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"Better" Combat Systems in RPGs - Feedback Welcome!

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I always house-rule combat; 5e especially.

What me and my gamers look for in a melee setting:

1) Hit locations. We use a dice that notes the affected area.

2) Armor that reflects reality. Light armor is harder to hit, easier to hurt, and heavy is vice versa. Armor absorbs damage; for example, ring mail on the torso absorbs d10 damage per strike. The damage armor absorbs also damages the armor, reflecting an attacker hammering a damaged place.

3) Shields work like armor, but they go quicker, and an attacker can specifically target the shield. Shields also can only work on attacks coming from the front or left side. Overhead is possible depending on the type of shield.

4) Damage is more than just whittling away at hit points. If a hit of more than X amounts of hit points (based on level) there is a chance you take a bleeding wound, broken bone, punctured eye, etc., based upon location. Each of these wounds bring on a unique penalty, and none are minor.

5) Weapons interact with armor in different ways. War hammer damage, for example, only faces half armor soak.

6) There is no coming back from death, and when you hit zero you are dying, and only medical treatment in a timely fashion will save you (so don't go too far from the others).
 

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DMMike

Guide of Modos
Since "better" is subjective:

I always house-rule combat...

1) Hit locations. We use a dice that notes the affected area.

2) Armor that reflects reality. Light armor is harder to hit, easier to hurt, and heavy is vice versa. Armor absorbs damage; for example, ring mail on the torso absorbs d10 damage per strike. The damage armor absorbs also damages the armor, reflecting an attacker hammering a damaged place.

3) Shields work like armor, but they go quicker, and an attacker can specifically target the shield. Shields also can only work on attacks coming from the front or left side. Overhead is possible depending on the type of shield.

4) Damage is more than just whittling away at hit points. If a hit of more than X amounts of hit points (based on level) there is a chance you take a bleeding wound, broken bone, punctured eye, etc., based upon location. Each of these wounds bring on a unique penalty, and none are minor.

5) Weapons interact with armor in different ways. War hammer damage, for example, only faces half armor soak.

6) There is no coming back from death, and when you hit zero you are dying, and only medical treatment in a timely fashion will save you (so don't go too far from the others).
What about movement? Can a giant's club toss someone across the room, or is it still a Shove Action worth five feet of movement?

Can heavy armor reduce a "hit" to zero damage?

What's the drawback to using a warhammer? So far, it sounds like the best weapon, ever.

Light armor providing mobility is Better. Wounds with consequences are Better. Shield damage is Better...as long as weapons get damaged too.

For GURPS...

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.
Limited active defense is Better. It drives me nuts when someone's full defensive capability applies to all, and unlimited, attacks.

Luck & skill is Better. Does the scale tip to Luck when the battlefield is more chaotic?

I'm not a fan of the one-second turn and fact-checking; it sounds like very slow-mo combat.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
What about movement? Can a giant's club toss someone across the room, or is it still a Shove Action worth five feet of movement?
I don't use giants in the manner of the MM. The biggest humanoids I've used are just over 9'. Nobody uses clubs, too much damage dispersal. you want a narrow edge to focus kinetic energy.

Can heavy armor reduce a "hit" to zero damage?
Sure, if the damage roll is poor and the armor roll is good.

What's the drawback to using a warhammer? So far, it sounds like the best weapon, ever.
A strictly swinging weapon, and its damage isn't as high as some other weapons. But if you're facing metallic artificial armor, it is the best. Kinetic energy is not dispersed by a barrier. Moreover, it can shatter and drive ringmail rings into a wound. Where it runs weak is against natural hides, where sub-dermal fat can radiate the impact.

Light armor providing mobility is Better. Wounds with consequences are Better. Shield damage is Better...as long as weapons get damaged too.
Other than weapons with wooden shafts, I don't use weapon damage. Shields were essentially built of materials equal to one-inch plywood, and you're going to go through that pretty fast. Plate armor is about the only armor that could have a chance of seriously damaging a well-forged blade, and plate is extremely rare.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
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.
A couple things about Mythras hit locations.

1) Having hit locations is a detail that people enjoy in play. Not just for the fun description that comes with it and inherent mechanical effects that come from blows to different body parts, but also because piecemeal armor can be a lot of fun.

