Beat Em Up flavor in a TTRPG

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Never thought I'd say this, but: use a dice pool. Nothing says "flurry of blows" like a flurry of dice. Each of your attacks is a d6, your results must exceed your opponent's damage threshold, and you can chain all of the 6's together for an ULTRA COMBO!
 

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One thing I'm not sure you can really do in a timely fashion is the whole, "Get good at understanding each enemy's moveset so you can fight them better" thing. I mean, when I test this out, I fully intend to have waves of enemies, and different 'stages' with bosses, and to have various types of minions recur in later stages. So the players can learn how to deal with them and not get surprised by their attack modes.

But, like, in a turn-based game, where movement is usually granular in 5-ft. blocks and usually only happens on your turn, how can you properly keep your distance to dodge, or interrupt an incoming attack, or whatever? How do design baddies so that you have counterplay that's exciting and not repetitive?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
Ages ago, I used HERO 4Ed & the Ultimate Martial Artist supplement to run a (short-lived) martial arts competition “campaign”. Since it was “heroic” level instead of “superheroic”, think Enter the Dragon, Circle of Iron or Bloodsport more than Mortal Combat.

My GMPC was a blind martial arts master who used a staff. His opponent used hand wraps with broken glass and was essentially Bolo Yeung…on steroids. (OK…more steroids.)

The combat went well as far as simulating the type of thing we were trying to play. My blind master danced around his improbably large foe, striking, moving and dodging, wearing him down like water erodes a mountain. The big guy couldn’t land a single blow.

Until. He. Did.

The blind master was nearly killed by a haymaker blow that just barely connected, and only the referee prevented the match from ending in a homicide. (Fighters could use weapons, so killing your foe in the regular course of combat was permitted; coup de grace strikes were not.)

It really did feel like a cinematic martial arts contest.
 
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Never thought I'd say this, but: use a dice pool. Nothing says "flurry of blows" like a flurry of dice. Each of your attacks is a d6, your results must exceed your opponent's damage threshold, and you can chain all of the 6's together for an ULTRA COMBO!
I'm pondering ways to do that which would be fun and visceral. I had a thought to try to capture how a player might balance their offense and defense while dealing with swarms of mooks.

One of my friends bought three bricks of d6s for FATE - 27 each in red, blue, and green - which had two sides with plus signs, two sides with minus signs, and two sides blank.

What if you had, I dunno, a starting dice pool of three (which could increase with level), and at the start of each turn you pull three dice of any color or combination of colors, which you have access to for the turn.

Red represents offense. You use them to make bonus attacks at any point during the turn - including as counterattacks when someone comes at you. Plus (+) means you hit and deal 2 dmg. Blank ( ) means you hit and deal 1 dmg. Minus (-) means you miss.

Blue represents defense. You use them to possibly negate attacks, either by dodging or parrying. Plus (+) let you negate an attack or end a condition. Blank ( ) reduces the damage you take by 1. Minus (-) means the attack hits as normal.

Green represents tricks. You use them to do stuff like throw, trip, blind, stun, and the like. Enemies would have some sort of threshold (usually just 1 for mooks, but maybe 3 or 4 for bosses). When you hit someone, you can roll a trick die. Plus (+) adds 2 step toward the threshold. Blank ( ) inflicts 1 step. Minus (-) does nothing. If you reach the target's threshold, you get to choose a condition you apply. . . . Or maybe the condition is preset based on what weapon you're attacking with?

This would be separate from supers (attacks would still use 2d10, and you could trigger a super by spending a Peril point or by rolling pairs on the dice). So on a typical turn you'd have 2d10 to attack with, and 3 other dice you could roll during the turn. It's still a bit random, but it's giving you some control over how much you want to commit to offense, defense, and conditions.

The number of dice would need to be playtested to figure out what's meaningful and fun without being too strong. Balancing 'feeling cool' versus 'feeling threatened' is hard. Which segues into the next thing I need to come up with: enemy design.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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?
Gotta keep the rules simple if you don't want it to bog down.

I'm pondering ways to do that which would be fun and visceral. I had a thought to try to capture how a player might balance their offense and defense while dealing with swarms of mooks.

One of my friends bought three bricks of d6s for FATE - 27 each in red, blue, and green - which had two sides with plus signs, two sides with minus signs, and two sides blank.

