• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Beyond grid combat - what are some good combat systems?

I certainly enjoy grid-based tactical combat, but I've done it for over 20 years.

Does anyone know games that have, like, good rules for naval maneuvers with broadsides and boarding actions? Or dogfighting with airplanes or space fighters? Or nuanced duels where the players actually have some way to 'counter' that isn't just more dice rolling? Or rules for resolving social encounters, mass combat, mindscape psychic battles?

I've rather enjoyed playing the new FFG Legend of the Five Rings RPG, where you have two parallel 'health' tracks: fatigue and strife. "Hits" in combat cause fatigue, and once you reach your limit, further attacks cause real wounds. Meanwhile you accumulate strife with your own actions, and sometimes can inflict strife on an opponent, and once you reach your limit of strife, your mask of composure slips.

The game uses a dice pool system where custom dice have some combination of icons for success, opportunity, and strife, and you can pick which dice you use. So you might go for more successes but accumulate strife, or get lucky and get no strife, or choose to pick a die with an 'opportunity' instead of a success. And opportunities let you do stuff other than directly succeed.

In a physical duel, you can use opportunity to make it harder for your opponent to attack you with certain techniques, or to cause *him* strife, or to cause a wound even if he hasn't reached his fatigue threshold. If your foe hits their strife limit in combat, they drop their guard and you can get a killing blow, which is a cool way to capture the samurai aesthetic of clashing blades until finally someone slips up and gets disemboweled.

In social encounters, you have several different ways to 'win.' You might pursue your goals by making skill checks and accumulating successes, or you might try to thwart your rival's plans, or just antagonize him. If you reach your strife limit in a social encounter, you lose your composure somehow -- you might lose your temper, or make a gaffe that causes people to mock you, or flee in shame, or admit a secret that harms you in the long run.

It's a fun system, though getting the hang of it takes a while.

Do you have a favorite rule set that lets you resolve conflicts in a different way than we're used to with D&D-derived RPGs?
 

aramis erak

Explorer
while I love L5R5, I use a grid for it much of the time.

Classic Traveller, often thought of for the 1.5m grid, actually used a 25m grid in the combat rules, and presumed little side-to-side; essentially, a strip with 25m spaces.
Note that the ranges in bands and meters:
Code:
Close 	0b		engaged in melee
Short 	0b		1-5m
Medium 	1-2b		6-50m
Long 	3-10b	51-250m
Very Long	11-20b	251-500m
Zone based, rather than grid based, has been around for a long time now - TSR's Marvel Super Heroes - 1984 - and is becoming more popular again.

Fria Ligan's Alien uses 25m zones...
Code:
Engaged	0b	melee range
Short	0b	same zone "A few meters away"
Medium	1b	adjacent zone, up to 25m
Long  	2-4b	100 m
Extreme	40b	1 km
Very similar to Traveller.
Mutant Year Zero doesn't use zones, but uses similar ranges:
Code:
Arm’s Length: Just next to each other.
Near: A few steps away.
Short: Up to 20–30 yards.
Long: Up to a few hundred yards.
Distant: As far as you can see.

Moving
 <short to <short: 1 maneuver
Short to or from long: 2 maneuvers
long to or from distant: 2 manuevers

Modiphius' Star Trek, Conan, and John Carter also use zone-ish mechanics. Star Trek's
Engaged is essentially a condition
Short is same zone
Medium is 1 zone
Long is 2 zones
Extreme is 3+ zones.
Movement is highly variable... I've seen up to 4 zones in a turn.

FFG Star Wars uses range bands not too unlike L5R, but without the gridded option.

Burning Wheel uses 3 different combat systems, tailored to story need.
Bloody Versus: one roll, winner walks away, loser takes a hit.
Range and Cover: used for those nasty approach battles with arrows and guns
Fight: a mapless but excellent "have to outthink your opponent" system. Takes a good bit of time to teach and use, but when needed, it's worth it. If you don't need it, just use Bloody versus or range and cover. Also has Duel of Wits for changing NPC's minds...
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
For naval battles I'd probably look to an actual wargame rather than a rules set continained within a TTRPG. Avalon Hill's Wooden Ships and Iron Men is one of the best examples of that for the age of sail. I'd probably recommend the same thing for large scale battles and there are a ton of systems you could look at depending on what era and scale you wanted. I'd probably start with the De Bellis games because they aren't designed to be 1:1 representational and can easily be played with counters instead of miniatures. In both cases assuming you want to actually play out the battle, and are OK having to layer magic or whatever on top from whatever TTRPG you're playing. The magic thing could be easy or hard depending on how high magic your setting is. Most spells wouldn't effect enough to matter on a battle field scale and adding rules for AoE stuff like fireball wouldn't be super hard. There are literally hundreds of rules sets for both of these things, so finding something that suits should be too hard.

