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"Better" Combat Systems in RPGs - Feedback Welcome!

aramis erak

Adventurer
I'm very doubtful of unarmed people's ability to "dodge" sword blows in close combat since the armed fighter does not have to defend themselves against the unarmed opponent at that reach ... ok if you say they are doing it ...

I'm not talking about a tempo-level of emulation, I'm pretty sure there are RPG systems that do that, but from what I've seen they are pure combat engines and not much else. There's a fairly large amount of abstraction in RQ6/Mythras (for example it doesn't model armour properties like GURPS does).
There are people adept enough to still present a threat unarmed vs a swordsman. Most of them are swordsmen. about 1/2 to 2/3 of what makes a parry happen successfully is reading the opponent's actions; that's not blade dependent. And half the rest is actions other than the weapon-on-weapon... Takeaways are a real thing. As are sucker punches, instep stomps, knee-kicks... things we don't do in fencing, but which the period masters would have seen done.
 

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Bilharzia

Fish Priest
There are people adept enough to still present a threat unarmed vs a swordsman.
I would love to see some examples of unarmed fighters dodging Vs armed opponents, unfortunately it does not seem to be practised much, presumably because they keep getting hit. There's a significant factor in being unarmed which is that you are not presenting as much of a threat to an armed opponent, you are not holding a dangerous weapon and your reach is much reduced, so your opponent does not need to defend in the same way as if you were armed, they also do not need to move their weapon much compared to how much you need to move your body, so it is much easier to hit you than it is for you to move out of the way of the weapon. Is it possible to dodge? maybe with some radical moves but you are going to be throwing yourself around like crazy, which from my point of view is supported by an Evade, which will work like a parry but will put you prone and is harder to pull off than a parry with a weapon.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
I would love to see some examples of unarmed fighters dodging Vs armed opponents, unfortunately it does not seem to be practised much, presumably because they keep getting hit.
it's been taught by Bear Steele Fencing for two decades as part of learning heavy-blade and olympic fencing. It's beed taught by the chap I learned from. Offhand Rose is his typical secondary in rapier... because hand parries are effective against thrusting blades.

Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it isn't out there. And when two different heavy-blade fencers mention having studied doing it, it's kind of rude to imply we're liars.

My instructor, Doug (I can't remember his last name; SCA: Nytshaed of Golden Rivers, MoD) taught us to practice with a non-weapon offhand item to get used to the hand parry.
Hand parries are also part of most of the 17th C Fencing masters, as a backup in case of being disarmed.
We are not allowed, under SCA rules, to engage in unarmed attacks, but that doesn't mean in practice we haven't occasionally noted the openings for unarmed attacks.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it isn't out there. And when two different heavy-blade fencers mention having studied doing it, it's kind of rude to imply we're liars.
Woah slow down tiger, nowhere did I call anyone a liar. If you want to include dodging as equally good as a parry, go for it in your game, it just doesn't make sense to me as standing, on its own, as equal to a parry - which is what I am talking about. Don't think I'm denying you can't make an unarmed parry, you've slipped into hyperbole, I was talking about dodging specifically.
 

aramis erak

Adventurer
Woah slow down tiger, nowhere did I call anyone a liar. If you want to include dodging as equally good as a parry, go for it in your game, it just doesn't make sense to me as standing, on its own, as equal to a parry - which is what I am talking about. Don't think I'm denying you can't make an unarmed parry, you've slipped into hyperbole, I was talking about dodging specifically.
No, I said you implied it. Not outright called us liars.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
No, I said you implied it. Not outright called us liars.
Your response was talking about parries, which was precisely what I was talking about - I agree there! It is dodging specifically that I posted about. Not sure what your beef is you might want to take a bit more time reading next time before you throw out those accusations.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Woah slow down tiger, nowhere did I call anyone a liar. If you want to include dodging as equally good as a parry, go for it in your game, it just doesn't make sense to me as standing, on its own, as equal to a parry - which is what I am talking about. Don't think I'm denying you can't make an unarmed parry, you've slipped into hyperbole, I was talking about dodging specifically.
Many years ago, I had a fencing guy challenge me to a bout because he didn't think that what we did was "real" swordplay. I agreed with one proviso: "their equipment," but "my rules" (i.e. not fighting on a strip, all targets legal).

So we geared up with masks and sabres (the closest analog they had to a rapier/sidesword). He took a standard fencing stance. I squared off, rapier/side-sword style, but with just the blade and my offhand. He lunged at me, and I hand-parried it and stuck the tip in his chest. He complained about me using a hand parry and so the next time he lunged, I sidestepped (dodge) and smacked him in the face with the blade.

