Combat in RPGs

A question to the audience.

Do different styles of combat require different combat mechanics? Or is it possible for a single game system to portray widely disparate forms of combat coherently and in a way that make them workable against one another?

Consider the following examples:

The question becomes, can a single combat system handle all those disparate types of combat? Should any single system be expected to be able to handle them adequately, or do different genres (or sub-genres) require unique combat systems? And, of course, the other question is, does the (A)D&D system handle them adequately as-is?

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

10 thoughts on “Combat in RPGs

  1. I could play those with GURPS. You'd want to turn on and off different options when you do, but the basic system would be unchanged.

    AD&D? Maybe, it's been too long for me to really opine on it. I wouldn't want to play all of those with AD&D, though, as I think it's cracks would show through – it's still a mass combat system boiled down to play individual figures, instead of a figure-up system.

  2. I think it's all in the description, really. You have an attack and defense mechanism in whatevet game, but it's all down to what you do with it. Some examples:

    "You hit. He takes X points of damage and loses initive next round."

    "Your sword blow glances off his sheild and manages to cut his cheek below the eye."

    "Your arrow pierces his gauntlet, causing him to drop his weapon."

    "The bullet grazes his rib, not killing him but causing a lot of pain."

    All the exact same result, but the wording makes it applicable to various styles."

  3. One system can handle them all theoretically, but for some of the more "flowery battles" it helps to have add ons, like feats or maneuvers to quickly and more importantly, consistently judge success or failure or else with descriptive only you might end up with an over the top scenario like in the Matrix fight (which I am not saying is bad at all).

    Feat like systems can be bad though. Many many D&D 3.x and after feats make a mockery of all the battle examples above and veer into the realm of power gaming.

  4. I think that, yes, different types require different models to carry them out, but in terms of an abstract system you can model just about anything. You could totally crouch the tiger or hide the dragon in OD&D with a capable DM and gung-ho players. The question is, what sort of combat do you want to have fun modeling? It's the difference between the fun of creating and the fun of presenting. You can 'present' most systems any way you like (read: make your combat appear however), but do you want your players to feel anticipation with every blow or soar high into the treetops with nary a thought? How do you want them to experience the combat mechanically, versus what do you want them to see in their minds' eye? These things always have a level of synchronicity, but being clear with yourself about what you want from both is (I think) the way to go.

  5. I concur with Peter. GURPS can handle all those fights using different options on the same base system. Hero System can handle this as well.

  6. Technically some systems could do it all, but no system could do them all equally well. A lighsaber duel is going to be a series of successful attacks that get blocked. That would work very well in BRP because a successful attack gets blocked by a successful parry. The fight ends when one hit gets through that isn't successfully blocked. D20 just wouldn't capture the same feel. In fact I'm not sure BAB/THAC0 vs AC captures any feel well, as bouncing off armour is mechanically a miss. The system is a bit too abstract. The scene with Beast, Wolverine and Neuron in one of the last episodes of Marvel Anime: X-Men would work well in A Dirty World, or quite conveniently Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but would fall flat in almost every other system out there.

    I wouldn't believe it if someone told me they had a system that could do any fight scene from any movie, book or tv show justice. Some fights will have systems they just work better in.

  7. It depends. If you want combat to be a focus of your game, then you may want a system tailored to the type of combat you want to be that centerpiece. Or you may want a number of different subsystems if you want to highlight multiple styles. If combat isn’t as important to you, however, a abstract system could handle them all just fine.

  8. In my opinion only an abstract combat system can cover all the battles, such as the AD&D combat system. But for those gamers who don't like abstract combat systems, then they will feel the AD&D system doesn't cover these battles very well. For those gamers a specific battle system is needed for each kind of battle. I guess it depends on one's preferences.

  9. Some systems are better for certain styles of combat, but the right group can conquer all.

    @migo, they did do lightsaber battles in d20. D20 Star Wars is where they first published the wounds/vitality system. Most "hits" are actually parried or dodged. They tire you out, but you need to actually land a blow to cut off an arm.

  10. I use a heavy modified D&D 3.5 engine that allow all those maneuvers. In fact, I have a kimancer class that is a warrior with ki point based techniques, and it allow a lot of matrix-like neo-fu.

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