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"Better" Combat Systems in RPGs - Feedback Welcome!

JohnSnow

Adventurer
I like your list of principles but number (1) is tricky, because for some people combat itself is not fun at all, or they want it resolved as abstractly as possible and that's all that counts, other players will enjoy the detail and the moment to moment action. Anyway, my point being this is going to vary significantly person to person.

I'm surprised you have not come across GURPS or any RuneQuest variant in your list. I've very little experience with GURPS but lots of people swear by it, it's certainly too involved for me. As far as detailed combat systems goes RuneQuest 6 or now Mythras is the one I have most experience with. Going through your list

(SNIPPED for Brevity

Although as a whole the combat system is fairly complex, there are ways to pare it down a little. I don't use weapon Reach or the Cycle/Round system for example and I use a slightly faster way of determining attack/parry exchanges. For some people it is indeed still going to be too complex but I appreciate the piecemeal armour/hp system, the differentiated weapons and I enjoy how dramatic combats can be, with a story emerging from the choices, mechanics, chance and circumstance of each melee.

There's a free cut-down version "Mythras Imperative" Downloads which gives you character creation and the core rules system including combat.
I know that some people prefer full narrative or quick resolution combat. Personally, I find the "player can make shit up" just a little TOO freeform for my tastes.

I had GURPS recommended by some exceptionally simulative gamers who always liked tables, charts and so forth. They'd talk about how GURPS was good because it could model dodge vs. parry and different damage types, and my eyes started to glaze over. So, I never really gave GURPS a try.

I have an earlier version of Runequest (I think?), but I always found it a bit too simulative. I found it to be trying too hard (damage types and separating Parry and Dodge, again).

Full disclosure: I have a pet peeve on distinguishing too much between dodge and parry (sorta) because of experience with the Palladium System, where you could respectively Dodge, Parry, and Roll with the same attack before comparing it to your Armor Rating. It was...exhausting.

I'm cool with there being a distinction between Parry and Dodge (in fact, I think there should be), especially when it comes to distinguishing between melee and ranged combat. Shields were great (and highly favored up until full plate armor was developed) in part because they helped in melee, but also because they were incredibly useful against arrows and other ranged weapons. But in melee, you should only get one defense, that combines both parrying and dodging (the distinction between which is usually a bit muddy in sword combat anyway, at least in my experience).
 

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Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I have an earlier version of Runequest (I think?), but I always found it a bit too simulative. I found it to be trying too hard (damage types and separating Parry and Dodge, again).

Full disclosure: I have a pet peeve on distinguishing too much between dodge and parry (sorta) because of experience with the Palladium System, where you could respectively Dodge, Parry, and Roll with the same attack before comparing it to your Armor Rating. It was...exhausting.

I'm cool with there being a distinction between Parry and Dodge (in fact, I think there should be), especially when it comes to distinguishing between melee and ranged combat. Shields were great (and highly favored up until full plate armor was developed) in part because they helped in melee, but also because they were incredibly useful against arrows and other ranged weapons. But in melee, you should only get one defense, that combines both parrying and dodging (the distinction between which is usually a bit muddy in sword combat anyway, at least in my experience).
The Mythras parry combines some elements of footwork and an actual weapon parry, there's effectively no "dodge" unless you evade which you almost never want to do. There are no damage types, just damage. Unlike previous weapon skills in RQ, the one combat style skill covers attack and parry with all weapons in that combat style.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
(SNIP)
  1. Hit Points, like combat rounds and other combat mechanics, are a poor attempt to simulate the effects of combat while retaining a game aspect. The origin of Hit Dice is the average number of hits a character can take before death, and they didn't get particularly high in the original game, nor in AD&D. Most games have inflated these, probably as a result of player demand carried over from CCRPGs.
    1. A system that I liked, even though it had some issues, was from the Pinnacle version of Deadlands. You had a Wind score, which was the equivalent of HP, and when you ran out you were too winded to act until you recovered (usually in a round or so). In addition, each part of your body had a number of maximum wounds it could take (always 5 IIRC). When you took "damage," you divided it by your "body" score (determined by size). The whole number was the number of wounds the part of your body hit took, with the remainder becoming loss of Wind. You suffered various penalties for using the wounded location depending on the number of wounds, which created the dreaded death spiral, but the concept is sound. A character could have HP that represent their endurance to continue on, but still suffer physical wounds until they take too many (again, based on size) and they die.
Thanks for the comments. I really liked some of your points and I appreciate the feedback.

Just as a comment, Savage Worlds (which is also from Pinnacle) shifted the concept from "Wind" to just "Wounds" and obliterated the hit location table. The wound location remains abstract, unless the character is incapacitated, at which point you roll to see both if and where a serious injury may have occurred.

By default, a character has 4 wounds, although the right edges can raise that slightly (and bigger characters/creatures have more). There's a bit of a "death spiral" in play, as each wound causes a -1 penalty to checks (which is a big deal in Savage Worlds) but I tend to see those penalties as one of the indicators that maybe it's time to quit combat, if you have a choice. The Bennies concept also allows a PC to soak a certain number of wounds, or preroll bad results, which gives the PCs more control.

Honestly, I think Savage Worlds would probably run just fine if every character had 4 wounds, but most "mooks" don't, and are incapacitated from just one. This creates a degree of "Stormtrooper syndrome" that suits certain genres well, but not others. It is, however, easy to opt out of, and even Savage Worlds has the option for making certain "Extras" tougher but still not getting Bennies (Resilient or Very Resilient).

The most swingy thing in the system in Savage Worlds is the Wild Die, which explodes on an Ace. I'll have to see how nutty that is in play, as my game hasn't gotten off the ground yet.

