Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fighting Talk

I was reading Gameplaywright on my mobile phone on the way home from work, and they, in turn, pointed me to this blog entry by Ryan Macklin, which talks about how games that focus on story rarely focus and skills tests and vis versa.
Macklin's comments about 'beats' within combat got me thinking about RPG combat resolution mechanics. 
As you do.

His point was, kind of, that RPG combat often loses that cinematic flow and excitement due to the artificial interruptions of dice rolling and rule deliberation. Yes. I see that. 

Then I thought of something. 
Wouldn't it be great to have a combat that's narrated between players without the interruptions of dice rolls, but still took the abstract concept of skill points etc in account?

Here's my idea. 

Characters have a 'Combat' score. This score equals the number of 'Combat Moves' the character can perform in a round of combat.
A round of combat lasts an indeterminate length of time, and is best described as a flurry of activity within the combat - the participants circle each other, enter into a short burst of activity in which they attack and evade, then fall back to safer distance to plan their next move.
The character with the highest Combat Score goes first. If the scores are tied, then the GM arbitrates using such criteria as they find appropriate.
The players take it in turns to describe the combat, and are able to describe one Combat Move per point they have invested in their Combat Score. In an ideal combat, the players will react to and build upon the Combat Moves described by each other.
Once all Combat Moves have been described, the players roll their Combat Score + 1 Die. 
They then split their total between Damage and Defence - e.g. One player may roll a total of 9, and opt to allocate 5 points to Damage, and 4 points to Defence. This would allow them to apply 5 Damage to their opponent, and evade 4 points of Damage in return. Their opponent also splits their total in this way. Probably best to write the split down before declaring it. 

It could play out like this:

Classic Fantasy example
GM: Your characters are gambling in a tavern when you have a disagreement about the legality of concealed cards. Words are exchanged and it becomes clear you must fight. 
You leap up from your seats at the table and quickly take in your surroundings. The tavern is dark and smoke filled, with tightly packed tables and chairs and is currently incredibly busy. A set of aged wooden stairs against the far wall lead to a narrow balcony. There are chandeliers about ten feet above your heads. The bar is a plank of wood laid across a collection of barrels, and is next to the doors.

[Player A has a Combat Score of 4. Player B has a Combat Score of 3. Player A goes first. Player A can describe 4 Combat Moves, whilst Player B can only describe 3]

Player A: I kick the table towards the cheating bastard, hoping to knock him off balance, and draw my sword!

Player B: I still have my flagon of ale in my hands, so I throw that in his face and reach for my daggers.

Player A: I swing my sword wildly at him, laughing and wiping the cheap ale from my face.

Player 2: I try to fall back into the crowd. Hopefully he'll hit an innocent bystander instead of me.

GM: Player A, you connect with somebody. You don't think it's the right person. Chaos erupts around you both.

Player A: Charge towards him, sword raised high, and land blows all around. One or more will hit him.

Player B: Dive forward, tackle him at waist level and sink my dagger into his side.

Player 1: Bring the pommel of my sword down on his head again and again and again.

[Both players have now described the combat using their assigned Combat Moves. Now they must determine their Combat Totals and decide how many points to assign to Damage and Defence.  
Player A rolls a 3, which he adds to his Combat Score of 4, giving him a Combat Total of 7.
Player B rolls a 5, which he adds to his Combat Score of 3, giving him a Combat Total of 8.
Player A decides he was more concerned with attacking than evading, so assigns 5 points to Damage and 2 points to Defence. 
Player B decides he gave as good as he got, so splits his total in half, with 4 points assigned to Damage and and 4 points assigned to Defence. 
Player A's 5 points of Damage are partially countered by Player B's 4 points of Defence, meaning he only delivers 1 point of Damage to Player B. 
Player B's even spread means that Player A suffers 2 points of Damage, and blocks 2 points.

After the first Round of combat, Player A has taken 2 Damage, and Player B has taken 1 Damage.]

All the numbers used are off the top of my head, and don't reflect what a balanced and well designed system would require. Probably. With these Damage totals, a characters hit points would either have to be very low, or we'd have to beef up the damage a bit.

Anyways - This post has been a bit of a tangent. I just had this idea, and really wanted to put it down before I slept. Any comments or improvements are more then welcome.