Two Combat Systems, One Game

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Have you ever played an RPG that allowed either GM or PC choice of more than one combat system to use? Warmech games and old(er) Shadowrun may fit this bill, with the machines/matrix getting separate sets of rules. I'm also interested in games that offer two options for the same battle - not depending on whether you're driving a robot destroyer or driving a laptop/neural implants.

Which combat system did/would you prefer? Did you start a battle and wish you had used the other rules? Did you finish a battle and regret or savor the choice of rules that you made?

It occurs to me because I used to dismiss the possibility of using my game's base rules (first two modules) for combat, and assumed that two additional rules modules were necessary for real combat. I recently realized that the base rules present a significant alternative to the crunchier combat set, summarized as:

Simple combat: mainly using die contests (PC vs. GM d20s) and character skill to determine victory in a combat, no structure for taking turns, and emphasis on narration.

Extended combat: emphasizing damage and protection, structure in timing and quantity of effort (initiative and actions), with emphasis on tactical choices.

TL/DR: think Dragon's Lair versus Warcraft. Gory details:
In Modos RPG, the first two rules modules (core and character) provide for outcome-deciding contests with bonuses from attributes and skills. A series of these can be considered a simple conflict - a sort of story-telling-type of battle. Side rules play into these. GMs are encouraged to give 2-point bonuses for good descriptions from PCs. Without a rule resembling health or hit points, PCs instead add to their character Flaws ("lost kneecap" or whatever the case may be). Shields are an important consideration in simple conflict because they add to a character's parrying (blocking) skill. But parrying requires an action in...

Extended conflict ties in its own module and a combat module to form the more traditional type of battle. PCs lose health when they take damage and take less damage when they wear armor. They take actions, turns, and sometimes jockey to gain the initiative. Parrying plays a side role because it costs an action, but armor always provides protection, which is important because an unparried attack almost always does damage. Goals and Flaws can contribute because they can still provide d6 bonuses ("hero points"), but flaws are not needed to track damage. Positioning takes place in zones, but is otherwise as flexible as the free-form simple conflict.
 

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kronovan

Explorer
Have you ever played an RPG that allowed either GM or PC choice of more than one combat system to use? Warmech games and old(er) Shadowrun may fit this bill, with the machines/matrix getting separate sets of rules. I'm also interested in games that offer two options for the same battle - not depending on whether you're driving a robot destroyer or driving a laptop/neural implants.

Which combat system did/would you prefer? Did you start a battle and wish you had used the other rules? Did you finish a battle and regret or savor the choice of rules that you made?
I have, but the other rules were mostly external to the core rule book. A number of my groups of players are tabletop miniature fans too, so they generally prefer combat be played out on the tabletop instead of ToM. That drove a lot of my decision as to how to run combat encounters.

When I ran my mech campaign set in the Inner Sphere, I used the A Time of War (Battletech TTRPG) rules for character scale combat and the same companies' Alpha Strike miniatures rules for vehicle and mech combat. The AToW book's core combat works quite well for character scale, as it has a decent 2d6 dice mechanic and a good action economy. The AToW book also includes a separate section for battlemech combat though, which IMO are too heavy and place a high burden on play time. The Alpha Strike rules are much simpler, so the players and I liked that a single combat encounter didn't tie up an entire gaming session.

When I ran my Savage Worlds Tour of Darkness (1960s-70s Vietnam) campaign, I jumped back and forth between the core combat rules and the mass combat rules. I tended to even run platoon level encounters with the mass combat rules. Although my party of players were content to spend much of a session using the core combat rules to pitch their platoon against an enemies. So sometimes Platoon vs Platoon was played out with the core rules with a few tweaks like the optional gritty damage rule.
Also with Savage Worlds when running a high fantasy campaign, I've used the Battlelore (Command & Colors boardgame system) rules for mass combats. Like Alpha Strike, those rules are quite simple and its Heroes expansion allows players to have a Fantasy archetype like a Rogue, Cleric, Thief or Wizard on the tabletop representing their in-campaign PC. The players also enjoyed those and with them I could run some huge army strength encounters while still leaving room in the session for some adventure or roleplay encounters.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Have you ever played an RPG that allowed either GM or PC choice of more than one combat system to use? Warmech games and old(er) Shadowrun may fit this bill, with the machines/matrix getting separate sets of rules.