To be honest, I like a lot about how Savage Worlds handles this stuff, but years of D&D have left me with a fondness for d20 skill checks. So I'm largely looking at a system that captures what I like in Savage Worlds, while addressing some of its potential shortcomings, that also makes use of my beloved d20.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
From my perspective, the desirable elements...

  • Simple roll mechanics that players don't need to wait for a GM pronouncement to gather the needed dice. (that is, dice not by difficulty unless it's an opposed roll.)
  • No tables required during combat.
  • Parry, Block, and dodge
  • The choice between parry, block, dodge, or take the hit is meaningful.
  • Damage is cumulative
  • Damage is not "fine until ko'd" nor "fine until dead"
  • Options include gridded play.
  • No tools needed for determining arcs when on gridded play.
  • Options more varied than "Attack, defend, flee, move"
  • Initiative once per combat, but slots swappable with correct abilities.
  • Reasonable movement rates
 

My intention here is decidedly not to actually go for either` "grim and gritty," or "nasty, quick, brutal and unforgiving." Nor is the intention to create "realistic combat." I do want to eliminate grind-y combats, where you have to hammer at a foe for 10 hit points a round for 15 rounds.

My goal here is "believable" (i.e. more "realistic" than it currently is) and "fun." As someone who regularly creates narrative combats for stage, I know that there's a huge difference between realistic and believable. I want combats in my games to be the latter, not the former.

It's inspired in part by the Shadiversity post about "levels are stupid," in part by my own frustration with hit points and "studded leather armor," and in part by every thread I've ever seen that has argued (quite persuasively) that "Aragorn is 5th-level."

In my opinion, no character (regardless of class) should be able to completely shrug off getting stabbed in the gut or neck with a dagger, no matter who's wielding it (no cheating with "sneak attack"). In D&D, after 1st-level, even a critical hit with a dagger (2d4) threatens...who? A low-Con wizard or sorcerer? Maybe?
I’d suggest trying a system like Mythras then, where the combat system is built around “not getting hit”, because “hp” are basically static, no one gas. Any, and combats hurt/maim/kill easily.

D&D is built around the HP Sponge paradigm. There are ways to tinker with this, but in my tinkering experience, these changes are klugey in practice.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
I don't know what a "better" combat system should have, but I know what it shouldn't have:
1. The chance for a PC's entire combat turn to feel like doing nothing.
2. Analysis paralysis. The only thing worse than accomplishing nothing on your turn is watching other players being indecisive (while you're doing nothing).
3. Negating rules, like when a PC scores a "hit," which then doesn't become a hit because her opponent dodged. Or when a hit results in zero damage. A failed attack should be a failed attack from the get-go. There's little point in following rules just to undo earlier decisions.
4. Visual hindrances. When I start counting squares on a grid, it means I've stopped being a character in a scene. The smoother that miniatures-usage goes is the more immersive that the experience is.
5. Math. Math is for two types of characters: snipers and generals. The sooner I'm done doing math is the sooner I'm imagining my Meteor spell frying all of my opponents (and, maybe, some allies).

In this post, I'll talk about one of my favorite systems (Modos RPG), what it gets right, and where I think it could use some work.
  1. Simple roll mechanics that players don't need to wait for a GM pronouncement to gather the needed dice. (that is, dice not by difficulty unless it's an opposed roll.)
  2. No tables required during combat.
  3. Parry, Block, and dodge
  4. The choice between parry, block, dodge, or take the hit is meaningful.
  5. Damage is cumulative
  6. Damage is not "fine until ko'd" nor "fine until dead"
  7. Options include gridded play.
  8. No tools needed for determining arcs when on gridded play.
  9. Options more varied than "Attack, defend, flee, move"
  10. Initiative once per combat, but slots swappable with correct abilities.
  11. Reasonable movement rates
1. Uses one die for outcome determination, and one die for damage. Every time.
2. No tables.
3. Parrying is a skill, blocking is done with shields (improving parry) or armor (reducing damage), dodge is a skill (though less effective than parry).
6. Damage is "fine until dead" but at player discretion. Players can earn rewards for handicapping themselves.
7. No grid support. Theatre of the mind is okay, but I wouldn't mind using a hex grid for combat - it would feel more organic than a square grid.
9. Options are "attack, defend, flee, move," but every action ends with narration by the PC and GM. The result is that an option becomes a scene or event. The changing scene then makes later options more interesting.
10. Swappable initiative at the cost of temporarily losing initiative.
11. No movement rates. Not sure that I'd want any, since only three really matter: obviously slower, iffy, and obviously faster.

1) Combat should be FUN to play.
2) Characters should have meaningful choices to make in combat.
3) Real combat is incredibly complex, and no simulative system will ever fully capture that. Don't even try. BUT the system should make real world sense.
4) The combat resolution mechanic should be tied directly to the game's skill resolution mechanic. Progression can either be tied to class and level or to any number of weapons skills, but it should ultimately feel pretty similar to any other skill.
5) Skill matters, but actual combat is highly variable, and the most skilled combatant usually, but doesn't always, win. So there should be a random element (dice rolls are great). Randomness also helps to account for some of the complexity that is both flatly impossible to capture and very difficult to even attempt to capture without driving yourself nuts.
6) Damage matters, as weapons are DANGEROUS. In the real world, a single blow from a dagger can kill you. Attrition based health mechanics (cough*Hit Points*cough) are useful from a gaming sense, but they're problematic for believability. And they can tend to lead to sloggy combats.
3. Following 9 above, each option makes as much real world sense as the GM and PC decide is necessary. There is usually a meaningful choice, because the narration requirement means that the combatants are always part of a scene, not just a token on a grid.
4. One "mechanic" to rule them all. Attacking is a skill, just like any other. In particular, it's a "physical" skill, so characters who are more physical (than, say, mental) do it better.
5. Weapons and armor have a greater impact on combat outcomes than skill. Don't take a knife to a gunfight, and don't get into a gunfight without some ballistics protection. There's no specific rule for cover (essential for gunfights), but short of adding a new rule, there are a couple of rules that come close. Also, weapons and armor each use a single die, so better gear makes you a better fighter on average, but in practice (specific instance), combat is highly variable.
6. A single dagger blow isn't likely to kill you in combat, which simulates the difficulty getting a good stab on someone who's fighting back. However, a character's capacity for damage doesn't increase much over levels, so a dagger doesn't become worthless at high character levels.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Great feedback and thoughts guys! I know I have my own biases, but I am trying to make a system that can be tailored. In the end, I may end up designing a new RPG around it, but if it works as intended, I may also include rules to make it a usable add-on/plug-in for, say, D&D and Savage Worlds. So, back to our regular programming...

