Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Generic Bastardised Cyberpunk 2020 System: More Thoughts

It's been a while since I've posted about this, but it's still in my thoughts. My aim is to create a traditional RPG system which is moderately crunchy and makes combat tactically interesting. With the emphasis on the latter. I like wargames, and I like combat as a mini-game all of its own; at the same time I don't like how, in modern RPGs, that seems to have turned into "PCs can do loads of awesome stunts and have all sorts of cool abilities". That bores me - I want combat to be gritty, mean, dangerous and enjoyable to think about in a rigorous way.

At the same time, I don't know much about Western Martial Arts, and I've never tried to stab somebody to death, so nor am I particularly keen on making something ultra-realistic. Just something that has the patina of realism and which satisfies the person in me who plays Steel Panthers: World at War and Advanced Squad Leader.

Or, as I put it in my original post:

The basic aim is to try to emulate the grittiness and danger of the Cyberpunk 2020 "Saturday Night Fire Fight" system, as well as the importance of armour and shields. The rationale is: if you are prepared for a fight, fully kitted out, you will be very tough to kill. If you are unprepared/unarmoured, you will die extremely quickly.

So I decided tonight that I would run a playtest of my rules and see what happens. This is a battle between John Red and Bill Blue, two warrior types. I'm not going to pretend to be balanced on a first run through: the idea here is to just see how it all works in practice (if at all). Only combat-relevant skills and stats are noted. (Also, I realised at the end I forgot to factor in damage bonuses for BTM. I'm fucked if I'm running the combat all over again, so just chalk the mistake up to experience.)

John Red is a warrior who relies on brawn. He has a BODY of 9 (BTM-3) and REF of 8, and has Combat Sense +5, Slashing Weapons +6, Brawling +4, Dodging +2. He wears steel leg greaves (SP 14), a breast plate (SP 16), steel arm greaves (SP 14), and a full steel helmet (SP 16). He carries a wooden shield (SP 14) and a bastard sword (2d6 one handed, 2d6+2 two handed). His reflexes are restricted by -1 from his armour, taking it to an effective 7. Because he carries a shield, he suffers an additional -3 to his attack rolls.

Bill Blue is speedy. He has a BODY of 7 (BTM-1) and a REF of 10. He has Combat Sense +5, Bludgeoning Weapons +5, Brawling +3, Dodging +4. He wears heavy leather leg greaves (SP 6), a hard leather breast plate (SP 8), and soft leather arm greaves (SP 5), and a steel cap (SP 12). He carries a pole-axe (1d6+3).

First round. Initiative: JR 13, BB 20.

BB knows he doesn't have much chance of getting through JR's formidable defences, so he decides to focus on the left leg. This means he'll be at -4 to hit. He rolls d10+Bludgeoning Weapons[+5]+REF[10] and scores 17, which makes 13 total. JR's defence roll is d10+Dodging[+2]+REF[8] (with -1 from encumbrance), and he scores 17. BB almost, but doesn't land a blow.

JR just pushes forward, flailing with his bastard sword. He rolls d10+SW[+6]+REF[8]-1 = 17. BB's defence roll is d10+BW[+5]+REF[10] = 25. BB easily avoids harm.

Second Round. Initiative: JR 13, BB 22.

BB goes for the legs again, swinging that pole axe. He rolls 15. JR's defence roll is 12. BB connects with a glancing blow that does 3 damage; even with the armour penetration of the pole axe against hard armour, BB's left leg greave saves him from harm, although it is damaged by the blow (SP 13).

JR rolls 13; BB, with 24, easily dodges again, lightly skipping away.

Third Round. Initiative: JR 12, BB 21.

BB keeps up the attack on JR's left leg. He scores 14. JR gets 12. BB connects with another blow, doing 7 damage. JR's leg greave absorbs most of the blow, but its SP is halved versus the pole axe, to 6. He takes a point of damage to his left leg. Argh! His leg greave takes another point of damage to its SP, reducing it to 12.

JR scores 14 for his attack; BB again escapes the clumsy blade, rolling 20.

Fourth Round. Initiative: JR 10, BB 23.

BB gets a 12 for his attack on JR's leg, doing another hit (JR scored 11). The pole axe does 8 damage, beating the leg greave's effective SP of 6; JR would take 2 points of damage, but it reduces to 1 due to his BTM. The greave is further damaged to SP 11.

