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"Better" Combat Systems in RPGs - Feedback Welcome!

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
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.
The idea that anything with HP is the same as D&D is a bit of a red herring because of piles of hit points and escalating levels adding to it, not everything that uses HP has that problem.

I've found another issue with "narrative" systems which is 'narrative fatigue', not only can you describe what has just happened based on a result or a spend, you have to describe what's happened, every time it does. In contrast to that if you have a system which effectively is constructing the story of the moment to moment events because that story emerges out of player choices, the mechanics of the system, and some chance factor, you don't have to continually invent, it's emerging as you go, supported by the system.
 

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JohnSnow

Adventurer
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, I'll try to explain my thinking, and I grant that this is largely from an early to pre-modern (Renaissance and medieval) European swordplay perspective, although I have studied a variant of Kenpo and done some kickboxing as well...

Typically in a dynamic sword fight, the point is to avoid getting hit, and the tendency is to either evade and interpose your blade, or move, evade and parry, and then wind into a counterattack. It is, in my experience, atypical to opt for just one or the other, as opposed to both. The better you are, the easier it is to prevent an attack from making solid contact, and it all comes down to fighting skill, but the distinction between parrying and dodging can be...murky at times.

Case in point: let's say someone is coming with a fendente (overhead downward cut) for my head, and I sidestep their attack and make a hanging parry with my sword to deflect the downward stroke, then once their strike has been deflected, I carry my blade around with a return cut to their head. I've used this move a lot.

You could say I dodged, because that's the primary move, or you could say I parried, because the blade made contact with mine. Regardless, this is very distinct from simply setting a block or making a slap parry. Or if I'd simply sidestepped, I could potentially have made a quicker counter-thrust. If we try to get into the minutiae of how the fight plays out, the system has to start taking into account the variant choices between those options, and draw a distinction.

Or we could simply leave it at: "Character A used their fighting skill to avoid being struck with a sword, and launched a counterattack." That lets the character's ability be what determines whether the choice was a good or bad one, and subsumes the difference into the randomness of die rolls.

Separately, you sometimes can both parry and dodge, and if they're not combined into a single thing called defense, you can quickly get to the absurdity of the old Palladium system that tried to resolve every single blow and part of the action individually...

A makes an attack roll, and gets a 17.
B rolls to dodge, and gets a 15: Fail.
B rolls his parry, and gets a 9: Fail.
B is wearing Mail Armour (AR 16), so the point of A's sword slips through their armor for 16 points of damage.
B decides to roll with punch/fall/impact for half damage, and succeeds!

Now, after one attack roll, 3 defense rolls, comparing to the AR, and a damage roll, B deducts 8 points of SDC damage - just a nick compared to their total of 40 S.D.C. and 23 hit points.

And since A has 5 attacks per round, we now repeat this for their other 4 other sword strikes. And then we repeat this for every PC and all their adversaries.

This is not hyperbole. It's a 100% realistic scenario from the salad days of the Palladium System. Just fyi, this is at 1st-level. And actually, it's pretty moderate. Ask anybody who played RIFTS.

All that said, I'd be mostly okay with a system where the PC could choose whether to parry or dodge, or some combination as I mentioned above, but it should be either a static defense or a single die roll. IMO.
 

The idea that anything with HP is the same as D&D is a bit of a red herring because of piles of hit points and escalating levels adding to it, not everything that uses HP has that problem.

I've found another issue with "narrative" systems which is 'narrative fatigue', not only can you describe what has just happened based on a result or a spend, you have to describe what's happened, every time it does. In contrast to that if you have a system which effectively is constructing the story of the moment to moment events because that story emerges out of player choices, the mechanics of the system, and some chance factor, you don't have to continually invent, it's emerging as you go, supported by the system.
I don't know if the Hit Points is a red herring.....my point is more to be cautious because I think using them does tend to wind up with something akin to D&D. Which may or may not be fine, depending on the desired outcome. And yes, there is the possibility that one system that uses HP can be different from another.....I just think the chances are slim, and also that the general pacing will be very similar; the drama of hit points is the attrition.

I can't currently think of any games off the top of my head that use HP that don't largely play the way D&D does. I'm sure there are or could be some, but I can't think of any. Do you have any examples?

As for the narrative system, I think that letting the action determine the stakes and the result is very much in line with the approach I'm talking about. Generally speaking, you telegraph the trouble ahead of time. You make it clear, or at least give a good idea of, what the stakes are. Certainly something like "the dragon gnashes his sword-like teeth at you, and you know you likely only have one shot" sets up a far more dangerous and potentially harmful situation than "the street urchin, weak from hunger and illness, holds a rusty dagger in a shaking hand". I think this approach aligns with your description of "emerging as you go, supported by the system."
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Conditions, Wounds, Damage, and Death Spirals
So, at this point, I want to take a minute to talk about a system for tracking damage that I've seen variants of in several games. Most recently, this system is in Savage Worlds, but something very similar to it exists in d6 Star Wars, Mutants & Masterminds, and, I believe, True 20.

