[OSR] Replacing minor combats with streamlined consequences

I'd like to speed up things at my table with streamlined consequences replacing minor, i.e. presumably inconsequential, combats.

The current crop of PCs in my Wilderlands campaign are mostly approaching mid-levels. They are exploring Dyson's Delve. Traversing the upper levels again and again entails quite a few minor combats.

(I should note we do use the morale rules and severely outclassed monsters try to avoid combat. This helps a lot, but skeletons and similar monsters still attack, of course.)

I'd like to give players and GM alike the option of offering a deal to replace playing out a combat in detail with a some quick and dirty costs. Eero is already doing this in his games, as far as I remember.

So far, I am going with damage dice, so a proffered deal might look like this: "Okay, a dozen skeletons are no serious threat. How about you distribute 4d6 points of damage (e.g. the 4th-level fighter takes 2d6 and two other frontliners take 1d6 each) and we move on?"

I plan on switching from damage dice to attack rolls (so critical hits remain a threat and AC plays an important role) with the option of using valuable Luck points (refilled only upon reaching a new level) to interrupt an unlucky sequence (i.e. if your fighter agrees to take two attacks and the first one is a crit, you may spend Luck to avoid the second attack roll).

However, several problems remain:

Problem 1: Many combats do not threaten the party as a whole (i.e. a TPK is all but impossible) or the highest level characters. However, there are usually one or two 1st-level characters and henchmen along who have a pretty high chance of dying outright when hit. I'm unsure if a deal where the players can distribute risk as desired isn't a bit soft.

Problem 2: (Group) Initiative plays a huge role as most combats last only 2 or 3 rounds (with another round of mopping up, perhaps). However, setting things up to the point where we can roll for initiative takes up some time. I'm trying to account for this with a swingy mechanic (see below) but remain somewhat unsure.

Problem 3: Estimating how many resources a given situation might use up seems all but impossible to me. I've used to try to estimate outcomes in some detail ("so there's a bottleneck on the left flank, which means only 2 attackers in the first round" etc. etc.). I don't want to do this anymore, though I'm certainly willing to haggle a bit. However, there are so many moving parts that I'd like to use a very limited set of broad standardized categories:

"almost negligible" - 1d6 attack rolls against the party, monsters chosen by the DM, distribute as desired by the players
"easy" - 2d6 attack rolls
"possibly harmful" - 3d6 attack rolls

What's your take on this?

What kinds of deals do you offer, Eero, and how do you determine the details?

Comments

  • Sorry, not useful at all, but it's interesting to learn I'm not the only one who thinks playing out D&D-style fights can get tedious. This is why, in principle at least, I like T&T-style mechanics - a fight where a side is outclassed is always over by comparing two dice pools anyway, the bitter war of attrition of near-equal fights being handled by the same set of rules over several exchanges.
  • edited October 2018
    I hope that non-Eeros can also respond.

    I have done this on a case-by-case basis, but only when there is little uncertainty left. If there is a risk of low-level characters dying, play it out. Once players have figured out a tactic that removes the risk, consider a faster resolution method.

    As for the faster resolution, I try to estimate how much damage the party would take and then offer the players something with the same expected damage and usually pretty low variance. Players can accept, argue to change the proposal, or make a counter-proposal. Sometimes players initiate by making a proposal.

    If I do not have a good estimate of how much resources would be spent, then I do not suggest a quick resolution.

    Typically the fast resolution happens only when players have selected their tactics, positioned themselves to make use of it, and the situation is no longer very dynamic.
  • Nice to hear that you're tackling Dyson's Delve - I like it, and it's seen some major play around here.

    My take would be that if the tension is high enough that you're actually interested in fiddling with a nuanced abstraction, then perhaps you should run that combat after all? Concepts like "one of these low-level PCs might die here" don't really jive with the idea that a given combat is essentially uninteresting. The players may need to up their tactical game to make combat more risk-free, so you're more comfortable offering them a minor deal on it.

