Combat Toolkit Released

Combat struggles have risk for characters who must brave death, or serious injury, to fight through the enemy in order to rescue prisoners, hold a rear guard action to let friends escape, blast away in savage firefights to defend an important position, or fire missiles to disable a deadly orbital space station.


This toolkit expands the mechanisms of The Book of Struggles to add some detailed support for combat. It provides rules extensions for managing injuries and how they heal, the method by which a combat struggle can apply injuries to characters, and the mechanisms for medical intervention.

The toolkit also supplies a set of guides for handling different situations such as brawling, close combat and firefights. Additionally you are given sets of possible non injury complications that might arise commonly in those combat situations.

This toolkit builds on the All Us Gamers RPG core rules:

Core Books and Toolkits Integration

So what’s next?

Time to begin the journey into print with the first setting. The dungeon setting created for play testing the combat toolkit has become quite popular, despite being very raw, so that is going to get all the attention. Stay tuned for a kickstarter on this.

At the same time there are other toolkits to develop. The next most useful one is going to be the Stealth Toolkit, which will cover sneaking around, and trying to catch sneaks in the act.

Here is the backlog of projects for a more complete picture:

Toolkits

  • Stealth
  • Espionage
  • Chase and Race

Settings

  • Open Table Retro series – Dungeon, Wilderness, City, High Seas
  • Mists of the Carpathians
  • When the Plague Came
  • Shadow over the Galaxy
  • Timepaths

Combat Toolkit Nears Completion

Having just a bit more crunch than the core rules the Combat Toolkit has needed a bit more testing and tuning than the earlier rule segments. Can’t wait to start writing the Stealth Toolkit.

To play test the Combat Toolkit I created a throw together, old school dungeon crawl system. Such adventure style is sure to pit the players into combat situations, and it kills two birds with one stone, as some of its novel mechanics are needed for Mists of the Carpathians.

However the dungeon adventures, as an open table, have been popular. There are now multiple player groups delving into the dungeon every week or so. So the next product to work on in earnest is going to be an open table dungeon crawl. This will probably be our first foray into print, rather than pdf only, so this is going to be exciting.

Big Combat Toolkit Playtest

The toolkit has been through a few tests. This dungeon adventure was the first to really have full context.

We played online, using Roll20, Discord and the Dice Roller.

The adventure is written up as a session report at RPGGeek.

A lot was gained, testing that the mechanics RAW flow properly, and that improvising over the top of them doesn’t break anything. It not only worked well but it was a very fun RPG session.

Much in the Way of Combat and Dungeons

I’m play testing the Combat Toolkit and trying to ensure that the way it gets used is explained clearly. Its difficult because of the dominance of the wargame style of the big mainstream game. I attack, I get a hit, you take hit points, you attack, you miss, I attack etc etc.

Here is a write up of a brawl from one of the play tests of All Us Gamers, I have added some “mechanics” and “fiction” labels to highlight the interplay. The Book of Struggles has most of the key mechanics in it other than the injury and healing rules:

Mechanics:

Player Characters

Mike – Doctor with aptitude 4, combat aptitude 0

Daph – Martial artist with combat aptitude 4

Frank – Ex military Private Investigator, combat aptitude 5

(average combat aptitude 3)

Game Master Characters – Gang

2 gang thugs, combat aptitude 3

Gang tough, combat aptitude 5

(average combat aptitude 3)

Game Master Character – Non Participant

Keith, bar keeper. Has a baseball bat behind the bar and his friend Dave the policeman on speed dial.

Fiction:

The players annoyed the gang earlier but moved on. They are in Keith’s bar, discussing their next step in the mystery they are unraveling. The gang members have decided to rush in and give the players a good pounding to “teach them a lesson”, then leave.

GM: The front door to the pub burst opens and the gang you were having words with earlier rush in with obvious intent to attack, no weapons visible. This is a struggle with two action groups, they have surprise giving them the advantage. What is your operation?

Mechanics:

(GM notes to herself that the thugs operation is to match up one on one and start clobbering, so they press the advantage my running at each player swinging fists hard and yelling, -2DN to them (10), +1DN to the players (13) )

Mike: I don’t want to fight, I will duck behind the bar.

Frank: Fair enough, we’ll screen Mike.

Daph: I’ll sweep up my chair as a shield.

GM: Mike, your still in the struggle unless your side advances. Weak link for group results on both sides.

The GM rolls for the thugs, its a poor result given the advantage and aptitudes:

Gang tough: Success, Thug 1: Failure, Thug 2: Dismal Failure

Success point pool 2, failure point pool 5. Group result is Dismal Failure.