That system is the Conditions & Wounds system. It works like this: A character starts fine. If they take a hit, and the damage equals their Toughness (Armor provides a bonus), they become "Shaken," and cause a wound for ever "raise." A Shaken character who takes physical damage again is now wounded (and still shaken).

The average PC can take up to 3 wounds (each of which inflicts a -1 penalty) and still function more or less "normally," albeit with penalties. On the fourth wound, the PC is incapacitated, and at this point, the player must make a vigor roll to see how serious the wound is. Failing inflicts a permanent injury (there's a table) and means the PC is bleeding out. If the roll is a critical failure, the character dies. Success means the injury is either temporary until the character is healed of all wounds, or it goes away in 24 hours, even if he doesn't get healed before then. Obviously, if he's healed of all his wounds, this injury goes away too. A player who has Bennies can choose to spend one to make a Soak roll to minimize the damage from an attack with each success and raise absorbing one wound. Soaking all the damage means you lose the "Shaken" condition as well (even if it's from previous damage).

Permanent injuries mean the character might need serious healing magic. Or barring that, a prosthetic or an eyepatch. ;)

"Lesser" NPCs are incapacitated if they take a single Wound. But some NPCs/monsters are resilient (2 wounds), very resilient (3 wounds), or Wild Cards just like the PCs (4 wounds).

And yes, this system does have a "death spiral" of sorts, as a more injured character takes penalties to his actions, including the ones to keep from bleeding out. Personally, I like the idea of characters becoming less effective as they get hurt, but YMMV. Someone who wanted a less granular system could simply do something like Fine, Bloodied (minor penalty), Injured (bigger penalty), and Incapacitated.

The method for determining "wounds" is obviously pretty important in a system like this. Savage Worlds resolves it by comparing the damage roll with a score called "Toughness," whereas Mutants & Masterminds had the Player make a Toughness Save, but the principle is basically the same. And of course, the "realism" quotient of the system is clearly highly dependent on how quickly the PC can recover from "wounds." (FYI, Savage Worlds also has a somewhat neat rule here that helps to draw a line between serious and minor wounds, but I do realize that it's not for everyone).

Personally, I like the balance of abstraction vs. realism here. It doesn't really matter where a character's PC's minor wounds are, until they take one that's substantial enough that it nearly kills them. And that should happen rarely enough that checking location tables at that point bothers me less. For the record, the generic rule on called shots is that they add to damage, and I'd certainly bypass rolling on the injury table if a character was incapacitated by, say, a called shot to the head (because rather obviously, it was to the head).
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
I don't know if the Hit Points is a red herring.....my point is more to be cautious because I think using them does tend to wind up with something akin to D&D. Which may or may not be fine, depending on the desired outcome. And yes, there is the possibility that one system that uses HP can be different from another.....I just think the chances are slim, and also that the general pacing will be very similar; the drama of hit points is the attrition.

I can't currently think of any games off the top of my head that use HP that don't largely play the way D&D does. I'm sure there are or could be some, but I can't think of any. Do you have any examples?
Well, the AGE system uses HP, but Armor functions as DR. Also, the math is rather different, as heroes start with between ~20 (for a low-Con Mage) and ~38 Hit Points (for a high-Con Warrior), and only gain 1d6 + Con per level. Which means by Level 10, the Mage would have about 50, give or take, and the Warrior about 100, meaning they stay in line. After level 10, you only get your Con Score (up to 4, but at least 1 hp per level), so our piddling Con Level 20 Mage now has 60 HP, and his Warrior pal now has 140.

Just so you know, this is a system where a fist does 1d3, a throwing knife does 1d6, a one-handed sword does 2d6, and a two-handed sword or axe does 3d6. And for the record, I don't think Armor is protective enough in the AGE system, but that's rather beside the point.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
@JohnSnow - Palladium is a great system to showcase for the simulationist nightmare, and now I see that you’re talking about a dodge and a parry in the same turn vs. an attack. I totally agree with you there and appreciate your taking the care in the example you shared.

For points of game abstraction, I wouldn’t think of beating a blade as an actual parry but more of an attack. Likewise, simple footwork involved when parrying and preparing a counter attack wouldn’t strike me as a dodge.

But I would suggest the way Mythras, BRP, and Warhammer rule on dodge and parry isn’t in the Palladium family by a long shot.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I don't know if the Hit Points is a red herring.....my point is more to be cautious because I think using them does tend to wind up with something akin to D&D. Which may or may not be fine, depending on the desired outcome. And yes, there is the possibility that one system that uses HP can be different from another.....I just think the chances are slim, and also that the general pacing will be very similar; the drama of hit points is the attrition.

