Souls-like Stamina and Tactical Play

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I have yet to play Dark Souls (although Elden Ring is high on my wishlist), but I've played lots of Salt and Sanctuary, a Souls-like game. In it, the PC has a stamina bar that depletes with each weapon swing, block, and combat roll (dodge). This isn't hit points labeled as "stamina;" this is an actual, short term measure of how much physical energy the PC has. The consequence is that players must ration their combat actions or deal with a winded character.

This type of stamina adds a realistic, tactical element to combat, because it makes some actions a renewable, but limited, resource. In other words, you can't just continuously hit the Strong Attack button to win; you have to plan your use of different actions and catch your breath.

Some examples:

D&D 4e: Encounter and daily powers are available to all classes, representing bursts of power that characters can use, though characters don't weaken by using them. These do not (always) renew in the same battle.​
Numenera: some class actions require stamina in the form of damage (effectively), and any character can expend Effort to reduce the difficulty of a roll, which also effectively causes damage. The points spent come back when a character pauses to recharge them, although this can only be done once in combat. So stamina can weaken a character by spending all of the points in a (damage) pool, and it can replenish during combat.​
Modos RPG: characters get three actions per round, usable at any time. A character can press the attack to find herself weakened (unable to act) for the rest of the round, or spread her actions out evenly over the course of the round. Some characters get additional actions per round, which is like having a greater stamina reserve than other characters.​

I can see a stamina system assigning effort points to actions, like in Numenera, but to all actions - not just the special ones. "I can block my opponent's power attack with my shield, but that won't leave me with enough stamina (points) for my two-handed cleave this round." Whether this would induce more analysis paralysis I don't know, but it seems way more interesting than "I attack. I move. I attack again."

What's the best way to incorporate stamina into combat? Which system makes the most sense to you?
 

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DeviousQuail

Adventurer
I've been fiddling with the Numenera/Cypher system approach to game play. Though my real time testing has been limited I've found a stamina and mana system that I like a lot.

Assume all the same rules as Numenera/Cypher but hit points are no longer used as a source for powering abilities. Instead it's just stamina and focus (stand-in for mana that's a bit more broad in scope). You can spend stamina or focus like normal but you can also recover it quickly. Like take an action to regain X number of spent points level of quick. There's no limit to how often you can do this but you lose out on taking other actions in the process. However, you can also Exhaust them for double the effect. It works the same as spending but any Exhausted points can only be recovered after a long rest. This creates a tradeoff for the players. Exhausting will lead to better outcomes but you shrink your available pool in the meantime.

Unlike Numenera/Cypher this allows for mostly normal performance from encounter to encounter. The difference is in how you approach each encounter the longer it goes. Initially you can spam or empower everything you do. Increase your defense roll to block and then counter with a cleave attack. But as your pools dwindle you have to make choices about when to increase rolls, damage, movement, special abilities, etc. The caveat here is that hit points have to be difficult to recover so that you aren't spending points to heal yourself infinitely.
 

dbm

Adventurer
GURPS has fatigue points for all characters, and these are typically used to power effects in combat like spells or other powers. Characters also incur fatigue from extended activity, so at the end of a fight characters will have spent some fatigue points from the burst of activity (and this is based on your level of encumbrance so a heavily armoured and equipped character will burn more). Finally, there are rules for extra effort where you can choose to spend fatigue on putting more energy into an action, including a range of combat options. On top of that, since the powers system can be used to create a wide range of effects you can easily create fatigue-powered exceptional physical feats for wuxia-style exploits if you want. Characters regain fatigue points at a rate of one every ten minutes by default, and an average person has ten total. There are ways to both increase fatigue and speed recovery.

I haven’t played as much HERO but from memory this system has an even more endurance-based economy, with every move, use of strength or use of powers costing endurance. In HERO you regenerate some endurance automatically every round, and can spend actions recovering to regain more.

I quite like systems like this, as they give you more tactical choices to make for characters of all kinds.
 