The players do OK:

Mike: Failure, Frank: Success, Daph: Success. Success point pool 4, failure point pool 2. Group result is Success.

The players side advances.

Fiction:

GM: Ok, Mike freezes for a moment but then dives sideways behind the bar. Daph has grabbed the chair and swung it in front of the two young thugs, making them flinch back. Frank, you have got into it with the older beardy guy.

Mike: What’s the guy behind the bar doing?

GM: He has stood back away from the fight with an annoyed look on his face.

Mechanics:

GM: The attackers have used up their advantage, its on the table. Mike is not in a struggle, Frank is in a struggle with beardy guy, and Daph you are in a struggle with thug one and thug two. Daph, what is your operation?

Daph: I want to smash Thug one out of the way, holding off thug two.

Frank: And I’m going to gut kick the beardy guy so I can help Daph.

GM: OK, Mike what are you doing?

Mike: I’ll look up at the bartender and hassle him to call the police.

Daph vs Thugs

Thug one: Extra Success, Thug Two: Success. Equates to Extra Success.

Daph: Incredible Success

GM: Its a Hot Struggle. Daph, you swing hard with the chair. It shatters on Thug two, sending him reeling toward the bar with a bloody nose, Thug one gets a hit in giving you a minor wound but you strike back giving him one too. You have the advantage now, how would you describe it?

Daph: I’m free to be in fighting stance for a good kick and balanced to easily deflect thuggish blows and turn them against my opponents.

Frank vs Gang Tough

Gang Tough gets Extra Success.

Frank Gets success.

GM: Another hot struggle. You lay into each other and each get a minor wound, but the tough pushes you back over your chair and you fall prone. He now has the advantage.

GM: Mike, the bartender hasn’t called the police, but he has tossed you a baseball bat.

Daph: Mike, take a swing at Thug Two and keep him off my back.

Mike: Alright.

GM: Ok, Mike and Thug Two are a new struggle. Thug Two is dazed with a serious wound. (Thug two’s operation is to rejoin the attack on Daph from behind, unaware of Mike)

Mike: I’ll just swing for his head and knock him out.

GM: Thug one appears to be trying to push you back toward Thug Two Daph, what’s your op?

Daph: I’ll press the advantage to take his momentum and throw him to the floor with it.

GM: Frank? (The tough’s op is to press the advantage and kick Frank hard while he is down)

Frank: I’ll roll to my left and stand up.

Mike vs Thug Two

Thug Two: (aptitude loss from injury, -1) Failure

Mike: Extra Success

GM: The thug needs to save against the attack, he gets a miserable failure. That’s a knock out and a serious injury. As he is already seriously injured it escalates to incapacitated.

Mike: Oops. Barkeep, maybe an ambulance?

Daph vs Thug One

Thug One: Failure

Daph: Failure

GM: A cold struggle – Thug one rushes in, Daph grabs him to throw down but Thug One pulls Daph down with him. Your both on the floor in a grapple.

Frank vs Gang Tough

Gang Tough: Failure

Frank: Failure, uses a focus which results in Extra Success

GM: Frank the beardy guy tries for a kick, but your roll avoids him and your up on your feet facing him. You have him off guard and gain advantage.

Fiction:

GM: The guy at the bar is on the phone, talking to ‘Dave’ and suggesting an ambulance might be a good idea.

Mike: I’m a bit worried about the guy I brained, I’ll check on him using my medical aptitude.

Daph vs Thug One

Daph: My operation is to get the guy face down in an arm lock.

GM: Ok the Thug’s operation is to push you off and stand up.

Frank vs Gang Tough

GM: The beardy guy looks like going for some kind of kick.

Frank: I’ll press my advantage and go for a straight punch at his jaw.

Mechanics:

Thug One: Failure

Daph: Failure

GM: Cold struggle – you’re both rolling about on the floor trying to get at each other. The thug has a black eye, Daph your jacket is pushed up over your chin and getting in the way.

Gang Tough: Failure

Frank: Success

GM: You land a blow Frank, the beardy guy needs a save. A minor wound. He already has one so it escalates to painful.

Fiction:

GM: Frank, you can see he has been knocked about and is in some pain. He looks like he is going to run for it. Mike, your guy looks concussed. You start doing some first aid to keep him ok until the ambulance arrives. Daph and Thug One are still struggling on the floor under the table now.

Frank: if he runs for it I’ll let the main guy go and help Daph.

GM: The beardy guy backs off, and when he sees you aren’t following he runs for it out the door.

Frank: Daph, need a hand?

Daph: I’ve got this.

