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Combat Mechanics in Wargames

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MicroStack Games
Joined: 06/21/2014

Currently using a simple dice mechanic. Hits on 3+ and misses on 2-. Number of d6 rolls determined by the unit's attack value. Considering using attack value plus a roll minus the defender's defensive value as well.

What is your favorite combat mechanism? What are some of the more over-used and under-used mechanics?

Any suggestions or advice is much appreciated. Thanks!

Joined: 07/03/2013
My Favorite

There are a lot of combat mechanisms that stick out in my mind, ranging from the very simple (Magic the Gathering) to somewhat complex (D&D), but my favorite has to be one that I created for a game that I have on my backburner.

In mine, any d6 roll of 5+ was a hit, but there were bigger ships that you could send in a fleet that could roll d8s. The advantage of a d8 was not only in getting a higher probability to hit (1/2 instead of 1/3), but that if you rolled an 8, you got to choose the casualty that died. That meant that if you had some nicer ships, you couldn't just send off cannon fodder (a la axis and allies - I'm looking at you, Russia), but sometimes, you lost your good stuff because your opponent said so. It made things really interesting.

Joined: 06/14/2014
Personally I think that when

Personally I think that when modelling combat it's important to first consider what type of combat it is that you're trying to represent. Is this for a hand to hand street brawl? Is it a pistol duel at dawn? Is it combat between massive interstellar craft? As you change scale and weaponry the possible outcomes shift scope both in severity and probability, and that's something that needs to be taken into account with the model you use.

One model I've yet to use, but have had on my mind for a while, would be suited to a braw/melee based RPG-ish game with only a few Player Characters with many hit-points or equivalent. Each PC and NPC has a pool of attack dice (D6), 1, 2 or 3 typically, and an armour value. Armour values might be 12, 6, 456, etc. Any digit in an armour value that appears on any attack dice roll against it is discarded, the remaining numbers are added up and taken as damage.

i.e. If an NPC with three attack dice is attacking a player with armour: 45 and it rolls 2, 5 and 6; the 5 will be discarded and a total of 8 damage will be taken by the player.

This allows for a huge variation in character durability, but with a very easy to read system, literally; "I have armour 45, so I ignore attack dice results of 4 and 5."

My next project is to find a suitable use for this system..

Joined: 12/27/2013
+1 to FWyvers first

+1 to FWyvers first paragraph. Also the wanted pace and simplicity of the game should be taken account.
Your example, I think, is suited more for larger scale battles and/or faster paced casualish game.

One I've got stashed away is exploding/imploding dice pool with static target. I bet this has been used exactly somewhere else as I have it, but here goes:

Target numbers:
1 = -1 success
2 = 0 success
3 = 0 success
4 = +1 success
5 = +1 success
6 = +1 success and additional roll

It's pretty basic, but it can be scaled as much as wanted and gives ~0,4 successes per added die for balancing purposes.

Those rolled successes are then compared to a table with different results for each weapon/action/skill roll etc. Every action will have the same 8-point table:

Example weapon damage table:
-2 (or less) = 1/4 damage
-1 success = 2/4 damage
0 success = 3/4 damage
+1 success = +1 damage
+2 success = +2 damage
+3 success = +3 damage
+4 success = +4 damage
+5 (or more) = apply critical effect

I chose this mechanic for myriad of reasons: Only D6's are used; Infinite scaling; It's somewhat complex, because players only have a single unit to control; Exploding/imploding makes players to dread 1's and cheer for 6's; Rolling a bunch of dice adds to the fantasy of your character when he is good at doing certain stuff, you'll see it in the amount of dice rolled; That table specifically has no misses in it, you can compensate your poor accuracy by just adding more power!

Disclaimer: I have actually no idea how this fares in the wild as the project has not yet seen any playtesting.

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
You need to keep in mind that

You need to keep in mind that you can do all kind of tricks with rolling your dice. And using your statistics.

Of course we could give you examples. But there is such a diversity, I rather give you what you could do in general. And than you come up with what you would like to use. For us to analyse?


What can you do with Statistics?

A statistic in this can be any thing. Armor, Durability, Damage, Accuracy, you name it.
Some times one statistic tells you how many dice to roll.
And another time you roll dice for modifying your statistic.
And some times one statistic tells you to roll a number of dice for modifying another statistic.
Of course the option of using just 2 statistics to modify each other remains.


What can you do in general?

In the way how you modify. You can:
+ add
- subtract
x multiply
/ divide
^ to the power of

In most games, I see adding and subtracting since these are the easiest ones.
But do not forget, a hit chance can actually be a multiplication.
After all, some games use Damage as a number of dice to determine the number of hits. Other games use an accuracy that simply says yes or no. Then the damage is dealt with a yes.


