• The Infractions Forum is available for public view. Please note that if you have been suspended you will need to open a private/incognito browser window to view it.

Hollow: Initiative Rules and Combat Sample

SladeWeston

Registered User
Validated User
Good evening everyone.
I thought I’d take a moment to share the initiative system for my Monster Hunter themed game Hollow. The rules are a bit different than typical ttrpgs and are intended to capture the more methodical and reactive feel of Monster Hunter combat. I realize the rules are a bit on the crunchy side, but seeing as how the theme is fairly combat-focused, I don’t mind a little crunch as long as it fits the theme and add to the experience.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback or critics.

<Edit 8/16; Added for additional context about the system and my design goals>
Design Goals and Context

  • With this system, I'm trying to capture the methodical nature of Monster Hunter combat. For those who haven't played a Monster Hunter video game, combat is slow and revolves around watching a monster for its tells and adjusting your gameplay to take advantage of the opening or avoidance opportunities that information gives you.
  • The game is intended for smaller groups, 2-3 players plus a GM
  • The system described here is for behemoth fights or behemoth fights that include minions. Standard fights, won't involve the ACO system and will have a more streamlined initiative system.
  • As in Monster Hunter, a behemoth fight is typically a 1 vs group encounter. Monsters may have minions but minions are by design, throw away monsters similar to those found in D&D 4th or Star Wars (FFG).
  • Fighting two behemoths at once should be extremely rare. When this occurs, either they will be paired by design, balanced to function as one creature, or the second behemoth will be a good indication for the group to run. Like when spiderman is fighting Dr. Octopus and the Green Goblin shows up. The fight becomes more of a story beat and less about him trying to fight both of them individually.
  • Combat will be fairly lethal so while each combat round might take a bit longer, I wouldn't expect behemoth fights to take much longer than your standard "big fight" in a game like D&D.

Initiative and Combat Outline

Step 1
: Players and GM check for Action Commit Order (ACO). ACO is calculated the following formula:

Fire Attribute + Skill Ranks + Modifiers

The skill used in the calculation is typically Perception but could a different skill appropriate for the situation. Example, the Empathy skill might be used in the first round of combat following a failed negotiation. Modifiers cover a range of situational and static bonuses, including those granted by surprise, talents, previous round maneuvers or gear.
Once everyone has an ACO number, players and monsters are ordered from smallest to largest. While Hollow is a setting about a group of players fighting a single behemoth, combats can include multiple behemoths, minions or a mixture of each. Each behemoth should have its own ACO but GMs may wish to consolidate minions into groups or have them share ACO with behemoths for simplicity.

Step 2a (Players and Minions) : Going in ACO from smallest to largest, players and minions take turns announcing their actions for the turn.
A player or minion must announce the type of each action they wish to take along with the targets of those actions. They must provide enough detail to establish an Initiative Order (IO) but do not need to provide details beyond that. For example, a player might specify that they are going to attack the behemoth with the Rising Thunder attack maneuver and take a move action. They are not required to say where they are moving nor are they required to commit to any actions they may take that don’t have an IO speed, such as activating the Power Stroke talent to increase their damage.
IO is calculated by totaling together the speed of all actions being taken and subtracting the character or minions Air attribute.

(Action 1) + (Action 2) + (optional: Action 3) - Air Attribute = Initiative Order

Note: Some activities, such as combat maneuver, may require the use of multiple actions. When this occurs, a single speed cost will be listed. Additionally, in Hollow, a character may take two strain to gain an additional action during a combat round. This additional action must be announced as usual during their ACO phase.
Some examples of typical Actions and their speed cost can be found below:

Move (s10) – The character moves his speed.​
Attack (s5-15) – The character performs a combat maneuver at the speed listed.​
Use Skill (var. speeds) – The character makes a skill check. Typically this takes 1 action and is s10, but GM may require more actions or speed as they deem necessary.​
Active Defense (s5) – The character takes one of the active defense maneuvers such as Dodge or Block.​
Refocus (s1) – The character spends an action to gain +5 on the next rounds ACO check​
Hustle (-s5) – The character spends an action to reduce their IO by their Air attribute​

Step 2b (Behemoths) : When a behemoth reaches its ACO the GM immediately draws a tactical battle card (name tbd) and displays it publicly.

