Game Mastery

More game design woes. Too many features.

by on Oct.07, 2013, under NoDice

My main source of gaming remains my custom system.  As usual I’m cursed with too many features.

This time most of my ideas are for combat and I’m too attached to cut any of them.

“Perfection is Achieved Not When There Is Nothing More to Add, But When There Is Nothing Left to Take Away.”  — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I first encountered that quotation in a software context but it’s just as applicable here.  I love the idea of it, but I’m frustrated with its implementation.  I have a lot of ideas of things to add to my combat model.  Individually they all seem like good ideas, but together I think I’m getting bogged down in rules.  They’re so cumbersome I don’t even want to run sample combats for myself.  If I feel that way, what will my players think?

Okay, enough moping.  Here are some of the ideas I’ve had and how they add overhead to the game.

No hit points.  Everything is a status effect.

Hit points have always bothered me as an abstraction.  Hit locations do too though, because of how they’re tacked on ad-hoc.

When I got to combat, I realized I had no ideas for hit points yet.  I saw this opportunity and decided to go with status effects instead as various limbs get damaged.


This adds another decision to make every round of melee combat.  You can’t just pick a foe and whack him.  You have to pick a foe, pick a limb, and whack that.


When I took Fencing 101 there was a big debate between the students over whether it was advantageous to be tall.  If you have a longer reach than your opponent, you start out with an advantage over them in that you’re positioned to strike them while they can’t reach you.  But if you’re short and quick you can move past the tip of your opponent’s foil and get inside his guard.  This makes it easy for you to hit him, but extremely awkward for him to make a thrust.

Being 6’4″ I sided with the tall folk.  I didn’t stick with fencing long enough to find out which was actually preferable.  But that part of combat was something that always stuck in my mind and I wanted my game to represent it.

So, there’s now an advantage status effect.  It’s just a boolean and some maneuvers will swap which person has it.  It provides some bonuses and access to other maneuvers.

… but

It’s another status effect to remember.  And it gets murky when multiple weapons are involved.  If I step in past your rapier, I have advantage against it.  But your main gauche is short enough to block, so do I still have advantage?  Intuitively I think I have advantage against one weapon but not the other, but I don’t think the language communicates that well.  What if I’m also carrying two weapons?


This is an extension of advantage.  Long story short, weapons have a reach stat.  The difference between your reach and your opponent’s reach will be used as a bonus for the combatant with advantage.

To complicate things, this can be manipulated.  Everyone will have access to grappling and strike attacks with a low reach.  Some weapons will have access to different stances to control their reach.  When I came up with the idea, it seemed like an interesting way to fiddle with your mechanics between rounds.  As a D&D fighter, sometimes the only variables I have to work with are Power Attack and Combat Expertise.  I thought this would fill the same role.

… but it imposes frequent arithmetic.  Yes, you’ll figure out the difference between long sword and short sword quickly.  But when long sword drops and grabs a dagger, and short sword ends up punching, you end up doing the arithmetic often.  I’m not sure it’s worth it.  I’m considering dropping reach as a weapon stat and replacing it with a static advantage bonus.  The idea being that different weapons get different bonuses from advantage.  That seems gamey though and doesn’t really represent what I’m looking for.


You thought I was done, didn’t you?  This is the last one, I promise.  Until I think of more anyway.

A lot of the rules I came up with for reach and advantage worked well in the context of duels.  They didn’t work so well when your buddy with the axe ran over and started wailing on your enemy.

Anyway, there’s a big difference between whacking someone with a stick and engaging them.  When you both have your weapons raised and your eyes locked on each other, you’re passively defending against each other and not against much else.  This is what engagement is for.  When you start a fight with someone, they have the option to engage you.  You’ll train weapons and eyes on each other.  You can parry each other’s attacks (otherwise, all you can do is dodge).  You have to track reach and advantage.  Outside of engagement (if someone doesn’t see you approaching, if they’re already surrounded, etc), you can just whack them.

but …. it’s yet another status to remember.  You need to know who you’re engaged to.  You need to remember if you’ve already engaged someone this turn.  You need to remember what protections engagement affords you



Ok, so what’s the damage?  One decision for hit location and maybe another for reach control.  A status effect for engagement and another for advantage.  And another bit of math for calculating reach difference.  And we still haven’t made our attack yet!

Pretty sure there’s too much overhead in all these features.


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