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Author Topic: Thoughts On A Fencing Mechanic Part 2  (Read 1244 times)
Gurnard
Member

Posts: 29


« on: April 19, 2010, 04:26:46 AM »

I posted here quite a while ago  about a combat mechanic I was working on. I phrased it at the time as a fencing simulation, just because I'd been studying renaissance fencil styles to try get my head around what I was attempting to encapsulate in a set of role-playing rules.

The reason behind all of this was a character I once played, many years ago, and the way he reshaped my perspective on RPG combat.
The system was D&D 3.5e, but the setting was decidedly low fantasy. Or at least, our part of the story was. Against a backdrop of a sweeping orcish conquest, we were but a bunch of young men doing what we could to protect the small fishing town of our birth from a hobgoblin cohort on the far periphery of a greater war of which our mediaval fishing community was obivious.
Our DM was a dedicated to immersive storytelling. He wanted to make sure we knew that crafting a good story together through was a labour of love for everyone involved. This story was not about an orc war though, it was a coming-of-age story about a bunch of young men and their community and what they would have to go through for it.
He set homework. He was a schoolteacher, and off this one campaign I'm happy to assert that schoolteachers make the best DMs. He set homework, and it made the game awesome.
To flesh out our little world, each player got an assignment to produce according to our station in life. One player was a chef-in-training, so his assignment was to describe the cuisine of our little fishing village. Armed with the background of the town, the climate, what was farmed nearby and where trade ships came from, he had to answer the question - when the part stops for food, what are we eating?
Another was an artist. Simple. Draw the town. Sketch the surroundings. Bring the game world into colour.
I was a law student at the time, and the DM told me we were going to have an encounter with a local magistrate. Bring some samples of old English common law, chunks of mediaval legal language and flavour that episode.

So with this commitment to depth and flavour, you can probably guess that our characters weren't going to get away with being simple sets of attributes and roll modifiers. In the first session we started at age seven. The week after we were thirteen and role-playing out our culture's rite-of-passage tradition. And at week three, when we were finally allowed to assume the characters sheets we rolled at the start (around which he crafted our childhood scenarios), he wanted detail and a story. You're taking Martial Weapons? Good with a sword, huh? Now, how did you come by that training? Write a story to share next week.

So how does any of this relate to designing a combat mechanism?

Well, after all this world- and character-building and we finally got to do some straight-up, old-fashioned D&D monster-bashing, he told us our characters could die unless we play smart. Combat would be scary, we were still low-level characters against much bigger enemies. Combat would be gritty, nowhere to buy healing potions, no magical weapons or fireball spells - in keeping with the setting. Work together, fight clever, use your advantages and just barely win - and savour that. And it was that gripping because we'd invested so much into the characters, and the setting was now so alive it was almost a second home.

Now my character, one Aindred McTheen, through those initial weeks of organic character-building, became something of a mudborne swashbuckler. No fancy frippery, but handy on a boat, quick and nimble, and capable with a sword.

And combat became FUN. Really, really using the 3.5e combat grid to effect. Tumbling past enemy Attack of Opportunity zones to take advantage of flanking attacks to bring down larger foes. Squeezing any leverage I could out of a fighter/rogue build in life & death encounters.

It struck me some time later. Why can't all RPG combat be like that? Dynamic, cinematic, tactical. D&D 3.g touched on it, but when we had to use the rules that way they seemed limited. Like the mechanics gave the opportunity to fight that way, but the rules almost wanted to gravitate back to face-to-face slugging way at hitpoints.

The Riddle of Steel seemed the obvious go-to game after that, but it still didn't quite do it for me. I still didn't quite get the feel I was now looking for, but it came close in a few important ways. Variable and flexible dice pools were the key point there. There's something in the way you choose to throw a number of dice at a move. Throwing just one or two dice feels like you're testing the waters, not over-extending yourself. Throwing more, leaving maybe one or none left in your pool really feels like you're putting your weight into a gambit that can only leave you victorious or dead. It's a visceral, tactile experience that takes the act of rolling dice from just accounting for randomness in an equation, to a living immersion.

So there's half of it.

