new combat systems?

Something always on my back burner is a design for a ‘better’ combat system, not in the sense that I can design a better combat system than anyone else, but that I haven’t yet found one that’s better for me.

To define what I am looking for I should note what I don’t like so much:

1) combat spam — a major drawback for me. But I still want to read something interesting.
2) excessive number analysis — some players really dig looking at numbers, percentiles, min/maxes, not me.

So what I would like to see is preservation of the spirit of combat, where a player can take on a super powerful boss, a horde of minions, or another player — epically head-on or sneakily from behind. I’d like to read something interesting but not look at 100 lines of combat messages. Lastly I do like tactics and combat setups but could care less about percentages and damroll numbers — setups should be as intuitive as possible.

What kinds of combat systems exist currently? I can think of three. You have your most basic automated combat, where you kill , and trade damage until somebody dies. There’s a more complex version of this with special skill-based attacks, balancing, weapon and armor bonuses, and so on. Third there’s a real-time action-point based system with an action queue, like Godwars II.

The alternative I want to think about could be called a narrative system, but it’s still game-based and not anything a ludologist could call narrativist. Really it’s just the interface and the output that make it different from one of the big three extant combat systems.

Getting back to the spirit of combat, let’s look at the different cases and how to describe them as a type:

1) player vs. boss: a climactic struggle, a heroic struggle.
2) player vs. hordes: an epic battle.
3) player vs. player: a titanic struggle.

One thing that isn’t handled very well here is a simple, scrappy brawl, like between two new players, a player and a low-strength mob, or a player and the diku duck or rat, or even a tavern fight. So add another type,

4) low-down brawl

Types (1) and (3) are probably similar enough to combine, so I wind up with three:

1) titanic struggle
2) epic battle
3) low-down brawl

Players can fine-tune battle-tactic setups for the three situations. Another neat thing is that each of these types seems like interesting situations unto themselves, not just a damroll slugfest, although who is to say they won’t turn into one, that’s to be decided by how you exactly implement the system.

OK, another constraint is combat should be displayed in as few lines as possible. Things to affect this are:

1) character stamina
2) debilitating wounds
3) summarization techniques (the system just doesn’t display all the combat messages).

I don’t see much use in (3), as you could just as easily apply it to an existing combat system, it’s not really anything new. So sticking with (1) and (2),

1) stamina — combat is tiring, so it doesn’t last long.
2) wounds are debilitating, so after a few wounds you’re done.

Really (2) is much more complicated to track than (1), so for the sake of simplicity at first let’s stick with (1), that combat is tiring so it doesn’t last long. This idea is nice from a certain perspective, but on the other hand, when you compare it to the three situations types, how do you deal with titantic struggles and epic battles? Obviously the character’s stamina is going to be very great. So does this reduce combat spam at all? It may not.

Maybe it would be better, since we want to reduce combat spam anyway, to arbitrarily decide combat will be settled in three or fewer rounds. At the end of each round each combatant is OK, tired, or wounded. If you’re wounded again, you’re done, if you’re tired again, you’re done. If both combatants are OK at the end of three rounds it’s a draw; this should be pretty rare. Each round produces a small set of combat messages; players could change tactics in a limited way between rounds.

As a matter of fact I can extend this system into a bunch of areas, social warfare, spellcasting, skill attempts, and so on. It’s not incredibly realistic but it does feel very game-like.

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