Beat Em Up flavor in a TTRPG

I was listening to the soundtrack to Streets of Rage last night and started wondering if there's a way to capture the feeling of walloping baddies, and importantly the viscerality of winning a fight with reflexes and "being skilled" rather than relying on random dice and a competent "character build."

Can you do Double Dragon, TMNT, Golden Axe, and the like in a table top game, where the action is fast and you feel like you're outplaying the enemies, rather than just having higher stats or lucky dice?

Is it possible to have a tabletop RPG combat system where you play it competently and have better outcomes, and for that system to not bog down and be slow? I know that D&D fourth edition had a lot of decision points in combat that could reward clear skill, but also combat got kind of slow.

I have some ideas I'm planning to write up, but I'm curious if anyone else has this same interest.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I believe there are several combat-focused games where characters either always hit or almost always do, which I think probably helps with this feeling of competence.

Mechanically, I suspect games that use cards, rather than dice, and players are able to put out the cards they want in response to the situation at the moment, would also help with this feel in combat: "Oh, he's left me an opening for this signature move!"
 

I believe there are several combat-focused games where characters either always hit or almost always do, which I think probably helps with this feeling of competence.

Mechanically, I suspect games that use cards, rather than dice, and players are able to put out the cards they want in response to the situation at the moment, would also help with this feel in combat: "Oh, he's left me an opening for this signature move!"
I definitely would get rid of rolling for damage, at the very least. That would speed things up.

I pulled out the old PDF of Kirin Robinson's Old School Hack, which has the lovely combat system wherein you have 2d10, one of which is red. That one is your face die. You roll both, add the results, and try to beat an armor class that is usually between 8 and 14. But if your face die is a 10, you hit them in the face!

A normal attack does one damage. Hitting them in the face does an extra damage.

Special maneuver cards can work. I'm not sure whether I would want you to always be able to use them whenever you want. Like, how much variety in round to round conditions is there? If you are fighting a wave of mooks? What parameters can vary to change whether you want to use your super move in a given round?

I also recall the way 4E Gamma World handled power-ups. You would get a random mutation at the start of each encounter that would give you a special ability, and I think if you've rolled either a one or a 20 or something, you would switch your mutation to something new. And the mutations were cards so it was randomized.

That is easier on the game master, so they don't have to decide where in the map power-ups would be.

Actually. Gamma world was pretty great. I need to look at that again. I recall my game Master at the time busted out his old robo rally boards and used them as battle maps as we explored a factory with robots.
 

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
Special maneuver cards can work. I'm not sure whether I would want you to always be able to use them whenever you want. Like, how much variety in round to round conditions is there? If you are fighting a wave of mooks? What parameters can vary to change whether you want to use your super move in a given round?
Maybe you have X cards in your hand and on your turn, you can play a card or discard one or more of your cards, drawing replacements each time. That might set you up for more useful moves the next combat round, but the player character has to survive the round in the meantime.

That way, you don't have an infinite set of choices of what to do -- which isn't satisfying from a game design standpoint and not terribly realistic based on how real world combat actually works -- but you get away from pure randomness and put some power in the hands of the player, who can still leverage smart play to feel badass in combat in a way that rolling a die typically doesn't.
 

I was listening to the soundtrack to Streets of Rage last night and started wondering if there's a way to capture the feeling of walloping baddies, and importantly the viscerality of winning a fight with reflexes and "being skilled" rather than relying on random dice and a competent "character build."

Can you do Double Dragon, TMNT, Golden Axe, and the like in a table top game, where the action is fast and you feel like you're outplaying the enemies, rather than just having higher stats or lucky dice?

Is it possible to have a tabletop RPG combat system where you play it competently and have better outcomes, and for that system to not bog down and be slow? I know that D&D fourth edition had a lot of decision points in combat that could reward clear skill, but also combat got kind of slow.

I have some ideas I'm planning to write up, but I'm curious if anyone else has this same interest.
First one of the many things I like about 4e is that at least a significant part of the skill is at run time rather than in building the character - and in my 4e Retroclone I've leaned into this hard, with limited complexity in character building.

But speed is an issue. I don't think that you're ever going to get the reflex part in a turn based ttrpg. You can speed things up a bit; I've experimented with cleaning up the resolution mechanics by only giving people a tiny number of hit points and having most attacks do fixed damage (normally one to three points), no damage roll, and using a d6 not a d20 for the basic resolution mechanic. And ... it helps. A bit. But it's not where the root problem is which is a turn based system that requires an unfolding situation for people to respond to.
 

Lazy bookmark -
My working idea now is, in brief:

Old School Hack's 2d10 attacks with the face die.

If you have advantage, roll 3d10 and keep the 2 best. If disadvantage roll 3d10 and keep the 2 worst.

Each round has 'pong initiative,' where the baddies and players take turns deciding what they're going to do. This has the effect that players can often get their buddies out of bad situations, and usually can take out the first wave of mooks, but then the later waves get to land some hits before we move to the next round.

Each character picks (or is pregenerated with) one light attack mode and one heavy attack mode. Light typically does 1 dmg, heavy 3, with variations for range and rider effects and such.

As your action, the two most basic options are Fierce or Flurry.
  • For Fierce, you make an attack roll with a heavy weapon, which does nothing if you miss, so you'll usually want to save this for when you have some sort of improved chance to hit or when you really need to land the effect.
  • For Flurry, you automatically land a hit with a light weapon, and then you make an attack with advantage. If it hits, you land another light hit. It doesn't have to be at the same person, though.

