Hammercalled Combat Revised, Part 1: The Action Economy and Initiative

I’ve gotten the idea that to get Hammercalled to the point that I want it to be at, I should probably break the development down into waves. The first wave of development is to focus on the gear and combat (the part of the game most currently developed, but also the most prone to needing a big overhaul.

When I started working on Hammercalled, I wanted a very complex combat system, but I’ve changed that to be more minimalist. I think that there are ways that I can still compete with and improve over equivalent market titles without falling foul of what I want to do here.

The following is early-version copy for the rules text (in quotes), and my commentary on it.

Each combat turn, characters get to take an attack action, a miscellaneous action, and at least one reaction (depending on their talents and Gear).

I went for a very simple system, though it’s not particularly controversial. I wanted to do away with full/complex and half/simple actions and really simplify combat. If combat is going on, it should be the most important thing going on. I want to abstract out most mechanics, like reloading most weapons (slow one-shot weapons, like crossbows or rocket launchers, may require an action to reload), aiming, and the like.

Most of the time these become a rote process in games, but they still require a certain amount of time and effort to carry out. This means that players and GMs always have to deal with these things being declared every turn, and need to factor them in.

Reactions have two purposes, to add a +10 bonus to a defensive threshold against a single attack, or to remove (or attempt to remove) a status effect from a character.

Reactions are something I feel are a key point here. Many games have “free actions” (which I don’t even feel the need to bring up here; they’re a cause of rules-lawyering and not particularly important). Many other games have reactions that follow a bunch of different rules.

I do reactions the way they do because I want the player characters to feel powerful, but I don’t want them to become complicated.

A lot of my worst gaming memories involve combat in D&D not only because it’s sluggish by my standards, but also because I often find myself worrying about what will happen to my character when I can’t do anything.

However, complex reaction mechanics, where the players get to choose between different actions and then need to roll and compare numbers are something that make the game nearly impossible to play quickly.

The other nice thing about this is that it frees up characters to potentially gain more than one reaction without slowing down combat too much (good for defense-oriented characters), and you can always add bonuses to the base statistics (for instance, a riot shield could increase the bonus to a particular defensive threshold by +5).

Combat turns start with the character with the highest Initiative choosing to declare or delay their actions. When this is done, the character with the next-highest Initiative may declare actions. At any point, a character who has delayed an action may declare their actions, with the caveat that actions that have already been declared may not be interrupted.

Characters may delay actions as long as they desire, until everyone has had a chance to go. At this point they must take an action or they lose their actions when the next turn begins.

I don’t really know if this needs comment. I make sure to allow delays in my games because I think that there are a lot of good strategic plays that can be used with delays, and it prevents having to make special rules for those cases.

One thing to note is that I wanted to avoid complications with declaring actions, so only one declared action can unfold at a time. That prevents having to manage “stacks” of actions and their resolution.

As a quick wrap-up, the whole notion here

Tune in next-time for talk about the individual action types themselves and how I’ve decided to handle melee combat, range, and status effects.


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