These cards represent the chaotic ebb and flow of a battle, presenting the players with both challenges and opportunities. While lots of different data is present on the card, of relevance here is the behemoths attack this round, denoted by a letter corresponding to an attack on the monster’s stat block, as well as possible modifiers to the IO for the round. Additionally, most cards offer a tactical opportunity that a player may take advantage of provided they are taking the right actions.

The GM will then reveal the basic characteristics of the attack being performed by the behemoth as well as provide a little narrative describing the monster’s Tell. Tells are behaviors or posturing that a behemoth performs prior to an attack. An example might be static electricity crackling along a monster’s quills prior to an electrical attack or lowering of the head and pawing the ground prior to a charge. The GM will them insert the behemoth into the IO based on the speed of the attack, modified by adjustments on the card.

Step 3 : Once all players and monsters have an IO, action resolution begins at the lowest IO and moves upwards. If the state of the battle changes to one such that a player or monster can no longer perform the action they announced or if a player simply wishes to change their action, then they may instead opt to “go last”. Going last moves them to the last initiative slot. When their turn again comes around they may choose and execute new actions. Tie breakers for multiple instances of “go last” are broken based on speed of the overall action being performed.

Step 4 : Once everyone has acted, a new round begins, and action announcements proceed in ACO. Note that ACO is generally static unless a player spent actions or used abilities to modify their ACO in the previous round.

Sample Combat Round

Combatants: A Quillfiend behemoth, Greenbeard and Flit

Greenbeard is observant and cunning with a strong fire attribute (4) and 2 ranks in perception. His ACO is 6.

Flit distracts easily with no ranks in perception and an average fire attribute (2). Her ACO is 2

The Quillfiend has an ACO listed at 4.

Actions will be announced in order of Flit > Quillfiend > Greenbeard

Flit announces that she will take a move action (s10) and an attack action to perform the combat maneuver Bladestorm (s15). Since her Air stat is 3, her initiative order will be 22 (10+15-3=22). Not knowing what the monster has planned, she opts for a powerful but slow attack.

The GM begins the Quillfiend’s ACO round by flipping a tactical battle card. Among other information on the card, the GM reveals that the Quillfiend will be make its C attack. Checking the monster’s stat block the GM informs the table that the Quillfiend will be making a large AOE attack at speed 22. Additionally, the battle card has a global effect of -5s to all monsters this turn, making the Quillfiend’s IO 17.

The GM takes a moment to describe how the Quillfiend hunches over into a ball and while its quills quiver ominously.

However, it's not all bad news, as the card also offers a tactical opportunity the players may wish to exploit. If the characters can make a successful taunt action, the monster will instead perform its type A action on the taunting character. Type A attacks are usually basic single-target attacks and would be preferable to the C type listed.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity, Greenbeard announces a move action (to get within range, s10) followed by a Taunt (s10). With an Air attribute of only 2, Greenbeard must also spend 2 strain to gain a third action. This allows him to take the Hustle (-s5) action, reducing he overall IO to 13, allowing him to act before the Behemoth.

Now that all combatants have an IO, turns are resolved in order from lowest to highest.

Greenbeard rolls well, successfully taunting the monster from is Quill attack. Using the mana sparks (aka advantage) generating by the roll, he further applies a penalty to the Quillfiends attack roll.

The Quillfiend charges Greenbeard and performs his Type A action, a vicious slash. A far less deadly attack than he would have otherwise performed but that is little consolation to Greenbeard as he suffers a solid blow.

Finally, Flit takes his turn to move up behind the monsters to deliver a series of mighty sword slashes to the Quillfiend’s flank.

TLDR: Initiative Rules: Announce actions by Perception, Resolve actions by Speed. This allows players to respond to and exploit monsters tells. Sample combat included.
 
Last edited:

EggRogue

Registered User
Validated User
I kinda like what you're doing but I feel overall the benefit of the system is outweighed by the time spent managing the system. I'd much rather go through 2-3 rounds of combat with a fast initiative and no declarations, which could be achieved in the same amount of time as 1 round with everything you're proposing.

