Engagement Zones

Hey guys. This idea is based upon a comment Dean made in another thread which really caught my interest. He said it is similar to how Spirit of the Century does their combat. The idea is to keep movement during Fight abstract, while affording some concrete sense of “where you are” in relation to everything and everybody, and maybe add in some fun tactical choices.

I give you… engagement zones!

The first step is to divide the battle space into sections. They do not need to be equal in size or configuration. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be. They should reflect the geography, and generally just make the battle interesting. For instance, one section might be “The River” another might be the “Narrow Wood Bridge” and another might be the “Outskirts of the Forest.” Preferably you should do this on a map, but you could conceivably make a chart, too.

Within each engagement zones, the rules are everything we’re used to. You can engage anybody in that zone, and they can engage you.

Here’s the trick, though: Anyone in another engagement zone is out of reach. This can be due to debris or plain old distance.

Moving out of an engagement zone and entering another requires the scripting of two physical actions. In addition, it requires a Speed test to get through any obstacles that might stand in your way. A grassy field or an empty room would have an Ob 1 to pass through, but that’s pretty boring. There should be plenty of complications. For example:

Heavy Foliage: +1 Ob
Slippery Ice: +2 Ob
Enemies: +1 Ob / 2 enemies

If the Speed test is failed, you become “bogged down” in the engagement zone and are stuck there until the next exchange.

Special Note: All actions must take place within your engagement zone except Assess. You may target any engagement zone for an Assess. There is a base +1 Ob for any engagement zone adjacent to your current one, and a +2 Ob for engagement zones beyond that, then +3 Ob, etc. These may be further complicated by the presence of trees, ruins, dense fog, etc.

This gives the players something fairly important to do during the “Eye of the Storm” moments. They should assess the battlefield and then move, move, move!

I will be playtesting this on Sunday. Any suggestions or comments?

P.S. I was thinking of doing something with Stride, but I’m afraid that might make it too “tactical.” Maybe one can only move a number of engagement zones equal to Stride per exchange?

I don’t think you’re going to break the game or anything. What problem have you observed that this hack will try to fix? Do you and your players find the location of everyone in a fight unclear?

I think players may ask why they can’t fire arrows or spells into other zones. Indeed, in Spirit of the Century (if I recall correctly), weapons have ranged expressed in zones. But if you let them fire arrows into other zones, then you have to make modifications to the engagement rules.

I don’t think you’ll ever have characters running through 6-12 zones in a single fight, so the Stride rule you propose probably won’t see use. You could give bonus dice for high Stride. How about making the Speed test a graduated test, where you can spend two successes from your MoS to move through an extra zone? So I’m running across a grassy field and I score 1 success, I move to the next zone. With 3 successes I can move two zones. With 5, I can move 3 zones.

The players and I feel that there is a lot of vagueness in combat movement. For instance, they never script any Physical Actions to move because enemies just engage them and since there are no maps or ranges, nobody really knows where they are in relation to anybody else. Also, this would address one of the issues you brought up in that post of the king and his bodyguards. Basically, the bodyguards would be their own “engagement zone” and getting through them would require four physical actions and a crazy Speed test.

You can’t fire / sling spells into other engagement zones for the same reasons we say you can’t snipe into a melee from 200 yards.

I don’t think you’ll ever have characters running through 6-12 zones in a single fight, so the Stride rule you propose probably won’t see use. You could give bonus dice for high Stride. How about making the Speed test a graduated test, where you can spend two successes from your MoS to move through an extra zone? So I’m running across a grassy field and I score 1 success, I move to the next zone. With 3 successes I can move two zones. With 5, I can move 3 zones.

Yes, something like that would probably work. I am drawing a blank on what MoS is, though?

Most everyone has a 5, 6, or 7 Stride (unless they are on a horse)… Are these supposed to roughly correspond to yards? I wonder why BWHQ chose such seemingly random numbers.

MoS is margin of success. I’m not sure it’s a BW term, though, sorry. I play a lot of games… :rolleyes:

I get not firing into a melee with your buddies in it from another engagement zone, but they won’t always be in melee and usually your engagement zones will be much smaller than 200 yards. You might divide a castle courtyard into four engagement zones, and each of the walls surrounding the courtyard is another zone. The drawbridge is a zone, and the land beyond the drawbridge is a zone. If I’m on the wall and orcs are storming across the drawbridge into the courtyard, can I shoot them?