What if you had, I dunno, a starting dice pool of three (which could increase with level), and at the start of each turn you pull three dice of any color or combination of colors, which you have access to for the turn.

Red represents offense. You use them to make bonus attacks at any point during the turn - including as counterattacks when someone comes at you. Plus (+) means you hit and deal 2 dmg. Blank ( ) means you hit and deal 1 dmg. Minus (-) means you miss.

Blue represents defense. You use them to possibly negate attacks, either by dodging or parrying. Plus (+) let you negate an attack or end a condition. Blank ( ) reduces the damage you take by 1. Minus (-) means the attack hits as normal.

Green represents tricks. You use them to do stuff like throw, trip, blind, stun, and the like. Enemies would have some sort of threshold (usually just 1 for mooks, but maybe 3 or 4 for bosses). When you hit someone, you can roll a trick die. Plus (+) adds 2 step toward the threshold. Blank ( ) inflicts 1 step. Minus (-) does nothing. If you reach the target's threshold, you get to choose a condition you apply. . . . Or maybe the condition is preset based on what weapon you're attacking with?

This would be separate from supers (attacks would still use 2d10, and you could trigger a super by spending a Peril point or by rolling pairs on the dice). So on a typical turn you'd have 2d10 to attack with, and 3 other dice you could roll during the turn. It's still a bit random, but it's giving you some control over how much you want to commit to offense, defense, and conditions.
That wasn't simple. At first I was thinking all rolls should be 1v1, but you could roll your way into/out of a melee too. Like this: every combatant in range rolls his pool at the same time. You then assign your dice as hits and blocks against your opponents' rolls in real time, like Bananagrams meets Risk. It helps to have good rolls, but it also helps to quickly assess your hits and blocks and decide where to assign them before your opponents do. That part is the speed and tactics. The end result determines who is still standing after the first wave.
 

If it's all a bunch of d6s, how's it work? Turn starts, you roll like 8d6, and you decide how many you want to spend on office. Then 5 guys come your way, and each rolls 1d6, and you can spend dice that match or exceed the number an attacker rolled to negate that attack. You decide how much you want to risk on offense, and maybe you take a guy out before he gets a chance to attack you.

Maybe you spend 1 die to land a light attack, 2 to land a heavy attack, 3 for a super? Or do the dice need to be a certain value to hit? 2 for a light hit; 4 for a heavy; 6 for a super?

Is there any more nuance than just having a big bunch of dice and hoping you roll high, then deciding where you use them? Does everyone's dice refresh at the start of a shared turn, or do we keep cyclical initiative?

Minions get one die. Bigger minions (Manions) get two or three dice. Bosses might get, like, a lot? Or is it more fun for bosses to have a big chunk of hit points, and a gimmick you need to figure out, but to be balanced so you've got 5 rounds or so to fight them?
 
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loverdrive

Prophet of the profane (She/Her)
I've recently played in a Cortex game that strived to capture the feeling of Honk Kong action cinema (and, I think, Lucha Libre, but that flew right over my head), which I think, is relevant to beat'em ups.

Each scene was chock-full of aspects describing the environment and the bulk of the gameplay was figuring out how to punch people in a way that leverages the environment (throwing people into an aquarium with piranhas, pushing heavy shelves on them, all that) and it was pretty cool. It was still relying on dice that you get for incorporating existing aspects into your narration.

If you are willing to go into more avant-garde territory, well, my current project utilizes a literal fighting game as a resolution mechanic, and I guess you can swap beating the crap out of each other with beating the crap out of a wave of enemies.
 

Scottius

Explorer
I suppose there should also be an obligatory mention of the Street Fighter RPG, which is way better than one might think given the title.
Was not expecting to see a shout out to the Street Fighter RPG today. Still have all my books for that one as well as fond memories of running it in the past. It does make a pretty decent system for this type of beat em up inspired game.
 

innerdude

Legend
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.

Look at Spellbound Kingdom's combat system. It uses a physical "maneuver sheet" that activate abilities round to round depending on how you tactically used your action last round.

Mobs are represented with their own action/maneuver sheet.

Combat becomes nearly a "chess match" of sorts, where you're trying to out guess the GM, and how they'll move on their action sheet between offense/ defense/ special maneuver.
 

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