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Help with Combat Mechanics (Symbol based)

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Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014

Hey everyone! I've been revamping the combat in an old game of mine, one that now has the attention of a publisher. It is a head-to-head fantasy dungeon crawler with some clever movement etc.

Anyway, when an explorer moves into a space with an enemy, combat ensues. Currently I've been trying a dice based symbol matching system: There are 4 'attributes', each with their own symbol:
Valor, Spirit, Defense, Ingenuity.

Each enemy will have their own CODE that needs to be rolled in order to be defeated - for example, a Skeleton requires V, V, S, D. The player has a pool of dice (all dice are 6-sided). Basic Dice have each symbol represented once, a blank side, and a skull. There are also specialty dice corresponding to each attribute, and they excel in that particular thing: For instance, the Valor Dice will have more Valor symbols on it than others.

The player would choose how many dice to take from their pool and enter battle with that number, and the rest aren't used. (This matters because if they win the combat, they can continue their turn and potentially fight another monster with the remaining dice.)
They have 3 rolls to match the sequence. On each roll, if they wish to keep one of the dice (because it matches one of the symbols in the CODE) they must LOCK it, meaning it cannot be rolled again. Rolling a skull means that the dice is LOCKED automatically. The player has 3 rolls to match the sequence or the combat has failed. Regardless of outcome, the dice that were used for battle have become 'EXHAUSTED', and the player must spend a turn 'RESTING' in order to refresh those dice.


I'm finding that this system is using up a lot of dice, maybe could be better. I like the idea of symbol matching, but I'm not tied to it. The publisher is family friendly so they want to keep the combat mildly simplistic but still have some decisions to be made, and not be totally random. There can be complexity to it as long as it remains elegant and easy to understand. They also don't want BOTH players rolling (so the opponent shouldn't be rolling at the same time) because it might make things too random, so having a TARGET for the player to hit (symbols, etc) is beneficial.
Should dice be exhausted after the combat? Should dice lock after they match the symbol or can you use them again? Is having 3 rolls arbitrary, and should the amount of rolls you get be determined by something else?
Any help on this would be great, even if it's a brand new system. THANKS!!

Joined: 04/08/2012
Hello Westmaas

I read your post and to me, I think you can pull off your system by the game called Farkle.

Players roll a 1 or 5 to to keep rolling. A 1 is 100 points and 5 is 50 points. From what I remember,"To even get on the score board a player must get I think 500 points to start with and to keep on their first roll."

I like your dice setup.

A player rolls for a solution to attack or defend or dodge or cast an effect or affect to the opponent's armor, weapon or other abilities like stun, freeze, poison or other attributes. Maybe have a roll sheet to find Roll Solutions for the player can try to roll. If something is locked by even 1 skull dice appears, That 1 dice is locked. The player can choose to keep rolling for a solution.

But maybe a skull can be dangerous to the opponent and not to the attacker?

What if say the player gets 3 skulls the opponent suffers negative or positive damage to what ever the attacker was aiming for?

The opponent can counter roll after each skull appears from the attacker? Like a combo breaker of some kind? This way both players are always engaged trying to find a solution to do whatever they are trying to do on the board?

For example:
Like parkour runners running through a large course, racing at the same time. Each runner can try to stop each other by blocking , jumping, climbing to higher or lower obstacles to win the race?

Or two fighters tactically size each other up in a fencing duel?

Let's go back to your idea of a locked skull that appears. I would say, yes, allow the player to keep rolling the dice until more skull face appears on the dice.

What if your players are trying to lock up the opponent's abilities by trying to gain 3 skulls and have 1 extra fight blow to do massive damage?

Aka: Stormyknight1976

Joined: 09/24/2020
I like Jesse's idea of the

I like Jesse's idea of the skulls representing an opportunity for the defender, it would make the combat more risky and exciting, I think.

On your main topic:
If you like the system and it works well during playtesting, but your only problem is that it consumes too many dice (which is what I gather from your post, am I correct?) then the simplest solution is lowering the threshold for enemies to be beaten. A sequence of 4 symbols like V,V,S,I takes way more dice to match than one of 2 symbols...some enemies may even have only 1 and to be fair you wouldn't always beat them with a couple of dice.

If combat is the main focus of the game clearly you can add something extra to make it crunchier, but if you have a lot going on in other areas then maybe it's better to avoid things to drag during combat?

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Wild Symbol

I'd suggest incorporating a "wild" symbol, that can be used for any required symbol, on at least a few available dice. Maybe they can sit in on the otherwise blank face of the die.

This will make it twice as likely the desired symbol appears on any one die, and may encourage players to strive for more combats during their turn. "Saving dice for later" becomes more of a viable tactic.

Lots of games use wild dice faces, particularly those which want to be more forgiving. The game that comes to mind right away is Catan Dice. The attractive thing about the system used there (well, to me anyway) is that it takes two wild symbols to equate to a single symbol of any other type. Should you want to increase the challenge of using wild symbols, this becomes possible.