In Shadowrun, it wasn't a choice. If you were in real space, you used the normal combat rules. If you were in cyberspace, you used the cybercombat rules. They were not interchangeable.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Have you ever played an RPG that allowed either GM or PC choice of more than one combat system to use? Warmech games and old(er) Shadowrun may fit this bill, with the machines/matrix getting separate sets of rules. I'm also interested in games that offer two options for the same battle - not depending on whether you're driving a robot destroyer or driving a laptop/neural implants.

Which combat system did/would you prefer? Did you start a battle and wish you had used the other rules? Did you finish a battle and regret or savor the choice of rules that you made?
The second most on point is Burning Wheel...
It's got 3...
Bloody Vs
Fight
Range and Cover

and, as a non-combat persuasive social combat system, Duel of Wits.

thing is, it's not much choice. Fight is melee. R&C is ranged weapon only.
Bloody Vs is "we're too busy with story to use the appropriate spoke¹" so the entire combat is reduced to one opposed roll.
Duel of Wits is for "I'm trying to convince the target."

Burning Empires, like it's parent, Burning Wheel, has multiple, but again, it's obvious which...
I Corner him and Stab him with my knife
Battle
Duel of Wits (nearly identical to BW)
Bloody Versus (Exactly the same as in BW)

Battle is units, ICHASHWMK is individuals.

Battletech vs Mechwarrior... Choosing Battletech is not a choice - the editions I've had have no mech to mech combat in the RPG, and no personal combat in the BT rules. There is a small bit about targeting individuals in BT within the MW rules, and while it;s hard to hit, a hit with a mech weapon is pretty much an auto-kill... after all, 1 DP in BT kills one infantryman in a platoon, but BT doesn't cover targeting one specific individual.

For those with more than just the two core games, the choice between Battleforce, Battleforce 2, & BT is one of conversion scope - there are BT integration rules, but not Battleforce conversion. Plus, most BT players seem to hate BF...
Aerotech vs Battlespace? edition waring, not proper choice.
Succession Wars barely functions as a generator for BF battles; characters on that scale are unimportant or a leadership modifier...

Traveller
Just CT for now..
Personal Combat: Bk1, Snapshot, AHL, and Striker
Ship Combat: Bk 2, Bk5, Mayday, Mayday+Bk5

Snapshot and Bk1 are essentially the same combat mechanics, but different movement rules.
AHL and Striker likewise.
AHL and Snapshot are gridded at 1.5m squares; Bk1 uses bands of 25m; Striker uses minis movement rules.
AHL and Striker correlate weapon penetration of armor to damage; armor has no effect on to-hit. Bk1 and Snapshot use a weapon vs armor table as a to hit mod.
Two axis of choices...
The official integration rules are that a minor wound in AHL/Striker is 3d damage, major is 6d. Bk1 & Snapshot have damage by weapon in dice.

For those with both editions of CT, the only memorable differences for personal combat are that of weapon damage.
For ship combat, the time scale is different, but the mechanics aren't; the main tangible mechanics difference is in pulse lasers, and that's in Starter Traveller... 2 shots per round, but at -2 to hit.
 

RivetGeekWil

Lead developer Tribes in the Dark
Cortex Prime has multiple ways to resolve conflicts.
Tests - You roll against the difficulty they rolled, you win, and they're taken out.
Contests - Each character rolls to beat the number rolled by the other until one side fails to beat it and is taken out or one side gives in.
Action Order Resolution - Typical round-by-round kind of deal.
Challenge Pools - The obstacle or opposition is represented as a dice pool. The PCs take turns trying to knock dice out of the pool, suffering stress when they fail. Each "round" the challenge can "attack" a PC.
Crisis Pools - Kind of like a challenge pool, this represents some impending crisis. The biggest difference is it can grow.

