Custom RPG Combat/damage Mechanics

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
So, one thing I've been doing during the pandemic is working on my very own tabletop RPG. Without going too much into the setting or overall mechanics, one thing I am doing is having a freeform combat/damage system that functions on keywords rather than having a linear damage track or quantifiable totals (like HP). This is going to be in a system that's non-lethal by default, and focused on subduing/chasing off enemies rather than killing them. I thought I'd ask here and see if I can get some feedback on what I might do with this, or do better.

The basic combat mechanic is Star Wars D6/CoD based roll-off. Attack roll versus defense roll, weapons modify the attack roll and armor modifies the defense roll. No secondary damage/soak roll, the simple threshold between attack and defense determines the damage dealt with higher thresholds indicating more severe wounds. I'm doing it this way because dodges, parries, blocks, bracing, and rolling with hits are created equal: nimble characters roll their "agility/dexterity" stat to not be hit, tough characters roll their "constitution" stat to brace against attack or roll with hits, using the same defense skill.

The way I'm planning this, is the threshold determines the severity of the wound, and the severity of the wound applies progressive defense penalties that accumulate. Then, the wound keyword determines a secondary penalty that comes in the form of losing rounds/skill check penalties/attribute penalties/etc. There are no limit to the number of wounds that can be suffered, but NPC's will have a morale score that determines how wounded they will get before attempting to flee or surrender, and with enough lesser wounds defense penalties stack to the point characters simply can no longer defend themselves and will die unless they flee or surrender.

The way I have this set up so far, is there are four wound categories: trivial, minor, serious, and critical. Trivial wounds have minor penalties to defense, and have tiny effects lose "you're stunned, lose a round"; minor wounds have more severe defense penalties, and have effects like "you're concussed and have a penalty to intelligence- and charisma-related tasks"; serious wounds have crippling defense penalties, and have effects like "your arm is broken and you can no longer use it or two handed items in combat"; and critical wounds have life-threatening and encounter-ending effects like "you're knocked out" in non-lethal, or "you're mortally wounded" in lethal.

Penalties last until the wound is healed, and since this is a no-magic game setting the only way to heal wounds is with medicine checks and rest: trivial wounds don't require rest, minor wounds require a day's rest, serious wounds take a week, and critical wounds take a month. So, major wounds are a huge deal in this game.

Anyone have thoughts on this?
 
  • Like
Reactions: Kae

Satinavian

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
181
61
33
sounds ok.

I am not sure why you want to keep wounds a secondary penalty to severity of hits. Seems overly complicated.
 

Zykon TheLich

Regular Member
Legacy
Apr 20, 2020
44
13
13
Country
UK
Cyberpunk 2020 did something very similar with wound categories and penalties. Interlock system was the generic name for the system I think. Have a look at that, I'm sure you can find it online.

4 points of damage carried no penalty, 5-8 was a -2 to all stats for skillcheck purposes, calculated values, 9-12 was 1/2 stats, 12+ was maybe 1/3 stats and you were dying. Numbers may be slightly off, it's been a while since I played, and there was a lot more to damage etc than that, but that's the basic gist of it

Wounds healed at 0.5-1 point per day depending on quality of care and drugs and various other things could boost this. penalties while healing were not as bad as while wounded without treatment.

Cyberpunk was very lethal though.
 
Last edited:

Kae

Just burn the whole thing.
Legacy
May 8, 2020
883
344
68
Somewhere in México
Country
México
Gender
Robot
Pretty cool, kinda reminds of a game called Alternity I used to play, like last year so not all that long ago, however it was the old TSR version not the new one funded through Kickstarter.

Some concerns though, when you have to keep track of so much information it can slow the game down pretty severely, particularly if the information is hard to read or locate on the character sheet, so if I may ask do you have a character sheet ready or something?
Or to be clear, I don't know which method you're using to play this, but regardless of whether it is digital or Paper, just make sure that everything is easy to both locate and keep track off in the sheet.

If you wish I can take a look at it for you, but I'm not like a graphic designer or UI designer so my feedback can only come from the perspective of a player.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
sounds ok.

I am not sure why you want to keep wounds a secondary penalty to severity of hits. Seems overly complicated.
Well several core reasons:

One, I want something that hard caps combat duration and provides an impetus to get on with it by letting enemies flee, fleeing, or surrendering. That's really hard to do without some form of linear, progressive penalty which flies in the face of what I want to do with this, so it's better to bite the bullet and compromise by saying wounds, no matter how severe or what their keywords, impart defense penalties -- so, a character with several lesser wounds is just going to be as bad off, or worse, than a character with a single greater wound. I considered a stacking penalty to defense rolls that increases with every combat turn to simulate fatigue, but feel that's a bit too punitive and arbitrary.