Movement, Stunts, Tricks and Zones:
From my personal experience, melee combat is highly dynamic. As Mohammed Ali put it, you have to "float like a butterfly, and sting like a bee" if you want to win. Standing still for more than a moment will get you creamed. So, what does that mean for rules?

1. Simply put, there's no benefit for just standing still with a melee weapon. With ranged weapons, there should probably be some kind of benefit for "aiming." That's logical, intuitive and pretty straight-forward.

2. Typically, a character is splitting their energy and attention between moving, attacking, and defending. The best way to handle this is, in my opinion, have the following options "Defend," "All-Out Attack," and "Flee."
  • "Defend" is like D&D's Total Defense or Savage Worlds' "Defend" - you forego attacks for a higher defense.
  • "All-Out Attack" takes the place of D&D's "Full Attack" or SW's "Wild Attack" - you forego defense for a better attack.
  • "Flee" is withdrawing from combat - you forego attacks for a defended escape - Normal Defense but better movement.
3. Zones - I first encountered Zones in Monte Cook's Iron Heroes, where they were a way of letting non-magical characters do cool stuff with the environment. Some examples of zones:
  • Terrain/obstacles that requires characters to make some kind of check to keep their footing or move as normal.
  • Ropes, Chandeliers or the like that a character can use to increase their movement rate/bypass an opponent or the like.
  • Damaging zones, such as a fire pit, cliff, pit, or something similar.
  • Areas that provide some form of cover.
  • Objects that can be pressed into service as cover or used as improvised weapons (tables, chairs, liquor bottles, etc.).
4. Stunts or Tricks - I like the idea of giving PCs the ability to pull off tricks that can impose certain conditions on their opponents, such as a disarm, push, or trip or making a skill check in order to move further, impose some penalty on your opponent, or gain some benefit to an attack. In a way, Stunts are like player-initiated Zones, and the two things should have a similar resolution mechanic - a combat/skill test to either gain a benefit, impose a penalty, or inflict some kind of damage.

5. Aside about "multiple actions" - The best way to handle multiple actions (IMO), is to impose a penalty to all actions for choosing to take more than one significant action in combat. How many multiple actions? I'd say 3, with increasing penalties the more actions you take. Why 3? Because it's enough to feel like a lot, it's few enough not to bog down combat, and it's a semi-realistic number of distinct actions to pull off in 6-10 seconds. Moving outside of medieval technology, semi-automatic firearms could complicate this a little bit, but I think that's rectifiable with good firearms rules.

The thing I like about these systems is that none of them require the use of a combat grid. By abstracting combat, but providing interesting options, you encourage players to do clever things. Characters in a gunfight or subject to arrow fire should seek out cover if it's available. Swordfighters who are at a disadvantage should try to get to the other side of a table. As a DM, I like the idea of coming up with more interesting areas for combats to occur, but I also want to support players coming up with something that I, as the DM didn't think of.

As an aside, there's few easy ways to think about incorporating this mechanically, by allowing the player to spend an
"Action Point" to, for example, offset the penalty for extra actions. Or you could have a feat or edge called, say, "Swashbuckler" that allowed a character to take one free non-attack action without a penalty. Or one that separately enabled that for attacks. A DM who wanted more "swashbuckling action" could just allow that edge to all PCs, and so on.

That's all the thoughts I have for now. Can't remember what I said would be next after this. I'll figure out what topic I think makes sense and post about that next.
 
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JohnSnow

Adventurer
Randomness, Action Points, and Narrative Control:
One truism of games is that we're always trying to balance random chance with giving players a degree of narrative control. Some groups take the attitude of letting the dice fall where they may, whereas others prefer a cooperative storytelling game where NOTHING is random. And as usual, many (most?) people's ideal is somewhere in the middle.

In my opinion, the ideal system would give players some degree, but not complete, control over their characters' fate. One way to do this is to create a system that is "fair," and then deliberately create things that tilt the odds in favor of the PCs, who are, after all, heroes in this scenario. If these dials exist and are explicitly spelled out, a group that prefers "grittier" outcomes can simply remove some of the things that give the PCs more control over their fate. So, what should we do to balance this?

The first is a way to offset the inherent randomness of the basic determinator - for example, one could give Player Characters (and important NPCs) a permanent +1d6 to all checks - exactly what "Action Points" did as an option. This is great way to set heroes (and significant villains) apart from "ordinary people." Why are these people special? Simple. Because they're the scenario's important characters. Personally, I don't think that Stormtrooper #6 should have as much control over the outcome as, say, Han Solo, but Boba Fett probably should. YMMV.

