[RPG] Fighting Withdrawal vs Retreat in Moldvay’s Basic D&D


This pertains to Moldvay's edition of D&D Basic from 1981.

I've never understood the rules behind meleed movement options. The rulebook says that a player in melee combat with a monster has only two options if he or she wishes to move during their turn in combat: a Fighting Withdrawal (up to 1/2 their normal speed) or a Retreat (great than 1/2 their normal speed). It sounds like a Fighting Withdrawal is the better option, since they still get to attack on their turn. For a Retreat, they don't get to attack, and the monster gets a +2 on their to-hit roll.

But I still don't understand the details of these rules, especially regarding a Retreat. Here's an example:

  1. A party of 3 characters have already undergone several rounds of combat with a group of monsters. This is the beginning of a new round.

  2. One member of the party announces she is going to try to Retreat from the monster that is attacking her in melee combat. The monster moves at 30 feet per round, and her normal fighting movement rate is 40 feet per round. Since she's locked in melee combat from a previous round (and thus within 5 feet of the monster), and she wants to get far enough away from the monster that it won't be able to get within 5 feet of her when its the monster's turn to move, she decides to move at her maximum movement rate of 40 feet for this round. This means she's doing a Retreat.

(here's the part I don't get)

  1. The players win the initiative. When she's up to perform her Retreat, she must forfeit her right to an attack, per the rules. However, the monster gets a +2 on its to-hit roll. My question is, does the DM roll for that monster attack NOW, as she's backing away? That doesn't seem right, since the party won the initiative roll, they should all get to move and fight before the monsters get to do anything!

It just doesn't make any sense to me why a player would ever choose to Retreat rather than just doing a Fighting Withdrawal, since the main objective is just to get out of melee range of the monster (you can do that at say 8 feet per round, probably well below 1/2 your normal movement rate). Then, you'd still be able to attack that round, you wouldn't be attacked at a disadvantage either!

Something tells me I'm missing the point on this one…

Best Answer

Retreat is for when you all need to run!

Fighting withdrawal is always better for disengaging from combat, if it will actually do the job. A withdrawal only works if the opponent is unable or unwilling to follow to maintain the combat engagement – if they do, you've wasted a turn failing to disengage.

The other purpose of a withdrawal is to back into a more favourable position – into a doorway or narrow hallway, for example. However, if that choke point is beyond ½ your movement, then you have a dilemma – a fighting withdrawal won't get you there in one turn. If time is of the essence, do you try to do it in two turns of withdrawal, or do you break engagement to flee to the superior position and risk a strike at your back?

The difference between them is always that, sometimes, those few feet of difference can be worth the risk. If they're not, then a Retreat action isn't worth considering.

And yes, the monster gets its attack. Turn order is merely a game convenience for play simplicity, and for representing a slight combat advantage, but really every attack (by creatures that survive the whole turn) are considered part of a simultaneous mêlèe. The retreat grants that extra attack – as GM you can roll it at the time of retreat, or on its initiative turn, and the difference is a matter if convenience rather than whether the target is still viable. Think of it as happening "sometime" during the turn when the retreating character exposed themself to danger by recklessly turning tail, but do the actual roll and damage whenever is most convenient.