A Cortex Prime game can use one or multiple methods (Tales of Xadia uses tests, contests, and challenges).
 

pemerton

Legend
HeroWars/Quest, in all its variations, has simple contests and extended contests.

Torchbearer 2e is a cousin of Burning Wheel, and allows for resolution via simple opposed checks, or an extended resolution procedure.
 

I'm not sure anyone has mentioned DramaSystem, in which every contest needs the players and GM collectively to decide if it's going to be handled using the dramatic rules, or the procedural rules. For the former, your main concern is how your character is affected by the contest and how the balance of power between the players shifts based on the contest. For the latter, it's the much simpler "what happens" result.

As an example, if our players are attacking an outpost, a procedural encounter will decide if we win and what injuries / losses we take to do so. The dramatic resolution will let me know if my character is acknowledged as the best leader, or if I can manage to get Jo's character humiliated or injured, or if I can help Sam's character look good and have them owe my character a favor.

At a very high level, the dramatic rules are more PvP, and the procedural rules PvE.
 

dbm

Adventurer
Savage Worlds has already been mentioned for the fact it has a ‘standard’ and ‘Mass battle’ system. In the latest version (Adventurer Edition) there is also a third option - Quick Encounters. The purpose of that system is to quickly assess the outcome or impact of a less significant combat (or non-combat) encounter. Each participant just makes a single roll based on their relevant skill and the effects are determined off how the group as a whole performs.

This gives the option to zoom in or out on combat and it’s particularly useful if you want to progress through events without just narrating over them completely. For example, the ongoing translations of Pathfinder Adventure Paths to Savage Worlds are faithful to the original Pathfinder versions in terms of all the original combat being present, but since SWADE has a completely different resource model and progression model they aren’t all needed. You can choose to keep the focus on the detailed combat if you want, or you can use the Quick Encounter rules to resolve the less significant combat without simply removing them.

Having options like that is great, from my perspective, and with just a little system experience it’s fairly easy to assess whether you want to use the detailed or quick version of the rules.
 

niklinna

Legend
Which combat system did/would you prefer? Did you start a battle and wish you had used the other rules? Did you finish a battle and regret or savor the choice of rules that you made?
I find tactical combat the least interesting part of roleplaying, yet it still seems to suck up at least two thirds of the real time spent playing in more traditional systems, often in back-and-forth rolling where a goodly portion of those rolls are whiffs that change nothing in the tactical situation, much less the overall story, since most combats I see are either mere obstacles to pass (and failing to pass them can simply end the adventure). I also find simple attrition systems (hit points) to be dull. I far prefer systems that encourage and enable quick decision-making and as few rolls as possible to resolve actions that have consequences in the tactical state, whichever way the dice fall.

As for specific systems I like:

Blades in the Dark has one system for everything, which you can use in multiple ways for combat, zooming in or out as you like depending on how salient you find the particular conflict to be. You can do a single roll to resolve an entire combat with multiple combatants (although this may be multiple individual rolls for individual participants & cohorts) using one global Position/Effect. You can do a single roll per engaged group of combatants, each group with its own Position/Effect. You can set up clocks for NPC foes, which represent layers of defense, obstacles, or just sheer toughness, and which players must fill before they get to deal the final blow.I've seen only one fight in Blades in the Dark that I felt got overly bogged down. Every action and every roll is consequential—rarely is the result of an action roll a mere change in a number, even when clocks are involved. Levels of Harm represent damage but also impact your effectiveness—but you have a limited buffer of Stress and particular game mechanics that you can use to mitigate Harm. Blades in the Dark has quickly become my favorite system, and I'm curious to try it in other settings.