I can't currently think of any games off the top of my head that use HP that don't largely play the way D&D does. I'm sure there are or could be some, but I can't think of any. Do you have any examples?
Sure, this is from RQ6/Mythras:



Looking at this section from a character sheet, you see the PC has piecemeal armour, the strongest is the helmet with "AP 5" (Armour points 5) this will protect against 5 points of damage. Each of the 7 hit locations has it's own armour, AP and hit points, HP. In the box labelled "Shield" the locations list are the locations that are warded if the PC is using the shield as a passive ward, the particular shield they are using will block damage over 4 connected locations. Assuming the PC has a weapon in their other hand they can also actively parry with that weapon, leaving the shield in place covering their arms, which are unarmoured, chest and abdomen which if wounded may knock you out.

Let's say this PC is attacked successfully and they fail their parry. As stated, the shield is blocking their central body and arms. The attacker, because they beat the PC's parry now will not only hit, but also is granted a special effect. A special effect might be Trip Opponent, Disarm, and so on, let's say the attacker chooses "Choose Location". Using Choose Location means that they can choose the location they hit instead of rolling a d20 (see the 1d20 list on the left side).

Where does the attacker choose to hit? Let's also say the attacker is using a Celtic Longsword, that does 1d6+2 damage, and the attacker has no damage bonus from their STR and SIZ. The longsword is only a 'medium' sized weapon, so hitting any location warded by the shield will be entirely blocked, if it was a "Huge" weapon, half the damage would get through the shield ward. So that leaves sensible targets as one of the legs or the head. We can see the head is protected by an iron Open Helmet with 5 AP, quite study, and the chances are it will block most of a hit from the longsword. The legs are lightly armoured protected by 1AP hide boots.

The attacker chooses Right Leg, and rolls their damage - they roll a 3, plus 2 is 5 points of damage to the Right Leg, 4 damage goes through leaving 1hp left in that leg. If HP is above zero, it's counted as a minor wound, no other effects. Let's say the roll was a 4, plus 2 is a 6, this would take the leg down to 0hp, now this is a "Serious Wound". The PC has to make an Endurance check to see if they fall prone from the hit, and they are distracted for 1d3 turns as they deal with the pain, this puts them on the defensive - they can move and take defensive actions but they can't attack for those turns. If the PC fails their Endurance skill check, they fall prone and they are now at a disadvantage - their Combat skill is now halved, that's half the chance to defend and attack, the circumstances of the fight has just changed and they are in trouble.

So if something takes a Serious Wound there are immediate consequences depending on where they were hit, Head, Chest and Abdomen have worse consequences than a limb, an arm hit may result in dropping a weapon and so on. Going prone is bad, but there could have been other effects depending on what the attacker chose to do.

All of this is to say - this is how the system differs from D&D. Mythras still uses "hp" but not in a big pile that is ever increasing. Most PCs will never increase their hit points in those locations. You can increase your armour, which is usually very sensible to do, but armour is expensive and may be hard to come by depending on the campaign. PCs, NPCs and creatures will always be vulnerable, critical hits can bypass armour, so even the heavily kitted out warrior is vulnerable to a lucky hit.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
That's a really fascinating system. I'm intrigued by how it handles locations, HP, and armor. I'm still not entirely certain how I personally feel about having to make a location roll as a default, but I can see how it could work. If I recall correctly, Top Secret, S.I. had a not totally dissimilar system, but I recall it being clunky in play. Or maybe it was just that the fancy picture and wound boxes seemed to make it hard to use hand-drawn character sheets. ;)

I'll give Mythras a read. It certainly seems like it's worth a look.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
That's a really fascinating system. I'm intrigued by how it handles locations, HP, and armor. I'm still not entirely certain how I personally feel about having to make a location roll as a default, but I can see how it could work. If I recall correctly, Top Secret, S.I. had a not totally dissimilar system, but I recall it being clunky in play. Or maybe it was just that the fancy picture and wound boxes seemed to make it hard to use hand-drawn character sheets. ;)

I'll give Mythras a read. It certainly seems like it's worth a look.
That sheet might look a bit overblown when it comes to the locations, another way of expressing the same thing would something like this:

    5/5
0/4   2/7   0/4
1/5   2/6   1/5

As I used to write in my school textbooks... once you know what you're looking at it's easy to read.
 

All of this is to say - this is how the system differs from D&D. Mythras still uses "hp" but not in a big pile that is ever increasing. Most PCs will never increase their hit points in those locations. You can increase your armour, which is usually very sensible to do, but armour is expensive and may be hard to come by depending on the campaign. PCs, NPCs and creatures will always be vulnerable, critical hits can bypass armour, so even the heavily kitted out warrior is vulnerable to a lucky hit.
That's definitely very different from D&D. It uses the term Hit Points, but the rest of the system is so significantly different as to create a very different play experience.