Another way of putting it is - it's more fun to get more done in a simple way than it is to do less with a more complex albeit arguably deeper system.

Oh and the hustle action doesn't reduce IO by the Air attribute - it has a fixed reduction of -5 (otherwise Greenbeard would have acted at 16, not 13).

Another potential issue - you have "speed" of actions themselves, and you have "speed" of movement. Two speeds with different meanings, could get confusing.
 

John Out West

Registered User
Validated User
I love it and I hate it, and here's why.

I've played similar games (Namely Godlike) which had an similar system, where the slowest player has to announce their actions first, and the fastest get to announce their actions last, and then it all unfolds based on speed. My main issue was that it seemed to split a round into multiple sub-rounds, one where everyone announces what they do, then where we figure out what speed everything is happening at, and then another where we all try to remember what we said we did and if we can still do it now that the battlefield has been altered. Overall it slowed down the game way too much and it was one of the reasons I stopped playing it. (It was also poorly balanced.)

If I might offer a solution, I would have each round go normally, but allow it to be changed retroactively. The slow characters still go first, but the actions of the characters that go afterwards can change what the previous characters have done.
For Example:
Flit runs at the Quillfiend and attacks. Hits and Rolls X damage dice.
The Quillfiend performs the C-Pattern attack, dealing Y damage dice to all Characters within 30ft.
Greenbeard Taunts the Quillfiend, changing its attack to A-Pattern. The GM throws away the Y Damage dice.
The Quillfiend performs the A-Pattern attack on Greenbeard, dealing Z damage dice to him.
All characters remove the Dice Damage dealt to them from their total HP.

Personally, I think that will work much smoother. I think actions being made in the present and retroactively prevented by a faster creature would be easier to run as a game then each player taking multiple turns; proposing actions, declaring and organizing speeds, and then performing actions. Of course, you can also add speed to this system, so that, even if your character can react and knows whats going on, they don't have any action that they can perform fast enough to stop it.

That being said, I like how the players who react later will largely be Controllers, trying to keep the monsters in one place or keep them from killing everyone. A Javelin + Corded Anchor might be a good item for them, in that it could keep a monster from running away or ramming into a specific ally. I imagine a few monsters could be beaten by two fast spear-throwers who, when the monster charges them, they run away outside of their attack range, followed by their ally stabbing them.

For slow characters, the game is going to be completely different. Its largely going to be about predicting the Monster's actions, which means that they will have to know more about it. I might suggest that you allow players to Observe the Monster before engaging it, and allow them to see a few of the monster's cards. That way the slow warrior might know that the monster is easily taunted, and will taunt the monster before even seeing it's action in anticipation of its tauntable action.

Hope that Helps!

Edit: About the slow characters predicting. If they each have multiple actions that the Monster can react to, that might work the best. Like, if my Barbarian had "Leaping Strike" and "Heavy Swing," Where Leaping Strike did more damage, but fails automatically if the creature becomes defensive. Now i have to weigh the risks of the monster becoming defensive, which will vary depending on what i'm fighting. (Giant Squirrel vs Dragon Turtle)
 
Last edited:

SladeWeston

Registered User
Validated User
Thank you for the long and thoughtful response. Pacing is an element that I'm concerned about and its one of the reasons I chose to use non-random values. That being said, it wouldn't be a monster hunter game if combat was quick. I do however want the combat to be interesting which can definitely be impacted by the speed of play. Instead of designing for fast combat, I've tried to make an engaging one. I'm shooting for the feeling you get while playing a game of Scythe the board game. The board state is always fairly complex but the individual choices are small enough that gameplay remains snappy.

As to your suggestion, I considered something similar. The issue was, and this isn't apparent because I didn't include my roll resolution system, that the roll mechanics don't work with it. Hidden information gets revealed and resources get used that can't easily be adjusted retroactively. If you care to get more details on the system, I've written a bit of an introduction HERE

Now you bring up a good point about how your build can lock you into different types of play styles, and I'm on the fence about whether that's a good or back thing. It has the advantage of giving players who don't enjoy the tactical side of combat the option of building their characters in a way where they don't often have to worry about it. On the con side, I could see it frustrating to get stuck on the wrong side of the monster by just a point or two and having to spend the whole combat taking refocuses.