GM: The Thug seems to be trying to break off now, what’s your operation Daph?

Daph: I want to slam his head into the floor and knock him out.

Mechanics:

Thug One: Miserable Failure

Daph: Failure, uses a focus but it stays a failure.

GM: you both are banged about a bit, getting caught up in your own clothes, smacking into table legs with your shins.

Fiction:

Frank: I’ll tap the thug with my foot and yell “Oi! Time to give up!”

GM: You can hear a siren in the distance. The Thug scrambles away from Daph.

Daph: No way! I grab him and keep wrestling.

Mechanics:

Thug: Failure

Daph: Success

Fiction:

GM: Daph, you grab the thug as he rolls away and push him face down to the ground, and climb on top of him pinning him down. He is yelling incoherently.

Frank: I lean down and say “Stop struggling buddy, or she might break something”

At this point the combat struggle is over. Daph and Frank both have minor wounds. Thug one has a serious wound. Thug two has an incapacitating wound, but the approaching ambulance means he will be ok. Mike has another beer.

So anyway, we’ve been play testing this sort of battle, another we have is some guys charging into a room with swords to take on a slightly larger force, and it just occurred to me there and then. Classic Dungeon.

So I am revisiting the truly classic dungeon crawl with a new game mechanism. The nearby town is a menu for purchases and quests, and the place to return to after each delve. The dungeon is a vast maze, with levels that are harder to deal with as they get lower underground. Intelligent denizens have little fiefdoms and conflict with one another. Unintelligent beasts wander the corridors. And there are traps. Yes, old school traps, only the game rules make them interesting.

I’ve been designing it to help combat play tests but I think I will polish it up and put it out there.

Combat Toolkit Enters Playtest Phase

The Book of Struggles gives a complete mechanism for handling character to character conflicts. However its possible to have more detailed rule extensions for specific situations, and extended examples of using the struggle rules in those specific situations. Hence the value of the Toolkits.

The Combat Toolkit gives examples of the struggle mechanism in use for Brawling, Close Combat, Firefights and Rearguard Actions. It explains conditions that might be pertinent and complication examples.

In addition to the combat situations being fleshed out it provides some extended mechanics for handling injury and death, natural healing and medical intervention. The injury levels are Minor, Serious, Incapacitated, Critical and Mortal. Each injury level has a natural healing cycle during which the injury may worsen or improve. The medical interventions are defined as First Aid, Field Care, Hospital Care, and Surgery. Characters use their related aptitudes to carry out the interventions and if done well will improve the healing process.

This extension can add a mild layer of complexity onto combat struggles. The play testing is focusing on ensuring that these things hang together well with the narrative style of play and can be operated smoothly during the session when used.

Version 1.0.2 of the Inner Core Rules Released

Inner Core Rules

A lot of people have been playing All Us Gamers RPG and have sent in feedback and questions. For the Inner Core Rules there has been no need to make changes to the rules but there has been a need for some clarification.

So version 1.0.2 has a new version of the Dice Engine page that clarifies how the process works, and adds two new named Difficulty Numbers, Challenging (10) and Very Hard (14).

All Us Gamers Dice Engine
The Dice Engine Diagram (v2)

The question has also come up about the use of Focus when the GM has simply decided how things turn out rather than use the Dice Engine. These two paragraphs have been added:

If the outcome of the action has been decided by
fiat instead of a dice roll then, if the GM has decided
the outcome is the best that can be achieved, the
player cannot gain anything by using focus.


If the GM considers that focus could help then
either the GM, in consultation with the player,
determines the improvement gained by the use of the
focus, or the GM determines how many fail dice the
current situation entails, and the DN for them to beat.
The player rolls the fail dice and discovers how many
new success dice are added. Resolve the outcome
change accordingly.

Focus Section : Inner Core Rules

Everything else is minor tidy ups.

There is a slight functional change on the way for On Aptitude on its way, to do with how Adventure Points are gained when the players achieve an objective. Its a tidy up and allows slightly more points to be gained if you really push it.

The Book of Struggles Combat Toolkit is about 50% complete, but not enough play testing yet.

The setting Mists of the Carpathians has started construction and already housed its first adventure.

And for those that have asked, here is how the three core books hang together.

Core Books Integration
How the three core books work together

Book of Struggles Toolkits

I have again reorganised the work. It is now broken out into The Book of Struggles and The Struggle Toolkits: Combat, Stealth, Manoeuvre and Social.

For a while the Book of Struggles seemed to be expanding in scope faster than I could write or play test it. Then I realised that the main new work was all specific to different types of struggle and example cases. So I have again reorganised the work into The Book of Struggles and The Struggle Toolkits.