I should probably modify my earlier statement to be more about games that have a pool of HP for the PC playing like D&D. The system you've described uses the term Hit Points, but in a significantly different way.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
That's definitely very different from D&D. It uses the term Hit Points, but the rest of the system is so significantly different as to create a very different play experience.

I should probably modify my earlier statement to be more about games that have a pool of HP for the PC playing like D&D. The system you've described uses the term Hit Points, but in a significantly different way.
OpenD6 also has a Body Points option for damage that is a pool somewhat like Hit Points, and includes (for those who want them) the optional conditions of "Stunned," (>20% lost) "Wounded,"(>40%) "Severely Wounded,"(>60%) and finally "Incapacitated," (>80%) before it gets to "Mortally Wounded" (cf. "dying" or "bleeding out") (>90%) and finally "Dead."

In that system, characters do suffer from increasingly diminished capacity until they finally fall unconscious from their injuries. In 5e D&D terms, "Mortally Wounded" is like being reduced to "0 hit points."

That's a big pool like D&D's Hit Points, but the effect is progressive.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
For points of game abstraction, I wouldn’t think of beating a blade as an actual parry but more of an attack. Likewise, simple footwork involved when parrying and preparing a counter attack wouldn’t strike me as a dodge.
I hear what you're saying, but if someone is making a downward strike at my head and I use a beat parry, the momentum of their strike now carries their blow "off-line," opening them up to an immediate counterattack. This trick works quite well with both one and two-handed swords, and it absolutely IS a parry, as opposed to an attack.

There are also moves where you beat aside your opponent's blade so you can make an attack, and there I'd agree with you, but what I'm talking about is very much a reaction to a strike. Because if you didn't do it, the sword would hit you. ;)

Maybe there should be the option of sacrificing your attack (or most of it?) for an evasion/dodge, and it should certainly be possible to choose to "dive for cover" against an incoming ranged attack.

I was reading through the OpenD6 rules, since my old d6 Star Wars books are in storage. And I'm reminded that it had some very intriguing options that have long informed my game sensibilities (I played a lot of Star Wars in high school and college). It also had some impact on 3e D&D because Bill Slaviscek was the developer when he worked at West End. I note, for example, that the concept of "difficulty levels" is lifted almost line for line from d6 (oddly, 10 is moderate because it's roughly the statistical mean of both 3D6 and 1D20: 10.5 in both cases).
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
Conditions, Wounds, Damage, and Death Spirals . . .
That system is the Conditions & Wounds system. It works like this: A character starts fine. If they take a hit, and the damage equals their Toughness (Armor provides a bonus), they become "Shaken," and cause a wound for ever "raise." A Shaken character who takes physical damage again is now wounded (and still shaken).

The average PC can take up to 3 wounds (each of which inflicts a -1 penalty) and still function more or less "normally," albeit with penalties. On the fourth wound, the PC is incapacitated, and at this point, the player must make a vigor roll to see how serious the wound is. Failing inflicts a permanent injury (there's a table) and means the PC is bleeding out. If the roll is a critical failure, the character dies. . .

And yes, this system does have a "death spiral" of sorts, as a more injured character takes penalties to his actions, including the ones to keep from bleeding out. Personally, I like the idea of characters becoming less effective as they get hurt, but YMMV. Someone who wanted a less granular system could simply do something like Fine, Bloodied (minor penalty), Injured (bigger penalty), and Incapacitated.
The last Savage Worlds fight that I played involved me rolling a hit with my Fight skill, and then no wounds because the damage was too low. So I guess it wasn't a hit. And then when I did wound the boss (Wild Card), it still wasn't a hit, because he'd use a bennie to undo the wound. Is that how it's supposed to work?

I like the wounds system better than hit points, though. It means you can get hit/hurt in combat, like with hit points, but the idea of a "wound" is more immersive for a player than watching a (potentially large) number tick downward. That being said, a "death clock" might be a more immersive improvement to hit points on a character sheet, although it might limit HP counts to 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and 60.

"Death Spiral" should be re-branded, since it implies that death is inevitable (which is true, but maybe not in the fight in question). Taking wounds is a character's hint that it's time to flee, parlay, forfeit, call reinforcements, or do something other than FIGHT MOAR! So really, there are branches on the death spiral. It's more like a Death Tree, if I may.

Sure, this is from RQ6/Mythras:
. . . character sheet, you see the PC has piecemeal armour, the strongest is the helmet with "AP 5" (Armour points 5) this will protect against 5 points of damage. Each of the 7 hit locations has it's own armour, AP and hit points, HP. In the box labelled "Shield" the locations list are the locations that are warded if the PC is using the shield as a passive ward, the particular shield they are using will block damage over 4 connected locations. Assuming the PC has a weapon in their other hand they can also actively parry with that weapon, leaving the shield in place covering their arms, which are unarmoured, chest and abdomen which if wounded may knock you out.