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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I haven’t played as much HERO but from memory this system has an even more endurance-based economy, with every move, use of strength or use of powers costing endurance. In HERO you regenerate some endurance automatically every round, and can spend actions recovering to regain more.
This sounds a bit more Souls-like than GURPS. I'm picturing a boxer who backs off and goes flat footed, you see it in MMA too when the fighter drops his guard, and just regains stamina. Those moments are a bit of a gamble too -

"I need more stamina, but will my opponent recover faster? How long should I wait?"
 

Bigtime Dark Souls fan here. Using the 5e framework, the most elegant option I can see is making it a trade-off. You can get another move, or dodge, or attack, or some other action beyond what you'd be capable of, but then you've "exhausted" your stamina, and your opponents get advantage on attacks against you until your stamina returns on your next turn. Either that or the next attack against you that hit is automatically a critical.
 

I've thought quite a bit about this as most the systems I'm familiar with don't have anything quite like it.

I haven't played it, but I'm quite intrigued by the Conan board game system - you start with a number of gems which is basically a stamina score and regenerate a set number of gems each round up to a maximum. Each action costs a number of gems so you have the tactics of having a conservative round vs going all out.

I'd love something like that in a D&D like system as well as multiple attack options per weapon, but outside of designing something myself I don't know of anything.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
You can get another move, or dodge, or attack, or some other action beyond what you'd be capable of, but then you've "exhausted" your stamina, and your opponents get advantage on attacks against you until your stamina returns on your next turn. Either that or the next attack against you that hit is automatically a critical.
This path has potential. What about: gain an extra action on your turn, but every roll made has disadvantage? I'm thinking of alternatives because advantage on enemy attacks turns stamina (the consequence) outward, and the auto-critical sounds pretty painful (but good).
I haven't played it, but I'm quite intrigued by the Conan board game system - you start with a number of gems which is basically a stamina score and regenerate a set number of gems each round up to a maximum. Each action costs a number of gems so you have the tactics of having a conservative round vs going all out.

I'd love something like that in a D&D like system as well as multiple attack options per weapon, but outside of designing something myself I don't know of anything.
There's the tough part. You can add a stamina module to your game, but there's the inherent slow-down that comes with adding more rules. Ralif's solution (above) is elegant, but does it achieve the desired effect?

If the Conan system can be used off-turn as well, I'd call it Souls-like. A key component to me is that your stamina affects your ability to defend as well. In Salt & Sanctuary, when you're out of stamina, you can shield-block an attack at the cost of being staggered afterward. I.e. your goose is cooked if you need to defend when you're exhausted.
 

I believe the conan system has that you start with your maximum number of gems, lets say 6, and you regenerate a set amount each turn up to your maximum (lets say 2).

You can spend a gem to perform an action and you can spend extra gems to enhance attacks. For defense you can choose to guard with a shield or melee weapon or otherwise dodge and it also costs a gem. Likewise you can also use extra gems to enhance your defense. Lastly armor is rolled to reduce damage.

One of the first things I thought of when i read about the system is that it'd be a great way to make a souls like game. I think if you can encorporate encumbrance as a modifier to dodge and have attack and defence modifiers for weapons (with 2 or 3 attack options) and shields then it would go a long way.
 

My thinking is that the biggest danger to running out of stamina in Dark Souls is that it leaves you open to enemy attacks - whether that's a boss just hammering you flat or someone else getting a "critical" on you. If you run out of stamina and you've defeated your enemy, then you're fine (unless there's a second enemy present...).

As an aside, I'm finally trying a onebro run on DS1 and I finally got to Anor Londo. No idea how I'm going to get past Ornstein and Smough, but I'm going to do my best.

This path has potential. What about: gain an extra action on your turn, but every roll made has disadvantage? I'm thinking of alternatives because advantage on enemy attacks turns stamina (the consequence) outward, and the auto-critical sounds pretty painful (but good).