Two, the entire point is to move away from linear, quantifiable, wound tracks/health levels/hit point systems. I want a system that centers attention on how characters are hurt, not just how badly, which can/will dynamically impact play in ways that aren't "play more defensively" or "wounds don't matter until certain thresholds". This isn't going to be a murderhobo/dungeon crawler game, so it has the narrative latitude to encourage that type of play.

For example if a party is ambushed by bandits and captured, and in the course of the fight the party's "face" gets knocked stupid by a club to the head, the party can/should have a much harder time bargaining for their own release or ransom or even have to rely on other methods than "let the charismatic guy do the talking". Or, if a character takes a nasty burn that reduces their "constitution" or their shield arm gets wounded, they're going to have to start dodging/parrying with their "agility/dexterity" score rather than just trying to brace for impact or roll with hits.

Three, dovetailing off "this isn't murderhobo/dungeon crawler", I want wounds to have a serious impact and matter. Minor wounds, not a big deal -- easy enough healing check, bit of rest, you're on your way. Maybe have to sleep it off. Serious wounds, on the other hand, are going to last until the next down time when the character can actually get rest, and will have major ramifications on how to approach challenges. Can't bloody well use sword and board, or swing around a two-handed weapon, with a broken arm in a sling, can you?

Last, building in granularity and standardized rules for wounds makes shit like infections, poisoning and venom, and disease, as well as "status effects" from certain weapon types, a hell of a lot easier to adjudicate. No oodles of extra rules needed, it's just wounds that use the same rules as every other.

If you wish I can take a look at it for you, but I'm not like a graphic designer or UI designer so my feedback can only come from the perspective of a player.
Not even close to that point yet, but my goal is to have character sheets and rules simple and straightforward enough a character sheet with all needed information could fit on a 3x5" notecard -- or a smartphone screen without tabbing, swiping, or zooming. And a note paper, for temporary shit like wounds.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Kae

Satinavian

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
181
61
33
One, I want something that hard caps combat duration and provides an impetus to get on with it by letting enemies flee, fleeing, or surrendering. That's really hard to do without some form of linear, progressive penalty which flies in the face of what I want to do with this, so it's better to bite the bullet and compromise by saying wounds, no matter how severe or what their keywords, impart defense penalties -- so, a character with several lesser wounds is just going to be as bad off, or worse, than a character with a single greater wound. I considered a stacking penalty to defense rolls that increases with every combat turn to simulate fatigue, but feel that's a bit too punitive and arbitrary.
Wouldn't that just make long combats really swingly ? I mean, if i continue fighting with lots of defensive penalties, i risk getting some really nasty injury next time. But all of my attacks are getting super powerful as well because of all the defensive penalties an enemy might have.


Two, the entire point is to move away from linear, quantifiable, wound tracks/health levels/hit point systems. I want a system that centers attention on how characters are hurt, not just how badly, which can/will dynamically impact play in ways that aren't "play more defensively" or "wounds don't matter until certain thresholds". This isn't going to be a murderhobo/dungeon crawler game, so it has the narrative latitude to encourage that type of play.

For example if a party is ambushed by bandits and captured, and in the course of the fight the party's "face" gets knocked stupid by a club to the head, the party can/should have a much harder time bargaining for their own release or ransom or even have to rely on other methods than "let the charismatic guy do the talking". Or, if a character takes a nasty burn that reduces their "constitution" or their shield arm gets wounded, they're going to have to start dodging/parrying with their "agility/dexterity" score rather than just trying to brace for impact or roll with hits.