One option might be to just always make the monster announce first. This seems faster, but since it puts all the players in a position to be more tactical, its possible this wouldn't be too much quicker. You've made a lot of good points and given me a good bit to think about. Thank you.
 

SladeWeston

Registered User
Validated User
I kinda like what you're doing but I feel overall the benefit of the system is outweighed by the time spent managing the system. I'd much rather go through 2-3 rounds of combat with a fast initiative and no declarations, which could be achieved in the same amount of time as 1 round with everything you're proposing.

Another way of putting it is - it's more fun to get more done in a simple way than it is to do less with a more complex albeit arguably deeper system.

Oh and the hustle action doesn't reduce IO by the Air attribute - it has a fixed reduction of -5 (otherwise Greenbeard would have acted at 16, not 13).

Another potential issue - you have "speed" of actions themselves, and you have "speed" of movement. Two speeds with different meanings, could get confusing.
Thanks for the feedback. While I appreciate your perspective on combat pacing I think you are working under the false premise that combat is something that is best resolved quickly. This is understandable, as many rpgs have combat systems that are unfun and uninteresting. My goal for this system is to build a crunchy system that is fun and interesting to play. That the moment to moment combat decisions are every bit as interesting as those found in a game like Gloomhaven, which is 90% combat, yet still beloved.

Now I'm definitely not saying I'm at Gloomhaven levels of fun, but at the moment I'd rather focus on making the combat more fun and interesting rather than just streamlining it into another version of the same old mechanics. If you have any ideas on how I might better achieve that, I'd love to hear them.

As for the hustle action, ya, I've been going back and forth about that one and I suppose it got muddled in my head. Thanks for the callouts.
Same is true for the vocabulary. A lot of the terms in my post are either placeholders or have official setting terms but I chose more common ones to avoid having to include an index. I am absolutely open to any suggestions you might have for naming or renaming any of the terms I've used.

Thanks again for taking the time to write a thoughtful response.
 

fheredin

Registered User
Validated User
At first I thought you needed some major streamlining, but now I think this post is just poorly explained.

I don't really know what the proper name for a system like this is. The best I can come up with is Chopsticks Initiative. I have seen a few systems like this and I've never really liked them; these systems have fragile game flow. The way the initiative requires all players to participate before allowing resolution means that the gameplay table is only as good as the worst player. And between the built in delays between declaring and resolving and smartphones with cat videos on them....

Let's just say stuff like this doesn't work as well in 2019 as it did in 1999, and it didn't work that well, then.

Which is not to say that this is a bad idea, but I think you need to adapt it so it develops narrative inertia. This is quite tricky to do, but I suggest *removing* the rule that players must participate in the IO. Instead, skipping your turn means you get a better ACO the next round. This in turn means that you can give the GM advice to run right over players who are indecisive and the combat will develop that all important inertia.
 

SladeWeston

Registered User
Validated User
At first I thought you needed some major streamlining, but now I think this post is just poorly explained.
My apologies if it was confusing. Was there something, in particular, you'd like me to explain in more detail or to clarify?

I don't really know what the proper name for a system like this is. The best I can come up with is Chopsticks Initiative. I have seen a few systems like this and I've never really liked them; these systems have fragile game flow. The way the initiative requires all players to participate before allowing resolution means that the gameplay table is only as good as the worst player. And between the built in delays between declaring and resolving and smartphones with cat videos on them....

Let's just say stuff like this doesn't work as well in 2019 as it did in 1999, and it didn't work that well, then.
It sounds like you've played a lot of games. I'd love to hear some examples of ttrpgs you've come across with this type of system. The systems I've found with 2 part initiatives have all had initiative rolls each round; something that would obviously add a lot of time. I've also come across a few systems, like Hackmaster/Aces&Eights, that have speed calculations, but I've never found they felt any more time consuming than any other crunchy system.

As to "stuff like this doesn't work", I'd give Gloomhaven as a perfect example of a combat system that is beloved by its community (#1 on BoardGameGeek). One which has both initiative speeds and action commits. Again, I'm not saying my system is that good, but that's what first drafts are for.