Let's say this PC is attacked successfully and they fail their parry. As stated, the shield is blocking their central body and arms. The attacker, because they beat the PC's parry now will not only hit, but also is granted a special effect. A special effect might be Trip Opponent, Disarm, and so on, let's say the attacker chooses "Choose Location". Using Choose Location means that they can choose the location they hit instead of rolling a d20 (see the 1d20 list on the left side).

Where does the attacker choose to hit?
Crunchy. I might do it if I could figure out a way to put a cool picture on my character sheet in place of Stay Pufft. It is possible to use hit locations and wounds without all the extra rules, though:

GM: Next round. The melee rages around you - you're pretty sure you just saw a fellow Celt's head drop from his shoulders. It's your turn.

PC: Bloody. Hell. I pick myself up and swing my sword upward in an arc - maybe I can cut the Norseman in half? (Rolls attack.)

GM: With your longsword? (Rolls defense) it's an awkward swing, which made it easy for the Norseman to deflect it with his shield. Roll damage.

PC: (Rolls) 4. I'll attack again, now that I'm on my feet. What happened to his shield?

GM: He stooped a bit, blocking the low attack. He left the shield low, fearing that your longsword might sever his hide boots from his legs. But his axe is going high while you're low.

PC: (Rolls attack) I'm going after those naked biceps. I step to the side to get away from the axe and to facilitate my spinning attack into his shield-arm.

GM: (Rolls attack) his axe comes down towards your iron helm as you step away. Roll damage. (Rolls) he does 6 damage to you.

PC: (Rolls) 10! Maximum. Um, he probably didn't hit my head, since my hit did max damage, so he hit my leg while I was spinning. I'll take a Flaw, "leg wound," and see if he can make me regret it.

GM: 10 damage means you cut into his shield when he brings it up, and the splinters dig into his arm. It bleeds badly. I'll give you a hero point each time you use your new Flaw.

By the way, the idea of the iron helm blocking "most of a hit" from a Celtic longsword is dangerous, at best!
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
The last Savage Worlds fight that I played involved me rolling a hit with my Fight skill, and then no wounds because the damage was too low. So I guess it wasn't a hit. And then when I did wound the boss (Wild Card), it still wasn't a hit, because he'd use a bennie to undo the wound. Is that how it's supposed to work?
Full Disclosure: I've read Savage Worlds extensively, but while we were about to start our game when the pandemic hit, I haven't actually played or run a game. But I've been active on the PEG boards, so...

1) Toughness = 2 + Half Vigor + Armor. So yes, you can absolutely roll low enough for damage that the hit isn't "serious." These things represent nicks, lacerations, bruises and scrapes. Non-serious injuries aren't "wounds" in Savage Worlds. Success on a damage check only means that a character is "Shaken," which means the damage has gotten past the character's armor and natural resilience. Only a raise inflicts a wound (or, as of the new edition, given "Shaken" to a character who's already "Shaken". This is how Savage Worlds deals with both protection due to armor and the concept of resilience that's hidden in a Hit Point system.

As an aside, I've also spoken to some people who've studied what information is available about professional Roman Gladiators, and this models them rather well. Professional Gladiators were specifically conditioned so that they could take multiple bleeding injuries (for the spectacle of it) without being in any mortal danger (i.e. "High Toughness"). That sort of damage would often heal in a few days. Only when they took serious injuries (wounds) would they be sidelined for a while.

2) It sounds like the boss, as a Wildcard, used a Benny to "Soak" the damage. And yes, that's absolutely a thing (although it takes a successful Vigor check). But it's one of the few ways that characters can avoid going down to a single lucky shot, so it's a balancing element. The best cinematic example of this I can give is Inigo shrugging off Rugen's thrown dagger to his belly in the climactic fight in The Princess Bride. You do have to make a check to pull it off, and Bennies are a limited resource, so he wouldn't be able to keep doing that. Finding the right balance of "How many Bennies" is something that I've been told every table has to discover for themselves - because it comes down to personal taste.

I will say that the system in Savage Worlds is designed to encourage characters to use tests and other things to try to lower their opponent's trait checks, rather than just slugging it out with Fighting checks versus their Parry (i.e. use Tests to make a character Distracted or Vulnerable, try making an All-Out Attack, etc.).

I like the wounds system better than hit points, though. It means you can get hit/hurt in combat, like with hit points, but the idea of a "wound" is more immersive for a player than watching a (potentially large) number tick downward. That being said, a "death clock" might be a more immersive improvement to hit points on a character sheet, although it might limit HP counts to 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, and 60.
I concur completely. And as I said in a previous post, OpenD6 has 2 optional damage systems, one that just tracks wounds and the other of which tracks wounds as a feature of declining "Body Points" (which are mostly just Hit Points by a different name, but with some of the abstraction taken out).


