So I’ve been playing D&D lately, and I always noticed a rule of thumb when doing combat. Each round of combat represents six seconds in time. I always find this funny, since sometimes, in less than a minute, everybody who isn’t a hero is disemboweled and dead on the ground. Even more so when we have lengthy combat discussions outside of character, and yet the entire combat took place in a tenth of that time.
It doesn’t really do the epic fantasy battles justice, right? Well… I decided to take a few battles across various fantasy genres to see how well they fare in terms of combat timing and D&D rulings. D&D’s most common inspiration, Lord of the Rings, will be saved for last. However, we’re gonna look at two aspects of combat, a more grounded in reality version of combat and a more fantastical version.
First, we’ll use a scene from the hit series Game of Thrones. For ease of reference, we’ll use Ned Stark’s arrest in the first season. Watching this scene, I could definitely feel like this could be done around a table. Someone chats with the king, ends up getting themselves in hot water, and then all of a sudden, someone gets stabbed and combat begins.
Within the first six seconds, a couple of guards have already stabbed some soldiers through with their spears. With how hard they stabbed, they are definitely fatal wounds. In D&D terms, they’d have to have low AC and low health. The armor the guards are seen wearing look akin to leather, so the low AC is confirmed and while their HP is low (averaging at 11), their weapons, the spear, deal a D6 of damage.
Meaning that either the guards that have stabbed them either had critical hits, high strength, or the person running the game gave everyone as low health as possible to convey the theme of his campaign. Because this is Game of Thrones, I will say the latter.
The next round is more people getting killed, with Ned barely getting his weapon out. If we presume that the previous round is a surprise round, it would mean that Ned didn’t even have a chance to draw his weapon. Some DMs would probably have their players draw their weapons first. Now, Ned would be able to draw his weapon had Petyr not had higher initiative (remember, I’m counting six seconds as a whole round) and jump him with a dagger to his throat.
With that, combat ends with his arrest. Given the context of the scene being that Ned refused to bow before Joffery and the latter labelling him as treasonous, it’s less of a battle so much as a simple skirmish. Combat took place over twelve seconds and the rules of combat faithfully translated well, save for the HP hiccup.
So let’s go for a less serious fantasy show and for the sake of D&D, we’ll select one with more of a focus on magic: Once Upon A Time. In this case, we’ll look at a battle in the first half of Season 2 in which two of the main characters plus Mulan are fighting Cora and Captain Hook, roughly a sorceress and a fighter respectively.
Like with Game of Thrones, the set up prior to battle roughly fits what would happen before a fight in D&D. In this case, our group of heroes arrive to stop the sorceress from completing a spell or rather, planescape to the real world. However, as the combat begins, I keep track the seconds and notice that the pacing actually breaks up between Cora vs. Mulan and Snow White and Captain Hook vs. Emma. Perhaps they’re going to help me a bit with analyzing the combat.
Since otherwise, Cora had thrown two fire bolts (cantrip spells at best) at Mulan in the span of six seconds. The way they broke up combat, it works better in terms of D&D pacing.
By this point, I’ll assume a couple of the characters have reached a level where they can attack twice or more, as that would help explain how Emma would slash, then kick in one go. Unlike in Game of Thrones, the battle goes by in a fast pace, to a point where some of the combat might not even translate well into D&D.
For instance, Cora lobbing fireballs at Mulan while Snow aims and Mulan closes in for a strike. In the time it took for Mulan and Snow to get to her, Cora got three fireballs in (though they didn’t hit). In regular D&D rulings, each round of combat would give everyone a chance to fight unless they are otherwise incapacitated (see Petyr holding Ed at knifepoint). If the theory that they’re high-leveled is true, Mulan or Snow would have had up to three decent chances to get a hit in. However, as we saw, they took their time either aiming or rolling out of the way.
In D&D, Mulan probably would be able to close in and strike. Snow has the excuse of taking her actions to aim, but Mulan is more up close and personal. Emma vs. Hook, in contrast, has better pacing and translation into D&D rules.