    What you might find useful would be to think of these minor combats in terms of streamlined combat process rather than outright replacing them with estimated consequences. The details would depend on the specific mechanical nuances and group skills you're working with, but perhaps something like this would serve:

    A "Quick Combat" is performed by gathering attack dice equal to the number of combatants on each side and rolling those against the enemy AC. Both parties go with average AC and average attack bonus for this - or just switch to smaller dice and assign target numbers appropriately, as I often like to do. (Mode instead of average would be totally fine with me for this purpose, and obviously you could designate part of the group as non-combatants if you wanted to tinker a bit. Whatever makes the deal work.) You go round by round, rolling and sorting those dice, and every "hit" becomes a 1d6 of damage that the injured party assigns to one of their own (or randomizes or whatever, the point is that we don't really care), continuing until either side breaks. Particularly good rolls may trigger special effects, if either side has some. The group may decide at their convenience to add tactical detail to a quick combat, which probably implies slowing down and playing through the rest of the encounter with normal combat procedure, starting in the midst of the grinding melee that the quick combat process represents.

    The purpose of a quick combat mode like this is to reduce handling time while maintaining a certain stochastic sense of the impact that combatant sides have on each other; I use similar procedures particularly when scaling D&D combat in larger skirmishes - having say 50 participants on a side makes detailed initiative and one-by-one execution unnecessarily complex. However, the same type of process (simultaneous turns, no target allocation, etc.) makes for a quicker combat on smaller scale as well, and if nobody really cares about this minor fight, you might as well roll the dice and get over it.

    When developing your own quick combat process, pay attention to its wargaming virtues: you want something that is genuinely simple and quick, while scaling responsively to the most important operational variables - likely the number and quality of combatants on each side of a given skirmish. You want something that is easy to stop midway if the fight turns out surprisingly difficult, so you can take a closer look and run the show in detail to the end. You want something that actually works in practice for your group's handling skills; my suggestion above assumes that you have lots of dice and facility in handling them, so doing something like e.g. rolling 12d20 and sorting every result of 12+ from them is quick for you to do while somebody else in the group is doing the same for the opponents.

    I'll mention in advance that players will naturally want to account for every single nitty-gritty advantage their characters have in combat in the quick combat mode. Resist the temptation - draw the line on what amount of tactical detail the quick resolution system handles, and be fair about ignoring the minutiae for both sides. Stirges don't get their leeching auto-hits in this, and neither do Thieves get stab damage. Nobody gets any terrain considerations or initiative bonuses, that's the entire point of the exercise. If you want those details, that may again be a sign of the combat being more important than you're assuming, so perhaps you should run at least the first couple of rounds in full combat mode - you can switch to quick combat for the end, once the group comes to their senses and stops caring.
  • If these encounters are part of travel, why not use a table of losses : most soakable item, most fragile, most cumbersome item, health, time, inimity. Make the players chose some factors, factor in the opposition, and roll.
  • Use Otherkind dice for this.
  • T&T's approach is certainly much faster and bears mentioning, Rafu, but we rather enjoy D&D's level of detail (in our case with 5' steps, opportunity attacks, flanking etc.).
    Thanuir said:

    I try to estimate how much damage the party would take and then offer the players something with the same expected damage and usually pretty low variance.

    I've tried to do this, Thanuir, but either the problem is too complex or I suck at it. =(

    In a similar vein, Eero, I don't trust myself to design "Quick Combat" rules. As you point out, one would have to resist the temptation to account for all sorts of factors but I can't see how the results would ever be in the right ballpark.

    Blogger Delta has some neat rules for mass combat which thoroughly scale up OD&D's combat, spells and all, but OD&D is a lot simpler than my homebrew version of DCC.

    The players may need to up their tactical game to make combat more risk-free, so you're more comfortable offering them a minor deal on it.

    They generally do a fine job, I think: If a given combat seems easy, they'll go out of their way to keep vulnerable characters from danger (usually with success, but not always). When the situation is serious, such characters - particularly armored types - are part of the frontlines, just like everyone else.