My readers will have worked out by now that I am developing this game using a Lean/Agile process. I’m putting the parts out there as they become “good enough” and then refining them. That is why I haven’t tackled print yet, and I am only doing PDF for now. That way I can release improved versions for free at no loss.

So I will soon publish the Book of Struggles PDF, again as a Pay What You Like download at DriveThru. Hopefully I will also release the Struggle Toolkit for Combat at the same time. Then later toolkits for Stealth, Manoeuvre and finally the big one, Social. The Social Toolkit may need to be split further if it grows too much, but we shall see.

Here is the current directory for the Toolkits:

Combat Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Combat: Brawling
  • Combat: Close Combat
  • Combat: Firefight

Combat Extension Rules

  • Rearguard Action
  • Injury and Healing
  • Injury Levels
  • Gaining Injuries
  • Heroic Action When Injured
  • Medical Intervention
  • The Attack Action
  • Attack Action Difficulty and Aptitudes
  • Attack Action Success and Saves

Stealth Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Stealth: Cat and Mouse
  • Stealth: Infiltrators and Sentries

Stealth Extension Rules

  • The Sneak Action
  • The Lookout Action
  • Alarms and Alarm Triggers
  • The Disable Trigger Action

Manoeuvre Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Manoeuvre: Chase
  • Manoeuvre: Race

Manoeuvre Extension Rules

Not yet defined

The Social Toolkit

Struggle Types

  • Social: Competitive Lobby
  • Social: Investigation and Deception
  • Social: Scam and Detect
  • Social: Bribe and Bargain
  • Social: Stand Off Dance

Social Extension Rules

Not yet defined

This work has also resulted in some minor refinements to the other core books. Mostly presentation of the rules rather than functional changes. The updates will release shortly after The Book of Struggles.

Then its on to some settings. I’m working on a new setting set in the Carpathian Mountains at the time of Vlad III Dracula, a.k.a The Impaler. There will be some sorcery in the setting but its very low fantasy. Should be fun.

Combat Toolkit Enters Playtest Phase

Now Working on The Mists of the Carpathians Setting.

Goals and the Book of Struggles

Further to the principles of The Book of Struggles conflict is based around achieving goals or preventing opponents from achieving theirs.

In The Book of Struggles the goals will be explicitly stated, so that a success outcome will be an advancement of the goal.

Consider a combat situation. Your goal could be to kill your opponent. However it might be to bypass them to obtain something, or hold them at bay while something is done. It could be that you want to stop them from harming you or those you are protecting while convincing them to cease hostilities.

So the mechanism in the Book of Struggles abstracts out the idea of a goal, and creates two flavours of goal, a one step goal, and a multi-step goal. The multi-step goal should only be two or three abstract steps, and there are some where the character can only step forward to ultimate task success, and others where the characters position can be pushed back, even to the point of the goal being impossible.

Consider a woman who has dashed into a room with a goal of grabbing a compass from the shelf as a two step goal. The guards in the room intend to prevent her from getting to the compass and will perform single step attempts to capture her instead.

During conflict there is the possibility of “incidental harm”. That is damage of some sort, physical injury, resource loss, reputation damage and so on, depending on the conflict at hand.

In the scenario above the woman is a pirate, armed with a cutlass, and the guards have swords. As the pirate pushes for grabbing the compass and the guards try to disarm her and grab her, people may get stabbed, sliced or pummelled. These injuries may have an impact on the ability to continue the struggle.

Multi-step goals can be put on hold while a one step goal is enacted, without necessarily losing the current multi-step position. So, in the case of the woman fighting to grab the compass, when she is only one step away, she may decide to enact a goal of “knock the opponents prone”, with the idea that that would give her a clear shot at grabbing the compass, and maybe diving out the window, before the guards recover.

The Book of Struggles will have use cases, combat is the obvious one but there is also chases and races, arguing to persuade a 3rd party, infiltration against security guards, hide and seek and so on. Each use case can catalogue the common goals, harms and timings for action to give players a large repertoire of tools for handling very varied conflict and retaining player agency within the structure.


Reorganising the Work

Originally I had the rules body of this game in two outer core parts – Character and Action. However it became obvious this was not the right way to deliver the rules to players and game masters, even though it was analytically neat.

On Aptitude is now about character aptitude and character development, along with with those parts of the action cases that support or flow from the character structures. That means taking the initial materials and chopping them about a lot.

At the same time The Book of Struggles is gathering to it the core part of Actions about conflicts. Having now become a focus its getting easier to expand the cases in a nice, fluid, easy to remember way.

