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HELP with Combat Mechanics

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Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014

Hi there!

I'm looking for some help with the combat in my game. It's currently quite simple, but there is some math that I'm hoping to get rid of in favor of visual icons or something else. Here's the information so far:

In the game, there are a total of only 9 monsters, with a numerical hierarchical distinction: 1-9. (2 is stronger than 1, 3 stronger than 2 etc.)

When the Hero encounters a monster, both sides roll 1D6. The monster player adds their numerical value (Mummy would add a 2) and the Hero player adds their starting combat value of +3 to the roll. The highest value wins.

As the game goes on, the Hero can find 3 items that permanently increase his combat value by increments of +1, +1, and +3. This means that the most the Hero can have is a +8 to his roll.

This system works, however I'm wondering if there's a way that I can use dice with symbols rather than numbers, or perhaps a combination of both? I'm trying to resolve the combat visually with the dice roll, rather than having to add figures on top of it.

The only requirements are that both players must roll their dice at the same time, so perhaps it would use coloured dice separate for the hero and the monster players. And somehow keeping a semblance of the monster hierarchy would be beneficial (somehow making 5 stronger than 4, if even by the smallest odds).

Any help would be much appreciated!

Joined: 12/01/2008
This is very doable.I've

This is very doable.
EDIT: But would require a re-thinking of the combat system. I meant doable in the sense that there are plenty of interesting ways to use symbolic dice.

I've been experimenting with symbolic dice combat for quite a while now. And you can even build in some pretty sophisticated concepts that are all effectively "under-the-hood". In that, the math is all done beforehand and baked into the dice, so all the players need to do is compare symbols.

What I've found that works well is a symbolic language that is, essentially, "Do this offense, unless that defense." Where the offense and defense in question are represented as symbols.

This can be further broken down into having different dice for different classes of attack. (Melee, Range, Magic) (Guns, Beams, Missiles) (Attack, Bonus1, Bonus2) This way, you can include different buffs for offenses on the appropriate attack dice, and have the defensive symbols cross-over onto different dice.

So for example, say you are using a d6 for a Melee attack. As a baseline for a hit, you'd have some kind of universal symbol for a hit, like a star or pip, that appears 4/6 on that die.

So a normal unbuffed attack vs an unbuffed defense, is 4/6 chance to hit.

Then on the same faces of the hits, you have a smaller defensive symbol that can potentially cancel out the hit if the defender is showing the proper symbol.

So that face becomes, "Hit, unless the defender shows (armor symbol)"

You may then use this symbol more times on the die to represent more effectiveness, and or include it as a defense on multiple dice depicting greater versatility against multiple types of attack.

So multiple defensive symbols will chip away from that 4/6.

Conversely, you can add other offensive symbols that indicate a hit only if the attacker has the appropriate symbol. Thus increasing the 4/6 to 5/6 or more.

That face says, "Miss, unless the attacker shows (sword symbol)"

You can also combine the two concepts (and this is probably as complicated as you want to get) by further adding another defensive symbol paired with an optional offensive symbol.

Thus saying, "Miss, unless attacker has (sword symbol). But also miss if defender has (shield symbol)."

In this way, the dice are effectively disguised stat tables that the player never needs to worry about. You can build interesting relationships between offense and defense types far beyond simple +1, +2, etc. And they are even quicker to resolve.

Some defenses can work better vs certain offenses. You can build in diminishing returns for certain attack buffs. You can build rock-paper-scissors relationships (or not) with deliberate distribution of attacks and defenses.

There's lots of ways to implement this, so I'll just go over some broad concepts and lessons learned.

1) You need to spend time on clear symbols. Ones that can be quickly identified at any angle, and at varying sizes.

I highly recommend following a pattern for easily distinguishing offensive symbols from defensive symbols. For example, defensive symbols always appear as an outline, offensive symbols always appear as a solid shape.

2) No more than two unique symbols per die face. If you must break this rule, do it sparingly, and realize that this is going to really add to the learning curve for new players.

It should be noted that multiple pips representing multiple hits can probably be regarded as a single unit, if you go that route.

3) There's not much to be gained by using ever increasing die faces. Stick to d6 or d8 if some faces are going to have more than one symbol.

Here's what happens. Say you want your baseline chance of hit to be 50/50. On a d6, that's three spots for offensive buffs, and three spots with default hits. All of these spaces may also have defenses.

Ok, now say you decide you want to have room for more offensive options. So you move to d10. That gives you four more spaces, right? No.