Another possibility is the idea that skulls lock a die and keep it unusable for that combat, but they also charge up a "limit break" meter or something like that. Once the meter is full the player can use that special/unique ability once, then the meter resets, charging only when skulls are thrown.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
Excellent suggestions! Thanks

Excellent suggestions! Thanks so much for the replies. I like the idea of having Skulls allowing the opponent to 'intervene' and possibly have a die roll themselves against the attacker - makes me wonder if maybe the attacker should have their own symbols that the defender can try to beat before them? Every time a skull is rolled, the offensive switches? Also into the idea of when a certain amount of skulls are locked (3) perhaps it triggers a special ability... though it could be strange to be rewarded for a bad die roll. Or not! haha

I'll definitely be incorporating a WILD symbol on the blank side of the die. I actually did have that in the beginning but found the Wild to be too forgiving - but I think I should bring it back and possibly have less dice being rolled.

Please feel free to add any other ideas that may come to mind - I'm not very good at math so I'm trying to figure out what a good amount of dice is to combat a median amount of symbols - so for instance, if an enemy CODE is comprised of 3 symbols, what would be a sufficient amount of dice to take to battle? Double that?

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Probability is Fundamental

Westmaas wrote:
I'm not very good at math so I'm trying to figure out what a good amount of dice is to combat a median amount of symbols - so for instance, if an enemy CODE is comprised of 3 symbols, what would be a sufficient amount of dice to take to battle? Double that?

To simplify your explanation, think of the faces of a normal six-sided die as having their own symbol: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. So, what's the probability of creating the specific pattern of symbols you want?

For instance: let's say one of the patterns required to succeed in an encounter in your game (combat or otherwise) is 1, 3, 5. It's possible to do that with three dice, sure. But how likely is it?

Another pattern is 2, 4, 5, 6. Not possible with three or fewer typical dice, but possible with four. How likely is it that the player's throws result in this combination?

The more exact/specific you want a die result to be, the less-common the first throw will match it. Fortunately, with the system you describe above, players can throw remaining dice up to three times, increasing the 1-in-6 chance of matching a symbol accordingly.

The thing that might make this difficult to determine in terms of straight-up probability is the skull result. There's a 1-in-6 chance of that occurring, and then that die can no longer be used. That's why I suggested the "consolation prize" possibility above. I see problems with that, but it's only one way to approach your dilemma.

As it is now, your system is extremely random... Some would say terribly, terribly random. :) At some point, lots of skulls - which again have the same chance of occurring as the desired symbols - make it impossible to achieve the desired pattern, no matter how many dice you have in your pool. If you rely solely on dice, and no mitigation or adjustments of results, then that's all it will be. When you have opposing players throwing dice to compete with one another, randomness is compounded.

The player, on the other hand, simply observes the results. If they didn't achieve the pattern, they pick the possible dice and throw again. If a die has a result they want, then they keep it. If it's a skull, they can't re-throw it. No real decisions can be made here.

Yahtzee provides the player with a wide array of patterns to aim for at the outset of the game (what makes it interesting is that this pool of options shrinks over time). Can you implement additional patterns for players to seek out at once? This adds utility to more die results than just that single one required to "beat" the encounter.

ZOMBIES!!! allows players to use their limited supply of bullet tokens to increase their die results to the next highest number. Can you think of consumable/limited-use mitigation tactics the player can elect when to use, or at what intensity? These are a few "classic" ways to mitigate the random nature of dice results, which you might want to consider as a starting-point for your own mitigation approach.

SO: More dice = more chances to make the pattern, but more chances to throw a bunch of skulls. If there's no way to make adjustments on the fly via mitigation tactics or options, then a player will be a servant of chance and won't be able to make many interesting decisions.

Westmaas's picture
Joined: 03/08/2014
That was extremely

That was extremely informative and helpful, thank you SO much for shedding some light on the randomness of the situation, and some pointers on how to overcome it.

As it currently stands, the system is a bit different - the player now has 5 basic dice in their pool - each is the same, with each of the 5 different symbols occupying a side, and a skull being the 6th side. The idea now is that the player can choose to swap out as many of those basic dice as they want for specialized dice that correspond to the attribute, as long as they don’t exceed their atrribute limit. That was probably confusing, so let me explain and see if this system can make sense:

The player has the starting attributes of

They enter battle, and can now choose to swap out any number of their 5 basic dice, as long as they still end up with 5 dice and never use more dice than their attribute allows, so:
The player chooses 2 ATTACK Dice, 1 Guard Dice and 2 Spirit Dice. They couldn’t choose 3 Spirit dice because their skill level for that is a 2 (and it would put them over the 5 die limit)

Depending on the character, the monster, and the location they are in, different combos are available to trigger so that will help inform the player of which dice they choose to bring in each round.

I haven’t finalized he properties yet of the specialty dice - still wondering if they should all be the same (2 or 3 of their symbol per dice, with only the Attack, Guard, and Spirit dice having a Skull on them as well) or if they should vary a bit - for instance the Ingenuity would have only 2 symbols (still no skulls) but spirit would have 4 (but a skull).

