In Search of Flexible Defense Mechanics

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
One of the ideas I was playing with was dice pools that you pre-rolled and kept in front of you. This also included team pools, such as the effects of a warlord, bard, or other leader to put in D&D terms.

So an attacker comes in with some number of dice. You can negate an Attack die by using a matching or exceeding the value from one or more Defense dice, which would then be used an unavailable. Depending on how many unmatched dice are left, the attack is a Critical -> Hit -> Glance -> Miss, each which is a large amount below the previous. (Well, technically were going against different damage tracks in what I was playing with, but that's not inherent to what's going on.)

Defense pool starts a bit larger than attack pool, but doesn't refresh as quickly unless you disengage. (I was having a number of dice recharging on a regular basis.)

There was a lot of teamwork moves that could grant extra dice or help refill used dice, starting form just fighting side-by-side (or back-to-back).

There was also strategy in using large sized dice that rolled low, so that when they refreshed they might roll high.

Because defender could use several dice, more dice was better than bigger dice. But still, a bunch of 2-die attack mooks could still wear you down quickly.
 

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Sacrosanct

Legend
One of the ideas I was playing with was dice pools that you pre-rolled and kept in front of you.
That was how we did the last session. And it got too unwieldy from the GM side :D When I had several monsters, each with their own pool that stayed out the whole round, I needed a ton of dice :p For players it wasn't so bad. After each attack, they'd remove the highest die from their DEF pool and go on to the next.
 

aramis erak

Legend
GURPS use an active defence system which differentiates between dodge, parry and block and puts constraints on all of the above.
RuneQuest has had that since 1978... (RQ 1st edition.)

The use of active defenses is a problem in both RQ and GURPS, however...
The tree of solutions...
Code:
              Attack
                ├┈ Miss No damage
                └┈ Hit: Defend?
                           ├┈ No: Full Damage
                           └┈ Yes: Type?
    ┌┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┼┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┈┐
  Dodge                       Parry                       Block
    ├┈ Fail: full damage        ├┈ Fail: full damage ┈┈┈┈┈┈┤
    └┈ Success: No Damage       └┈ Success: Reduced damage ┈┘
                                      by Weapon/shield

The only real differences twixt shield block and weapon parry is a quaint and erroneous notion that a shield isn't a weapon... (one which largely is propagated by D&D these days, because most historians of weaponry KNOW it was historically taught as a weapon... for both offense and defense)
 

The system I am fiddling around with is a bit inspired by some Shadowrun concepts, more specifically 3E.
3E had a lot of flaws, but what I liked was the combat pool system. You had a combat pool which you could spend from to add dice to attack rolls, to try to dodge an attack, or to help you soak damage. This was a neat little resource management system, and added some interesting choices to the game. Later editions (or at least 4E) removed the combat pool system and replaced active defense with spending one of your actions (which reflexboosted characters had multiple ones of) to actively dodge (using your Gymnastics skill). But I am not a big fan of the Shadowrun initiative with multiple attack phases per round depending on your reflexboosters, and even then, it still it felt like it lost some of its charm.

My current idea is that each character has a combat pool that refreshes at the start of combat. Certain actions might allow you to recover some points of your pool, but overall you have to manage your pool over the entire combat.

The base difficulty of attacks is mostly defined by the distance (or reach) and vision or cover.

Characters have access to two general types of attacks: Setups and Exploits. Setups basically mostly deal normal damage and create "exploitable" conditions, while exploits require the target or attack to have some of those conditions and the attacker must spend a point from their combat pool to execute them. The exploits let you do stuff like ignore some armor, deal more damage, disarm a target, make multiple attacks (double tap, burst fire) or area attacks (blasting on full auto!)

The other use of the combat pool is for defensive purposes.
The most important maybe is dodge.
If the attacker's result is too low, the hit turns into a miss. If it's better than that, the hit gets turned into a glancing hit (or grazing hit?). On a grazing hit, the weapon's base damage is basically ignored, only the damage bonus from the attacker's result is applied.