    A table to determine resources lost sounds like a cool idea -- but designing one (that includes multiple factors, too) does not seem trivial to me. Could you be more specific, DeReel?

    Could you provide a more detailed example, Wanderer? I'm only superficially aware of Otherkind dice.

    Thank you for some food for thought, guys!
  • I am sorry I can't : it's entirely dependent on your local economy. In a game like Ryu Utama, where the economy is simple as 1 GP = 2 enc = 2 hours = +1, the table is right there. In your case, I guess it would take 1/2 hour to get dozens of entries and 1/2 hour to groom redundancies, which you shouldn't, because raw nuggets will be funnier (Rolemaster crits FTlols). Just trust yourself, it's not rocket science.
  • I will try to explain later, if this thread is still active. Right now, I just got a frighteningly big pile of work dumped on my desk.
  • edited October 2018
    For the factor bit, let's say the table scales from "conservative" (losing time and burning bridges) to "all out" (losing HP). This is still easy. The tough part is you have to find a measure through experience so that for each Combat Factor between PCs and opposition, they have to make a roll. Finding CF is the hic.
  • Johann said:


    Thanuir said:

    I try to estimate how much damage the party would take and then offer the players something with the same expected damage and usually pretty low variance.

    I've tried to do this, Thanuir, but either the problem is too complex or I suck at it. =(
    Well, that is a matter of practice, inclination and talent.

    The natural way of practicing is simply making the calls when they are easy and the situation is obvious, and discussing them with the players while making them. Your range of what is obvious will gradually increase, one hopes.

    Maybe you could start by identifying situations where nothing interesting is happening anymore. If one side is clearly incapable of effective action, the combat is pretty much done. Maybe give a small chance that will get a hit or two in, and assume that is all they manage.

    Another sign would be that everyone is just attacking, or doing the same thing over and over, for two or three consecutive rounds. Unless everyone or the losing side is fighting to death, you might want to zoom out until someone gets a clear advantage. Maybe instead of great simplification, do small ones - everyone does average damage with every hit, all enemies have average hit points, everyone focuses fire on the champion of the enemy side and there is no positioning, and whatever is convenient in your rules framework.

    Also consider all the usual ways of speeding up fights - roll attack and damage at the same time, think what you are going to do before it is your turn, maybe set a time limit on how a player may take to think what they do if it suits your group.

    You might also check Lanchester's laws for some heuristics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanchester's_laws

    One way of practicing is just posting some example situations here and trying to make judgements on them, while seeing how others resolve them and comparing.
  • Every round everyone gets a cumulative +1 to the attack rolls. Makes the fights faster and more brutal. Idea is based on a 13th Age rule.
  • What are your current combat procedures?
  • I'm using a slightly modified D&D 3e/4e action economy (one standard and one move action, grid-based combat with 5' steps, opportunity attacks, DCC's critical hit tables and freakish spell result tables etc.). But I'm not interested in trying to down-scale this or speed up/simplify the procedures as such. Your suggestions are appreciated, but that route is not for me, at least at the moment.

    DeReel's suggestion of a Rolemaster-like table of random mishaps (broken items etc.) rand esources lost (time, hit points) looks viable to the extent I understand it -- I still don't get the whole Combat Factor thing, though.

    Some possible costs I can imagine:

    1. Check a weapon equipped at the start of combat for breakage (100% chance unless magical)
    2. Check a piece of armor worn for damage (AC -1 until repaired)
    3. Randomly determine a broken piece of equipment (waterflask, potion, 50' silk rope etc. -- we're using LotFP's excellent encumbrance system so this would be easy to do)
    4. Roll an additional encounter check (on account of a lot of noise etc.)
    5. Roll a minor, generic misfire / corruption result on a spell table (provided a caster is present)
    6. Incur hit point damage, players' choice on who is affected
    7. As above, but on a random character
    7. Roll a creature-appropriate critical, players' choice on who is affected
    8. As above, but on a random character
    9. Lose 1 turn for additional first aid etc. (or incur an exhaustion penalty if you press on)

    Is this the sort of thing you are thinking about, DeReel?
  • hamnacb said:

    Every round everyone gets a cumulative +1 to the attack rolls. Makes the fights faster and more brutal. Idea is based on a 13th Age rule.