2) I don't do a separate/additional d20 hit location roll in Mythras. Instead I took a page out of WFRP4's book and simply transpose the hit d%. So if I hit with a 30 it lands at 03, or a 19 lands at 91. Easy peasy.

3) A big part of Mythras combat is the Effects that are created by outrolling your opponent. It adds a lot to the game, and the crunch and choice paralysis can be removed or gradually amped up. The reason I raise this is that one of the choices you have when you out-roll a foe is to choose hit location. In other words, while the defender is doing his best to guard your attack is so well timed and well placed that you are able to hit him where you want rather than having to settle for what he left available to you.

The more I play Mythras, the more I love it.
 
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Bilharzia

Fish Priest
2) I don't do a separate/additional d20 hit location roll in Mythras. Instead I took a page out of WFRP4's book and simply transpose the hit d%. So if I hit with a 30 it lands at 03, or a 19 lands at 91. Easy peasy.
A few questions about this - first, why? :p why not use the d20... I'm not sure what's gained here, and doesn't do this then fix to certain locations depending on whether you roll low or high? How does this translate to non-human locations? or are you dividing by 5? :confused:

I recognise the other parts of what you're saying.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
A few questions about this - first, why?
Four-part answer: (1) Used to it from playing lots of WFRP4; (2) Players liked it in WFRP; (3) One less roll, so why not; (4) d20 is for that other game. :)

I'm not sure what's gained here, and doesn't do this then fix to certain locations depending on whether you roll low or high?
. What’s gained - see above. Hitting a right leg is 01 - 15, so the following hits would land blows there: 01,10, 11, 20, 21, 30. 31, 40, 41, 50, 51, 60, 70, 80, 90 — assuming you’re worried about fewer leg shots because 70, 80, 90 hitting less frequently? In play the hit location distribution doesn’t feel any different at all. And I’m not sure the d20 Mythras hit location sheet is all that sacred.

How does this translate to non-human locations? or are you dividing by 5?
. Yes, simply multiplying the d20 Mythras defaults by 5 to get to %.

Hopefully that dispelled any confusion.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Four-part answer: (1) Used to it from playing lots of WFRP4; (2) Players liked it in WFRP; (3) One less roll, so why not; (4) d20 is for that other game. :)

. What’s gained - see above. Hitting a right leg is 01 - 15, so the following hits would land blows there: 01,10, 11, 20, 21, 30. 31, 40, 41, 50, 51, 60, 70, 80, 90 — assuming you’re worried about fewer leg shots because 70, 80, 90 hitting less frequently? In play the hit location distribution doesn’t feel any different at all. And I’m not sure the d20 Mythras hit location sheet is all that sacred.

. Yes, simply multiplying the d20 Mythras defaults by 5 to get to %.

Hopefully that dispelled any confusion.
Ah ok, I can see what you're doing with humans, but it doesn't work so well outside of humanoid locations, and it starts to meta-game the mechanics. From what I've seen WFRP fudges hit locations a bit beyond the humanoid body type and multiplying the d20 locations is not going to work because you will still get a small number of values to compare to a 01-00 roll. There are about 18 body types at last count! There's nothing sacred about the d20 it's just that the creature locations are already there. I suppose you could re-calculate the d20 tables and create new d100 tables for all those body types.

There are also easy wins with the d20 in that mounted warriors use 10+1d10 for rolling hit locations vs bipedal creatures since the higher values represent higher parts of the body, equally you can use just a d10 for giants, this works for elevated and depressed locations, although this trick itself is prone to humanoid-ish limitations.

The biggest issue for me is that there's a problem that came up with the old style of rolling from RQ2&3 which is the "roll all your dice at once" this means grabbing the percentile dice, the d20 hit location and the damage dice and making a single roll. This works great when you don't have special effects, which you didn't have in older RuneQuest but which you do have in RQ6/Mythras, it effectively breaks the way Special Effects work because it starts to meta-game choosing special effects (since you know hit location and damage immediately).

If you're using your hit location method, you now know the location struck as soon as you have made the skill roll. This means that you know if you need to use Choose Location or not. So if a defender is warding, using RAW the attacker has to use choose location to get through the ward, but if they know they have not hit the warded location they can now choose a more potent Special Effect if they know they are not going to hit the shield. When we tried the all-dice-at-once it felt like this came up too much, and it broke the combat resolution, it's worse when you include the damage dice.