I prefer looking to wargames for rules like these because they are purpose designed to do that thing well, whereas the rules in TTRPGs for these same things tend to feel skimpy and bolted on, at least to me.
 
I use grids for most combats, but zones for chase scenes or other situations where simultaneous movement is necessary to imagine the scene.

In my experience good systems are really rare, and the ability to transition between systems to cover different challenges is even rarer.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
I certainly enjoy grid-based tactical combat, but I've done it for over 20 years.

. . . Or nuanced duels where the players actually have some way to 'counter' that isn't just more dice rolling? Or rules for resolving social encounters, mass combat, mindscape psychic battles? . . .

Do you have a favorite rule set that lets you resolve conflicts in a different way than we're used to with D&D-derived RPGs?
20 years of grid-based combat? Are you excited about starting your ninth battle, then? [/snark]

The (un?)interesting thing about grid battles is (I just finished watching several MMA bouts) that they ignore some important aspects of close combat: body position, footwork, reach (scale of inches, not feet/meters). Grids are great for ranged combat, though.

It's more dice rolling, but I took a stab at addressing the non-combat damage issue by using a generic measure called Progress. GMs and players have flexibility to decide what does or doesn't create Progress toward the Goal, so thwarting your rival's plans and antagonizing him are both on the table. So is mindscape psychic battle. Don't try it if you like all of your options printed in black and white, though.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Does anyone know games that have, like, good rules for naval maneuvers with broadsides and boarding actions? Or dogfighting with airplanes or space fighters? Or nuanced duels where the players actually have some way to 'counter' that isn't just more dice rolling? Or rules for resolving social encounters, mass combat, mindscape psychic battles?

That would all depend on what you mean by "good".

I have found Ashen Stars' take on starship combat to be an excellent one. Each character has a role in ship combat - your tactical officer, weapons officer, communications officer, and pilot all have attacks, and your engineer patches the ship up as it gets damaged, and your medic patches the people up as they get damaged. Your ship has attacks it is good and bad at dishing out, or taking. You get to pick your desired result at the start of combat (do you want to just escape, or disable the other ship, board it, or blow it out of the sky?) And, the mechanic strongly encourages you to cycle through all the positions, so everyone gets a turn. You have tactics in which attack forms you try first, and how you dole out the ship's limited supply of energy. My group likes it, because everyone gets to play.

Just a couple weeks ago, i played in a one-shot of the Savage Worlds Star Wars game, and it also leans heavily into players having roles in ship combat - the engineer manages the ship's energy supply, the pilot flies, the gunner shoots, and the comm/sensor station and command role have boosts they can give to other roles. There's an intriguing way to do mapping and positioning as well, using a grid of cards to describe ranges and positions.

There's a fairly new FATE-based game called Tachyon Squadron. Its basic conceit is that the characters are all members of a squadron of space combat fighters - very Star Blazers or Battlestar Galactica. I have not gone over its combat rules in detail, but I suspect there's some goodness to be borrowed from there.
 

Wightbred

Explorer
Hard to get your head around at first and I understand not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a big fan of the PbtA fictional positioning theatre of the mind combat. For me it skips to the exciting bits, has a more natural flow, and easily models any of the OPs desired situations.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
Just to expand on my previous post, I have actually run games where we take the occasional gaming evening to play out a grand combat using other rules. It works really, really well if you have the right players and the right system. I've even run 50-50 nights where a grand combat is happening using, for example, De Bellis,(or Warhammer Ancients in the actual campaign in question), and in between we run some D&D infiltration that impacts the greater game. Done right it's lovely.
 

Imaculata

Explorer
I adopted Pathfinder's Mass Combat rules for naval combat recently. It certainly helped cut down on a lot of the die rolling.
 

Advertisement

Top