I barely got to play it, but Over the Edge was a super stripped-down/improvised system that you could scale from a single opposed roll for a fight right down to the usual back-and-forth, blow-by-blow, whiff-by-whiff.

It's been a while since I played the One Roll Engine but that has the virtue of, well, one roll to resolve any action, with success/failure, degree of success, and complications all handled at the same time.

Side mentions:

Torchbearer/Burning Whell have already been mentioned. I didn't particularly enjoy the detailed combat system but at least it's more interesting than back-and-forth attrition whiffing.

Did anybody here ever play Tunnels & Trolls? I've only read it, but as I recall, each side just grabs a bunch of dice and throws 'em all together, the side with the high total wins the fight!
 

pemerton

Legend
Did anybody here ever play Tunnels & Trolls? I've only read it, but as I recall, each side just grabs a bunch of dice and throws 'em all together, the side with the high total wins the fight!
Very little. But it's not quite as you say. The loser in the comparison of pools loses dice from their pool (if monsters), or from their CON (if PCs), and so there is a death spiral effect for monsters but not PCs. (I'm simplifying the monster side of things a little bit: the pool reduction is mediated via a reduction in "monster rating" which is what sets a monster's pool.)

Prince Valiant generalises the opposed-pools approach: the margin of success directly depletes the losers pool, creating a universal death spiral.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Very little. But it's not quite as you say. The loser in the comparison of pools loses dice from their pool (if monsters), or from their CON (if PCs), and so there is a death spiral effect for monsters but not PCs. (I'm simplifying the monster side of things a little bit: the pool reduction is mediated via a reduction in "monster rating" which is what sets a monster's pool.)
Monsters have a monster rating. It's their HP, and it determines the base dice and base adds of the monster. (dice = MR/10, min 1; adds = Current MR/2.) Ken has waivered over the years between "dice don't change, only adds" and "damage reduces dice"... the later ups calculation times. 5th makes neither dropping a legit option.

PCs get dice by weapon, adds by attributes.

High side does damage to low-side equalling the difference in combat totals. (Note, melee has no rolls to hit. Just go straight to the damage rolling.)

It seldom results in 1 roll combats.

Spells can require rolls, missiles require to-hits...
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Have you ever played an RPG that allowed either GM or PC choice of more than one combat system to use? Warmech games and old(er) Shadowrun may fit this bill, with the machines/matrix getting separate sets of rules. I'm also interested in games that offer two options for the same battle - not depending on whether you're driving a robot destroyer or driving a laptop/neural implants.

Which combat system did/would you prefer? Did you start a battle and wish you had used the other rules? Did you finish a battle and regret or savor the choice of rules that you made?

It occurs to me because I used to dismiss the possibility of using my game's base rules (first two modules) for combat, and assumed that two additional rules modules were necessary for real combat. I recently realized that the base rules present a significant alternative to the crunchier combat set, summarized as:

Simple combat: mainly using die contests (PC vs. GM d20s) and character skill to determine victory in a combat, no structure for taking turns, and emphasis on narration.

Extended combat: emphasizing damage and protection, structure in timing and quantity of effort (initiative and actions), with emphasis on tactical choices.

TL/DR: think Dragon's Lair versus Warcraft. Gory details:
In Modos RPG, the first two rules modules (core and character) provide for outcome-deciding contests with bonuses from attributes and skills. A series of these can be considered a simple conflict - a sort of story-telling-type of battle. Side rules play into these. GMs are encouraged to give 2-point bonuses for good descriptions from PCs. Without a rule resembling health or hit points, PCs instead add to their character Flaws ("lost kneecap" or whatever the case may be). Shields are an important consideration in simple conflict because they add to a character's parrying (blocking) skill. But parrying requires an action in...