You still want 50/50 as the baseline, so you now have five spaces instead of three. You've only gained two. Additionally, you've now watered down your existing buffs. Maybe one of them should remain strong, so you expand it to two faces, and now you only have one face left for your new buffs. To top it all off, d10 sides are much smaller and cramped, making your symbols harder to read, and increasing your production costs by using non-6 sided dice.

If you need further examples or explanation, just say so.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
Hey there - wow! Thank you

Hey there - wow! Thank you for the well worded response, there's definitely a lot there to digest and I appreciate that.

After reading it through a few times, I must say that I find a lot of it to be quite interesting and feasible. I like the advice on keeping the symbols clear and legible, with only 2 different symbols per die.

My question now is this - in the game, the monsters/player don't have hit points, so I was hoping to resolve each battle after 1 round. If the player loses, they miss a turn, if the monster loses, they are defeated and the player continues. Does this mean that the defense option is void? Would I need defend symbols in this case? Is there a way to use your method where the player who accumulates the most hits wins the round?

Joined: 10/27/2016
If you are not hardover on dice

If you want to get away from counting pips on dice, you can go with a random tile draw face down. They each have a hit and a miss symbol of some sort (add complexity to taste rock paper scissors lizard spock style). The number drawn randomly is proportional to the relative strength of them and you flip them over one at a time. The first to score a hit with the other scoring a miss wins. No tiles is an automatic miss, meaning there need only be a hit on the other tile. This is simple, accounts for relative strength, can be simultaneous, and is a little more involved than a die roll.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
A random tile draw actually

A random tile draw actually sounds pretty cool, I don't know if I've heard of that method before but I really like it! I'm having trouble putting it to practice in my head though - can you give me a specific scenario? What I'm getting is this -

The Hero has a combat value of 3, the monster has a combat value of 2. So the Hero would flip over 3 tiles, whereas the monster flips only 2? What happens if they tie the first 2 encounters (both misses)? The Hero still has a flip left, but the monster has none... does that mean the Hero would automatically win?

Joined: 12/01/2008
Westmaas wrote:My question

Westmaas wrote:
My question now is this - in the game, the monsters/player don't have hit points, so I was hoping to resolve each battle after 1 round. If the player loses, they miss a turn, if the monster loses, they are defeated and the player continues. Does this mean that the defense option is void? Would I need defend symbols in this case?

Well, you could do it either way. If there are no defensive symbols, then everything has the same defensive abilities.
Also, you can use the system with defensive symbols on the attack dice to nullify hits. Or, you can have separate dice for offense and defense, using defensive rolls to nullify hits.

Personally, I found it more interesting to combine the two. Less materials, less rolling, and it allows defenses to be tailored to attack types, and even individual attack buffs.

The system works even if everything has effectively 1 HP.
However, there's going to be a wide range of randomness. I found I liked the results better with most units having 2 HP, as it cut down on crazy outcomes, and opened up more interesting tactical possibilities with extra supporting dice, and keyword abilities.

But this is going to be highly dependent on your game.

Is there a way to use your method where the player who accumulates the most hits wins the round?

When you say 'player', are you implying that multiple players are fighting a monster at the same time? Or did you mean the side who got the most hits wins the round?

Certainly, there's lots of different ways to implement the basic idea. If you want to implement most hits wins, you can easily just add more dice. Or even have access to different types of bonus dice.

Here's a couple different ideas on implementation.
(I don't think there's a way to embed an image here.)

One is a single roll with offense and defense symbols.
The other uses multiple die rolls, with no defense symbols.

On the left side, there are three d6 representing melee, ranged, and magic attacks in a fantasy army themed game.

The large eight-pointed stars are universal hits, and the outlined symbols are defenses. The other solid symbols are attack upgrades.

One of the nice things here, is that the symbols are loosely thematic. The physical defenses that protect against physical attacks look like armor and shields, and the magic defenses look, well, a little more like magic things.

Notice how some defensive types are more effective against certain attacks. For example, the arrows (mobility) is very effective against melee (2/6), but does nothing to protect vs ranged and magic. Whereas the magic barrier (pie-hex thing) helps protect against all three, but somewhat less effective against melee as it only protects against a particular melee upgrade.

Again with the theme, one of the ranged upgrades is accuracy (crosshairs). You can imagine this as a headshot. But look! The helmet is one of the crossover defenses that protects against that upgrade.

Altogether, this naturally results in a bit of loose rook-paper-scissors effect. Cavalry (mobility) is good vs infantry, archers good vs cavalry, and infantry (shield) good vs archers.

Next, on the right, is an example that uses multiple d8s for an airship battle game.

In this case, there are no defense symbols. Instead, the ships have armor points that must be punched through and reduced.
What's listed on the die are extra chances to hit, and different weapons roll different numbers of dice to score more hits.

