Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Project Out Of Time – Melee

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Having talked about Factions and Managing Energy in Project Out Of Time, it's time to look at some combat!

For me, Melee combat rules for a game are pretty much the linchpin – even more so when it comes to writing my own rules. If I don't get excited at the prospect of a good old face to face scrap then (in the absence of something else stunning) I'm likely to lose interest quite quickly. As a consequence, compiling mechanics for melee combat has been the sticking point for all of my attempts at rule writing. In the five or so years I've been attempting to create something solid I've looked at pretty much every example I can get my hands on (for free at least).

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As I've mentioned in the past, I have an aversion to reinventing the wheel, but for combat rules I also have an aversion to simply copying someone else. Yet, it's hard not to subconsciously default to something that feels comfortable or familiar.

I've been searching for a solution that was simple, allowed both players to be involved and reflected the individual ability/physicality of the game characters taking part in the fight. I also like the idea that melee combat is not risk-free and that there could be consequences for rolling badly.

Up until now my ideas have been logical (to me at least) but clunky and not overly fun. I've looked at everything from rolling target numbers, adding stats to dice rolls, rolling dice with different number of sides. I got quite caught up with a rock/paper/scissors approach, where each melee attack choice had a natural counter. Problem was that three options wasn't enough choice and five or six became unwieldy and messy.

My quest for the holy grail of fighting rules has stressed my brain for the longest time, the answer sitting just out of reach and elusive in the corners of my mind. However, I do feel that perhaps with this project I have taken a positive step in the right direction. See what you think...


The current version of melee combat rules for Project Out Of Time fundamentally consist of an opposed dice roll. Both players roll a dice and compare scores. I constructed a nice table to illustrate the outcomes but it comes down to the difference in the dice rolls determining the severity of the result. Opposing rolls that are pretty close have minimal impact (a bit of pushing and shoving), but if one player rolls high and the other low, the outcome can be devastating.

The table below shows the outcome of the fight from the attacker's perspective. Any + damage is inflicted onto the defender, but – damage is taken by the attacker. The forward arrows >> represent the defender being pushed back and subsequently backward arrows << is the attacker being pushed back. X, of course is a neutral 'no result' outcome as the combatants fight to a stalemate.

There are a few asterisks in there (*) and these could represent additional effects inflicted by certain weapons or abilities. I like the idea that the middle ground can be influenced by gear or skills, and a combatant can change the outcome of a fight in their favour in some way, like action tokens in X-Wing or the character damage chart in Wrath of Kings.

Melee outcomes based upon a D10 opposed roll

You will also see from the table that the results are split 50:50 between attacker and defender which seems the right way if all variables are equal and it's a level playing field. It doesn't take into account individual ability, however, so more skilled characters would roll multiple dice and choose the highest result.

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To help illustrate this better: two combatants of the same skill level will roll a single dice each, whereas a Grunt fighting against a Recruit will roll two dice to his opponent's one (regardless of whether he's attacking or defending) and chooses the highest result. A Veteran would roll three dice in a similar situation, two dice when fighting a Grunt, or just one if fighting another Veteran. Again, this would work the same whether they are considered the attacker or defender. This puts the advantage squarely in the corner of the combatant with the better skill.

The alternative approach to the skill level issue is to have the different levels always roll the same number of dice, regardless of their opponent. Recruits always roll one dice, Grunts always two and Veterans three. This would mean that a Veteran vs Veteran fight would have both combatants rolling three dice each. The implication here is that fights between Veterans would have less extreme outcomes as it's more unlikely a player would roll triple 1 or 2. I like the idea of this in principle as better trained soldiers are less likely to make big mistakes. The only downside that I can see is that these fights might be a little dull as each character effectively neutralises the other, rolling so many dice.

Having support from friendlies (or being outnumbered) also needs to be added into the mix, but it is yet to be determined what form this will take – simply adding more and more dice to the mix will only work to a point – much more play tests needed first. There must be a way for the lower level characters to take down a Veteran by outnumbering. It may be as straightforward as adding +1 to dice rolls for every friendly character in support - with a maximum of 5 friendly characters on the board at any one time this is unlikely to get out of hand, yet could be very decisive.

These melee rules are still very theoretical at present. Minimal play testing has been done so far (due to lack of spare time) but I'm loving the creative thinking and problem solving aspects, albeit just on paper.

More soon!!


  1. Interesting and quite unique too.
    It's a bit like the boarding system in Battlefleet Gothic, but with an extra level to it.
    The table is easy enough to remember after a few playthroughs and I think it resembles the heat and fury of Melee combat quite well.
    The fact a fight between veterans has less extreme outcomes can easily be explained as a fact they are less likely to act on impulses but are waiting for a moment to Strike. You see this often in movies too as 2 martial artists are circling each other, looking for a gap in the other one's defence.

    1. Cheers Wouter - your thoughts are most welcome as always. Very encouraging stuff!

    2. The idea for this came from looking back at results from past 40k tournaments. I liked the fact that wins and losses were variable - major win / minor win / draw / minor loss / major loss - and tried to translate that into a melee results table.

  2. I really like the table idea and scale of results. I would suggest that the attacker should tend towards doing damage and defence victory could do something else. Not sure I'm wording it right but a completely balanced table could get less interesting as you likely have one attack activation each assailant. By having attack and defence different you can stat different styles more freely. Each character can have different attacking and defence stats taking wargear into account, weapons and armour etc.
    Strong defender wins could allow a free attack activation and strong attack victory could alow for second attack activations. Going down that route I'd be tempted to have a defined secondary attack table thats simpler and may even have the critical hits in the high end.

    1. So am I right in thinking that you'd prefer that there was no risk to attacking someone in melee?

      The cool thing about using energy (your own wounds) as activation tokens is that you can attack as many times as you can afford energy but the more you attack the more vulnerable you become after your activation.

    2. I actually like the fact there is a risk in Melee. After all, Melee is a risky and messy affair where you rarely get what you want unless you're an expert martial artist, which is why it is often either a last ditch effort or a tactical choice (having a serious advantage or strength in numbers).

    3. Not that there was no risk but less symmetry on the table. With defender wins giving advantage to their next attack and a strong defender win allowing for a freebe attack. Rough ideas, ultimately I think differentiating between attack and defence for verity of bilds and strategy. Allowing somewhat for the Tank build or glass hammer build type archetypes.



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