This in turn means that you can give the GM advice to run right over players who are indecisive and the combat will develop that all important inertia.
So it sounds like we have very different ideas of what is fun at a game table. Running over a player sounds like terrible GM advice and something I usually associate with prick GMs with control issues. As for your suggestion of allowing players to skip their turn to gain a better ACO, I liked that idea too. I created the Refocus action specifically to allow players to do that. As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm not opposed to the idea of streamlining the ACO phase if it proves to be time-consuming. That being said, in games with similar choices, I'll again site Gloomhaven, the portion of the turn where a player commits to their actions constitutes a very small percentage of gameplay.

Don't get me wrong. I know that stripped-down, systems with little to no mechanics, are all the rage in the indy design communities right now. However, the fact of the matter is that crunchy games dominate the ttrpg and board game market (on both Kickstarter and Retail). When I hear people talk about games like BitD or PbtA I get the same vibe you get when you talk to a record store hipster. "That's trash, if you want real post-punk you should listen to Felts early stuff". I'm not saying systems like Pathfinder are works of art, but they are popular despite their bloat, complexity and lack of elegance. I believe this is because there is a market for crunchy ttrpgs. Besides, I'm not designing a high school dating rpg. This is a Monster Hunter game. Monsters are huge and dangerous and as a result, combat is supposed to be a little slower and more methodical. If I made a quick light combat system, it wouldn't feel like a monster hunter game.
 

fheredin

Registered User
Validated User
My apologies if it was confusing. Was there something, in particular, you'd like me to explain in more detail or to clarify?
Not particularly. I just reread the post twice before understanding that IO meant initiative order. My brain kept turning it into the computer science I/O for input/ output because it's not explicitly defined, even though this is a relatively common design trope.

It sounds like you've played a lot of games. I'd love to hear some examples of ttrpgs you've come across with this type of system. The systems I've found with 2 part initiatives have all had initiative rolls each round; something that would obviously add a lot of time. I've also come across a few systems, like Hackmaster/Aces&Eights, that have speed calculations, but I've never found they felt any more time consuming than any other crunchy system.

As to "stuff like this doesn't work", I'd give Gloomhaven as a perfect example of a combat system that is beloved by its community (#1 on BoardGameGeek). One which has both initiative speeds and action commits. Again, I'm not saying my system is that good, but that's what first drafts are for.
Not so much played a lot of games as been doing these discussions on other communities for some time. Initiative systems like this are quite unusual, but I have seen a few analogous prototypes.

The general issue with crunchy games is one of selection bias. As a general rule, hackers and designers keep the play conditions of their main playtest group remarkably sanitary and focused on the game. Such focused playtests almost always handle crunchy games better than a less sanitary "real world" condition would. Take for example, Call of C'thulu. At worst it's medium crunch, but because it uses a relatively arithmetic heavy percentile system, it performs poorly in a Halloween all-nighter, especially if you add alcohol. It doesn't "crash," but it does lag. Potentially quite severely.

My point is that crunch is a pretty high risk/ high reward design field. Few designers even consider how their systems will perform under adverse playtesting conditions, and this tends to impact high crunch systems the worst.

So it sounds like we have very different ideas of what is fun at a game table. Running over a player sounds like terrible GM advice and something I usually associate with prick GMs with control issues. As for your suggestion of allowing players to skip their turn to gain a better ACO, I liked that idea too. I created the Refocus action specifically to allow players to do that. As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm not opposed to the idea of streamlining the ACO phase if it proves to be time-consuming. That being said, in games with similar choices, I'll again site Gloomhaven, the portion of the turn where a player commits to their actions constitutes a very small percentage of gameplay.

Don't get me wrong. I know that stripped-down, systems with little to no mechanics, are all the rage in the indy design communities right now. However, the fact of the matter is that crunchy games dominate the ttrpg and board game market (on both Kickstarter and Retail). When I hear people talk about games like BitD or PbtA I get the same vibe you get when you talk to a record store hipster. "That's trash, if you want real post-punk you should listen to Felts early stuff". I'm not saying systems like Pathfinder are works of art, but they are popular despite their bloat, complexity and lack of elegance. I believe this is because there is a market for crunchy ttrpgs. Besides, I'm not designing a high school dating rpg. This is a Monster Hunter game. Monsters are huge and dangerous and as a result, combat is supposed to be a little slower and more methodical. If I made a quick light combat system, it wouldn't feel like a monster hunter game.
I think the key is that you're going for an asymmetric play system. Again, my problem isn't that these systems can't or don't work, but that they are only as good as the weakest link player. Whether or not you take my suggestion isn't really an issue, but I strongly advise you to leverage the asymmetric play design to make the system less fragile should a player's concentration or immersion lapse for any reason. It will affect everyone's concentration and immersion.
 

