Let’s talk pool. (For just a second.) Pool is a surprisingly strategic game. On any given shot, you’re not just trying to knock a ball down one of the holes. After sinking a ball, the cue ball has to end up in a position that sets up the next shot. And so on, and so forth, each shot having more than just an immediate purpose. It’s strategic.
Hand-to-hand combat — with swords, truncheons, or bare knuckles — is exactly the same way.
- Swordfight. Someone attacks with the sword. The target parries, in such a way that the sword is knocked to the side and their next blow is easier to land, because the opponent can’t defend themselves.
- Boxing. A high attack, over their guard, knocking their head to one side, where it’s less protected, followed by another blow from the opposite side, knocking their head back, “ringing their bell”.
- Boxing. When attacked by an opponent, the boxer “cages”, putting both hand up in front of their face, allowing their opponent to pound on them, tiring himself out. When they’re tired, the boxer begins striking back.
Strategy. Reactive planning. Attacks based on what your opponent did last, and what you need to do next.
This goes back and forth, at a high rate of speed, with each opponent reacting to the current situation and trying to influence the flow of combat, so their next blow will be more effective. This dynamic holds for all hand-to-hand combats between trained individuals. (Brawls and school-yard fights being untrained combat.)
So, in line with yesterday’s post on making a game that feels real, how do I approach the mechanics such that they mimic this give and take? It takes surprisingly few rules.
The first is a note in the combat section: rolling low Doubles can mean the combatant is tired out, or Fatigued. (“Fatigued” is a condition, listed in the combat chapter.) This mimics the sheer effort necessary to fight a hand-to-hand bout.
The second rule, and key to the whole endeavor, is this:
When you are attacked in hand-to-hand combat, you can chose one of the following three reactions (as a free action).
- Attack: Attack them as they’re attacking you. You get to make a Combat Challenge, and possibly do damage. (People can kill each other.) This can include either a standard attack (to deal damage) or a special attack (disarm, throw, etc.)
- Defend: You get to roll for defense (d10, from 0 to 9), decreasing the chance you’ll take damage.
- Counter: You can attempt a Combat Interaction skill: trick, taunt, intimidate, maneuver, or overbear. Passive Defense applies. (Combat Interaction rules will be posted tomorrow, or see the Playtest doc. Essentially, they apply a penalty to the target’s actions for one round.)
This Reactive Defense mimics the strategy of real combat, in a very compact form. You get attacked, you decide what to do, you carry it out.
You can strike back at them (a real option in a H-t-H bout), defend yourself (representing blocking, dodging, or parrying), or set them up for a devastating attack. Your decision rests on what your opponent is capable of (or what you think him capable of) and what would be best for the match.
Real strategy, real consequences, without a cumbersome, “point for point match” to the real world. (It’s also fully integrated into the game’s mechanics, a huge plus over other mechanics I’d considered.)
This is also very cinematic. Recall The Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya is in a corridor. Soldiers rush him, one by one, each attacking him to bring him down. He parries each attack and strikes the guards, killing them one by one.
In a standard “I attack, you attack” sequence, this is impossible to emulate. With the rule above, it’s easy.
Add in the rules for Initiative, and combat bouts become as strategic in the game as they are in real life.