Adventure Trove: Combat 101
Combat. Fantasy role-playing games are made and broken on their combat systems. Often the ones that just don’t work are either too obsessed with a grid or too freeform, too abstract about character capabilities or too strict with interpretation, too slow or not involved enough. I thought long and hard about these issues when I thought of the core concepts behind this section of the game.
I chose to focus on making a grid-less combat system, because the rigidity of the grid is often what makes me dislike most fantasy games. Next, I wanted to continue allowing tactical decisions to aid the players. You can engage a target with more than one person and make your attacks easier, choose quick attacks that do less damage in the interest of overwhelming a foe, or choose big swings to put them down at once. The list is rather endless, and to support fighting styles, thematic choices, and character stunts the last thing I wanted to define was every single action a player could conceive of. So instead, I chose to define the time intervals such actions can exist in, and that is how things are made tactical and how they will give players ultimate control.
The first thing I did was draft a tick based initiative system, where the choices you make determine when next you may go. It’s a classic idea made famous by video games, and implemented well in several role-playing games over the decades since the hobby rose to its current height of saturation. You can choose to perform different maneuvers, and the choice of maneuver changes the effectiveness of an attack, the timing of an attack, and more importantly when the character may go again.
Thus, we have action costs. Your initiative phase comes up, you choose an action, the Game Master will adjust the action cost if she feels it is not quite right, and you take your turn. If you want to perform a free action (action cost 0), you may do so at the same time. However, you can only perform one free action per phase.
Free Action (0)
Swift Action (1)
Quick Action (2)
Standard Action (4)
Slow Action (8)
Rounds have 10 phases in them, and are considered to last roughly 30 seconds. Due to the cyclical nature of the combat phases, this isn’t as important a distinction as in other role-playing games. The first thing you may notice after considering that fact and reading the above chart is that you can do an awful lot in the confines of one round. You could perform a Slow action and a Quick action, or a Standard action, and three Quick actions, or 2 Swift actions and 2 Standard actions. You aren’t limited in terms of how many of any one type of action you can make in quick succession. In fact, the only limiter is that you can only make one Free Action per phase. That however does not stop you from making a Free Action during each phase of the round.
If you want to hack away at a foe using Fast Strikes (AC 2), you can. Unless you are wielding a powerful and quick weapon, this is unlikely to yield a lot of potent hits. Conversely you can aim multiple Strong Strikes (AC 4) at a target, and hope that the much higher damage base for such attacks puts your foe down. The reason for this is that every action has to be accounted for by an action cost. There is no free movement in this game, so if you want to leap aside, it’s an AC 2 action. If you want to charge a foe it’s an AC 4 action, although that doesn’t include the swing at the end. If you want to close the gap and approach a foe at Short rather than Close range, you need to devote an AC 8 action. You get ultimate choice in what to do when, but you must account for it.
It is this very situation which focuses weapon statistics. The main difference between a battle axe and a long sword is not their damage bonus.
Battle Axe, Damage Muscle +3, Action Cost adjustment +1, +1 Damage for Strong Strikes. Limit Muscle 5
Long Sword, Damage Muscle +2, Limit Muscle 4
For an average character with Strength of 2 (Muscle is an aspect of Strength, so if it is average, it doesn’t rise above the Attribute), this means he does 5 Damage with an Axe and 4 Damage with a Long Sword. Well, that is the base damage of the weapon in his hands. There are numerous ways to increase damage, from scoring lots of extra successes, to performing maneuvers. The limit based on weapon type also imposes a cap on his base damage. Assuming he improved his Muscle by 4 pts to 6, he would cap out his damage with the axe at 8 and the sword at 6.
Battle Axes always adjust the action cost of strikes upwards by 1. They do more damage in general than a sword, but they are slower. Battle Axes also cause extra damage on a Strong Strike however, so if you don’t mind adding 5 to your current phase to figure out your next one, you can deal out a base of 8 Damage instead of 5, assuming statistics similar to those listed above. (Strong Strikes deal +3 extra damage regardless of weapon statistics). Still, an opponent going on the Phase after you, could potentially get in two Fast Strikes in this same time period before you even get to act again. Those are the risks involved with using a slower weapon.
Since you can write this out on a single line, you always know how your own weapons perform. If you need help remembering that a Strong Strike does +3 Damage, a simple chart can help. The math involved is simple, and easy to perform on the fly. You can also simply do the math one time, and write that down on the line, as I did with the example characters.