45
\$\begingroup\$

I’ve heard this phrase being thrown around sometimes on other game tables. Apparently, it describes a straight line of melee combatants on a grid, alternating between members of two opposing groups. This only occurs if the Flanking Variant Rule are used. Under these circumstances, the Conga Line of Death makes sense from a mechanical standpoint, as every melee combatant wants to get advantage on their attack rolls. If this rule were in place, player characters as well as NPCs would understand the in-universe ramifications and probably try to get into a superior position every time, leading to the aforementioned Conga Line of Death.

Now my question is: How can I, as DM, avoid the Conga Line of Death occurring when implementing some form of flanking rule?

The obvious answer would be: “Don’t use the Flanking Variant Rule”. Well, I for one like to grant some form of advantage, when two combatants gang up on their opponent. And it kind of makes sense, that it is easier to hit somebody who has to avoid the attacks of two enemies. So I want to keep Flanking in my game, but like to prevent the Conga Line of Death.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 25
    \$\begingroup\$ For those answering, please remember that this is not for idea generation. Answers should be supported by actual table experience on what things worked/didn't work/etc. Idea generation answers should be down voted. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 19 at 12:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ To clarify the last paragraph, are you looking for something that makes the Flanking rules, specifically, not result in the CLoD? Or is an alternative, which avoids the CLodD yet achieves the same effects you cite as reasons to keep Flanking, acceptable? \$\endgroup\$ – sevenbrokenbricks Mar 19 at 15:18
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ When asking for other flanking rules (per your comment above), are you looking for homebrew (TESTED!) variants or things to do instead of flanking? Whichever it is, please add it to your question. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 19 at 16:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have an actual concrete incident where this occurred, and can you describe it? Or is this just theoretical? \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk Mar 20 at 13:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is this an actual problem? Wouldn't combat be improved by people trying to maintain advantageous positions beyond just standing in the same spot all day? \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Mar 20 at 13:57
95
\$\begingroup\$

Negation of Advantage

At our table we use the Variant Flanking rules, however we noticed the same problem as yourself, and added the corollary that you cannot gain Advantage from a Flank if you yourself are being Flanked. The thematic justification was that you are busy trying to cover your own back and can't put all of your attention onto exploiting the enemy's defensive gaps.

This is justified mechanically under the rules for gaining advantage and disadvantage:

The GM can also decide that circumstances influence a roll in one direction or the other and grant Advantage or impose Disadvantage as a result.

It led to players holding formations, covering each others back and using the terrain more to their advantage, using low walls and pillars to block enemy movement into the now more limited flanking positions.

It may be worth noting that at our table, while we do not grant Advantage to a Flanked Flanker, we don't actually class them as having received disadvantage for purposes of "multiple cases of advantage and disadvantage do not stack". Effectively meaning that any other source of gaining Advantage would still be enough to give the player an edge. This was done as else spells such as Darkness and Guiding Bolt lost a fair amount of utility. YMMV on this however.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 20 at 12:12
20
\$\begingroup\$

We have not experienced the conga line, it may not be as a big of a concern as you think

My tables have used the flanking rules on a grid for about 5 years and we're a heavily combat focused group - and I don't think we've ever gotten in a congo line. This may be a mix of our own playstyle just not wanting to conga line, but I think it's also in how we approach combat.

But why? That's one is a better harder to parse, but I think it's for a few reasons:

  1. Grouping together leads to possible Fireball Formations (everyone being caught in an Area Effect if cast)
  2. Enemies are a mix of melee and ranged attacks that forces the group to work together across the map
  3. Enemies have often come in waves which also forces us to be prepared. Keeping everyone centralized or in a line does not put us in a defensible position to cover each other.

The above are possible reasons why we haven't experienced it which makes me think maybe this isn't as much of a problem as you think it may be.

As a DM, you should be considering tactics. As players, we are aware of and concerned about Area Effect spells (including things that travel along a straight line) and if this tactic starts to become overused, you can counter with those types of spells and using creatures with resistance/immunity to the associated damage types to let your players know that this choice may not be the safest.

Given the above, I wouldn't make any changes/do anything different until you actually see a problem occurring at your table.

But utilizing some of the things I've noticed about our encounter designs may help reduce the odds if you do start to see your players lining up for you :)

Flanking does present another issue: More advantage triggered mechanics

The most 'problematic' thing I've seen with flanking is that minimizes the difficulty of getting advantage for many abilities that trigger off of that mechanic. It's much easier to get, which means those abilities trigger much more often (and other abilities become unnecessary because it's relatively easy to flank compared to the other advantage giving mechanics.)