Another thing is to provide some kind of Luck Points, by whatever name you want to call them, that are a limited resource, spendable by the player, to gain a little more control over the game's outcome. This can be a delicate balancing act - give too many and the game ceases to be a challenge, but if there are too few, the players can start to feel like they have no control. Note that this metric is entirely capable of being dialed to whatever level suits a particular group. Do you want your players to be a little more "favored by the gods" and/or be able to do more wild stuff? Just give them more Luck Points. As an aside, Savage Worlds suggests giving out more Bennies (its version of this) for good roleplaying, making the game fun, or even for being clever, heroic, or particularly imaginative.

Finally, let's talk about wounds. Personally, I like a mechanic that lets PCs survive being hit more times than the average bad guy, but I'm not sure if I need or want to have to track conditions like that for every single NPC. I'm not 100% sure where the sweet spot is, but in principle, I kinda like how Savage Worlds does it.

If a character is hit, absent spending a Benny (the SW version of Luck Points), they can be either okay, shaken or wounded (to varying degrees). The mechanic works like this:

On a successful hit, roll damage vs. Toughness (Armor provides a bonus to Toughness - DR in D&D terms).
Success - The target is Shaken.
Each "Raise" - The target takes a wound.

A "Shaken" target who is shaken again (but has no wounds) takes a wound...and is still Shaken. This is a way of representing the ability for multiple small hits to wound. A "Shaken" character can either make a successful Vigor check as a free action to try to recover, or spend a Benny to lose the condition at any time.

In many ways, the Savage Worlds system works exactly like the Damage Track from Green Ronin's Mutants & Masterminds. In essence, the core of both systems is: the result of a die-roll vs a Target Number results in one of a number of conditions.

In my next post, I'll cover "Conditions," injuries, and take my first stab (heh) at a damage track/system.
 
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SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
The role of combat plays in the sort of narrative you’re aiming to co-create leads to “better” answers. And of course personal taste trumps everything.

For over the top combat, I like what Feng Shui/Wuxia can do. D&D and Pathfinder have their place, for sure. And while I’m sorta tired of them both, I know I’ll use them to sell heroic saga type stories.

But where I am these days, these are the things I’m trying to do with games and what systems work well for those .

Combat Invites Disaster
Personally, I’ve grown tired of games dominated by heroic/super heroic combatants. I totally get the appeal of cinematic and stylized violence in gaming, but I’m bigger at the moment on how brutal and dangerous fights can be. Entering combat is inviting risk of disaster and any scrap is meaningful and potentially deadly. So, we eschew attrition/hit points and embrace vulnerable characters and critical hit mechanics. BRP-derived games give that sense of vulnerability. I’ll include Warhammer FRP in there, but I’m talking Call of Cthulhu and Mythras/RuneQuest primarily.

Fighting is not Passive (Offense and Defense)
Combat systems where you wait your turn to attack leave me cold. Whether you’re going on offense or defending against an attack, you should be always on — in my mind that means testing your combat skill. Parrying, dodging, “fighting back”. So you roll when you attack and when you are attacked. Making fights opposed checks where you compare the quality of the attacker and defenders results feels good. My players love this vs. waiting until it’s your turn again. Again, Warhammer, Mythras, CoC.

Soak/Armor Points vs. AC
Getting hit and getting hurt are two different things. Armor’s more about the latter than the former, so I love systems where armor just means your suit of mail absorbs some of the damage dealt to you. This matters to me more than it should, but it is very intuitive and again players grok it and never look the same at AC after playing in a game with sensible armor rules. WFRP and Mythras. BRP.

None of this is really any more complicated than what people do in “accessible” games like 5e, just different. I like few and brutal fights where every scrap is memorable. Quality vs. quantity of fights. Mythas and Warhammer right now are giving us exciting/terrifying fights — and ultimately that’s what I want an RPG combat system to deliver.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Another thing is to provide some kind of Luck Points, by whatever name you want to call them, that are a limited resource, spendable by the player, to gain a little more control over the game's outcome. This can be a delicate balancing act - give too many and the game ceases to be a challenge, but if there are too few, the players can start to feel like they have no control. Note that this metric is entirely capable of being dialed to whatever level suits a particular group. Do you want your players to be a little more "favored by the gods" and/or be able to do more wild stuff? Just give them more Luck Points. As an aside, Savage Worlds suggests giving out more Bennies (its version of this) for good roleplaying, making the game fun, or even for being clever, heroic, or particularly imaginative.
Luck Points can work well in a system that is typically lethal, but you're right that the balance is delicate. Older RuneQuest had the reputation of being ridiculously lethal where limbs would go flying every fight, while this might be fairly realistic it could be grim for players. The game got around this by having powerful magic, from magical armour to healing spells which could re-attach limbs, this is the approach RuneQuest in Glorantha takes, which does not have luck points. This is ok for highly magical campaign settings, not so great for other settings. RQ6/Mythras luck points in my experience have worked. They are useful enough to alleviate the potential lethality of dangerous combats but not make the game so easy players are blase. This can vary from group to group though since you might decide to let luck points regenerate between adventure or between sessions, or allow group luck points and not just PC luck points. The Mythras game Odd Soot has the interesting idea of using 'negative' luck points which a player can call on if they run out of luck points, going into negative luck means the GM gains luck points of their own to use at a later time.

There's an interesting twist with Mythras luck points in the way they can manipulate the dice. Since it's a d100 system you can use luck points to reverse a roll so that a roll of 60 can be reversed into a 06, which could make it into a critical depending on the PC's skill. This is in addition to using points to re-roll or save a character from a lethal wound, or take a heroic extra action.


