[Thrice] A tactical combat system

Rickard Elimää

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I've been playtesting my ideas for a RPG system with tactical combats and want to share a draft of the ideas. I'm currently calling this RPG system Thrice, because the number three is used everywhere. (Yeah, it's not a great name, but I suck at naming my RPGs. :) )

What You Will Need

× Friends. It's constructed for four players in mind.
× A pen for each participant (players+GM).
× 2d10 for each participant.
× Around 20d6. (advantage)
× A paper clip for each player. (condition marker)
× Five dimes for each player. (tricks)
× A couple of red tokens. (bleed counters)
× Two glass stones with one colour for each player (tokens on the initiative board and the combat board)

Character Sheet
Includes the sheets for the GM, initiative and combat board, and six different races.

The Character

Base Dice
The players roll 2d10+1d6. If they roll equal or higher than a number decided by the GM, they will succeed with the roll.

Skills
Each character got five different skills.

Initiative: Gives a bonus on initiative rolls. Starts at +1.
Armour: What the opponents roll against to hit the characters. Starts at 11.
Weapon: Gives a bonus when attacking the opponent. Starts at +1.
Condition: The players "hit points" but also includes things as stress, stamina, moral and such. The character is incapacitated when condition reach zero. Starts at 4 and returns to it's starting value after each combat. When the character gets 3 in condition, it will get -1 on both weapon and armour. 2 in condition gives -2 and 1 condition results in -3 on all rolls. A paper clip can be used to mark the condition at the bottom of the character sheet. If the character gets two damage, the paper clip is moved two steps to the left.
Damage: Reduces condition if attack is successful. Starts at 1.

A starting character got three points to spend on the five skills. Each point raises the skill one step up to the maximum of ten steps. Condition is raised from first 4 to 6 and then three more steps for every point spent on condition. All the numbers are printed on the character sheet.

Improving the character
After each session, the players got one more point to spend on skills.

Wealth
For every three points spent on the character, the character's wealth is increased one step. At wealth 1 the character owns nothing that can't be carried along with the character. At wealth 3, the character owns a house; at 6, some land; and at wealth 9, a title.
 
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Rickard Elimää

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Combat
I wanted to create a system that:

- is intuitive
- have fast combat (less than 20 minutes)
- is easy to bookkeep for the GM
- lets the GM run improvised adventures
- where all players can feel useful
- gives a lot of choices for the players each turn
- where the players discuss the tactics between each other
- where complexity doesn't mean lists of different feats and powers
- where the opponents are easily scaled up and down in how dangerous they are. The fewer, the better they are.

To hit someone
You roll the base dice against the opponents armour and adding the weapon score to that roll.

Zones
When a combat occurs, the players put one of their (coloured glass) tokens on the combat board and the GM put one dice for each opponent on the board. There are three zones in combat: personal, free and distant.

All combatants start in the free zone. Each turn, you may attack one combatant in any one zone (personal, free or distant) and engage one combatant in the same zone.

If you engage someone else, move your token beside someone else. This is now called a personal zone. People in a personal zone may only attack others in the same zone and aren't allowed to engage anyone else. There can be several person zones in a combat, but someone can't be in two personal zones.

People may start in a distant zone if they are ambushing other people or otherwise being sneaky. To engage someone in the distant zone, you must first engage to move to the distant zone and then next turn may engage again to create a personal zone with an opponent in the distant zone. When you do that, move the both your and the opponents tokens to the free zone.

Advantage
The d6 represent the character's advantage against the opponent. After each roll, the player keep the d6, as the character's advantage builds up. By spending 3 advantage the player can now activate one of the eight tricks. They are only allowed to activate one trick each turn.

At any time, when the player are about to roll the base dice, they are allowed to switch any number of the d10s to d6s. It will decrease the chance to succeed, but will give more advance to a latter turn.

Tricks
By spending 3 advantage the player can now activate one of the eight tricks. They are only allowed to activate one trick each turn.

