Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wherein I propose a crazy combat-system for LSotN - Part 1

I've avoided to talk about combat in Lost Songs of the Nibelungs so far. My main reason was that I'm not happy with the combat system D&D offers through the editions and this being my personal D&D Frankenclone, I was reluctant to ditch it completely. Now I got a crazy idea how a hybrid of the basic assumptions in D&D with some of the ideas I already established for LSotN might actually do the job. Or I'm just a lunatic. Either way, these are preliminary thoughts and to be read with caution ...

[Edit:] Here is a free mini-game as an example for some of the ideas I discuss below.

3d6 for everything, just like that ...

Here is the basic idea: A character rolls 3d6, every six generates an additional die to roll, every one creates an opportunity for the enemy. The sum is the initiative. For the individual results one may decide which are declared as Defence, Attack and Damage (last to go is the first to decide). Doubles and triples will make the attack stronger (doubles escalate, triples are critical). Attack roll may be "delayed" into the next round. Different weapons allow for different distributions and players may cooperate to achieve better attack results. That's it in a nutshell.

Let's go a bit into detail. Qualities (think: ability scores) are 3d6 in a row and are a pool with separate functions and subject to change during the game, but there's the additional level where the highest two of every separate throw generates something I call (for now) defenses and they are more or less static.

So the additional level of Finesse (think: Dexterity) gives characters their base armor class (with an average of 8.5, let's say 9 and we are in D&D territory again ...) and there is our first solid number for such a system, the base number you have to meet to do some harm. To get there with just one d6 might work, but will take at least 2 rounds and that's without thinking about armor and defense rolls. Way to long, even if you factor in that players might cooperate to get there faster and the dice might go crazy. That's how the Muscle sub-set (again an average of 8.5 on those character sheets) gets promoted to base attack and we have our second static number to make this work.


The easiest way to see how this might work is to imagine a brawl. Two combatants, both without armor and with average base attack and ac (both at 9). Whoever looses initiative has to distribute his dice to defense, attack and damage (I imagine a fixed distribution for ties, something like lowest to defense, highest to attack, etc.). Both might actually hit and do damage, doubles and triples may make for some additional tension and so forth. To distinguish a bit between armed and unarmed combat, I'd go and add that the damage to hp is the number of the damage dice used in the attack and the actual damage results drain endurance (which is related to Muscle). Escalating and critical results may do normal damage. Grit (think: Con) checks might be factored in to see if a character goes K.O. ...

This shows that it's a combat system that begins with unarmed combat as the base assumption rather than making it an afterthought. Everything else builds on it.

Weapons and Armor

Armor will make a character harder to hit, of course. The spectrum goes with what we know from D&D (with some alterations, but this will be subject for another post), a maximum of + 3 for light armor, + 6 for medium and + 9 for heavy armor. Weapons basically allow a different distribution and delay of the dice.

Classic weaponry like a one-handed weapon and a shield allow the distribution above (defense - attack - damage), attack die may be delayed. Two-handed weapons allow two dice on damage, ignoring the defense die and attack dice may be delayed. Long weapons allow two attack dice (ignoring defense, but giving the benefit of speed ...) and damage dice may be delayed or two dice defense with the possibility to delay the attack (ignoring the damage die that round) because long weapons are flexible like that.

Two weapons allow all combinations, but no delay of any dice (I imagine someone fighting with two knifes, for instance, two axes would be possible, too), but it's something only experienced fighters will do, as low level characters won't be able to hit with just one attack die in most cases (something a high level character should be able to do with the right traits) and using two dice for an attack will leave a character defenseless and with just one die for damage. Using it in an unarmed fight would be a benefit, though, and combined attacks (see below) give this style a chance in fights with several combatants on each side ...

Different styles allow for different tactics and as soon as the enemy is harder to hit a combat has a little bit more cautious maneuvering with some explosions of violence if the dice do their thing. Another aspect of this is that the players don't know an enemy's ac at the beginning of a fight. They might guess it by what he's wearing, but they might need to test it, which has the nice effect that the interpretation of hitting and missing becomes a bit more important in a fight.

Combined attacks

Fights with several combatants allow for the combinations of attacks. For this players declare who fights with whom. Those dice, too, might be delayed into the next round. Forming doubles, etc. will make an attack more effective.

The idea here is, for one, to enforce cooperative play at the table a bit more. It also illustrates that it's quite effective to gang up on an enemy (since characters will hit a lot faster), which, in turn, will enforce some tactical thinking, since no one wants to be ganged up upon (I imagine). In an ideal case players will make their roll and check what their options are in a fight instead of just hacking at everything that moves until it doesn't.

Opportunities and the DM's work

The first real difficulty in this system is to find an easy way for the DM to handle several combatants. It's where most system will have to make compromises, actually, to keep it manageable. A fixed AC would be a start. In LSotN this will amount to a base AC plus the average defense roll (9 + 3 = 11) plus the armor a NPC/Monster is wearing. It's also helpful to consider the characters' initiative rolls as a roll versus a difficulty to see if they are faster or not. So NPCs/monsters should have a basic initiative value depending on speed and experience (have to come up with a ratio here, maybe something like (15 + level) - armor value ...).