What can you do with dice? An example.

If you wonder what my favourite technique is?
Statistics can modify each other, telling me how much damage is going to be done with 1 hit. And all the dice do for me is multiplying the number of hits with a "random" fraction.

- Armor and Damage are compared, the lowest number is the true damage. This is a simple S modifies S. And this does notching for the number of dice that is going to be used.
- The number of units tells me how many dice are going to be thrown.
- The Damage Multiplier increases this number of dice. Another S modifies S. But now the number of dice are known and come into play.
- Accuracy reduces the number of dice after a roll. Accuracy of for example 4? A die roll of 4 and lower is a hit. And the die remains. Accuracy of 6? No roll needed here.
- Tactical movements do the same as accuracy. A player moves away? Then the statistic Range and Speed are compared. The lowest number counts and indicates how much rolls are needed on each die. With 0 range, we have no rolls. With both players moving at that time. This situation is done twice.
- Certain terrain (obstructions) do the same, all accuracy effects. Tree's and Rocks can block the view. Altitude also reduces the number of hits.
- Then Durability reduces the number of dice after a roll.
- And at last I have a basic random effect of each die being multiplied by 0, 1 or 2.


Where to put an effect?

Might sound as a hand full to you. But these are rare dice feasts in my game. However, since I have like an average of 3-4 rolls per group of units. I did decide on putting the positive multiplication on the end. Meaning that with a lucky throw, the number of dice can actually increase instead of ONLY decrease. Thus making things harder if this starts in the beginning. Of course I often get the question why I did not do this for the Damage Multiplier. But that is for balancing reasons. If one unit has a high number on that one, it has to get a stable fire.

Positive multiplication: Any result above 1. Thus 2, 3, or even 1.5 etc. Increasing the number of dice.
Negative multiplication: Any result under 1. Thus 5/6th, 4/6th etc. Decreasing the number of dice.

So as advice I could give you.
Positive multiplications in number of dice, as far as possible in the end.


The forgotten trick.

Right, another trick with dice is that you can create "unstable" randomness and "stable" randomness. (Just giving it names)

With that I mean that 1 roll is often an unstable randomness. Where each number has the same chance of being rolled. 6 times 1/6th.

Of course you could say that 2 to 6 gives one result. And 1 gives another result. In that case you have a mechanical stable randomness. 1 time 1/6th and 1 time 5/6th. 5/6th happens 5 times more and is thus 5 times more stable.

If you however do a 50% chance roll over and over again. You get with one roll an unstable randomness. Thus 0: 50% or 1: 50%.
But with 2 rolls you get 0: 25%, 1: 50%, 2: 25%. Which gives the chance of getting a 1 a more stable situation. This is a natural created stable randomness. The more dice that are combined, the stronger this effect occurs.
It is that graph that becomes more or less sharp.

A mechanical stability can also increase the effects of a natural one. This with a simple double roll. Where a hit chance of 5/6th x 5/6th is obviously higher than 1/2th x 1/2th.
Not only shifting the graph to the right for the results. But the sharpness would be much higher.

I could draw them as examples if you like. I don't seem to be finding them on the internet.

James Allen
Joined: 08/07/2014

My favorite combat mechanism was used in a game called "Paranoia". They called it "Dramatic Tactical Combat". I don't remember the precise details, but it went something like, roll d6 (I think they used d20s actually) against a character attribute. If the GM and/or the other players think the dramatic description that accompanies your attack was awesome, get a +1, get a -1 if it lacked creativity, and otherwise get no modifier. I can remember pitting people against each other to see who came up with the best description and win the positive modifier. Because Paranoia was a parody game, the more ludicrous and implausible your attack, the more likely you would get the modifier, but this kind of creativity-based modifier could work with more serious themes too.

Best thing about it? No math, tables, or calculations whatsoever. A typical attack would sound like this:

Player: "I'm rolling against my intelligence which is two. I say, 'Oh my god, is that your mother?,' to Friendly Government Civil Service Robot: Assassin Model(TM), and when he looks I pull down my pants and piss on his main circuit board. This goes on for about five minutes, after which a small puff of smoke sputters out from his circuit board and he--pathetically--says, 'mother?', then deactivates forever."

GM: "Awesome. Roll with a +1."

Tbone's picture
Joined: 02/18/2013

1- 0 hit
2- 0 hit
3- 1 hit
4- 1 hit
5- 1 hit
6- 2 hit

Whatever the attack of the unit, force, robot, giant, (insert battle unit type name here) multiply by the "hit number". Upgrades and/or other game mechanics could alter the dice outcomes and probabilities such as "If you role a zero hit re-roll" or "If you one hit, role again and add +2 attack".

