Dramatic Combat System

Dramatic Combat System

This system is one meant to create a combat system based on storytelling and drama rather than rolling skills to hit and calculating HP or other similar techniques. All you need for this system, is a deck of cards (Jokers removed) and paper and pencil. Eventually, this system will be adapted into a full RPG.

How This Works, an Overview

When a combat situation occurs, the GM needs to determine the combat difficulty, This is details below. Next, every character draws one card to determine the combat order. Lowest value card goes first..h

After the combat order is determined, the first player acts. He draws 2 cards and then must make a decision. He needs to choose which card will be used for next rounds initiative, and which will be his action for that round. After choosing the action card, he compares the suite to his traits to determine what happens. If the card drawn is a lesser or equal value than the trait, then the action is successful.

A successful action means the player may move the victory track forward, or solve a complication. Failure means the gm creates a complication.

Every character does the same, and the gm does the same for each unique enemy and each group. After the round, each player presents the card they chose for their initiative. This sets the order again and the combat continues. 

When the victory counter is complete, the combat resolves. The gm and players collaborate and decide what the result is.

Creating your characters

Each player, aside from the GM, chooses 4 traits. These traits are tools the character can use in combat. Each trait is tied to a suit, heart, clubs, spades, and diamond. When deciding each trait, they must follow certain rules. These rules are detailed below.
Clubs: The Club trait is a trait related to the physical body or skill. Some examples of these traits would be strength, speed, co-ordination, or sword-play.

Spades: The Spade trait is one that deals with the mind or personality. Some examples of this traits would be ingenuity, perceptive, clever, or cruel.

Heart: The Heart trait relates with other people and how they see you. This trait covers anything that is social that can be used in combat. Some examples of these traits would be leadership, intimidating, sexy, or loved.

Diamond: The diamond trait is that relates to a physical weapon or tool unique to the character. Some examples of this trait would be a flintlock pistol, belt of daggers, a shield, or a whip.

After choosing your traits, you need to tie a number to each trait. Choose a trait to have the numbers 11, 7, 4, and 2.  This number is called the trait value. The trait value is the value of the card that you need in order to succeed.

Drawing a Card

When it is the players turn, the player draws two cards. One of these cards needs to be set aside as the Initiative Card. The other card is then the Action Card. The Action Card’s suite is then compared to the characters traits. The trait drawn is the type of action the character takes. Then, the player compares the cards value to their Trait Value. Three results are possible. If the card value is equal to or lesser than the Trait Value, then the action is successful. Success and failure is detailed below. If the card is an Ace, then the result is a critical success. Any other result is a failure, which results in a complication. 

After this, the player then describes the action taken based on the trait drawn. For example, Bubba draws his action card and it comes up a Club. For Bubba, this means the trait is “Strong”. The card is also successful. So Bubba describes his action, “My character rushes forward towards the bandits, and hurls a table at the enemy!” The Game Master then continues the narration, describing their reaction.

Success: When an action is successful, a character has three options. The first is to move the Victory Track forward. This is how the fight is resolved, and is detailed further below. The second option is to solve a complication. Complications are detailed below as well. The final option is to give another combatant a complication.

Failure: When an action fails, the player gains a complication. The player describes what they tried to do, and how they failed. The Game Master then describes the complication.

Critical Success: When an ace is drawn, the character performs a critical success. This is similar to a success, but is treated as two success. This means the player can move the victory counter twice, moves it once and fixes a complication, or any combination of them.


When a character fails a draw, then they gain a complication. A complication is an issue which prevents the character from being effective in combat. While a player has a complication, they cannot increase the Victory Track. They can however, solve their own, or another, complication.

If a character gains another complication while they have one, the complication upgrades into a problem. A problem is similar to a complication, but when resolved it downgrades into a complication. When the character gains a complication while they have a problem, they gain a Tragedy. 

The following are a few examples of complications. A character is backed into a corner, and has nowhere to move to. An enemy tackles a player and pins them to the ground. The player trips over a log, and falls into the river.


A tragedy means the player drops out of the fight and become wounded. The wound received is serious. A stab wound, broken limb, or even a missing limb are possible. A character can die as well, but every player at the table must agree that death is dramatically appropriate.

Running Out of Cards

When the deck of cards runs out, someone needs to reshuffle it. When this occurs, the fight moves to a new location. Such as a bar fight spilling out into the street, or an outdoor battle moving into a new interesting location. The GM decides where the fight moves to.