Bleed: if the attack is successful, the defender will start taking 1 damage in the beginning of each turn. This is raised to 2 damage at wealth 6 and 3 damage at wealth 9.
Counter: if the opponent's next attack is unsuccessful, you may attack that person. This trick is only active until the player's next turn.
Direct: gives a +2 bonus to the next weapon roll.
Disengage: may move from a personal zone to the free zone, from the free zone to the distant zone and, if you want to flee from combat, from the distant zone to remove yourself from combat. This trick is activated at the start of the player's turn, before the character may do anything else.
Guard: gives +2 on armour until the start of the player's next turn.
Intercept: may move any opponent in the free zone to your personal zone, even if either you or the opponent are in a personal zone. If you're in a distant zone, you may intercept another opponent in a distant zone to create a personal zone, and both are then moved to the free zone.
Strengthen: gives someone one more condition OR remove one bleed. This is raised to 2 condition at wealth 6 and 3 condition at wealth 9. This means that condition can be raised over the starting value but up to a maximal of 30.
Swipe: may attack any number of opponents in either a free zone or a personal zone. You still just do one roll to hit all opponents. You can't use this to attack several people in the distant zone.

This opens up for some combos, like Counter + Guard or Bleed + Swipe. But here is the thing, you may activate tricks for the other players. So if someone is using a Swipe, you and a friend may Direct that person, giving +4 on the roll. You are still only able to do this on your own turn, so you must communicate with the other players about their plans. Every time you activate a trick for someone, give a dime to that player to put on the character sheet and say what kind of trick that you activate. If you got several people activating one

Flanking
If the characters are more than the opponents in a personal zone, they are flanking, and each roll gives one more advantage for every PC that exceeds the opponents number. So if five PCs are fighting three opponents in the same personal zone, the PCs gets two extra advantage on every roll.

Opponents
Opponents follows some different rules.

× They roll 2d10 and don't get any advantage.
× They may sacrifice an attack to activate a trick. So instead of attacking, they may for example disengage from a personal zone. Note that opponents may activate tricks for each other as well.
× They are two more than the number of PCs.
× The starting values of the skills are different.
Initiative: 15
Armour: 15
Weapon: 0
Condition: 5
Damage: 1​
× They got as many points to spend on skills that the player's wealth.
× Each point raises the skill three steps, with some exceptions. All the numbers are printed on the GMs sheet, so you can see the exceptions there.
× Each point may also buy a trick that is always activated during each of the oppoents' turns. So each attack may come with a Bleed, for example.
× Each point may also buy an extra opponent.
× The opponents follows the ninja rule: the more they are, the less dangerous they are. By reducing the number of the opponents, the GM gets one more point to spend. At wealth 1 and with four PCs, the GM can create a single boss with (1+4+2=7) six points to spend.
× When the opponents are flanking, they will get +1 on weapon. For example, three opponents against a single PC will render +3 on attack for the opponents.
× When the opponents successful use a bleed, give a bleed token to the character(s) affected.
× The opponents are represented on the board with dice, usually a d6. Each opponent has it's own number so the GM can easily keep track on which opponent getting hurt.

Bleed and sometimes tricks that are activated (like Counter) are written on the GM's sheet.

Initiative
Initiative uses an initiative board that's on the same page as the combat board. The GM places a token (dime) at any of the two rectangles where it says "Current round", and points out a player that are taking care of the initiative board. Lets call that person "the initiate".

The players roll against the opponents initiative (usually 15). The ones who are successful with the roll places one of their (coloured glass) tokens on "before" on the initiative board. The ones who failed the initiative roll places it in the "after". The players who are in "before" can take their turns in any order before the opponents, then all opponents takes their turns, and at last it's the player's turns that have their tokens in "after".

When a player is finished with the turn, the initiate moves that player's token to the next rectangle, so that everyone can see who has taken their turn and who hasn't. When all combatants taken turns, the initiate moves the GM's token (the dime) to the second rectangle and a new turn takes place. Every player that got a bleed counter takes damage.

