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RPG Combat

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Joined: 12/01/2008

There are really two issues here, and I should probably make two posts, but they are related, so here goes...

This is an RPG style game, with emphasis on story and ease of play. The gameplay is co-op and revolves around overcoming various enemy encounters.

There has been a process of changing and refining the combat system, attempting to simplify and streamline.
Here is how it has progressed:
1) First we had a relatively straight-forward, weapons do varying damage, armor absorbs damage. Custom die determines hit and possible bonus damage. Vary similar to the die listed in this thread:

The downfall here was in the number of calculations the players had to make. Damage + special ability effects + die roll - armor. Blah.

2) So we tried to reduce the amount of damage and the addition and subtraction required. Instead of weapons mostly being differentiated by different damage, they got an 'attack class'. This was compared to the defenders 'armor class'. It had to equal or beat it in order for the attack to do full damage. If not, then the total attack was reduced to 1 damage (from, say, 2-4 damage). So armor could protect from attacks, but not make one invulnerable.

The problem here is that it was pretty unsatisfying and not very intuitive. And if still felt like to much calculations going on.
For seasoned RPGers, most of the calculations and conventions were manageable, but for new players the complexity was still too daunting. And we would like to be able to attract some casual players unfamiliar with RPGs.

Another part of the problem is with attack abilities.
We want to reflect that abilities get more powerful as the characters advance, and keep the calculations to a minimum.
The first idea was to give abilities a formula that says what the attack does. What it targets, range, damage, effects, etc.
In some cases a variable was included, and this variable was called 'skill power'. It was a number that came from skill advancement and magic equipment.

But the whole idea a of a variable (even with trying to use a friendly symbol based representation) is still pretty daunting to new players, and even veterans still have to mentally plug in the number when deciding what to do.

So I'm looking for more combat system ideas, and new ways to represent abilities what vary with skill.

Varying abilities might be represented by simply printing the different skill versions on the card? Is this good, or too much info at once?

Here's what I've been considering for combat:
A new die system. A variation from above that combines armor effects. Like this:
1) Miss
2) Miss - Accuracy (Miss unless attacker has Accuracy, then it is a hit)
3) Hit - Dodge (Hit unless defender has Dodge, then miss)
4) Hit - Leather (Hit, if target has leather/mail/plate armor, attack reduced to 1 damage)
5) Hit - Mail (Hit, if target has mail/plate armor, attack reduced to 1)
6) Crit - Plate (Hit with critical effect, if target has plate armor, attack reduced to 1)

Weapons do varying damage again (It's a fairly satisfying mechanic, who doesn't want a new weapon that does more damage?) But here the die roll is attempting to combine a hit roll with armor defense all rolled into one. Armor absorbs hits on the proper die roll and better armor has more chances to absorb. So the only calculations the player needs to know is their weapon damage + any special ability effects. Then they roll the die, and any armor symbol that matches the the target gets reduced to 1 damage.

Initialy, having a shield was going to absorb damage, but it could be combined onto the die as well. If the target has a shield the attack is absorbed, but can only use it vs one frontal attack per round. It would appear with the Accuracy and Dodge trait faces. (It would make dodge + shield fairly redundant in most cases, but then again, this isn't really all that bad. And also makes Plate + Shield characters pretty dang tough, but again, this isn't really that bad either)

Any thoughts?

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008

Hey Desprez,

I think it's neat to include the skill system directly into the dicing system. However, this particular implementation may limit your RPG too much. First, I'll explain what I mean by "limiting." Then I'll talk about a tweak that may fix the problem.

The above system limits the RPG in two ways: 1) it doesn't allow for a variety of combat skills, and 2) it restricts the resolution available for balancing. As an example of #1, suppose I wanted to build a character based on a "block" skill -- no such skill exists, there's only Dodge. There may be other modifiers in the game to support extra skills, but these will add to the complexity of the combat calculations. Alternatively, you might change from using a D6 to a D8 so you can squeeze in "block" and "feint", but now you're diluting the power of each skill (i.e., Dodge used to be a 1/6 chance, now it's 1/8). In general, this makes it hard to balance the number and effect of skills in your system. The worst case scenario occurs when you think about releasing expansions with new skills. If you do that, you'd have to introduce new dice, which would change the probability of rolling old skills, which would change the power levels of old characters.

It's possible that you could work around all this by introducing extra modifiers for new skills instead of changing dice, but that increases complexity.

As for point #2, let's consider the following example: a character with "accuracy" vs one without it. The character with accuracy hits 20% more often than a character without it. Maybe 20% is exactly the right number for game balance, but if it isn't, you don't have an easy way to adjust it without overlapping other results on your chart, which gets messy.

Now, if this is an RPG board game, you can probably get away with this. Players expect less flexibility out of those systems and don't think twice about nuances of the characters they want to build. If this is for a classic RPG, though, you may not have enough control to make the characters you want.

Fortunately, there's a straightforward way to re-introduce the flexibility while keeping your core idea of "skills in the dicing system." I'll put that in a separate entry.