None of this is really any more complicated than what people do in “accessible” games like 5e, just different. I like few and brutal fights where every scrap is memorable. Quality vs. quantity of fights. Mythas and Warhammer right now are giving us exciting/terrifying fights — and ultimately that’s what I want an RPG combat system to deliver.
This is certainly very close to my thoughts. I much prefer a style where the outbreak of combat is rare and where the detail counts. If you're used to dungeon bashes and several melees in a single game session you are going to find detailed combat a real pain, people who prefer abstraction and speed can accommodate a lot more fighting than if they are playing a detailed system. It comes down to whether you care about whether that bandit helmet will fit you, it's the right size? oh great, I'm scavenging that, or whether you are in range to throw that hatchet and choose where it hits, should I shift my shield ward to cover my wounded leg, is it worth learning to use a javelin to disable shields or can I find a teacher to learn to use a 2h axe?

In more high-powered or high-magic style games my sense is that detailed combat becomes less important because other things take over, whether it is superpower-like abilities, or equipment or the existence of the dominance of magic, it's likely the smaller tactical nuances are going to be lost or treated as unnecessary detail.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
If you're used to dungeon bashes and several melees in a single game session you are going to find detailed combat a real pain, people who prefer abstraction and speed can accommodate a lot more fighting than if they are playing a detailed system.
This hasn’t been my experience with players coming from D&D & Pathfinder to Warhammer and Mythras. With very few exceptions, my d20 players quickly come to prefer Warhammer & Mythras fights. The biggest shocker for them is how deadly and QUICK combat can be. Instead of slogging through stockpiled hit points where you feel somewhat safe for the first half-dozen rounds, they’re desperate from the jump and fights rarely last more than a few rounds. Any fight can end in a single round— and many do. It’s not just death that they fear, but being maimed. Aside from the Mythras special effects mechanic, the other mechanics aren’t a pain to pick up — I find players are amused by hit locations and critical hit tables, feel energized and more involved by making defensive rolls, and appreciate how quickly and colorfully fights play out.

Of course, my players are capable of dividing by ten on the fly. They’re also willing to buy in to the concept of having characters who aren’t superheroes and that combat is chaotic, brutal, and dangerous. That to me is the biggest hurdle.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Of course, my players are capable of dividing by ten on the fly. They’re also willing to buy in to the concept of having characters who aren’t superheroes and that combat is chaotic, brutal, and dangerous. That to me is the biggest hurdle.
Well that's good to know, and certainly how decisive Mythras can be is a shocker to some players, it can all be over in the first cycle. On the subject of calculations, the only tricky maths area with Mythras is working out difficulties on the fly, for Hard, Formidable or Easy, Very Easy. I am spoiled since most of my games are run online and with the Roll20 sheet there's no calculation involved but in person it's not as clear when this comes up, there's a reference table but it feels clunky.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
This hasn’t been my experience with players coming from D&D & Pathfinder to Warhammer and Mythras. With very few exceptions, my d20 players quickly come to prefer Warhammer & Mythras fights. The biggest shocker for them is how deadly and QUICK combat can be. Instead of slogging through stockpiled hit points where you feel somewhat safe for the first half-dozen rounds, they’re desperate from the jump and fights rarely last more than a few rounds. Any fight can end in a single round— and many do. It’s not just death that they fear, but being maimed. Aside from the Mythras special effects mechanic, the other mechanics aren’t a pain to pick up — I find players are amused by hit locations and critical hit tables, feel energized and more involved by making defensive rolls, and appreciate how quickly and colorfully fights play out.

Of course, my players are capable of dividing by ten on the fly. They’re also willing to buy in to the concept of having characters who aren’t superheroes and that combat is chaotic, brutal, and dangerous. That to me is the biggest hurdle.
Personally, I like combat in games. But I like fun, over-the-top, cinematic action combats that feel like they were pulled straight out of a Three Musketeers or Indiana Jones movie. Simply put, combat in D&D doesn't feel like that. Grim and gritty "Realistic" systems also don't generally feel like that, either. What I'm trying to build is a system that allows for the creation of believable, on-the-fly, cinematic combat. It doesn't have to be "real" (because as has been pointed out many times, most realistic combat with weapons is typically nasty, brutish and short). What it has to be is "plausible," and in order to turn combat into something the protagonists have a reasonable chance of surviving, D&D (and many other systems) tend to sacrifice all the things that make combat interesting in the first place.

Trying for "cinematic" is not me saying that there aren't plenty of bad fight scenes in movies and on stage. Fight scenes can seem fake, drag on too long, or have characters get hit in ways that are simply NOT survivable. Or they can be made so realistic that they're unsatisfying. Learning to strike the right balance between believability and theatricality is what some stage combat people (like myself) work really hard for.

To draw an analogy, D&D feels like bad theatrical stage combat - lots of "big pirate, little pirate" on a wide open platform that doesn't remotely resemble a real fight. Sure, it's not remotely realistic, but it allows you to play out a fight scene. There is a "sweet spot" in D&D where it can almost start to strike the right balance, as players have enough options to do some interesting stuff in combat, and enough hit points that combats can actually last a few rounds, but then it evaporates into a torrent of slogging through foes via too lengthy attrition and then goes back to the early levels of swingy-ness, this time with magical rocket tag (this is a feature of the hit point system, and why it probably needs to die in a fire, even if it never will).

More "realistic" games (like Warhammer), at least in my experience, tend to swing to the other extreme, and drill deep into the nitty gritty of maiming or killing someone in a fight that lasts 8 seconds. It's 30 seconds of whatever realistic meat grinder medieval combat scene you last watched, where none of the PCs are "named characters." And, to make matters worse, if you have any experience with western martial arts, they often get the nitty gritty stuff wrong. Honestly, I suspect my problem with Mythras would be the same one I always have with games that try to get too simulative, but I'll check it out. Maybe I'll be pleasantly surprised.

