Thursday, December 17, 2009

AC: Combat Overview

Continuing my revision of AC-- now I finally get into more complicated stuff: handling combat.

Combat is where the rubber meets the road in most role-playing games. Time gets broken down into discrete segments, more details get pulled out and abilities focused on those kinds of situations finally get play. Combat can be a satisfying part of the games-- especially if it serves the dramatic interests of the game and creates tension. Action Cards provides a little more detail for handling combat-- but with a focus on ease of use, cinematic play and pacing. These rules have several optional systems associated with them, allowing the GM to fine tune the game to a higher level of detail.

Combat is essentially a series of contested rolls. These follow the same rules as other actions, but with additional complications and details. While the framework here describes physical combat, with a little work and change of terms, this system can handle social, magical, mass or psychic combat as well.


The strategic considerations of who goes when matter less in Action Cards. The GM may find it satisfying to have the players goes around the table and act in seating order, followed by the bad guys.

If the group wants a more detailed system, then all characters in the fight begin with a base initiative of 1. Add +1 to this value for using a light weapon and for each ability which represents speed or reflexes (like Quick or Agile). Subtract 1 for wearing heavy armor and/or using a heavy weapon. If some characters have the element of surprise, they can add +2 to their value. Count down from the highest value to the lowest, with players acting on any individual count before bad guys. This breaks out the order of actions somewhat.

Option: If the group wants even more variability, a card pull can be made at the start of the combat. The result is added to the numbers listed above. For positive Physical results, add +1, +2 or +3 depending on the draw. For negative Physical results, subtract 1, 2 or 3. Other win cards add +4 and other fail cards subtract 4. Initiative is only pulled once at the start of combat. Using this system, a player may spend a drama point to repull their initiative later in the combat.

Players may delay their action. However they must take their action by the end of the round. If using the informal initiative system, players may wait until the bad guys go-- however, they will act last after all other players on subsequent rounds. If using an initiative count system, delaying on a round resets the players initiative to the count they delay to.

A character may only interrupt another character's action if they've declared they're “covering” that character or the target of that's character's action. Otherwise delayed actions may be taken once the GM has resolved the current acting character. Players have an obligation to track things-- if the GM moves on to the next round, they can lose their action.

On their turn, players may move and take an action. If the move is especially complicated, long, involved or crazy the GM may require the player to pass a test or have the move be their only action that turn. Actions cover pretty much everything else: casting a spell, attacking, operating a computer, aiding another person's efforts, and so on. Some actions are trivial: pulling something out of your pocket, drawing a weapon, cocking a gun, shouting something. These things don't count towards a person's action.

Since players can gain an advantage from narrating their actions, they should do so-- explaining what they want to have happen and how they want to do it.

Resolving Attacks
The attacker declares target and makes a Combat pull. The target, if aware of the attack, may then make either a Parry (Combat) or Dodge (Physical) pull to resist. The attacker has to make a successful pull and beat the defender's result in order to hit. If the attacker hits, the defender takes damage and effects (see Damage, below)

Note that ranged attacks must be dodged, unless the character has a meta-ability such as Missile Deflection or Catch Arrow. Area Effect attacks must be dodged as well-- the GM can rule if the dodge completely evades effects or merely reduces damage taken. Characters with tiny weapons cannot parry gigantic weapons unless the game is highly cinematic.

That works for the most basic kind of strike and defense, but with a cinematic approach, many other things can happen. The GM assesses what kind of additional difficulty such circumstances bring about. Two guidelines shape that judgment:

* First, if characters try to do something else with their attack and it is purely cinematic, it should happen if they actually hit.

* Second, if a character tries to do something else with their attack and it will have an additional effect, either on the target or elsewhere, there should be an additional difficulty.

The GM has three flavors of difficulty increase which can be mixed and matched:
* Defender gains a bump to their defense pull.
* Attacker must make an additional test to have the effect go off.
* Defender can make a test to resist/avoid the effects.
* Reduced damage.

Generally, the greater the potential combat effect, the greater the difficulty. GMs should allow excellent and new narrative description to help offset these difficulties. If a player repeats themselves and it doesn't seem interesting, then it shouldn't get a benefit. In their descriptions players should consider the campaign frameworks. What works in a swashbuckling frame, doesn't work in a hard-boiled noir game. The level of 'realism' helps determine the limits of actions. A character might be able to bank bullets off a wall in a superhero game, but not in a police procedural.

Also note that when facing mooks or unnamed NPCs, players should be given the benefit of the doubt about these kinds of complications.

The Many Flavors of Complications
Players may attempt to weave a variety of different effects into their attacks. Below are some examples, but this list should not be considered exhaustive. If the effect applied is modest, only a single difficulty should be applied; for moderate effects apply two; for major effects apply three or more. The GM rules how severe those effects are.

Attacking While Prone: This can apply to any disadvantageous circumstance-- granting the defender a bump.
Called Shots: The difficulty depends on what the player wants to do. So a one-hit kill would apply several difficulties, while reducing the target's movement via shot to the leg applies less.
Disabling: As with Called Shots above, the intended effect should govern the difficulty.
Disarm: Disarms can have more or less impact depending on the circumstance. At the very least, the defender should get a resistance check and a bonus to defense.
Distraction: Trying to set up a target for another person's attack (giving them a penalty). The defender should gain a test to resist and/or reduced damage.
Grabbing and Throwing: Trying to do this in the same action should require and additional Physical test by the attacker.
Knockback: Trade off damage and/or give defender a test to resist.
Pinning: Trying to shoot an arrow to pin a person to the wall or a hand to a table is definitely cinematic. The difficulty should be based on how much it affects the target.
Range: If a target is at the far distance of effective range, the defender should get a bonus and/or reduced damage.
Subdual: If the player's trying to do non-lethal damage, there shouldn't be an increase in difficulty. If the player's trying to knock-out a target in one shot, there should be a hefty set of penalties-- which decrease the longer the fight goes on.
Sweeping Multiple Opponents: Each defender gains a bonus to their defense, with that bonus increasing by one for each defender (so second defender might get a +2).
Trick Shooting: Bouncing shots, firing around cover and so on should give the defender a bonus and might require an additional test by the attacker.
Tripping/Knockdown: Give defender a resistance check and/or attack does less damage.

Combat Styles
The optional Combat Style system gives players access to “elements” they can add into their action description. These elements can be used to help offset relevant difficulties on a one to one basis. (See Combat Styles, below).

Other Factors
Some factors can impact the defender as well-- if the defender is unaware of an attack, they do not get a defense pull. If they're surprised, the attacker gains a bonus. Attackers have a bonus for attacking knocked down, pinned or held targets. Large targets give the attacker a bonus to hit. Small targets give the defender a bonus to defend. If the attacker is making a shot into melee, randomize who is hit unless the attacker has an ability to negate that (like Precise).

On a grab or grapple attempt, if the attack is successful, there's an immediately Physical contest to see if the grapple is successful. On the held target's action, they can make another breakout Physical check. If they win by a wide margin, they breakout and can take an action.

If a character wants to escape from a melee combat, they should make a Combat contest. If they fail, they blow their action and remain there. If multiple attackers are on one target and an attacker wishes to leave, they can do this freely however.