Roleplaying

Learning From Successful Combat Systems

Three figures fighting a duel in Victorian London.
This post is 3 in the series: The Challenge of RPG Combat
In this series’ first entry, I looked at how RPG combat can serve the story. Next, I talked about why the vast majority of RPG combat doesn’t. In this final entry, we’ll consider how RPG combat can do better. For our purposes, “combat” refers to any extended conflict system, be it about sword fighting or academic debate. While there’s no “best” way to design combat rules, there are a few qualities that will benefit any system.

Those qualities are simplicity, intuitiveness, balance, and choices. I talked about them in more detail last week. Today, we’ll look at the two games I’ve encountered that have good combat systems. That’s right, there are only two of them out of countless games played over twenty years. Good combat systems are just that rare.

Neither of these systems are perfect, but they both score reasonably well in each of the four critical areas. That makes them fun, even for players who aren’t normally die-hard combat fans. Let’s look at them and see what makes each system tick.

Spycraft’s Chase System

An explosion reflected in the visor of a motorcycle helmet, from Spycraft's chase system.

Remember how I mentioned that a combat system doesn’t have to be about fighting? Welcome to Spycraft 1st Edition, a game with excellent rules for chasing down your enemy, whether you’re screeching down the highway in an Aston Martin or running through back alleys on foot.

Here’s how it works: Distance in a chase is measured in abstract “lengths.”* The predator is trying to close the distance to zero lengths while the prey is trying to increase it past 30 lengths and escape. Each round, predator and prey secretly choose from a list of actions and then roll to see who succeeds. Predator actions typically shorten the distance, whereas prey actions typically increase it. So how does this system score on our four metrics?

Simplicity

Simplicity is Spycraft’s weakest area because it’s a D20 system, which means rules, lots of rules. Miscellaneous bonuses can come from anywhere, and each PC has a host of feats and class abilities to keep track of. Once you add in vehicle stats and the rules for different types of terrain, it can be quite a chore.

However, the chase system at least isn’t any more complicated than Spycraft in general, and it is significantly simpler than the main combat system. Each player has to learn 10 maneuvers, but they’re presented in accessible tables should somebody forget one. Keeping the distance measured in abstract lengths rather than precise units also helps a lot.

Intuitiveness

Spycraft scores high on intuition. The system is abstract, not allowing players to dictate exactly what turns and maneuvers their vehicle takes, but that’s okay. In a chase, players instinctively know what really matters is the distance between predator and prey, not the specifics of which on-ramp the cars use.

Most of the actions have intuitive names as well, which makes them easy to learn and use. Redline makes your car go super fast, but risks damaging it. Vanish lets you escape the chase, leaving the other car behind with no clue where you went. It’s a little less clear what Zig Zag does, but no system is perfect.

Balance

I can’t swear that there aren’t any balance issues in Spycraft’s chase system, but I haven’t yet been able to find them. It helps that the main mechanical factor is a character’s Driver skill, which isn’t really open to power-gaming. All participants have access to the same actions, and each action plays an important role in winning the chase.

The main balance issue is that one of the game’s classes, Wheelman, is specifically designed for the chase system. A Wheelman will always have an advantage over any other class, even if the Wheelman is several levels lower. However, the chase is also clearly designed as the Wheelman’s place to shine, so it’s less of an issue. Players who pick another class won’t expect their characters to be masters behind the wheel like a Wheelman is.

Choices

Spycraft’s chase system shines brightest in the choices it offers. To start, each action provides a unique benefit, and players will choose different actions based on their objective for the chase. If the predator simply wants to catch up with the prey, they’ll use an action like Gun It, which is a straightforward way of closing the distance. If they want the prey destroyed, they’ll use Herd, which forces the prey into dangerous terrain where they might crash.

But it goes deeper. Each action has bonuses and penalties against other actions, which is where trying to predict your opponent’s moves comes in. Maybe you’re in the perfect position to use Cut Off and end the chase. But your opponent knows that, so they might choose Bootleg Reverse, which has a hefty bonus against Cut Off. So, knowing that, should you use an action that’s good against Bootleg Reverse, or should you go with your original plan and hope your opponent overthinks things?