Dying and healing
When the combat is over, the condition returns to each character's default value.

If the any character's condition goes down on zero, the character is incapacitated and the token is removed from the combat board. If engaged with any opponents, they are now in the free zone.

If all PCs got 0 condition, it's a total party wipe - TPK - which means that everybody is killed. They can't die if any of the characters are still alive when the combat ends, for example if someone fled.
 
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blade_mercurial

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Validated User
I 'm not sure what I can say about this without actually trying it, and since that is not really possible (without having a group to try it with) all I can say is what I feel about this idea; which is that its pretty 'gamey/abstract' and so doesn't really appeal to me, personally. I don't feel that this system is very connected to the game's fiction, and so I would have a hard time enjoying this in a roleplaying game; although I guess I could see it as a sort of 'mini-game' or something.

Another personal preference: I would like to see the weapon trait called something like weapon skill and the armour trait changed to something like defensive skill; since, if I understand you correctly, the actual equipment is represented by the wealth trait, and there are no other traits to represent the actual skill/capability of the characters involved.

Just my 2 cents
 

Rickard Elimää

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General Advice
Note that even if you use a board, zones are still abstract. You may attack someone by hitting them with a sword, even if you haven't engaged someone else. If you engage someone in a distant zone, it doesn't have to mean that you drag your opponent to the main battle, only that the opponent is now somehow reachable for others to engage. So avoid saying distances and general directions.

If the players takes a long time discussion, let them. If they discuss, they are engaged. Keep an eye out for one player steering everything, because that's not what the game is about. Tell that player straight out that he or she is controlling to much.

The GM can use the tricks to explain what the opponents are. A large number of opponents with disengage could be some quick goblins. Someone with high damage and Swipe could be nature spirits controlling the forest to attack the characters.

The combat is usually over if either the opponents or the PCs are reduced to more than half the force at the start of any turn. It's not really necessary to continue fighting if it's just one kobold remaining. The winning side decides the other sides fate. This rule can be ignored if the GM thinks it's appropriate.

You should design adventures to fit the increasing wealth. For example, having adventures that ends after three sessions, changing the nature of the adventures when the PCs got houses or whatever you seem fitting.

Never reveal the number of the opponent's skills, but give hints through describing the opponents. If the players are facing opponents with chainmails, they will probably understand that the opponents have high armour. If the opponents have lost half their condition, describe how they starts to bleed. If the conditions is really low, give appropriate descriptions for that.

Always try to wipe out the whole party. I haven't succeeded ... yet.

Example
 

Rickard Elimää

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I don't feel that this system is very connected to the game's fiction,
Apart from the zones, what else gives you the impression? You got weapons of your choice, armour and traits that guides you in how you should describe the actions, apart from the tricks. I haven't really mentioned that, because I wanted to keep the wall of text to a minimum by only describing the mechanic.

Another personal preference: I would like to see the weapon trait called something like weapon skill and the armour trait changed to something like defensive skill; since, if I understand you correctly, the actual equipment is represented by the wealth trait, and there are no other traits to represent the actual skill/capability of the characters involved.
Yeah, I thought about that, but I want the player to come up with what kind of weapon and armour (if any) that they are using, so that's why I wanted to use those words. There are lines on the character sheet for the players to write what weapon and armour that they are using.

Thanks for a quick answer. :)
 

Rickard Elimää

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Three encounters
I improvised an adventure with three encounters for four wealth 1 characters. The basic structure of the game was simple: a friend of theirs has found a map, leading to the Willow Witch and her treasure.

First encounter
They meet up with the friend and a group of mountain men attacks them. Remember that the GM got one point to spend for each wealth that the characters' have.

MOUNTAIN MEN
Initiative: 15
Damage: 1
Weapon: 0
Armour: 15
Condition: 10 (one point)

Suggested tactics: Engage all the characters one by one and use flanking for extra weapon bonus.

