Game Theory: Shooting Into Melee

One of the most debated “non-rules” in 5th edition is the situation where a ranged attacker wants to shoot at an enemy who is “engaged” with a friendly unit in melee. The simple solution is probably to use the disadvantage rule. However, this is probably quite punitive (especially at lower levels) according to other DMs that are clearly much smarter in math than I am. Please check out their math and results here, here and here.

What am I trying to accomplish with this house rule?

  1. Penalize a character for shooting into melee. I feel that combat in D&D is not like playing a Japanese RPG video game. People do not stand across from each other and take turns bashing each other on the head. There is continuous movement and swipes. A “hit” in my interpretation is when one of these swipes actually connect.
  2. But not penalize a character too much. I want characters to “feel” more powerful as they level up, so that at higher levels shooting into melee is more of an inconvenience than a penalty. (Think Legolas!)
  3. I want my players to think tactically. I want my players to consider the movement and actions of other players in battle. I do not want them to default to certain positions. I want action to be dynamic in both tactics and cooperative movement.

DnDRangeModsAfter noodling it a little the following image I created in Excel demonstrates the situations where penalties can be applied. It takes into account a few existing rules, cover, range attack while engaged, and an overall AC bonus to the enemy. This image assumes that ALL engaged parties are of medium size.

Clearly there will be situations where both parties could be of different sizes and thus different modifiers could apply. I am currently considering a -2/+2 type scale for shooting at either larger or smaller creatures.

Thoughts? … Let me know what you think!



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