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008
Dicing with Skill

Hey Desprez,

Continuing the earlier reply, I'll briefly explain one way to adapt your system for more flexibility.

Everything starts with a custom die, a la Battle Lore or Memoir '44. In this case, the faces are:

1x skull and crossbones
2x shield
2x sword
1x star

Armor is represented by a card with a defense number and an dodge symbol, expressed as a shield with a number inside it. The number could be 0, 1, 2, 3, or an infinity symbol.

When a player attacks, he rolls all his dice and "tallies" them as follows:

a) For every skull, discard a shield. If you have more skulls than shields, place the extra skulls on your armor card.

b) Stars are wild. Each one can be turned to either a shield or sword, or kept as a star. Stars are used to activate skills (see below).

c) Place remaining shield dice on your armor card, up to the "dodge" number (the number inside the shield). Discard leftover shields.

b) Count swords. That is the damage you dealt to your target.

Skill Points
Players who kept stars can use them to activate combat skills. Different skills may have different levels of activation with different effects. For example:

Judo Skill
1 Star: sacrifice throw -- take normal damage but throw opponent to ground

2 Stars: defensive roll -- take no damage from short or medium weapon

3 Stars: counter throw -- take no damage from short or medium weapons and throw opponent for 2 pts of damage

Taking Damage
In this system, armor acts as a straight subtraction from damage done, but skulls and shields affect the subtraction. Skulls reduce the armor's defense rating by 1/skull. Shields increase it by 1/shield. Each successive attack destroys 1 skull or shield, and all skulls/shields are removed at the start of the player's turn.

Example: Roderick the Rogue has leather armor with Defense 1 and an infinite Dodge rating. He has just been ambushed by 4 kobolds while trying to open the chest containing their legendary ancestral treasure.

Roderick goes first and rolls 5 dice, getting skull star shield shield star. He decides to play defense until he knows how strong his enemies are, so he converts both stars to shields and discards the skull along with one of the shields. He places the remaining three shields on his "Leather Armor" card.

The kobolds all roll 2 dice each, getting:

shield sword -- does one damage and forces Roderick to remove 1 shield from his armor card.
shield skull -- the dice cancel for no effect
sword sword -- does two damage and forces Roderick to remove his remaining shields.
star shield -- star converts to sword which does 1 damage which is blocked by Roderick's leathers

Feeling confident, Roderick rolls again and gets


He converts the star to a sword and targets kobold #2 (the one whose dice canceled last turn). The kobold has armor of 1, so it takes 3 - 1 = 2 points of damage. It's health drops from 4 to 2.

The GM rolls a morale check on the injured kobold and determines that it runs away. The remaining 3 kobolds attack as follows:

skull skull

sword shield

star shield

The GM converts the last kobold's star to a shield. None of the attacks do enough to hurt Roderick.

Roderick attacks again. This time he rolls


One skull cancels his shield, the remaining skull goes on his armor. He targets kobold #1 (the one that rolled 'skull skull'). The two skulls reduce its armor to -1, but 0 is the minimum allowed, so it takes 2 - 0 = 2 points of damage.

That kobold makes it's morale save and continues battle. The kobolds roll:

star sword

shield sword

skull sword

The first kobold converts star to sword and does a 2 point attack. Roderick's skull cancels his 1 point of armor and he takes 2 damage. He discards a single skull (the only one, in this case), following the attack.

The next two attacks bounce off his armor.

Roderick rolls again:


Seeing two stars, Roderick decides to use his Rogue skills as follows:

"Blinding slash" -- a feint to the opponent's eyes -- negate 2 armor dice


"Vicious stab" -- double damage vs a blinded opponent

He then targets kobold #3 (whose roll was: skull sword). His two swords' damage doubles to 4, and the kobold's skull cancels its armor of 1, so it takes 4 - (1 armor - 1 skull) = 4 - 0 = 4 points of damage and dies outright.


...and so on.

Roderick eventually defeats the kobolds and recovers the treasure, which turns out to be a mummified turkey drumstick. This is why he not called Roderick the Lucky...


The details of a system like this can change a lot, but the pros are:

1) You don't need to know all the rules of combat -- just the ones for the skills you purchased, which are on the cards you bought.

2) The math is easy -- addition and subtraction of small numbers.

3) Opportunity for strategy -- having "wild stars" lets players tune their play from offense to defense, and to introduce special skills some of the time.

4) Flexibility -- by replacing references to specific skills like "Dodge" with abstract "stars", you can expand the game as much as you like, without changing the effects of existing skills.

As for the number of dice players roll, the total comes from a combination of innate ability and experience, so there's room for growth over time. Players can also purchase new skill cards as the level up.

I've used a more complex variation of this for a superhero RPG system. The combat worked pretty well, though I prefer this simplified version.

There are challenges -- like record keeping for the GM -- but you have these in every system, and seasoned referees will already know how to keep track of skulls and shields from turn to turn without needing loads of dice.

Joined: 12/01/2008
That die system is very

That die system is very interesting, and there are a number of ideas that might be able to be tweaked. Certainly it's got me thinking about new ideas.