Extended conflict ties in its own module and a combat module to form the more traditional type of battle. PCs lose health when they take damage and take less damage when they wear armor. They take actions, turns, and sometimes jockey to gain the initiative. Parrying plays a side role because it costs an action, but armor always provides protection, which is important because an unparried attack almost always does damage. Goals and Flaws can contribute because they can still provide d6 bonuses ("hero points"), but flaws are not needed to track damage. Positioning takes place in zones, but is otherwise as flexible as the free-form simple conflict.
I guess this is not what you're looking for, but for me D&D itself offers at least two combat systems: TotM and the full default combat system.

In TotM you don't keep much track of positions, distances and such. It might vary in the level of approximation: one DM might not bother where things are even in broad strokes as long as you know who is in the battle, another DM may work loosely with near/far conditions, but you very rarely track distances accurately because in TotM you have no visual aids. So the result is to use a somewhat incomplete set of rules compared to the full default system.

I know many DMs who use TotM for short, unimportant battles and the full system for featured encounters. Personally I even occasionally skipped the combat rules completely and reduce trivial encounters to a couple of rolls, making something up in terms of random possible costs for the PCs. Even if you just decide not to use HP for smaller monsters and let them die at the first hit, in a sense you're using an alternative combat system.
 

I guess this is not what you're looking for, but for me D&D itself offers at least two combat systems: TotM and the full default combat system.
That seems more like "one combat system with optional elements." It can be a very useful way to run things. In the session I played last night, the main fight was run this way, because it was a 1:1 duel, and there wasn't any need for a map.

I have played a couple of games with two combat systems. One was a homebrew WWII game that used Advanced Squad Leader for small-unit combat and its own system (designed to interface to ASL) for close-up confrontations.

The other came out of the DM's own system, which is intended to be a more detailed form of D&D and is complicated. We were playing AD&D1e, and a very consequential duel needed to be staged, because of dishonourable conduct by a PC in a pseudo-Japanese society. The DM wanted to run it under his combat system, but I declined because I wasn't familiar with it, and it was looking really complicated.
 

Monsters have a monster rating. It's their HP, and it determines the base dice and base adds of the monster. (dice = MR/10, min 1; adds = Current MR/2.) Ken has waivered over the years between "dice don't change, only adds" and "damage reduces dice"... the later ups calculation times. 5th makes neither dropping a legit option.

PCs get dice by weapon, adds by attributes.

High side does damage to low-side equalling the difference in combat totals. (Note, melee has no rolls to hit. Just go straight to the damage rolling.)

It seldom results in 1 roll combats.

Spells can require rolls, missiles require to-hits...
And damage gets distributed to PCs in a very hit-point-attrition model. It is a simpler tactical combat system, but probably not what Niklinna wanted it to be.
That seems more like "one combat system with optional elements." It can be a very useful way to run things. In the session I played last night, the main fight was run this way, because it was a 1:1 duel, and there wasn't any need for a map.

I have played a couple of games with two combat systems. One was a homebrew WWII game that used Advanced Squad Leader for small-unit combat and its own system (designed to interface to ASL) for close-up confrontations.

The other came out of the DM's own system, which is intended to be a more detailed form of D&D and is complicated. We were playing AD&D1e, and a very consequential duel needed to be staged, because of dishonourable conduct by a PC in a pseudo-Japanese society. The DM wanted to run it under his combat system, but I declined because I wasn't familiar with it, and it was looking really complicated.
AD&D (and D&D as a whole, over it's lifetime) has had a lot of stuff like that. At the basic level, regular combat with the side option of spells fits the model. As does situational combat (naval, flying, maybe even ranged/reach/mounted) using the same basic to-hit/AC/hp/damage system if the specifics overshadow the base mechanisms (turning radius on fliers swamping attacks/round in terms of determining who gets more attacks on who being an example). Throw in Psionic combat or 3e mage duel (from Magic of Faerûn) or 1E Oriental Adventure's psychic duel (an intimidation/nerve staredown, not psionics) or Battlesystem and there's lots of ways you can defeat each other (just not where you choose which system, except by showing up with a psionic, dragon-rider, or boat).
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
In OD&D, combat is resolved using Chainmail by default. (The d20 system being an optional alternative.) Chainmail has three combat systems: the normal mass combat rules, the "man-to-man" rules, and the "fantasy combat" rules. OD&D itself doesn't provide any guidance about which system to use in a given situation, but Chainmail makes the uses for each somewhat clear. I haven't played OD&D, but I have run a few small battles using the mass combat rules from Chainmail.

