Flashy Movement

I’ve discussed fluffing to some extent in previous posts. For my money, it’s 4th Edition’s greatest feature. In earlier editions, it was difficult to make a goblin look like anything other than a goblin. And a fireball was pretty much restricted to being a fireball.

Whether that was because there were too many rules surrounding these concepts, or because DMing techniques hadn’t evolved to where they are now, I sure don’t know. Maybe I just didn’t realize how easy it was?

Of course, making magic missile look like a swarm of bees and cleave look like something out of a Three Stooges sketch is one thing. But what about flashier fluffs? Such as unorthodox movement through combat terrain?

Here’s an example: Let’s say you have a two-story home. Just inside the front door, a grand staircase leads up to a second-story balcony. There is a railing on the second-story balcony, allowing people to see down into the first-story foyer. There is a chandelier hanging in the foyer, which is easily accessible by jumping over the railing on the second-story balcony.

A swashbucking rogue stands on the balcony, looking over the railing to the first-story foyer, where the other members of his group are fighting some bad guys. Now, the rogue has enough movement to walk down the stairs and engage one of the bad guys like a normal person—or he could jump over the railing, swing on the chandelier, and leap down to the bad guy. No benefit would be gained from this flashy movement, as the character would still end up in the same spot whether he walked down the stairs or swung through the air.

Should a player have to roll an Acrobatics check?

I probably wouldn’t ask for a check and here’s why. The key is no benefit would be gained from this flashy movement. I only make players roll skill checks if they’re trying to do something that can’t be duplicated by a normal move or power. In the above example, the player doesn’t have to do the flashy thing; he could just walk down the stairs and be in exactly the same place with no penalty. He’s not gaining any advantage by being flashy—all it’s doing is adding flavor to the game. There’s no functional difference between the two modes of movement.

The situation would be different if the characters were trying to leap over a pit or a chasm and there’s no other way around; since normal movement wouldn’t get them from point A to point B, of course a roll would be called for. On the other hand, if it’s the paladin in full plate and a heavy shield trying to pull off the swinging chandelier maneuver, perhaps he wouldn’t have as much luck. Sometimes logic has to override the fluff—but only sometimes, since D&D is not trying to emulate reality, but instead fun, fantasy epics like The Princess Bride and The Lord of the Rings.

If I made a player roll an Acrobatics check to do the above action and he were to fail and suffer falling damage or possibly even end up prone, I would understand the resulting frustration. Maybe players would feel robbed; next time they won’t do the flashy stuff, since normal walking would have gotten them to the same spot with no penalty.

On the other hand, in the above situation I might encourage an Acrobatics check to land in a place that the player couldn’t ordinarily get to without provoking attacks of opportunity. Or perhaps even granting the player combat advantage for a single round. This would give the player more options and possibly prompt him to take the risk since now there’s something to be gained.

Players should clothe their tactical movement with as much flair and drama as they would their attacks. Occasionally, there will be an offer of risk for increased reward. After all, I like placing mechanical incentives for players to swash their bucklers.

For more discussion on this topic, visit the thread I made on EN World.