Destiny: 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 Destiny, these kinds of moments are enabled by the use of Combat Interaction skills.

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

Though Combat Interaction skills can be used outside of combat (see the skill’s description in Chapter 3), they have special utility during combat, utility no other skills can match. In combat, players can choose to use CI skills in one of four basic ways.

1.) Distraction. Each Success Rating achieved when using a CI skill causes a -1 penalty to the target’s actions for the next round. (This is the assumed default for CI Skill Challenges.)

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

2.) Temporary Traits. A character who achieves a Spectacular Success (4 SR) can instead choose to apply a temporary Trait to the target, such as “Unnerved” or “Distracted”. (See Character Traits for a description.)

3.) Provoking reactions. If a character achieves a 4 SR, they can choose to provoke a specific reaction defined by the player (instead of Distracting the target or attaching a temporary Trait). “He runs away, towards the edge of the ship’s deck.”

Gamemasters have the final say on whether the described action is reasonable or possible.

4.) Activate a Destiny Deck card. Some Cold Destiny Deck effects require CI use to activate. (See The Destiny Deck.)

Intelligent use of CI skills can change the course of a combat and, though not capable of killing an opponent outright, they can nonetheless be critically important.

Combat Skill Distractions

Combat skills can also be used to distract the enemy, using the same mechanics as Combat Interaction skills. The player rolls a Skill Challenge for the combat skill, and each Success Rating applies a -1 penalty to all actions taken by the target next round.

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

However, combat skills cannot attach a temporary Trait to a target, provoke a reaction, or activate a Destiny Deck card. Only Combat Interaction skills can accomplish those.

Why have CI 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 Destiny a better action-movie RPG.

Destiny: Declarations

A Declaration is a short, vivid, in-character description of a desired action. “I whip the horses to get the carriage to go faster.” “I leap from the car to the truck.” “I try and clear the jam.”

If the player describes their action in terms of a Declaration, rather than rules-speak, they gain a +1 bonus to a Skill or Combat Challenge.

Example: “I make an Attack Total to shoot with my AK.” This isn’t worth a bonus. 

“I light up the room with my AK.” This sentence, which means exactly the same thing, is in-character and worth the bonus.

This rule gets players thinking more in terms of what their actions are look or feel like in the game world, and less about the mechanics. The gamemaster can help them translate their efforts into mechanical terms (though veteran players probably won’t need much help).

Ideally, coming up with a Declaration should be quick and easy. Players should never have to slow down play to think of one.

Declarations can be as elaborate as the player wishes, but don’t have to be. So long as they are descriptive and in-character, they are worth the +1 bonus.

Declarations are the perfect place to inject a bit of character style into the game. The more life you infuse into a Declaration, the more your character’s style bleeds through, the more color you bring to the game.

Example: “I dive over the counter, my twin pistols blazing away at the enemy.”

Let your descriptions reveal what kind of person your character is. Is your character a brutal no-frills fighter, who goes in directly for the kill, or are they a flashy, high-kicking martial artist who shows off with every blow? When using a blade, are they Conan or d’Artagnan? The game mechanics of the attacks are the same, but the description is very different.

Declarations can be used with Skill Challenges as well, and with the same benefits. Again, they need not be elaborate or lengthy, but should be in-character and vivid.

Destiny: The Draft is Done!

The .1a Alpha Test Draft of the Destiny Gaming System is finished. No more “Example:” paragraphs with nothing following the colon, no more yellow “Finish” Post-its attached to headers, no more notes copy-pasted from the List(s) or forum posts waiting to be reviewed and incorporated (or deleted). Everything I set out to include for the Destiny Fight Club is finished.

Some caveats: work still needs to be done. Proofreading, restructuring (moving sections around), clarifying, getting a final bout of comments on TheRPGSite. Not all is posted here (example: Declarations) but will be, and of course there’s… the playtesting.

Starting November 11th, 2012 at 1PM Mountain Time, I’ll be running a combat scenario using the Alpha Test rules, with the four intrepid souls who’ve volunteered to be guinea pigs. After that, feedback, clarification, and surgery.

Next up in the Playtest queue is the Destiny Deck. Selecting cards (100-120 of them), writing them up, prototyping in Photoshop, uploading… yeesh. ASAP.

So, onward to actual play. Here’s hoping it doesn’t all melt down into a giant mess…

Thanks for the participation and the feedback.


Destiny: Morale [pt. 10]


Look son, being a good shot, being quick with a pistol, that don’t do no harm, but it don’t mean much next to being cool-headed.

A man who will keep his head and not get rattled under fire, like as not, he’ll kill ya. It ain’t so easy to shoot a man anyhow, especially if the son-of-a-bitch is shootin’ back at you.

That’ll flat rattle some folks.

Little Bill Dagget, Unforgiven

Once you have Initiative, you can Press Your Advantage. Each round you do, you gain a cumulative +1 bonus. This is the Advantage bonus, and it can go as high as +9.

As one side gains an advantage, the other side becomes more and more disorganized. Their enemy appears invincible, and they are being hammered left and right. This panics people, and panicked enemies act in desperate and bizarre ways.

In game terms, when their opponent’s Advantage exceeds their Morale, soldiers will break: freeze, flee, surrender, or panic (act in random ways).

Morale: Types of soldiers.

-1: Panicky. Troops without any training or motivation (conscripted peasants), or the survivors of a routed unit. As soon as they get into combat, they will break.

0: Green. Troops with minimal training and no combat experience, or unmotivated troops. As soon as their opponent gains an Advantage of +1, they will break.

1: Blooded. Trained troops, or soldiers who’ve been in combat at least once.

2-4: Seasoned. Troops with several battles under their belt, high motivation (people defending their homes), rigorous and continuous training, or a high esprit de corps.