So in this example, the player chose what he did because he’s attempting to activate an ability called Counter-thrust - which requires 2 swords (attack), 1 Shield (Guard) and 1 Spirit. The next round (after all 3 rolls and damage is tallied, and the monster attacks) the player may choose different 5 dice depending on their strategy now that the combat landscape may have changed in some way - perhaps that broke the monsters armor or something, and now they can attack more conventionally etc.

Any thoughts and hints and feedback would be great, if this theoretically works or not - I’m a little worried of overloading the player with too many combinations and stuff like that and trying to keep it as simple as possible. Also wondered to myself, are the basic dice even necessary? Would anyone ever choose to keep one over a specialized dice with more chance to hit the desired symbol? The only thing I can think of is that certain monster abilities could force players to use them (if it negates a specific attribute etc) and maybe the basic dice could have a special symbol instead of a skull, which triggers a special ability if rolled - so incentive to include one in hopes of rolling it.

Also trying to work out a feasible skill check mechanic using this system, as easy as possible. For example, if a card said TEST YOUR INGENUITY - what would that look like in terms of procedure?

Any feedback would be great!

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Some Feedback

Wow, you're really coming along with this design! This has been fun to read. I have a couple thoughts on your current design plans.

Regarding Basic Dice
I understand your attribute system clearly enough, I reckon. A simple solution to add utility to the basic dice is to omit skulls from them, and have skulls appear only on the Attribute dice. Put two of the desired Attribute, two Skulls, and either a blank face or a single occurrence of complimentary Attributes.

Regarding Encounter Outcomes
I had happened upon a game from the 1970s called Dungeon Dice some time ago, and I was faced with a similar dilemma in creating my own version. The six included dice each had fantastic little icons on them, related to being in a dungeon or a medieval mine or something like that. The problem was that, in my opinion, the original game sucked! There were ladders, lanterns, daggers, keys, shovels, and guard helmets (the "bad" symbol), but only the shovels and helmets were implemented in the rules... It was positively begging for an upgrade.

So I came up with a mini dungeon escape game using them. The general idea was this:

  • Players throw the dice as many times as required, locking only helmets (they're the equivalent of your skull result).
  • To progress in the game, the player draws a card from a deck of possible encounters.
  • Each card presents an encounter (combat-related or otherwise), and provides for three possible resolutions: failure (always an option, and occurs when 3+ helmets are shown), a so-so result (two or three matching dice of a certain symbol), and an obviously positive result (three or four of a certain symbol).

The point I'm trying to indicate here is that there need not be only a single positive outcome for your encounters. Maybe combat results in a "flawless victory" with one result, a win with a few scratches and wounds being a second result, and a total failure resulting in a win but many wounds.

If it's a skills check you're resolving, provide for two outcomes: each one relying on different symbols. Again, you can have three possible results each indicating varying degrees of success.

Allowing for a couple skills to be used to generate non-failure outcomes with a given encounter can provide replay value, incidentally. It also helps prevent obvious choices when it comes to encounter resolution, and ensures that someone who chooses a certain "class" or skill-set has at least some chance to generate a non-failure outcome for any given encounter.

...Hope this is useful! Come up with a prototype ASAP and test out some of your ideas. That's likely the most-effective way to see if execution measures up to your idea. :)

Joined: 12/27/2013
Hope this is still active

Hope this is still active after three months...
OP's game reminded me heavily of both King of Tokyo and Super Fantasy: Ugly Snouts Assault, a dumb name but really fun and simple little dice mechanic.

Should check them out for inspiration.

Here are the rules for both if you're not familiar.

King of Tokyo rulebook

Super Fantasy rulebook (I think it needs BGG account to access)

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I read the thread in

I read the thread in diagonal

First ask yourself about the purpose of the dice. Is the goal to do pattern matching with a pool of dice you have and make choices on which pattern you complete. A game with similar mechanics is Elder sign.

Or is the objective only to vary the outcome of your units randomly. In that case, much less dices could be used.

For example, in my Rats Craft game, I using D6 with 3 faces: Attack, support, control, and the face distribution is 3-2-1. When you assign your dice, that will set the unit in attack, support or control mode which could lead to different behaviors according to the unit. In that scenario, I only need 1 die per unit.

Consider that combination of dices, is just a more complex distribution of odds that could be resolved with less components. Even poker hands, could be reduced as percentage of success and could probably be mapped on a single D20 or D100.

So this is why I am asking if dice pattern mix and match is a necessity to the concept of your game.

gamesomuch's picture
Joined: 06/01/2022
Clever movement in combat

You mentioned there is some clever movement in the game. I'm wondering if this could be incorporated into the combat in order to save some dice. Specifically what I'm imagining is a monster miniature with a square base and on each of its 4 edges it has one of the symbols, and depending on which face of the monster the player attacks the symbol they are facing is automatically included in their roll. They could miss a turn to move around the monster (and risk being clobbered) in order to face the symbol they need to complete the sequence.

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