Saturday, September 17, 2011

Modern RPG Combat (not Rifts related)

I've been musing over this for a while. Most games do close combat (melee combat) pretty well, at least acceptably well. Most games don't really do ranged combat really well. In real world combat, a large portion of fights are slow -- combatants in close range often circle each other, looking for openings. At a distance, combatants hide behind cover before popping out, taking a shot, and returning to cover. This is especially true as characters become more skilled; they are less likely to leave openings and less likely to attack unless they have a very specific purpose -- either they can score a hit or they can pin the opponent, trap him, or disable his weapon. Aggression is valuable in combat, but only when it's controlled; blind rushing leads to getting gutted by a spear or gunned down by enemy fire out in the open. This is the theme I'm working with.

Combat in this engine is dirty and brutal, or at least it's intended to be. Weapons are deadly and wounds are serious. In order to prevent frequent player character death, PCs are granted some form of "luck" which allows them to avoid bad situations -- they're given a certain number of these per adventure and allow them to cancel the effects of a normally terrible situation. For GMs wanting a more realistic game, PCs could be given very few or none of these. I'll cover character statistics in another post; I want this to focus mainly on combat phases and actions. I'll cover dice mechanics elsewhere too, but I'm intending to use a 3d10 + modifiers system (essentially a d20-like system with 3d10 instead of 1d20). I'll go more into reasons for that later.

Generally this system assumes a few things that are not present in other combat systems:

1: Imperfect Information. Whenever possible, hide the exact position of things on the battlefield. This can be done pretty easily with MapTool or something similar. You show only the terrain, and not what is on the battlefield. Players then have to use their character skills to identify distances to a particular target, and so on. This is to simulate fog of war; it makes no sense that all characters know exactly which guy was shot by their buddy, or which zone has erupted into melee and so on.

2: Limited Communication. Players should only be allowed to communicate a small amount of information. In general, this means players should only be allowed to speak on their turns and only small phrases if they are taking other actions. Characters who want to convey lots of information should be forced to spend actual turns doing so; this is why in real life, there are radio operators and officers who are not in the main battle speaking with command units on the radio. If a character is in an emergency situation (eg. gets flanked, gets hit, needs assistance, there is a grenade nearby) it is totally reasonable for him or her to shout a very brief message such as "Help! Medic! Grenade!" and so on. Also, characters who are not within auditory range of other characters may be asked to leave the room temporarily so they do not know what is said. Because communication is so important in real life, it should be assumed that most player comms are over headset/walkie talkie or networked magic communication and that all players can hear what is being said, though.


  • Like any game, the first thing that needs to happen is the initiative roll. Like most games, characters or units (groups of characters typically used for mooks) act in initiative order.
  • The duration of a combat round is 10 seconds.
  • Initiative is determined by a roll-high method; highest numbers go first.
  • If one side of a battle is expecting combat and the other is not, the attackers gain a significant bonus to initiative (+2 to +5).
  • If one side of a battle is ambushing the other or otherwise takes the enemy by surprise, they gain a massive bonus to initiative (+5 or more).
  • Even with ambush bonuses to initiative, extremely combat-aware characters may still be able to go before their attackers; the bonus is a bonus, not a guarantee. Additionally, an extremely lucky character may just be prepared for battle as the attackers are ambushing or spot them just as they come out.

Melee Combat
  • Characters who have engaged in melee immediately begin brawling after initiative is rolled. Melee combat is exclusive; a character cannot participate in both the melee and ranged combat phases.
  • Characters in melee have "melee actions," allowing them to take many (typically 3 or more) actions in a round. Skilled melee combatants generally have more melee actions than unskilled combatants.
  • Characters in melee are considered to be in constant movement for characters outside of melee, which affects ranged combat rolls.
    Characters in melee are "deadlocked" to whoever was attacking them during the last combat round. If there are multiple attackers, the character may choose which foe to focus on.
  • If a character is focused on one enemy, any other attackers gain a flanking bonus (+3 or more) against him. Some exceptionally skilled characters may be able to fight several attackers without granting any of them flanking.
  • On each character's turn, he may attack his chosen target or use his melee actions to maneuver or defend. Once his turn has occurred, he may still act in the future if he has melee actions remaining.
  • A character may spend melee actions to move a certain distance, according to his movement speed. In addition, each character can move up to 10 feet in a round without costing any movement. This can also be used to disengage from melee; however, a character attempting to disengage from melee must use at least one action for defense if he is not deadlocked.
  • A character who exposes his rear to an attacker while moving immediately gives his attacker a free "flanking attack."
  • Characters choosing to hold actions for defense gain a bonus based on their combat skill to dodge, block, or otherwise avoid a number of incoming melee attacks equal to the number of attacks held. It can also be held for the ranged combat phase to avoid close combat attacks (but not ranged weapons unless the attacker is at close range). Some characters may be able to gain dedicated defensive actions that are always available.
  • Characters who have not acted yet are considered to have all of their actions held for defense when they are attacked. Any unspent actions on defense can then be used on their turns.
  • Attackers roll against the active (held actions) or passive (no action) defenses of the enemy. Because characters in melee are always considered to be moving and on the defensive, the defender always gets some ability to avoid attacks. This may be waived if the enemy is grappled or otherwise unable to move or block.
  • If a melee attacker scores a hit against a passive defense (no held actions), he may continue to make follow-up attacks that automatically hit until he has expended all his attacks. He does not have to make these attacks.

Ranged Combat (general combat?)
  • Characters in ranged combat act much slower than characters in melee combat. Instead of having a number of melee actions, characters in ranged combat may take up to 2 actions. Some actions take both combat actions.
  • A character may take an action to move up to half his base movement. This movement includes diving behind cover if desired. Slower amounts of movement may be performed in order to sneak through concealed areas.
  • A character may attack an enemy. If this is a close combat attack, this attack generally forces a deadlock and the character will be considered in melee in the next combat round. The attacker may choose not to enter melee (although the defender may attack in kind). A defender with a significant weapon range advantage (eg. polearm vs. knife) can force the attacker to stay out of melee if his defense is successful. Missile weapons don't count as a range advantage, but a rifle with a bayonet counts against an unarmed enemy or one with a knife. Multiple close combat attackers always force a deadlock.
  • Defense against close combat attacks in the ranged phase work like melee defenses, except one action spent defending counts as active defense against all attacks. Characters in melee defending against characters in the ranged combat phase attacking with close combat weapons do so with any held melee actions from the melee combat round.
  • Ranged attackers must aim before firing their weapons; otherwise, any fire executed is wild and generally inaccurate. This does not apply to ranged weapons (guns or crossbows) in melee combat. Aiming takes up one ranged combat action; the character is considered partially exposed while aiming if he is doing so from cover.
  • Wild shooting suffers a penalty based on the difficulty to hit the enemy. Partially exposed enemies aiming in are virtually impossible to hit; firing at enemies out in the open is still like shooting fish in a barrel. Enemies in melee are more difficult, but not impossible; however, wild shooting into melee has a very large chance of hitting other characters in the melee. Blind firing incurs additional penalties.
  • Thrown weapons do not have to be aimed, although aiming may grant bonuses. Drawing and throwing a weapon is a single action.
  • Reloading generally uses both actions. Some abilities may grant the ability to reload extremely quickly as a single or even free action once per round.
  • Non-wild aimed shooting does not include the ability to return to cover after firing.

  • Characters take wounding damage.
    Buffs and debuffs count down if applicable.
  • Any other modifiers take place at this time.

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