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RPG range mechanic issues.

8 replies [Last post]
Joined: 01/27/2011


I am in the initial plannign stages of a multiplayer minatures style RPG. For context I'd like to explain that battle in my game (if I can iron these issues out) will not be based on luck. If a character attacks, the attack is sucessful, there is no luck mechanic such as a die roll for sucess.

This said I am having issues conceiving how melee vs. ranged battle would function. Ranged characters would be easily able to sit back and take shots while the melee characters can't do much about it.


  • Give ranged a low amount of damage and melee a high amount of damage.
    Problem: Does not resolve issue, only prolongs it. Also this wouldn't be a very fun way to play out a battle.
  • Give melee a higher movement speed and hence they are able to 'catch' ranged.
    Problem: There will be towers and walls etc. that ranged characters could sit behind.
  • Give melee a high amount of armour or some other sort of damage reduction statistic.
    Problem: Same issues as the first point.

So, what do you guys think? I have a fairly strong and well written set of rules for a big epic game, but I'm really struggling to overcome this problem. Any help would be much appreciated!


Koen Hendrix
Joined: 11/24/2010
That's the whole idea of ranged units

Moapy wrote:
Ranged characters would be easily able to sit back and take shots while the melee characters can't do much about it.

That's the whole idea of ranged units, right? They die quite fast if the melee enemies step up to them, but as long as they don't, you can keep taking shots. This gives you tactics; you should position/use your ranged units to attack while the opponent's too busy or too far away to come after you. The melee opponent is faced with the choice of spending valuable turns charging to the ranged units (while taking damage) or trying to ignore/avoid the ranged units to other threats.

Usually, ranged units do less damage and/or have less health. That way, a single swordsman can take out a single archer by running up to the archer. But if the swordsman is occupied by another one of your swordsmen your archer can indeed 'sit back and take shots'. That's the point.

In reply to idea #2: Giving melee units higher speed would only be needed if all units can always move their maximum speed regardless of whether they attack. If ranged units have to choose between attacking or moving, or at least have some reduced movement when they attack, a non-attacking melee unit should always be able to catch them. Walls don't change this problem fundamentally, they just increase the distance between melee and ranged units, giving the ranged unit an advantage. And obstacles might also give the melee units some cover from the ranged fire. Generally I'd recommend giving ranged units a minimal range as well (e.g. can't shoot a target standing next to you), to make them really scared of (i.e. useless in) melee combat.

So I think that giving ranged units lower damage, possibly lower armor, and possibly a minimal range is a good way to balance melee and ranged units. It has really very little to do with the presence or absence of luck in your game.


Joined: 01/27/2011
Thanks a lot for the reply

Thanks a lot for the reply Koen.

Maybe I'm just being paraniod about the gameplay before I've even prototyped it!

I think I'll take your advice and just go along with the ideas I have in a play testing environment and see how it feels.

Joined: 07/28/2008
Other Games

look to other miniatures game to see how they've done it.

Warmachine have short range which basically equates to one and 1/2 turns moving to get into melee combat.

Warhammer has huge ranges, but very low (except for high elves) to hit rolls.

Personally i'm a fan of equal damage but a trade off on very short ranges which makes it as fun to play a ranged character as it is to play a melee character.

Joined: 02/16/2010
Complex Machine

Your designing yourself into a corner. First and foremost you need to take a look at the environment you’re playing in. If this world is based on the mechanics of reality (gravity pulls, bullets hurt, bones break) then you need to be consistent with that mechanic.

Lets start with a basic example. In many fantasy based miniatures games a commonly understated weapon is the crossbow. A man in a suit of full platemail with a shield has a (in many wargames) excellent chance of shrugging off the damage of this weapon. If you want to stay accurate with reality however, a hit with a crossbow, even against full plate mail and a shield, would nearly always do damage. Literally the only thing to stop the bolt would be a thick shield; the platemail would provide almost no protection.

Now, as I mentioned, crossbows have been toned down a bit in nearly every miniatures product you can lay hands on, including my own. In my own case I was forced to lessen the ability of all ranged weapons to penetrate armor, this offered higher survivability of models attempting to get into melee and gave a good balance. I intentionally bent reality to better fit my rule-set and the reality I have placed my players in, without notice I might add.

What I would heavily disagree with is a desire to have ranged weapons do a great deal less damage than melee weapons. This is completely counter-intuitive. IF there is anything I have learned from my own work, players will always hold issue with systems that seem to deny their own natural flow. That said it also raises some rather big questions about your ranged system as a whole. There are a million more variables in a melee strike than a ranged one, if anything, melee should be the last thing to auto-hit.

Bob stands in front of Fred and fires a pistol at him from a range of ten feet, short of Fred being one nimble fellow he’s just taken a bullet in the chest. Whereas- in the case of melee, both combatants are not just accounting for their own movements but the movements of weapons as well (to state only the obvious) the variables of the two are almost without compare.

When designing complex systems such as this the first thing you should account for is the sense of reality you wish to convey. Once you have created a solid image of that reality the rules that dictate it will seem to leak onto the pages from the background.

A word on "natural flow". The natural order of mechanics, especially in a machine as complex as a miniatures game, is that once a certain set of laws are created other laws can be naturally derived from them. For instance, after teaching you how to deduct health from your D&D character you would, naturally, assume that the character was dead when its health was reduced to zero or less. This would not be taught, it would be asumed by you, the player. Createing a system which offers a "natural flow" means your players will learn the rules of that system without knowing them. The player will learn through deduction and reason. This creates an environment in which rules become secondary to gameplay, which is ALWAYS optimal.


rcjames14's picture
Joined: 09/17/2010
The Reality of the Model

It is difficult to tell what reality you seek to model, whether it is battlefield mechanics, siege mechanics, chance encounters, indoor fighting, codes of conduct or all of the above... but each weapon in reality was developed for a specific circumstance and context out of which it loses much of its potency and although many weapons are superseded by superior material science, almost every weapon had a counter measure and was a counter measure to some other weapon.