Second encounter
The friend gets a fatal wound but carries a map that shows that shows where the witch' gold is located. On the first night, they come to a small field with a grove in the middle of it. A man with a chainmail walks out of the grove with confident steps. He greets them with a smile, makes some general introduction and tells them that there is a toll to walk in the forest. I reduced the number of opponents ([number of characters] + 2) from six down to four so I could get two extra points to spend.

ONE ARMOURED MAN
Initiative: 18 (one point)
Damage: 1
Weapon: 0
Armour: 18 (one point)
Condition: 5
+ INTERCEPT

THREE ARCHERS
Initiative: 18 (one point)
Damage: 6 (two points)
Weapon: 0
Armour: 18
Condition: 5

Suggested tactics: The armoured man always engages a PC, and gives up his turn to give Swipe to one of the archers. Describe that as him giving orders to the archers.

Third encounter
They have finally reached a dale with willows, surrounded by stone cliffs. After a short search, in one of the dale walls, they find that the wall is made of gold They hear in the air a crackling laughter and some smoke coming forth through the willows. An old woman materialize in front of the characters and she brags of how her plan with spreading the word of the gold has lured many fortune hunters to her to eat. (If the players normally are hot-headed, just say "Mmm, food" and attack and let her in her later turns brag about her devious plan.)

THE WILLOW WITCH (BOSS)
Initiative: 15
Damage: 3 (one point)
Weapon: 0
Armour: 24 (three points)
Condition: 5
+ COUNTER, DISENGAGE (two points) - describe the disengaging as she is teleporting by turning to smoke and materialize somewhere else.

Suggested tactics: Always attacking the one that the players are trying to buff OR attacking the person who are after her in the initiative.

After defeating the witch, the characters realize that the wall of gold is just fool's gold. They can't increase wealth, but at least they got one point to raise one skill. This was a totally improvised adventure, a bit rail-roady I admit, but was something I made up just from creating three encounters in a couple of minutes and then how they should be connected. Because it's a one-shot, I couldn't really give a fortune to the characters so I came up with the fool's gold idea.
 
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Rickard Elimää

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I've tried the adventure three times now with somewhat different people. I got really positive response and could polish the rough edges even more.

CHANGES
Initiative gives a bonus every round to advantage. So if you got +2 initiative, you will get 2 extra advantage every round. I need to playtest this further to see how it works out.

The token for showing which round it is in the initiative is placed on the opponents track. The "initiate" moves that token when the opponents has done their turn.

To get into the distant zone, you need to disengage. When you are there, you may engage one combatant. When you do that, both your token and the opponent is moved into the free zone engaged. You may disengage to the distant zone and then intercept one more opponent if you want to engage several people in the distant zone.

I got a suggestion to add "neutralize" as a trick, which will cancel any ongoing effect. So if one person got a Bleed and a Swipe, a player (or enemy) can use Neutralize to remove one of the effects.

The enemies numbers are slightly increased. I've updated the pdf in the first post.
Weapon: 1 4 7 10 (previously: 0 3 6 9)
Damage: 1 4 7 10 (previously: 1 3 6 9)​

The number of enemies depends on the number of players.
1 player: 2 enemies
2 players: 3 enemies
3 players: 5 enemies
4 players: 6 enemies
5-6 players: 9 enemies
7-8 players: 12 enemies.
 

Rickard Elimää

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One thing that kept nagging me was that the skills and the tricks that affected them (Direct and Guard) was just bonuses. That's just linearity working and juggling numbers like that is just boring. I felt the same way about the opponents numbers. I will instead create a mechanic that will be all about majority control instead, which means that the one who got the highest number is the one and only one who gets the bonus.

Initiative: Will probably add to the initiative check in the beginning of the battle. Starts with +1
Armour: The opponents target number to hit the character.
Weapon: Starts with ±0.
Condition: The players "hit points" but also includes things as stress, stamina, moral and such. The character is incapacitated when condition reach zero. Starts at 5 and returns to it's starting value after each combat. When the character gets 3 in condition, it will get -1 on both weapon and armour. 2 in condition gives -2 and 1 condition results in -3 on all rolls. A paper clip can be used to mark the condition at the bottom of the character sheet. If the character gets two damage, the paper clip is moved two steps to the left.
Damage: Reduces condition if attack is successful. Starts at 1.​

The players gets three points to spend on these skills.

