Hacking 4E's Combat Engine

Hi everyone, I was asked to start a thread about something I brought up so here goes. Here's the original relevant text:
I've had some thoughts about that "bolted-on stupid skirmish system" in regards to its relationship with skill challenges. I think it helps a fiction-focused 4E game immensely to make combats feel more like skill challenges and there's a few things I'm toying with in doing just that:
- Totally dropping any kind of formal initiative system (similar to what Sandra is doing with her 5E game).
- Instead of tracking the opposition's individual hit points I'm thinking about tracking "successes" like I would in a skill challenge, with each creature of the same type sharing a "success pool" (similar to how mooks work in 13th Age). Minions require 1 success, standards 3 successes, elites 6 successes, and solos 12 successes. So a fight with 4 orc grunts (minions) and 2 orc warriors (standards) would have 2 separate "success pools": a "4 success pool" for the orc grunts and a "6 success pool" for the orc warriors. If a PC does damage greater or equal to 1/2 the creature's bloodied value, it counts as 2 successes instead of 1.
- Rather than having opposing creatures roll to hit, I am thinking about setting up their attacks as soft moves and give individual PCs a chance to respond. If the PC isn't able to stop the creature from doing what its trying to do, I'll have the attack go off as if the creature rolled a natural 10 on the d20 (but still roll for damage).
So, I've let some of these ideas percolate in my mind for a few days and I'm leaning toward this current version:
- Same as above except for the following changes.
- The encounter as a whole has a success threshold based on the monsters in the battle. Minion = 1 success, standard = 3 success, elite = 6 success, solo = 12 success. If a PC beats the monster's defense, it counts as 1 success. If a PC's damage roll beats 1/2 the monster's bloodied value (minions have a threshold equal to 4 + their level) it counts as 2 successes instead. Once the encounter's success threshold has been met, the PCs win.
- Divide the success threshold into fourths. Once each fourth has been met, the PC's reach an encounter milestone and gain a definite advantage (or disadvantage in the case of some nasty solo types). Milestones will be determined by the fiction of the encounter, but typically will involve the weakest monster or few (in the case of minions) in the encounter falling in battle or running away.

Will playtest this once I run the next session of my 4E campaign. What do you think?

~ Trent

Comments

  • "The encounter as a whole has a success threshold based on the monsters in the battle." strongly dislike this one. Seems just too disconnected from the events precipitating success. Maybe the last success has to be on the solo/elite (if one exists), or require also at least X successes on The Linchpin of the encounter, whatever that might be, in addition to Y successes overall...
  • Can you attack "the minions"? Or is it still "you're on a grid. Run up and attack that figure there, getting 0-2 successes total"? If there's a solo and 12 minions, requiring 24 successes total, and you get 5 successes beating on minions, all 12 are still around to beat on you?
  • "The encounter as a whole has a success threshold based on the monsters in the battle." strongly dislike this one. Seems just too disconnected from the events precipitating success. Maybe the last success has to be on the solo/elite (if one exists), or require also at least X successes on The Linchpin of the encounter, whatever that might be, in addition to Y successes overall...
    Hi Guy, that's where the encounter milestones come in.

    By the last leg of the encounter, 3 milestones will have already been reached. Its up to the GM what each milestone really entails but a) it should follow the fiction of the encounter up to that point and b) will *usually* involve the weakest monster or group of monsters in the encounter being defeated (whether killed, fleeing, or surrendering).

    Personally, I would also have solo types recharge or use one of their powers whenever an encounter milestone is reached as well.

    ~ Trent
  • Can you attack "the minions"? Or is it still "you're on a grid. Run up and attack that figure there, getting 0-2 successes total"? If there's a solo and 12 minions, requiring 24 successes total, and you get 5 successes beating on minions, all 12 are still around to beat on you?
    Yes, other than the changes I've outlined, the regular combat rules of 4E still apply.

    If I were running that particular encounter (which I wouldn't --- 13 monsters is way too many in 4E), I'd have the minions break and flee at around the 5-6 success mark (the encounter's first milestone).

    This is all tentative, of course. I'm experimenting with abstracting the entire encounter into a singular success pool, making soft and hard moves against the PCs until the encounter is finished. If it feels too wonky I may go back to each group of same-type monsters having its own success pool as in my original post.

    ~ Trent
  • So, we had a very brief session yesterday and managed to squeeze in a combat encounter before the night ended. It was two Level 1 PCs (Druid and Monk) vs one Level 1 Soldier and four Level 1 Minions (so, an N+0 encounter by the books). I came away with a few observations:

    1) Dropping a formal initiative system for AW's Conversation approach was a huge success. The action and narration flowed better than any D&D game I've been a part of.