Imagine yourself inside a banquet hall with small rooms in order to conserve heat and provide shelter with rudimentary architectural knowledge. There will be columns and doorways and furniture around you as well as people, animals, lights and a whole sort of dynamic elements. Under these circumstances, would you choose a crossbow or a sword if you wanted to attack someone? Probably neither, since a dagger would likely do the trick, it is easy to conceal and most people probably won't be wearing armor.

Now imagine yourself outside a castle staring up at the ramparts that have machicolation as if prepared for a seige. On top of the walls, stand a couple dozen soldiers, some with crossbows, some with spears and some with stones in their hands. Next to you stands a hundred armored men on horseback and a thousand infantry men. Unless you happen to have brought ladders with you or know a traitor inside who will let you in, you're probably not going to fight right now because even those guys with stones will probably be more dangerous to you than any well trained soldier you have will be to them. They have a huge height advantage, a lot of range and a field of view that you can't compete against without a siege tower or a siege machine... so in all likelihood, you won't even fight. If you choose to fight this battle, it will be by camping out for weeks until they run out of food.

Now imagine yourself on a battlefield across from another army ten thousand strong with heavily armed cavalry, light cavalry, archers, infantryman and skirmishers. You have relatively the same force of men, animals and munitions on your side. So, unless you're expecting reinforcements, this battle is likely to be decided by the leadership and/or the terrain. If you attack with your infantry, then they will use their archers, if you attack with your archers, they will send in their light cavalry, if you attack with your light cavalry, they will counter with their infantry. And, if you send in your armored cavalry, then they will likely use archers as you advance and try to surprise you with a few unseen long spears. Skirmishers are meant to draw out the enemy and force them to commit to an advance. Once an army advances, then it can be flanked by a quicker force and surrounded. Armies don't like to be surrounded even against numerically inferior forces because armies are inherently disorganized organizations. Any retreating action will result in men tumbling into their comrades and most organized units like to have a way to cycle through ranks of soldiers to respond to emerging conditions with fresh fighters.

Without knowing the context of the fight, it becomes impossible to say exactly how or why one weapon, one tactic or one type of attack would be better than another. So, the goal in constructing a uniform system is to give each weapon/armor/skill a set of traits that accommodates its context well, so that even once you introduce chance, it emerges as the best weapon for its context.

For your particular problem, range weapons are not very good in close quarters, have problems with rate of fire, do not offer protection against counter-measures and have difficulty with rapidly advancing opponents. If all these situations hold, you might be better off with even a martial art than a range weapon. But, if only one or two of these conditions holds, then it might be an open-ended question as to which type of attack - melee or ranged - is better. And, gamers love to gamble.

Evil ColSanders
Evil ColSanders's picture
Joined: 12/08/2010
Range is designed to take

Range is designed to take down melee troops. Troops die on their way to hit the ranged units in the face. At that point, melee rules and ranged units will drop.

Think of D-day, the invasion of Normandy. Thousands of troops died to get to the protected mountain/hillside where the nazis were firing from. What you are asking for is a way to nerf Ranged combat so that the US troops take minimal losses from that fight. This has been done. It's called Warhammer 40k.

Add things such as cover and concealment, like Warmachine does, adding +4 and +2 to their difficulty to hit respectively. Other than that, add more armor to your melee? You'd have to make them more expensive to field if you do that though.

jumpseat's picture
Joined: 10/21/2009
Ammo depletion?

How about you take into account ranged weapons ammunition and limit that. That could be the tradeoff against melee weapons/fighting, you can fire your arrows for smallish damage, but you eventually run out. This introduces a time factor into the contrast between melee and ranged combat. Perhaps a sword blow does 6 damage and an archer 6 (but spread over 6 turns before completely running out, or needing to restock). Perhaps the stock of arrows is part of the cost of outfitting your troops?

The wall problem is probably the bigger issue. If there is no way to reach an archer and take him down from behind a wall, then it seems irretrievably unbalanced. Perhaps an archer (or any fortified figure) is considered a negative in terms of tallying up the battle at the end of game. Effectively it is considered that they will be starved out, unable to get food and supplies and so count as losses. This could encourage people out into the open to face the enemy; or discourage the use of archers in case the battle goes badly and they will count against you as losses. Dont want to have people stuck inside and unsupplied.

Joined: 01/27/2011
Thank you so much everyone

Thank you so much everyone for your in-depth analysis and advice.

I guess I should clarify a few things.

  • My game is a basic RPG miniatures style game, so I'm not looking to make it very complex or convoluted. I'm aiming for a semi-casual audience, around three hours of play with basic rules.
  • My game plays out as a kind of player vs player, so we're talking a player controlling a single hero on a team not armies etc.
  • So as to not hem my process of mechanics building, I've not decided on a theme which could dictate any sort of 'reality'. However, this said I will most certainly take a fantastical approach (but not traditional fantasy) to mechanics and eventually my theme. This means that 'anything' is possible but I'd still like constraints etc. to feel natural, as suggested.
  • Ammo depletion is actually a really interesting idea that I hadn't though of toying with so as to not make the game too complex. However I believe that I could implement a fairly basic ammunition mechanic that won't put off semi-casual players.

Thanks again for everyones help, this site is fantastic! My game is my 3rd or so endevour and I plan to make it pretty epic while maintaining a sense of simplicity, no easy feat. So I'll be sure to stick around and ask for more advice as I go and also offer up help where I can.



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