    I would avoid this, because it is more of a narrative effect than a fiction-based effect. Alternatively it is a bad simulation.

    This creates problems. How actively does one have to participate in a combat to get the bonus? What do you do when people enter a combat midway? What do you do to very long fights, like sieges or armies facing each other or two careful people staying in cover who try to shoot each other in bad conditions? Does the bonus also apply to other feats of accuracy and strength, or only to combat rolls?
  • Last question, hopefully ;) are you using all the funny DCC dice and the dice chain?
  • Yes and no. We're using all the funny dice (for example for Mighty Deeds of Arms) but we use straight penalties (e.g. -2) to modify d20 rolls rather than the dice chain. I find that modifiers can be applied much faster and retroactively if necessary (when you forget something) compared to grabbing a d16, then a d14, then a d16 again etc. when calculating stuff.

    (There are some exceptions. For instance, I do not bother with slowly increasing crit ranges (19-20, then 18-20 on a d20 etc.), but have a single massive increase once a fighter attains "name-level" at level 6 (and gets to use a d24 instead of a d20, scoring a crit on 20+.)
  • Thanuir said:

    hamnacb said:

    Every round everyone gets a cumulative +1 to the attack rolls. Makes the fights faster and more brutal. Idea is based on a 13th Age rule.

    I would avoid this, because it is more of a narrative effect than a fiction-based effect. Alternatively it is a bad simulation.

    This creates problems. How actively does one have to participate in a combat to get the bonus? What do you do when people enter a combat midway? What do you do to very long fights, like sieges or armies facing each other or two careful people staying in cover who try to shoot each other in bad conditions? Does the bonus also apply to other feats of accuracy and strength, or only to combat rolls?
    I believe you that it is a bad simulation for you but I dont know what you try to simulate in your game.

    This idea worked for me because I understand it's function so I can make assumptions and rulings any time about it. Im sure its the sqme with you.

    If you are interested in my particular answers:
    1. You have to be in a melee.
    2. Every one can have a personal counter but most of the times 1 or 2 is enough.
    3. Its for typical adventuring fights, not wars or long duels. I have no idea but I guess it applies to every roll
    5. To every roll.


  • @Johann
    Okay, I said I would be back, but I don't have a lot of time--so this is going to be quick and maybe not well explained--please forgive me.

    My "Otherkind dice" solution to your problem? When there is a conflict/event (that you want to deal with quickly), there is a solution: Otherkind dice! Otherkind has four basic dice (d6) to resolve a conflict. You roll for goal, danger, movement, and narration. Your players state their goal, ie. get past/kill the monster; you tell them the dangers, e.g. you could take 30 HP of damage distributed among the players (there could be more than one danger); their goal includes movement towards some location, e.g. the other side of the bridge/wherever (freedom!); and narration, ie. who describes the scene (in your D8D case, it could be who decides where the damage falls and describes it.) If there is more danger the players roll an extra dice for each danger. The players roll the dice and assign them where they want. The die rolls work like this 1-3 is bad, ie. the goal fails, or the players take the damage, or their movement is halted, or you narrate where the damage falls. A die roll of 4-6 is good, the players achieve their goal, or take no damage, or make it to the location they want to reach, or get to narrate who gets the damage.

    This system is modified in two ways: if the players use a special power they can roll another extra dice (but that power is used up); if the players have an advantage, like surprise or higher ground, they can roll an extra dice (if they have a disadvantage that could be another danger). There can be as many dangers and advantage as the story/situation will allow, but if they are already seriously hurt/starving/out of supplies/whatever, they can't use any special powers (the fiction should dictate this).