JR realises he has to change tack. His blows aren't connecting and he's being slowly ground down by the thudding blows to his leg. He takes the radical step of tossing his shield to one side. Now he no longer has the -3 penalty to his attack rolls with his bastard sword and he can wield it two-handed; this means he always loses initiative but does 2d6+2 damage.

Fifth Round.

BB gets 15 for his attack, and JR, for once, avoids the sweeping weapon, getting 19. He immediately retaliates, getting a 16 for his attack; BB gets an 18 and avoids harm again, but JR is already sensing a change in the wind.

Sixth Round.

BB scores 12 for his attack, and JR defends with a 20 and then attacks with a 19. This time he connects - BB only scores 17. Because JR is not calling shots, he hits a random location and rolls an 8 - foining his sword deep into BB's right leg for 6 damage. Bill Blue's leather leg greave is at half SP (3) and thus he takes 3 damage, reduced to 2 from his BTM. A nasty gash, but not enough to take him down, but he has to see if he faints from shock nonetheless - he makes the save.

Seventh Round.

BB keeps on at JR's leg, getting 16, beating JR's 12 and hitting him again, this time for 7 damage. JR takes another point of damage and his armour is reduced to SP 10. But as BB ducks away after making his strike, JR thrusts his sword again into BB's right leg, scoring a 22 against BB's 16 defence roll. He does 9 points of damage this time, for 7 net. This is a serious wound. BB's thigh is slashed open by a blow that could easily have severed it, and he's bleeding profusely. His total damage is now 9; he's critically wounded and his REF is halved.

BB also has to make a save against fainting, modified by -2 for the severity of the wound. He manages to stay conscious, just.

Eighth Round.

BB knows the jig is up and should probably surrender. But he decides to go out in a blaze of glory. He lunges against for JR's leg, and against all odds gets another hit. But he can't penetrate JR's damaged leg greave with a weak, glancing blow, although it does reduce the SP to 9.

JR gets a 16 for his attack roll and BB gets 15; JR presses in for the kill and rams his sword point into BB's ribs for 10 damage, which reduces to 2 thanks to BB's hard leather breast plate. This takes BB's total wounds to 11. A few more and he'll be mortally wounded; he rolls his save against fainting and fails, dropping to the floor, out of action. JR can now capture him, or kill him at leisure.


Not sure what that went to prove, but I enjoyed running through it. As you may have noticed, decent armour is a real bitch to break through, but I like that; the idea is that armour is really, really useful in a fight, and something to be worked around. Against a heavily armoured opponent you would want to flank or outnumber him, and never do what BB did and go toe-to-toe. To that end, I'd like to come up with rules for trips and overbearing, to add to the mix.

Hopefully, this would incentivise players to box clever, too. If you could, you would try to catch opponents unawares while they were unarmoured, and encourage sneaky strategising - why allow things to get tactical against somebody with access to plate mail, when you could just stab him in his sleep?


  1. If you want anyone to playtest things let me know - this is really interesting.

  2. This actually feels a lot like Mechwarrior 3e.

  3. I'm interested in what you're trying to achieve here. Is it more interesting tactical choices, more realistic combat, or something else? I think the aims as you set out are spot on, but I'm not sure what sort of game you'll end up with.

    Disclaimer - I know very little about western martial arts, except what I've learned from watching my secondary school history teacher's re-enactment group, and lindybeige - http://www.youtube.com/user/lindybeige

    Part of the problem is that RPG combat has to be unrealistic, and heavily stacked in the PCs' favour, or the game wouldn't be much fun. As far as I can tell there are no real parallels for the life of an "adventurer", other than perhaps a Roman gladiator, so we've no real models for what combat should be like, but it seems to me (pulling numbers from my nether regions) that any reasonably evenly matched fight should give the character about a 10% chance of dying, and another 10% chance of what are euphamistically called "life changing injuries", even if on the winning side. Most combat situations should end before they begin with one side backing down, or combatants should flee when they see the tide of a fight starting to turn against them. Actual one-on-one fights to the death should be rare, and the number that characters engage in (and win) correspondingly low.

    Following from the above (and bearing in mind my disclaimer!) if you're going for danger then in my view by the time John's been hit three times in the leg with a poleaxe (a weapon with its own verb - http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/poleaxe) the fight is over. He's on the ground (probably still alive, thanks to the armour) but in no position or condition to continue.