If you don't care about the meta-gaming, having to convert all the non-human locations to d100 doesn't seem like a good bet to me because of the work involved for not much gain and some extra problems! These days most of my games are also online through roll20, which has the hit location charts built into the Mythras character sheet.
 

SavageCole

Punk Rock Warlord
We don’t play using Roll20 VTT, but if I were dependent on the VTT for hit locations I’d just use the default too.

Multiplying a d20 hit location table by 5 has been so effortless that reading your post is the first I’ve even considered it. I haven’t had a situation where a mounted attacker has hit a bipedal target, but could simply add 50 (instead of 10) to the transposed number and get a location. Seriously, it’s not really that complicated and I’d consider it virtually effortless.

Seriously, I’ve spent more time reading your concerned posts and responding than I’ve taken in doing conversions over our 20+ sessions combined. :) All planets are still in their orbit and everyone is having fun at essentially the same mathematical probabilities. Game on.
 

practicalm

Explorer
Since "better" is subjective:

Limited active defense is Better. It drives me nuts when someone's full defensive capability applies to all, and unlimited, attacks.

Luck & skill is Better. Does the scale tip to Luck when the battlefield is more chaotic?

I'm not a fan of the one-second turn and fact-checking; it sounds like very slow-mo combat.
You can parry or block once, but dodge is always allowed. Dodge skill usually isn't as high as your parry or block. All out attack means no active defense.

Since you are rolling 3d6 the rolls are bell curves. Critical hits allow for no active defense. There is luck just not a bunch.

The one second turn generally means you move or attack, you aim your crossbow or you fire. They can go quick.
Once you have the modifiers down, it's roll to attack, roll 1 defense, roll hit location and damage, compare to armor, find out what penetrates DR and then apply modifiers for hit location.
Want to throw daggers at people's eyes, get a high skill. Slit someone's throat, the damage that penetrates reflects what would happen.
It's fact checked in advance so the results seem consistent with reality.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Seriously, I’ve spent more time reading your concerned posts and responding than I’ve taken in doing conversions over our 20+ sessions combined. :) All planets are still in their orbit and everyone is having fun at essentially the same mathematical probabilities. Game on.
Great, I'm not 'concerned', I was curious how you were making it work because it doesn't make sense (eg multiplying the hit location by 5 doesn't work if you then roll a d100 you won't know where you hit since there's 100 results... This is a pretty obvious problem!). You're under no obligation to respond! I can't make sense of what you're describing but if whatever you're doing works then great, I was just interested.
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I've never allowed dodge. Parry and block, yes, but I have not seen many examples of someone dodging a determined & trained attack in RL to consider it viable.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I've never allowed dodge. Parry and block, yes, but I have not seen many examples of someone dodging a determined & trained attack in RL to consider it viable.
I suspect people are thinking of something like this:

 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
Slit someone's throat, the damage that penetrates reflects what would happen.
This is the hard part - with hit points and called shots. I don't know how GURPS treats it, but I know how D&D and Savage Worlds treat it. Real people don't take Damage, they take Wounds*. And not all wounds were created equal. It seems to me that any damage to the throat (greater than the minimum damage) is a life-ending event**. Vein-dead. Artery-dead. Spine-mostly dead. Trachea-dead, unless a surgeon does it. Anyway, Savage Worlds addresses the above-mentioned 4e bag of hit points problem by reducing everyone's health to three Wounds. But does that mean the neck can take three wounds before death? In D&D, neck damage gets lumped in with damage from everywhere else. Mythras - lumps neck damage in with head damage?

Creating a "better" combat system might involve addressing the issue of called shots/wound location, so that a player doesn't say something like, "I'll be okay, my neck only took 8 damage."

I hold a double-standard when it comes to called shots in combat. PCs can make them, and can choose to use extra actions on them to simulate the focusing on one attack. And like in GURPS, "get a high skill." NPCs generally don't make them, but if they do, PCs still get to narrate the damage they take. So the slit-throat problem is solved by 1) PCs not being at risk unless they want to be, and 2) a higher cost, and higher reward, for such an attack on an NPC.

* They also lose stamina, but that's for a different post.
** Given the three-or-so minutes that a person can survive without oxygen.
 

ART!

