Monday, March 30, 2015

A Complete Set of Rules for the Bare-Knuckle Fighter and the Pub Brawl Expansion, now with Examples

There is a tendency, so far, that people reading the rules of the Bare-Knuckle Fighter sheet get paralyzed by what seems to be too complex to grok. In all the cases I had a chance to talk with those people, they all stated it's just the initial impression and it fades away fast once you actually throw some dice and see what's what. After that, it's business as usual: you encounter a problem, you check the rules, the game goes on.

See? This just got a little crazier ...

Now that the feedback keeps trickling in (and is mainly positive) I'm really relieved to see that the rules, although they work, have room to improve and the game itself does what it's supposed to do. A revision of the rules and some examples can only help that process along, so here we go. While I' at it, I might as well (to keep it interesting) add some rules for pub brawls and group play!

"Man, his eyes looked in all four directions after that punch!"

So Friday night the group assembled and we got a chance to test the Fighter. I had some rules for group combat ready and had altered the original sheet to make room for the three new die drop actions. It got explained, we discussed it a bit (somebody states he just wrote a game and wants to test it and you'll most likely have some skepticism at the table about what's going down) and then we threw the dice for the first round. This went on from half past eight in the evening until half past two in the night! It was, if I may say so, great fun.

And very educational, I might add. I'll now start with a break down of the relevant rules and terms. After that I'll give a few examples how it played out. This is now a clarified, concise and detailed version of the rules (in other words, it's long, but it should explain any questions left for those interested in playing either version). Please use the sheet with the game on it as reference, if needed. And sorry in advance, this might be longest post I've written yet (4425 words and some spare!). But it's all in one place now and with this post you have the revised sheet to play the game on and all the rules you might need to do so without the need to go somewhere else!

The Bare-Knuckle Fighter (introducing The Pub Brawl)
For now a png with both games (pdfs will follow). With this and the (revised)
rules below you will be able to play both games. If you're familiar with the
Bare-Knuckle Fighter (BKF), you'll notice that this version has just a few
drop die options more and new advancement rules.
The Set-Up:

Every player had a sheet, some six sided dice and a twenty sided die. We followed the procedures on the sheet for Base Attack, Base Defense, Health and Endurance, which produced a wide array of different characters. Each character got a name.

The Initial Roll:

The first roll at the beginning of each round is with three six sided dice (3d6). A rolled 1 will discard the die it was rolled with, a rolled six will produce an additional die (only a rolled six with the initial dice will produce a new die).

As soon as all dice are on the table, everyone adds the values of the dice that turned up with a countable result (basically, everything but the 1s, which should be gone by now anyway). This is the INITIATIVE.

The individual dice (with the results they show) are the POOL a player has at his disposal to fight that round. With those he declares his ACTIONS.  


The lowest initiative has to declare his actions first, then the next lowest and so on. Tie results decide who's faster by rolling a twenty sided die (1d20) each (higher result is faster). For the very first round in the Pub Brawl, we decided that the lowest initiative also was the one initiating the fight. We encouraged insulting someone at the table as a feature.

The Pool:

With the initial roll at the beginning of the round a player has all he needs (or all the gets) to play the round in front of him. The dice are not changed or altered beyond what's been done at the beginning. Those are your options and the options the other players have for the round. Now you have to decide what to do with them.

The Actions (Overview):

Basically you have three main groups of dice actions. There are the MAIN ACTIONS (Defense/Attack/Damage), the DELAY ACTIONS (with which you delay a die for one of the main actions to the next round) and the DROP DIE ACTIONS (if anything else needs to be done, like moving around, drinking a beer, regaining your breath and so on, you'll do it with a drop die action).

Main Actions (Defense/Attack/Damage):

A die used for one of those three actions will either be added to Base Attack/Base Defense* (attack or defense action, respectively) or used as damage die (with the value shown on the die as the damage).

If an attack is declared, damage needs to be declared, too. There can't be more than two defense and two attack actions. The number of dice you can use for attack and defense is limited only by the number of dice available (but remember, if you assign an attack, damage needs to be assigned, too). Damage dice are a bit different in that only one damage die is allowed per attack die used (drop die actions may alter that, see below).

You may attack characters with a higher initiative and you may built up a defense without knowing if an attack is actually coming or by whom, but you can't block more than two attacks and you have to declare how many attacks you're preparing to defend.

The main actions are the only actions where DOUBLES and TRIPLES will have a special effect. Those numbers stack, so to say. If you got a double 3, each of them counts as a 6 and if you have a triple 5, each of them counts as a 15 when used in a main action. The complete double/triple needs to be used in the main actions to work. If you decide to use one of them as a die drop action, it's not a double anymore or a triple gets reduced to be a double. It's the same if you delay one of those dice (but a delayed die counts for doubles and triples in the next round, see below).

