Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Abstract vs. Heroic Combat

Something that D&D has done in violation of the fiction that inspired it is retain a combat system that doesn't give you much of a "feel" for combat.  Technically, you can try anything, but the RAW (rules as written) DMs were more than likely going to either (A) not let you or (B) give you a high chance of failure.  

Older editions seemed to lean towards a more abstract combat system.  That's great, but I don't want to read that Conan quickly dispatched his foes, I want to read about *how* he did it.  

Recent editions have put a premium on tactical combat.  Move this much, gain this modifier, etc, has become a standard part of modern iterations of D&D.  But, to me, this still doesn't fit the source material.  

What I'm talking about is Pulp Combat.  Pulp combat isn't about kewl powerz.  Pulp combat isn't necessarily saving someone's bacon, though it's certainly possible.  Pulp combat, in this context, has to do with emulation of some of the fantastic things we see heroes doing in fiction.  Think Robert E. Howard, Alexandre Dumas, or David Gemmell (for a more modern take) and you pretty much have what I want.

So, how to make combat more pulpy?  Well, I started in my retro-clone by adding maneuvers that you can do in combat.  I designed them with two assumptions in mind: 1) pluses and minuses suck.  2) I want results *now*.

Now, I'm sure we're out of grade school and can add +1 or subtract 2 or whatever.  But I got tired of that schtick in 2nd Edition, and I sure didn't like it in 3rd.  So I made it go away.  Too, I wanted results that would let the combat march on normally.  I don't want a 45+ minute combat. (Awfully demanding, aren't I?)   So here's an example maneuver I designed:

KNOCK FOE OFF-BALANCE - This is a powerful blow designed to move weapons and shield out of the way.  STR vs STR.  If successful the attacker can attempt to follow up with a quick attack before the defender can get his shield/blade back into position.

STR vs. STR is a from a rule I devised called "Ability Checks."  The check is 8-, and the Ability Score Modifier adds to it.  So if you have a +4 Modifier your Check would be 12- on a d20.  In cases where an opposed Check is needed, the higher roll wins (as long as it falls within the range of the Check).  If the person above rolled a 13, for example, his Check would fail.  

So, quickly put, the attacker and defender roll their STR Checks.  If the attacker wins, the attacker can try to quickly attack and take advantage of this, and the defender cannot parry or block.  If the defender wins, the attack was wasted.  

It's quick and easy.  Here's another:

THROWING YOUR FOE -- You have to win a turn of combat to do this (i.e., do damage, bind arms, etc).  You lift your foe over your head, and throw him into one or more foes to stop them.  They must make DEX Checks to see if they're knocked down.

No zillion arcane modifiers, just the ability to quickly knock down more than one foe at once.

Or how about this one?

INTERRUPT ATTACK -- DEX Check vs foe's attack roll.  If DEX Check succeeds, then foe's attack is disrupted and no damage is done.  DEX Check failure means the attack hits.

These are just maneuvers that I see all the time in fiction, in comics, in films, and for some reason haven't made them into many, if any, game systems.  Some might think that if you include maneuvers, you infringe upon creativity.  I don't believe that -- a list of combat maneuvers with accompany text on how to model them can be a springboard for all sorts of maneuvers.  You can simply roll to hit, but why when you can do cool things like throw sand in your foe's face, fast-talk your foe into making a mistake, bash through your opponent's parry or perform a Leaping Attack (think James Cameron's Avatar).  

Again, if you don't like all that, you can simply describe your action and roll to hit.  But I don't ever want to hear you say "I roll to hit."


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