I wanted to accomplish a few things here
  • Sopme resource management system that leads to some interesting decisions during combat
  • Some ability to represent an active defense
  • Leep dice rolling to a minimum since it can be quite time-consuming.
  • Make skill mostly more relevant than the weapon itself (though deadly weapon + high skill still deadliest
My current idea is also that dodging applies to all attacks made against you, to create a mechanical incentive to not always focus fire, you want to keep your enemies busy and force them to spend their pool on defense rather than offense. Focus Fire tends to always be more preferable when you need to "stack damage" to defeat an enemy.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
You should check out Stara Szkola, it's a OSR-ish rule set designed specifically for the combat system and for use in historical(ish) settings. There's a lot of practical HEMA and academic experience that went into the game and the combat mechanic is slick. It's a d20 die pool system that flexibly handles both attack and defense in a fluid way. I like it a lot.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Most rpgs that I know of handle defending against an attack like this: Attacker needs to beat a target defensive value in order to hit.
It seems that this thread has offered you some food for thought, then!

The flexible part

  • You can also trade in two dice of one type for the next highest type, or one higher type for two lower types. E.g., trade in 2d6 for 1d8 or 1d8 to 2d6. You're weighing the risk of getting a higher result at the cost of a more swingy result.
This caught my eye. The maths are mind-boggling (while my coffee sinks in)... but it feels a little unfair to the character who worked to get his d8 in the dice pool, and then rolled a 7 or 8, if the opposition can trade in a lousy couple of d6s to get a shot at meeting or exceeding (depending on attacking or defending) that 7 or 8.

I like the idea of trading down though. I guess taking swingy out feels better than adding it in.

I have pursued this for a long time. I've tried lots of things, but nothing that's really easy to just slot into existing D&D without a lot of changes.
I'd like to go on record and note that this is one reason why D&D is the way it is: it's a pain to mod because they don't want you modding it.

It looks like you're trying to build a whole new combat system, though.
I'm pretty sure that's the case.

I've made a lot of attempts at building systems with flexible offense/defense systems. Let me mention a few in quick procession of increasing deviation from D&D norm:
Fun examples! Thanks for those.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
This caught my eye. The maths are mind-boggling (while my coffee sinks in)... but it feels a little unfair to the character who worked to get his d8 in the dice pool, and then rolled a 7 or 8, if the opposition can trade in a lousy couple of d6s to get a shot at meeting or exceeding (depending on attacking or defending) that 7 or 8.

I like the idea of trading down though. I guess taking swingy out feels better than adding it in.
You don’t really work to get that d8. The die type is based off of tiers of play, of which there are four (think novice, heroic, paragon, etc). When you advance to the next tier, your die type goes up. So how it works in practice is a lower level opponent can potentially still hit you if they have a lower die type by trading up, as long as they have enough dice to do so. But the odds are still very much in your favor because your pool is going to be larger. If there is no way to beat the highest number, then a boxcar rule takes place. Roll 2d6 and if you get both 6s, it’s a success.

And yes, I actually the numbers hundreds of times to get a balance and average 😉
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
The only real differences twixt shield block and weapon parry is a quaint and erroneous notion that a shield isn't a weapon... (one which largely is propagated by D&D these days, because most historians of weaponry KNOW it was historically taught as a weapon... for both offense and defense)
Wait, what? So, if a shield is a weapon, I can forget about taking four pounds of sword/axe/mace/spear into battle with me?

"Ow, stop hitting me with that broad, blunt, poorly-weighted-for-damage object!"

You should check out Stara Szkola, it's a OSR-ish rule set designed specifically for the combat system and for use in historical(ish) settings. There's a lot of practical HEMA and academic experience that went into the game and the combat mechanic is slick.
But does it recognize that a shield is a weapon?
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
In Rolemaster, at the start of each round, any PC in melee must assign some portion of their weapon skill bonus to attack (Offensive Bonus, or OB) and some of that same bonus to parrying (Defensive Bonus, or DB). Generally parry DB only applies against one opponent.
is that where I got that from! In 3e I played with PCs able to split their BAB between attack or defence rolls - I even had a Poltroon class who could get negative BAB which was used entirely for distraction, evasion and escape
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
One of the things I'm really trying to nail down is a way to make defense something other than a static value. To add flexibility and options for the players. I've had several ideas, and after playtesting sessions there's always something significant to change. It just doesn't quite feel right yet, so I'm reaching out beyond for ideas and suggestions.