The problem with getting into something like "swordplay/European martial arts" as a hobby can be the burden of having "too much knowledge" about that topic. Anyone who gets into swordplay has their own "sweet spot" for the exact right combination of "representative" vs. abstract. If it's too simulative, we start seeing it tripping over reality, but if it abstracts things out too much, it doesn't represent the tradeoffs "correctly" (as we see them). And yes, this applies to movie fight scenes too - there's plenty I enjoyed more before I got into this as a hobby. This "burden of knowledge" phenomenon is not unique to swordplay, as I know plenty of people who just about can't watch certain "historical" movies because of how badly they botch period costuming.

As an aside, this is why many guys with HEMA as a hobby tend to have such a mad-on for getting rid of "studded leather armor," or renaming the single-handed cutting sword from Longsword to "Arming Sword" or just "Sword." Sure, we could just deal with it, but it'd be like asking someone to accept you calling every "car" in a modern game an "SUV." Sure, an SUV is a car, but not all cars are SUVs, and referring to generic cars as "SUVs" is annoying.
 
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SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
I don’t think Warhammer is simulative, but with its weapon size rules, etc. I could see how one could level that label at Mythras. But I don’t think gritty is necessarily synonymous with simulationist. Likewise, I struggle to see how Indiana Jones of Three Musketeers gets mapped to plausible. :)

With that said, it’s all about the group’s sensibilities and even moods. I find my preference shifts and rotates.
 
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JohnSnow

Adventurer
I don’t think Warhammer is simulative, but with its weapon size rules, etc. I could see how one could level that label at Mythras. But I don’t think gritty is necessary synonymous with simulationist. Likewise, I struggle to see how Indiana Jones of Three Musketeers gets mapped to plausible. :)

With that said, it’s all about the group’s sensibilities and even moods. I find my preference shifts and rotates.
Well, the last version of Warhammer I played had...

  • Hit location tables
  • Grievous Injury tables
  • Per strike attack rolls - i.e. two swings equals two attacks
  • Separate Parry and Dodge rolls

Granted, that was the Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd Edition (by Green Ronin) from, oh, 15 years back or so. Maybe it's simplified since.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
On the subject of calculations, the only tricky maths area with Mythras is working out difficulties on the fly, for Hard, Formidable or Easy, Very Easy. I am spoiled since most of my games are run online and with the Roll20 sheet there's no calculation involved but in person it's not as clear when this comes up, there's a reference table but it feels clunky.
There are aspects of VTT games that I don’t want to lose when we get back to face-to-face games. If you’re not using the quick rules with flat % modifiers, I could see that being work. Most of my nerd players are quite numerate — many thanks to gaming as kids. Playing James Bond 007 RPG as a kid with Ease Factor multiplication and the Quality Rating formula probably set me up for the career (and gaming) success I’ve enjoyed in life. And I’m not even in the top three of quant jockeys at my table.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
Well, the last version of Warhammer I played had...

  • Hit location tables
  • Grievous Injury tables
  • Per strike attack rolls - i.e. two swings equals two attacks
  • Separate Parry and Dodge roll
Eye of the beholder I guess. Those things lean more to plausible than simulationist to me.

When I think simulationist, the games that leap to mind for me are Aftermath! and an old game from late ‘80s by BTRC called Time Lords.

Why do you see separate parry and dodge rolls as simulationist? Those are two entirely different actions. (I’m something of an Eastern (kenjitsu and tae kwon do) and Western (epee) martial arts guy myself.
 

So, what do I feel an ideal combat system should have? First, I'll lay it out based on principles:

1) Combat should ...
There's one principle that you hint at in a number of these, but I think deserves it's own point: Scalability.

Scalability 1). In-game mechanics. The "basic" rules that you learn at level 1 should still apply at level 20 (or higher). This is actually really difficult to manage. Sometimes the rules get so complex that the basic mechanics get forgotten. Sometimes the numbers get so ridiculously high that they become cumbersome to play with. If you don't plan for mechanical scalability from the ground up, it's basically impossible to patch it in later. Picking limits (top and bottom levels, stages of advancement, etc) is the most common first step to addressing this.

Scalability 2). Rules complexity and the meta-game. If a set of rules is so complex that a beginner can't sit down and play an RPG in the first XX minutes, people will complain that it's too hard to get people into the game, or even that it's exclusionary. OTOH, if a game is too simple, veteran players can get bored and high level play becomes same-y. Learning curves, capability plateaus, and powergaming must be considered. In most cases, deciding the market of players that you are aiming for is the critical first step in figuring out how to deal with this.

I know that some people prefer full narrative or quick resolution combat. Personally, I find the "player can make shit up" just a little TOO freeform for my tastes.
This style of game design seems to be coming up a lot more often in discussions. I can't tell if it's a natural result of RPGs becoming a bit more mainstream, an effect of 5e being inherently more rules light than previous editions, or just me hanging out at the wrong gaming site. But it's a trend I have a strong desire to push back against.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
There are a couple of descriptions of RQ6/Mythras that give a sense of the system, this one is from a thread called "Sell RuneQuest 6 for Savage Worlds players" (Sell RuneQuest 6 for Savage Worlds players)

BiggerBoat
Re: Sell RuneQuest 6 for Savage Worlds players

Did you have a campaign in mind? I'd argue for selling the setting and the potential for cool characters before you sell the system. Runequest is a great fit for Sword & Sorcery, historical campaigns, or settings tinged with gritty history (Vikings, dark ages, Grecian antiquity, that sort of stuff). When I think of a Runequest campaign, I think of muddy villages at the edge of deep forests, the hammering of spear against shield, brotherhoods poised to fight the darkness (or sworn to usher it forth). A character in Runequest is shaped from his background and culture. He's part of a community. His skills are a product of his talents and his upbringing. He has relatives and mentors, allies and enemies.