"Death Spiral" should be re-branded, since it implies that death is inevitable (which is true, but maybe not in the fight in question). Taking wounds is a character's hint that it's time to flee, parlay, forfeit, call reinforcements, or do something other than FIGHT MOAR! So really, there are branches on the death spiral. It's more like a Death Tree, if I may.
I concur. I hate the term "Death Spiral," because I think it's "A Good Thing"(TM) that the character starts to become less effective, because it encourages the player(s) to sometimes think "This isn't going well - shit, maybe I/we should run..."

And, IMO, that's not a bad thing. It would also help a caster PC feel really good about spending the energy on mid-combat healing magic. Because it could make the difference between your team having to quit the field and being able to keep the fight going. And that's cool.

Crunchy. I might do it if I could figure out a way to put a cool picture on my character sheet in place of Stay Pufft. It is possible to use hit locations and wounds without all the extra rules, though:

GM: Next round. The melee rages around you - you're pretty sure you just saw a fellow Celt's head drop from his shoulders. It's your turn.

PC: Bloody. Hell. I pick myself up and swing my sword upward in an arc - maybe I can cut the Norseman in half? (Rolls attack.)

GM: With your longsword? (Rolls defense) it's an awkward swing, which made it easy for the Norseman to deflect it with his shield. Roll damage.

PC: (Rolls) 4. I'll attack again, now that I'm on my feet. What happened to his shield?

GM: He stooped a bit, blocking the low attack. He left the shield low, fearing that your longsword might sever his hide boots from his legs. But his axe is going high while you're low.

PC: (Rolls attack) I'm going after those naked biceps. I step to the side to get away from the axe and to facilitate my spinning attack into his shield-arm.

GM: (Rolls attack) his axe comes down towards your iron helm as you step away. Roll damage. (Rolls) he does 6 damage to you.

PC: (Rolls) 10! Maximum. Um, he probably didn't hit my head, since my hit did max damage, so he hit my leg while I was spinning. I'll take a Flaw, "leg wound," and see if he can make me regret it.

GM: 10 damage means you cut into his shield when he brings it up, and the splinters dig into his arm. It bleeds badly. I'll give you a hero point each time you use your new Flaw.

By the way, the idea of the iron helm blocking "most of a hit" from a Celtic longsword is dangerous, at best!
That's a pretty cool read. I'm not sure I like the idea of all that happening in one round, so I hope it represents multiple rounds of a single duel.

And on your last point, I dunno. If helmets never prevented damage, people wouldn't have worn them.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Experience, Skills, & Skill Points
It's hard to talk about combat without talking about skills.

In any game that doesn't have "Classes," using weapons is rather obviously a subset of the skill system. OpenD6, which allows you to actively defend as an action in combat, also calls out Dodge and Parry as separate skills. And of course many systems use (or at least allow) specialty versions of the above: separating Unarmed from Armed Melee combat, or splitting weapon use into Fighting(blades), Fighting(axes), and so forth. Personally, I tend to think of keeping it mostly in broad terms - Fighting (melee), Shooting, and Throwing (which maybe is part of athletics...). Savage Worlds, which doesn't generally require specialties (although it's an option), does have a cool narrative rule that allows a GM to rule that a character is "unfamiliar" with a particular use of a skill - the kid who's used to fighting with a quarterstaff, but picks up a sword in combat, for example. He'd be unfamiliar and take some penalties, but he's not going to be as total rubbish as someone with NO fighting skill.

I am also increasingly inclined to the opinion that skill points should buy the same amount of "ranks" regardless of the skill that you apply it to. Back in 3e, D&D tried to preserve niche protection with the concept of Class Skills, and even Savage Worlds tries to keep skills directly tied to Attributes - raising a skill above an attribute is pricier than buying ranks that are below it.

I notice that D&D, rather interestingly, basically defines the concept of "Class" using five things:
1) General competence with skills (Skill Proficiencies).
2) Training with weapons and armor (Weapon & Armor Proficiencies).
3) General ability to avoid and resist getting hurt (Hit points).
4) Specialty talents (Class features or bonus feats).
5) Access to magic (Spells).

I note that most of those could be thought of as either skills or particular edges, and several of them are directly connected to combat prowess. Which I guess shouldn't surprise me, but it further supports the notion that one could totally go "classless" with a decent skill system (as for example, GURPS does). But I digress.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
As an aside, the final result of this musing may take up to 3 forms:
  • A combat rules supplement for 5e.
  • A combat rules supplement for Savage Worlds.
  • A completely new game.

In the end, I just hope people find this discussion useful and productive, even if everyone is not 100% happy with the "Final Product(s)."