What I mean by flexible defense
Most rpgs that I know of handle defending against an attack like this: Attacker needs to beat a target defensive value in order to hit. 90% of the time that number doesn't change. Sure, sometimes it's different based on factors (3e famously has a few ACs depending on what was going on), but it was still largely the same number whether you were being attacked by one person in a round or ten. Sometimes you could boost that target # via several means (spells, dodging, etc.), but again, the number stayed pretty static regardless of who or what was actually attacking you.
What I'm looking for is a way for the PC to adapt to what's happening in the round and react accordingly. Something to capture the idea that it's harder to defend against multiple attackers than it is against one. Something kinda sorta like spell points for Armor Class (not really, but for illustrative purposes). If you have a pool of defensive ability in a round, maybe you don't worry so much about the mooks attacking you, but focus your defense on a tougher opponent.

Why I want to do this
It's just one way of many to allow martial and mundane PCs have more stuff to do in combat. One round they may act like a tank, while the next go on offense. It models the verisimilitude I prefer in how a combat encounter looks like against multiple opponents--shields can't block every attack at the same effectiveness and being swarmed matters (this part is subjective, I know). I think it adds a new facet to the combat encounter that's largely overlooked.

Assumptions
The best way I'm handling the overall mechanics is to use a dice pool system. From here on out, assume we're using this system so try to keep suggestions based on this system. Much like RISK, both sides roll their dice pools and whoever has the highest value wins. If an attacker rolls a 5 and you roll a 4 as your highest, the attack hits. I prefer this method because there's no math in the actual combat resolution phase. No modifiers to add or subtract. The die type and amount may change, but you're always just looking at the highest result.
Damage is a similar mechanic. You roll your damage pool and take the highest result. More dice in your pool = better chance of more damage, especially if you trade up (see below). Getting more than one success can do different things. You can either increase damage or enforce some other effect (like pushing, distracting, etc.).

Current iteration I'm on
Right now, a defenders DEF dice pool is based on what level tier they are to determine die type (called a Proficiency Die, or PD), and the amount of dice is based on shields, traits, and maneuvers. For example, a low level PC (1st tier) would have a d6 as their PD, and have a pool of 2d6 based on a light shield (1d6) and a trait they've chosen (+1 die). A low mid tier PC might have a d8 for the PD, and have a pool of 4d8 based on a heavy shield (3d8) and the trait they've chosen (+1 die). And so on. You get the idea.
Whenever you are attacked in a combat round, you roll at least one PD for your DEF. You then decide how many of the dice in your pool you will allocate to defending that attack. As previously stated, if the attacker’s highest die beats the highest die that you allocated, the attack succeeds.
Against any further attacks, you allocate any remaining DEF dice as you wish. When you no longer have any DEF dice left in your pool, you roll only 1 PD for DEF from that point on.

The flexible part
  • This allows the player to decide if they want to focus on defending against a specific attacker or not.
  • You can also trade in two dice of one type for the next highest type, or one higher type for two lower types. E.g., trade in 2d6 for 1d8 or 1d8 to 2d6. You're weighing the risk of getting a higher result at the cost of a more swingy result.
  • You can also trade in DEF die to gain a bonus on other things (like attacking, or a special maneuver).

Can you show me?
The following illustration explains it a bit better using visual references. At least I hope :)
View attachment 344424

My conundrum
I don't think I'm still sold on it. I feel like there's a gap somewhere that I'm missing, or a cool way to utilize the pools I'm missing. Fresh eyes would be great.
My game has PCs make most checks, so it’s a little different, but it works well for this purpose.

Every check in Crossroads is a dice pool, it’s a d12 Action Die and d6 rank dice. Every NPC attack and hazard has a Threat dice pool, based on the encounter/enemy level, and other factors.

So the PC chooses a skill (and specialty under that skill) to defend with and rolls the appropriate dice pool (d12 + 1d6 for each skill and specialty rank) against the Success Ladder. Each level above total failure erases 1 die from the Threat Dice Pool before it’s rolled, and a Total Success can either remove 1 extra die OR give you 1d forward.

If you compare that to your goals, it’s not actually far off, it just needs a few changes.

1. Change how you build the Defense Dice Pool to how it is in your game now

2. You lose one die every time you defend

3. Different defensive stances have more or fewer dice in defense dice pool

4. You must declare how you are defending the first time you defend in a round, and changing it costs a die from the pool
 

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