Magic is evocative and flexible. Combat is a dance at the precipice of death, and not entered into hastily. Any decision to draw a sword or loose an arrow is a commitment that carries consequences, though the potential for death or maiming will often cause an overwhelmed opponent to flee or surrender.

Although combat need not be the focus of your game, let's talk a second about special effects. The concept of rolling for success which reflects your ability to create an opportunity via special effects is hyper-elegant. Have your players felt the frustration of trying to do some cool maneuver in Savage Worlds just to whiff their roll? Let's take a disarm as an example. In savage worlds, this is a called shot with a penalty. By trying to do something cool or to reduce an opponent's ability to engage, your chance of success is much less likely. In Runequest, these decisions come as part of that initial success. Want to pierce their armor? Shatter their shield? Knock that dagger from their grip? Roll big (or small, as it were), and choose the outcome.

Savage worlds has a reputation for moving fast, but in reality you end up with a lot of whiffs against Toughness, a lot of rounds spent shaken, and other frustrating factors. In Runequest, fights are often over (for better or ill) in two or three rounds. A single strike can be decisive. It is detailed, but once your players have a handle on things it'll move fast. And, these are muddy, desperate battles with grievous wounds and sundered shields and victories won through passion and skill that your players will remember and their characters will carry with them.

I really like Savage Worlds. It's great for pulpy, high action games. I LOVE Runequest. When I open the book I swear I can hear the chant of ancient warriors and the sigh of forgotten magic.
And another account of a brief but fairly detailed combat (back in its Mongoose RuneQuest II form): (101 Days of MRQ II!)

Day 28. Battle With the Broo!

As promised, the first session's combat. I tried to take notes, but as I was juggling the new system and setting, it may be off a little. Still, I think it is pretty close. I am also interjecting more system specific notes, per the requests I have had.

The next morning, our heroes awoke, then decided to try a bit of hunting, to begin their new professions as Hide Dealers. They went a ways into the woods to the north of town, then Declann the Hunter began looking around for tracks, using his Tracking Skill. The shaman, also possessing the Track skill, tried to help him. He added his Critical Success range of 5 to Declann's skill, and tracks were found. Successful use of his Lore (animal) skill told the hunter that he was on the trail of a very small deer..probably the tiny Tusked Deer he saw the hide from in the market yesterday. The hunt was on!

(I rolled on the Random Encounter Table in the Griffin Island scenario booklet, to see what creature was about).

After following the tracks for an hour or so, his conjecture proved correct. Our Heroes spotted two small Tusked Deer, a male and female, grazing in the deep forest. Declann tried to use his Stealth Skill to get close enough for an Aimed Shot, but he failed badly. The spooked deer fled deeper into the woods. Declann and Nashoba then cast around for more tracks to follow. The shaman found tracks of some wild goat-like creature, and the hunt resumed.

(I rolled once again on the Random Encounter Table...this time getting a less pleasant result).

The pair followed the tracks for a while, then found the creatures responsible for them. A pair of strange, filthy Goat-Man creatures were stalking a small herd of Tusked Deer. They were unarmored, but the leering beasts had spears on their hairy backs, and lassos clutched in their dirty hands.

(At this point, being suspicious of their motives, Drystan the Witch rolled versus his Insight Skill to determine the Broo's motives. He was successful, and noticed...evidence that the male Broos were stalking the small deer for sport other than food.)

The suspicious witch then cast Detect Enemies, one of his Common Spells, and determined that the Broo were indeed a threat to themselves and other pople they might come across. That was enough for the civic-minded trio. The Hunter armed himself with his bow, and crept closer for a clean shot. This time, his Stealth Roll was successful, and the otherwise occupied Broo failed their Perception roll. Declann then took careful Aim (three rounds) then made his shot. His first arrow hit a Broo in the arm, impaling it for 5 points of damage. Now alerted, the Broo dove for cover, causing the hunters next shot to miss.

The next round began with the Broo getting Initative (24), versus 21 for Declann, 19 for Nashoba, and 17 for Drystan. The angered Broo sprinted towards the party. Declann's next arrow missed, but the one after that struck the injured Broo. Declann chose the Impale Maneuver, and hit the Broo in the Chest for 5 points of damage. Meanwhile, Nashoba attempted two Befuddle Spells in that round..and failed them both. Drystan cast two protection spells on himself. As the running Broo drew their weapons, the hunter responded by dropping bow, and spending two Combat Actions to draw a weapon and shield. Meanwhile, Drystan also spent two Combat Actions to draw his shortsword and buckler, while Nashoba tried another Befuddle..and failed.

The second round began with the Broo charging. The injured one, with a -20% to his roll due to the pair of arrows sticking out of his body, missed his attack at the hunter, while the uninjured Broo attacked the shaman, and missed. In return, Declann thrust his spear into the injured Broo, who missed his parry. The hunter then chose the Impale Combat Maneuver, rolled on the location table for "Left Leg", then did a whopping 9 points of damage! This dealt a Serious Wound to the Broo, who failed his Resiliance Roll, and fell, his leg useless. Unfortunately, as it fell it yanked Declann's spear from his hands. Declann tried to pull his weapon out, but failed his Brawn Roll.

Incensed at his lack of Befuddle Ability, Nashoba then tried to cast Disrupt on the uninjured Broo..and failed...twice on each of his next two Combat Actions. Drystan chose to wait..to see where the battle was going.