The rules can go even deeper for experienced players. If your opponent is in a better car but has a lower Driver skill, you can choose actions that will put them in danger of crashing, since avoiding crashes has little to do with vehicle statistics. Alternatively, you can use actions that will give your party members good chances to shoot at the enemy vehicle and try to end the chase with a round through the engine block. Even more options open up as players get to know the rules.

Drawbacks

The chase system’s biggest flaw is its lack of flexibility. While it can be used for multiple types of chases, from on-foot sprints to week-long zeppelin pursuits, it’s clearly designed for one-on-one situations. It doesn’t handle more than one predator or prey very well, and while passengers in a vehicle chase can shoot at the enemy, that’s about it.

It’s also a little disappointing that Spycraft only has this level of awesome for one type of conflict. It makes the other classes wish they had their own combat system too. Spycraft 2.0 tried to deliver on this idea, adapting the chase rules for everything from hacking to infiltrating, but the results were underwhelming.

Anima Prime

An action hero standing on top of a defeated robot, from Anima Prime

Anima Prime’s combat system is for actual fighting. Specifically, the kind of high-action wuxia fighting you see in shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and novels like Mistborn. It can theoretically be used for other things, but magical martial arts are where it performs best.

Here’s how it works: combatants start out with a large pool of Action Dice. They perform maneuvers that let them move dice from the Action Pool into their Strike and Charge Pools. From there, Strike Dice are used to attack the enemy and complete objectives, and Charge Dice are used to activate special abilities. Let’s see how it stacks up.

Simplicity

Anime Prime scores really high on simplicity. Combatants move dice around the different pools until they have the number of dice they want, then they take a different action. There are no complex formulas or obscure rules to remember, and it’s really easy to tell how many dice you have in each pool because they’re sitting right in front of you.

Meanwhile, each character usually has only three to five special abilities, so no player has to remember too much. This means combat is rarely slowed down by someone needing to look over their long list of feats in case one of them somehow applies. The objective is also very simple: get enough Strike Dice to knock out your opponent, though there are some deeper strategies for how to get there.

Intuitiveness

This is Anima Prime’s weakest area, as it is highly abstract and those abstractions aren’t always immediately clear. It can be a challenge to explain why a combatant can’t simply attack on the first round, why they instead have to perform a maneuver to move dice from their Action Pool to their Strike Pool.

The explanations are easier if everyone uses the same fictional framework. In shows like Avatar, a lot of the fight is spent with the characters circling each other, looking for an opening, charging up, or some other kind of setup. Even exploratory punches can be lumped into this framework, with only the really serious hits being worthy of Strike Dice. Still, this layer of abstraction is a disconnect some players have trouble getting past.

Balance

As with Spycraft, I can’t swear to you that there’s nothing unbalanced in Anima Prime. I haven’t math-ed out every possible combination, but in over two dozen combats, nothing broken has shown up. I’ve run both PCs and NPCs with a wide assortment of abilities, and they’ve all been viable. After this long with any other system, I’d expect at least half a dozen balance issues, and so far I haven’t found any.

This kind of balance is liberating. It leaves players free to experiment with all sorts of unusual builds when they’d otherwise feel like they had to plan against the system’s flaws. That’s one of the best things about Anima Prime: you never know what kind of character you might make or encounter.

Choices

Anima Prime’s choices don’t offer the kind of intense strategy we see in Spycraft, but they’re satisfying nonetheless. A big part of that satisfaction is the tactile feeling of moving large handfuls of dice around your character sheet. It just feels good to be dealing in something other than abstract numbers!

Beyond dice shuffling, Anima Prime does offer players a chance to test their tactical muscles. Combatants must decide whether it’s better to press the attack immediately or wait for a bigger pile of Strike Dice and the certainty that comes with it. Both choices are valid, and each comes with its own risk. More complex strategies start to evolve as multiple PCs combine their abilities. One character may use their damage shield to protect the sniper, while another uses their debuff powers to weaken the enemy for a big push.

