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RPG thoughts--combat resolution--

There was a conversation a few nights ago between jerseytude, Badger, the_october and myself--a little bit of a rough road, because Jersey's not going to win the all-comers "don't go there" contest, and October and Badger can both get a little testy and prickly. But it was a reasonable way to pass a Wednesday evening after a looong day at work.

Anyway, the discussion turned to gaming, and of course to the sticking point for most game systems--combat. Combat is meant to be fast-paced and exciting, at least in real life it ends up that way. Certainly even the non-life-threatening bopping Badger with a whiffle sword gets the adrenaline running, and it's mostly safe, except for the occasional loss of dignity. Heck, even playing "airzooka sniper" with a friend gets the heart going.

But combat in any current game system stops the game. It takes it from fast-paced plot or dialogue or exploration with one roll every 10 minutes, max, game-time to two rolls every .5 seconds, game time (conservatively--old school White Wolf had roll to hit, to dodge, to damage, and to soak the damage. That's a lot of D10s for a single attack!) Then, on top of it, most people (not all) want their characters to live, and even some that are generally good role-players will get hung up in a combat and turn ruleslawyery in the heat of the moment. Anyway, dice don't add to the verisimilitude. Unless you're playing old-school D&D, anyway, in which dice-crunching is part of the geeky fun.

October is of the general opinion that a combat is a single conflict, best resolved, really, by a single test. That seems a bit harsh. My old In Nomine game master would tend to let combat run as long as he thought it should, but that smacked of favoritism.

So what about this--a three-phase resolution. The first phase is strategy and setup--as long as it's narratively appropriate, it can be played out (if your player is good at chest-puffing bravado, let him face off with his opponent. If you're playing a sneaky little bastard, set up the traps and explosives in advance.) This scene boils down to a single roll for "setup."

I'm not sure if the "setup" roll should come beforehand (that is, if you roll REALLY well in the Setup phase, you can dictate things like "caught the black spirals by surprise while they were eating the body of our fallen packmate. Maybe the theurge is engaged in entrail-reading and is distracted," or "ooh. Well, you WERE going to sneak up on them, but such a pity that they had already rigged up that sensor beam to trigger when you came to their camp...") or afterward ("After a few well-placed comments about the heft and general durability of the French poof's rapier, as compared to the weight and girth of cold British iron, he's rattled and off his guard, and attacks without thinking. Take a +2 to your Setup roll, he's coming at you with more stupidity than finesse.")

Anyway, the next phase would be "Combat" or "Melee" or something like that, and represents the actual conflict scene--the cross of swords, bows and arrows, or chucking in a grenade. Again, I'm not sure if the roll should be before or after the match--with before, you have a rough idea of who'll win, and can tailor your narrative and the fun descriptives to your heart's content. After, you can figure any good RP into the roll.

I think probably with the combat phase, the roll should be at the beginning, since this really *is* where things get truly random. Anyway, there'd be a hefty modifier based on the Setup phase, to show that your opponent is at a disadvantage, or that you are.

Last, the "resolution" phase. Beaten and bloody, but still functional, your opponent can now make a last ditch chance to escape, possibly (on a botch) getting in a parting shot. Or, he can choose to fight to the bloody end (another melee-type round.) Or maybe, once he's flat on his back, you'll want to raise your sword as if to cut off his head, then let him go crawling back to his dark master. Or tie him up for interrogation, or tickling and sublimated bondage fantasies in a 'toon' game. Anyway, the way this phase should probably go--both parties announce their general intentions, then make a roll (secret, maybe? Don't know...the open die roll adds to the suspense IMO, but the concealed roll lets the narrator surprise the players a bit, and it's good to be able to fiat the escape in a pinch. The roll would probably have some strong circumstantial modifiers based on combat. This is the phase where you say "his femural artery is severed and he's dragging a leg behind him" (mid-difficulty, it still leaves room for narration) or "the witch escapes cackling in a cloud of red smoke, cursing the party as she departs" (low difficulty) or "I tear out his entrails with my Mighty Claws, and take his hide for a blanket for my cubs" (high difficulty, there's no coming back from that!)

The actual terms of the resolution would be in the hands of the victorious party, though they could still get burned by a crappy roll.

Anyway, just some thoughts. I hate the idea of a one-shot kill, but combat is always so deadly-dull, particularly since I go more for the hare-brained schemes than actual pumped up stats.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 11th, 2004 09:49 am (UTC)
Reading over this, it seems like a decent mechanic might be:

1) setup roll
1.b) Setup narration
2) Combat roll (modified by setup success)
2.b) combat narration
3) Resolution ("damage")
3.a) Declaration of "what will I try to do if I win this roll" made by victor, with input and "if he loses" by loser.
3.b) Resolution roll
3.c) Resolution narration (with damage, et cetera.)