Next, seeing an unarmed opponent, the uninjured Broo then whirled and charged the spearless hunter. Unfortunatey for Our Hero, the Broo rolled a Critical Hit, while Declann Fumbled his Shield Parry! Things looked grim for the hunter, until Nick reminded Russ of his Hero Points. Russ decided to spend a point to reroll his parry, and succeeded. So instead of a dangerous hit, the Broo selected the Damage Weapon Combat Maneuver and dealt serious Damage to Declann's shield.

(I suggested to Russ that he should instead have had the Broo reroll his "To Hit" instead. But in retrospect, Russ did the correct thing. By successfuly Blocking the Medium Weapon with his size Huge kite shield, the best the Broo could have done with a crit is to choose the Bypass Parry Combat Maneuver twice...which would still be 100% blocked by the shield. Good Call Russ!)

While this was going on, the shaman tried one more Befuddle, which failed, and then spent the rest of the round drawing his spear and buckler. Meanwhile, the injured Broo started to crawl away...with the hunters spear and two arrows in him, he didn't go very fast. Decalann ran after him to try to retrieve his spear.

The next round started with the uninjured Broo charging Declann, and hitting the poor hunter again. Declann missed his shield parry, and the Broo chose the Left Leg location as his Offensive Combat Maneuver.. The charging Broo did a massive 14 points (with the Charge Bonus of +14d instead of +1d2) to Declann's Leg, which took him to -7...twice his starting Hit Points there. A Major Wound! Declann fell, his leg now maimed and useless. Fortunately he made his Resilience Roll, but was still physically incapacitated, and bleeding severly enough to die in 24 minutes if untended.

Incensed, Nashoba charged and attacked..and missed, as did Drystan. The Broo counterattacked, and hit the Witch, who blocked with his buckler and took no damage (medium weapon blocking Medium Weapon). Both he and Nashoba then counter attacked twice and missed, then tried a Shield Bash and missed as well.

(It was at this point that I told the players about the optional rule that went around on the Mongoose Forums about using the extra Combat Action you get from your shield for only shield related options like Shield attack or block. The group thought this made sense, so I gave them a Blue poker chip to use to mark this action from the white chips we had been using for all the other Combat Actions).

The next round saw the Broo stab at the shaman and miss. Nashoba's counter missed, but finally Drystan scored a critical hit! The Broo missed his parry, so the witch chose the "Bleed" combat option. He only did 6 points of damage..not enough for a serious injury, but the wound began to bleed profusely. All three missed with their counter attacks and shield bashes. Meanwhile, the injured Broo kept crawling away.

Starting to fatigue from blood loss, the Broo hit the shaman, who blocked with his buckler, soaking all the damage. Nashoba's counter attack hit. He chose the "Chest Location" and did 2 more points to the beast. Drystan hit on his next attack, but the Broo parried this blow. The Broo, now reeling from blood loss, missed his next attack, as did Nashoba. Then Drystan stepped up and struck a mighty blow. The Broo had no more Combat Actions left to use to parry, so the witch chose the punished "Left Leg" location again. This caused a Serious Wound. The Broo failed his resilience rool, and fell. The merciless pair then went to the first Broo (who failed his Stealth Roll to hide, thanks to the -20 % to all of his skills due to Impaling Weapons), and dispatched him.

Now they turned their attention to Declann, who was in serious trouble. Nashoba chose to take his time, doubling the 1-3 minutes to perform First Aid. He was successful, and stabilized the poor hunter. He then successfully cast a Cauterize Spell to aid on his next action, which was use of his Healing Skill to stitch open the gaping wound. He was successful, and now Declann could begin to heal up normally, if slowly.

While all this was happening, Drystan calmly watched the remaining Broo bleed out, then dispatched him when he was unconscious.

And that was where we ended the session. I gave the players three Improvement Rolls, as they had gone to a strange land, roll played well, found out much useful information and survived their first fight. They also had time in the next day or two whle Declann healed to consider all that had happened to them. Kevin and Russ did well on their three rolls. Nick, due to his character's high Charisma got an extra roll, which he saved to up his POW score at a later date.

And that was where we ended the session. It was a great amount of fun, and I am looking forward to getting the other three players involved.

Thanks a lot for reading,

TGryph
I do think though, if you go in looking for problems and things you don't like, you will almost certainly find them! If you already like Savage Worlds, just stick with it and throw in a few houserules. Another consideration is players and their interests, whatever you're running has to be of shared interest with whoever is in the group and the system should be bent around according to the group's preferences.

Personally I don't care that much about distinctions and questions around simulation/simulationist/realism/gamist etc. but just whether it feels like it makes sense and allows you to make interesting decisions. All flavours of D&D are clearly FUBAR, but that's what most people want. I've enjoyed the Year Zero engine games which are interesting and pretty fun to play but are quite far from the detail of RQ/Mythras or even SW.
 

Of all the games I've played lately, I've found that the one that was the most satisfying and still had that "realistic" combat is deadly and risky vibe was one that was more narrative based. The key feature that makes it work so well is that it gives the players a resource that they can bring to bear to mitigate damage that is inflicted on their character.

This removes the attrition approach of HP, and gives the GM the ability to push hard with the consequences of combat because the players have the means to reduce the outcome. It also puts a lot of the decision making in the players' hands, which I think is good. The result is that there are far fewer rolls to make in a given fight when compared to D&D, but each roll is significantly more meaningful, and the players have lots of choices to make about how things go and how to use the resources at their disposal.

I think that approaching it from another angle like that.....where the player decides how to deal with a hit to their character....can lead to some interesting takes. Otherwise I think all you'll do is wind up with something that's very much the Armor Class and Hit Point system of D&D, except either more or less invovled than the D&D version.
 

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