View Full Version : Tactical combat with reactive component

2014-07-02, 10:18 PM
In most RPG's I have seen so far that have tactical combat elements, combat can basically be simplified as the attacker trying to generate an effect on the defender, and then rolling to see if the attack resulted in the intended consequences. Basically, combat can be broken down into the following steps:

1. He chooses one of his many attacks based on what resource expenditure he deems appropriate and what effects he would like to trigger.
2. He rolls to see if he succeeds his attack. If he succeeds, he reads the effect his attack had and applies it. If he fails, nothing happens.

This is often a perfectly usable combat system in itself, and can be embellished in many ways to make it interesting. DnD 4e uses this structure as its skeleton, but creates a large array of classes that attack in different ways with different effects to be an interesting system. Many other systems have targeted shots, allowing you to aim at an enemy or specifically aim at an enemy's legs, head, or arms for different effects, or options your character can take to unlock different tactical options to take while attacking. However, under close inspection, there are a lot of different scenarios that these systems can't actually handle. A few examples:

1. I'm fighting an opponent that is wearing full armor except for a helmet. I want to try to attack his vulnerable head, but his he knows it's his weak spot, he keeps his guard near his head. Not being skilled enough to actually score the head shot I intended against his guard, I instead opt to do something unpredictable and successfully take a swing at his armored leg.

2. I'm shooting at an enemy's leg, but miss and hit his torso instead.

3. Alice is playing a big tough orc and Bob is playing a small, skinny gnome. An attack that does a large amount of damage should simply hurt Alice but it should knock back or knock away Bob based on the amount of force it is supposedly applying.

4. I'm surrounded by three enemies. Two of them have normal weapons, but the third one has a poisoned spear. I concentrate on defending against the third one at the expense of being more vulnerable to the first two enemies.

5. I'm attacking an enemy who is wielding a long spear. He successfully holds it between us so that I would have to choose whether to take a hit in the process of hitting him or not finish my attack at all.

6. I have a special attack that involves tripping a humanoid enemy with a chain weapon or a whip by grabbing their legs. I use the attack on a giant squid in order to grab its tentacle, which wouldn't trip it, but would allow me control its tentacle.

In essence, this type of attacker-focused combat fails at handling situations where interesting things are going with the defender. You can have a million different ways to attack, but the system always assumes commonalities in the defender that fall apart when you look at defenders with different anatomies, intentions, and tactics. This system is also not good at creating combat that is chaotic, where attacks can have consequences unintended by either attacker or defender. Unfortunately, this system is used in a wide variety of RPG's that have heavy emphasis on combat (RPG-lite games or games not emphasizing combat tend to not represent combat at all, effectively dodging the question). After all, there is a good reason to focus combat on just one side - it cuts the amount of reference, math, and dice rolling you have to do by half, which could more than double the pace at which combats are resolved.

In this thread, though, I am looking for an example or proposal of a tactical combat system with a reactive component that makes the properties of the defender important in normal cases as part of the rules without DM fiat involved. It should account somehow for the intentions and conditions of the defender when dictating what happens in combat. On top of that, the system should also be simple enough to be playable.

2014-07-03, 04:28 AM
D&D 3.5 has this to a certain degree, especially with Tome of Battle in use. For example, 3 could be Knockback, 4 could be Stance of Clarity and 5 would be an attack of opportunity.

The Riddle of Steel has a very detailed melee system. I'm not particularly well-versed at it, but it covers targeted attacks and defense/offense balance pretty well.

2014-07-03, 04:45 AM
The Riddle of Steel has a very detailed melee system. I'm not particularly well-versed at it, but it covers targeted attacks and defense/offense balance pretty well.

As always, when it comes to tactical combat, The Riddle of Steel indeed takes the cake. It has pretty much everything you described, except maybe number 6 which is a bit strange, but grappling is certainly part of the rules. Going through the examples with the best of my recollection of the rules:

1. I can't remember if you can guard specific parts of your body (I think it's possible, but not sure), but you definitely can attack specific parts (you choose a rough area to attack and then roll to see where exactly in that area you hit).

2. As above, you do decide where you aim your attack but the precise location is unknown. Changing from legs to torso, however, is highly unlikely and doesn't really even happen when swordfighting anyway. Also legs are really hard to hit since they keep moving around.

3. TRoS has a toughness mechanic that works as inherent damage reduction. It can get a bit overpowered at times, but it's certainly there.

4. When fighting multiple opponents you absolutely have to divide your attention between them. You have a dice pool which you can use to attack and defend, and against multiple enemies you need to decide how to divide your pool against them all. There's also a defensive stance which increases your pool when defending.

5. The game has a reach mechanic where longer reach weapons have an advantage at range, but also a disadvantage when you close in. Whenever a character hits with a weapon, they go to that range with their opponent, making closing in on an enemy with a spear a highly useful tactic, as long as you can succeed.

6. There are no real "special abilities" in TRoS (there are maneuvers that you can do, but everyone with sufficient skill in a weapon can do them), but grappling sure is a thing. "Controlling the tentacle" isn't what would happen unless we're talking GM fiat.