Fighting, and Why it is Horrible

Published on 2018-07-17

 I've been working on a small project that is growing out of my 200 Word RPG. This is an example of something I've worked up that may or may not actually go anywhere. Onward? Back in the drawer? We'll see, but I wanted to share it.

 In that game you use magic, and magic defines the world, but magic is dying and suddenly the rational and the sublime are ascendant and people need to come to grips with both free will and faith for the first time ever. I want to model that by providing weirdly mechanistic systems of interaction with the non-magical world, like this first stab (ha!) at a combat system:

Fighting is horrible and chaotic. The very best laid plans can go awry, and a single well-placed blow can end your character’s life. It is brutal and random and, over time, their odds of emerging unscathed get worse and worse. Avoid fighting. But when your character does fight despite this admonition, first clearly articulate what both sides want, then determine momentum. 

Momentum is a broad concept that applies to everyone in a fight, be they 10,000-person armies or individuals squaring off.Answer these questions. 

Does your character’s side: 

  • Have better training and leadership?
  • Have higher morale and greater confidence?
  • Have the advantageous terrain, tactics or position?
  • Have superior weapons and armor?

If you cannot agree which side possesses a particular momentum advantage, or if it is clear that neither does, skip the question. 

Each “yes” is a +1. Add them up and roll a six-sided die for each side. Add respective momentum bonuses to these rolls. The side with the higher number is Giving A Beating. The side with the lower number is Taking A Beating. The side Giving A Beating “wins” the battle and achieves its objective. In the event of a tie, both sides are Taking A Beating and nobody gets what they want. They can always try again later. 

Now determine individual outcomes. Does your character, personally:

  • Have previous experience at Giving A Beating (if doing that) or Taking A Beating (if doing that?)
  • Have nowhere to retreat?
  • Have a desire to kill and destroy?
  • Have certainty about the rightness of this fight?

Unlike momentum, these are not binary options. Both sides might be experienced, backed into a corner, in a murderous rage, or convinced they are righteous. Each “yes” is a +1. Add them up and roll a six-sided die. If your character is Taking A Beating, treat any result over six as a six.

If the result is:

1 Your character is killed ignominiously, butchered like an animal.

2 Your character is disastrously injured and is going to die. It could be quick (bleeding out from a severed artery; a cut throat; a tension pneumothorax) or slow (a gut wound that will never heal; a penetrating head wound, ) but it is inevitable. This could also represent infection from a severe injury (see above).  If you were Taking A Beating assume a pathetic outcome - your character has sensibly left for dead. If you’ve already seen this result, which is unlikely, treat it as a 1. 

3 Your character is severely injured. This might include the loss of a hand, foot or limb, or horrific disfigurement, or a blow that leaves them blind or deaf. Perhaps a jaw and all its teeth are shattered to fragments. Whatever it is, it will change their life forever. If you were Taking A Beating assume a wretched outcome - your character might have been robbed and left for dead, for example. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 2. 

4 Your character is injured in a way that obviously marks them permanently. It will leave a scar, which might be visible and terrible, but this injury might also be a limp, or a destroyed eye, or a limited range of motion, or chronic pain that draws their features into a perpetual frown. If you were Taking A Beating assume a poor outcome - your character might have been taken prisoner, for example. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 3. 

5 Your character is physically unhurt but traumatized by the experience. When confronted with combat in the future, they will never have a desire to kill or destroy, and previous experience counts for nothing. A dull chord of terror vibrates at the thought of violence - expediency and necessity may well demand it, but they will never again relish it. If you were Taking A Beating assume a good outcome - if escape from the field was possible, your character slipped away, for example. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 4. 

6 Your character suffers some mild but painful injury, such as deep cuts that require stitching, missing teeth, an amputated finger, a broken bone or a dislocated joint. If you were Taking A Beating assume the best possible outcome - if orderly retreat was possible, you remain with your allies for example. Complete recovery is likely. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 5. 

7 Your character is physically unhurt but traumatized by the experience. When confronted with combat in the future, they will never have certainty about the rightness of the fight. They can fight, and even fight ferociously, but violence happens in shades of grey from now on. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 6. 

8 Your character is physically unhurt but much worse for the wear - exhausted, deeply disturbed by the experience and their actions, and filled with a torrent of conflicting thoughts and emotions. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 7. 

9 Your character is banged around, but in a heroic and honorable way. They may be winded, or stained with gore, but the whole affair was more invigorating than anything else. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as an 8. 

10 Your character fought magnificently. It was a dance of death, and they stepped with grace and purpose to the lively tune. They are not even soiled by the blood of their dying enemies. If you’ve already seen this result, treat it as a 9.

Example: Your character is using the privy when an assassin with a poisoned dagger makes their move. In terms of momentum, the assassin is better trained, has more confidence, has the advantage of position, and has a superior weapon. They get a +4 and you get a +0.The GM rolls a 2 for the assassin, and you roll a 4. The final results are 6 to 4 - you are Taking A Beating. For outcome, you’ve Taken A Beating before, have nowhere to retreat, and you are certain defending your life is right, but there’s no blood lust involved. You get a +3. The assassin also has previous experience and desires to kill you. They get a +2. The GM rolls a 6 for the assassin, and you roll a 2.The final results are 8 for the assassin and 5 for you. Since you are Taking A Beating, that’s a pretty good result. You’ve had a five result before, however, so it becomes a four. 

The assassin finds the attack quite strenuous and stressful! Your character suffers a serious injury that marks them, and you decide the knife damaged your leg, resulting in a permanent limp. Since the outcome is supposed to be poor, you add that the poison remains buried in the wound, causing ongoing pain. The assassination attempt fails. 

Example: Your character is part of a 30,000 person army besieging a massive castle. A huge assault, intended to force the gates and seize the fortress, begins.The attackers are well trained and led, and have superior numbers and therefore confidence. Inside the castle, the defenders obviously have the better position, and they are beautifully equipped. Each sides’ momentum roll is +2.The GM rolls a 2 for the defenders, and you roll a 3 for the attackers, resulting in totals of 4 to 5. Your character is Giving A Beating. Atop the wall, the battle is savage. We don’t care about the nameless defenders your character fights, so only you roll. Your character has never Given A Beating before. They have a way to retreat. But they definitely have a desire to kill and destroy, and to them the cause is just. They get a +2 to their roll. You roll a 1, for a final result of 3. 3 is very bad - a severe injury. 

You decide they lose a hand, lopped off by a defender in the initial assault. The attacking army wins, however, and the castle falls.   

--Jason