Jul 152013

Choose-Your-Weapon-Dice-TabletopOnce more I find myself taking inspiration from the writing process, as work continues apace on my Steampunk RPG: Rise of the Automata. I’m still chugging away nicely on it and have almost finished the section I will need to try a play test of the combat system out. I’m not going to go on at length about what this will entail, as I have a different blog for that, but it has made me think about the kind of combat system I wanted to create, as it would be the kind I also wanted to play.

In the past I have made note of how much I love the Cyberpunk 2020 role playing game, but still felt the need to tidy up the combat system a little bit, as it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, but there was just a bit too much dice rolling for my mind. And that’s what this post boils down to, and what I want to talk about; I want a combat system that truly is fast and fun. In the CP 2020 combat rules, when you attack anyone in close combat, either with a weapon or without, both combatants roll off against each other. Since this should happen at the same time, it technically shouldn’t slow thing down, but it does. There’s an awful lot to take into account when making a combat roll in CP 2020 anyway, two people doing it just takes that little bit longer. And the fact that what you have is a fluid target number also means a heavy degree of unpredictability, so people spend a lot longer thinking about whether or not luck should play a role in this moment.

So I removed the need for people to roll against each other by creating a very basic way of characters to have a target number that represents their ability to either parry or dodge an attack. It worked pretty damned well; the only failing being my own as I forgot to write down what I had used to make this number, or tell the players how to do it either. It was based on a combat skill, and as they were putting points into it, the parry/dodge score should have been going up too. My bad. So in the game I’m working, I have done something similar, but made a special box for it on the character sheet, so that it should be easier to track.

Another combat system I generally like, but could do with streamlining, is Savage Worlds. For a system that claims to be Fast and furious, combat can sometimes drag. Mainly down to two reasons based on my experience: initiative order changing every round, and being Shaken. Initiative first; I understand that combat should be fluid, but changing the order each round by the draw of a card is not the best way to go about it. I have recently been involved in play test sessions for 6D6, and I love one of their ideas about initiative. If there is a narrative reason for one character to go first, then they do – as long as it is agreed upon by all participants – and then they nominate the next active character. This means that the order is fluid, and the players can make tactical decisions in how they operate. A lovely idea, and one I thoroughly enjoy. I’ll be sticking with good old fashioned rolling once then setting the order though, as it’s simple and quick.

Being Shaken in a combat round is a big pain in the ass. I know why the rule is there, but it just means that a player has the potential to be a damned big hero who just lays there for several rounds as they fail test after test to regain their senses. I personally would like to just ditch this rule, but it would make player characters a bit too powerful, and they really don’t need any help in that area. if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

So far then, it seems the best thing to do to speed up combat is to reduce the number of dice rolls. Before anyone points it out, I know that Amber does that job spectacularly well, but I’m still a bit too much of a fan of random chance to go full dice-less. So I have a parry/dodge mechanic to cut down on one set of dice rolls, and I am also trying out something that should do away with damage and hit location rolls. This idea has not yet been tested out, but it should be fun.

At its heart, the game uses a 2d10 system. So, you roll to hit, adding the two dice together and checking against the target number. If successful, you choose one of the results for hit location, and the other for damage. This works for all characters, so it isn’t just the players who get more control over how they deal damage. This could still be broken, and I may need to insist on different colour dice so that one will always be location, the other damage, but I’d like to try this out first, and see how it goes down.

So there you have it, some thoughts on speeding up the flow of combat, and a crazy idea i want to try. If you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below. If you think my ideas stink, please keep the raging torrent of bile down to about two paragraphs. I thank you.

  4 Responses to “What I want out of a combat system.”

  1. My ideal system would have combat that’s fast, verisimilar, and brutal. By verisimilar I mean modeled in such a way as to seem realistic. Balancing the speed vs verisimilitude is one of the toughest design tasks. (I also prefer a unified mechanic so I’m pretty hard to please.)

    I’ve been working on my system for a few years now and still find need to make changes to combat (and all sorts of things). It’s got opposed rolls in it, but all the math is very simple. I like opposed rolls because it makes defending oneself even more of an active prospect.

    I find that it’s actually easier to gain verisimilitude via simplicity than complexity. You can create authenticity without resorting to 500 page corebooks.

    What you’ve designed, sir, is very different from what I’d come up with (despite having similar goals); I’m looking forward to more of it.

  2. Regarding begin Shaken in Savage Worlds, players often forget that they can spend a Benny to get out of Shaken at any time, no soak required (they can also spend it after a failed Spirit roll to get out of Shaken). If you want player characters (or enemies) to be Shaken less often, make sure that they get a steady supply of bennies.

    Another tactic that can be effective is doing a cooperative roll. Have one PC go on hold until a Shaken PC’s initiative is up. Then have them both make a cooperative Spirit roll with the Shaken PC as the leader. This might be a dramatic “get up, soldier, we need you!” or something. It can be a costly maneuver since it eats up an action, but I almost always reward it with a benny, especially if they roleplay it into some sort of cool “help my fallen ally” scene.

    Having players invest in Leadership Edges can be good as well, as several of them provide bonuses to Shaken allies. As of Savage Worlds Deluxe, those Leadership Edges affect Wild Cards as well as Extras, so they can be a real boon.

    If none of those are working, one houserule that I like is that player characters get a +2 bonus to recover from Shaken for each subsequent round that they are Shaken. As long as they don’t get reshaken, this means that they’ll only be Shaken for, at most, 2 rounds.

    • It is actually the biggest use of bennies when I run a game, but that doesn’t mean I like handing them out too often. I love the idea of cooperative rolling to come out of shaken, and will happily implement that in my games.

      As a GM who also plays, it’s pretty rare for me to not take the leadership edges as I know how useful they are. Sadly other players don’t seem to see just how beneficial they are.

    • That cooperative get outta shaken joint-roll is a pretty awesome idea. Stealing it! Thanks.

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