Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons relies heavily on the use of maps and miniatures, and while I don’t necessarily agree with their methods, I understand that movement is important both for certain tactical and conceptual reasons. Being able to imagine characters standing up, falling down, walking across a room, charging into a battle, or plane-hopping are all important to the game.

Tactical movement and positioning are dependent on a variety of other things, like locations for them to take place, and the relative positions of other characters, not to mention opponents. For a +2 bonus to attack, flanking is a remarkably complicated concept. Position yourself and an ally on opposite sides of an opponent. Apparently simple, it can be quite difficult to properly execute for some players.

There’s also the problem that for flanking to work assumes that a character’s attention can be taken away, and Dungeons & Dragons assumes that each participant has enough time to look in every direction, and yet they can still be flanked by opponents who position themselves on either side. Flanking is one of those things that enables characters to get the sought-after +2 attack bonus of combat advantage. And yet…

It seems to me that with the range-associations of so many powers, using keywords like melee, ranged, close burst/blast, aura, and area burst, flanking is something that ought to simply be associated with certain types of tactical powers. Because flanking affects the opponent’s ability to concentrate on defense, it should be possible to flank with any attack designed to create a distraction or opening.

Flanking could be easily achievable through melee powers, “the first ally to use a melee attack against the target before the beginning of your next turn gets flanking,” but it should also be possible for defenders to flank an entire group of foes through close-range powers, in a “Zergling Round-Up” kind of way. (An awesome visual.)

Zergling Round-Up [Martial, Zone] Defender At-Will
Minor action, Close blast 3*
Target: Each enemy in blast
Effect: The blast creates a zone that lasts until the start of your next turn. While in the zone, the target grants flanking to the first ally who attacks it before the start of your next turn.

(* In this case, let’s assume that “close blast 3” could potentially be interpreted as “your choice of three enemies that are engaged in melee with you.”)

Unlike combat advantage, which sort of is a catch-all for “this guy is vulnerable,” flanking could be used to achieve specific effects, like locking down or knocking down an enemy. The above power makes it possible to “flank” an enemy with two characters standing next to each other, or one behind another. The warrior in the front lays down his round-up power, while the archer behind him uses Suppressing Fire.

Suppressing Fire [Martial, Weapon] Striker At-Will
Minor action, Ranged weapon
Requirement: You must be flanking the target
Target: One creature
Effect: The target is slowed until the start of your next turn.
Special: This power counts as an attack.

If you’re using rules that let you convert your Standard and Move actions into Minor actions, you could use Suppressing Fire on up to three flanked targets, which would be a pretty cool and easy use of your turn. There are no dice rolls necessary for the tactical effects listed above: the defender creates an opening and the archer locks enemies down, enabling a third, artillery character to hit multiple foes at once.

With flanking normally being a melee thing, it’ll be difficult for a ranged character to use suppressing fire without a defender present. The defender effect isn’t all that powerful, as the enemies in the zone can move away to avoid granting flanking. Both powers would be highly situational-use effects except when used in combination. Not requiring dice rolls for success certainly encourages cooperation.