Everyone knows that tabletop role playing games do not replicate realism well. And why should they? If I wanted it to be realistic, my life would be a whole lot more interesting. I wouldn’t play Deadlands, I would go become a cowboy. But there is one thing that seems a little odd to me. The combat. Combat isn’t a series of people declaring attacks, and trying to hit. There are times when people dominate combat, and some times when people only do things because of what their opponent has done. Simply put, combat needs an overhaul, something that makes the game more exciting and cinematic.
I have found a solution. It started out with a simple opposed roll instead of using parry to determine who hit. This does two things for the players: 1. It keeps the players involved when it isn’t their turn, and 2. It makes the game feel more realistic, instead of just rolling to hit, there is also a roll to not get hit. There are two people involved in a fight, and both can screw up. There is no reason only one gets the opportunity to when playing role playing games.
After I played with this method for a while, I found that it wasn’t entirely helpful in the realm of expanding the cinematic elements of combat. Players would still just declare an attack, or roll to defend when the time comes. I read a little bit on Dungeon World, and found that while it may not be the system for me, it has some very good ideas. The phrase that I took out of what I read was “What do you do?”
When used instead of asking for parry, or telling them what to roll, this phrase now opens up the game to the players, lets them decide what to do when they are attacked. Instead of just blocking, or avoiding an attack, the players can choose to do anything. The GM has to decide what penalties they have to their roll, and the TN is the opponents attack roll. I have had many people say that they want to do something reactionary when fighting, but I would have to tell them, no, that they would have to have been on hold when the enemy does something in order to react to it. How often do you find yourself in this situation? It is not something that I want them to avoid, but people are always trying to take the first opening available, even when the reactionary things that they do are awesome things, and that is what Savage Worlds is all about. With bennies, and exploding dice, cool is what we want, and sometimes the coolest things can’t be done unless it is your opponents turn. To keep combat from taking forever, any action that is made when it isn’t your turn is made at a penalty. An automatic -2 is placed on those actions, but it isn’t limited to just that, the normal penalties that you would give should be added on top of that.
How does this work?
For example, the players are fighting a giant frog-like creature that uses it’s tongue as it’s primary method of attacking. Using traditional rules, everyone would draw a card, then in order, the players and the frog would attack, or do tricks in order of their cards. When the frog attacks, it would roll against the player’s parry to see if it hit, then the next player would go. If a player wanted to catch the frog’s tongue and cut it off, they would first have to be on hold, which would either mean drawing a card higher than the frog, or waiting an entire turn and losing one of their turns, then they could try to remove the tongue of the frog. There is not only the obstacle of successful dice rolls, but also the issue of planning, and maybe even sacrificing an action just to attempt it.
With the new rules it goes like this: It is the frog’s turn and he opens his mouth and his tongue starts flying toward you, what do you do? The player can simply parry, and make an opposed fighting roll, or they can try to dodge it, with an opposed agility, or they can try to catch the tongue and cut it off. This option, which is cool, is now something that will come up more often, and it will surely give the player a benny. Sure it will still be a challenging roll to do this. Probably two rolls, an agility to catch and a fighting at about -2 or -4 each, but that is still easier to accomplish, and it makes the game more cinematic, more fun, and more involved than the rules as written.
Not just for players
It is important to note that this goes both ways. It not only makes the player more powerful, now giving them the opportunity to react to whatever happens to them, but the enemies can do this as well. When the player charges the giant frog, it now has a decision to make. Does it want to hop out of the way, or does it want to smack the player out of the way with one of his giant webbed feet? It can even try to inflate it’s throat and bounce the player away. This makes for much more exciting combat encounters than just a series of declared attacks.