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Combat as a single roll

If you had a dice pool system, that opens up options to use different dice to add some color to the narrative.

Like, in FFG's Legend of the Five Rings game, your 6-sided dice have six possible results:

Success
Success and opportunity
Success and strife
Opportunity and strife
Exploding success and strife
Blank

So if you rolled three of those dice, and the target number to win the fight was 1, you'd get a mix of successes (which you need to win), opportunities (which you can use to achieve other goals with the fight), and strife (which would exhaust some limited resource pool you have).

L5R also lets you choose one of five 'approaches' for all your skills (the 'five rings' of the title). Basically you can be

Tricky
Stoic
Reckless
Adaptable
Zen

The approach you choose sometimes alters the number of successes you need for a task, but usually it just determines what you can spend your opportunities on. A tricky opportunity might let you avoid being followed after the fight, or impose some narrative trait on a character for later. A stoic opportunity might give some damage resistance, or let you make the fight take a long time if that's somehow useful. A reckless approach actually gives you bonus successes equal to the strife you roll, and the opportunity can make you famous or force enemies to focus their attention on you. An adaptable approach could let you recover from some negative condition, or to make a friend. And a zen approach lets you learn some wisdom during the conflict, or perhaps win without fighting at all.

If I were using a dice pool system for a party-based game with multiple players, I'd maybe up the complexity a bit, and have a Challenge Rating of 5 to 10 for fights, but let all the players pool their dice in one big dramatic roll. They each choose their personal approach, and can use opportunities to help each other or maybe negate some threat of the environment.

Each enemy would have some damage amount they'd do (which could be mitigated with Stoic opportunities). The party would have both Hit Points (to survive damage) and Resolve (to survive strife). If you run out of HP, you lose the fight. If you fail at the die roll but have HP left over, you have one of those inconclusive fights where the two sides part ways afterward; it's up to the players and GM to come up with a convincing reason for them to split.

If you run out of Resolve, you would have some drama, somehow? I'm just spitballing. In L5R, too much strife makes you lose your composure, and you embarrass yourself or expose a vulnerability for someone to exploit.
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
In 5e I will include combats that are narrative only, but that cost the players some resources. I do this to try to fix the "what is the point of a wandering monster on the road if its the only encounter all day" problem I have.

So, for example, I might tell the players that between breakfast and lunch they were waylaid on the road by a group of bandits. They won the battle, but each player need to mark off 2 Hit Die for the encounter, or instead 1 HD and each spellcaster marks off a 2nd and a 1st level spell.

Now that I think about it....this system might be ripe for more intense development and sharing...hmm....
 

Tun Kai Poh

Adventurer
Yeah, there are a lot of systems not focused on combat that resolve fights in one roll. In very gritty systems, you can get knocked out or killed real quick, so in typical "Level 1 OSR" style the rules would encourage you to think around having to fight.

Cthulhu Dark resolves fights with non-monsters as any other roll, and it's up to the GM to figure out the consequences for failure. Fighting to slay monsters always leads to you dying, although fighting to fend off or distract a monster might be possible. There are some Cthulhu Dark derivatives like CDG and Pipedream where you have, like all of THREE health levels that you could lose one by one as consequences for failing in a roll to fight someone. Still pretty lethal.

In Beyond the Fence, Below the Grave, an Old Norse Magic Investigation game I've run lately, there is no specific system for fights, so I ask for an attribute roll. Nice to have a game about Vikings that almost doesn't bother with combat (because it's about uncovering supernatural problems and resolving them with rituals).
 

uzirath

Adventurer
I’ve used this method even in GURPS campaigns (with all of its potential combat detail). Rather than having a minor conflict drop into “bullet time,” I ask everyone what skill(s) they will apply and what their goal is (kill, capture, intimidate, etc.). They roll, the opponents roll, I apply modifiers, compare margins of success or failure, and narrate (often together) an appropriate story. It’s been pretty rewarding at times.
 

I recall an RPG that had an interesting take on this, but I can't remember it for the life of me. Every challenge (combat, social, whatever) had several options for the PCs to choose attempt. Each option was resolved independently (unless listed otherwise) with any present PCs making a single roll. Each option had a result based on the number of successes (including 0 if no PC chose it).