I'm almost done with my preliminary musings, and I thank you all for bearing with me and giving me feedback as the system evolves.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Crunchy. I might do it if I could figure out a way to put a cool picture on my character sheet in place of Stay Pufft.
Haha! yeah it's not the most inspiring of images. After finding the character sheet from Top Secret that John mentioned I realised I've gone down that direction myself, this is the character sheet of my mega-boss from a climatic encounter, (a 9-headed hydra Mushushu, each head with a different attack) who eventually met its end, I split the armour and HP into two rows of bubbles, it's doesn't have to be the stay-puft man, although it can be someone's nightmare: (digital scribbles are the tracking marks from me as I ran the game online)



Perhaps a better example (not mine) a full character sheet from the RuneQuest 3 days:




It is possible to use hit locations and wounds without all the extra rules, though:

GM: Next round. The melee rages around you - you're pretty sure you just saw a fellow Celt's head drop from his shoulders. It's your turn.
PC: Bloody. Hell. I pick myself up and swing my sword upward in an arc - maybe I can cut the Norseman in half? (Rolls attack.)
GM: With your longsword? (Rolls defense) it's an awkward swing, which made it easy for the Norseman to deflect it with his shield. Roll damage.
PC: (Rolls) 4. I'll attack again, now that I'm on my feet. What happened to his shield?
GM: He stooped a bit, blocking the low attack. He left the shield low, fearing that your longsword might sever his hide boots from his legs. But his axe is going high while you're low.
PC: (Rolls attack) I'm going after those naked biceps. I step to the side to get away from the axe and to facilitate my spinning attack into his shield-arm.
GM: (Rolls attack) his axe comes down towards your iron helm as you step away. Roll damage. (Rolls) he does 6 damage to you.
PC: (Rolls) 10! Maximum. Um, he probably didn't hit my head, since my hit did max damage, so he hit my leg while I was spinning. I'll take a Flaw, "leg wound," and see if he can make me regret it.
GM: 10 damage means you cut into his shield when he brings it up, and the splinters dig into his arm. It bleeds badly. I'll give you a hero point each time you use your new Flaw.
Narrative/Story telling is definitely a different approach which appeals to certain players. It does illustrate something I noted earlier though which is "narrative fatigue". You have to keep inventing and telling a story about what is happening, because the mechanics behind the story is the hit-point-attrition system. The issue with this way of running and participating in the game is that you have to keep this up, keep inventing and telling this story because there's not much happening other than the HP attrition. Of course this is great for players and GMs who prefer to be largely free of the mechanics and improvise the story of the action. The problem with this is that not everyone does prefer this, and in fact I'm not sure most people do, my experience is most players are not that inventive and are not that good at this kind of improvised story telling(!), if it's not supported by the mechanics.

This is what I mean about the story emerging from the system. The players are making decisions and are embellishing to some degree but they aren't creating a story - they are responding to the events and actions around them, through their own decisions and actions, and the consequences of some randomness. If there is a story it is told after the encounter. I would find the way of playing you are describing unsatisfying largely because the mechanics aren't interesting and the level of story-invention is irritating (to me), equally I can see many people are turned off by the detail of a system like Mythras.

By the way, the idea of the iron helm blocking "most of a hit" from a Celtic longsword is dangerous, at best!
I'm intrigued by this but I don't know what you mean!? Can you say what you mean here? 🤓
 
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Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Experience, Skills, & Skill Points
It's hard to talk about combat without talking about skills.

In any game that doesn't have "Classes," using weapons is rather obviously a subset of the skill system. OpenD6, which allows you to actively defend as an action in combat, also calls out Dodge and Parry as separate skills. And of course many systems use (or at least allow) specialty versions of the above: separating Unarmed from Armed Melee combat, or splitting weapon use into Fighting(blades), Fighting(axes), and so forth. Personally, I tend to think of keeping it mostly in broad terms - Fighting (melee), Shooting, and Throwing (which maybe is part of athletics...). Savage Worlds, which doesn't generally require specialties (although it's an option), does have a cool narrative rule that allows a GM to rule that a character is "unfamiliar" with a particular use of a skill - the kid who's used to fighting with a quarterstaff, but picks up a sword in combat, for example. He'd be unfamiliar and take some penalties, but he's not going to be as total rubbish as someone with NO fighting skill.
RQ/Mythras essentially revolves around a unified percentile skills system. Character generation is split between Culture, Career, and player choice. A character's initial combat skills are going to come out of this process. The most important combat skill is "Combat Style" which varies across different cultures and careers.

A cultural style can be picked up at the "Culture" stage in character creation and this would be one that a teenager growing up might be expected to learn, so it could look something like this:
Citizen Militia - Weapons: Longspear, Scutum Shield - Traits: Shield Wall
A PC could start with this and stick with it, coming out of chargen with a skill in the 60s to 70s percent using these two weapons and knowing the Shield Wall trait, which increases the number of locations protected, and makes you resistant to knockback if used with others in a shield wall.