That one D&D campaign that you can tell I love talking about, from all those years ago, has the other half. I'm going to say I really, really like Attacks of Opportunity and the way it makes you think about every square on a grid in terms of its situational value. In the right circumstances it can make combat like a dance, like an Errol Flynn scene except instead of two dashing gents with rapiers you have a dude with a flail staring down the claws of a troll, calculating his next steps like they bloody count. D&D rarely goes that way, but it has that element that I really want to see.

Now to the detaily end of the stick, and I'm depressingly not much further along than last time I brought this up here. Hence the long backstory of why I'm trying to design a set of combat rules, and hopelessly behind my ambition.

What I have so far:

Two dice pools (of d10), usually. Weapon Dice and Reflex Dice (for those who read back, renamed from Balance because they'll a little more in-game, playing a part in determining initiative and a few other things).

The size of dice pools varies, you'll almost always have at least one WD (if you're unarmed and naked, you can at least throw a punch) but on average a character will have about three. One base, another for wielding a sword (or a weapon of comparative reach) and another for knowing basically how to use it.

Now I've dropped the idea of two discrete phases per round I had previously. The idea there was to have one turn to establish an advantage, and another to bring it home. That would never have worked in even a small group melee. But I'm trying to get the same idea across, a straight attack at a prepared opponent shouldn't land home unless you're very good, very lucky or both. The idea's the same though, trying to win advantage.

So here's how a straight* attack roll works: The attacker rolls a number of Weapon Dice. Each die has to equal or exceed the target's Evasion score (we'll say it's usually 3-5, depending on character build). Any dice that pass Evasion have to be actively dealt with be the defender. When straight parrying, the defender chooses to roll a number of WD against the attacker's. The defender has the advantage of being able to match up dice however suits them, they only have to equal an attack die to cancel it out, and can add multiple dice together to beat a higher die.
Rolling a natural 10 grants an extra die, which can be either rolled immediately into the current contest, or retained in the appropriate pool for the next move.

E.g.
Attacker rolls 2 and 9.
2 falls under defender's 3 evasion. Defender rolls 4 and 6, 4+6 beat 9. Straight-up parry, except both combatants have spent two WD so neither have gained any particular advantage and the duel continues.

If the defender has any leftover active (as in, just rolled) dice, they can use them to riposte.

E.g.
Attacker rolls 5 and 9.
Defender rolls 4 and 10, then gets an extra roll and gets 6. 6 beats 5, 10 beats 9 and the leftover 4 means they get to immediately counterattack with one die.

Of the other defensive options, and there'll have to be a few, they can spend RD to add to evasion, 1 per die.

Now as for restoring dice pools, I think it'd break the whole flow if everyone "refreshed" after each full round. It'd be like everybody in a fight just periodically pausing at the same time to take a breath. So I propose that one can skip an action at their turn to restore one (or more, maybe) WD to their pool. They forfeit a chance at attacking, but are still able to use their regained dice to defend.
If one has the momentary luxury (opponent distracted, or something), they can skip a full turn, forfeiting any reaction until their next, to fully recover their pools.

*Ideally, a combatant needs to choose how they're attacking. For example, someone wielding a halberd is going to either thrust with the spear end or swing with the blade, etc. This will be handled in the damage table, if not further in the normal attack step, conservation of complication permitting.

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Jeff Russell
Member

Posts: 44


WWW
« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2010, 12:24:45 PM »


Now as for restoring dice pools, I think it'd break the whole flow if everyone "refreshed" after each full round. It'd be like everybody in a fight just periodically pausing at the same time to take a breath. So I propose that one can skip an action at their turn to restore one (or more, maybe) WD to their pool. They forfeit a chance at attacking, but are still able to use their regained dice to defend.
If one has the momentary luxury (opponent distracted, or something), they can skip a full turn, forfeiting any reaction until their next, to fully recover their pools.


