terms.

    Favorite Line: “How about everyone (PCs and NPCs) burn their first turn not doing a whole lot of anything? No instant attack, no foolishness like that. Just roll initiative, throw off your cloaks, and draw your weapons. “But wait, I have this standard action just hanging around…” So what? Sometimes it’s cooler just to strike a pose. Just ask Madonna.”

  12. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Chris Sims: It really does warm various necrotic portions of my heart when DMs talk about allowing the PCs to be cinematically cool. It seems like a no-brainer–let the players have FUN–but my experience indicates that it’s oh-so rare. Given the rants/raves about your Dark Sun game, this has to be a “do as I do” situation, which is just plain wonderful.

    @E. Foley: hehehe. I wrote that Madonna line, giggled like a silly person, almost took it out… but didn’t. Thanks for the read.

    @JesterOC: That’s an interesting idea, building the encouragement into the rules. My first reaction was, “But they should just WANT to do it,” but why not sweeten the deal a little? An extra Action Point would bring the fun and I don’t see how it would break the game.

    @gamefiend: Thanks! To get the short rests, all you have to do is work in impenetrable laser shields into every battle. Har har. However, five minutes really is FIVE MINUTES. That’s a very long time on-screen and in-game. Maybe DMs could give a little nod and a wink in certain circumstances, acknowledging that the PCs who holed up inside the cave away from the raging dragon can take a minute or two to get the benefits of a short rest.

    @kingworks: It’s been a while since I’ve seen Legend. Is the battle interactive? Does it look like a lot of different powers would be used?

    @wkinchlea: Fantastic! I love the idea of a character’s signature move, especially one that’s built into roleplaying. Thank you.

    @Matthew Arcilla: Troll or not (and I’m saying not), it’s a fair point, and while researching this and slowly losing my mind adapting D&D 4E rules to a Star Wars setting proved… let’s just say challenging. I would have really appreciated a Force power built right in. That said, my goal was to represent a well-known battle using the D&D rules, and I picked Phantom Menace because it’s just so neato.

    @Kyidro: Thank you so much. This is the kind of battle I’d love to play through and also run, the cheats be darned!

  13. I had an eladrin swordmage in my last game– we re-skinned all the teleports as “superfast Jedi run” or “Jedi jump to the other side of the battlefield”, and he focused on force-style powers. It worked out incredibly well. Swordmage re-skins to Jedi effortlessly.

  14. @Jason Dawson: Hey now, an eladrin swordmage as a Jedi, that’s pure genius. I love the touches you added to simulate the Force.

  15. Excellent read.
    I emailed a link for these article to my players in the hope that it inspires them to think with a cinematic flare as well as tactically.

    I like your interpretation/convertion of the Jedi and Sith to 4th Ed.
    One question though (for the author as well as any one else who cares to voice an opinion)
    If you were to re-write this battle using different Classes, Races (especially in the case of Darth Maul), and equipment, what would you have chosen, and why?

  16. @A. Elias: Thanks for the kind words! That’s a great question, and I would love to hear your ideas of character reinterpretations. I started with the easy foundation of human fighers and bumped to a shifter for the regeneration durability and hybrid wizard for the Mage Hand and Thunderwave.

    I thought about paladins (for the toughness) and rangers (for the dual weapons), but I couldn’t find any daze or prone type attacks. Not saying they’re not there, just that I couldn’t find them.

  17. In the olde days players used to get XPs for good roleplaying. So basically ‘posing’ instead of running through their lists of dailies, encounters and at wills and picking the most appropriate for the job.

    If players can be corralled into thinking that they can get as many XPs from doing cool stuff rather
    that simply hacking things down to small bits (not that this isn’t satisfying sometimes 8-)) this can
    only be a good thing.

    I think one of the problems of 4E has been how to fit the olde school posing and crazy cool moves back into the combat rules to make fights more cinematic.

    Really fun read. 100xps 😎

  18. Dixon Trimline says:

    @Sukh: Oh, I remember those olde days, when we used to LEVEL based on the roleplaying XP we’d get! I also remember an AD&D game where the DM offered some advice to two players, telling one, “Steve, you’re tearing it up with roleplaying, but your tactics are a little weak,” and the other, “Sean, you’re tactics are deadly in combat, but you should really focus more on roleplaying.” So it’s not exactly a new issue with 4E 🙂

    And thanks for the XP. I just need 25 more for next level.

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