To use a fantasy combat example: the party comes across a group of kobolds. The characters can choose to face the charging frontline, deal with the 2 with slings, or take on the shaman.
  • Frontline Kobolds
    • Roll Melee Combat or Combat Magic
      • 0 Successes - every character takes 10 damage, party routed
      • 1 Success - active characters takes 7 damage, inactive characters take 3 damage, half kobolds escape (party routed if all participants down)
      • 2 Successes - active characters takes 5 damage, half kobolds escape
      • 3 Successes - active characters take 3 damage, kobolds slain
      • 4+ Successes - no damage kobolds slain
  • Slinger Kobolds
    • Roll Ranged Combat or Combat Magic
      • 0 Successes - every character takes 5 damage, Slingers escape
      • 1 Success - every character takes 3 damage, 1 Slinger escapes
      • 2+ Successes - no damage, Slingers slain
  • Shaman Kobold
    • Roll Magical Combat
      • 0 Successes - every character takes 7 damage, Shaman escapes
      • 1 Success - every character takes 5 damage, Shaman escapes
      • 2 Successes - every character takes 3 damage, Shaman slain
      • 3+ Successes - no damage, Shaman slain
As you can see, there are reasons to engage in each option, based on what skills each character is good at. Failure, even by the default of not participating, has consequences for the party. The party only dies if the total party goes down from damage (unless the enemy has a reason to keep them alive), but they may unable to pursue this route due to the kobolds. Downed characters can be healed after combat, if possible.
 

I think the tricky point for me (and I do want to have something like this in my own system), is that if your system also has a more involved way of detailing with combats, you might want the shorter version to provide more or less comparable results. That's definitely my goal.

If the likely results completely change in type, or drastically change in degree because of your choice in resolution system alone--with no other in-world variables, that can be very unsatisfying to some play styles.

At the most obvious, there is just whether or not your likelihood of succeeding changes. Ideally it doesn't by much. But it gets more complicated than that too.

For example let's take a battle against several mooks. Maybe the long-form combat system is most likely (let's say say 99%) to end up with your characters winning, and probably taking no injuries, but there is a reasonable (let's say 25%) chance that someone might actually take a painful hit to go along with that win. In the short form system, you have a similar chance of winning (let's say 97%), but have almost no chance of taking any painful hits (0.2%), instead having a much higher (like 55%) chance that your character will take minor injuries (scrapes and bruises). Is that acceptably close enough? It depends on the design goals of the system (and the effects of things like "painful hits" and "minor injuries".)

On the other hand, if the short-form system gave you only a 72% chance of winning, but win or lose you're also 55% likely to take a minor injury, then we have a system that saves time but is going to be very punishing to the characters. If on the other hand the short form grants a 99% chance to win, with no chance of a painful hit, and 25% chance of minor injuries, then it is a very rewarding option for the characters. Any time you can use the short form you want to use the short form since it's simply safer (assuming there are no other benefits to the long form to make it sometimes appealing).

The more distinction in results you get, the more thought has to be put into how this is going to be used in the system. Having multiple systems that can be chosen from during play to represent the same fictional scenario, but that that have very different results, requires a really good justification for the value of the existence of at least one of them. And two systems that produce comparable results with one requiring more time and effort also requires a really good justification for the value of the existence of one of them! And that really good justification is what separates good design from less good design.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
Heroquest (and Heroquest Glorantha) have two different ways to resolve challenges, whether those challenges are trying to climb a wall, win a law suit, or defeat an enemy. Simple resolution, one roll each side, the winner gets what they wanted from the challenge and the loser doesn't; and extended, which usually involves a series of opposed rolls (it can, if one side crits and the other fumbles, end with one pair). You ues the latter for key moments - Boss fights, in D&D - and the former for all the minor fights where you're bashing some of the minions. In each case, the winner can have consequences applied to their character (a temporary Ability, value X, that can penalise other actions or even be used against them). What those consequences are is probably the most Narrative part of the system.
 

The thought of a single die roll is wonderful... but how do you keep suspense?