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ #1 doesn't seem like as much of a countermeasure given that the "conga line of death" is a line alternating between the enemies and you/your allies, all in a line for the purposes of flanking. Thus, fireball would affect the other enemies as much as it does you/your allies, so enemies are unlikely to fireball the whole group (unless they're a third party opposed to both groups). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 19 at 20:24
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Unless the enemies have resistance/immunity to whatever the AoE is. But again, I'm listing things that we consider when engaging in combat and what might affect our decisions. We've been...burned...by grouping together in the past (enemies nearby or not.) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 19 at 21:00
4
\$\begingroup\$

Noah Antwiler has a video about the Conga Line of Death. At ~29:52 into the video, he suggests using group initiative to prevent the Conga Line of Death forming in a combat encounter.

Although I haven't tried this rule, the Side Initiative option (page 270 in the 5e DMG) allows players to use group initiative. Since players & monsters are moving as a group rather than one by one, combatants would be encouraged to maintain a solid rank (shoulder to shoulder) to avoid being flanked.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

Have your monsters take defensive positions

If your monsters position themselves based on each other and terrain so that to get to flanking positions the PCs have to take opportunity attacks, you'll see a lot less flanking occur, and consequently much more infrequent conga lines. Plus after the PCs see it a few times, they'll (hopefully) start trying to use the same tactics to prevent the monsters from gaining flanking.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

Loosen the requirements for flanking.

Make it easier to flank, such as being able to flank from any of the three opposite squares. At worst you'll have a squiggly conga line for a few moments until someone dies, but then things will get messy again.

For reference I was a player in a campaign run like this. Most folks seemed to not particularly care, I thought it detracted a little from the tactics (since flanking is so much easier positioning actually matters a lot less, there's little you can do to avoid being flanked). I probably wouldn't choose to run this rule as DM, but I also wouldn't skip a campaign because the DM was using it

Pros:

  • Easier to flank
  • To some minds it makes more sense to be able to flank "at an angle"
  • No Conga lines (tbh I don't think it's that big of a problem)

Cons:

  • Easier to flank
  • More likely to run into situations requiring DM adjudication (flanking around corners for example)
  • Positioning becomes tactically less important
\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

Use terrain and enemy battlefield control

I find that considerations like this one are made under a few assumptions:

  • There is a vast stretch of featureless terrain on a combat grid that is virtually infinite.
  • The enemy only does melee attacks.

This can change if you have to fight in close quarters. Small dungeon rooms are not the only options, you can use thick underbrush, hazards (traps, cliffs, etc.), tree trunks, cover, uneven rooftops and the like. They either make flanking harder by limiting the available squares to or give a different incentive to be somewhere else.

The enemies can use varied tactics: ranged attacks (maybe from above, requiring climb checks to reach them) and also affecting the battlefield with means of their own (spells, maybe caltrops?). These actions can be effective in limiting the space available.

As the DM, both terrain and enemy types and strategy are under your control. Use them :)

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ How have you used terrain and battlefield control successfully as a DM to combat the congo line? These are all good theoretical ideas, but answers here need to be supported by gameplay. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 20 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I never had this problem to begin with, so no: this answer is not "supported by gameplay". However your comment made me reread the tour and I found no mention of this requirement for answers. (Personally, I would agree with it for house rules suggestions but this is not the case). I guess you're referring to a discussion that took place on meta? If this is such an important requirement to warrant downvoting by itself I'd suggest to specify it explicitly at least in the tour. \$\endgroup\$ – Rad80 Mar 21 at 8:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The good subjective/bad subjective guidance is here; we had a Q&A on meta a while back on what is or isn't permitted tour material There is also the help center which provides more detailed guidance for using this SE site. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 at 12:16
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Just as a point of clarity, the desire is for supported answers. Sometimes, there isn't documentation, or the documentation is muddy. At table experience for "how this worked for our group" is a form of a supported answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 at 12:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rad80 You brought up a great point about the tour missing that, so i raised that on meta - but it looks like it can't be added :(. Korvin has provided you with the requirements we have here with regard to citation needs to support answers. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 21 at 14:14
2
\$\begingroup\$

Associate a cost with flanking

Flanking is undoubtedly a cool mechanic: It makes positioning relevant, and models a thoroughly popularised tactic used in actual combat. There's plenty of reasons to want flanking in your games, the only question if how much you are willing to sacrifice to have it.

As other answers have pointed out, one of the inherent costs of flanking someone is risking to be flanked yourself, and that in and of itself is a cost . You can add multiple costs by making movement more expensive, implementing a facing mechanic, or other similar factors.