EggRogue

Registered User
Validated User
Thanks for the feedback. While I appreciate your perspective on combat pacing I think you are working under the false premise that combat is something that is best resolved quickly. This is understandable, as many rpgs have combat systems that are unfun and uninteresting. My goal for this system is to build a crunchy system that is fun and interesting to play.
No worries, I completely respect those design goals and for the record I love crunch! (Phoenix command, anyone? :)

My position, and I may have explained it poorly, is that the 'declarative' initiative style is by design slow and difficult and thus almost certainly going to let the game down. Technically I don't even think that particular rule qualifies as crunch. You aren't actually processing a great deal of rules, but you are going through the procedure where, as John pointed out, everyone has to say what they want to do in order (taking into account previous declarations), with the option for modifications to be made, then make a bundle of calculations to see what order it all happens, and finally hopefully remember what everyone has said to actually make it happen. Imagine 6 players and 3 monsters, I think it would be a nightmare to run. I'm not having a go at you personally, I have attempted such systems before and only in the very small examples such as you gave with 2 players and 1 monster does it have any real chance to run smoothly.

Apologies if this seems defensive or argumentative. I am 100% behind a thoughtful, considered combat system, and there is no necessity for every game to be cut down rules-lite systems.
 

SladeWeston

Registered User
Validated User
... Imagine 6 players and 3 monsters, I think it would be a nightmare to run. I'm not having a go at you personally, I have attempted such systems before and only in the very small examples such as you gave with 2 players and 1 monster does it have any real chance to run smoothly.

Apologies if this seems defensive or argumentative. I am 100% behind a thoughtful, considered combat system, and there is no necessity for every game to be cut down rules-lite systems.
It seems there is a good deal of confusions and assumptions being made about the game format and much of that is my fault. In order to avoid boring people with a page of background about the system, an index of terms and an explanation of subsystems, I sort of tried to explain around them. Sorry about that. Let me try and clear things up.

Here are a couple of things that should have been in the OP.
  • With this system, I'm trying to capture the methodical nature of Monster Hunter combat. For those who haven't played a Monster Hunter video game, combat is slow and revolves around watching a monster for its tells and adjusting your gameplay to take advantage of the opening or avoidance opportunities that information gives you.
  • The game is intended for smaller groups, 2-3 players plus a GM
  • The system described here is for behemoth fights or behemoth fights that include minions. Standard fights, won't involve the ACO system and will have a more streamlined initiative system.
  • As in Monster Hunter, a behemoth fight is typically a 1 vs group encounter. Monsters may have minions but minions are by design, throw away monsters similar to those found in D&D 4th or Star Wars (FFG).
  • Fighting two behemoths at once should be extremely rare. When this occurs, either they will be paired by design, balanced to function as one creature, or the second behemoth will be a good indication for the group to run. Like when spiderman is fighting Dr. Octopus and the Green Goblin shows up. The fight becomes more of a story beat and less about him trying to fight both of them individually.
  • Combat will be fairly lethal so while each combat round might take a bit longer, I wouldn't expect behemoth fights to take much longer than your standard "big fight" in a game like D&D.
Also, no need to apologize and sorry if my response came off as defensive. The internet can be a hard place to share ideas, even well established one. Even worse when they are somewhat unusual. You tend to get a lot of "that's horrible" without a lot of suggestions on how to improve things. When you do get suggestions, they are usually along the lines of "you should just do established thing X", without much consideration of what the designer was trying to achieve with their flawed design. Part of that is my fault as I could have provided a better description of what I'm trying to accomplish.
Your comments were thoughtful and well reasons and I appreciate you taking the time to leave them.
 
Top Bottom