Many players and GMs seem to prefer formal rules for combat maneuvers. However, most such rules are either complex or limit what characters can attempt to do 9or both). Even the Combat Tricks/Stunts rules from my Microlite74 Extended rules are complex enough to be annoying to use in play — at least compared to the simple rules for just about everything else in Microlite74 combat. For those who have not seen the Combat Tricks/Stunts rules from Microlite74 Extended, here they are:
Combat Tricks/Stunts: Declare what the trick/stunt attack is going to do. It could be anything from knocking a weapon from your opponent’s hand to blowing his hat off or extinguishing a lantern. Other possibilities could be stapling the target to the wall through his clothing with a thrown weapon, tying him up with a bola, tripping him and so on.
The attack roll is made at -8 (-6 for fighting classes). If the roll is successful and the target is alive and aware of the attack, the target makes a defense roll (a normal attack roll) against a DC equal to the adjusted attack roll (with the to hit penalty). If the defense roll fails, the target suffers the exact effect described. If the defense roll succeeds, then the attack is treated as a normal attack against the target’s AC (with the penalty), which may result in normal damage. Option: The defense roll is automatically failed if the target has a combat stance of Active Attack or Full Attack.
Against an inanimate object, if the attack roll (with the penalty) is successful, the stunt works. No defense roll is needed.
While these rules are much less complex that similar rules in modern versions of D&D, they are pretty complex and time-consuming for a system meet to be fast and simple. After some discussion with my players, we have been testing a new and simple rule to handle combat maneuvers in Microlite81. I got the idea from reading some descriptions of dueling techniques that talked about forcing ones opponent to move or the like by making it so he either had to move back (or whatever you wanted to get him to do) or take damage. This led to the following relatively simple rule for Microlite81.
Combat Maneuvers: Attacker may describe a special effect he wishes to impose on a target before rolling to hit. Unless the GM rules the maneuver impossible, a critical hit means the special effect happens instead of damage. A normal hit means the target may decide (before damage is rolled) to either accept the special effect or to take the damage from the attack. If the attacker has a non-zero Fighter Bonus and is a higher level than the target, the target must make a successful saving throw to reject the special effect. Possible maneuvers include: disarm, knock down, push back (up to STR feet), switch positions, slip past, steal an obvious and accessible item from the target, etc.
Basically, on a hit, combat maneuvers give the target a choice between accepting the effect of the maneuver or taking damage. However, on a critical hit, the target has no choice but to accept the effect. Likewise, if the attacker is a higher level fighter-type, the target can only choose damage instead of the effect if he makes a saving throw. This is simple and fast — to the point that it actually encourages the use of combat maneuvers, especially by fighter-type characters. It’s also open-ended as it allows attempting almost anything the GM considers reasonable in a particular situation, not just the specific maneuvers listed in the rules. It also adds choices in combat for both the attacker and defender.
As I said, we’ve been using this rule in my Sunday Game Microlite81 sessions for the past three weeks and everyone seems to really like it. The rule quoted above is somewhat tweaked from what we started with and should pretty much work with any TSR-era rules set. If the system in question doesn’t have critical hits, consider any natural roll of 20 that would otherwise hit to be a critical hit for combat maneuvers. Consider the Fighter class (and similar classes at the GM’s discretion) to have a “non-zero Fighter Bonus” for purposes of the combat maneuvers rule.