Howdy Gurnard,

I'm sorry I don't have anything more to offer just now, but my thought on reading this part when combined with your idea that a 'basic' dice pool would be 3 dice is that you might want to have slightly bigger dice pools. If you do that, perhaps limit the defender to how many dice he can match with. But as is, judging by your examples, most or all of the dice in a 3 die pool are likely to get used in one exchange, if I'm understanding you correctly (let me know if I'm mixed up here), which would make both guys need to take that breather round, which seems like more of a break in the action to me than picking the dice up and rolling them again. Having all the dice for a fight on the table and picking when and how to use them does add an element of strategy and a sense of 'continuity' between rounds that I think has promise. But perhaps the 'defend and regain one die' idea you mentioned would create a back and forth flow of one guy going on the defensive and then the next doing so.

Is this the sort of comment you're looking for, or did you have anything in particular in mind? Hope it helps.

Jeff Russell
Blessings of the Dice Gods - My little blog on games and game design
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Jeff Russell
Blessings of the Dice Gods - My Game Design Blog and home to my first game, The Book of Threes
Gurnard
Member

Posts: 29


« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2010, 05:22:25 PM »

That's exactly the kind of comment I'm looking for. Thanks Jeff.

Sorry, I meant basic starting characters having a 3-deep WD pool. I'd be thinking 5 or 6 would be common after a bit of progression, but I haven't tested how that would go yet.

The timing on refreshing the pools concerns me too. I'm not sure what I've proposed is the best way around it, it's one of the main points I'm stuck on.

I may have a solution to how to handle heavier weapons though. I'd been stuck for a while on it, but I think the way to go will be to make a big swing with a huge weapon come at a risk of losing balance (RD), but one (or more) of the WD rolled will be as d20 rather than d10. Much harder (but not impossible) to parry, and making Evasion-boosting a more attractive reaction.
And an incentive to include more mobility-based manouvres. But they might have to come with the caveat of needing somewhere to dodge to, so being cornered will actually mean something (that something being you're pretty well screwed).
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Callan S.
Member

Posts: 3588


WWW
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2010, 10:20:36 PM »

Quote
And combat became FUN. Really, really using the 3.5e combat grid to effect. Tumbling past enemy Attack of Opportunity zones to take advantage of flanking attacks to bring down larger foes. Squeezing any leverage I could out of a fighter/rogue build in life & death encounters.

It struck me some time later. Why can't all RPG combat be like that? Dynamic, cinematic, tactical. D&D 3.g touched on it, but when we had to use the rules that way they seemed limited. Like the mechanics gave the opportunity to fight that way, but the rules almost wanted to gravitate back to face-to-face slugging way at hitpoints.
But the rules don't gravitate by themselves. Players and GM might, but you didn't.

Why not just play that way again? Or just trim what you have a little bit? Why always something entirely new?
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
ObsidianSoul
Registree

Posts: 2


« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2010, 10:40:03 AM »

Have you looked at the Fencing system that Mongoose Games created for their Conan games?  Fencing was an intelligence linked skill that gave access to specific bonuses as it was gradually mastered.  It gave one bonus for the first rank, an additional one for the fifth rank and an additional one for each five additional levels (not ranks) past the fifth rank.  In general, the bonuses allowed the fencer to emulate combat feats with a successful Fencing skill test (DC=18+2 per prerequisite).
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2010, 04:03:05 PM »

Good to hear from you again Gurnard. You're objectives are pretty similar to my own; I want the dynamics of the game to be memorable in their own right, where having to make decisions as your character is supported and given depth.

Now one thing to bear in mind here is that some of the value of your swashbuckler may have been in his distinctiveness from the other characters, and if that is so, the system should ideally support each of the other takes on conflict as well. You've moved towards something like this by the idea of making "advantage->strike" a strategy within the rules and not a universal script. But I did say ideally, (as chucking multiple different strategy families into the same system is tricky) so it might be that people differentiate their characters by the types of conflict they engage in, not their strategies in the same type of conflict. (ie fencing conflicts vs chase conflicts vs hack and slash endurance conflicts etc)

Now that distinction is less solid than it first appears; basically what I'm talking about is a set of different sub-games that you get into based on the stats of your character, but if your really clever/have put a lot of work into it, you can get the mechanics of the game to turn into a few of those sub-games for different players simultaneously. In other words, by the way selecting dice etc works, and the way stats or other character descriptions interact with the conflict, the same rules can shift and provide a very different tone for different characters. Maybe the less agile character has to get their back to a wall, or push things in the other characters way, or talk their way out of it.