Obviously, narration has a way to do that. But, there is joy from rolling dice. How do you keep that, and still resolve in a single die roll?

An option where there are several ties, and hence a "roll off" might keep the suspense. Kind of like the card game War; most of it is static and blah, but then you get those moments where there is a tie, and voila, everything perks up.

To keep ties a little more commonplace use a smaller die: d6. Maybe, d4. If there is a tie, then they roll d6 one at a time - the winner is the one who wins 2 out of 3?

But how do you skew it in character's favor, while still keeping it simple and keeping the "suspense" ties?

Maybe give the characters a d6 and the creatures a d4? Or listen to what the characters are going to do and then assign them a d4, d6, or d8 based off the challenge difficulty. The rogue that hides behind barrels and uses his sling gets a d8. The swashbuckler that swings from the chandelier, flips and lands on the guard to knock him out, a d4. (For some reason, I think all of my players would shoot for the d4's ;) ) This would still keep ties plentiful.

Or you could let the characters use their bonus (strength, dex, etc.) added to their d4 rolls. But, if they tie, then they have the two out of three roll off, without their bonus. That will leverage the odds in their favor initially, but show bad things can happen.

I am leaning towards option 2. It would still be quick, but keep suspense.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
It would need to be in a rules-lite game, and one which doesn't have a combat focus. And defeat would have to be defined as not necessarily being death - it could be surrender, KO, fleeing, etc.
You might be interested in rules 002 and 003, found here:

I usually run my non-boss encounters with one-roll duels with the assumption that the PCs won't be dying, but it's fun to hear some of the ideas when I ask a PC what her Con result means.

The more distinction in results you get, the more thought has to be put into how this is going to be used in the system. Having multiple systems that can be chosen from during play to represent the same fictional scenario, but that that have very different results, requires a really good justification for the value of the existence of at least one of them. And two systems that produce comparable results with one requiring more time and effort also requires a really good justification for the value of the existence of one of them! And that really good justification is what separates good design from less good design.
Hmm. Challenge accepted. I used two systems (well, three if you count role-playing): simple conflict and extended conflict. The justification for the latter was this:
Simple conflict moves the story along with a few rolls or less. But when the conflict is the story, the Guide will begin an Extended Conflict: a conflict in which timing or detail become important to its outcome.
These systems can produce very different results, but neither explicitly says "you die" or "your opponent dies."
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Single roll combat is very old, it is the main mechanic of old strategic war games, here is the "d10 postal combat results table" and evolution of the old d6 Avalon Hill Combat Results Table from the 1960's:


Not only would this mean re-configuring how attack/defense factors are typically done in RPG's, but also transparency in what the players are attacking so they can make an informed choice.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think a single roll combat system could be very interesting in a crunchy game, too, if you built it as a "culmination" system. That is to say, each side or participant in the combat takes turns, describing actions and counter actions, just as normal but no rolls are involved in these. Instead each action or counteraction applies a different modifier to the final die or pool roll. Essentially the narrative of the combat plays out with participant using abilities and performing moves until it finally reaches a point where it requires a resolution, at which point the opposed roll or whatever takes place. You could probably use a form of graded outcome where at the extreme end the winner gets to determine the outcome ("I kill the BBEG!" or "I tell him I'd rather destroy a stained glass window than an artist like him, and knock him out.") to partial successes where each gains something while also suffering loss.
 


dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Depends on what you want, I think building from the ground up is easier than trying to fix something. The table serves only as an example of how it could be done, different dice, such as a d20 or d00 would give more granularity of results.
 


Rather than have an entire set of rules with armor and hit points and attack rolls and movement and stuff, I was musing over the idea of combat being just a single roll. The loser is defeated.

It would need to be in a rules-lite game, and one which doesn't have a combat focus. And defeat would have to be defined as not necessarily being death - it could be surrender, KO, fleeing, etc.

Conceptually it's easy to say, of course; in practice there would be challenges to making such a system. But it would certainly help those who find combat in RPGs a bit on the boring side. A fight is no more involved than picking a lock or climbing a wall.

It does mean PCs might lose very quickly though. Needs thought!
This is genius!

Instead of going through all the trouble of making social and exploration pillars as fun and interesting as combat, make combat as boring as exploration and social!