The tricks will change into this, but remember that tricks can still be activated for other combatants. What's new is Neutralize and Enforce.

Enforce: raise one skill one step.
Bleed: if the attack is successful, the defender will start taking 1 damage in the beginning of each turn. This is raised to 2 damage at wealth 6 and 3 damage at wealth 9.
Counter: if the opponent's next attack is unsuccessful, you may attack that person. This trick is only active until the player's next turn.
Disengage: may move from a personal zone to the free zone, from the free zone to the distant zone and, if you want to flee from combat, from the distant zone to remove yourself from combat. This trick is activated at the start of the player's turn, before the character may do anything else.
Intercept: may move any opponent in the free zone to your personal zone, even if either you or the opponent are in a personal zone. If you're in a distant zone, you may intercept another opponent in a distant zone to create a personal zone, and both are then moved to the free zone.
Neutralize: Remove one token from one combatant.
Swipe: may attack any number of opponents in either a free zone or a personal zone. You still just do one roll to hit all opponents. You can't use this to attack several people in the distant zone.​

I'm will probably removing bleed. It's too complicated (extra tokens, the trick changes depending on wealth) and can't really stand up to the weapon damage.
The first who raises a skill over 5 will get a token in that skill. A token on a skill means the following:

Initiative: May activate one trick for free each turn.
Armour: Gives +3 to Armour.
Weapon: Gives +3 to attack roll.
Damage: Gives +3 on damage.
Condition: Can't have a token.​

So if you have 3 in initiative, you (or a friend) can buy enforce two times to raise your skill to five. When this happens your skill is lowered to the default value and you receive a token that will give you 3 extra advantage each round. If another combatant later on gets five in initiative, they will steal the token from you.

Enemies start with 1 in each skill, except condition that starts with 5. Each point spent will increase the skill 3 steps. The token will affect every enemy (of a group), so if they get the armour token, everyone will be harder to hit.

If anyone got five or more in a skill, they will start with the token and everybody else need to activate skills up to their skill level to steal the token. The one with the highest skill "just" need to activate Enforce once to steal it back. It can be harder than it seems.
 
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Rickard Elimää

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Second encounter
/.../

ONE ARMOURED MAN
Initiative: 18 (one point)
Damage: 1
Weapon: 0
Armour: 18 (one point)
Condition: 5
+ INTERCEPT

THREE ARCHERS
Initiative: 18 (one point)
Damage: 6 (two points)
Weapon: 0
Armour: 18
Condition: 5

Suggested tactics: The armoured man always engages a PC, and gives up his turn to give Swipe to one of the archers. Describe that as him giving orders to the archers.
One interesting insight is that it's better to give the three archers Intercept, because then the armoured man can intercept three times per round instead of just one by letting the archers giving intercept to him. This means that I can instead give Swipe to him or raise armour another three points. I really dislike how I must buy initiative for both groups, so I'm thinking of removing initiative having any effect on the initiative roll in the beginning of the combat.
 

Destriarch

Sane Studios
Validated User
I don't think you really need the initiative board, it seems simple enough to keep track without one and having a gizmo makes it seem more complex than it is. You might also be interested in looking up how FATE handles combat zones, as it's similar to what you suggest here but much more adaptable.

Kinda like the concept of advantage, although I'm not sure about the advantage D6 itself - is it still part of the rolled total? Does its value go down, reducing the rolled total, as the player spends their Advantage? A bit confusing. I can't help thinking it might be better to divorce that D6 from the total and only use it for Advantage.

I also find the sheer amount of necessary equipment somewhat daunting, especially since I'm colourblind and the rules make use of colour-coding.

-Ash
 
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