The attacker tries to roll hits so that the result is more than the armor score, and the extra passes through. But otherwise, the armor is left intact. The star shapes reduce the actual armor value.

So the large black circles are a hit, and the other things are misses unless the weapons used shows that symbol.

There are three classes of weapon:
Large culverins, that get no bonus to hit, but roll large number of dice, and get the outlined star icon which increases the armor reduction chance from 1/8 to 2/8.

Rapid-fire gatling guns, that roll less dice, but get multiple attacks. And have the three-circle icon that indicate better accuracy increasing hit chance from 4/8 to 6/8. Less dice mean less chance of penetrating armor, and they get no bonus to reduce armor. However, multiple attacks mean more damage overall once armor gets low.

Torpedoes, that have good chance to do lots of damage, but have other tactical and practical limitations like speed and space. These get the rocket icon and the star icon, increasing their chance to hit to 7/8 and increasing chance to reduce armor. (It's not 6/8 because of range, see below.)

Lastly, there is a '4' on once die face. This is a miss unless the target is within 4 spaces. This automatically makes range a factor.
But notice that the gatling guns get an icon there as well, resulting in them never getting the range penalty.
Torpedoes (if they reach the target) explode within 1-2 spaces, so will always be within 4 spaces, effectively making them 7/8 change to score.

The big take-away here, is that you can get lots of great built-in detail from a single type of die, and most of that complexity is hidden away.

Hopefully, these example have illustrated that there are lots of ways to make symbolic dice very powerful. And there are plenty of ways to expand on this, as well! (Yikes, I could probably write a thesis paper on this subject.)

Joined: 10/27/2016
Been thinking some...

On my way home tonight.

In what I described and what I am thinking about now the possibility of a draw. If that doesn't work with your game, there are ways aroind it.

Big disclaimer here is that what I am proposing could very well be seen as unnecessarily clunky. However, I present it here because a lot of other people will be suggesting some elegant dice rolling mechanics that could work really well for you with the added benefit of keeping tbe math under the hood. I wanted to present a wacky out of the box idea that I have not seen that can be tunable and thematically pretty cool if executed well.

My revised idea for the tile draw method is as follows. In this case, draws are possible.

There is a battle stack of say 20 face down tiles or maybe 2 piles of 10. Half the tiles have a strike/hit symbol and the other half are blank.

In each head to head battle, each side gets three tiles to draw from either stack. Then whoever has combat advantage gets to draw extra tiles equal to the difference. So let's go with a Hero with 5 strength versus a Monster with 3.

Each side sets their three tile in opposing horizontal lines. Then, the Hero in this case would draw an additional 2 tiles (combat advantage) and place one tile each directly behind the left and center tile to make another row.

The winner of the battle is the first side to score an unblocked hit (they have a strike symbol where the other side is blank). Starting at the left side where the Hero has the extra tile, the first tiles on each side are flipped. If the Hero has a strike and the Monster has a blank, hero wins. If the Monster has a hit and the Hero has a blank, the hero flips the tile directly behind that one and hopes for a hit to block the monster's hit. If that too is blank, the monster wins. But if it is blocked, you go to the center column and repeat. Same if there are no hits on either side for the first exchange.

In this way, the side with the advantage will have an extra chance on at least one exchange.

In a corner case where combat advantage is more than 3, you start a third row on that side and allow another chance to block a hit. If the hit is blocked on the next row, that last one can be used to try to get the win at about a coin flips chance.

Thematically I think this is akin to how many moves a good fighter can get in before a less apt foe. The weaker guy can get off a good shot up front, preventing the stronger guy from doing you in, but that extra combat advantage allowed another moment to dodge or block before that weaker guy gets in another attack.

Makes sense to me at first blush.

But again the cons are as follows.

A) it absolutely allows for a draw...not sure if your game can use that. Thid could be mitigated by a simple tie goes to the stronger opponent.

B) this could be accomplished just as easy with custom dice with nearly the same mechanic. Each side gets three dice, but you get one extra die for combat advantage...whatever side gets more hits in one roll of the lot wins. This may overly favor the advantaged player more than the tile mechanic at the corner cases...but the battle is over much quicker if that's what you think your game needs.

C) It is clunky as hell...more drawn out than it needs to be but if one on one fights are the crux of the game, that could be cool.

The tunable elements of this tile thing (and the things I would screw around with for playtest for feel and fairness) are: how many unblocked strikes are required to win...maybe it's first to two...less slaughrers but way more ties I think; the ratio of hits to misses in the tile pool. Default is 50/50, but you could try two to one either way and see how that makes the battles go; maybe there are only 2 base tiles before you add advantage...maybe there are four...all of these change the likely outcomes a bunch.