Drawbacks

Fortunately, Anima Prime’s combat system handles multiple combatants just fine. Unfortunately, the designers were so focused on combat that they forgot to include rules for anything else. That’s not an exaggeration: Anima Prime has no rules to resolve anything without starting a full combat. That’s a headache, but it gets worse. In theory, you can use the combat rules for any sort of conflict, but the vast majority of special abilities are only useful in a physical fight, so other conflicts are left pretty empty. This is bad news for anyone who wants to solve their problems by talking.

How Can You Use This?

So what does this mean for the hardworking game designer? What can we learn that will actually be useful in the trenches of making the next RPG generation? The first lesson is not to rest on our laurels. We cannot be satisfied with maintaining the status quo of RPG combat because the status is not quo. RPG combat is a mess, and we need to fix it. That’s pretty abstract, but I have good news: we can draw some lessons that are a bit more practical as well.

Design Choices First

I’ve reversed my usual order here because I believe interesting choices are the core of any RPG combat system. Without them, the rest falls apart, so they should usually be designed first. Consider what choices will form the meat of your game play, the decisions your players will have fun making.

You have nearly infinite options to choose from. Perhaps your game will take a rock-paper-scissors approach like Spycraft does, with players choosing from actions with better or worse matchups against each other. Alternatively, your players might have a limited amount of energy to spend on their special abilities, and they must choose which ability to activate each round. You could even use a betting system, where players try to commit enough resources to beat their opponent without using more than is needed.

No matter what option you choose, taking this step first will let you build the rest of the system around it, so all roads point back to player choices. This will keep your players engaged and justify the time spent on an extended conflict resolution.

Resist Complexity

In any design process, there is a temptation to add all the things. This is almost always a bad idea, as it turns your project into a bloated mess, but it’s especially tempting in RPG design because the cost of additions is so cheap. You don’t have to pay programmers or artists; you can just add whatever pops into your mind.

You shouldn’t though. Every mechanic and rule must be absolutely necessary to support your core experience. If your core choices are about armored knights battering each other’s helmets in, you probably don’t need rules for how a whip works. When you encounter a problem, it’ll be tempting to slap a new rule on as a patch, but that’s something else players have to remember. See if there’s a way to modify your core choices instead.

Even with all this, a certain level of complexity is unavoidable. Depending on what you’re trying to simulate, the minimum amount of complexity could be quite high. Be aware that this will limit your player base, even if you do everything else right, and be sure that tradeoff is worth it to you.

Conform to Narrative Expectations

Remember that your combat system is part of a narrative, and thus it must meet expectations for that narration. If you don’t care about the story, then a board game is probably a better use of your design energy. Board games give you a lot more freedom from the constraints of telling a coherent story.

Assuming you do care about narrative expectations, make sure you know what they are. The surest way to do this is to consume media from the genre you want to emulate, but remember the limitations on complexity. Firefight mechanics in an espionage game should have rules to differentiate larger and smaller guns, but they don’t need rules for every pistol model out there. Social conflict rules in games of noble intrigue will need rules for how a character’s reputation is affected by each argument, but they probably don’t need to simulate the labyrinthian rules of Elizabethan court fashion.

An easy way to make things more manageable is to ditch D&D-style sprawling simulationism. It’s really hard to manage expectations when you’re trying to design rules for how far a character can jump from a standing start based on their height. With a more abstract system, you can better create satisfying rules, because you won’t have to deal with the impossibility of properly simulating reality without a super computer. As a side benefit, ditching simulationist rules will seriously cut down on your system’s complexity.

Playtest, Playtest, and Playtest

The only way to make sure that your system is balanced, or that it works at all, is through playtesting. You can do some preliminary work by calculating obvious combinations and actions, but the only way to be sure is to get eyes other than yours on the project. Find the most power-gaming players you can, and let them loose. Tell them that this time they shouldn’t try to rein in their instincts. If there are imbalances to be exploited, these gamers will find them.

