Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Action vs. Reaction - System experimentation

For those of you who have been following my Action vs. Reaction article where I speak to Kay Sukaue, martial artist and general great guy about combat and game mechanics.  I had mentioned that I was trying to come up with a game mechanic that better interprets real martial arts combat as a hack for Savage Worlds.  Here is a very rough first draft of what I have in mind.  Please keep in mind that this is a first draft I drew up at work during lunch today and was meant to keep Kay up to speed on what I was thinking.

Combat Mechanics Discussion

I’m not sure if you are at all familiar with the Savage Worlds system, but it works on a dice step method. All Skills and Attributes are rated 1-5, see below. All player characters also get a Wild Card die (d6) along with every roll, taking the highest. This represents the Hero factor.

Step Range 1 – 5 (All stats are rated 1 to 5 die steps.  1=d4, 2=d6, 3=d8. 4=d10 and 5 = d12). Both the die values and the step values are used for different reasons.

New Derivative Statistic – Combat Fitness

Vigor (Vi) – Physical Body
Smarts (Sm) – Mental Readiness
Spirit (Sp) – Spiritual Development

Average round up = Combat Fitness (CF)

I went with Vigor instead of Agility for the calculation of this derived stat.  Agility will be an important factor later on as it determines the cap for Martial Arts skills, but this statistic is more designed to create a basis for gathering a Combat Awareness statistic for the new initiative system. As you will see further on, it more describes the ability to determine the appropriate time for a Decisive Strike and to determine opponent weaknesses and strengths.  Vigor to me represents physical conditioning instead of coordination and speed. I figured coordination and speed would become important when a maneuver is executed.

Note: When I refer to a "Martial Art" skill I am referring to any martial melee skill.  This would be anything from Fencing to Greco Roman Wrestling.

New Initiative System

The new initiative system is not designed to determine who “goes first”.  In my new vision for close combat all combat is resolved as opposed and simultaneous rolls.  The difference comes in who has determined the correct Decisive Maneuver first, executes that maneuver and whether the defender at that point provides an opportunity for the attacker to continue on to another maneuver in the chain until the defender is defeated or creates an Initiative Break.

The winner of the initiative simply gets a combat bonus depending on his situational awareness and how well he has sized up his opponent.  Combatants have the choice to attack after not only one but several initiative rolls to see if they can maneuver for a better initial strike.  It is possible for there to be little difference between the two combatants who are very evenly matched.

Advantage Roll

Instead of rolling for “Initiative” combatants roll for “Advantage.” Advantage determines a combatant’s ability to decide upon a Decisive Maneuver and act upon it. The Advantage Roll is a simple CF roll. Checking for Advantage may take several passes since the required number may not be reached in a single roll. Therefore, successive rolls are added together until someone reaches an amount equal to or greater than their opponents Combat Threshold (see below). Rolling for Advantage is part race, part gamble and part strategic determination.

·         The Race: Each combatant is trying to reach his opponents Combat Threshold (CT) first. To determine the character’s CT add his/her CF to the result of a secret Martial Arts Skill or Bluff Skill roll.

·         The Gamble: Opponents do not know each other’s CT, they have to guess at it. Players secretly roll their Advantage Roll and write down their totals. At any point (as long as each side has made the same number of Advantage Rolls) a player may call a Strike and the combat begins. No combatant may roll for Advantage more times than their CF. Therefore a character with a CF of three would be able to make a maximum of 3 Advantage Roll passes.

·         The Strategy: After a Srike is called each side then reveals their Advantage Total (AT) and their CT.  Each side then subtracts their opponents CT from their AT.  The result is their Combat Pool (CP).  Combat Pool is used to act and react in combat. The player with the highest total is said to have the Initiative. Players must be judicious in the use of their Combat Pool in order to survive the combat.  If both sides end up with an equal number of Combat Pool they may choose to call an Initiative Break and reset or continue with the combat with neither side having a clear advantage.

Note: There is an obvious hole here and I will shore it up as soon as I think of a way how. What if someone calls a Strike but their opponent has not yet met the CT? To me thats an iaijutsu or surprise strike kind of maneuver, but I have to think on that a bit more to come up with a solid solution.

Spending Combat Pool

Combat Pool is a representation of comparative situational awareness.  These points can be used to give a combatant more options. Once you are out of options, you are probably out of luck. The character with the higher Combat Pool has more options and therefore has the Initiative. Combat Pool can be spent in the following ways.

