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.

Book of Struggles Released

After a long struggle, and much virus dodging, we are pleased to announce The Book of Struggles is now available in a pdf format as a “pay what you like” item at DriveThruRPG.

This adds an abstract mechanism for conflict between characters, whether its a combat, a chase, a game of cat and mouse or a stand off, a social struggle or even a battle of wills between wizards.

This release will be followed by a series of toolkits with rules extensions, examples and extra ideas for specific conflict situations, beginning with combat between individuals at close quarters or in a missile exchange.

Work has also begun on “Mists of the Carpathians”, a historical / fantasy adventure setting. It is set in the mid 1400s, the time of Vlad III, the Impaler, Dracula and Voivode of Wallachia. Stay tuned for more on that!

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.

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.