Alternatively, you can embrace the conga line of death as I will describe below

Embrace it

You won't have a conga line of death in your games if one side or the other is fighting with proper formation in regards to flanking. Breaking a formation then becomes a challenge worth overcoming to get the sweet flanking bonuses, and this encourages cooperation between players. That is always a good thing in my opinion.

You can go deeper down this route and implement counter-line AoE mechanics to punish conga liners.

Build around it

Being the GM you have agency over how your fighting spaces look like. You can force rooms to not allow for conga lines to form by their very layout. If you add a new tool to your story-telling kit, it's not just the players who get to have fun with it.

In the end, it all comes down to you and your troupe (as most things in role playing ) but I hope that these simple ideas, or maybe a mix of them, will help you add the right flavour of excitement to your games.

Happy role playing!

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Have you used these techniques yourself at your table, or did a DM do so when you were a player? If so, how did it work out? When one is answering in this manner, the Good Subjective/Bad Subjective guidelines need to be adhered to. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 20 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Korivin, yes i have. I am a new contributor to this site, and as such am still fumbling a bit through the guidelines. I will edit my answer with back ups and references by the end of the day ( where suitable ) and refrain myself from posted undocumented answers in the future. Thank you for the guideline! \$\endgroup\$ – Mister Amen Mar 21 at 8:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Great, thanks for joining in and we look forward to "seeing" you more in the future. The format can take a little getting used to; it did for me. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 at 12:11
-3
\$\begingroup\$

The monsters aren't stupid. A "Conga line" is actually a bad tactic - ideally, you'd take down one enemy at a time, preventing them from doing damage for the rest of the fight. So (if you're the DM) have the monsters pick a target and try to knock them unconscious before moving on to the next. This doesn't mean drawing attacks of opportunity - don't take more damage than you should.

And now that I've mentioned attacks of opportunity: 5e is really bad for flanking. Why? It's because you can freely move around opponents without provoking attacks of opportunity, so flanking is essentially free. If you use the 3.5 rules attacks of opportunity, it works out better. To make it work, you also need the 5-foot step. The relevant changes:

  • Moving out of a threatened square provokes an AOO, even if you remain within the creature's reach.

  • Once a turn, if you make no other movement during the turn, you may move 5 feet without provoking an attack of opportunity for free.

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you tried flanking with these rules and experienced these 'really bad' issues? 5e and 3.5e are different rulesets, saying variant rules are bad compared to another system isn't necessarily a fair comparison - especially if you haven't actually used these rules at your table. If you have, please add that. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 19 at 13:52
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Yes, I have. The problem isn't a playability thing. It's really bad from a game design perspective; having flanking with 5e's AoO rules leads to a degenerate combat system, where the answer to "How to fight in melee" is always "flank", which doesn't occur in 3.5. It's bad because the design goals of the system are different - 5e is less a miniatures combat game than 3.5 is. That's not to say you can't play it that way (and enjoy it!), but it's two parts of a system working against each other. I'm happy to wax eloquent on my game design theory thoughts, but instead I summarized. \$\endgroup\$ – Spitemaster Mar 19 at 14:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "A "Conga line" is actually a bad tactic - ideally, you'd take down one enemy at a time, preventing them from doing damage for the rest of the fight" - I don't think anyone (monster or players) takes a Conga line formation on purpose. It happens unintentionally, because both players and enemies are trying to do what you're suggesting - focus on one opponent at a time. \$\endgroup\$ – dwizum Mar 19 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, some monsters technically are stupid. (Check the int and or wis in a given monsters stat block) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 20 at 15:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Yeah, but those monsters won't be trying to flank, so it's a moot point. \$\endgroup\$ – Spitemaster Mar 20 at 15:45
-5
\$\begingroup\$

If the benefit from flanking is significant enough that you'd be foolish to turn it down (and we can argue about that another time), then equally, being flanked imposes a penalty that you'd be foolish to accept. Given the premise, people should be stepping out of the conga line to avoid being flanked as often as they step into it to flank others. Which means that the conga line will never have an opportunity to form.

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 19 at 20:55
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This answer as it is seems purely theoretical. Is this something that you have seen happen in practice? \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Mar 19 at 20:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've never seen a conga line of death in practice; as a player (or when controlling NPCS), I find myself moving out of being flanked about as often as moving in to flank. Except when playing a rogue, where the benefits are worth the risks. \$\endgroup\$ – Ross Thompson Mar 20 at 14:26
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Of course, as the question is being asked by a GM, the obvious answer is "just don't have the NPCs move into the conga line." If you feel like you need some justification for that "They don't want to be flanked" should suffice. \$\endgroup\$ – Ross Thompson Mar 20 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ But all of that is context that you need to include in the answer, including citing your own play experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Mar 20 at 16:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.