You also have a Super move, which you can trigger if your dice match (or if any 2 match, if you have advantage). In addition to the attack's normal effect, it does something cool, typically dealing at least 3 extra damage, but with combo potential.

You have a pool of resources called Peril that starts at 0 but goes up as bad stuff happens (like when you're bloodied, or the first time an ally is knocked out in a fight). Leveling probably gives you an increased starting Peril after each rest. You can spend 1 Peril to trigger a Super move regardless of dice, or to get +5 to your attack roll.

You get one teamwork ability, which is a perk that happens if you attack someone an ally also attacked.

And one focus ability, which takes your action and does something impressive, but requires concentration.

Then maybe some other small perk, like a magic item.

Finally, to get the 'twitch reflex' flavor, you have 3 Aegises. These are once-per-rest abilities that let you negate an attack and get some small perk that might change your fortune a bit.

----

Sample Characters, for theorycrafting.

Rantle, Heroic Scoundrel

Str +2, Dex +2, Con +2, Int +1, Wis -1, Cha +3

HP 10, AC 10

Attacks

Light: Thief’s Dagger (1), melee/thrown 30 ft. In melee, steals an item not in hand.

Heavy: Living Greatsword (3), melee, foe-feller (double dmg against large creatures)

Super: Greatsword Sweep (pick 3 adjacent squares, greatsword deals 1 dmg against each foe in those spaces)

Focus: Silvertongue (various bard-esque effects with a 60-ft. range for as long as you keep concentration; you pick one whenever you complete a rest, such as Song of Forms - each ally’s attacks become enchanted; or Commanding Presence - once per round you can trigger an ally’s teamwork ability even if you don’t attack the same person; or Center of Attention - enemy that don’t target you have disadvantage on their attacks)

Teamwork: Backstab (if you attack a target an ally is also attacking, you deal +2 dmg)

Item: Living Blade. Flaming (if there’s fire within 5 ft at any point, it burns for the rest of the combat, which sets people it hits on fire, dealing ongoing 1 fire damage, save ends). Thrown (spend Peril to throw it 60 ft. as a fierce attack, returns at the start of your next turn).

Aegises

Dodge: When an attack would hit you, move up to 15 ft without provoking, and negate the triggering attack.

Distracting Appeal: When an attack would hit you or an ally within 60 ft, as long as the attacker can hear you and you have not attacked them, negate the triggering attack.

Counterattack: When an attack would hit you, interrupt with either a Fierce or Flurry. If the attacker is rendered unable to attack you, negate the triggering attack.

Skills

{work in progress}

Guthwulf, Minister of Pain

Str +1, Dex +0, Con +3, Int +2, Wis +2, Cha +2

HP 10, AC 8

Attacks

Light: Staff of pain (1), melee, the next attack against them has advantage.

Heavy: Brass talon (2), melee/range 60 ft., gain 1 Peril if the creature dies this round

Super: Stone fist (60 ft. line, and when it hits the first person in line, a fist grabs everything in adjacent spaces, dealing 2 dmg and restraining them, save ends)

Focus: Summon fiend (appears at the end of your turn, lasts for as long as you maintain concentration; you control it, and the only thing you can do is move; damage against it persists even if you summon it again; there are various demons you can acquire, and you choose when you complete a rest, such as Bearded Devil, Frog Demon, Imp, Necromantic Spirit, Succubus, Undead Shadow)

Teamwork: Intimidation (if you attack a target an ally is also attacking, the target is frightened of both of you, save ends)

Combo: Minister of pain (enemies within 5 ft of you take +1 dmg whenever hit by one of your allies).

Aegises

Heal Wounds. You don’t negate an attack, but you heal 5 HP to yourself or an ally within reach. Does not require an action.

Raking Counterspell. When a spell would hit you or an ally within 60 ft, cancel it. Make a brass talon attack against the caster.

Stoneshape. When an attack would hit you or an ally within 60 ft, create a 10-ft wall of stone between the attacker and target. It absorbs the attack and has 5 HP. It persists.

Skills

{work in progress}
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
So this, for me, is a love hate thing. As a huge fan of martial arts (almost 25 years coaching), and a huge fan of great fight choreography, I have a soft spot for somewhat expansive combat systems that index 'cool fighting stuff' for whatever value you want to place on that. However, what I've found is that in most cases those expansive systems are almost invariably at least in some part dead weight, even the ones that have moments of transcendent genius in terms of mechanical whatnots. My personal thing at this point, in lightweight OSR type games anyway, is something like the Doom Die mechanic from the recently rereleased and expanded Black Sword Hack. That mechanic uses the usage die as a push your luck thing rather than inventory management.

So each PC has a Doom Die that starts at d6 and degrades as usual for usage dice (on a roll of 1-2 it steps down). In BSH you can add a Doom Die to any combat roll to do something fancy, which covers pretty much any maneuver but without an granular rules. You want to push, trip, knock down, kick sand in someone's face - roll the Doom Die. Everything is fine until the Doom Die bottoms out, at which point you get disadvantage on all your rolls until you get a long rest. Doom Dice also interface with the Magic system and a couple of other things so its very much a scarce resource. There's enough juice that players tend to try fancy stuff regularly, but not enough play that they are swinging from chandeliers or trying to drop arrows through eye slits every combat. It works for me anyway.
 




Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top