I hope, though I'm not sure about this, that you can make a really elegant system for the fencer, then find ways to merge it with other nice systems to produce the other archetypes you'd like to support.

In terms of the decision making you aspire to, I'm going to need more information on the kind of manoeuvres you hope to stick in, because that will really influence the nature of the choices (and also provide a good place to stick in the effects of distance and positioning).

As an idea for the WD recovery, how about you roll for it? More specifically you roll against some endurance stat with the a number of dice equal to your starting weapon dice total, and add the successful dice to your remaining capped by the starting amount. ie you roll 8 dice, get 6 successes, and add them to your three remaining dice, removing one for the overflow so you end up with 8 dice. This is possibly a potch and the number would be better generated by just allowing you to get x dice back where x is your endurance, or by everyone getting a set amount back that is decided by playtesting, but who knows, it might be that players want to roll to make their action feel more substantial.

But the rules don't gravitate by themselves. Players and GM might, but you didn't.
That's only true up to a point, rules don't do anything without players, but if players decide they want to win, the rules can pull them in certain directions.

It's sometimes nice to shift a game around so the dominant strategies are interesting ones, so you don't have to choose between interest and victory.

But there's a good point here; if those parts of the system were good but overshadowed by the "clockwork punch-up" side, then you could retain the bits that worked in the D&D game and just insure that they are more effective strategically than they were before. Literally hybridise the best bits of the two games that got close to what you wanted! The obvious version is just to test a riddle of steel game with added attacks of opportunity, reach and flanking, and that might be something to compare this game to as your testing it, to insure you don't lose anything you liked in the additions.
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Gurnard
Member

Posts: 29


« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2010, 04:19:19 AM »


Now as for restoring dice pools, I think it'd break the whole flow if everyone "refreshed" after each full round. It'd be like everybody in a fight just periodically pausing at the same time to take a breath. So I propose that one can skip an action at their turn to restore one (or more, maybe) WD to their pool. They forfeit a chance at attacking, but are still able to use their regained dice to defend.
If one has the momentary luxury (opponent distracted, or something), they can skip a full turn, forfeiting any reaction until their next, to fully recover their pools.


Howdy Gurnard,

... as is, judging by your examples, most or all of the dice in a 3 die pool are likely to get used in one exchange, if I'm understanding you correctly (let me know if I'm mixed up here), which would make both guys need to take that breather round, which seems like more of a break in the action to me than picking the dice up and rolling them again.

On further thought, that's exactly what I want. If both guys expend their pools in one go, and nobody is wounded and they both take a breather round, that's because it's what actually happened. A brief clash of steel resulting in both combatants recovering themselves is one possible outcome of a manouvre. Another equally likely scenario is that the attacker uses only one die, testing the waters so to speak, and rolls an 8, for example. The defender figures it's safer to use all three dice to parry, assuming on probability that they'll beat the 8 and have one or two dice left over to immediately counter. They roll 2, 2 & 5. They can add them together to beat the 8, so the blow doesn't land home, but now the advantage is completely on the attacker's side. The defender can attempt to disengage (a contest only involving RD pools, which I haven't worked out yet - because there has to be an opportunity for the attacker to respond) or stand and recover 1 WD. Assuming the latter, it's back to the attacker's move and they now have 2 WD to 1.

This recovery rate might be key to making the system work.

...so it might be that people differentiate their characters by the types of conflict they engage in, not their strategies in the same type of conflict. (ie fencing conflicts vs chase conflicts vs hack and slash endurance conflicts etc)...
That's very, very true. I read something recently (an ARMA article I think) about weapons and tactics suiting the situation rather than testing them against one another in a vaccuum. Something about a sword beating a knife on an even playing field, but if someone sitting next to you at a bar pulls a knife they'll have gutted you in the time it takes to draw a sword.

Quote
... but if your really clever/have put a lot of work into it, you can get the mechanics of the game to turn into a few of those sub-games for different players simultaneously...
Now you put it that way, it does sound over-ambitious, but it's the outcome I intend.
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