I should probably point out a couple more things about the game.
1) Yes, this is a board game based RPG, and one that is designed to be played in one session with characters that don't carry over to other sessions.
2) There is no GM. The game itself is effectively the GM. After every players turn, they must pick an enemy to move. The instructions are printed on the encounter info, and on the enemy cards.
3) Individual encounters need to be kept short. Hopefully no more than 15 min apiece, with 6-9 encounters per game, plus 3 boss fights that are longer. So this is going to limit the amount of die rolls and calculations.

It is sort of like RPG-lite. Simpler but with the core ideas of classic RPG style games: Co-op play, customized characters and character advancement, encounter/problem solving, monster killing, treasure gathering, fantasy setting.

As to the skills. Players choose to spend skill points to purchase skills in a variety of different areas, like melee, defense, magic, etc (there are 8 areas) So they can take new skill schools, or advance the ones they have. This gives the character certain base abilities. They might be minor spells, or ability to wear better armors, more health, etc. In addition, they also get to draw special abilities associated with that skill. These are commonly 1-use-per-encounter types of abilities and they are essentially random draws, but they are associated with the particular skill somehow.

So to answer you question on limited skills, there are quite a few.
If you wanted to build a character around blocking, for example. You would probably want to invest in the Defense skill and maybe the Melee skill. Defense will allow you to equip a shield, and gain various defensive abilities, including special actions to take advantage of your shield.

Basically, you won't get 100% control down to individual abilities, but you do get to make the TYPE of character you want. Then it is a matter of being creative and working with the skills and combinations you have to choose from.
So if you wanted to make a character who can nuke enemies at range with spells and be pretty good with a sword too, you can do that. You'll get offensive spells and melee skills easy enough, you just don't know EXACTLY which nukes and melee dps skills you'll get.

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008
Oh, I get it!

I see. Well, in that case, you're probably good to go. The game sounds like a lot of fun. :)

The only difficulty I still see is game balance. The original system still has the feature that it each specific skill is tied to a particular pip on the die. Since you've only got 6 pips, you don't have a lot of room to maneuver. Seems like you've thought about it a lot, though.

So, were there specific problems with this system you wanted to iron out? How much have you playtested it?

Joined: 12/01/2008
I haven't tested the latest

I haven't tested the latest idea yet.
I still wanted to brainstorm and explore other ways of doing things.

Balance has been an issue, but not in the sense of not being able to balance it, but in doing it elegantly.

The skill power variable turned out to be too complicated.

Putting different levels of effects directly on the card is another way, but it still feels clunky, and I think I can do better.

Some other ideas was to use mana as a power-dump. You spend mana for a bigger effect of the ability, and more advanced characters will have more mana available.

Another way to use mana might be to reset abilities. If most abilities are one use, there might be a cost to reset it, and higher level characters will have more mana available to reset, and therefore have a greater overall output.

I though about putting extra 'hits' on the die associated with power level, but as you noted, there aren't really enough faces to work with. This is how I ended up putting the armor pips on as absorption instead. Sort of a reverse idea. Incidentally, using both power level and armor as pips on a bigger die wasn't working at all.

Now, you have shown some ways a two die system might work, though I'm trying to get away from too many dice and die rolls. But there were definitely some interesting ideas there; it feels a little more euro-style in execution.

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008
Euro style

> Now, you have shown some ways a two die system might work, though I'm trying to get away from too many dice and die rolls. But there were definitely some interesting ideas there; it feels a little more euro-style in execution.

Yeah, it's definitely Euro-style -- that dicing system is much like the one in Memoir '44. Works great, there.

I didn't realize you were literally using a single die. I agree that it's important to reduce the number of dice and rolls. I came to my original version of the above system for the same reasons (I used the Hero system for many years, where rolling 3 D6 "to hit" followed by 10 D6 for damage was a "normal" attack for a superhero). I've found that going up to 5 dice in a single roll still goes fast, especially when you use symbols instead of forcing players to add pips. Plus, players like to roll a handful of dice. :)

I like both your mana ideas, and could see either (or both) working well for the game.

Putting multiple levels of effect on the cards is a bit clunky, but it allows for greater variation of FX, so it has its advantages. It can make players feel more unique.

If you want to stick with a single die, you could experiment with having characters choose from among several kinds of dice to roll. For example, SlyBlu7 pitched an idea a couple of weeks ago where players had "red" or "blue" dice, where red favored offense and blue favored defense (I'm paraphrasing drastically, here). You could also have a green die that favors mana use, etc. Or the different dice could line up with different skills: green pits agility vs armor, while red pits strength vs agility, and green pits mana vs armor. Or whatever.

Hope you'll keep posting as you refine the system. You're exploring new and interesting ideas, here.

Joined: 06/11/2012
Hi! I love that idea. I was

I love that idea. I was curious if it was an already that is a common mechanic or something of your own devising.

In either case is it okay for me to use it in a game that I am currently designing? I think its brilliant simplicity would work perfectly in my game.

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