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Another Custom Die Combat Solution

4 replies [Last post]
Joined: 12/01/2008

I've been experimenting some more with custom die solutions.

I've had an epic fantasy game on the back-burner for quite awhile now. Because army combat isn't supposed to be the main focus, one of the many problems was with getting a system that is quick to resolve but yet still has detail.
I didn't want a lot of number crunching and excessive die rolling. But I did want to incorporate melee and archery, terrain, varying attack and defense, and some element of uncertainty.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking.

But here is a potential solution:
Uses a single custom d6.
It has little weapon and armor icons:
1) Chevron - Skull
2) Bow - Swords
3) Bow - Axe - Swords / Shield
4) Mace - Axe - Swords / Helmet
5) Star / Terrain
6) Special Effect

So, on each unit chit appears a weapon icon and an armor icon (or two, or none). These represent various levels of attack strength and defense.

If the die roll shows the attackers weapon and doesn't show any of the defenders armor icons, then a hit is scored.

Chevron is only a hit if the attacker has the Chevron icon. This is used as a bonus for any weapon, or some kind of temporary effect.
Star is a hit for all weapons, unless the defender is on a space with the terrain icon. Hills, forests, cities, etc. If more defense is needed to be represented, something could grant immunity to special effect rolls.
Special effects are basically a hit, but with some kind of additional effect dictated by the unit/hero/faction/cards/etc.
Base chance to hit:
Mace: 3/6
Axe: 4/6
Bow: 4/6
Swords: 5/6

Units could be a small 1/2" chit, or token. It has info on both sides, so a unit has effectively 2 hit points.
One side can be a weakened state with different properties. Or maybe that is the 'green' troop state and can be flipped over and upgraded to veteran status later. Something like that.

An average unit might be: Axe + Helmet
Vs. each other they each would get 3/6 chance to cause damage. If either unit defends on favorable terrain, the attack drops by 1 chance (17%). If either unit gets a bonus (Chevron) the attack increases by 17%.

The flip side of the counter could be the same (just basically 1 less hit point) or could be downgraded by removal of the Helmet or the weapon becomes a Mace instead of the Axe. Giving an additional chance to hit or miss, respectively, and still retains the possibilities of terrain and bonuses.

Some weak starter units might be: Axe + No Armor, equal units that will dice each other up: 4/6.
Or Mace + Helmet, these units mostly bounce off each other: 2/6.
Both will get cut to ribbons by the knights with Swords + Helmet + Shield (4-5/6, and have a poor chance of retaliation 2/6)
However, some archers would fare slightly better attacking the knights at 3/6.

Best offense vs. worst defense
Swords + Chevron / No Armor = 6/6 (Automatic Hit)
Best offense vs. Best defense
Swords (or Bow) + Chevron / Helmet + Shield + Terrain = 3/6

Worst offense vs. worst defense
Mace / No Armor = 3/6
Worst offense vs. Best defense
Mace / Helmet + Shield + Terrain = 1/6

Of interesting note, is that while the Bow and Axe both provide 4/6 chances to hit, the Bow is completely unaffected by the Helmet, while the Helmet adds 17% defense against the Axe.
Another oddball is the possibility of unarmed combat (no weapon). In this case the attack is 2/6 and is unaffected by armor. With a Chevron, this could represent some kind of magical attack, disease, etc.

Some other thoughts:
One nice bonus element is it has lots of flavor compared to number systems. You're actually thinking of units wielding particular weapons and armor, even though they are really strength representations.

When a unit wants to attack a space held by another unit, you just roll the die to score a hit. There is no direct danger to the attacker, well, until the opponents turn, that is. This simplifies risk calculations a bit for the attack, while the target will have to mentally process his losses and adjust strategy, but this is a great off-turn activity.
Alternately, you could roll a hit die for both units to attack each other, but this will probably be too much rolling for what I have in mind, but it could work in a different game.

Additional dice could be added for magical army combat, or naval combat, maybe even siege weapons. I suppose each could be represented on the original described, though the weapon and armor metaphor breaks a little.
But it could be interesting when an army of magic-wielders gets to roll a different attack die.
Conversely, anything attacking a ship uses the naval die. "Oh? There's no Axe icon on the naval die? What a shame. You probably shouldn't have tried crossing the river just then."

Is this similar to anything else out there? Comments? Ideas?

EDIT: Icons changed to reflect graphic below.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Another Wrinkle

Oh, just thought of a possible modification.
If the no-risk-while-attacking feature is problematic, I'm considering changing the Chevron face to include a Counterattack icon (Skull).

Counterattack would be a defensive feature that some units could possess. When rolled by the attacker, if present, then the attacker takes a hit. (Note that an attacker with Chevron would still inflict a hit as well)

Conceptually, this could be an indication that a unit is well trained, has fast mounted units, ranged attacks, long pikes, etc. Whatever the reason, attackers might get hurt.

Or maybe all units get Counterattack by default.

Another feature of archery units might be to be immune from Counterattack.
Though immunities might start straying into complexity issues.

EDIT: Original post edited to include Skull.

BlueRift's picture
Joined: 04/01/2012
I love it

I love the depth this achieves while maintaining simplicity. I don't know if I've seen a system exactly like it. My only concern is how visible will 4 icons be on the same side of a d6? I suppose if you have them in a set cross pattern where sword is always vertical, bows (and maces) lean one way, axes the other, with armor icons being in the background. Even that could get cluttered.

Still, let us now how it works out. I'd love to hear about it in action.

Joined: 12/01/2008

Here's what I'm thinking for the graphics.
There might be some better ways to arrange a few items, and I also included a few sample units.