One more note on doubles and triples. Over the course of the game you will have, at one point or another, more than three dice at your disposal (with delayed dice and drop die actions, see below), so a quadruple is technically possible. To keep the game balanced, though, there are only doubles and triples allowed and a quadruple would actually mean two doubles. In the rare case that you wind up having five dice showing the same number, you'd have a triple and a double (if you use all of them in the main actions). In both cases you'll most likely have a huge impact with such a result. Those are brutal punches!

Delay Actions:

You may delay up to two dice per round for the next round (not longer, you may delay new dice in the next round, but the already delayed dice get back into the game the next round). As indicated on the sheet, you also decide the main action the die is delayed in. The die will keep it's value and is accountable for doubles and triples in the next round, but NOT for initiative. You may delay an attack die without delaying a damage die, too. But you'll still have to assign a damage die to that attack in the next round (even if it fails). Same goes the other way around, you may delay a damage die without delaying an attack die, too. But then you'll have to assign an attack the next round, since you can't do damage without hitting something.

Drop Die Actions:

Those are the actions you might consider to get a benefit in a fight other than punching someone. They are called "drop die actions" because for getting that benefit you'll have to use a die you then can't use for the main actions.Nonetheless, they are an important tool to give a character just the right edge or to bluff the enemy into using his dice another way. The value of the die dropped counts only for some of the drop die actions, for other it's just the act of using the die to get the effect.

What follows is a detailed description of all the drop die actions available in the Bare-Knuckle Fighter (BKF) and the Pub Brawl (PB):

  • Counter (BKF/PB) - Can be used against every die drop action, as long as it is already declared that round or still active from previous rounds. You may even counter another counter action, as long as it's already declared. Counters are always resolved first (see below for resolving rounds), in an order from the fastest initiative to the lowest.
  • Advantage (BKF/PB) - Gives a character an edge in the fight. Every successful advantage action (that is, not countered in the same round) gives a character a +1 to the Base Attack. The character keeps this advantage until it is countered in a later round. Making another advantage drop die action will give the character another +1 (resulting then in a +2 to Base Attack) and so on, but one counter will get rid of the complete advantage, indifferent how high it is.
  • Maneuver (BKF/PB) - Gives a character a better position in the fight. Every successful maneuver action (that is, not countered in the same round) gives a character a +1 to the Base Defense. The character keeps this maneuver until it is countered in a later round. Making another maneuver drop die action will give the character another +1 (resulting then in a +2 to Base Defense) and so on, but one counter will get rid of the complete advantage, indifferent how high it is.
  • Regain (BKF/PB) - Regain a number of Endurance points (see below for further instructions on Endurance) equal to the value of the die used, unless it is countered in the same round. This action must be countered in the same round. A character can only regain Endurance as long as he has Health left. If he's already in the Buffer Zone, he may use the regain action to first fill up the zone until at least one point Health is regained. Only then he may regain Endurance again (see below for further information on Endurance, Health and the Buffer Zone).
  • Coop (PB) - You can give a die to another character to support him. The die keeps his value and is accountable for doubles and triples the supported might have/get then. If coop is declared before the supported character had his turn, he may use the coop die for all actions except delay actions. If the supported character already had his turn, he may only use it for already declared main actions and for drop die actions, he may not use it to declare a new main action after the fact. It is possible to counter a coop, but it needs to be countered in the same round.
  • Move (PB) - A move action is used to get into a fight and change between fighting groups. It may be used as a "charge", allowing one more damage die for an attack (so with one attack die, a character would be allowed to use two damage dice for that attack, instead of just one). It is possible to counter a move, but it needs to be countered in the same round.
  • Bind (PB) - A character my bind another character with a lower initiative. It means that the bound character (who, having a lower initiative, has already declared his actions) first has to attack and defend against the binding character instead of against his declared targets. This may of course be countered by yet another character, which would, in turn, render the bind ineffective. But it must be countered in the same round.
  • Pick Up (PB) - A character may choose to pick up an item and use it in the fight (a bottle, a glass or a chair). The damage dealt when using such an item goes directly to Health (see Resolving Actions 3) and one point of damage per damage die to endurance (see Resolving Actions 3). The value of the die used for the drop determines the size of the item (1-3: small, glass or bottle; 4-6: big, a chair). Using a big item allows for one more damage die in the attack (so with one attack die, a character would be allowed to use two damage dice for that attack, instead of just one). The item is active until it is used once in a successful attack or until countered. It may be countered as long as it is active and damage needs to be dealt with it to count as used. the value of the die is just important to determine the size of the item, not to determine damage.
  • Drink! (PB) - A character may choose to drink an alcoholic beverage to get back some Health (see below for further information on Health). He may regain a maximum of 10 Health this way (please keep track of the Health gained this way in the square for the drop die action on the sheet). The value of the die is not important. If the drink option is not countered in the same round, it is resolved by rolling 1d6 and adding the result to health. If the result is over either the 10 point maximum or the maximum Health a character has, he will be dizzy for the number of rounds he is over the limit (say a character already gained back 7 Health this way, but decides to take the risk and go for another drink, if he comes up with 5 now, he'll be dizzy for two rounds). For the time he is being dizzy, he will loose 1 die in the initial roll (2d6 instead of 3d6). A character can never gain more Health than his initial maximum indicates.
Resolving Actions:

When the character with the fasted initiative has declared his actions, he also starts resolving them directly after (then the next fastest and so on).

  1. The first thing to do now, is resolving the drop die actions in the order of initiative. Start with what is countered and remove it, then resolve the remaining die drop actions as explained above. Resolve every step in order of initiative, start with the fastest counter action, stop with the slowest counter action, go on with the fastest drop die action down to the lowest. The fastest initiative is not to do it all at once.
  2. The main actions are resolved next. An attack is successful whenever an attack die plus Base Attack* (plus advantage, if active) is higher than the defense of a target (Base Defense* plus defense dice, if used, plus maneuver, if active). Although resolved in order of initiative (fastest to lowest), it all happens at the same time, so even if a successful attack might bring a character down (see below), he'll still be ale to bring his attack home before the lights go out. A double-K.O. is possible. All successful attacks deal DAMAGE now.
  3. The value of a damage die reduces Endurance until it's gone, the number of damage dice used reduces Health as long as he has Endurance (using an item changes that, see the pick up drop die action for further information). The moment the damage value of a die reduces Endurance beyond zero, the remaining damage is dealt directly to Health (only under those condition the number of dice used becomes unimportant). Whenever Health drops into the buffer zone (a zone of 10 points below zero), a character has to check if he gets KNOCKED OUT.
  4. To find out if a character is knocked out, he needs to roll (1d20 + what's remaining of his buffer zone) versus a difficulty of 15. As long as the result of this roll is above 15, he stays in the fight.
  5. As long as a character still has points in his buffer zone, he will be out of the fight for only two rounds. Not being completely unconscious, he may roll 1d6 per round. If he comes up with a 6 he gets one die to roll for initiative, using the result of that generated die in the round (if that second roll comes up with a 1, bad luck, but if it also comes up with a 6, you just earned another die for that round!). After two rounds he is back on his feet, but he needs to spend a move drop die action (see above) to get back into the fight.
  6. If the character gets enough damage to reduce even his buffer down to zero, he is out for 3 rounds if he doesn't make his save (in this case roll 1d20 higher 15). If down, he won't be able to do anything in those three rounds but getting his shit back together. After three rounds he is back on his feet, but he needs to spend a move drop die action (see above) to get back into the fight.
  7. The next round starts when all actions are resolved.

Endurance, Health and the Buffer Zone:

They mirror the condition of a fighter. When using fists (or heads or feet), the value of a damage die will go to Endurance first and only the number of the damage dice used reduces Health. The moment the value of a damage die would reduce Endurance under zero, the remaining damage goes directly to health and the number of dice isn't factored in anymore.

There is a Buffer Zone of 10 points that is depleted as soon as damage reduces Health below zero. This is where the hurt is. Every time a character gets damage in the zone or beyond, he has to roll (1d20 + what's remaining of his buffer zone) versus a difficulty of 15. As long as the result of this roll is above 15, he stays in the fight. If not, he goes down (see Resolving Actions 5 and 6 above for specifics).

A character has some options to regain Health (only PB) or Endurance (BKF/PB). See drop die actions Regain and Drink! above for further information.

*Cross-Reference with sheet for information on Base Attack and Base Defense (it's basically 3d6/drop lowest/add remaining for each).

Optional Rules (BKF)

Boxing Variant - When gloves are used in a fight, only the value of a damage die counts as damage, but the number of the dice used to do damage won't reduce Health. As long as a Boxer has Health left, he may regain 1d3 (roll 1d6: 1-2 are a 1, 3-4 are a 2 and 5-6 are a 3) endurance back between rounds. There is no limit to the number of rounds. The fight is over when one of the combatants drops.

