Infinity: Alpha 2a Rules

I’m working towards the second playtest, using the Alpha 2a version of the rules.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be posting the Alpha 2a rules, so people can comment. My assumption is that anything that has no criticism, has no obvious flaws and so is ready for testing.

There will likely be 2 or 3 rules posts a day. Some of these will be “design theory” posts, detailing why I made some of the choices I made.

A lot of this material will seem to be reposts. All of it has small changes, however, from the Alpha 1 revision (and possibly Alpha 2).

Why Have Combat Interaction Skills?

1.) Cinematic moments. They encourage players to taunt their enemies, to try and trick them, to intimidate them. These are more interesting than hack and slash, and more cinematic.

Every action-movie fight is broken up with people making fun of each other, trying to scare the other guy (“Do you feel lucky? Well, punk, do ya?”), and so forth. By making them combat-viable options, such actions are encouraged.

2.) Everyone has a weakness. That villain? Temper. Taunt him, and he will freak out and attack. The Vizier? Secretly a coward. Intimidate him, and he will give himself away.

CI’s ensure everyone has a weakness, if you can suss it out.

3.) Encourage non-lethal strategies. Not all combats have to be a fight to the death. CI’s mean non-lethal strategies can work, which can be of great benefit if the goal is to capture the enemy, rather than kill. “Give yourself up, or we’re coming in!” With a high enough intimidation total, he might.

4.) Synergies with physical attacks. But, often enough, non-lethal strategies work best in concert with physical attacks. Trick the bad guy, keep him monologuing, until you’re in position to attack. Then launch a sneak attack, and wipe him out.

5.) Give non physical characters ways to contribute in combat. Super-scientist, but clueless with a gun? Use your intelligence to trick the bad guys into giving themselves away, or look the wrong way, or make some other mistake.

6.) Discourage dump-stats. Charisma (Influence, in my game) is useless, right? Doesn’t do anything for you. Dump all the points and put them into Dexterity or Strength. Only… without Influence, you are easily taunted. Oops. Now you’re the weak link.

Those are the game design reasons. But all these skills have real-world application as well. Tricks are a constant in war (such as Patton’s fake army). Intimidation is a potent tactic — take the Rebel Yell, the Stuka’s siren, or Mongol ferocity.

Combat Interaction skills encourage cinematic moments and allow players to engage in tactics other than hack and slash. Both of those make Infinity a better action-movie RPG.

Combat Interaction Skills: The Rules

Using Combat Interaction Skills

The Challenge Rating for Combat Interaction skills is the opponent’s Skill Rating in that skill. Maneuver is compared to maneuver, and so forth. The target can take an action to Reactively Defend.

Combat Interaction skills are primarily used to distract the target. The Success Rating of the Challenge is read as follows:

SR Penalty
1 -2
2 -4
3 -6
4 Specific Effect

The Penalty is a negative bonus modifier to all Combat, Skill, and Characteristic Challenges (including Passive Defense). The penalty lasts until the target can clear his mind, which takes a Full Round Action (meaning the character can’t take any other actions that round).

In connection with the Initiative rules, successful distractions can count for Seizing the Initiative, Pressing the Advantage, or Countering a Press. (See below.)

The Declaration for a Combat Interaction check should include a description of what the character’s intent is:

“I want to edge him over the trap door.” “I want him to get angry and rush at me.” “I want him to be so ashamed he surrenders.”

4 SR allows this effect to take place, more or less as the character intended. Gamemasters have the final say on whether the described action is reasonable or possible.

Combat Skill Distractions

Combat skills can also be used to distract the enemy, using the same mechanics as Combat Interaction skills, but are only half as effective (-1 per SR). Also, Combat skills can’t cause a Specific Effect.

This can represent suppressive fire (firearms), a feint (melee weapons), or other attempt to hamper the target.

Combat Interaction Skills

Action movie combats are about much more than shoot-outs and explosions. Characters trade barbed insults, knock each other about, and try to stare down or frighten their opponents. In Infinity, these kinds of moments are enabled by the use of Combat Interaction skills.

Combat Interactions represent the many ways that people try and distract, anger, or frighten their opponents. Though they can be used outside of combat, they have special utility during combat.

Attribute: Skill
Dexterity: maneuver
Strength: overbear
Endurance: –
Intellect: trick
Influence: taunt
Spirit: intimidate

Maneuver represents combat mobility: rolling between the legs of a giant, faking left then charging right, or deftly stepping around a blocker. It can be used to pull an enemy out of position, trip them, fake them off balance, and the like. Swashbucklers use maneuver constantly.

Overbear is the use of brute force to knock an enemy about — two shield walls, clashing against each other, a bodyguard pushing excited fans away, or a brawler knocking someone to the ground. Sumo wrestlers are masters of the overbear.

Tricks are simple: anytime you make an enemy think something’s happening, when it isn’t, is a trick: shouting for reinforcements (which aren’t there), pretending to have a gun in your pocket, looking behind someone as if your friend’s unexpectedly come up behind them. Tricks make the enemy act in ways you desire: walk over a hidden trapdoor, flee, look behind them just to see if there’s someone there.

Taunt is insults, smack-talk, any sort of derogatory comment. Done well, it angers or embarrasses the enemy, prompting them to attack (when they really shouldn’t), charge into combat, wildly swinging (leaving them open to a counter-attack), or take out their frustration in other ways. Most action heroes taunt their foes from time to time.

Intimidation is the use of fear or unease. This can involve a shouted threat — “I will kill you!” — or just an impassive and threatening stance. Intimidation can cause someone to flee, can distract them (so they can’t fight as well), or make them back down from a confrontation. The Secret Service takes classes on how to intimidate people.

Combat Interaction skills are one of the ways players can Seize the Initiative (see “Initiative”.)

Alpha 2 Doc, for Non-Playtesters

Judging by the site logs, there’s some interest in the Infinity Alpha 2 rules revision, beyond just the playtesters.

If you want access to the Alpha doc, send me an email and I’ll send you a copy. Access will be predicated on a deep and solemn promise that you’ll comment and send it back. (Fine, a pinky-swear.)

If you’re interested, drop me a line:

If you’re interested in joining the Alpha Test, indicate that as well.

Infinity: Hand-to-Hand Combat

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.

A Game That Feels Real

An actual fight is hideously complex. Position, momentum, balance, training, weight, muscle mass, technique… all of this and more.

To take it all into account takes an equally hideous set of rules. Rules which slow play down to a crawl.

Something that is fast and visceral becomes slow and cerebral. The more realistic the mechanics of the game, the less the fight evokes the feel of being in a real fight.

Too much realism makes the game unrealistic.

I want mechanics that feel real. When you do something in the game, it should feel like real life without being exactly identical to real life.

A gunfight. Bullets slamming into the cover you are crouching behind, screwing up your courage to dash across open ground while your mates engage in covering fire.

A duel. Thrust and parry, back and forth, a bared blade threatening to bleed you at any moment, desperately protecting yourself while searching for an opening to strike.

A car chase. Riding the engine hard, steering around corner, almost skidding out of control, shifting lanes with wild determination, threading around the other cars in the road, just missing them, gradually closing in on your prey.

The details don’t matter. Matching reality point-for-point is pointless. What matters is the sense of the situation, the feel of the thing.

Why? Because too much reality is bad for the game. It’s unrealistic.