He was both more athletic and faster than me, but I timed it right. And he forgot we weren't on a strip. But that is absolutely, 100 percent, dodging an attack. So it is possible. Now, you might argue that was a failed attack roll, and, well, I can't totally disagree, but people don't just "stand still." However, I also agree with you that it is absolutely harder to just dodge a blow (while staying in range) than it is to parry one, and it can also be difficult in fudge-y, non-simulative RPG combat to separate which is which.

So, my personal bias would be to call it "defense" and give the player the option to boost it with both parry bonuses (which are easier to acquire) and dodge bonuses (which are less available). And rule that the defense bonus from fighting skill is a somewhat nebulous mix of both those things and reading your opponent. The total defense action would probably involve a combination of parrying and dodging (stepping back, sideways, out of range, etc.).

This gets me thinking about wanting to give a character the ability to advance, i.e. "push his opponent back," without trying to score a wound with his weapon. Must ponder...
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Secondary thought: It's not so much about being "unarmed" as the fact that there is a lot of nuance to range when you engage in hand-to-hand combat. Assuming they're unarmored, a dagger fighter is pretty thoroughly screwed against a swordsman, almost as much someone who's unarmed. Same holds true for the guy with a one-handed sword going up against a two handed one, or a two-handed sword vs. someone with a staff/spear/polearm.

But trying to "accurately" model that stuff is a really tricky thing to account for, and people in fantasy tend to like dagger fighters. So most games gloss over it. IIRC, from what I read of the rules, Mythras does actually separate out combat range into "close," "melee," "reach," and "ranged," which is definitely much more thorough than most.
 

JohnSnow

Adventurer
Hoplites were not part of ancient Rome. Mongol horse archers likewise didn't appear until long after the Roman Empire fell.

Did you choose how tall you were going to be? My parents didn't. I turned out to be an utterly amazing physical specimen simply by luck of the DNA.
I'm fully aware that neither of those examples is Roman, but my point is:

1) The various units deployed and faced by the Roman Army are a matter of historic record - i.e. I don't have to make them up because I can look up the equipment and combat styles for Legionaries, Cretan Archers, Sarmatian Cavalry, Celtic Skirmishers, and so forth.

2) If I were making a game where the PCs are all gladiators (or ex-gladiators), they also all have distinctive combat styles.

Hence gaming in Ancient Rome, because of how well-documented things are, is a great example of a setting where the work of defining cultural combat styles isn't something I have to do myself. And I don't tend to play in historical settings much, so the fact that this work has been pre-done for, say, Celtic Britain really doesn't help.

To your second point, I have found that a great part of the attraction of "roleplaying" over "real life" for some people is that the randomness of what things you suck at/what gifts you have is actually up to you to determine. YMMV.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
...[one time I dodged a guy]...(snipped)
(I usually don't attempt to reverse engineer what happened in a fight to translate it into mechanics, but sometimes I do - Can your game of choice tell this story?)

As I have said quite a few times now :p it's not impossible to dodge, it's just much harder than parrying. If you want a viable dodger, there are ways to do it, either through the "Daredevil" combat trait which allows the practitioner to stay or land on their feet while evading, or by substituting the professional Acrobatics skill, which you can use instead of Evade and keep on your feet. An evade in this manner is still harder to pull off because as a defence the defender has to beat the attack in an opposed roll instead of a "straight" successful roll. To succeed when facing an opposed test is to roll higher than your opponent rolls their attack, but still succeed yourself. In contrast a parry just needs to succeed, even if the attacker also succeeds, the parry will block the blow as long as the weapon is large enough.

If the GM or players absolutely can not stand dodge to be inferior to parry they could remove the requirement for the dodge to succeed as an opposed roll, but this then makes dodging superior since it's not affected by weapon size, and as a consequence removing one of the nuances between dodging and parrying - dodging is harder, makes most people prone, but will protect completely against any size of attack, a parry or passive block is easier but is limited by whether the defending weapon is of an adequate size.

Secondary thought: It's not so much about being "unarmed" as the fact that there is a lot of nuance to range when you engage in hand-to-hand combat. Assuming they're unarmored, a dagger fighter is pretty thoroughly screwed against a swordsman, almost as much someone who's unarmed. Same holds true for the guy with a one-handed sword going up against a two handed one, or a two-handed sword vs. someone with a staff/spear/polearm.
True but you are mixing here dodging with parrying, weapon reach and size, all important but different than the issue of dodging. An unarmed fighter can parry with their limbs, which are classed as small weapons as far as size goes.