This is hard. Playtesting takes time and a lot of mental energy to sort through everyone’s feedback. They may tell you things you don’t want to hear, and if they’re right, you have to act on their bad news. Playtesting may be the most difficult part of the entire design process.

Nevertheless, playtesting is critical. When I worked in the RPG industry, playtesting was perfunctory at best, and it shows. This is one big reason the major players keep churning out poorly balanced, static combat systems. The good news is that if you do better, your game will stand out from the crowd, and that’s the sweetest reward of all.


There’s no single way to design a combat system. If there were, I’d just publish it and congratulate myself on a job well done. At the same time, it’s clear to me that the medium is badly in need of an upgrade. Combat has a lot of potential as a storytelling tool, but it will only achieve that potential if we designers change our approach. I hope that day arrives soon, when we can look back at the era of Bad Combat and wonder how we ever put up with it.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

 

Comments

  1. Lizard with Hat

    Very interesting, Oren. I enjoyed this article greatly :3

    Funny thing is: for my homebrew system (it’s a dice pool system because… your convinced me and I have many D6 here XD ) I’m building i acutely used both ways. Allocation of Dice and actions that interact with each other – it seem natural to do so because I found both mechanics in PnP-RPGs that where noted for some good rules (not only here on Mythcreants )
    Additional my combat-mechanics are now used for all conflict resolution, another thing that seemed obvious to me.

    So I have to thank you for this entry in your series in help understand choices and steps I was taking intuitivly (I guess… sorry if a pad myself on the back to much)

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s awesome, I’m glad you got something useful out of these series, and also that I have successfully spread the dice pool gospel!

      • Lizard with Hat

        Funny thing is I liked dice pool systems a long time because of SPACE 1889 – My favorite PnP-RPG.
        Its basically “Full Light, Full Steam” but with better rules and an full chapter on how to play and subvert the various “-isms” that plagued the 19th Century (and quite a few character archetypes are POC, Women and non-humans) – i don’t say “SPACE 1889” is a perfect game but is surprisingly nice (and, if I remember correctly, it is form the same time as “Full Light, Full Steam”)

        • Michael Campbell

          Space 1889. Excellent game concept.
          Minor problem with play. If your skill isn’t higher than your attribute then you’re better off having a skill of zero than some low level of skill.

          • Lizard with Hat

            Okay… why is that. O.o
            I mean skill and attribute a added together?
            Am i missing something here?

          • Michael Campbell

            It’s right there on page 44 of the rule book under Skill Dice / Attribute Dice.

            “THIS METHOD has the player character (or the referee for NPCs) roll a number of dice equal to his attribute or skill level, which ever is appropriate. The dice rolls are added together, and the total is compared to a fixed target level.

            Normally the number of dice rolled is equal to the relevant skill level. If a specific task is covered by a listed skill, that skill is used. However if there is no specific skill covering the task, the referee decides which of the six attributes best covers the task and use its score as the number of dice rolled instead.”

            Since the WEG Star Wars uses a bunch of D6 and adds skill and attribute to find that number of die, I suspect you’ve allowed that rule system to filter into your thinking.
            However since one systems uses difficulty increments of 5 and the other uses difficulty increments of 4, I’ld recommend that GDW’s Space 1889 was developed with the idea of attribute “or” skill rather than attribute “and” skill.

          • Lizard with Hat

            I can’t reply to your latest comment so this will have to do.

            I think we are talking about different versions of SPACE 1889 as the one i have clearly adds Skill and attribute but i lets one use the Attribute if no skill applies (or the character does not have the fitting skill. I should add that I’m from Germany and it may very well be that some PnP-RPGs I’ve got into over the years are labeled differently, the Version of SPACE 1889 I have is from 2012 and in German.

            I also never played WEG Star Wars so I don’t know what gave you that impression

          • Michael Campbell

            I see. You’re using the Ubiquity edition of the rules.

            I thought you meant by “a long time” that you were playing the GDW rules for first edition back in ’88.