    Conversely, if what you're after are tactical choices then Billy should have the option of battering John (probably taking out his shield fairly quickly) at the risk of leaving himself exposed. John should have the option of dropping his sword from the go (hence giving more of a duel as you describe, except with options of parry / dodge / lose fight) or using his shield to get inside Bill's reach (at which point he probably wants a weapon handier than a bastard sword).

    There are two problems with the tactical choices game - firstly that it probably needs a proper expert to write it (and other experts would be endlessly nitpicking) and secondly that your leeway between making a wrong choice and losing should be fairly low, so as a combat game it'd not be much fun.

    As an RPG it may well be a lot of fun, but with much less combat than players are used to (and when it does come to it with even the winning side probably wishing they'd avoided the fight).

    1. Bah, this topic has got into my head now, as it's fanned the embers of a design discussion I was having with a group of friends some 15 years ago (we were trying to design a MUD at the time, I wanted combat to be more realistic and tactical).

      Two further questions -
      * What about magic (fireballs, etc)? How do you armour yourself against it (or survive if not magically immune)? This is the one that stumped me back then...
      * If a bastard sword (two-handed) does 2d6+2, and a poleaxe 1d6+3, how much does a dragon / troll hit for (to paraphrase lindybeige)?

      Let me know if you're looking for playtesters and the like, I'd really love to see this system meet its premise.

    2. Well, to address your first comment, I'm coming at it from the opposite direction to you. You say that "Part of the problem is that RPG combat has to be unrealistic, and heavily stacked in the PCs' favour, or the game wouldn't be much fun." I disagree with that entirely. I think making combat something scary, dangerous and genuinely violent would make it a) more exciting; and b) reliant on strategy as much as tactics, and thus more interesting. If every fight had the potential to result in serious injury or death, the players would be very careful about picking their fights. They would think about where, when and how they wanted combat to occur, and try to arrange things accordingly. That's what I mean about interesting choices.

      As for the poleaxe, you're assuming a solid hit (hits in combat can be glancing blows) and no armour. The weapon does d6+3 damage in my schema, which is enough to make a limb permanently unusable in one blow in nearly half of all cases, assuming no armour. I think that's about right, if we assume that a "hit" could mean anything from a graze all the way up to a full on, full strength blow.

      For the further questions, my main idea with this is to create my own system for running quasi-historical games, so I'm not really devoting much thought to magic at the moment. Or a dragon or troll. But I may do in future. I have been thinking about how you would stat up a bear.

      Anyway, I'll be posting some more about it!

    3. Fair point about the fun. I think I understood your post better when I finished my reply than when I started it! The game becomes about setting up the situation where you won't have to fight, rather than about fighting as one of your options in a given (balanced) situation.

      I've never been in a poleaxe fight, but my (entirely ignorant) view is that the term "glancing blow" is vastly overused in RPG discussions. It would seem to me that any unarmoured limb strike from a poleaxe would need to be blocked or parried or that was the end of the fight (certainly for leg hits).

      Your values for armour do seem nicely high though. Heavily armoured blokes did used to take part in duels, mock combats and tournaments with permanent serious injury being fairly rare, so when properly kitted up characters should be much safer.

      For quasi-history you're right, my other comments are redundant. My default assumption tends to be fantasy though, as dying from an infected wound a month after the fight is even less fun... :)

  4. Friday Night Tavern Fight! Yeah!

    A few questions:

    1) I didn't follow how you're handling armour deterioration. How do you calculate how many points SP is reduced by when the armor is hit?

    2) I also didn't follow initiative? JR's initiative roll should be 1d10+REF(8-1)+CS(5) i.e. 1d10+13. So all his rolls should be 14 or higher, yet his highest recorded roll was 13

    3) Poleaxe is a bludgeoning weapon?

    1. 1) SP is reduced by 1 point by a penetrating hit usually, except that hard metal armour is reduced by 1 point per hit from a bludgeoning weapon, irrespective of whether it penetrates.

      2) Yeah, looking at that, for some reason I had a brain fart and was applying the -3 attack penalty for carrying a shield to his initiative rolls too. Whoops. Oh well, he won anyway, so I'm sure he'll forgive me.

      3) Well, it's nominally so. You could call it a piercing weapon instead, I suppose.