A fight now is about opportunities I think about reducing attack rolls to opportunities. Every monster/NPC has as much opportunity dice as he has hd. Each round the DM rolls those first. Every result of 4 and more will indicate an attack, the result will count as a delayed attack die (only one die, though). Rolling a 1 will count as a defense die, though, and gives the players an opportunity to attack (effectively reducing an enemies ac by -2). Likewise, if a character rolls a 1 it has to go on defense and will provoke an "attack of opportunity" by enemies nearby ...

The idea here is to reduce the amount of dice a DM has to manage in a given round, again with some peaks of violence in between and lots of maneuvering in between. It's also the most vague part in this and it will need some testing. For fights combatant versus combatant the normal system should do the job as it is.

Imagine the interpretation of the dice (like an oracle, if you will) substituting the board game elements of D&D and you get an idea I am aiming for.

What else?

All this is enough for now to digest. I'm not quite sure if it's too crunchy, but that's a matter of taste. I'm aware that there are some loose threads in those ideas (ranged combat, for instance), but I hope I got the basic ideas across. It's still very close to D&D and a DM not liking it (if there will be any others than me, that is), might as well use some D&D variant without much conversion.

That being said, I believe this system could have some merit, as it emphasizes tactical decisions and cooperation. One roll of 3d6 can be so much more diverse in it's results than a roll of 1d20 could ever be. So there's that. But it needs testing, of course.

The next post about combat (I aim for next weekend) will be about those loose ends mentioned above (plus some ideas what could be achieved at higher levels, how damage works and what other effects weapons might have). It'll also have some ideas about player aids to make this easier to use at the table (something that should be on a character's sheet, I imagine).

Anyway, with this I'm a huge step closer to having a working little system for play testing and thus I'm pretty close by now to produce an actual beta-version of LSotN in the foreseeable future! 

I am very interested in opinions and questions, of course. 


  1. I am not one of those folks who can look at something once and just know how it would play out at the table. From here it looks fantastic, and I would love to try it in a live game. I think it's one of those mechanics where i would have to see it once or twice in action and I would go "OHHH ! ok ! That's the ticket."
    I love "combat has a little bit more cautious maneuvering with some explosions of violence if the dice do their thing."
    That makes me want to play it right there.
    My only question is what would this sound like at the table?
    For example: I have my warrior with his trusty Shield and short spear, I'm also damn hungry and have been for days. Now I have to dispatch this Lombard fellow with his pitch fork and pig I just tied to steal...I roll dice.. hold my breath...
    how are the dice turned into the description?

    1. Thanks, Mark! Glad you like it so far. It took me quite some time to wrap my brain around it, too. And it's so crucial for a system, it gets annoying. Combat is a fickle beast to do in a rpg ...

      Okay, let's give this a shot. There'll be lots of factors to consider. If you get the upper hand in the first round is one of them, because you'll see how the enemy prepares his attack and if any unpleasantries already come your way. There might be luck involved (and I'm thinking about allowing some Wyrd-related wild dice a character may throw in if it's a close one), but the distribution allows you to respond to the dice accordingly, which should directly result in a description what happens in the situation. "You see the Lombard making some measuring movements in your direction, holding the fork with both hands, but he doesn't strike yet (lost initiative, uses the fork two handed, delays attacks for next round, indicating low dice results, but you know it's coming)." You might respond with something like "I steady my shield and wait for him to come at me (delaying defense and attack, which should be possible, using a shield and all ... I have to change that)". The next rolls decide now how that'll turn out. You are ready for him and he's for you. Under normal circumstances you will clash and distribute damage ...

      How that goes down highly depends on the dice and your decisions. It's actually hard to pin down, since there are lots of variables. But it should always result in a narrative beyond "I hit the guy". There are lots of options, I guess. Even more so on higher levels.

      Have you seen the 13th Warrior? There's a fight between 2 guys with shield and sword. One of them tricks the other into thinking he's the weaker fighter and delivers a deadly strike in the fourth (or so) round, beheading his enemy. It's that kind of poker I want to see possible. It is a great example:

    2. Animal attacks, I'd imagine, would be quite straight forward. So the pig would go for an immediate, but unsuccessful attack unless it would come up with a double or triple, which you'd see coming if you won initiative. Animals will be dangerous if they are in packs (like wolfs) or big (like a bear).

      I'm as of yet undecided what happens with an unresolved damage die (which might do nothing until you take a trait to use it somehow). And I'm aware that this needs careful testing to get not too complicated. Restricting how many dice may be delayed and for how long will be one of those (delay for one round, shield may delay defense). As I wrote above, it's in an early stage. It's also crucial to have some visual aids for this to go smoothly. I hope I get a chance to test this further coming weekend ...