I'm going to have to print out some test units and have a go. This should give me a better idea if the system is working smoothly, and if the icons get confusing in the current arrangement.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Small Test

Ok, the general concept is testing pretty well so far. But one wrinkle is that as a result of having no numbers, it is kind of hard for players to know how good their units are at a glance, and what can be expected of a particular force. This would probably be mitigated by having more experience with the game.

Anyway, while it was a somewhat successful test, the other rules on movement, attacking, blocking, etc. need to be addressed as they need to be simplified. It is the next bottleneck in the combat game play. The die icons weren't to bad, but may be able to be improved.
Also, the double-sided chits and the 2 hit point concept needs to go. It helps smooth out the randomness of the dice, but it is causing battles to take to many turns, and causes an extra layer of strategy processing by the player.
However, the afterthought inclusion of the counterattack concept is working well and helps balance out the fact that units no longer have 2 hp. (the extra hp acted as a buffer since attacking units couldn't get hurt, giving a chance for the defense to respond. Now, at least they can inflict damage immediately)

Additionally, the way I'm processing the counterattack makes it stronger than it initially appears (1/6). Basically, a counterattack is scored if any attacking unit rolls the Skull, not just when specifically engaging the counterattack capable unit. This is limited by the number of defending units with counterattack. (Put another way, it's almost like every defending unit has counterattack as long as one unit has it - until the Skull is rolled and uses up the available counterattack.)

Here's how I'm doing combat now, after a few changes.
Board spaces are large hexes that can hold multiple units.
1) A player chooses which units to attack with by moving them to enter the target hex. Ranged units do not have to move into the hex to attack.
2) Defending player chooses to put units in the way, blocking each moved attacker. Blocked units must target their blocker.
3) Any units not blocked successfully enter the hex and will be able to target any unit they wish.
4) Attacker rolls the die to resolve attacks in any order. They may make targeting decisions on the fly.
5) Successful hits remove the target, and the attacking unit is moved into the target hex. Failed attacks do not move the attacker into the hex. (But unblocked attackers are already in the hex, so that doesn't apply to them.)
(Ranged attacks may target any unit in the target hex with no restrictions, and upon a successful hit do not enter the hex. Though they have the option if they attacked by moving.)

So, areas can be protected by blocking attacking units. Archers can be protected while they counterattack or shoot into adjacent hexes. Forcing attackers to either come with superior numbers, gain ground with successful attacks, or bring their own archers.

Here's a quick sample battle:
In actual play, this took about 30-35 seconds spread over 3 game turns.

Bob has 2 Dwarf Warriors (Axe-Helmet) unit and a Longbows (Bow-Skull) unit stationed in the hills. Alice wants to take the position, and sends 5 of her ragtag Militia (Mace-No Armor) units to do the job.

This is actually a pretty close fight, but favors Bob. As it turns out, it is critical for Alice to take out the Longbows. If she isn't able to do this initially, she's gonna get murdered without a few lucky rolls. This is mainly because of the Longbows counterattack coupled with the defensive position held by the Dwarves. Here's how it typically plays out:

Turn 1a) Alice's Militia enter the plains that approach the hill.

Turn 1b) Bob's Longbows takes a shot at the approaching Militia (4/6 chance to hit) Rolls a Star/Terrain. The plains offer no protection, and 1 Militia unit is killed.

Turn 2a) The remaining 4 Militia rush the hill. Bob selects each Warriors to block a Militia, and the Longbows blocks one as well. (He might as well. If he doesn't it's just going to enter the hill and attack it anyway. This way there's a chance it will remain in the plains, while units in the hills will get the Terrain defensive property.) The remaining Militia manages to get into the hills and heads towards the Longbows.
Alice elects to resolve the units attacking the Longbows first. (This is to try and eliminate the counterattack ability as quickly as possible.)
The Militia approaching from the plains (2/6 chance to hit) rolls... doesn't get a mace. The attack fails and it remains in the plains.
The Militia that managed to get into the hills rolls... Skull. It dies from counterattack.
The other Militia try and dislodge the Warriors. (The Dwarves aren't particularly well equipped, but they might as well be a brick wall to the Militia (1/6 chance to hit) Their armor will negate the Mace roll, and the Hills terrain bonus negates the Star/Terrain roll, leaving only the Special Hit as a successful attack.) One rolls a Mace/Helmet, attack fails. The other gets lucky with a Special, a Warriors unit is killed and the Militia manages to push into the hills. (Ignoring special effects for the moment.)
This is a tricky situation for Alice. On one hand, the Longbows are still present and this is a problem, but at least one of the Dwarves are down and she has managed to get a unit into the hills.

Turn 2b) Bob's Longbows take a shot at one of the Militia that is still at the base of the hills. Rolls a Mace, a Miss.
The Warriors attack the Militia that is in the hills. Alice can block or not, but it doesn't matter, either way the Warriors will get their attack. This time, however, the Militia can at least take advantage of the hills defensive properties. The Dwarves have a (3/6 chance) Roll, Axe. The Militia is eliminated.

Turn 3a) Alice should probably retreat now, but she's stubborn. Both of her remaining Militia try once again to rush the hill. Bob blocks both with the Longbows and Warriors.
The Militia vs. the Longbows, rolls a Star/Terrain. The hills protect the Longbows and the attack fails.
The Warriors are attacked. Rolls another Skull, and the Militia dies from the counterattack of the Longbows.

Turn 3b) Bob's Longbows remain in the hills and takes a shot at the last Militia. Rolls a Bow. The Militia is eliminated. The Dwarves celebrate by drinking mead.

So there is actually quite a bit going on, but doesn't really take much time to resolve. This is good, because in between these combat turns, the players will be busy managing their city-state. Building, searching for lost treasure, politics, etc.

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