All Us Gamers relies on player knowledge about how things are in reality. The structures let players interpret between their understanding of the situation the characters are experiencing through action resolution and back again. This means much can be implied and players don’t have to learn lots of new rules about things they already mostly understand anyway. The rules can be holistic. (You might want to read Dissociated Mechanics – A Brief Primer.)

However, some ordinary but complex things its helpful to have guidance on, and in the book of struggles I’m shifting in the structure for damage to machines, and repair, and extending from that to injury to people, natural healing  and medical treatment. These rules need more play testing but they are managed, again, by general method. Things have a worsening condition. At crucial moments saves are made or they get worse, leading to eventual break down or death. In the case of living things saves can also lead to improvement even without intervention.

Settings are the places where rules and game structures will be found for fictional things like magic, faster than light space travel and time portals, because these are things that don’t have real world obviousness to them, all though they have bodies of work and  traditions that need to be considered.

In every case for an extended rule, its anticipated that players will want to apply them in detail to their characters and character actions. The game master is more likely to use all these more sparingly for game master characters, instead opting for the inner core generalisations much of the time. This should make the game both enjoyable, fast paced, and low prep.


Principles of the Book of Struggles

Old school game structures, have over the years, tended to whittle down to combat mechanics and some open narrative mechanisms.

If you look at 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons you will see a strong mechanical support for combat encounters. These mechanics are of the general structure “I go, then you go”, with characters taking turns to inflict hit points on one another.

The rule books have often suggested adding more colourful narrative rather than reciting bare bones mechanical values. Instead of “I hit with my +1 sword for 10 hit points damage” a player might say “I swing my sword, glowing with a magical aura, and slice my opponent with a deep wound”. This is flavourful, but has no mechanical effect. As the rules are heavy on mechanical effect the players generally don’t do the narrative much.

All Us Gamers has a general approach that marries the narrative, qualitative approach to resolution systems that can use either judgement or a more quantitative mechanical Dice Engine, provided in the Inner Core Rules, to produce narrative, qualitative results.

Its intended that the first port of call in the resolution procedure is the informed decision. In other words the circumstances suggest an outcome and you just flow with it. The deeper character development in the On Aptitude module assists this decision making.

When necessary the Dice Engine is called upon, and then the circumstances have more concrete ways of providing aptitude and difficulty settings. Again the On Aptitude module can provide more tools for setting these values.

The Dice Engine produces graded outcomes between total disaster and incredible success, and the informed decision method is expected to produce similar outcomes by fiat. These outcomes then modify the circumstances, and play is ready to move on to another round of action or go out to extended, longer time frame activity.

In The Book of Struggles the cycle described above is used to handle conflicts between two characters or groups, with combat being an obvious subset. The Struggle Engine allows opponents to declare simultaneous actions (a “my action vs your action” structure) and then the struggle outcome is a product of the combined action outcomes.

The possible Struggle Engine outcomes include:

  • One side succeeds to some degree, applying their action to the opponent
  • The struggle hits a lull, and neither side has much advantage
  • The struggle is hot, and one side may be building an advantage.
  • “The Advantage” is a condition that may be tossed between sides, used to “press the advantage”, lost, or taken by an opponent “seizing the advantage”.

This prompts increased narrative scope as the character actions play out against one another, and the circumstances change and boil, while still allowing mechanical underpinnings to support the game flow. Either side may be subject to informed decision or Dice Engine resolution styles for their actions.

Consider a police officer chasing a suspect through a shopping mall.

The officer may “try to head the suspect off”, while the suspect may “try to get lost in a crowd and change direction”.

Some possible outcomes:

  • The suspect succeeds, the police officer gets to the cut off location at the escalators but has lost sight of the suspect.
  • The officer gets to the cut off location and sees the suspect has changed direction, so they are now further apart and the suspect has the advantage. (The officer’s next action could be to try to “seize the advantage” by calling out to the crowd to stop the suspect)
  • The suspect gets blocked by the crowd and is closer to the officer when the officer gets to the cut off point. The officer has the advantage. (The suspect’s next action might be to try to “seize the advantage” by throwing a passer by into the officers path and then dodging deeper into the crowd)
  • The suspect “dodges” straight into the location the officer picked and gets tackled. A new struggle begins with the officer at advantage to get the suspect down and in cuffs.

The struggle engine can also be used for groups, for example two military forces fighting over terrain. Individual player actions on the battle field can have an effect that feeds in as part of the conditions for the higher level conflict.

These mechanics give support to a very wide range of interesting adventure situations. Looking forward to getting some more play testing and refining done.


Continued in Goals and The Book of Struggles