But trying to "accurately" model that stuff is a really tricky thing to account for, and people in fantasy tend to like dagger fighters. So most games gloss over it. IIRC, from what I read of the rules, Mythras does actually separate out combat range into "close," "melee," "reach," and "ranged," which is definitely much more thorough than most.
Yes and no with that. Mythras does model weapon Reach and weapon Size, with different weapons having different sizes and reaches, but it does not represent different ranges as such. In terms of melee you are either engaged or unengaged, this does have consequences, largely whether you can move freely or not. Ranged weapons can be used at any range at any target but there may be penalties depending on circumstances. The important question as far as weapon reach is concerned is - "at what weapon reach are you engaged at?"

If you are engaged in melee, then weapon Reach comes into play. If the difference between the weapons is two steps of reach different. For example, a dagger (short) Vs a longsword (long) is two steps, which means the dagger fighter is held at long reach and may only attack the weapon itself, not the longsword fighter. The longsword fighter may attack the dagger fighter directly. The dagger fighter may defend themselves by parrying but, and here is where weapon size comes in, if your parrying weapon is one size smaller then you will only block half the damage done, and the dagger is one size smaller (small dagger compared to medium longsword).

The situation is not hopeless for the dagger fighter, because if they win a special effect, they may Close Range to wherever they like, and if they want to strike that will be Short range. In this circumstance the longsword fighter is at an immediate disadvantage, they can not parry with the longsword at all, their effective weapon size is reduced, and their damage is reduced to represent the pommel or haft of the weapon (1d3+1). The longsword fighter may of course drop their weapon to draw another more suitable, or try to re-establish their range by winning a special effect themselves and getting the engagment back to their preferred Reach.

This is another advantage of a weapon and shield combination especially something like a spear + shield, the spear has a Long reach, which will keep Short reach weapons away (daggers, clubs, maces etc) and the shield will still work fine as a parrying weapon even if an opponent gets to Short range, because all shields have a Short reach.

When I've run games online I have rarely used the Reach rules for a couple of reasons - generally, combats don't have weapon differences of two steps of reach or greater, so it tends be rare, I also find it a bit too much to track. I'm in the minority since other GMs I've heard from do use it and don't have a problem tracking it. Weapon size on the other hand is not tricky to track and it comes into play all the time. Not using reach does reduce tactical subtlety, dagger fighters, for example, can be effective, if they can get within their preferred reach, the same with grapplers and unarmed fighters generally.

Weapon size only needs a difference of one size to make a difference. A weapon one size bigger than the parrying weapon will still do 50% of their damage to a target, two sizes bigger will get through the parry to do 100% weapon damage. Many two handed weapons are lethal against almost any one handed weapon because they have a size of H (Huge), almost all 1h weapons are size M (Medium) at most, except for shields, which are mostly either H (Huge) themselves, or L (Large), with only the buckler having a size of M (Medium).

Just a parenthetical note on gladiators - there is a Fenix magazine Mythras article on suitable combat styles, with appropriate armour and combat style traits for a range of gladiator types http://thedesignmechanism.com/resources/Fenix 1402 RuneQuest.pdf

 
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Jd Smith1

Adventurer
To your second point, I have found that a great part of the attraction of "roleplaying" over "real life" for some people is that the randomness of what things you suck at/what gifts you have is actually up to you to determine. YMMV.
That's really sad.
 

DMMike

Guide of Modos
@Bilharzia that typo is hurting my eyes :(

So, my personal bias would be to call it "defense" and give the player the option to boost it with both parry bonuses (which are easier to acquire) and dodge bonuses (which are less available). And rule that the defense bonus from fighting skill is a somewhat nebulous mix of both those things and reading your opponent. The total defense action would probably involve a combination of parrying and dodging (stepping back, sideways, out of range, etc.).
Defense rules can get out of control if you don't keep them on a tight leash. Just a heads up. Here's how mine went haywire:
1) Characters can take a set amount of "damage" before they're out of combat. Increasing this amount is effectively more defense.
2) To avoid all damage, a character can react to an attack with a defense action. A defense action uses a defensive skill, of which Parry is one.
3) To avoid some damage, a character can wear armor which reduces all incoming physical damage.
4) To avoid some damage from certain weapons, a character can change posture with a movement action. This is like taking a defensive position.
5) The above-mentioned movement action uses a Movement skill, which can include dodging.

So here I have 5 different ways to avoid dying in a fight. And a design goal was simplicity. You might not need to add Total Defense, because you might already have more defenses than you think 🤓
 


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