You could then have different attack types such as Anti-air (bonus against air, negative against land), Incendiary Rounds (good against un armoured units, chance of hurting neaby units). This way its simple but still leaves room for a but load of variability.

Experimental Designs
Experimental Designs's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
Ah yes, I like these types of

Ah yes, I like these types of threads. They're so refreshing.


I defined three types of wargames as bucket-o-dice, various dice mechanics that uses various sided dice such as D6, D8 and D10s and wristy 2D6 style mechanics like Battletech.

Bucket-o-dice is taking handfuls of dice at a time for results in games such as Warhammer and AT-43. As a personal take on this I absolutely detest bucket-o-dice style wargames for reasons I rather not waste anyone's time on as of now.

Various dice mechanics for games such as Stargrunt II, Dirtside and a recent addition from Ambush Alley Games called Force on Force. You have models rolling D6, some rolling D8s then the super-duper models rolling D10s or D12s. Personally I find this slightly less monotonous than the bucket-o-dice style wargames but differentiating between different sided dice can be cumbersome at times.

Finally we have the 2D6 or D20 style games such as Battletech, Infinity and Warmachine. My only complaint with these style of mechanics is they can get very wristy as into having to do more die rolls to get the final result in. I personally prefer this one as it seems more consistent than the other systems currently used.

I have yet to see or let alone play a game where it rewards you for rolling high on "to hit" rolls. There has been countless instances where folks roll extremely well to hit but totally whiff on the damage.

I entertained a few ideas but I doubt anyone will see it as logical or unbalanced to reward high to hit rolls to do critical effects even if you whiff on the damage.

MarkD1733's picture
Joined: 07/05/2014
knowing what model is key...

I will use the Academy Games 1812 and 1775 dice...albeit light wargaming. They have specialty d6 dice, that have two symbols and blanks. One symbol represents a hit; the other represents fleeing troops; the blank represents a chance to move troops. Considering the days of early rifles and standing lines of troops, this type of mild dice rolling is really good...I hear those rifles all go off at once. I would suggest also, that if it was a space duel, I might actually see different colored dice rolled with different (damage values)--one color for types of weapon. As a counterbalance, they might have some "overheat" or "recharge" mechanism, or possibly a defensive maneuver option. I think the dice nowadays needs to be more than numbers. Iconography makes for cooler dice IMO. With all that being said, I do prefer to roll an amount of dice proportional to my "stats" be it attacking or defending.

FWyver's alternative "exceptions" or "ignoring" model is intriguing.

schattentanz's picture
Joined: 02/18/2014
I like dice =)

To be honest: Your mechanic is not simple.
It is overly complicated:

- I need multiple dice.
- I need to roll a result of 3+ to achieve a success
- I need to count successes
- The opponent rolls dice
- The opponent counts successes
- Substract number of successes from each other

Too much math, if ├Żou ask me.

(Dieroll+Modifier) - (Dieroll+Modifier) is way simpler than that!
Or using different qualities of dice to indicate unit strength:
A D12 ought to defeat a D4 most of the times, but there are chances for a D4 to defeat a D12, too.
Different qualities + modifiers might prevent you from low Level dice defeating high Level dice, though.

Kind regards,

lewpuls's picture
Joined: 04/04/2009
Might be best to ask what are

Might be best to ask what are desirable characteristics of dice combat resolution methods.

1. NO lookups. People just don't want to look at a table, nowadays. The Avalon Hill CRT was a great invention, but for a different generation than now. (Even first edition D&D can be done without a table, if it is recast/rearranged.)

2. No arithmetic beyond add and subtract. People just don't want to do it, and younger people often struggle to do it *in their heads*.

3. Simplicity - easy to understand and remember.

4. Quick resolution. Not a lot of rerolling.

5. Fewer dice, and standard (d6) rather than otherwise). Big dice pools are inefficient and should be unnecessary. This is primarily for manufacturing cost considerations. Though having an unusual die (other than d6) in a mass-market game might be good for the attraction of something unusual

6. Some predictability, that is, a feeling of uncontrollable randomness is not desirable. Or perhaps put it another way, level/type of randomness to match what the players expect.

7. Sufficiently varied to accommodate all possibilities in the particular game.

Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014
My system is similar in that

My system is similar in that it compares successes, but damage is constant. Kinda like RISK, if you have more successes than your opponent, you win the battle and ties are in defenders favour.

