Anthony, I discovered TheBlueBard several days ago and consider myself a fan now. I am going to implement your brilliantly simple segment system in my next game as well as your illusion saving throw table. Thank you for those.
I would very much like to read your commonsense take on backstabbing if you are inclined to write on that. I mean, if a first-level thief is force to make both a hide in shadows AND a move silently roll before ever backstabbing, he may never get the chance.
How would you handle this both in and out of raging combat?
Also a quick answer on fighting retreat:
Very easy to visualize with minis (or tokens of any kind). When it's your turn to act, you simply attack and begin moving backward, still facing the enemy, at 1/2 your normal MV. The enemy is allowed to follow should they wish (remain in base-to-base contact) even though it is not their turn to move. If they do NOT follow, melee is considered broken and your guys are now able to flee w/o incurring the nasty flee penalties (+4 to hit and full attack routine per DMG p70)
Keep in mind that some monsters, like Dragons, Giants and the like might be able to reach you and strike you even if you cannot reach them. As such, breaking melee with this sort may require extra distance between the minis.
That the illusion table is 'a work in progress' is noted. Still, it certainly seems to solve the Phantasmal Force vs Spectral Force problem. At first glance, I like your solution, and the 'Behold' spell is an elegant bit of deviltry.
One question regarding your backstab explanation: Would the thief hiding in the alcove have required a Hide in Shadows roll? I mean, even a fighter in chain mail ought to be able to hide in an alcove. My point dovetails with yours about someone with a DEX of 17 automatically being able to catch a tossed potion. A thief, skilled as he/she is at hiding even at low levels, should automatically be able to hide somewhere that offers full cover, such as in the previously mentioned alcove or behind a bookcase. The trick to Hiding in Shadows, I suppose, lies in being able to mask one's presence behind 1/2 cover, 1/4 cover, or even in a corner which lies in shadow.
Your commentary about allowing a backstab during combat under virtually all conditions is logical. Some DMs will disallow a thief's backstab because 'the monster knows you're there', whereas other classes would be given a +2 bonus to hit if their opponent merely turned their back on them during combat. This is unfair.
Thank you again for answering my query so thoroughly. I look forward to more additions to your blog. If you have any thoughts or house rules regarding 'fighting retreat', I'd be keen to read them.
Final two notes. I believe skill checks are ONLY necessary when circumstances warrant. If for example, the thief was previously hidden in the alcove when opponents rushed by, I would not likely force a hide in shadows check. Rather she would be hidden, plain and simple. If the PC has a DEX of 17 and tries to catch a potion tossed to her in a non-combat situation, she automatically catches it b/c a DEX of 17 is extraordinary. If a non-thief attempts a thief-like skill I would make them roll. But often, thieves w/ high DEX are simply handed successes by me for a lot of standard non-extraordinary attempts.
Also, and lastly, just to support my tenet that every rear attack in the round qualifies for the backstab multiplier (against those who are likely to state that a round is a full minute and therefore the target would certainly have time to spin around) I will counter that the reason the round is so useful for narrative is that the DM gets to interpret dice rolls AS action. Therefore if all the backstab attempts hit, you may assume they happen in rapid-fire [or] that the shock and pain of the attack make turning on the thief impossible in that moment.
Again, hope this helps.
Welcome! To be fair, and word of warning, the Illusion Saving Throw Table is still a work in progress. I have a game where illusions will figure in and I'll put it through more paces then. But you should consider it far from proven at this point.
Backstabbing SHOULD be common sense and miniatures greatly aid in this regard. If you play strictly theater of the mind, that's fine, but then you have to do some acrobatics to visualize in a fair way how the thief or assassin is approaching the target.
If light conditions are sub-optimal and the thief is approaching from the rear, only a move silent check should be necessary, IMO. Hide in shadows is a stationary skill. One does not hide in shadows AND move at the same time. Therefore, clever players allow the thief to hide in an alcove, then draw the foes attention in such a way that the foe is lured past the alcove...in this way no move silent check is necessary: when the thief pops out and strikes from behind any sound she makes will already be too late noticed by the target. Finally, if the PCs are clever they will flank a foe in such a way as to try and get it to turn its back on the thief. If the thief is allowed a rear attack via combat maneuvering, I would allow a back stab EVEN if the the target knows the thief is there...simply b/c it cannot concentrate or adequately defend itself against multiple adversaries. Trolls and the like are notable exceptions for reasons obvious in the monster text.
Lastly and finally, I think backstab is fundamentally misunderstood. It is not a stab per se. Rather it is an attack of opportunity taken by a specialist who knows precisely where to strike. Which is why thieves and assassins strike at +4 from behind whilst everyone else strikes at +2. The damage multiplier is applied to whatever MELEE weapon the thief/assassin chooses to use and should apply to all attacks landed in the round during which the rear attack is made. Ergo: Assassin is dual wielding a mace and a dagger. If both hit, he scores backstab damage with both weapons. If he is also hasted, he may score backstab damage with all four attacks on that round. These are very simple extrapolations that I think DMs often quash because THEY feel them "unfair" vs the monster setup. IMO, the reason thieves are often given such short shrift is b/c they are assumed useless in combat. They are assumed useless b/c their to-hit rolls are terrible in regular melee and b/c players fail to be creative in thinking ahead: how to position themselves in order to take advantage of a backstab. Failure to use minis also makes backstabbing hard to represent. High DEX begs for dual wielding...but how many thieves actually take advantage of this huge benefit? And how many DMs repeatedly crush the thief's attempt to backstab. How many parties fail to incorporate the thief's ability into their battle plan?
That's the short of it. Hope this helps.