- Round 1: Emma and Hook trade slashes, both miss. Emma then uses her second attack to get a kick in.
- Round 2: Emma fumbles on her slash and thus loses her sword OR Hook uses a skill to make her lose her sword, which causes her to grapple him, only to fail.
- Round 3: Emma takes an action to reach for the sword, but fails and Hook succeeds on his grapple check.
These can be actions done with die rolls and they can be easily a fail. Also, take note. Three rounds for Emma and Hook, and three rounds for Cora, Mulan, and Snow. They fit the pacing in combat in terms of rounds.
Back to Cora and the heroes, she takes a bonus action to misty step. Round four begins as Hook does a skill check to grab a bag that Cora dropped as she stepped out, all while delivering a cool one-liner. A round is spent having Mulan grab the bag and leave the battle. In D&D, talking is usually a free action and it can be assumed that people were spending their actions doing things other than actions.
Round five begins and I just realized that there’s no actual rules in D&D for a blade lock, which could allow for people to exchange a bit of words before they fight more. Round six ends the combat with Emma knocking Hook out. Now, there could be a few rounds there too, so I’ll be generous and say there’s eight rounds in that combat. I chose to end the combat there, though combat does continue.
This would roughly be one minute and twelve seconds in D&D time. In the show, it took at least two minutes. Not as 1:1 as Game of Thrones was, but what it lacks in timing, it does perfectly well with rulings, though perhaps with a DM with relaxed rules on casting magic.
Now let’s get into the meat of the theory of how well D&D translates to epic fantasy combat with the defining example: Lord of the Rings. We’ll do the battle at Balin’s Tomb, as that is one of the more memorable small-scale battles in LOTR. Set up for this battle assumes the players made a stronghold first.
Looking at the timing, it took the orcs about five rounds to rush in, three to knock down the door and two to march to the heroes. This fits, considering how spacing is done in D&D. There’s three rounds of combat in which our heroes cleave through multitudes of monsters, and probably the keyword there is cleave, as that could be what the fighters are using to kill the orcs.
One round, a troll comes in and Legolas takes an attack to damage the troll. And we can see that it wounds him and not instantly kills or misses/deflects like in our other examples. For the sake of analysis (since we have a party of nine people), we’ll focus on what the troll does.
- Round 11: He swings for a Hobbit, but misses as the Hobbit runs off.
- Round 12: He tries to kill said Hobbit, but Boromir and Aragorn hold him off by making a skill check.
- Round 13: He attacks Boromir and deals a good amount of damage to him.
- Round 16 (the previous two rounds focused on what Boromir and Aragorn were doing): Gimli throws an axe at the Troll and hits him while the Troll retaliates with a swing.
- Round 17: More swinging and hitting. By this point, I realized the Troll might have Multi-Attack. Legolas takes this time to attack and hit.
- Round 19: The Troll swings his chains at Legolas at least three times. Again, Multi-Attack.
- Round 20: The Troll and Legolas continue their battle.
From there, I can safely say that it follows D&D logic pretty easily. Each character has at least one attack roughly every six seconds. The entire battle lasts about forty-eight to fifty rounds. Realistically, we might be looking at around upwards to a full hour out of character. Not sure how rounds can go on average, but if there ten seconds per player to do their decision, followed by what the GM does, which may be another ten seconds per monster he controls, this means that, as a rough estimate, each round takes two minutes, which means that we could possibly have a combat round that lasts roughly 1.5 hours.
Though, I think that’s a very good estimate and translation of D&D time and rules. I play in D&D Encounters where it has exactly two hours of game time in contrast to the average four hours allotted in home games and most of the combat do sometimes last as long as the session, though more or less.
With this, though, my findings is that six seconds is a very good, if not great amount of time to say how long a round of combat lasts, since some battles actually last as long as if they were played in D&D. I apologize if this isn’t exactly a solo musing, but this has been itching in my head for a bit and I wanted to try it out.
And since it’s not a Solo Musing, I’ve decided to publish it today instead of queuing it like the rest.