Damage might affect Setup rolls down the road, so if you have a maimed leg and that affects a hand-to-hand combat, take a setup penalty. If you're sniping, laying down in the grass, the leg wouldn't affect you. "Cover" rules would also figure into the setup.

I'm wondering if something like an hour-long paintball match would be better served by a few seperate 3-phase contests, or if that comes too close to AD&D "rounds." There's gotta be a happy medium there.
Sep. 11th, 2004 10:29 am (UTC)
One thing you could do is use the combat system from Warhammer Fantasy Battle.
Sep. 11th, 2004 11:22 am (UTC)
I have a board game called Freedom in the Galaxy, which was essentially a rip-off of Star Wars. It did have a rather interesting way of resolving personal combat. Essentially it summed the combat levels of all the members of the party and compared that to the sum of the combat skills of their opponents. Most of the time, this would be a fight between 2-4 rebel characters against 10 imperial soldiers. Combat was resolved using dice rolls against a combat results table. Each side would roll once on the chart for each round of combat. The die roll gave you the total amount of damage inflicted against the whole side, naturally the player got to decide how to divide the damage among all the characters. One interesting quirk was that each side could elect to attempt to break off combat at the start of each round, if they succeeded the encounter ended, if they failed they got a very unfavorable shift on the combat table.
Sep. 12th, 2004 12:00 am (UTC)
The all-comers "don't go there" contest?

I wouldn't win it?
Sep. 12th, 2004 12:54 am (UTC)
No, no, I'm fairly certain you'd go there :)
Sep. 14th, 2004 01:25 pm (UTC)
I like that, actually...I'm not enthused by the idea of killing with one roll either, I just loathe dealing with fights on a swing-by-swing basis. It's like doing research rolls book by book, or maybe dividing it into Research Rounds: Phase 1, Card Index Phase, make your Dewey Decimal and/or Alphabetization roll, modified by the Obscurity Index of the Target Topic and possibly your Friend Status with the librarian (the modified total becomes your basic To Locate number); Phase 2, Stacks Searching Phase, roll for Library Navigation...

Anyway. Here's how combat works in Liar's Paradise, see what you think of it:

When a fight scene breaks out, the Dealer apportions chips from the bank to each side -- how many depends on things like the number of combatants, relevant character traits, and adverse or favorable conditions. In a simple two-fighter brawl each would probably get no more than five chips; in a full-scale battle each army might have upwards of twenty. Players can array in teams if they like and divide the appropriate pot up between them, so even if only two characters are fighting, the entire table can still participate.

Then the poker playing begins. Each time you lay down chips, you get to add a 'minor' extension to the scene -- generally, anything that doesn't seriously rock the progress of the fight. The winner of each hand adds a major extension, in which, for instance, mooks can be killed or named characters seriously injured. What constitutes a 'major' or 'minor' change depends on the scale of the fight (in a battle dozens of soldiers may die as a 'minor' event), and also on the relative standing of cards and chips: if you just raked in a substantial portion of the total pot with a royal flush, you can get away with a lot more than if you won four chips because everyone else folded to your lousy pair of threes.

The Dealer keeps a tally of who gets hit and how badly (taking notes such as 'G. slashed on arm w/sword'), and declares when a character has taken enough abuse to be 'down' or 'dying'. Generally, a normal character who gets targeted by three major actions will go down, or dying if attacked with lethal weapons. However, players can spend relevant traits or red chips (from their personal stock, not from the fight pot) to negate a major attack -- the character still takes injuries where applicable, but the attack doesn't apply to the three-strikes-down limit. A down character simply can't fight any more, and has to lie there groaning for the rest of the scene; the player may still finish out the poker game, but can't use that character for anything. A dying character kicks off at the end of the fight scene, unless saved through means described elsewhere in the rules. If attacked again, the character has had it. Unlike a down character, a dying one has the option of taking a Last Heroic Action. Well, not necessarily heroic, but certainly last -- if you choose to have a dying character do one more thing before lying down to bleed, it means an almost certain demise, but on the plus side a Last Heroic Action succeeds against all but the most ridiculous odds.

The fight ends either when one player has all the chips, when an entire side has lost its pot, or when all the chips are in the hands of players who wish to call an end to the fight. Whoever wins the hand that brings about one of these conditions gets control of the narrative when normal play resumes, which happens as soon as the Dealer finishes assigning injuries where appropriate, determining whether dying characters can be saved, and otherwise wrapping up the effects of the fight. I'd go into more detail about the wrapup but I seem to be running up against the comment-posting character limit as it is.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )