Melée Combat in RPGS

A subject that has been mulling around my brain is trying to think about a realistic system for melée combat for RPGs.

My qualification for presuming to consider that I could do such a think is based on several years of re-enactment. Now, I’m always quick to point out the difference between re-enactment and real combat, a blunt weapon is heavier than a sharp, we don’t always know the correct style and we aren’t trying to kill each other.

But we practice, we try things and some things come to mind, that the standard combat system is very abstract and even some of the more “realistic” systems don’t take real moves into account. They tend to abstract them into attack and defence without accounting for the movement.

An example.

I have a spear and shield and am coming up against a bandit with a cudgel. I decide to try and end this quickly and thrust out with the spear, my right foot is now forward, my shield is brought back against my body.

The bandit can do a few things. He can jump back. he can strike the spear blade down and shift slightly, he can knock it away to his right, across my body, and slide forward to his left bringing himself almost to my back.

If he does that then I can spring forward and turn, or turn back on my left foot so that I am facing him again with my shield forward and my spear refused again. Or I can get caught on the hop and get a quick dunt to the back of my head by the bandit’s club

That sort of sequence doesn’t happen in an RPG, you might get attack and defence, and a choice between parry, block and dodge, but the motion part doesn’t feature. Even where the blow lands is likely to be dependant on the style of the attack, the direction it comes from and the movement of attacker and defender, never mind the actions of others in a swirling melée.

To great way to see this in action are the fight recreations of the Royal Armouries in Leeds, especially when they show you sequences from the 15th and 16th Century European manuals. Then you will see a sequence of moves, turns, parries and blows including holding your sword by the blade and attempting to smash in your opponent’s head with the pommel.

The only game that made this work quickly and fairly seamlessly was the old “Lost World” games, pity that isn’t available any more. Those had a book a bit like a comic book, You handed your character’s book to your opponent and chose your tactic based on what was available to you on your character card. The result would also affect what you could do next, for example perhaps you had committed to a low defence that would make a high attack next move impossible as you would have to recover your position.

But “Lost Worlds” was a game of single combat, with very limited scope for melées of more than 2, so wasn’t viable for RPGs.

So, is it worth trying to do a totally realistic combat system for a game?

Dammit, but no. Simulating all this in a game would slow it down dramatically, and be like Star Fleet Battles where it takes you 20 minutes to get through 1/32 of a second of real time.

Add in more characters and the game will slow down there and then and, after all, the game shouldn’t only be about the combat.

So. After this meandering thought process I have to conclude that you might as well move to an abstraction, but one that allows the player SOME level of choice in what their character is doing, so some allowances for tactics and manoeuvres. Leave the really detailed stuff to very specialist combat games, or people who like to dress in steel, wool and leather and beat thee bejasus out of each other.

Happy memories! Ahhhh!

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