The Alexandrian

In large part, Legends & Labyrinths replaces the complicated variety of the 3rd Edition’s combat maneuvers and special attacks with a streamlined stunt system. But how much tactical interest are we sacrificing with those combat maneuvers? And is the stunt system just replacing one form of complexity for another?


The process of resolving a stunt is simple:

  1. Define the effect of the stunt (which determines the DC).
  2. Perform the stunt by making the appropriate action check.
  3. If successful, the target of the stunt may attempt a stunt save to negate its effect.

What makes the stunt system simple is specifically that the DCs are hard-coded. It turns it into a substantive part of the combat system instead of the “beg the GM for a nice DC” negotiation that many stunt systems boil down to.

What makes the stunt system work is a divided workload: On the one hand, we use an action check to determine whether or not the character successfully leverages whatever skill/ability they’re using to perform the stunt. (This encourages — but doesn’t mandate — characters to perform stunts within their areas of expertise.) On the other hand, we allow the target to make a saving throw to negate the effect. (This prevents high-level characters from being just as easy to pratfall as a low-level character.) By dividing this workload, we avoid the problem similar systems have had in which the DC calculation become difficult-to-balance calculus: Add up all your stunt factors, then divide by the performer’s HD before multiplying by the target’s HD, then modify according to difficulty factors before blah blah blah…


But does the result offer the same tactical versatility as the detailed special attacks offered by 3rd Edition?

Well, let’s talk about that.

(Note that the base DC for all stunts is DC 5.)

Aid Another: The stunt DC is +5 per +1 bonus. (A +2 bonus requires a DC 15 check instead of DC 10, but the mechanic is open-ended. The simplicity of +5 per +1 playtested much better than work-arounds which attempted to maintain the DC 10 = +2.)

Bull Rush: Forced movement +1 DC per 1 ft. So if you wanted to push someone 10 ft. over a cliff, it’s a DC 20 stunt check.

Charge: We left basic charges in the game as an optional rule. (Surprise rounds are hamstrung without them.) But there are quite a few ways to use movement to apply a bonus to your attack roll using the stunt system.

Disarm: Forcing an opponent to drop an item is a DC 15 stunt.

Feint: There’s not specifically a way to deny your opponent his Dex bonus to AC, but you can use a Bluff stunt to apply a penalty to his AC.

Grapple: L&L includes a simplified grapple system. Instead of being a complete departure from the rest of the combat rules, L&L’s grapple rules just modify them using a single, simple mechanic that’s easy to remember. In play it’s surprisingly not that different from the advanced grapple rules of 3E, but you won’t have to keep flipping the book open every time somebody tries to grab a monster.

Overrun: This one, I’ll admit, is missing functionality. We briefly playtested including “helpless” in the stunt system, but it was badly busted. The closest you’ll get is just using a forced movement stunt to shove them out of the way as you continue moving.

Trip: Prone is a +10 DC stunt.

So, from a tactical standpoint, we’ve found that the stunt system effectively replaces most of the existing combat maneuvers.

“Okay,” you say. “That’s all well and good. But all you’ve done is duplicate functionality the game already has using a slightly different system. Big deal.”

But, of course, the stunt system can do much more than that. And you can actually do any of these actions using any action check (assuming you can explain how the action check will provide the desired result). For example, you can trip people by making a melee attack roll… but you could also shoot them in the leg (ranged attack roll) or aim a cone of cold spell to create a sheet of ice under their feet (Spellcraft check) or throw them down (grapple check) or force them to leap aside by threatening to run them down (Ride check) or yank their feet out from under them with a lasso (Use Rope check) or anything else you’d care to imagine.

So we basically hoover up all the existing functionality of the 3rd Edition maneuvers into a simple superstructure that’s both (a) simpler than the functionality it’s replacing and (b) capable of adding much more functionality to the game.

Legends & Labyrinths


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8 Responses to “Legends & Labyrinths – Stunts vs. Combat Maneuvers”

  1. heromedel says:

    That’s actualy kinda sweet although I imagine some players will just try too explain everything with their one awesome skill. ((I’m going to use sleight of hand too grope my female opponent making her so suddenly shocked she just falls to the ground, JK Now if only I could find a way too bull rush with open locks, haha)

  2. cr0m says:

    Sounds pretty cool and very flexible. How did you get a DC 20 for bullrush 10′ though? Shouldn’t it be DC 15 (DC 5 + 1 per 1′)?

  3. Hautamaki says:

    I feel like there will still be a lot of ‘debating’ over what skills/abilities are relevant to a given check. But I really can’t see any way around that. It’s not like the rule book can or should have a ruling on every possible scenario.

  4. starwed says:

    I’m curious: for something like aid another, is the idea that you “try as hard as you can” and then let the roll dictate the bonus, or must you call out the target bonus before you roll.