    Of all the dice rolled, the players keep what they need to give an answer to the four (or more) questions and discard the rest.

    For example, there are twelve goblins guarding a bridge that the players need to pass over to continue their journey. You tell them about this, and they say "we sneak up as close as possible trying to pass over the bridge unnoticed and fight our way through the goblins if we have to, and continue our journey." You say that the potential damage is 54 hit points (make up your own system for deciding how much damage and where it goes, I don't care--it's up to you, but you should tell the player in advance who is going to get the damage or how your system works if it is random). It's night and half the goblins are sleeping (i.e. advantage players), but among the goblins is a witch-doctor with lightning bolt (i.e. extra danger). So that's two dangers (one HP and one lightning bolt, extra HP damage for one player) and one advantage (it's night, they are sleeping). The wizard in the party says, he casts silence on the party. That's an extra dice advantage, but the spell is used up. So one extra danger, and two advantages. With the four original dice, that's seven dice to roll. The players roll 6, 5, 4, 4, 3, 1, 1.

    Now they decide how to assign the dice... assign 6 to goal (sneak over and fight whatever goblin they need to killing many/most); assign 5 to danger (hit point damage) so no damage to anyone (the goblins were surprise and sleepy); assign 4 to movement to their goal (pass over the bridge and by the goblins), so they are on the other side of the bridge; assign 4 to danger (lightning bolt), so the lightning bolt misses (somebody made their saving throw, whatever); assign 3 to narration (you narrate), so you say how it happens, but there is no damage so it's just color text (but maybe important for the story later). The other dice are discarded. So they sneak through the goblins killing many and escaping the lightning bolt, but using-up a silence spell. That seem too easy, right?

    But if they roll 6, 4, 4, 3, 2, 1, 1, now there are some difficult choices. They only have three successes, so they have to assign them carefully. They choose goal 6 (sneak their way through the goblins, killing many); movement 4 (make it to the other side of the bridge); danger-HP 3 (someone[s] are going to take damage); danger-lightning bolt 4 (nobody wanted to take a lightning bolt strike); narration 2 (you get to decide where the damage falls); and the rest of the dice are discarded. They could assign the dice how they want with different results. Maybe they decide movement to the goal isn't important and assign it a 3. Now they have to fight another turn because they are stuck in the middle of the bridge fighting. They could have extra goals too, maybe one would be to kill the witch-doctor in particular. Do they assign a success die to do that, or is he still around next turn casting another spell?

    Anyway, what could be a whole session calculating and grinding out the fight is resolved in one (or two, three at the most) die rolls.

    And if this system isn't delicate enough for your liking, you could change the dice results system to 1-2 bad, 3-4 partial success/failure, 5-6 success.

    Anyway, I think I've basically recast D&D in terms of Otherkind (thank-you, @lumpley). I hope that I didn't make too much of a mess of it, Vincent.

    p.s. I apologize if my post is a bit of a mess (e.g. typos/grammar). I just came back from a dinner party where a lot of Chinese wine was drunk; but this was the only time that I had to reply in the next few days/weeks, so now was the time.

  • I am honored by your attention. This "mishaps" table is what I was thinking about, yes. I see you chose low for equipment, high for HP damage, with a few focused options. You also chose not to include tactical options as resources, no "bridge burning". Fine.
    The remaining question is "How many rolls for a given encounter ?" How many vials and bones are broken in the end. You need a measure of some kind. Thanuir's answer refering to Lanchester's laws is precious here.
  • edited October 2018
    hamnacb said:


    I believe you that it is a bad simulation for you but I dont know what you try to simulate in your game.

    I would hope the basic rules for combat to more-or-less track medievalish combat.

    What is the reason (in fiction) that characters start becoming more and more accurate as they fight for longer? The mechanism has to be something that only kicks in in small group skirmishes, not duels or wars.

    I would expect people to get tired and become ineffective as the fight goes on, rather than the opposite.