          • Lizard with Hat

            Well that’s a bit long than I’m on this earth
            With “a long time” I meant that SPACE 1889 was the second game I ever was GM for and the second one I pick up after The Dark Eye. XD

            So: yes, UBIQUITY-system is quite a nice system :3

  2. Elda King

    A “combat system” I really, really like is the one from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (Cortex Plus system). It is kind of a dice pool system, but with a lot of different dice, and you “create” the pool by describing creative uses for your superpowers and then spend the dice you rolled to dictate interesting things that happened. The GM also has his own “doom pool”, which he improves as the players get failures, creating an increasing danger. It gives players quite a lot of creative freedom, but the numbers don’t go out of control – you are supposed to find ways to add your biggest dice, but you don’t just add together the results, and when the GM takes advantage of the failures he must give you a narrative point.
    It is quite simple (compared to the usual mess), balanced sufficiently well, and intuitive – so intuitive that veteran players often give the biggest trouble, as they have trouble accepting that you can just make things up freely. But its biggest strength for me is how it uses rules to reinforce narrative.

  3. Elda King

    On an entirely different topic (thus different comment), I don’t really agree that complexity is a bad thing in a combat system. It can be, and historically often was: the “D&D-style sprawling simulationism” for example hasn’t worked well. But I’d say the bad thing is only *unnecessary* complexity. Complexity for complexity sake isn’t a good enough reason.

    Sometimes, more complexity (more player options, rules for more situations, more factors coming into play at once) can make the combat way more interesting. It can add more relevant choice, make combats less repetitive, create a more interesting challenge, and generally make it better for people who like complex tactics or puzzles. For those who prefer something less abstract, some (very carefully selected) simulation can make combat feel more grounded.

    Complexity has some drawbacks: makes the game harder to learn, is harder to balance (and generally to design), requires the designer to create more stuff. It can also be a bad thing if a subsystem like combat is much more complex than the rules for everything else.

    But I don’t think simplicity is an essentially positive point. I can think of many games where the combat is bad because it is oversimplified, or just doesn’t have enough complexity to be interesting.

    • BeardedLizard

      Regarding complexity, I like to think in term of resources. Complexity is like a coin. You spend some to create depth, meaningful choices and flavor. If the complexity you add does not get you any (or give you very little for the amount you “paid” for), it’s better to leave it out or change it. And like many other thing, some people will look for a game with so much depth, choices and/or flavor that you will need a lot of complexity to get it.

      I think this is what happened with D&D, the game having started as a wargame before turning into what it is now. They wanted to simulate reality as much as they could, which cost them a lot of complexity (then tradition and expectation kind of force them to keep a similar level of simulation and complexity through multiple editions).

    • Ty

      Good point. Adding to that, abstraction isn’t an inherent virtue in games either. On a spectrum from simulationist to abstract, the more abstract your game is, the more you risk losing player involvement. If you make combat too simple, it becomes detached and pointless. Or worse, it feels like a dumb mini-game. At that rate, when a combat encounter comes up, why not skip all the popcorn mechanics and just narrate what happens in the scene?

      Reading between the lines, I think that’s the general thrust of these articles. At least, that’s the impression I’m left with- current RPG combat is too simulationist, the complexity is confusing rather than interesting, and no (or few) games have a system that works well. Here are some considerations for designing a better system, but one might as well just narrate all action scenes.

      • Michael Campbell

        Ah, to fudge or not to fudge?
        Should players have “free will” or only feel the sensation of it?

        The key is to make combat worth the effort. How much effort that is; is another matter.

        Risk & reward; includes the risk of players announcing; “This is boring.” But few game systems factor that in.

      • Rose Embolism

        “Skip all the popcorn mechanics” is pretty much what the Amber Diceless system did, with varying success. Its also worth noting the large majority of roleplaying is completely systemless, working based on mutual agreement as to what would make an interesting or dramatic scene. And then there are games like Dialect, where the system has little to nothing to do with combat or tasks. So those systems are out there, though few tabletop gamers see them.

        Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but I’m seeing a degree of “air hockey is objectively good, billards is objectively bad” element. I feel we could also touch more on the personal dynamic at the table, which is where the key of the system really has to fit in the lock of the gamers’ preferences.