The last thing I would try is maybe the symbols are more than hit and miss. It could be more complicated. One such idea is ALMOST r-p-s. A hit symbol beats a blank, a shield symbol cancels a hit and the guy with the hit cannot flip the front tile the next exchange. A shield against a blank means the guy with the shield wastes their next front tile flip, falling for a feint. Those with combat advantage can still flip their tiles behind the front one (nice recovery).

Lots of possibilities...all excessive but really cool in the right type of game.

pelle's picture
Joined: 08/11/2008
I have only played two games

I have only played two games that I remember that used tiles to resolve combat. I think there are more, but there is probably a lot of room for thinking up new mechanics there. Essentially of course a bag of tiles to draw from is just like a die with many faces (and larger faces with room for more details like more symbols!).

Great thread here! I posted a reply on bgg to this same question yesterday with my own ideas about a system with two dice using 1-2 symbols per side, but anything I said there is easily beaten by the great replies here, so I am not going to repeat that suggestion.

Regarding number of symbols per side though, I think you can get more than two readable symbols on a side without making them difficult to read. Thinking about some recent games I have played, you could look at Mice&Mystics or Quarriors or DiceMasters (probably lots of good photos on bgg of all three) to see how much information they manage to get into their combat dice, and I never think it was a problem to quickly read them. Picking easily recognizable symbols I guess is the key, but if you do a good job at that I think you can easily have 5-6 symbols even on a small die.

Joined: 12/01/2008
pelle wrote:Regarding number

pelle wrote:
Regarding number of symbols per side though, I think you can get more than two readable symbols on a side without making them difficult to read. Thinking about some recent games I have played, you could look at Mice&Mystics or Quarriors or DiceMasters (probably lots of good photos on bgg of all three) to see how much information they manage to get into their combat dice, and I never think it was a problem to quickly read them. Picking easily recognizable symbols I guess is the key, but if you do a good job at that I think you can easily have 5-6 symbols even on a small die.

Interesting. Of note, however, all those examples look like one main symbol with some small accompanying numbers in the corners.

These seem like a good counter example because, I suspect, that the numbers are used somewhat separately from the main symbol. In other words, you'd visually parse them at a separate time. (Although, I'm not familiar with those games, so I could be wrong.)

In contrast, the system I was proposing requires visually and mentally processing the complete die face at once. This is were the number of symbols can start to bog down the pace.

To be fair, as the person designing the dice, it's easy to forget that you know exactly what symbols are where and what they do. But for new players, especially since this might be their very first exposure to such a system, it can be completely overwhelming. Now, a veteran player won't have the same issues, but then again, there won't be many veterans if they are initially turned off by what they perceive as too complex.

I've got some examples with 3 symbols on some faces. And it doesn't seem too bad, but it always seems that's where the new players start to look really lost. So I always try to be extra careful.

Here's one such example for a space fleet game idea. A few faces have 3 symbols, and I think it's starting to get visually dense. Without going into a long winded discussion about what all is being accomplished, the dice represent guns, beams, and missiles, in that order.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
Some really good points on

Some really good points on this thread!!

I tried implementing numerous symbols on a single die face, but as pointed it, it can get a little overwhelming at times to new players, and because certain symbols have to be small, legibility becomes a factor too.

I've been brainstorming with all of these different possibilities and I've started to form some sort of working model, which is awesome.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
The tile idea presented

The tile idea presented earlier is fantastic I must say, it's certainly a cool concept and I can already see it working for a different game entirely. I've gotten so hung up on dice that I forgot there are other good ways like that to randomize combat patterns :)

Joined: 10/27/2016

I would love to see how you use it. I currently do not have a game that needs a battle mechanic, so I am very interested to see what fun can be had by a random thought experiment (pun slightly intended) I had on a long drive.

Also, keep us posted on what you settle on for the game presented in the original post. I do love me some dice.


Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
Will do!! Just in the early

Will do!! Just in the early stages of playtesting the idea now, should have a good solid breakdown in a few days :)

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
Sorry for resurrecting this

Sorry for resurrecting this thread so long in advance - I just wanted to thank everyone for all the help, and mention that the combat system has been completed!

I decided to go with an icon based colour-coordinated dice for the combat method, as it proved to be the most efficient way of categorizing the monsters. The Hero always rolls 3 White dice, with the sides having 1,1,2,0,0,0 stars.

Depending on the monsters, they'll use combinations of black, green, purple, and red dice each with increasing number of skulls. Some of the dice also have an 'ability' icon, which will trigger if rolled.

Thanks again!

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