The same PC could decide at the Career stage to learn another combat style, if their career allowed it, so a soldier career might have available:
Citizen Cavalry - Weapons: Javelin, Short Spear, Target Shield - Traits: Skirmisher, Mounted Combat
Since this is a career combat style, there are more weapons included and more traits learned. Skirmisher allows you to make attacks on the run and Mounted Combat allows you to ignore the cap on combat skills normally imposed by your Ride skill.

All skills start out using two of their characteristics added together, Combat Style skills use a STR+DEX calculation, so an absolute average would be a 22% skill at base, higher characteristics will give you a higher base, so the maximum possible human combat style base is 36%. In character creation you can add a maximum of +15 at each stage, since there are 3 stages it's possible to come out with a maximum of +45% experience added to your base. A completely average human PC can come out with a skill of 67% in their cultural combat style.

The Combat Style skill covers primarily attacks and parries but it can be also used in other tests, especially when resisting Special Effect tests (such as disarm). There is no "dodge" skill as it's covered in part by the parry action itself and by the Evade skill which is more desperate than players might be used to since it leaves you prone.

During play it's possible to increase your combat style skill through experience and training a combat style, you can add a weapon to a combat style if it makes sense, or learn or create a new combat style with a number of different weapons given time and experience, it is also possible to learn new traits to use as part of your style. Picking up and using weapons you don't know is possible, and your skill with them depends on how similar that new weapon is to one of the weapons you already know how to use. You will take a penalty based on how close or far it is.

There are a number of skills you use during combat - Endurance is tested to hold off fatigue if the fight goes on too long, it can also be tested in the event of a Serious or Major Wound, Brawn can be checked if an opponent tries to trip you, your Evade skill is tested if you are trying to disengage, Willpower is tested if a Compel Surrender demand is attempted and so on.
 
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DMMike

Guide of Modos
Narrative/Story telling is definitely a different approach which appeals to certain players. It does illustrate something I noted earlier though which is "narrative fatigue". You have to keep inventing and telling a story about what is happening, because the mechanics behind the story is the hit-point-attrition system. . .

This is what I mean about the story emerging from the system. The players are making decisions and are embellishing to some degree but they aren't creating a story - they are responding to the events and actions around them, through their own decisions and actions, and the consequences of some randomness. . .

I'm intrigued by this but I don't know what you mean!? Can you say what you mean here? 🤓
Narrative fatigue makes sense, but I think it can have a meta-quality to it: you might start to actually feel what your character feels. Something that gets overlooked in a lot of games: fighting takes energy. Anyway, if you start getting narrative fatigue, you could fall back on just "I hit, I miss," or start referencing your character picture and the ones-digit on your attack/defense die (numbering the locations clockwise).

It makes sense for the system to say "this is where you hit," if the system is already saying whether you hit or miss. But I feel a player-agency issue there; just like I don't want my GM telling me what my character does, I'm not sure I want the rules doing it, either.

Oh, with the sword: I'm guessing a Celtic longsword is a big hunk of metal, with fair amounts of sharpening in places. That's not something I'd want anywhere near my head, whether or not it's in motion, and whether or not I'm wearing a helm. Even if the above character had enough head-health to survive the hit, it would seem like the definition of getting your bell rung.

And, IMO, that's not a bad thing. It would also help a caster PC feel really good about spending the energy on mid-combat healing magic. Because it could make the difference between your team having to quit the field and being able to keep the fight going. And that's cool.
This. Being afraid of the Death Tree is like saying, "I don't trust my teammates" or "I don't have teammates." The former is bad. The latter can be unavoidable, but that's why the Tree has branches. Anyway, being the Party Cleric takes on new meaning when you're playing a game with Death Trees.
 

practicalm

Explorer
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.
For GURPS it covers most of the points above.

1. Probably not. High level low tech melee combat can be a stalemate of attack versus active defense. But you only get 1 active defense roll (except when all out defense). Feign attacks to lower the enemies skill is common when the skills are above 15.

2. One second turns and the players need to decide step and attack, stay put and all out attack, or move and attack at a penalty.
Ranged attacks you have to decide if you are going to take a second to aim or make snapshots

3. GURPS tries to fact check everything. There are a lot of modifiers but it's maybe 2-3 charts that are not that complex. Speed, Size, cover

4. Your attacks are based on your stats and your skill and situational modifiers. Use as many of those modifiers as you want just be consistent.

5. Because a lucky shot to the vitals can ruins your day, there is a lot of luck but combat usually does go to the skilled opponent

6. GURPS has crossbows that will ruin your day. Once you've taken your HT in damage you can scramble along but it's a lot harder. A dagger to the head will also make your day unhappy.
 

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