Same-Level-of-Experience Variant - There is a random element when creating a fighter. For Health and Endurance you start with rolling  1d3 (roll 1d6: 1-2 are a 1, 3-4 are a 2 and 5-6 are a 3) to find out how many d6 a character has to roll for his Endurance and his Health (in other words, how experienced and tough the fighter is). You may decide before character generation how many dice are used instead of using the random method and then use those dice to generate Endurance and Health. You might even ignore the dice completely and just decide how much Endurance and Health both Fighters have and go from there. While you are at it, you might decide the same for Base Attack* and Base Defense*. Have fun experimenting!

Optional Rules (PB)

The-Barkeep-called-the-Police Variant - Limit the duration of the brawl by setting a time when it's over. 10 rounds is a good number, but feel free to randomize this or just set another number.

Team-Play Variant -  Just make teams either way you prefer. It'll make sure the Bind and Coop drop die actions will get some use and it's always good to know who the enemy is when you're playing among friends. There is a bit of an advantage, if one group is bigger than the other, but we tried it (3 vs. 2) and the smaller group managed to knock two guys out before they went down. And it still could have gone the other way.

Examples of Play

For the first game we set no time limit and it was everyone against each other. Character creation had been completely random (as proposed on the sheet) and we had some variety of results. The brawl went on for about three hours without getting boring or redundant, but it took most of the first hour to get all players on the same page (which is not unusual when learning a new game). The Drink! and Regain drop die actions hadn't been as strict and limited as they are now, which resulted after some time in characters taking breaks to power up and that started to work way to good. But it was okay, since I needed to see how the game reacts in the long run.

The second game was a bit shorter. We decided to build two teams (3 vs. 2) and set a time limit (10 rounds). It took seven rounds to the Last Man Standing. Having teams and a time limit, with the players now completely understanding the rules, made the fight much more vicious. It was brutal. For this fight we had coop actions handled as delayed dice, but decided afterwords that it would be better to have it as a drop die action would be better, because than it could be countered.


Pick Up actions got pretty popular fast, but also got drinking. Once the rules got out of the way, the players started thinking strategy. Once they had a handle on that, they started talking business. And that was lots of fun. I got a coop drop die from a team member to use it as a move and we decided he was throwing me back into the fight.

A player tried to get a drink and got countered by another player, who also took a drink. It was only natural that one player took another players drink away to drink it himself! And when he rolled a 1 for Health, others started joking that he had spilled most of that other guys beer while he took it from him ...

One player really wasn't lucky with the dice. From the very beginning he wound up having only one or two dice to work with. Which resulted in a beating, of course, and he was down in the buffer zone within the first few rounds. But he didn't go down! No Sir, he took at least 4 heavy hits and made his save every time. It was amazing. One of his drop die actions had been picking up a chair and we kept joking that he used it to keep standing.

In the end he went down for three rounds and that was unfortunate. But he took it like a sportsman. And once he was conscious again, he took a drink, made some breathing exercises and was back in the fight. If you've ever seen a Bud Spencer/Terence Hill movie, that's what the fight felt like.

Luck has it's fair share in a fight, but with the ability to delay dice and the drop die actions you have some options to prepare for the next round instead of going all in. Team play made for some nice cooperation and shifted the game from "how to use my own dice" to "how to use my own dice with the dice the others got", which was really nice to see.

Either way, you could never tell how a fight would end. People down and out came back and brought trouble. A well prepared round with a good initiative and some brilliant thinking could turn a fight just like that. Bad rolls are bad rolls, but playing in a team could compensate it somewhat. The result was a bit like what you'd expect from a real fight. Uncertainty, an idea what was coming at you and maybe how to prevent it, add some explosions of violence in between and a fitting narrative at the table to get the pictures you'd might want to have when playing such a game and you get an idea how it played out.

That all the dice and stats were visible all the time was never a problem, but more like a shared advantage. People talked strategy, bluffed all around the table and initiative did the rest to bring some tension. In one round a guy tried to hit me with a bottle, but was slower than me, so I decided to counter his bottle and give him a good one, too, for good measure. But his team mate had been faster even than I had been. So he decided to counter my counter and gave a boost to his friend's defense. You might already guess how that ended, that bastard had grabbed my hand so I couldn't get to that bottle aimed for my guts and the punch I was throwing was blocked in the last second, too! But I couldn't have known when I decided to make my bet with the dice. I knew when the faster player had decided how to use the options he had.

It was all good fun.

What else?

Yeah, such a long text and I'm still writing (or as a friend of mine put it just the other day: "The text was so long, I couldn't even bring myself to scroll down to the comments section and write tl/dr!"). I will update all the rules the next few days. The Pub Brawl sheet is already in this post (png for now, but I will make a pdf of it, too) and I'll have all this nice and finished by next weekend (the latest). That's it for now and if you read all this, I owe you one. Give the game a chance, if you are interested (and why wouldn't you, reading all this?!).

Swordplay will be next.

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