Combat Cycles [Homebrew]

Last week I talked about wanting to run a specific kind of system that doesn’t seem to exist yet and why I would be building a new system to accommodate my white whale of a playstyle.

This week, I’ll be taking a closer look at an actual combat encounter, how I’d like it to play out and how that might work mechanically. But first, I’m adding something to my set of guidelines.

A picture of a 12-sided die.
Poor, underused D12. You’ll get your time in the sun.

– I’d like for my system to use a D12 as its primary die.

Why the D12? because the poor D12 is criminally underused and I like the way it looks, that’s why. On to the rules crafting.

So, first things first. In order to make combat run smoothly, I’ll need some way to determine who goes first. For now I’ll stick to a one-on-one scenario and I’ll expand to include multiple combatants later.
I would like for this value to be fairly static, unlike for example D&D where each time a fight starts, there’s a swing of 20 points for where in the initiative order you end up. You could be the speediest elf in the world and still end going after the troglodyte with a -4 and disadvantage to their initiative. I don’t like that.
What’s my solution: base it off a static value or possibly a calculated value. So to figure out who goes first, you compare something like either your speed attribute or perhaps reaction or whatever I end up calling it.
However, that means you’re guaranteed to go first if you have a high score in the relevant attribute, which is a little dull. The obvious solution would be to add a roll, which slows things down and once again adds that swing that can feel so out of place. Alternatively, I can rope in that resource management I spoke about earlier to make it a little unpredictable.

A fairly standard disagreement between two palls.

Let’s do that. This is how I imagine initiative to go. Combat begins.  Every combatant grabs their initiative tracker (which for this example is just a piece of paper with their base score written on it, sleeved up so it can be marked with a dry-erase marker). Everyone announces their base initiative. Each combattant then spends some amount of their basic combat resource (I’ll call this stamina for now) which adds to their initiative at a one to one ration. They write down the final number. Everyone reveals their final initiative and it’s off to the races.

I could even add in the option (or perhaps as a learned ability later) to instead choose to recover some amount of stamina and lower one’s initiative by an equal amount. This would have the effect of allowing your opponent the opportunity for a devastating alpha strike but give you more resources to deal with it. I kind of like this risk/reward idea, although I may have to tweak the values to ensure players don’t build characters with obscenely high base initiative scores only to tank them a little and get an edge in stamina on their slower opponents.

Initiative: The start of every combat encounter begins with determining who holds the initiative. This is determined as follows. Every character involved in the combat announces their base initiative.
Once everyone has done so, each player will secret spend or recover Stamina. For each point spent, the player’s character’s initiative will increase by one. For each point recovered, their initiative will decrease by 1. Initiative may never go below 0 or increase to more than twice the base initiative. A player may choose to recover 0 stamina and keep their initiative as-is.
Once every player has modified their initiative to their liking, the final initiative scores are revealed. The character with the highest score has the initiative and gets to take the first action.

Alright, so I’ve got a way to determine who gets to act first. So how does a character who did not win the initiative get to act. There’s two ways. Either you take the initiative by beating an opponent when they roll against you or by having the initiative ceded to you by another character. I’ll talk more about that later.

First, let us speak of killing and not being killed. For the specifics on what dice to roll and how modifiers work exactly, i’ll write up a separate post, but for now let us speak of abstracts.
To make an attack, a character has to expend stamina.
To defend, a character doesn’t have to expend stamina but the odds of not getting killed are much higher if they do.

These two statements are the core of the attack-defense dichotomy. They will have to remain true throughout the design. No abilities or combination of abilities are allowed to break these rules.

So, making an attack. In order to make an attack, a character will have to select a specific attack to use (be it stabbing someone, throwing a fireball or shooting a bow) and a specific target to hurt (or spectacularly fail to hurt). I’ll start by defining the rules for melee combat and expand from there, seeing as they are the most core to the design I have in mind.

Typical RPG fighter
Sword? Check. Armor? Check. Asymmetrical outfit? Check. This guy’s ready to be a PC.

I don’t have specific numbers yet, but I expect a typical attack to consume between 1/2 and 1/5th of a character’s typical stamina reserve. Swinging a huge axe at someone is going to be very draining but devastating when it hits. Conversely, slicing at someone with a knife isn’t going to take too much effort and leave plenty of oomph for ducking out of the way afterwards.

So a character declares their attack. They expend the minimal cost for that specific attack. The defender then gets to choose whether they’d like to use their basic defense or if they would like to expend stamina to decrease their chances of getting killed. While the choices of which attack to use and whether to expend stamina to defend would be open information, I think that choosing the exact values in secret and revealing them adds an element of risk estimation to the game that could be interesting.

Once both players have decided what they’re going to do and where their stamina will be spent on, these actions will be revealed. Then, rolls will happen to determine the exact result of the attack.

Speaking of which, I’m still a little doubtful about how to go about the traditional attack roll/damage roll dichotomy. Since there will be a roll for attack and a roll for defense, I’m already on the slow end for conflict resolution. With that in mind, it is probably faster to keep damage tied to how good your hit was. But i’d like to maintain an upper limit on how good a hit can become and keep math out of it somewhat, so perhaps each weapon will have a set of damage values that indicate how much damage it does at a certain quality of hit. Something along the lines of the following:

Weapon 1-3 4-6 7-9 10+
Arming Sword 2 slashing 5 slashing 9 slashing 14 slashing

These numbers aren’t final, but this would be a pretty decent approximation of how things might work. And that will be all for this week. I’ve got some more specific mechanics to think about, so next week, I’ll dive into specific attack options and maybe even start figuring out some good baseline statistics to work from.

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