Victory Track

When a fight breaks out, the players need to declare their intention. Some examples would be “Kill all enemies”, “escape from the fight”, “Retrieve an item and flee”, or “hold the ground until allies arrive”. The GM then sets the combat difficulty. This is a number, usually between 5 and 20. The combat difficulty is the number the victory track needs to equal in order to succeed at this combat encounter. 

Sometimes, a fight’s goal might change in the middle of the fight. If the new plan is more complicated or difficult than the previous plan, the GM increases the Combat Difficulty to represent that. The following is a loose guideline for combat difficulty.

An equal fight, of equal number of combatants, has a difficulty equal to the number of players plus one. If the players are outnumbered, increase the difficulty by 5 for every multiple the enemy outnumbers them. Increase the difficulty by 2 for every Competent NPC, or 5 for every Key NPC. The GM can increase the difficulty further for any environmental or tactical advantages the enemies have. The GM may also lower the combat difficulty for any precautions or advantages the players have.

Game Master Characters

The GM has characters to control as well. These are grouped into three categories: Mooks, Competent NPC, and Key NPC. The GM draws cards for each of these characters just as they were players. They gain complications just as a player, but they cannot increase the victory track. When the NPC fails a draw, however, the GM can choose to increase the difficulty number rather than gaining a complication.

Mooks are groups of enemies that are largely the same, and multiple types of mooks can exist in the same fight. For instance, soldiers and archers or different groups of soldiers. Competent NPC’s are characters who are a cut above the mooks, but are not key players. For example, specialists or squad leaders. Key NPC’s are usually named characters who are significant in the other group. These are generals, champions, or villains. 

Each NPC has 4 traits, which do not necessarily follow the same rules as the players traits. Rather, their traits represent key points of those characters.

Card values:

Ace: 1

2-10: Number shown

Jack: 11

Queen: 12

King: 13

Example of play (working on this right now)

The following is an example of this system in action. This combat starts in a bar fight. The players have the goal “To survive the fight, but have fun in it.” The enemy includes two mooks, two groups of drunkards, and a competent NPC. The bouncer. The players are 


Bubba, who has the traits: 

(Club) strong 11

(Spade) Stubborn 2

(Heart) Intimidating

(Diamond) Greataxe 7

Slithane, who has the traits: 

(Club) Fast 4

(Spade) Clever 11

(Heart) Charming

(Diamond) throwing Knives 2

Farha, who has the traits: 

(Club) Swordplay 7

(Spade) Creative 4

(heart) Beloved

(Diamond) Dual-scimitars 11

Joseph, who has the traits: 

(Club) Large 2

(Spade) Perceptive 7

(Heart) Quick-tongued 11 

(Diamond) Armor 4


Bouncer, who has the traits: 

(Club) Tough 7

(Spade) Experienced 2

(Heart) Scary

(Diamond) Tosser 11

Mooks, who have the traits: 

(Club) Numbers 11

(Spade) Lucky 7

(Heart) Bar supplies

(Diamond) Drunk 2

Each character draws one card to determine the order of combat for the first round. Bubba draws 9 of diamonds, Slithane draws King of spades, Farha draws 4 of Clubs, joseph draws 5 of Clubs, mook 1 draws 4 of spades, mook 2 draws queen of spades, and the bouncer draws ace of diamonds. This sets the order for the first round to be: Bouncer, Farha and mook 1, Joseph, Bubba, Mook 2, and Slithane. The GM sets the difficulty to seven.

GM: The bouncer acts quickly, and acts first. (he GM draws 5 diamond and 6 Spade. The GM sets aside 6 club as the initiative card. This leaves the 5 of diamond as the action card. Because his tosser trait is 11, it is a success.) The bouncer grabs the guy who started the brawl, and tosses him at Bubba! You have a drunkard latched onto you! You gain a complication.

Farha: My Turn! (Queen Club, and 4 Diamond are drawn. Because she cannot succeed at a queen of Clubs, she sets that as the initiative card. This means she succeeds at her dual-scimitars traits.) I draw my scimitars quickly, and strike at the 3 nearest drunkards! I make sure to use the flat of my blades. I will increase the victory track to 1.

GM: The first group of drunkards go at the same time. (4 Spade, 9 Heart. The GM sets the 9 of Hearts as the initiative card, and succeeds at the lucky skill.) One of the drunkards bends over to grab his dropped tankard, and the chair that was hurtling towards his head flys past! The chair flies and smashes on Josephs back. You fall forward, and gain a complication.

Joseph: That makes it my turn. (He draws 10 Club and 8 Club. Both fail, so he sets 8 Club as the initiative card.) Ugh… Because of my large stature, the chair hit me solid on the back, and I hit the ground hard. Ouch.

