Monday, February 15, 2021

Simplifying combat: damage for dummies

Remember how I was saying that combat is boring, and we should get rid of initiative? That was a pretty cool idea, right? You see, this obsession with making combat as simple as possible is not new for me, but it received new life when a role-playing friend of mine asked how I could make combat as simple as possible without losing too much.

What could be simpler than a good smack to the mouth?

Of course, your definition of "too much" is as subjective as mine. But this friend shares certain sensibilities, or at least he understands mine. Since we're both software engineers, we're quick to see the advantage of making any calculation as simple as possible. Indeed, all good programmers are a certain kind of lazy.

(Humorous irony: The person who wrote the article I linked to above just so happens to play Pathfinder. Not exactly a paragon of simplicity in mechanics, is it?)

There's something about Pathfinder art that I find exhausting

Anyway, I'm getting off-topic. My apologies. Let's get back on track. Today's goal is to get rid of hit points and rolling for damage. Can we combine hitting and damaging into one simple roll? Well, yes, but that's been done before. We're also going to pare damage tracking down to the bone.

Still with me? Anyway, one thing I wanted to do was absolutely minimize record keeping, so a GM wouldn't have a page full of changing numbers for every combatant. We got rid of initiative, which certainly helps. But I wanted to get rid of two more things:

  • hit points
  • damage rolls
The way I approach this is by asking what information I want to keep, and what I want to know each round. Well, that's fairly simple. For purposes of well-being, here are the distinct states we want to preserve:
  • healthy
  • impaired
  • incapacitated
So, instead of hit points, our character has a condition, and it can be one of those four states. With that in mind, it's not hard to say what we want out of each combat round. We want to know if a character changes state.

That qualifies for impairment

In my house rules, you can get five different results from a standard task resolution: success, failure, tie, critical success and critical failure. So when a character is trying to wound another character, can tie those results to the different states, as follows:
  • critical failure: attacker suffers -1 to all defense rolls next round
  • failure/tie: defender unharmed
  • success: healthy defender impaired, impaired defender incapacitated, incapacitated defender dead
  • critical success: healthy or impaired defender incapacitated, incapacitated defender dead
Impairment means an immediate -1 penalty to all future actions until recovered, and incapacitation means that the character is out of action. 

One of many forms of incapacitation

The actual nature of these conditions can range in severity, but this is only determined after combat by making a recovery roll. With a difficulty based on the general lethality of the weapon, the character makes a Toughness check, and based on the results, recovery time may vary greatly. For instance, incapacitation can vary from a very short knockout to actual death, depending on the result of this roll.

But this isn't important in the middle of combat, so we make those rolls afterwards, for the most part.

This brings us to a unified hit/damage roll. What this means is that the attacker's roll is based on both the damage and the accuracy of the weapon. This can be described in very general terms, but it requires that the GM is willing to quickly make rulings. For instance, I would give a base -2 for unarmed attacks, -1 for short weapons, +0 for most one-handed weapons and +1 for two-handed weapons, while armor would get +1 to +3. But I would then give out lots of situational modifiers, so a man with a halberd would get an additional +2 attacking and +1 defending against a dagger, for instance. There would be guidelines for this sort of thing, but GMs would be encouraged to wing it.

I might add a little more, but I think this covers it. I've yet to try it, but I think it could definitely work for a modern realistic setting, where combat is expected to be a quick and bloody business.

That's the modern world for ya'

Not that it can't work for fantasy, although I don't think these mechanics work for a dungeon crawl. One of the things that makes a traditional (i.e. D&D) dungeon crawl work properly is the whole concept of resource management. More than torches and spells, dungeon crawls are about gambling with hit points. Do you delve deeper, uncovering even greater treasures, but exposing yourself to a great chance of sudden death? Or do you turn around once your hit points start to run a little low, and play it safe?

But there are few truly "universal mechanics," so there's no point making perfection the adversary of the damn good.

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