A Deterministic But Hopefully Interesting Combat System

Presented here for your entertainment is a simple system for resolving combat between characters in a roleplaying game, without complex calculations or the random fall of dice, but hopefully in a fashion that still provides some interest.

Basic Resolution

Each character has her overall fighting ability (skill, strength, agility, toughness, and any other relevent considerations) rated numerically. The range of numbers used is not in itself important; rating fighters from 100 to 1000 points works just as well as rating them from 1 to 10.

Combat is conducted in a series of exchanges whose duration is also not terribly important (but should be long enough that a fight could plausibly be resolved in one exchange).

When two fighters engage each other, their Fighting scores are compared. If one's Fighting is less than her opponent's, she loses Fighting equal to her opponent's. Otherwise, she loses Fighting equal to half her opponent's (rounded up, so the minimum loss is always 1). Any fighter whose Fighting is reduced to 0 or less is rendered hors de combat.


In this basic situation, the person with the lower Fighting score will always be taken out of the fight on the first exchange. However, there are two mechanisms to make fights more interesting.

The first is the Offense bonus, which adds to the fighter's Fighting for purposes of determining a winner and reducing the opponent's Fighting, but not for staying in the fight. An good Offense can convert a plain defeat into at least a Pyrrhic victory.

Amber (Fighting 2, Offense +3) is going up against Boadicca (Fighting 4). 2+3 is greater than 4, so Boadicca loses 5 Fighting and goes down. Amber only loses 4/2=2, but that is all the real Fighting she has, so she is also out of the fight.

Second is the Defense bonus, which can be implemented either as a reduction in Fighting loss on each exchange, or as a pool of additional points from which Fighting losses are taken before one's actual Fighting score is reduced. The former method is more cinematic but makes a Defense bonus much more useful in an extended fight.

Either way, a good Defense can keep someone from being taken out of the fight even if she loses, or slow down the rate at which a good fighter is whittled down by multiple mediocre opponents.

Clarisse (Fighting 4) is engaged with Dierdre (Fighting 3, Defense +2). Dierdre loses, and her Fighting is reduced by 4, but 2 of those are absorbed by her Defense, so her Fighting is reduced only to 1. Clarisse is now at Fighting 2, so will win on the second exchange, but if Dierdre's Defense applies to every exchange, she will shrug off the loss of 1 Fighting that Clarisse will inflict, and take Clarisse out on the third exchange. If, on the other hand, Defense points only work once, Dierdre will be taken out on the second exchange.

Exactly what situations provide an Offense or Defense bonus will depend on the genre and flavor of the game. Usually, weaponry (natural or artificial) will enhance Offense, while armor or other ways to resist damage will increase Defense. Other factors such as fighting style might also apply. The amount of bonus is even more dependent on the game, but is generally larger in grittier games; cinematic characters will generally have high base Fighting scores rather than large bonuses.

A variation of the idea of Defense is to reduce or negate the Fighting loss inflicted on a character whose Fighting is twice or more her opponent's. This is probably more suitable for a cinematic game.

Multiple Fighters

An exchange is defined as being between two opponents. If more are involved, they must either be matched up individually in sequence, or each side must be considered as a unit. The latter method works best for groups of nearly identical fighters with minimal tactical ability: faceless minions, zombies, stormtroopers, and the ilk.

The Fighting score of a group is of course higher than that of any one member, but how much higher depends on the number of fighters and the level of grittiness in the game. At one extreme, the Fighting score of the group can be found by adding together the scores of every member of the group. At the other, the Fighting of the group only increases by one every time the size of the group doubles: +1 for 2, +2 for 4, +3 for 8, and so forth. In the middle, the Fighting of the group might increase by 1 for every member of the group past the first. Offense and Defense bonuses should probably be applied after the base Fighting score for the group is determined.

When a group loses Fighting, the loss is initially applied to one member (who, no longer having the same Fighting as the others, will have to attack separately on future exchanges). Any loss in excess of that needed to reduce one member to 0 is applied in the same way as the Fighting of the group was determined: if the Fighting of the group is the sum of its members', excess loss is applied to the next member; if the Fighting of the group increases by 1 per doubling of numbers, each point of excess loss doubles the number of members taken out; if each member past the first adds 1 Fighting, each point of loss after the first member goes down takes out another one.

This system works equally well for fights between a lone hero and a group of opponents or between two groups.

After The Fight

What being reduced to Fighting 0 or less means for the character so afflicted has not been specified: it depends on the nature of the game, which may take into account the kind of weapons used, the intentions of the victor, the relative billing of the two characters, the amount by which the character's Fighting is below 0, and many other factors. It is not recommended that Fighting of exactly 0 mean death, but in some circumstances that might be appropriate. The only generalization that can be made is that someone with more negative Fighting is worse off than someone with less negative Fighting. Usually.

This file was last modified at 1024 on 22Aug00 by trip@idiom.com.