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Stray Thoughts on Fight Pacing

Some random and rambly thoughts on fight pacing!

I’ve been thinking of some other ways to do it but having fights be resolved in just one roll leads to a big problem (beside it can feel too quick to resolve them with just one roll): that it’s hard to find the right probability.

Let’s say the party is fighting ten fights and we want the party to have a 67% chance of being alive after the tenth. (Those numbers are completely arbitrary, you can plug in any numbers and the overall point is still the same.)
That means that for every single fight, there needs to be 96% chance of them winning.

Not sure how satisfying those fights are gonna be. “Oh, some skeletons! Let’s fight them! One roll resolves it: Roll 2 or higher on a d20 or you die!” Like, it’s gonna feel like boring when you win and unfair and random when you do die.

This is why we pacing mechanism. Whether it’s clocks a la BitD, HP a la D&D, or, I don’t know, “pools” a la TSoY, we want to draw out the fights a little bit. Let’s say we instead had “each fight is four rolls”. Now it’s even more boring/random: each of those rolls you have a one percent chance of dying! (That’s right: ten fights × four rolls and you survive each roll on a 2 or higher on percentile dice. If you want an even higher survival rate after the ten fights than 67% then the numbers become even more extreme.)

I especially appreciate D&D’s variable pacing: a hit can cost a big chunk of HP or just a little bit. Each hit has consequences down the line and brings you just that much closer to a serious injury, or death! (In our game HP isn’t “meat points”, they’re points you spend to avoid getting hurt.)

HP/AC came from a navy boat-vs-boat combat game that Gygax and Arneson liked, it was fun and exciting to them to play out fights that way, and now a similar system is in so many games from video games to card games.

That’s not to say it has to be the be-all, end-all.
Ideally I’d want one roll that could have a large chance of 0 and then a range. Just like D&D’s +3 vs AC 15 and then 2d6 damage is in practice like rolling a die numbered 0, 0, 0, 0… 2, 3, 3, 4, 4, 4 … 11, 11, 12. Except that that die would need to be giant. Eighty sides total: Fourty-four zeroes followed by thirty six numbers. (A system with critical hits would need 1600 sides, but the same 45% proportion of zeroes, which would be 720).

There are some games out there that has tried to simplify the math a bit, like Electric Bastionland that has a single roll, the damage roll, and then you subtract the armor. So a d8 vs armor three is in practice as if you were rolling a 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 die. Clever♥. I wanna play around more in that kind of space.

Of course, not every game needs combat rules! A rule like “you lose every fight you get in so don’t get in fights” or “you win every fight you get in, roll on this table of consequences to see what it does to you” can be awesome too.

I like Cthulhu Dark a lot. You cannot defeat supernatural beings—you just can’t win against them, so roll to escape or hide for example—and vs cultists, gangsters etc you can reroll any number of times until you win, but, each roll risks having serious consequences on your view of the world or of your self, and that “insight” is what ultimately can drop your character out of the game if it gets too high. An elegant and fast game♥. I suggest that you roleplay out every reroll as if it were a back and forth. “OK, they have the upper hand now, but then I…” etc. And you are risking more and more of yourself the harder you try, which is an incentive to stop fighting, to give up, or flee or something else.♥

Backburner Heartbreaker

So the old system I’ve been kicking around (for a 4dF/ladder setup) is that everyone has two lines of defense.
Actively parrying vs “reflexes”.

You roll your attack, they parry, and if you beat their parry roll with say a Great roll [not relative success; you just rolled Great and they rolled lower, Mediocre or something], they can scratch one of their Reflexes. They have a list that goes Superb, Great, Good etc and they don’t roll them, they just use them—their reflexes are more reliable but they deteriorate as they get exhausted.

(So they might use up their Great reflex and still have Superb and Good left. If you later beat their parry again with a Great attack, they now need to use up their Superb reflexes. Or if you had rolled a Legendary attack they would’ve gone down in one blow because they never had any reflexes good enough to deal with such attacks!)

Heartbreaker New Idea

The new idea is kind of opposite (but I can use a lot of the same probability calcs). In that system, there is no reflexes. Everyone has a threshold for a strike that can defeat them. You roll off, and who ever beats the other’s roll gets an Advantage on the other. But if you roll high enough to defeat the other, you do! And, every turn you add one to your roll for each Advantages so you become closer and closer to that definitive blow!

(One problem: what if you both roll high enough to kill each other? Ouch… that’s gonna look dumb.)

You need to connect your advantages to fictional elements: Position, Momentum, Props, Location, Stability, Opportunity etc… or as nullifying the opponents previously established same.

I guess both old&new system could be set up as either “attack” vs “defend”, or as “fighting” vs “fighting”. The main difference is that in the old system you’re wearing each other down, becoming more and more exhausted—that can be one component in the new system (you can narrate an advantage as a feint) but fights can also build tension up as both sides get more and more opportunities to land a striking blow.

Also another difference is that the new system leads more to a death spiraly situation. In both systems you get more and more likely to get that killing blow. In the new system, each step on the way is also more likely for the person who has the most Advantages—it will snowball! Whether that is a good or bad thing is a question of playtesting but that’s ultimately what’s gonna determine which of the two systems I wanna go with—how much of a snowball effect do I want?

Interestingly, the tides of death spiral can turn: in the sense of winning each exchange of blows, each Advantage you get is equivalent to cancelling out one of your opponents Advantages on you, and you can catch up from behind. But, since both of you are also getting closer to that game ending blow the stakes are ever higher. Every blow brings the fight closer to the end!

Also, also, maybe we could do the SWd6 thing that’s so awesome: that you can do multiple actions—each extra action gives all your opponents an Advantage!