There's the tough part. You can add a stamina module to your game, but there's the inherent slow-down that comes with adding more rules. Ralif's solution (above) is elegant, but does it achieve the desired effect?

If the Conan system can be used off-turn as well, I'd call it Souls-like. A key component to me is that your stamina affects your ability to defend as well. In Salt & Sanctuary, when you're out of stamina, you can shield-block an attack at the cost of being staggered afterward. I.e. your goose is cooked if you need to defend when you're exhausted.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . One of the first things I thought of when i read about the system is that it'd be a great way to make a souls like game. I think if you can encorporate encumbrance as a modifier to dodge and have attack and defence modifiers for weapons (with 2 or 3 attack options) and shields then it would go a long way.
Would you say the Conan system is modular? Can you drop it into another game with minimal friction? Would it fall apart when removed from the game board?
My thinking is that the biggest danger to running out of stamina in Dark Souls is that it leaves you open to enemy attacks - whether that's a boss just hammering you flat or someone else getting a "critical" on you. If you run out of stamina and you've defeated your enemy, then you're fine (unless there's a second enemy present...).
That's the big gamble, right? If you use all your stamina, will your opponent drop afterward, or pound you while you're exhausted? That's a tactical question I ask myself while playing Modos RPG; with three actions, do I want to all-out attack, or save actions to defend, or save actions to run away?

Another question I ask: does that provide my fix for tactical play, with most characters having the same amount of stamina, and most actions costing the same amount of stamina?
 

In Dark Souls, unless you go with some weird build, everyone's stamina is likely to be relatively low compared to HP. It just doesn't go up at the same rate.

Now, if we start talking poise, that's a whole new can of worms.

Would you say the Conan system is modular? Can you drop it into another game with minimal friction? Would it fall apart when removed from the game board?

That's the big gamble, right? If you use all your stamina, will your opponent drop afterward, or pound you while you're exhausted? That's a tactical question I ask myself while playing Modos RPG; with three actions, do I want to all-out attack, or save actions to defend, or save actions to run away?

Another question I ask: does that provide my fix for tactical play, with most characters having the same amount of stamina, and most actions costing the same amount of stamina?
 

Would you say the Conan system is modular? Can you drop it into another game with minimal friction? Would it fall apart when removed from the game board?

I don't see any reason it couldn't. You just need to work out max stamina and recovery for different characters and stamina costs for various activities.

Balancing it would be the hard part.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I guess we'll get an official answer (Souls announcement) how Dark Souls would do it.

Although with the 5e compatible mention, I don't have high hopes. Seems like they chose marketing over soul 🤓 since there were more appropriate game-system choices out there. We'll see what the "unique DARK SOULS™ mechanics" are.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Here's how Steamforged tinkered with it:

Position​

This is, mechanically, the biggest change DARK SOULS™: The Roleplaying Game to the standard 5e ruleset.

In DARK SOULS™, you have your health, and you have stamina. Health measures how close you are to death, and stamina tracks the energy you’re expending on making attacks. Conserving both is essential to success.

Now, 5e doesn’t have anything resembling stamina — and introducing it would require an awful lot of bookkeeping for players and Game Masters (GMs) alike.

Instead, we decided to amalgamate the two into a single value. We call it Position.

Position measures your character health, but it’s also a resource you can spend to tweak a dice roll, or to use special abilities gained from your character class or equipment.

Position goes up gradually, as you increase in level, but it’s always finite, and generated randomly at the start of a battle. Using it allows you to do some pretty amazing stuff — but it also makes you vulnerable. Spending it is a big decision, and mastering its use is extremely difficult. Just as it should be!
Sounds a touch like the Cypher System method. Or a lot. The difference between this and the video game, as far as I can tell, is that when you run out of stamina-position, you're a goner. In Souls-like games, you have to go defensive and recover when you're out of stamina - not just accept your defeat.

What do you think about Position?
 