        Based on my experience with that dynamic, I would say that interesting combat/task scenes are orthogonal to the actual systems, and a big part of that has to do with how the game group interacts with the system and each other. One of the most boring combats I ever saw was a life and death struggle in Mouse Guard, and one of the most exciting was a skuffle in 4th Edition D&D. It has a lot to do with how the stakes are portrayed and player preferences. If players dont have buy-in on the stakes, the system wont help at all (note: the stakes dont have to be life-and-death, just interesting to the group).

        Don’t get me wrong- I do think system is massively important for interfacing with player interests. For instance, I like systems where one of the most important elements is how badly one wants to succeed, and at what cost. I also like systems where I get to demonstrate character mastery. Hence I like games like Fate or Nobilis, where building up a pool of points to get an extreme success when spent at the right time is possible, or Masks, where experience can be spent to unlock a “Moment of Truth”. I also hate systems where I can succeed incredibly well, and have minimal to no effect. Boo to Storyteller system, and yay to James Bond, which avoids that problem.

        But those preferences are just me. And hell, that’s not even all I consider important in a game.

  4. BeardedLizard

    Great article, I was really looking forward to it

    I would have liked to read about another system that hadn’t been discussed on Mythcreant already, but it was to be expected since, like you said, there aren’t that many good ones out there. The second part of the article was great thought! Personally, I often start the design process with ideas of choices and the kind of mechanic I want to build my game around. What’s harder for me is to filter which mechanics to keep and which to take away. Most of my projects tend to be so complicated that I loose myself midway through the campaign and forget what I’ve put in (until my player point it out, of course, then I have to search it in my own book because I’m just that forgetful xD).

  5. Shawn H Corey

    “It can be a challenge to explain why a combatant can’t simply attack on the first round…”

    Not hard at all. Unless you are prepared for a immediate strike, you are surprised. If you are walk thru a city and your enemy comes around the corner, do the two of you immediately fling yourselves into combat? The problem is that the combat system totally separates combat from everything else so you can’t be ready for battle a the drop of the hat.

  6. Bubbles

    While there are some interesting tips in this article, I think the problem is it leaves out some styles that some people actually like. “D&D style simulationism” is criticized, yet some people, such as me, are attracted to roleplaying games such as D&D and others precisely because of this simulationism. There’s an interesting article called “D&D: Calibrating Your Expectations” related to this on the blog The Alexandrian, whose author also likes these kinds of rules. Now, of course this style isn’t for everybody, and it certainly has its flaws, but it also has advantages. Popularity isn’t necessarily a measure of how good a work is, but considering D&D is the most popular roleplaying game, it’s still hard to call it a failure. I would agree with the commenter Ty above that abstractionism also has its own problems and is not attractive to everybody.

    I think the problem is that in some articles here, the authors think their own opinions, likes, and dislikes are facts that everybody will follow, which they are not, causing articles to leave out some people’s interests and claiming that some things can never work even when there are real examples of those things working. Of course, there is nothing wrong with an opinion piece or an article targeted to a specific audience; the problem is the presentation as factual and all-inclusive. You might argue that on a blog, the expectation is already that articles are based on the writers’ opinions, so it does not need to be explicitly stated. However, in some articles, notably the social justice ones, things are and should be presented as facts. While there can be disagreement on things such as how best to solve the problem, it is simply a fact that bigotry is wrong. Presenting things such as that along with opinions such as “what gaming style is best?” without making the difference between fact and opinion is, well, problematic.

    • Michael Campbell

      1) I concur. Grognard appeasement is not a sin. And people who complain that it is should be looked on with the question “what their hidden agenda?” All too frequently the complainers are just a different variety of power gamer…the ones who think they can “win” by removing the game from the rules.

      2) Yes the presentation of opinion as fact is a bit problematic.
      “Here’s the results of a survey of 50 GMs that I organised” would be a lot closer to fact than “here’s what I reckon.”

      2) @ Bubbles. Even then, there’s some room for debate. Where does one draw the line between being discerning and being judgemental???