Three, dovetailing off "this isn't murderhobo/dungeon crawler", I want wounds to have a serious impact and matter. Minor wounds, not a big deal -- easy enough healing check, bit of rest, you're on your way. Maybe have to sleep it off. Serious wounds, on the other hand, are going to last until the next down time when the character can actually get rest, and will have major ramifications on how to approach challenges. Can't bloody well use sword and board, or swing around a two-handed weapon, with a broken arm in a sling, can you?
If your game is not about combat, is it really a good idea to include such an elaborate system of injuries and combat related results ? A system should be most detailed when tackling what the game is about and if you only fight once every 5 sessions anyway this seems a bit overblown.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
Wouldn't that just make long combats really swingly ? I mean, if i continue fighting with lots of defensive penalties, i risk getting some really nasty injury next time. But all of my attacks are getting super powerful as well because of all the defensive penalties an enemy might have.
Yeah, that's the whole idea. Except the thing with wounds having secondary penalties is they may or may not compromise characters' ability to attack as well. It goes off the second part of your post, but the point is to discourage drawing out combat past the point momentum is established, and to encourage players to look for, and look out for, ways to avoid it unless there is no other option. I want protracted combat to be an inherently high-risk, high-reward scenario.

If your game is not about combat, is it really a good idea to include such an elaborate system of injuries and combat related results ? A system should be most detailed when tackling what the game is about and if you only fight once every 5 sessions anyway this seems a bit overblown.
It's not about lethal combat, or more to say combat where the sole or even primary resolution is "kill 'em all". Think more Tolkien in execution. Like, The Hobbit, wherein Thorin and Company got their asses handed to them often, but always managed to talk or think their way out or just simply escape. Or, in LotR where Gandalf fought the Nazgul at Amon Sul and was driven away, or the battle at Amon Hen where Boromir fought to defend Merry and Pippin but fell, Merry and Pippin were captured but not killed, while Sam and Frodo fled.

I said up front in my OP combat is non-lethal by default. A part of the rules I haven't discussed yet is players (and the GM) have to declare when a combat is lethal, and PC's (and major NPC's) get bonuses when lethal combat is declared, considering they're fighting for their lives.
 

Satinavian

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
181
61
33
Then it looks fine. Of course it really would depend on your players if it does what you want. There are certain players wo actually like high-risk, high-reward and would feel encouraged to go for long combats (lowered defense) and maybe even lethal ones (bonus) for a chance to win against seemingly overwhelming foes. But you know your group better.

But still, if combat should not be the main tool for the players and more like last resort, the rules should mostly deal with the other, non combat stuff.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
But still, if combat should not be the main tool for the players and more like last resort, the rules should mostly deal with the other, non combat stuff.
That's still not an accurate description of what I'm going for. Why must combat be A) protracted, and B) lethal, in order to not considered "last resort"? What I said was this isn't a murderhobo/dungeon crawler game, and that I want combat resolved quickly and predominantly non-lethally. You're taking one thing I said to a logical extreme, despite that I'm disclaiming against that logical extreme.

I haven't even discussed other rules, so why assume based on that, this must be the most in-depth or only complex mechanic? This just happens to be the mechanic I would like feedback on, right now.
 

Satinavian

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
181
61
33
That's still not an accurate description of what I'm going for. Why must combat be A) protracted, and B) lethal, in order to not considered "last resort"? What I said was this isn't a murderhobo/dungeon crawler game, and that I want combat resolved quickly and predominantly non-lethally. You're taking one thing I said to a logical extreme, despite that I'm disclaiming against that logical extreme.
Yes, it seems i have misuderstood the "not murderhobo/dungeon crawler" together with "wounds should have a serious impact". So you are going for fast, rules light combat that can and should still happen quite often, is that correct ?

Also i would not consider what i said above to be extreme as it is a quite common approach in RPG design.
I haven't even discussed other rules, so why assume based on that, this must be the most in-depth or only complex mechanic? This just happens to be the mechanic I would like feedback on, right now.
Your actual combat system is a simple attack vs. defense roll with dogding/being tough handled the same way and everything else just being a modifier. And you want all information relevant to a character to be visible on a single smartphone screen without tabbing.

Sounds like a very rules light system otherwise. In comparison to that, your wound subsystem seems quite overblown as you would need to include all the different types of wounds and what they do as well. So i questioned that.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
Yes, it seems i have misuderstood the "not murderhobo/dungeon crawler" together with "wounds should have a serious impact". So you are going for fast, rules light combat that can and should still happen quite often, is that correct ?
Here are my top four priorities in plain language:

1. Combat should be fast and simple.
2. Combat should have potential consequences and difficulty enough players should not consider it a universal first recourse.
3. Combat should be lethal only by last resort, with most resolutions being fleeing, capture, or surrender.
4. Wounds should have a realistic impact and influence more than combat and physical rolls, which is a huge failing of other RPG's.