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So steamforged are money grabbing hacks to put it bluntly.

They have a history of getting popular IP's and making terrible board game rules that show they don't understand what they are adapting.

I expect this RPG is going to be the same. And position is my example of that. It doesn't strike me as dark souls at all. Not even the name does. If it was 5e but with low hit points and you were able to use stamina to avoid near certain one shot kills I could get a feel for it, but this doesn't work for me.

Incidentally, the board game used stamina and hit point slots and if the 2 added up to you maximum (filled up your player board) then you died. So i think it's very similar to this but combined into one number. It might make easier tracking but "spending hp" to avoid getting hit doesn't have the right feel IMO.
 

For D&D, what if FEAT usage cost "Stamina"? That would mostly be a cost toward Fighters, but if stamina were related to CON (Con bonus per encounter), it could balance out. Spell casters would have fewer feats, so not as affected, but Meta-magic would be more costly. Add a different layer of strategy other than spamming power attack/point blank shot/etc.

(Disclaimer: I am not a game designer. There are bound to be multiple inherent flaws in this idea :) )
 

Zweihander uses three Action points per round, but limits a PC/NPC to one attack and one Special action. This gives the player enormous flexibility without a lot of rules. For example, moving costs 1 AP, a called shot attack costs 2 AP, basic attack 1 AP, aiming adds +10% per AP spent, and so forth, for a total of 23 options. In addition, a PC or NPC can save an AP to Parry or Dodge an attack, use a Counterspell, or assist a player lower down on the imitative track.

There is an ability available to PCs who choose a specific path to get a fourth AP, but this AP can only be used for Parry, Dodge, or Counterspell.

My players love it; combat becomes incredibly tactical with no book-keeping. I cut & pasted the AP costs from the manual (one page) as a handy cheat sheet, and combat is fast, brutal, and far more player-decision-centric.
 

Zweihander uses three Action points per round, but limits a PC/NPC to one attack and one Special action. This gives the player enormous flexibility without a lot of rules. For example, moving costs 1 AP, a called shot attack costs 2 AP, basic attack 1 AP, aiming adds +10% per AP spent, and so forth, for a total of 23 options. In addition, a PC or NPC can save an AP to Parry or Dodge an attack, use a Counterspell, or assist a player lower down on the imitative track.

There is an ability available to PCs who choose a specific path to get a fourth AP, but this AP can only be used for Parry, Dodge, or Counterspell.

My players love it; combat becomes incredibly tactical with no book-keeping. I cut & pasted the AP costs from the manual (one page) as a handy cheat sheet, and combat is fast, brutal, and far more player-decision-centric.
I was tempted for a short while to try PF2e because of the action point economy, but then they integrated about 10 million feats into the core structure.

Sounds like I should look at zweihander.
 


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
For D&D, what if FEAT usage cost "Stamina"? That would mostly be a cost toward Fighters, but if stamina were related to CON (Con bonus per encounter), it could balance out. Spell casters would have fewer feats, so not as affected, but Meta-magic would be more costly. Add a different layer of strategy other than spamming power attack/point blank shot/etc.
Given that feats are optional, this might make stamina optional too. What about a trade-off... you start each round with +5 AC. Each time you do something in combat, you lose 1 point of bonus (act, react, move, bonus act, saving throw?). Or, lose 1 point of proficiency?

Zweihander uses three Action points per round, but limits a PC/NPC to one attack and one Special action. This gives the player enormous flexibility without a lot of rules. For example, moving costs 1 AP, a called shot attack costs 2 AP, basic attack 1 AP, aiming adds +10% per AP spent, and so forth, for a total of 23 options. In addition, a PC or NPC can save an AP to Parry or Dodge an attack, use a Counterspell, or assist a player lower down on the imitative track.
I'm a fan of the three-strikes round. It really does add flexibility. The key to making it Souls-like is that defense must cost a strike too - which excludes the PF2 system, as far as I know.
 

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