    The former probably makes more sense from the characters perspective, especially with something like bull rush. But combining different stunts then might get more complicated…

  5. heromedel says:

    Justin, I wrote a review of my first impression of the Black Book Beta. I would like your opinion of my review and my writing and I thought you might be interested in reading it.

    I had a bit of trouble when breaking it into two posts so I’m not sure how well my review turned out, but here is the link.

  6. Justin Alexander says:

    @cr0m – Re: DC 20. I was actually cursed as a young boy by a witch. “When demonstrating math on your blog for a game you’ve designed, you will always screw it up.” It was kinda hyper-specific and at age 11 it didn’t make much sense to me, but it’s apparently a curse with legs. 😉

    @Hautamaki: I’m not a big fan of “rules vs. rulings” as it’s been instantiated by the OSR, but I do believe in GM’s making strong, flexible, and permissive rulings.

    In an OSR game, this ruling was often limited to “make an arbitrary die roll” or “make an ability check” (and you can see this reflected in older products). 3E provided a more robust mechanic for making these rulings. The stunt system, I think, effectively weds that structure into the combat system by adding some core balancing mechanics to limit abuse.

    But it’s still ultimately about the DM making rulings. And this is even more true in a straight-up L&L game, because L&L strips away a large portion of the pre-designed mechanical guidelines that add complexity to the AD&D tradition of rulebooks (of which 3E is very much a part, even if they did drop “Advanced” from the title).

    @starwed: We initially playtested it with “try as hard as you can” and using margins of success to determine outcome. It worked all right, but we found the system generally worked better in actual play if you define the stunt specifically and then see if you succeed.

    With that being said, it’s very easy to use margin of success calculations for the “aid another” and “forced movement” aspects of the system. That works just fine and doesn’t create any balance issues. (The lack of consistency in how different stunts were resolved can lead to some confusion, though, which is why the rules are written to pre-define all stunts.)

  7. Justin Alexander says:

    @Herome: Thanks for linking me to that. (And thanks for writing it!) That kind of “first impression” gives me some great insight into how the rulebook is actually functioning when I’m not sitting in the room. (Even when I keep my mouth shut, my presence almost certainly has an impact on how people interact with the rulebook.)

    It’s interesting for me to see the disparate reactions to the reference-oriented layout of the rulebook. The hitch-up you had with Chapter 2 was interesting (which I placed there because it makes sense to group all the character-definition stuff together; but it also makes sense to include the XP and encounter building guidelines together).

    When I’ve playtested character creation with completely new players (those who haven’t played RPGs or haven’t played RPGs for awhile), I turn them to the complete overview of character creation on page 7 and then they walk their way through it. The sequencing of the rest of the information in the book is almost irrelevant to them, because they flip according to the page references in that step-thru instead of trying to follow from cover-to-cover.

    This seems to work, as new players zero in on just the information they need: Pick a race, look at the page for that race. Pick a class, look at the spread for that class. Et cetera.

    But is that just an artifact of me calling attention specifically to page 7? Or of the time-crunch of creating a character while sitting at a table with other players? Or was your experience different because you skipped over that stuff as an experienced gamer?

    Since you pointed it out, what was your opinion of having the adventuring gear price list spread across multiple pages, but with the prices always on the same page as the item description? I went back and forth and back and forth on the utility of the different approaches there.

  8. heromedel says:

    When I noticed the adventuring gear was broken up here is how it happened.

    1. Ok, I need a water skin, ah adventuring gear. Wait this is a really small list and no water skin. Hmm, lets keep looking ok here we go more adventuring gear. Wait it had the same title as before and still no water skin.

    2. Lets see, this table says adventuring gear and this table says adventuring gear, oh well maybe justin hasn’t labeled his tables yet. Lets keep going, ok another adventuring gear. oh wait its just continuing on.

    3. hmm lots of little broken adventuring gear tables, now why would he… oh look the descriptions line up. That’s ingenious a little more page flipping then I’m use too but I’m sure I’d get use too it and best of all, block and tackel is explained right by block and tackel. (I hate it when players try to go fishing with block and tackel.)

    I imagine you will get mixed opinions on that but I can get use too it and see its functionality.

    As for the chapter 2 thing I know that part of it is that I have been making dnd charactors since I was younger then 7. And honestly I make more characters then I DM or Play so I did skip alot of text. But usually when playing any roleplaying game the first time I try too follow the chapters in order. But if I hit something that explains combat or something and I don’t feel ready for it since I dont have a character I just skip it.

    So I’m sure partly just me but I tend too expect character creation to be first, foremost and un-interupted. But I didn’t pay too much attention to page seven I saw that it said this is how too make a character but didn’t see much detail and just moved on.

    But one other thing too keep in mind is that since I was using a pdf I just kept hitting page down if it had been a real book at the time, I would have stuck my thumb on page seven too look back at it or maybe just flipped pages faster and been less concerned by interruption. pdf’s don’t always line up page number and the page number thing at the bottom of whatever I read pdf’s in. So I don’t usually trust page number unless I’m so lost I go back to the table of contents.

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