Conflict in my game is always resolved with a simple dice mechanic based on a character’s skills, each with a level of 2-6. For any conflict, a player describes what they want to do, and if they have a relevant skill, they roll a number of 6-sided dice equal to that skill’s level (if they don’t, then that character is doing something unskilled—or level 1—so they roll only 1 die). 5’s and 6’s are success, and a player only needs one to succeed.
So, if the highest die is…
1 to 4MisfortuneThings go wrong, and you face consequences (simple failure is boring, so something else happens to move the story along)
5 or 6Success!Your action works (and earns progress)
Multiple 6’sCritical!!Your action does a lot more, to your advantage
Some conflicts are resolved in a single roll—like breaking down a door—while others, such as combat, only make progress towards completion on a success. Aid from allies and items can increase the number of dice a player rolls, but no one can ever roll more than 6 or less than 1.
Instead of a single HP bar, players have three tiers of Harm (I like this approach because it feels more focused on the narrative aspect of taking damage). The first tier is Minor wound and generally has no negative effect. They can only hold 3 Minor wounds; taking a 4th makes it a Moderate wound.
Second tier is Moderate wound. Each one inflicts [-1 die] on the character’s actions. They can only hold 2 Moderate wounds; taking a 3rd makes it a Severe wound.
And of course, third tier is Severe wound. These inflict [-1 POT] (“Potential”, which I’ll get to in a moment). They can only hold 1 Severe wound; taking another results in Death—however, players can always bargain with the GM, such as choosing to permanently lose an arm instead.
Enemies currently just have an HP bar. The characters’ actions determine how much progress they make toward depleting it.
POSITION & POTENTIAL
A big thing I’ve adopted from BitD is “Position & Effect”, though I call the latter Potential in my game for thematic purposes (and I think it simply fits better, removing confusion when describing, say, “an item’s effect” versus “an action’s Effect”).
Position (POS) determines consequences. The GM sets it based on the narrative. Consequences could include Harm, complications, lost opportunities, reduced Potential, and/or a worsening Position.
A Controlled POS has low consequences
A Risky POS could go either way (most common)
A Desperate POS has high consequences
A Deadly POS could be fatal.
Potential (POT) determines how much progress an action makes. Every action—even an enemy’s—begins at 2 POT. A character’s POT directly translates to progress (for players) and Harm (for enemies); e.g. A standard Risky attack (2 POT) against an enemy will make 2 progress toward defeating them (in other words, inflict 2 damage against their HP), OR the enemy will inflict a tier 2 Harm against the player. Stronger enemies, such as a troll or a dragon, will have higher base POT (3 and 4 respectively), effectively increasing the players’ POS to Desperate/Deadly and the likelihood of them receiving Severe/Fatal wounds.
If that sounds like combat is very dangerous, that’s the intention. I’d like for fights to be intense and deadly, and for the players to really have to weigh their choices.
SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?
The problem is that combat, so far, is very NOT dangerous, due to both the ways players can resist damage and the action economy in combat itself.
Outside of combat, players are free to take actions however and whenever they want, as appropriate. During combat, however, I’ve included phases to help facilitate the flow of actions. At first, we only had Player Phases, where everyone has a chance to act once (in any order), then repeat. Enemies would only strike back on failed rolls or when it felt appropriate. However, I quickly realized that there needed to be an Enemy Phase as well, to guarantee danger from the enemy. There are some problems with this too, however.
1) The GM generally doesn’t roll. The encounters I make are bare-bones mechanically; just the number of enemies, total HP, and a few “moves” they can make. Thus, enemies do not roll to act, they just do it. This is fine as a consequence for when a character fails an action, but for the Enemy Phase, this is jarring because…
2) As a rule, characters cannot defend. The skills they choose are intended to be things they can actively do, not reactively. Characters are assumed to be dodging/blocking/etc. as best they can as part of their action; e.g. Instead of having an “Attack” skill and a “Dodge” skill, they have a “Fight” skill that encompasses both. Succeeding your “Fight” action means you hit AND avoid any repercussions; failing means the enemy got you first (or something else interrupts your success). However, with the Enemy Phase, this means there’s now a disconnect where, even if the players all succeed their actions, the enemy can still smack one of them for free, and that FEELS disappointing.
Yet even with this system in place, with my three players, they have an overwhelming action economy advantage compared to the enemies (since enemies only have ONE action per Enemy Phase, regardless of how many there are). Assuming the players all succeed, this means each round of combat they deal 6 damage (three 2 POT attacks) versus the enemies’ single Moderate wound inflicted. And that’s not taking damage resistance into consideration.
Players have two ways of resisting damage: With armor, or with a pool of magical energy points that every player has called Myst (a sort of metacurrency, but not really since it has thematic importance to the story; more like traditional MP). When a character is Harmed, they can choose to resist it with one or both, but not the same choice twice. Each reduces the Harm taken by one tier.
Armor is simple: Whatever protective gear a character is wearing has a number of durability points. Resisting with armor reduces the durability by 1, but it’s gotta make sense too—no leather armor will protect you from dragon fire. Standard gear has ~4-6 durability, eventually needing repair.
Every player has 8 Myst points. In addition to spending Myst to gain bonuses to their actions (either +1 die or +1 POT), players can also resist ANY damage with Myst. As a sort of holdover from BitD, when a player resists with Myst, they roll 3 dice, then subtract the difference between the highest roll and the number 6 from their Myst points. This chaotic gamble (spending anywhere between 0 and 5 Myst) is supposed to highlight the difference between tapping into this magical resource versus simply defending with armor.
Myst can be reduced to negative numbers for even more uses and benefits, but doing so also ups the ante with stronger consequences (including, eventually, Death).
So that’s the gist of it. I understand it’s a lot, so let me address the exact problems I’m having.
There’s a strong disconnect between Player Phases and Enemy Phases in combat, where the players have no choice but take whatever the enemy dishes out during the latter. This feels unfair, but it’s also currently necessary to ensure the enemies actually hit.
Despite this, players are extremely bulky, effectively having 3 HP pools between Harm, armor usage, and Myst points, not to mention the damage being split among the players. I like the players having all these choices, but combat doesn’t feel dangerous as a result.
Resisting damage really slows down combat, as I have to ask every time, “Do you want to resist this? With just armor, or both?” Also, resisting with Myst requires another dice roll, one that doesn’t follow the main dice rolling mechanic, slowing stuff down even more.
For #3, I suppose I could make armor automatic (because why would you NOT resist damage?), and simply warn the players when their armor durability is low. Then, make the assumption that they WON’T resist with Myst unless they say so, since it’s a secondary resource. Also, perhaps I could make resisting with Myst cost only 1 point regardless, maybe reducing the Myst total from 8 down to 6 to make choices more meaningful (since Myst can also be used offensively).
That’s all. Thank you again for reading!