1.      Check for Bluff: If a character suspects his/her opponent of using the Bluff Skill to determine their CT he/she may spend a CP to force an opposed Bluff vs. Perception test. If the Bluff check is higher, nothing happens.  If the Perception check is higher and the combatant did indeed use the Bluff Skill to determine CT the character that used Bluff must subtract his/her opponents Perception Skill from their CP and CT until the next Initiative Break. This must be done before any combat is resolved.

2.      Mitigation: Players may spend one CP to remove an environmental combat modifier found in the regular combat rules in Savage Worlds. By using their superior situational awareness characters can overcome situational obstacles.

The Combat

Now that we know who has the Advantage in combat it’s time to strike. Each player must spend one Combat Pool to engage each enemy in the combat. Therefore, if a character is fighting three opponents he/she must spend three CP to engage all three. If a character does not have enough CP to engage all of their opponents, he/she cannot defend against all of them. All friendlies in the combat can split the CP cost between them as long as each enemy is engaged with at least one friendly character. All combatants that are in combat with an enemy they cannot engage can suffer from a free strike.  Free strikes are resolved before all other combat. Combatants can make a free strike by making a normal Martial Arts test against the victims Parry. The Margin of Success of this roll is then applied to damage directly.

Once engaged each combatant can spend 1 CP to add a die of the appropriate type to their Martial Art Skill to a pool. Once all combatants have decided on how many CP they are going to spend they roll their dice plus one Wildcard die. The character with the highest total (including the rule of doubles) can then choose to subtract one from their opponents Combat Pool or add one to their own Combat Pool. If both sides have 0 CP an Initiative Break occurs and the combat resets.  Once a combatant is reduced to 0 CP  and one or more of their opponents still have CP remaining then that character is hit and damage is applied.  If multiple characters are reduced to 0 CP characters engaged with them may choose to hit an opponent of their choice. If one combatant facing several is reduced to 0 CP and his/her opponents still have CP remaining, the victim is hit multiple times.


Weapons no longer have a dice value for damage.  They have a single damage value.  This damage value is added to the remaining CP of the attacker and compared to the victims Toughness and damage is applied normally.

Response from Kay

I like what I see so far.  You are going to have to explain the +/- 0 play on CP.  Sounds like CP is life blood in combat… without correctly applying CP then you may be overpowered or out maneuvered.  Am I getting that right?

My Reply

That is correct.  The whole thing boils down to getting the edge on Combat Pool over your enemy.  It’s a measure of your Situational Awareness and assessment of your opponent. At that point it’s up to you to employ that advantage in real terms. If you are aggressive and have a CP edge, you want to push that advantage by having a higher dice pool than your opponent and then using that edge to erode their Combat Pool, this simulates you attacking and setting yourself up for the follow up maneuver.  Once you lose all your dice, you have basically run out of options. It is also possible for both sides to run out of CP at the same time and therefore forcing an Initiative Break.
I plan on using edges that reflect different martial arts styles.  Like a Defensive Martial Art would grant you an edge verses an opponent that has a higher pool than you (or in other words an opponent that is very aggressive grants bonuses to a martial artist that is trained to counter that kind of move.

Let me know what you guys think!


  1. It's always interesting to look for ways to translate the excitement of martial arts into game mechanics. I've done a bit of competitive fencing and the experience helps me visualize and describe combat, but I've often been underwhelmed by game mechanics that seek to simulate it.

    I like your idea of looking for and/or creating advantages. I think, as your friend said of Kendo, that creating advantages is a big part of combat.

    I do something similar in my own homebrew. One aspect of this allows a combatant to disable an opponent, which has a couple of benefits. It speeds combat, and provides role-playing opportunities post-combat.

    1. One of the reasons I picked up this project was to create something where people can inject some character into their fighting style and make something that was really outside the box when it comes to the rock and sock 'em style of combat we usually see in these games.

  2. What are the characters actually doing in the game when they make their Advantage Roll? Are they just staring at each other? If they make more than one roll, I can see it potentially getting a bit boring.

    I like the idea of spending CP to negate situational problems. I also like the use of Bluff and the secret rolling. In fact, I like that idea a lot. That injects a TON of tension as you try to guess what your opponent is doing. It also has the potential to inject a lot of frustration if it starts to feel like your plans never work out due to not having enough information.

    1. I am struggling with the "Staredown" for lack of a better term portion of the system. You are right it does seem to bog things down a bit.

      I was thinking that I could change it so that both sides rolled their maximum amount of dice and then bid the number of dice they were going to commit to the totals. I would have to create some kind of reward for being a lower bidder and can't seem to come up with anything good. That and figuring out what to do about people falling short on the CT. Like I said this is a rough first draft, but I am highly encouraged so far.

      Thanks for reading Ben!