The "man-to-man" rules state they're for small skirmishes, seiges, and the like. They're only good for fights between humanoid opponents, and I think I would only use them for exchanges involving two combatants, so in a duel for example, although ranged weaponry can also be used in this system.

The "fantasy combat" system is for fights between certain types of monsters and characters and is a kind of class feature, coming online at certain levels, so I could see it being invoked on the player as well as the DM side.

I'd use mass combat for everything else as much as possible.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Cortex Prime has multiple ways to resolve conflicts.
Tests - You roll against the difficulty they rolled, you win, and they're taken out.
Contests - Each character rolls to beat the number rolled by the other until one side fails to beat it and is taken out or one side gives in.
Action Order Resolution - Typical round-by-round kind of deal.
Challenge Pools - The obstacle or opposition is represented as a dice pool. The PCs take turns trying to knock dice out of the pool, suffering stress when they fail. Each "round" the challenge can "attack" a PC.
Crisis Pools - Kind of like a challenge pool, this represents some impending crisis. The biggest difference is it can grow.

A Cortex Prime game can use one or multiple methods (Tales of Xadia uses tests, contests, and challenges).
That's a lot of options! Do the players have a say in which system is used for a conflict? Will some systems favor some PCs but not others?
 

aramis erak

Legend
In OD&D, combat is resolved using Chainmail by default. (The d20 system being an optional alternative.) Chainmail has three combat systems: the normal mass combat rules, the "man-to-man" rules, and the "fantasy combat" rules. OD&D itself doesn't provide any guidance about which system to use in a given situation, but Chainmail makes the uses for each somewhat clear. I haven't played OD&D, but I have run a few small battles using the mass combat rules from Chainmail.

The "man-to-man" rules state they're for small skirmishes, seiges, and the like. They're only good for fights between humanoid opponents, and I think I would only use them for exchanges involving two combatants, so in a duel for example, although ranged weaponry can also be used in this system.

The "fantasy combat" system is for fights between certain types of monsters and characters and is a kind of class feature, coming online at certain levels, so I could see it being invoked on the player as well as the DM side.

I'd use mass combat for everything else as much as possible.
You missed the 4th... the jousting rules.
 

aramis erak

Legend
That's a lot of options! Do the players have a say in which system is used for a conflict? Will some systems favor some PCs but not others?
Technically, no, players do not. Because Cortex Prime is a construction set, not a game in itself.
The GM determines which are included in the specific flavor they build. A GM can include multiple and allow the choice, but is not, RAW, required to include any of them... because it's not a finished ruleset, but a toolkit the GM is explicitly supposed to subset.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
You missed the 4th... the jousting rules.
I’d thought about mentioning them, but I don’t see the rules for jousting as a combat system per se. It’s more like having the rules for Three Dragon Ante and other dice games in the DMG. It could be considered a literal example of “combat as sport”, I suppose, but I think in Chainmail, and thus in OD&D, you’ve got three systems for the same sort of purpose and one that’s clearly meant for something else. One of these things is not like the others and all that.
 
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RivetGeekWil

Lead developer Tribes in the Dark
That's a lot of options! Do the players have a say in which system is used for a conflict? Will some systems favor some PCs but not others?
Kind of? The GM normally decides what mix methods are used in a particular game. In my own games, taking down say a doorman at a club or just a solo guard is likely just going to be a test. If you're using contests, the player may choose to initiate one (by saying something along the lines of, "I'm doing this, who's going to stop me?" or choosing whether or not to engage with someone else trying to do something). But the idea is to follow the fiction and what's important.
 

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