    Also, if I need to push a boulder or break a door, then I better have a brawl immediately before that, since it improves my chances at succeeding at the feat of strength.

    The rules leads to such counterintuitive results, which do not match at all with my understanding of reality, which is why I would call it a bad simulation.

    I understand what the rule is doing in terms of pacing, but I would not use it in any game whose rules attempt to do any sort of simulation of non-silly reality. Might be completely okay a heroic game of action-adventure, but a poor fit for a game of fictional problem-solving which occasionally includes combats.
  • Thanuir said:

    What is the reason (in fiction) that characters start becoming more and more accurate as they fight for longer? The mechanism has to be something that only kicks in in small group skirmishes, not duels or wars.

    I would expect people to get tired and become ineffective as the fight goes on, rather than the opposite.

    My initial reaction to that rule isn't so negative, and it's precisely because I find it pretty reasonable as a conceit of simulation. Not the only way to go about it, but certainly worth a second look.

    Consider this: what if it's not the attacker who's getting a hit bonus, but rather the defender who's suffering an AC penalty? Same difference math-wise, and it's actually procedurally better to have the attacker account for the bonus because players are better at remembering bonuses than maluses.

    I could easily see a D&D-originating mechanical environment in which it would be entirely reasonable to model accumulating exhaustion by making enemies more dangerous. You get tired, you make mistakes, and defense being naturally harder than attacking, that's where it shows in proportional terms: combats become more lethal as they stretch on. Arguably you can see something like this in e.g. real-life boxing, where the combatants are generally capable of avoiding a knockout blow during the early rounds, but may not be so able later on. They still hit hard until the end, most of the time, but their dodging slows down and situation awareness dims so that the opponent may not only be able to hit with strikes that would have been blocked earlier, but also be able to use more daring blows that would have been infeasible against a fresh opponent.

    It goes without saying that under this interpretation you'd assign these bonuses based on how long the defender has been in melee, rather than the attacker.
  • @Eero_Tuovinen Exactly what I was thinking, too (though, arguably, D&D models that same exact thing through hitpoints already).
  • edited October 2018

    The players roll the dice and assign them where they want. The die rolls work like this 1-3 is bad, ie. the goal fails, or the players take the damage, or their movement is halted, or you narrate where the damage falls. A die roll of 4-6 is good, the players achieve their goal, or take no damage, or make it to the location they want to reach, or get to narrate who gets the damage.

    This sounds really neat! I've seen references to Otherkind dice a couple of times on this forum and even scanned an explanation somewhere but was unable to 'get it'. Your introduction is very useful, not least because of your concrete examples. Thank you for taking the time to post this -- I really appreciate it.

    (That said, I probably won't be using this for my D&D game - it's too narrativist -, but it definitely goes into my toolbox -- I run all sorts of games, including freeform, and these Otherkind dice are very neat basic mechanic. Beats "roll a d6, high is good" for spontaneous improv during camping trips. So thank you again!)
  • DeReel said:

    You also chose not to include tactical options as resources, no "bridge burning". Fine.

    I'm probably hesitant to include freeform complications because I strive hard to be neutral. This is not to say that this can't be done cleanly, just that I'm super-careful.

    On second thought I'd feel okay if I came up with two or three complications pertinent to the situation at hand and then randomized between them. Kinda like Eero's method of flipping a coin to allow himself to go with the first idea popping into his mind.
    The remaining question is "How many rolls for a given encounter ?" How many vials and bones are broken in the end. You need a measure of some kind. Thanuir's answer refering to Lanchester's laws is precious here.
    I'd rather avoid that headache and go with two or three easy categories (e.g. one, two and three rolls, maybe with exploding dice for extra rolls to introduce some swinginess).
  • Lightweight FTW. Have fun.
  • Eero, your suggestion is much better, precisely because it has a fictional justification and it creates far less strange edge cases.
  • Eero, thank you for your exposition!
Sign In or Register to comment.