5-7: Veteran. Troops with extensive combat experience or elite training (but no experience in combat).

8: Elite. “The Best of the Best.” Very dedicated soldiers, with extensive combat experience, and elite training.

9: Fanatic. These soldiers will never break. They will impassively fight to the death. The legendary Immortals of Persia.

Leads, including all PC’s, are immune to Morale. They only flee if they wish.

Leaders can bolster the Morale of their troops. This can take the form of a rousing speech before battle, or encouragement during the battle. In both cases, the leadership skill is used to temporarily raise the soldiers’ morale.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: Held Actions & Reinforcements [pt. 9]

Held Actions

By default, characters with the Initiative act in the same phase, in order of descending Dexterity. However, any character can choose to Hold their Action and act later in the round, at a time of their own choosing.

They can allow another character to go first, then act. They can also choose to act simultaneously with other characters on their side (so as to enact a gambit, see Coordination During Combat.)

However, they can also choose to act during the enemy’s phase. They can wait to see what their opponent will do, and react accordingly.

Example: The Heroes have the Initiative. Some taunt the Villains, then run away. The Villains run after them, around a corner.

The other Heroes, Holding their Actions and in hiding, see the Villains and attack.

After, the surviving Villains can take their actions.

A Held Action is, in effect, an “interrupt”. The character can take action at any point during the other half of the round, even interrupting a Villain’s action. (“If he goes for his gun, I lasso him.”)

There’s no penalty for this. By holding, they act outside of the normal turn order, waiting to act until they wish.


Reinforcements fall into two general categories: those not previously participating in the battle at all, or those participating who have just arrived at on the scene.

Example: Soldiers racing to aid their companions, who haven’t been involved in fighting, count as new participants. Soldiers fighting on the walls, who fight their way to the courtyard (the focus of the battle between the Leads) are involved in the combat.

Those who have been participating are affected by the Advantage, positive or negative, as if they had been “on-screen” the whole time. They still act in the same phase as their allies, however.

Those who are fresh participants, who haven’t been participating at all, have 1 phase to act during which they are not affected by the Advantage (positively or negatively). After that, the Advantage applies as usual.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: In Real Life: Mutual Surprise [pt. 8]

In Real Life: Mutual Surprise

Prokhorovka, July 1943. It was one of the biggest tank battles in history, involving 600 Nazi and Soviet tanks, started by accident when two maneuvering forces ran into each other while trying to get to other places. Neither side tried to take control of the battle, instead fighting to disengage and retreat, but ended up inflicting serious casualties anyway.

“The Soviet tanks thrust into the German advanced formation at full speed and penetrated the German tank screen. The [Soviet] T-34s were knocking out [German] Tigers at extremely close range … The tanks of both sides were in the closest possible contact. There was neither time nor room to disengage from the enemy and reform in battle order or operate in formation. … Frequently, when a tank was hit, its ammunition and fuel blew up, and torn-off turrets were flung through the air over dozens of yards. … Soon the whole sky was shrouded by the thick smoke of the burning wrecks. On the black, scorched earth the gutted tanks burned like torches.

“It was difficult to establish which side was attacking and which defending.”

– Soviet General Rotmistrov

Total chaos. Utter confusion, neither side being organized or having any control over the pace or tactics of the battle, just reacting to events as they occur. Shooting at the same time, moving at the same time.

This is mutual surprise, when neither side has The Initiative. In such cases, the two sides act at the same time, in order of Dexterity:

Villain, Hero, Villain, Hero, Hero, group of Villains.

Mutual Surprise doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is exhilarating, but deadly. It only ends when one side successfully Seizes the Initiative or flees the battlefield.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]

Destiny: Assigning Initiative & Multiple Factions [pt. 7]

Assigning Initiative

The primary question, at the beginning of an open conflict (which includes, but isn’t limited to combat) is: who has the Initiative?

In some case, this will be obvious. If one side has surprise or complete surprise (see Chapter 6, Combat), they begin the fight with the Initiative.

If both sides have surprise or complete surprise (“mutual surprise”, such as when the encounter was wholly unexpected by both sides) neither has Initiative. In such cases, both sides act at the same time, in order of descending Dexterity. The side which manages to Seize the Initiative will have it for the second round of combat.

(These situations are chaotic, and no side may be able to Seize Initiative. See the In Real Life: Mutual Surprise sidebar, for a historical example.)

In many cases, both sides will be expecting a combat. In standard combats (which occur most of the time), the Heroes start with the Initiative. In climactic combats, which typically occur at the end of a session and involve multiple enemy Leads, the Villains begin with Initiative.

Multiple Factions

The Initiative rules assume two sides to every battle, Heroes (and allies) against Villains (and Allies). In some cases, there may be more than two sides.

In these kinds of combats, only one side has the Initiative. They choose which phase to act during, and can begin to garner the Advantage.

The other combatants — no matter how many separate groups — all act in the other phase, in order of descending Dexterity.

Example 1: The Heroes and Villains are fighting in a village. The Village Militia are neutral in the battle, they only wish to protect their homes and repel the interlopers.

At any given time, the Heroes, Villains, or Militia may have the Initiative. They choose which phase to act in, and can earn Advantage points. The other two groups act simultaneously in the other phase, in descending order of Dexterity.

Example 2: In a gladiatorial arena, seven fighters are each fighting for their life. At any time, one of them will have the Initiative, and can choose in which phase to act. The other six will all act in the other phase, in descending order of Dexterity.

The Initiative system can (theoretically) be extrapolated to cover any number of factions. In general, the more sides in a combat, the more complex tracking Initiative is. Such situations, however, are rare.

[Note: This is a multi-part post. Keep track of the previous posts here.]