Resolution in the Eldritch Role-Playing System."
By Dan Cross
Why another Fantasy RPG?
As a seasoned Game Master, you might scoff at the notion of yet another fantasy role-playing system (FRPG). Who needs another “elves, dwarves, and dragons” game, when so many continue to utilize tired tropes and game mechanics? I feel your pain; I felt the same way. And yet I was excited when my friend Randall Petras offered to collaborate on a new epic fantasy game. Like most aficionados of tabletop gaming, we had developed our own preferences over the years, and had a very good idea of how we felt an epic fantasy RPG should be designed. The trick was creating a game that translates our preferences into an effective theme and style, while differentiating itself from the competition. There is no guarantee that anybody's vision will be particularly marketable in our small industry. But after the arduous journey of almost seven years in design and playtest, we think we created something special. And Goodman Games ultimately agreed; there is indeed room for another iteration of the epic fantasy game.
Combat in ERP
In this forum I will explain our design choices in several installments, each entry focusing on a different aspect of play; comments or questions are welcome. In this first installment I’ll discuss combat, and the next entry will be about character and NPC creation, for both player and GM options.
First, like many designers, we started off by determining what we’d change about the most popular FRPGs. This process helped define some of the design goals of Eldritch Role Playing (ERP). One important item on the list was combat. We wanted to get away from the “hit or miss” combat systems, whether of D20 or many other games, including the single AC score, the "to-hit" roll, and how damage is handled.
Experienced GMs can often use hitpoints to represent many factors, including skill, luck, defensive weaponry techniques, evasive maneuvering, etc. They can describe a "hit" by the dice as a "miss" (i.e., the target dodges), and that a miss by the dice can be described as a "hit" (the attack struck armor to no effect).
For some players, the language gets confusing. If a player scores a "hit" with a "critical strike", how can the GM describe the target jumping out of the way of the strike? The answer may be the target survives by agility and speed, or has enough hitpoints to absorb the damage without any apparent harm. In almost all RPGs, making an attack roll only determines "potential-harm", and the dice determine levels of threat more often than actual damage. This reflects a problem with the standard "to-hit" roll procedure—though the GM may describe a miss by the dice as hitting the target's armor, or as a total failure, the net effect is players often feeling frustrated with the dice.
Games systems evolved in several ways in response to this problem. One type would lean toward the complex, “rules-heavy”, and micromanage the battles, down to the smallest detail. Sometimes the design was "rules-light", placing greater interpretive power into the hands of the GM, sometimes focusing on non-violent narrative. Each of these approaches has their strengths and weaknesses. We took the middle ground. Whether a player or GM, you won’t wrangle with complex mechanics. However, we don’t under-emphasize the table-top game aspect of ERP. No, while we avoid any the need of miniatures, the game happily incorporates dice and strategy, whether in character development, combat, or story events.
So how does combat work in ERP? First, one does not make an “attack roll”, but rather determines Potential Harm, generating threat points applied toward the target's hitpoints, which may be divided into a few logical categories of defense. Threat points are descriptively interpreted. For example, a warrior rolls 2D6 to attack and rolls a 6. His opponent decides to parry, which reduces the respective "defense pool" (a category of hitpoints) score by 6 points. Should the attacker exceed the opponent's chosen defense score, then other considerations, like armor (actual damage reduction) or overall toughness come into play. The system promotes easy visualization of the action. Just remember three steps in combat: Attacker rolls for Potential Harm, opponent chooses defense type; any exceeding "threat points" affect armor (the effectiveness of which is random), or the body. And although there are modifiers based on weapon type or spells, the number of modifiers that stack remain easy to manage.
For some fun contrast, Bryan Mitchell of Enworld submitted to me the potential complexity of actions in D20, especially in high level adventures:
Let's take a level 8 paladin about to charge and smite an enemy. You've cast divine sacrifice (complete divine, and have sacrificed 10 hp), have bless cast on you, and have used your divine might feat (complete warrior). You're also going to power attack with a two-handed weapon at -4. Adding up your attack roll would look something like this: +8 bab - 4 power attack + 4 strength + 1 weapon focus + 1 bless + 2 charging + 4 smite evil + 2 magical weapon = +18. Your damage like so= 2d6 base greatsword + 5d6 divine sacrifice + 6 1 1/2 str + 8 smite evil + 4 divine might + 2 magical weapon +8 power attack (x2 subtracted bonus) = 2d6+28 plus 5d6. And don't forget your AC drops by -2 for charging.
For example, imagine a ERP warrior by the name of Theo. Both his general melee ability and specialization in bludgeons is represented by a 1D6, so he rolls 2D6 when determining Potential-Harm against a single foe. He may split his dice to attack two opponents, add another die based on weapon mastery (if possessed), or may gain a bonus from magic or spells, but the system never get too heavy on modifiers. Modifiers can indeed stack up in ERP, but are usually circumstantial, or the result of temporary effects, so keeping notes on various character powers requires little bookkeeping. But before one can totally appreciate the combat system of ERP I believe it’s necessary to understand character, NPC and monster creation, which is arguably the most important aspect of the game, for it out of these elements that all else becomes derived...
And that will be the next entry subject. Farewell until next installment…