I was talking about RPG combat mechanics with my friend Dave Stark earlier. We came up with the outline of a reasonably satisfying one that fit his constraints. That’s not what this post is about.
After thinking about it for a bit I came up with a fairly different mechanic. It doesn’t work for the game Dave is planning, but I think it might be an interesting basis for some sort of dungeon crawl game.
The mechanic is as follows:
Characters have hitpoints which behave fairly normally in the sense that they go down over time and when they run out you die. However they have a much smaller number of them than is usual: 5 would probably be as many as makes sense. They also serve a much more integral role in the game mechanic than just a countdown to death.
The real core mechanic is the injury deck. It is a deck of cards which contain things like:
- Lucky escape – nothing happens
- Leg wound – You suffer a -1 penalty to movement
- Arm wound – You suffer -1 to strength
- A hit! You lose 1 HP
When injured you draw as many cards as you have hit points remaining, possibly modified positively or negatively by the source of the injury. You then choose one and put it in front of you, applying any effects (You put it in front of you even if it has no ongoing effect). The remaining cards are put into a discard pile to be shuffled back as the deck when the deck runs out.
Thing to note: As your hit points run out you become more and more vulnerable to a bad draw. When you’re drawing 5 cards chances are pretty good one of them will be at worst minor. When you’re drawing 1 card the odds are not with you.
Things I like about this mechanic:
- Injury is more interesting than just “I am x% dead”
- Combat becomes increasingly lethal as you get more injured
- Combat becomes increasingly lethal as the game goes on – because you’re mostly choosing the less lethal cards, the deck will become increasingly stacked against you as you pull them out of play
- There are a lot of strategic considerations in how you choose your injuries – do you take the HP loss now or the serious penalty? The HP loss has fewer short term consequences but can potentially screw you over later