For example if a character has a severe concussion, then absolutely that should have impacts to social, perception, and athletics-based rolls since it screw's a character's perception, balance, and ability to think/speak straight. Or if a character's arm is broken, then by no means should they have a minor or passive penalty to things like carry weight or climbing.

In other words I'm trying to strike a balance.

Also i would not consider what i said above to be extreme as it is a quite common approach in RPG design.
The "D&D formula" is honestly exactly what I'm out to subvert in a fantasy RPG.

Your actual combat system is a simple attack vs. defense roll with dogding/being tough handled the same way and everything else just being a modifier. And you want all information relevant to a character to be visible on a single smartphone screen without tabbing.
I'm trying to avoid the "tabletop wargaming/D&D" scenario wherein rules are so heavily granularized, specific, contradictory, and complex in layers that more time is spent digging in rulebooks finding rules than actually playing the damn game. What I want is a scenario where players have all available information at their fingertips with no need to constantly consult rulebooks for some silly combat maneuver or status effect that may only come up once every few game sessions.

Sounds like a very rules light system otherwise. In comparison to that, your wound subsystem seems quite overblown as you would need to include all the different types of wounds and what they do as well. So i questioned that.
I'm leaving it a "GM fiat" system where wound types have specific guidelines for what penalties apply for each wound type. Common wounds might be listed as examples, but that's it. One can't account for literally every type of wound that might exist, and that's not the goalpost. The goalpost is providing a GM toolkit for them to granularize wounds as they need and see fit for their party.
 

Satinavian

Elite Member
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
181
61
33
Here are my top four priorities in plain language:

1. Combat should be fast and simple.
2. Combat should have potential consequences and difficulty enough players should not consider it a universal first recourse.
3. Combat should be lethal only by last resort, with most resolutions being fleeing, capture, or surrender.
4. Wounds should have a realistic impact and influence more than combat and physical rolls, which is a huge failing of other RPG's.

For example if a character has a severe concussion, then absolutely that should have impacts to social, perception, and athletics-based rolls since it screw's a character's perception, balance, and ability to think/speak straight. Or if a character's arm is broken, then by no means should they have a minor or passive penalty to things like carry weight or climbing.

In other words I'm trying to strike a balance.
Then that could work.

The "D&D formula" is honestly exactly what I'm out to subvert in a fantasy RPG.


I'm trying to avoid the "tabletop wargaming/D&D" scenario wherein rules are so heavily granularized, specific, contradictory, and complex in layers that more time is spent digging in rulebooks finding rules than actually playing the damn game. What I want is a scenario where players have all available information at their fingertips with no need to constantly consult rulebooks for some silly combat maneuver or status effect that may only come up once every few game sessions.
Ah, so your comments have to be understood as in contrast to D&D.

Well, for me D&D is not even in the top 10 of favourite RPGs and also nothing i have played in recent years. I also don't regard as as average for anything. It is actually one the combat heavy side imho. At the moment i have 5 different active groups with 3 different systems and might on average get one fight every two or three sessions at most. And those are not particularly peaceful systems or groups.

I'm leaving it a "GM fiat" system where wound types have specific guidelines for what penalties apply for each wound type. Common wounds might be listed as examples, but that's it. One can't account for literally every type of wound that might exist, and that's not the goalpost. The goalpost is providing a GM toolkit for them to granularize wounds as they need and see fit for their party.
And here i thought you were creating half a dozen pages of wound effects and rules and i was argueing on the assumption that this was excessive. If it is GM fiat, the scope of the rules seems fine.

Personally i am not a fan of GM fiat for such things. Making decisions about wound effects always takes a bit time. In the middle of combat, when things are hectic anyway. And as you have to do this for NPCs as well, it might become quite annoying soon. It is fine to have the DM decide when wounds are rare, but if they are somewhat comon that is bound to be a hassle. Maybe include a simple default option for when it is not story relevant as well? If you already have examples, that should be easy.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
Ah, so your comments have to be understood as in contrast to D&D.

Well, for me D&D is not even in the top 10 of favourite RPGs and also nothing i have played in recent years. I also don't regard as as average for anything. It is actually one the combat heavy side imho. At the moment i have 5 different active groups with 3 different systems and might on average get one fight every two or three sessions at most. And those are not particularly peaceful systems or groups.
Not just much D&D as fantasy tabletop gaming in general. More than perhaps any other common TTRPG setting/genre, the "tabletop wargaming" mindset is still hegemonic in fantasy gaming -- D&D is a huge part of that, but it's not the only part of it (look at WHFB/RPG). Even nowadays, it's hard to find a fantasy RPG that doesn't tack into tabletop wargaming rules and tropes, and while not so much the other way round, it's still a strong correlation.

