Simplification and Complexity: Actions

Actions in Dungeons & Dragons 3.x and Pathfinder come in a wide range of types.  Not-an-action, Free, Immediate, Swift, Move Equivalent, Standard, Full-Round… I think that covers all the ones that come up.  Some… things done by characters don’t fit the round-based action model, such as spells that take more than a round to cast, but in combat at least, this is the list.

I’m going to take a tip from FantasyCraft and reduce the set a little.


Not-an-action can go.  These are things that don’t warrant action cost, such as shouting something brief and not waiting for a response.  Never mind, call it a free action.

Free action is on parole.  There aren’t that many things that honestly should be ‘free’ when time is being measured.

Immediate and Swift.  I’m certainly keeping Swift, but I think I’ll get rid of the distinction of Immediate actions.  I think I may abstract the mechanism so that some things may be done as interrupts but will cost actions from the next turn.  HERO System allows you to abort to certain actions, which may include full standard actions.  For instance, evasion might be replaced with the ability to react to an area effect by getting out of the way, but it costs either a swift action (you just had to shift position a little, a five-foot step) or a standard action (you had to move further, up to your normal movement rate).

Move Equivalent is gone.  Low-level martial characters get a single attack per round whether they move or not, so what benefit is there to a full attack action?  Let them have two standard actions.  It may be necessary to do something with casting times; spells scale much better with level than martial attacks do, so doubling those for free will be bad.  Spell casting time may go up to “two standard actions” for most spells.  It’s something of a nerf, of course, but I think I like how it will work.

Standard action stays.  Attack, cast a spell, whatever.  Some talents will allow a character to do more than one related thing per action (such as attacking once with each weapon as a single action).

Full-Round actions go.  Some activities will require multiple standard actions, but you can split them across rounds if you want.  You may be more subject to interruption, of course.


A character gets two standard actions and one swift action per round.  Most things that can be done cost a standard action, some that are very fast cost swift actions, some that are slower may take two or more standard actions.  Actions that cost more than a standard action may be spread over two or more rounds, using consecutive actions until complete.

Normally a character may only spend actions during his turn.  Some situations outside a character’s turn may allow him to spend actions from his next turn to respond.  For instance, an action that provokes an attack of opportunity allows a character to spend a swift action from his next turn to make a simple attack against the provoker, during the provoker’s turn.  Depending on talents, the responder may have other options that might use standard actions.

It may be possible to gain additional actions per round, either standard or swift.  Some talents will allow you to do more with a single action, such as Expert Two-Weapon Fighting allowing you to spend a single standard action to attack once with each weapon.

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  2. David Lamb

    Straightforward and seems reasonable, but the devil is in the details — it’ll be easier to evaluate when we see the list of specific action. Reducing the number of categories is definitely a good idea as far as I can see.

    At one point you were considering ditching iterated attacks completely. Is that still true? If not, you might need something for “an action that can take place as part of an iterated attack” for which it’s OK to get several per round at high level. Might as well call it an “attack action”. Standard actions can’t be sped up by increased combat prowess, but taking a blow, a 5-foot step, trying a trip, all might be things a heroic or master character could do more than one of.

    • At this point, iterated attacks are gone. However, certain talents will allow you to make multiple attacks within a single action. Two-Weapon Fighting is an example. Expert tier is “once per round, you may make an attack with each weapon as a single action”, Master is “twice per round, you may make an attack with each weapon as single actions”, Legendary allows you, once per round, to make an attack with each weapon as a swift action.

      This is, I think, better than D&D 3.x. You no longer take a penalty, and you can get two attacks and still do something else significant (which might include attacking again) — something that is generally impossible in D&D or Pathfinder.

      Similarly, Whirlwind Attack (Heroic Combat Mobility) lets you attack everything around you (RSRD says full-round attack, so at this point it would be a double action).

      Combat styles might include flurry of blows, which allows more attacks when fighting in those styles.

      The common rule, though, is two actions per round, and both are allowed to be attacks. I don’t want characters restricted to iterative attacks as their primary way to be more effective in combat, especially when that requires that they don’t move. I’d rather see benefits that still allow for mobility in combat. At one point I considered making iterative attacks standard actions in D&D. I never got around to trying it, and I considered it here, but in the end decided it was too much hassle in play at high level.

      • David Lamb

        Having more ways for higher-tier characters to be effective is good, regardless of whether one keeps iterated attacks or not.

        I may or may not have posted sometime about my thoughts on iterated attacks. Basically, (a) I’d keep them (b) I’d tie them to (tier) Improved Martial Talent (c) I’d allow an additional 5-foot step between each (d) I’d try to think up alternatives to just plain “attack” that could also be used as an iterated attack. If there’s an “aim” action, for example, that could be used as one iterated attack to set up the next for some substantial bonus.

        • That would be one way to go about it, and it would make a distinction between Martial Training and Improved Martial Training, certainly.

          “Aim” sounds like it gets into the token pools from Iron Heroes, Aim Pool being one that explicitly exists for archers.

          I’m not hugely fond of the idea of iterative attacks, if only because of the time they take. I don’t mind having additional attacks as an option, but I’d like to see other avenues of improvement available as well.

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