In default BW rules I can engage an orc from my position on the wall and we make a speed test. If the orc wins, he runs up the stairs and charges me before I can get a shot off (which does seem weird, granted). If I win I can shoot him from my position on the wall (presumably as he runs up the wall toward me) and then he gets advantage, meaning he’s charged up to me. Or we can decide that the orc needs to script a physical action to run up the stairs before he can make melee attacks against me. I think too few of us use options like that, myself included.

Hmm, some interesting ideas. I’ll think on it and reply again tonight after work. I agree with Ten though: if you want to do this, and do it right, ranged combat must be taken into consideration.

Also, gotta think about how high Stride would affect rate of movement. Horses should be able to traverse the battlefield quickly! Yet, you don’t want a huge battlemap with tons of zones. A tricky problem.

Good point. Okay, how about this:

A ranged player may engage another zone.

  1. Player must script an Assess of the zone he wishes to target.
  2. If the target wins the maneuver, he is “pulled” into your zone without need for a Speed check or scripting physical actions (if he so desires).
  3. If the ranged player wins, target remains in his zone until arrow / bolt is loosed and advantage is ceded.
  4. Complications to the shot include any impediments to Assess (mist, foliage, etc) PLUS certain movement obstacles (I’m thinking enemies / allies in between, so if you’re targeting two zones over and there four enemies between you, that is a +2 Ob).

Meh… Seems maybe needlessly complex and introduces its own set of problems.

Have you seen the Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to hide rules in the Adventure Burner?

No. That’s the one book I don’t have.

Don’t remember, and Ten has my AdBu at the moment. What’s the basic gist?

I’ll expand with a more detailed explanation later, but in my opinion, “Engagement Zones” should pretty much only be used if you’re mixing ranged and melee combat, and you want to make ranged combat brutally realistic.

Also, I’d just give ranged weapons “zone ranges”, with an Ob modifier if engaging beyond your optimal range. For example:

Hunting Bow: Optimal 1 zone. Extreme (+1 Ob) 2 zones. OOR (+3 Ob) 3+ zones.

Just off the top of my head.

It adds terrain and environmental difficulties to combat, like fighting with your back to the sea or in a confined space or on rough terrain. With that you could definitely envision someone scripting a physical action to “pin them against the wall” for an advantage.

Edit: am stoopid tonight. Wrote something completely irrelevant.

It’s just some Ob penalties and advantage dice suggestions, and in Gold it would mostly only apply to Range and Cover, although I guess you could modify it to Fight easily enough. It would only really matter if the party with its back to the sea/wall/etc. had a longer weapon than the other party. I don’t think it’s what you’re after, Leonides.

OK, don’t have a long time to write tonight, as I have to wake up early tomorrow, but here are some more thoughts on this. And apologies beforehand if I get a bit wordy. I tend to ramble when I start analyzing RPG mechanics.

When to Use Engagement Zones

This is a big consideration. You wouldn’t want to use engagement zones every Fight. If everybody is engaged in melee, all in the same general area, there is little reason to add this sort of complexity. There has to be a reason.

If engagement zones are used at all, they should be reserved for Fight scenes in which range is important, and the geography of the land and/or the dynamics of the battlefield are interesting enough to warrant handling them with multiple die rolls instead of one. Remember, the core rules can handle almost any sort of scenario, but most actions are handled in a single die roll. Interesting conflict scenes are taken to Fight/R&C/DoW, because it’s fun and interesting to bring multiple die rolls into account when the stakes are high. Similarly, movement on the battlefield can be handled with a single physical action. You’d want to break out engagement zones when it’d be more fun and interesting to break it down into multiple physical actions.

Which is why ranged combat is important to take into account. What’s the point of scripting multiple move actions if there’s no element of danger/suspense? If somebody’s shooting at me while I charge across the battlefield, sure, that adds tension. But honestly, it’s hard to envision any other scenario when I’d want to use engagement zones if there were no ranged opponents. Ranged combat seems to me to be THE reason for using it. If all you want to add is terrain modifiers, just add terrain modifiers to the regular game. However, I might see a use for engagement zones if there was some sort of time pressure to the Fight scene.