    2) Replacing the monsters' hit points with a shared success pool proved to be problematic. The issue was the minions and I think I set their success threshold numbers considerably too low (so when the Monk hit 3 minions at once with a close burst attack, he would have accrued 6 successes in one action, which was only a 7 success pool to begin with). In the future, I'll have the minion threshold be the same as a standard monster of their level (although a minion is still only worth 1 success each to the pool).

    3) Another issue with the success pool was when the Soldier (who had 33 hit points by the books) took a small amount of damage from a Hazard in the encounter (in this case, 3 damage). This would have meant the PCs gained 1 success towards the 7 success encounter pool, which didn't seem right to me (this same issue would crop up whenever a monster would take automatic damage from a zone or ongoing damage). I think I *could* make it work by giving the next PC to damage the monster +3 to their damage roll rather than having the monster take the 3 damage then and there (so it increases that PC's chances of beating the monster's success threshold and accruing 2 successes). Thoughts?

    4) Something I've used to great effect in the past with 4E combats are morale saves whenever a monster is bloodied or 1/2 of their side is defeated (on a failed save, the monster flees or surrenders). It isn't quite clear when to implement these with the success pool, although its sort of build into it naturally (monsters will often flee when encounter milestones are met by the PCs).

    5) I actually ended up rolling the monsters' attacks normally for my "hard moves" rather than doing the Take 10 I was originally planning. I realized treating the monster moves as natural 10's would have just meant auto-hitting the PCs which defeated the purpose of them having individual defense scores in the first place.

    6) What I ended up doing was having the monsters gain an advantage of some kind whenever a PC rolled a miss. I did the same for the monsters as well, narrating an advantage the PCs could take advantage of when it was their "turn" again. I think that works better for 4E's combat system rather than monsters auto-hitting PCs.

    All in all, got some good and interesting feedback. Looking forward to tweaking this somewhat and giving it another go on our next session.

    ~ Trent
  • Been awhile since my last update, we found mold in our kitchen and I've been shacked up at a hotel with my wife and 2 year old for the past 5 weeks so very little opportunity to play. :(

    I think I'm going to end up dropping my little experiment here. It grates up too much with the things 4E's rather excellent skirmish combat system does quite well. I do have a set of house rules and hacks for simplifying and streamlining play during combat but I want to maintain much of the game's rich tactical variety that is somewhat mitigated with a more abstract system that I was experimenting with previously. This is what we've been toying with:

    1) PCs have a bonus to attacks, ability checks, and defenses equal to their level.
    2) No ability score increases (other than from epic destiny features), enhancement bonuses from magic items, or expertise bonuses from feats.
    3) Feats only gained at every 1st, 4th, and 8th level of a tier and limited to always-on passive increases or non-numerical narrative advantages.
    4) Skill training reduced from +5 to +4, like in Gamma World 7E.
    5) Any power, condition, or effect that gives you a bonus to your roll or a penalty to your target's defenses gives you advantage (roll 2d20 and keep the best one) instead. Multiple advantages don't stack.
    6) Any power, condition, or effect that gives you a penalty to your roll or a bonus to your target's defenses gives you disadvantage (roll 2d20 and keep the worst one) instead. Multiple disadvantages don't stack.
    7) Being flanked, dazed, or dominated no longer grants advantage. Main source of advantage will be stunting or making use of terrain.
    8) We will be implementing a form of group initiative from here on out. Whoever has surprise acts first, then it goes monsters, then players, then monsters, then players, etc.
    9) Instead of granting an extra standard action, spending an Action Point lets you make an immediate interrupt action during the monsters' turn but is limited to basic actions or improvised actions (i.e., no encounter or daily powers).

    Now, for the big stuff:

    1) Hit points are greatly simplified and scale by tier, rather than level. Average PC hit points are 8 at heroic, 16 at paragon, 24 at epic. Average monster hit points are 10 at heroic, 20 at paragon, 30 at epic (double and triple these for elites and solos, respectively).
    2) PC damage is calculated as follows: every +[W] or +[damage die] is equal to 1 damage and every +ability mod is equal to 1 damage. So, for example, an attack that did 3d10+Str mod would be worth 4 damage.
    3) Monster damage is calculated by taking the average value and dividing it by 5, rounded to the nearest whole number. So a power that deals 2d8+10 damage would be 4+4+10=18 divided by 5 = 3.6 = 4 damage.
    4) To calculate non-standard damage or healing such as ongoing damage, resistance, regeneration, and so on simply divide the value by 5 and round to the nearest whole number (minimum 1).
    5) If an attack crits, it deals extra damage equal to the number of damage dice. So, our 2d8+10 attack would deal +2 damage on a crit.

    Interesting results from this so far. Looking forward to more gaming. :)
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