What I'm looking for is to subvert that, by creating a fantasy setting and RPG mechanics that are narrative- and character-driven, where combat ultimately serves as a storytelling tool as it would in the case of another game system like WoD. I've even created some preliminary rules for creating PC nemeses/rivals inspired by Shadow of Mordor, that confer certain bonuses and penalties for having and interacting with them. And those nemeses/rivals aren't necessarily even enemies, they're NPC's whose narrative role is to be a pain in the ass for the PC's or party.

Personally i am not a fan of GM fiat for such things. Making decisions about wound effects always takes a bit time. In the middle of combat, when things are hectic anyway. And as you have to do this for NPCs as well, it might become quite annoying soon. It is fine to have the DM decide when wounds are rare, but if they are somewhat comon that is bound to be a hassle. Maybe include a simple default option for when it is not story relevant as well? If you already have examples, that should be easy.
That's more where I'm going with the sample wounds in my writing so far -- the most common wound types that can be adjudicated quickly and easily. Where I plan for this is for trivial and minor wounds -- the ones that don't need rest at all, or only overnight rest -- being by far the most common wounds, and more serious wounds -- ones that may require a week's rest or month's -- being rare. The way I have the roll thresholds set up, is to get a serious or critical wound requires a really bad defense skill check versus a good attack check, or someone who already has multiple stacked defense penalties taking a nasty hit.

The idea being, PC's are encouraged to disengage or surrender before defense penalties start stacking up to the point someone can or might get knocked completely out of commission.

And the other thing I want to balance too, is I want a wound mechanic that can account for wounds gained outside combat (like if someone's thrown off their mount or doffs a climbing check) and is granularized in a way that can account for poisonings/envenomations/diseases under the same rules (to avoid the D&D scenario of multiple different rules invoking different rules against different thresholds to achieve the same end result). This is going to be a no-magic fantasy setting, so diseases, poisonings, and infections aren't going to be small deals; I need a rules system to support that quickly and easily.
 

Gethsemani

Hardcore Feminazi
Legacy
Apr 5, 2020
440
329
68
Country
Sweden
The idea being, PC's are encouraged to disengage or surrender before defense penalties start stacking up to the point someone can or might get knocked completely out of commission.
Have you looked at the advantage system of WHFRP 4th ed? Basically, whenever you succeed with a check of any kind in combat you get 1 advantage which confers a bonus to all future checks. As long as you keep passing checks you get more and more advantage, but the moment you fail you lose it all. This works well because all melee attacks are opposed checks, so one side will rather quickly snowball out and get 3-4 advantages which equals +30-40 in a system were stats cap at 100 and often fall around 40-60.

I realize that it is not wounds based, but as an abstract way of symbolizing which side is pushing the other back it works well. It also cuts down on combat times and makes it very obvious when it is time to run away really fast, as an enemy with more then 2 advantages is very likely to keep stacking and thus inflict more damage.
 

Eacaraxe

Elite Member
Legacy
May 28, 2020
541
430
68
Country
United States
Have you looked at the advantage system of WHFRP 4th ed? Basically, whenever you succeed with a check of any kind in combat you get 1 advantage which confers a bonus to all future checks. As long as you keep passing checks you get more and more advantage, but the moment you fail you lose it all. This works well because all melee attacks are opposed checks, so one side will rather quickly snowball out and get 3-4 advantages which equals +30-40 in a system were stats cap at 100 and often fall around 40-60.

I realize that it is not wounds based, but as an abstract way of symbolizing which side is pushing the other back it works well. It also cuts down on combat times and makes it very obvious when it is time to run away really fast, as an enemy with more then 2 advantages is very likely to keep stacking and thus inflict more damage.
I considered a mechanic like that, but I fell back to the point I had before: I want to avoid the "fake complexity by way of layered mechanics" scenario from D&D and other TTWG's I cited, and keep the "mental footprint" of having to remember distinct rules and mechanics, and how they interact, as light as possible. What I want to aim for is to have fewer mechanics that are easy to understand and have broader, more generalized application, and always meet design goals even if indirectly.

I already have a system for circumstantial bonuses (not necessarily combat-related) tied to "alignment", the last thing I want is a combat-only system layered atop that which players have to take into account as well.