My god, in one swell foop you've solved the hardest problem in RPGs!
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
This is genius!

Instead of going through all the trouble of making social and exploration pillars as fun and interesting as combat, make combat as boring as exploration and social!

My god, in one swell foop you've solved the hardest problem in RPGs!
Wow, aren't we snide today?

The idea is that some games are much more focused on the improv rules-lite style of play, and don't have "social and exploration" pillars. While the idea might not be perfect, the dripping sarcasm isn't really needed, is it?
 

Wow, aren't we snide today?

The idea is that some games are much more focused on the improv rules-lite style of play, and don't have "social and exploration" pillars. While the idea might not be perfect, the dripping sarcasm isn't really needed, is it?
That was 100% intended just to be funny, not snide. Sorry. (But, yeah, re-reading I can see how it sounds that way.)

Sigh. Teh interweb is hard sometimes.
 

MarkB

Legend
How involved do you want the dice roll to be? Blades in the Dark often uses a single dice roll to resolve a conflict - but each dice roll can be a discussion, a negotiation and a collaboration, with the player setting out the intended action, the GM determining how hazardous and effective that action is likely to be, other players possibly chipping in to provide assistance, the player choosing whether to commit resources of stress or equipment to improving their odds, the dice roll determining the basic outcome, and the GM narrating the results and potential consequences after which the player (and/or their fellow players) chooses whether to attempt to mitigate them.

It's just one check, but it feels meaty and involved and collaborative, which is satisfying. Just making a single roll against a set DC may feel too boring and incidental, even in a non-combat-focused game, and it may also mean that it feels like only one player is participating in the scene.
 

GrahamWills

Adventurer
I think it might work in a fail-forward type system. Not so much if the results are "you lost this one die roll and thus all your characters die."
Yup. Anytime a bad roll makes the game hugely unfun, it’s a bad plan.

I have run a lot of convention games. And sometimes, despite my best efforts at pacing, I need to get through a combat scene. Or sometimes the group is having more fun doing non-combat things.

What I do is to have each character make a roll of some form, usually an attack roll. If they are very successful, they win through unscathed. If barely successful, they lose a resource to do so. If unsuccessful, they lose multiple resources. In D&D4E, for example, if you make the hard difficulty or beat the opponent’s defense by 5, no lose. Otherwise one surge for a simple success and two surges for a fail.

Most crunchy systems have resources you can reduce like this. In Savage Worlds, I’d go with wounded / fatigued. In Rolemaster I’d roll on the C or A crit table (because it’s RM — you have to roll on a table!). Non-crunchy systems like Fate typically already have mechanisms in place for simple resolution, so we can just use them.
 

DMMike

Game Masticator
Yup. Anytime a bad roll makes the game hugely unfun, it’s a bad plan. . .

What I do is to have each character make a roll of some form, usually an attack roll. If they are very successful, they win through unscathed. If barely successful, they lose a resource to do so. If unsuccessful, they lose multiple resources. In D&D4E, for example, if you make the hard difficulty or beat the opponent’s defense by 5, no lose. Otherwise one surge for a simple success and two surges for a fail.
I'm questioning your first assertion. I had a lot of fun playing AD&D 2nd ed. but it was pretty easy to fail a saving throw and effectively get kicked out of the game. Not sure it matters though, since you were responding to a straw-man argument that didn't fully account for the OP.

I like the resource-use approach, though I'm not sure I like the evaluation of the roll in the Forry example. One could use hit points, too. Roll high, gain 5 HP. Roll low, lose 5 HP. What if a PC is out of resources, and he fails his Let's-Move-Along roll?

Morrus's hypothetical system, with several real-world examples here, needs to be able to accommodate bosses, too. Does PC death become a possibility when fighting bosses in a one-roll-combat game? What about TPK? (That would be a stressful roll!) If I couldn't use an alternate combat system (read: crunchier) for boss fights, I'd at least increase the number of rolls in such a fight.

Not only would this mean re-configuring how attack/defense factors are typically done in RPG's, but also transparency in what the players are attacking so they can make an informed choice.
How are attack/defense factors typically done in RPGs?
 

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