      • Bubbles

        For your point 2: that’s why I was very specific about what I was saying. I specified that there is room for legitimate debate on the best way to deal with bigotry and on what subtle things are exactly bigotry. What is fact is that bigotry itself is wrong. There are obvious things such as “don’t have your narration state that women are inferior to men (unless your narrator is an in-universe character or otherwise meant to not be entirely objective and accurate),” that people just shouldn’t do.

  7. Michael Campbell

    Oren:

    One thing you haven’t actually outlined is that there are two ways a GM can run an RPG. 1) Everybody does some math. 2) Only the GM gets to do math.
    I suspect you’ve run only type 1 games and thus have an experience of game complexity affecting player experience. If you play under the type 2 system only the GM need know the complexity (or lack thereof) of the system and thus the players are free to creatively announce their character’s action with words and adjectives rather than summing up a number and placing the weight of their character’s destiny on what the game designers think a +4 should mean.

    Could I recommend you play a game of Cyberpunk 2020 which is a system you would describe as “static combat” and then run the game and tell the players to come into the game with no knowledge of system. That all math will be the job of the Referee. Numbers will be recorded on character sheets but you’ll be the final arbiter of which ones will be applicable by asking the questions of the players.
    By not knowing the system and not doing the math, the “static combat system” played with the Referee doing all the mechanical stuff, actually liberates the players to “imagine” their character’s actions, which is in harmonious accord with what the players experience under conventional task resolution.

    https://talsorianstore.com/products/cyberpunk-2020

  8. Alexander Kostrzewa

    I have yet to experience it firsthand, but I’m quite curious about the combat system in Exalted. It’s somewhat similar to Anima Prime; as I understand it , the flow of combat becomes about building up your level of advantage over your opponent (called “initiative”), which determines the potency of your blow when you finally do attack. Sort of like the Brave and HP system in the Dissidia games, but pen and paper.

  9. Rose Embolism

    The Spycraft chase system sounds a lot like the dueling systems from Lace and Steel and Riddle of Steel. Pick a manuever, show your card, and hope the enemy doesn’t pick the right counter card. I’m a bit skeptical, because that can too easiky not deal with the fiction of the character, but trying to outguess the other player. But I may be biased, because the first and best chase system I saw was the one in the James Bond 007 game. Nothing really has matched it for me.

    The point building game remunds me of the Marvel Universe game, which I feel has been massively unjustly maligned. I liked that it was all about deciding how many stones to commit to an attack or power. Yes you could go all out, but that would leave you exhausted- this results in characters being balanced as far as trading off narrative importance in a scene.

    Of course my favorite point buildup system comes from Golden Sky stories, where the stat Wonder gives you points you spend to activate powers, and the stat Feelings gives you points to help succeed at tasks. Both are based on the Connnections with the other characters- which in turn will be increased between scenes by spending the Dreams points that players gift to each other. Since unused Wonder and Feelings points roll over from scene to scene, the points stack, allowing more dramatic and useful powers to be used toward the end of the game. Which really nicely duplicates the plot element from anime of power use reaching a climax. The system works incredibly well for emulating the comforting tone of a particular genre of anime.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      I don’t suppose you know where a copy of Lace & Steel can be obtained? It doesn’t seem to be for sale anywhere.

  10. Ameraaaaaa

    I’ve also heard good things about legends of mulan but I’ll warn you that from what i hear theirs some weird mix of both freedom from prejudice in universe and prejudice in universe basically prejudice is only their if the player allows it but it also seems to have different rules for different (or the same rules but the tv tropes page makes it seem different even though i can’t tell from my skimming of the tv tropes page) and apparently their might be special powers that ether allow or empower homosexuals but again the books are 1 of the most poorly edited rpgs of all time

    The main point is that even though the book might intentionally or unintentionally have prejudice in the system it also apparently has from what i hear is the best combat system of all time so yeah and also it doesn’t seem like anyone is bothered by it so all of this could be a badly written tv tropes page (also I’m bi and I’ll still probably buy this book for the combat system out of curiosity though their seems to be a review of it online)

    Also sorry if this is unreadable i have severe adhd and minor autism

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