GM: Now you have a problem, not good.

Bubba: (Bubba draws Queen Diamond, and 9 Club. He sets the queen as the initiative card, and succeeds his strong trait.) I grab the drunkard, and throw him off of me, smashing him on a table. My complication is gone.

GM: The second group of mooks act. (Jack Spade, and 7 Spade. The GM sets the jack as the initiative card, and then succeeds the lucky roll.) After you smash the drunkard on the ground, the force of it shakes lose the last of a drunkard's stomach. He vomits over the balcony above, all over Bubba. You gain a complication, as you slip on the slick sick.

Bubba: Gross.

Slithane: Do not worry Joseph, I will help you! (She draws 3 Club and Ace Heart. Slithane immediately chooses the Ace as the action card. Critically succeeding at her charm.) I lift him up, while whispering into his ears “Honey, I will make it worth your while if you keep standing” and kiss him lightly on the cheek. This will wake him up! I cure his problem and complication.

Now the group takes a look at their initiative cards, and sets the order. The new order is Slithane, Bouncer, Joseph, mooks 1, Mooks 2, and farha and bubba.

Slithane: I go again. (8 Heart and 5 Heart. She succeeds at another charm, and sets the eight of Heart as her initiative.) After picking up joseph, I wink at a group of drunkards. They are momentarily stunned, enough to not dodge a bubba as he barrels through them! I increase the victory track to 2.

GM: The bouncer takes notice (3 Heart, and Jack Club. He succeeds at being tough, and sets the jack as the initiative card.) The bouncer notices Joseph is up, and walks towards him. Joseph swings at the bouncer, but the gauntlet has no effect. The bouncer then lifts you up into the air, ready to throw you. You have a complication.

Joseph: (2 Club and Ace Spade. He chooses the ace of clubs as his action, and sets 2 of Clubs as his initiative.) As he picks me up, I notice a full bottle of wine in grasp, I grab it and smash it on his head! I land on my feet and the bouncer falls to the ground. I solve my complication and set the victory track to 3.

GM: One group of drunkards act. (10 Diamond and King Club. Both draws fail, so the GM sets the 10 of diamonds as the initiative card.) Several drunkards rush at Joseph, but they do not pay attention and smash into each other. I set the victory counter to 4.

The other group of Mooks act as well. (7 Club and 2 Heart. The GM can succeed at 7 of Clubs, so uses that as his action die. The GM sets 2 of Hearts as his initiative card.) The drunkard's notice that Bubba is on the ground, and several of them pile atop of him! Your complication increases to a problem.

Farha: Me and bubba act at the same time. (They both draw. Farha receives 8 Spade and Jack Heart. She sets the 8 of Spade as her initiative card.) Farha sees several drunks rush at her, and looks towards joseph for help. But he does not notice, and Farha is knocked behind the bar. I get a complication.

Bubba: (He draws 9 Spade and 5 Spade. Both of these fail.) Oh no, Bubba is too stubborn to try to crawl out, instead he tries to force them off. His yells of frustration die out, as he loses consciousness. I’m out.

This round is over, so the initiative is reset. Buba is out of this combat. The new order is Joseph, mooks 2, Slithane and Farha, mooks 2, and bouncer.

Joseph: (Joseph draws Jack Diamond and 3 Spade. He sets the jack as the initiative card, and succeeds his perceptive trait.) Joseph then notices farha needs help, and grabs her wrist to pull her back up. I solve your complication.

GM: (7 Heart and Queen Spade. He fails at both cards, so sets the 7 as the initiative card.) The bouncer stands up, but unluckily for the drunks, the first person he sees is a drunkard. He grabs that person, and throws them out the door. The victory track increases to 5.

Slithane: Let’s see if I can finish this! (10 Spade and 2 Diamond. She sets 2 of diamonds as the initiative card, then chooses the 10 of Spade to succeed.) With my quick wit, I see the fight is beginning to move out the door (she can see the deck is low.). So I head over there to push out a few drunkards who are stuck at the window. I move the tracker to 6.

Farha: (6 Club and Ace Club. She uses the Ace of Club as the action.) Farha rolls forward over the backs of some passed out drunkards, and swings her swords at the bouncer! They hit him with a smack, and he tumbles out the window! I set the counter to 8! That is victory!

GM: With the bouncer down, and most of the drunkards past out, the fight dies down. Most of you are fine, except for Bubba. Bubba has broken a wrist, crushed under a particularly heavy drunk.

That concludes the fight. This example was a low threat fight, with no real consequence of failure or gain for victory. Most combats will be more deadly, and might involve reals steel and death. 

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