The variables however are with the number of dice rolled and the type of dice rolled. All are d6, but some are low probability (1/3 chance of success) and some are high (1/2 chance of success). Different units get varying number of dice. I'm using standard deviation and the mean to find appropriate attack and defense values for the units to balance the number and type of dice they receive.

You can check out some of my numbers and unit values (which I just plopped into a spreadsheet, all values were found using and my initial attempts at balancing.

Figuring out chances for rolling a success when counting 2,3 and 4 sides as successful rolls

Applying 2 success(low probability) and 3 success(high probability) dice to my units and varying the number of dice to find balance in unit strength and comparing their advantages/disadvantages in a chart.

The system seems to work so far, with tweaks happening with unit strength (number and type of dice rolled) as we go along. It's getting pretty close.

Experimental Designs
Experimental Designs's picture
Joined: 04/20/2013
I don't like math either but

I don't like math either but you're going to need some arithmetic in most wargames, it can't be avoided.

It's not a big deal if you can roll more successes than the other guy but I wouldn't say it is overly complicated, it is not as "elegant" as simply rolling a better number than the other guy.

Overall it boils down to personal preferences like someone mentioned earlier. Some people like the charts while some like the various sided dice just as you mentioned.

Joined: 08/05/2014
I think it depends on how are

I think it depends on how are you keeping track of the 'hits'. How many 'lives' does a unit have? How are you keeping track of it?

Units in memoir'44, for example, have 4 'lives', as they accept 4 hits. In several wargames units have only 2 'lives' or states, normal and reduced. In Nuklear Winter'68, for example, units have 4 states, etc.

The combat system should be coherent with how you track the number of 'lives' and the damage to the units, and that should be coherent with the spirit of the game and even with the scale. Is really weird to have a batallion wiped out with just one dice roll...? :)

X3M's picture
Joined: 10/28/2013
An unit has live because it

An unit has live because it is a game.

In real life, a tank can easily kill an infantry unit with one hit. Yet in RTS games, it often takes at least 5 hits.

I always looked at it as if that one infantry unit actually stands for an entire squad.
This can also be seen in the costs of units. Where in real live the factor could be 50 between an infantry and a tank. In a game it is mostly around 5.

Without realizing, most people actually have been playing with "squads" this entire time ;).


The health that each unit contains must have had a fundamental reason. When a hobbyist like me thinks about it, I can already come up with several reasons. The most important one is, can the health be divided by other numbers. Or can you easily calculate the total health of your army?

1 health means that a hit is a kill. This is often used in games where only the numbers in the army count. A dead also simply means a discard of that unit from the board. Plain, simple and easy is what counts here.

2 health, the unit can still retaliate after being hit once. These games often offer cards that can be flipped up side down. Indicating that the unit has only 1 health remaining. These units also might change in statistics. Being able to do less damage or have less accuracy etc.

3 health, while I don't know other games. I have this number myself. It is due to balancing reasons. However, I do have "" on this number, since there are also multiplications with the armor and damage that I use. An unit with 1 armor has 3 health, 100 armor has 300 health. Etc. This number 3 also still provides with plenty randomness in the game. If an unit is too durable, the randomness becomes deterministic. With 3 health or more, you do have to start using counters. That is a down side?

4 health, I guess 3 counters before the unit dies. A simple 1,2,3,dead. Easy for players to understand. Still sufficient randomness. Especially if a game like Memmoir'44 only uses a limited amount of units on the board.

5 health, a good round number? Perhaps for young people who just started with war gaming. 5 Health gives a good insight in how long an army would last. Simply because 2 units have a total of 10 health.

6 health, I don't know of other games. But this number was used by me before. Then the imbalances where noticed and one of my biggest calculating mistakes. However, the reason why this number was chosen first is that it still allows a little bit of randomness. Even though the game is leaning towards deterministic now. Further, units with 2 or 3 guns need 3 or 2 shots. 6 can be divided by 2 and 3. Even the guns that are 120% or 150% strong give a nice number of 5 or 4 shots.

7 health, I don't know. It sounds mysterious to me. Does any one know a game with 7 health?

8 health, the slow poke version of my 3 health system. Still easy to balance though. However, now we can say with certainty that the game has become to deterministic. From this point on, it doesn't matter how much we add in health. The distribution of randomness is to small now. Still a nice number to be divided by 2 and 4.

9 and beyond. Well, 10 gives a nice feel to it. However, with health this high. The game is simply deterministic. Most games out there on the computer. Thus the RTS. Simply don't use randomness. This because it consumes time for calculating the randomness while it is of no use. Only super or special weapons can have an accuracy.

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