How will This Change my Game?

I can’t speak for Luke, but if I had to guess why Mr. Crane chose the Fight mechanics he did, I’d say it’s all about consequences. You bring a gun to a fistfight, you could get punched.

With more traditional RPG combat mechanics, ranged combatants were always the safe guys, hanging about at the back of the battlefield, only worrying about other ranged combatants. Rare was it that they were ever forced into melee.

No fear of consequences goes against the BW philosophy though. In this game, you fight for what you believe, and you only use the Fight rules when the stakes are high. And the stakes can only be high if the consequences of failure are drastic enough to make you care. You have to take risks to reap the rewards. Sitting in the back shooting arrows is a cheap way of avoiding the consequences and the risk.

So, how will adding engagement zones change the game? Well, if you let ranged combatants engage at range (which they really should be allowed to do if this mod is used), you’ll have to also engage them at range. If both sides don’t have ranged combatants, I wouldn’t use this mod. Also, expect the Fight scene to be pretty much over once all ranged combatants on one side are picked off. I might even drop out of Fight at this point, actually, and finish off with a Bloody Versus or something.

Setting up the Map

Zone maps are much easier to sketch up than wargame-style grid maps. Just sketch the terrain, and draw in some zone boundaries. I’d like to suggest not sticking to only geographic groups though. You want to create an interesting battlefield dynamic more than anything. It’s kind of like drawing a board game playing surface. Paying attention to where and how the zone boundaries meet is more important than laying them out logically.

Don’t make too many zones! But just the same, don’t make too few. Try to guess how long the conflict will go on for, and how far the characters could possibly move in that time frame. And remember, most Fight scenes are over very quickly.

Once your zones are laid out, add some notes:

[li]Put cover in where it’s appropriate. Some cover would give Ob penalties to attackers, others would grant full cover.
[/li][li]Note difficult terrain. Note Obs.
[/li][li]Add in a special feature or two that might be declared as advantage dice.
[/li][li]Don’t add too many notes! Allow room for players to assess for cover/special features mid-scene.

Lastly, start the groups of opponents off close to each other. Nothing’s more boring than wasting half an hour walking to the fight. Start near or even in the action!


Script one physical action to move one zone. (takes two actions in Fight)

I would not suggest requiring a Speed test to move between each and every zone. Movement to a zone with no difficult terrain modifiers should just be granted for free. Movement into a zone with difficult terrain requires a Speed test versus the Ob of the terrain. I’d still allow the character to reach his desired zone on a failed test, but it’d take up an extra number of actions equal to the Margin of Failure (MoF). Any scripted actions are lost and changed to “Still Moving”, with no future action penalty.

Why these movement rules? Just, more fun. Also allows the GM to set up a map with some really hostile terrain. You’re negotiating a lava field, Ob 9 Speed test! Very doable, but it’s gonna take a while unless you burn some Artha.


Allow engagement across zones with ranged weapons. Optimal range should be kept fairly short for all weapons. Firing at further ranges would suffer Ob penalties of +1 Ob for Extreme and +3 Ob for Out of Range. Max range would be ignored in most cases, unless you have one heck of a big battlefield. A few examples:

[li]Elven Bow: Optimal 2 zones. Extreme (+1 Ob) 3-4 zones. Out of Range (+3 Ob) 5+ zones.
[/li][li]Hunting Bow: Optimal 1 zone. Extreme (+1 Ob) 2 zones. Out of Range (+3 Ob) 3+ zones.
[/li][li]Thrown Weapon: Optimal same zone. Extreme (+1 Ob) 1 zone. Out of Range (+3 Ob) 2+ zones.
[/li][li]Melee Weapon: Optimal same zone. Can’t attack beyond this range (unless you throw your weapon!)

Just off the top of my head. Obviously, the specifics would need some playtesting and tweaking…

Here are a couple of example zone maps I made up for a FATE-driven homebrew steampunk campaign I ran. The first one was used for a “starcatching mission”, in which the biplane piloting PCs had to fly out and net floating meteors for their valuable ore, and bring them back to the flying castle before the pirates could stop them. The second one is a zone map of the inside and outside of a flying steam train that got hijacked with a second group of PCs inside it. The train ended up crashing into the flying castle. Good times, good times.

Pic 1

Pic 2