Adventurer
FWIW, I like the degree of success of your to-hit roll to affect how much damage you do, even to the point of their being no damage roll. I don't know why more systems don't do this.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Mythras - lumps neck damage in with head damage?
Correct, however such a strike could be combined with a "Bleed" special effect, which if not resisted will cause increasing round-per-round fatigue, then unconsciousness and ultimately death if not treated immediately. Such a strike might also be represented by a critical hit, which could bypass armour, or maximise the damage of the weapon, and so on.

Mythras special effects, such as choosing location, become available when an opponent fails to defend in some way - either they have tried to parry and failed, or they did not defend at all, then their attacker may use a special. So an effect like 'choose location' does not impose a penalty to hit like you get with a called shot, it's an opportunity that opens up if you get past someone's defence. As you can see from the Stay-Puft man example earlier, Mythras characters are vulnerable if unarmoured.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I suspect people are thinking of something like this:
"Muhammad Ali Dodges 21 Punches In 10 Seconds"
Aha, as great as Ali is, Dokes is only going for his head, he's not trying to, for example, kick him!
From what I've read, the dodging trope has come out of RPGs, and not out of any practical martial art, perhaps the idea is influenced by Errol Flynn (who actually parried quite a bit) and swashbuckling movies. You can include a certain amount of footwork and leaning into a parry action, but the idea that you can completely use "dodging" in a close combat melee is complete fantasy, which might be ok for your game, just depends on what your sense of verisimilitude is.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Aha, as great as Ali is, Dokes is only going for his head, he's not trying to, for example, kick him!
From what I've read, the dodging trope has come out of RPGs, and not out of any practical martial art, perhaps the idea is influenced by Errol Flynn (who actually parried quite a bit) and swashbuckling movies. You can include a certain amount of footwork and leaning into a parry action, but the idea that you can completely use "dodging" in a close combat melee is complete fantasy, which might be ok for your game, just depends on what your sense of verisimilitude is.
I wasn't arguing, really, just pointing out what people were probably imagining. I don't really have much of an opinion on the topic--not enough to rewrite mechanics over it, anyway. If a game divides making contact from doing injury, though, you could plausibly consider rolling with a blow to be mechanically similar to dodging.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I wasn't arguing, really, just pointing out what people were probably imagining. I don't really have much of an opinion on the topic--not enough to rewrite mechanics over it, anyway. If a game divides making contact from doing injury, though, you could plausibly consider rolling with a blow to be mechanically similar to dodging.
The RQ6/Mythras rules that you go prone if you dodge (called Evade) generated enormous wailing and gnashing of teeth (going prone has bad consequences), although you can achieve some measure of swashbuckler-style dodging with professional skills or a combat trait, parrying is still superior though. Straight dodging is allowed in BRP as an alternative to a parry but it now seems unrealistic to me.
 

practicalm

Explorer
This is the hard part - with hit points and called shots. I don't know how GURPS treats it, but I know how D&D and Savage Worlds treat it. Real people don't take Damage, they take Wounds*. And not all wounds were created equal. It seems to me that any damage to the throat (greater than the minimum damage) is a life-ending event**. Vein-dead. Artery-dead. Spine-mostly dead. Trachea-dead, unless a surgeon does it. Anyway, Savage Worlds addresses the above-mentioned 4e bag of hit points problem by reducing everyone's health to three Wounds. But does that mean the neck can take three wounds before death? In D&D, neck damage gets lumped in with damage from everywhere else. Mythras - lumps neck damage in with head damage?
GURPS handles each hit location with modifiers around damage that penetrates. It can take some time to die but once you are down to 1/3 HT you have to make rolls to keep going.
There are locations for Face, skull, vitals, groin, torso, arms and legs, and hands and feet.
Example.
Neck (-5): The neck and throat. Increase the wounding multiplier of crushing and corrosion attacks to
x1.5, and that of cutting damage to x2. The GM may rule that anyone killed by a cutting blow to the neck is decapitated!
 

Jd Smith1

Adventurer
I suspect people are thinking of something like this:
Sure, if you're fighting in shorts, limited to punching with padded gloves, with a referee in attendance, then I can see that. It's also influenced by movie fights, which are choreographed by dance experts, and designed to only score a hit when the script calls for it.

But wearing several layers of clothes, the outermost being metal or leather, carrying about sixty pounds of gear, and facing a foe without restrictions or rules who is trying to hit you with something three feet long, then not so much.
 

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