This is an optional combat system for my game StormHack. This system should bolt onto the dead simple OSR-style combat in StormHack, (or compatible games). With a bit of careful thought, it can probably be used for any combat system1.
Stances are basically statements of intent and ongoing mindset rolled into one. They’re a bunch of assumptions about what your PC will do in the combat, like a mini program of if/then statements. They draw a box around what you are doing and what you’re not doing.
There are six Stances, in line with the six Ability Scores (and Demon Realms in StormHack).
|Attacking||Pursuit (Str)||Defend (Con)||Flank (Dex)|
|Other||Talk (Cha)||Observe (Wis)||Device (Int)|
The Stances are simple enough to be put on an index card and picked up during combat by players (assuming we ever get to play F2F again).
There are three Attacking Stances, and three Other Stances. Attacking Stances are about making physical attacks on things. Other Stances are about doing other things in combat that aren’t directly attacking.
Then there are three kinds of Stance, which are
- Engage where the PC directly confronts the enemy
- Wait where the PC observes and waits for the enemy to do something
- Avoid where the PC tries to avoid interference whilst doing their actions
This is also the order in which monsters will pay attention to (target) the PC; if you’re charging towards (or standing up and shouting at) the monster you’re more likely to attract fire than if you’re hanging back. Choosing a particular Stance doesn’t make you any better or worse able to defend however, it just makes it more likely that the monsters go after you.
All the Stances assume that if attacked, a person will defend themselves (or to put it differently, none of the options mean you’re not defending yourself).
Here are the six “Stance cards”:
If you’re pursuing the enemy, assume
- Attacking is prioritised over all other actions. No matter what happens, you get to make an attack roll.
- You attack as soon as you’re in range. If for some reason you’re out of range, move to get into distance.
- You’re not hiding or staying in a fixed location. You’ll probably split off from any party members who aren’t attacking with you.
- You’ll definitely attract the attention of the enemy.
For agressive fighters. You’re not protecting anyone, but you’re haring off after the first target you can see
If you’re defending a person or place, assume
- You will always move to put yourself between the enemy and who/whatever you’re protecting. Enemy will have to attack you before they can attack your charge.
- If someone comes close enough to threaten, you automatically get to strike at them. If they’re not close enough, you can’t hit them.
- You’re out in the open so you attract attention, although less than if you charge towards the enemy.
If you’re flanking the enemy, assume
- Your first priority is to get into a superior position where you can attack, but the enemy can’t see you. You could start the combat from this position already. If you try to do this in combat it will probably be a harder roll than if you were outside combat; the ref should base the difficulty on whether the enemy was looking at you at the time you tried get away.
- If you’re in this position, you get to attack. This may or may not attract attention.
- If the enemy spots you, you can’t attack. Either try to hide again next round, or change your Stance to another attack and give up hiding.
For snipers and backstabbers
If you’re trying to use a device, cast a spell, pick up an object or do something else with the environment, assume
- You’re not attacking.
- You’re doing your best to avoid the enemy’s attention. How successful this is will depend on whether there’s someone else more attention-grabbing in the fight.
- If you’re attacked, it may delay or spoil whatever you’re trying to do.
This is a catch-all category for doing something in combat, but includes casting spells
If you’re observing what’s going on, assume
- You’re not attacking.
- You’re not making yourself obvious, but you’re not actively hiding either. You’re less of a threat/target than attacking party members.
- You’re watching out for what’s going on. If you see something you can alert others to it, and you can also act on it yourself the next round.
- if you alert someone else (e.g. to an ambush) the ref might credit that player with an advantage (or a roll if they would otherwise not get one)
- if you act yourself, you automatically gain the initiative next round, picking the Stance you want.
This is a catch-all for “wait and see” in combat. It can be used by anyone, and even non-combat types can use it to get involved in combat
If you’re talking to the enemy in combat, assume
- You’re not attacking.
- If the enemy can understand you, they’ll hear your message, unless they’re being attacked at that moment
- The ref will work out their response, e.g.
- if you’re intimidating, they may pause or even flee
- if you’re charming, they may stop fighting and engage in talks
- if you’re taunting, they may make you their next target
- You’re definitely sticking your neck out, so there’s a high probability of drawing fire.
This is obviously for attempting social interaction in combat
After the ref has introduced the scene and established that there is going to be a combat, the order of combat should go like this:
- Roll for initiative.
- On your PC’s turn, pick a Stance, and do what actions are prompted by that Stance (e.g. attack, get into cover, use a device, etc.)
- On the monster’s turn, the ref will manage whatever is natural for the monsters (usually close with the PCs and attack)
- At the end of the round, PCs hang onto their Stance cards.
At the next round if the player already holds a Stance card they can hand it in for a different card on their Initiative, or they can keep hold of it.
In play the ref might limit the number of Stance cards on the table. Sample limitations and reasons:
- only allowing 2 Pursuit cards because the environment is too close, so only a couple of people can push to the front
- denying Observe cards because it’s impossible to see further than a few feet in thick fog
- denying Talk cards because the environment is too loud, or magically silenced
Postscript: hierarchy of fighting
Getting into fights is about this, in order2:
To keep things simple assume that everyone is on the same page re: Mindset (i.e. whether or not they’re up for a fight). This makes sense for most RPGs where fighting is commonplace.
Often fight-heavy RPGs prioritise Techniques (sword swings, bull rushes, etc.) and don’t give the game a language to easily talk about Tactics, which are bound into statements of intent. The problem is that the statements of intent then get confused with the descriptive roleplaying of how the character is doing what they’re doing (e.g. Feng Shui).
Tactics are just a set of prepared responses that support a basic goal. They include both how and when the character attacks, and how they move to support that. The goal might be to overcome the enemy; it might be to escape; it might be to protect something or someone.
Tactics also change with the fight. In a RPG it can be difficult for a player to convey to the ref that what they want to achieve in the fight has changed. They can easily communicate a change in actions, but sometimes the reason isn’t obvious to the rest of the table. This matters because the ref is supposed to be the fan of the PC and helping the player realise their desires; it also matters if you want your party to feel like they can work as a unit.
It’s worth noting that StormHack isn’t a typical OSR game Combat is designed to be survivable and heroic, encouraging risk. ↩
Modern combatives gets this in the right order. Most martial arts don’t because they teach technique first; but there’s a good reason for this, because techniques are small building blocks with instant reward in the salle or dojo. Encourage students with these and then teach them the principles as they advance. ↩