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Decision Making vs Dice Rolls in Combat

posted Mar 23, 2013 16:34:45 by Brian
"In RuneQuest even relatively low-skilled opponents can still fell a mighty warrior with a 120% Combat Style if they are cunning and selective in their tactics."
-RQ6 p426

TL;DR: What sort of combat tactics would accomplish the outcome described above?

A few years ago I ran a MRQII game, and my players loved it. When I heard about RQ6, I pre-ordered the printed version. Now I've finally got another group together, and one of my players was in my previous Runequest game and wants to use RQ6. The problem I'm having is explaining how combat works to the other players.

It's not an issue of understanding the rules, it's a question of understanding what are the tactics and player decisions that the rules support. I can't see how to avoid being a slave to the dice. All of those "Special Effects" (as they are now called) are hidden behind a wall of "Roll vs your Combat Style, and hope the enemy fails his parry". There is no way to feint, or take a penalty on your attack roll to penalize the enemy's parry roll, or step behind them to get an attack on their exposed back, or attack at a penalty to improve your next parry attempt.

The one thing I can see is that Combat Styles are now meant to encompass a few different weapon sets, and weapon choice in this system is a really big deal. Was that intended to increase the amount of player decision-making in combat?

So I guess I need to be reminded what are the guidelines for winning fights in Runequest without relying on the luck of the dice?
[Last edited Mar 23, 2013 16:35:51]
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22 replies
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bluefenix42 said Mar 23, 2013 17:15:28
Weapon choice and combat style is definitely important.

Attacking an enemy from behind DOES apply a penalty to their parry roll. See the chart on page 150: "Defending against an attack from behind - Formidable" My group uses an actual battle maps and minis so that we can clearly see when someone is getting a flank or back-attack.

Focusing on a single enemy in order to make them run out of actions is a critical strategy. Enemies with no actions left automatically fail to parry, opening them up to nasty special effects.

Terrain and positioning can become important. If there's cover, or a wall to put your back to, that can be a big defensive advantage. "Fighting while on unstable ground" or "Defending while on lower ground" applies a difficult of Hard, so it can be beneficial to maneuver your opponent to a place where he'll be at a disadvantage, or do things like knock over a table or pile of rocks to create such terrain.

Delay and Interrupt can be used to time actions correctly to your advantage, especially in a chaotic environment with many combatants or moving objects.

Outmaneuver can be used to deal with situations where you are outnumbered.

Magic, obviously, can have huuuuuge effects on combat, but I bet that's not really what you're looking for.

There's also tons of room for GM adjudication. Sure, there's no official feint rules, but if a player said to me, "Hey, I'd like to distract the foe I'm fencing with so my friend with the bow can shoot him, and he'll be less likely to Evade the shot", I'd say, "Sure, roll Deceit modified by Combat Style, opposed by your foe's Perception, and if you win, he'll be at something like Hard or Formidible difficulty to evade the incoming shot".

Finally, I'd like to point out that I was disappointed with the way that two fighters tend to just stay in one spot once they've engaged, so I added house rules that allow for circling foes and using special effects to force them to backpedal (using "Press Advantage") or lure them into following you as you backpedal (using "Overextend"). I have a thread about that here: http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/forum.php#/20121008/adding-more-movement-to-combat-1966817/
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Brian said Mar 23, 2013 19:42:18
no way to do quotes on this forum....

Attacking from behind:
Yes there's a penalty, but there's no way to explicitly juke behind someone, or determine facing. If you use the hex rules and you flank someone then you can assume one of the attackers would hit the back, but I was more referring to a 1v1 fight.

Focusing on a single enemy:
Okay, I can see what you're getting at here. Still looking for things for 1v1 though.

Positioning:
Yeah it sounds like coming up with some ways of maneuvering around would be useful for taking advantage of those rules, but in that thread Pete said it's actually not realistic to be moving around much once engaged.

Delay/Interrupt:
Seems pretty vague and left up to GM interpretation. I'll have to think about this some more.


I've been thinking about it some more, and I talked to one of the other players that was in my game a few years ago, and I've concluded that this game just isn't meant to be a tactical game. What's fun about it is that you can have these really interesting fights play out in a blow-by-blow manner, but you don't have to do the whole 'brain burner' thing to win. It's pretty unique in that it goes into a huge amount of detail with the fights, but you don't actually have all that much burden to "work the system" in order to win. You just pick up your weapons and roll your dice and see what happens. The special effects act as a nice flavoring on the combat, so that you can win by impaling someone or win by tripping them and then finishing them off, or whatever flavor of ice cream you prefer.

That's not really a bad thing, it just contradicts a lot of the comments people make about the game, especially that quote from the book in my original post.
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AmazingOnionMan said Mar 23, 2013 20:34:27
RQ models fights well IMO.
In a real fight, you will stay engaged until one of you make a mistake that the opponent can exploit. The best thing you can do is hope that the mistake isn't yours.
RQ allows for a fair bit of manuevering in combat, even more so if you allow the very reasonable interpretation of the "overextend" and "press advantage" SE's. Creative use of AP's can do as much to end a fight as SE's.
A simple spell or skill-use(deceit, combat style, display of status, passion etc) can end the fight before it starts. Then you can stab them in the back when they're not looking;-)

Personally I think poorly out of the box once combat starts. My players pull off outrageous stuff, and I'm locked in attackparry-mode...

RQ is still a BRP-game, though. One of the golden rules in BRP is "Never fight fair!"
Stack up on your favors; magic, weapons, environment, the opponents' weaknesses and your friends.


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bluefenix42 said Mar 23, 2013 20:43:32
Yeah, a 1-on-1 fight between two equally skilled combatants without magic in a flat, empty arena is a bit boring in RQ6. But it pretty much is in any system. I would never GM a session in such a way as to end up having a boring fight like that unless a player specifically put themselves in that position.

I did remember one other tactical choice: Parrying failed attacks. When an opponent attacks you, but fails his combat style roll, you can choose to not parry (saving your action points for offensive action), or you can choose to parry, which, if successful on your combat style roll, means you get a defensive special effect, potentially turning the tide of the battle.

I also think a huuuuge part of the strategy in this game is choosing your special effects correctly. In my experience, I actually really enjoy the pacing of many fights that go "Attack, Parry, Attack, Parry, Attack, whoops failed parry (or crit or fumble)! ok, now let's figure out what SE is most advantageous here." Those turns where both sides succeed or both fail and no SE's happen go by very quickly, so you don't really pay attention to them. But when the SE does happen, suddenly things get interesting.
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Brian said Mar 23, 2013 21:09:01
"Personally I think poorly out of the box once combat starts. My players pull off outrageous stuff, and I'm locked in attackparry-mode... "

I'd like to hear more about this "outrageous stuff".


About the Special Effects:
My memory is that once you get an SE, you have pretty much won. Yes you have to pick the correct one, but the choice is pretty obvious depending on the situation.
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AmazingOnionMan said Mar 23, 2013 21:13:51
Those turns where both sides succeed or both fail and no SE's happen go by very quickly, so you don't really
pay attention to them. But when the SE does happen, suddenly things get interesting.


SE's are still the product of the luck of the dice, not intent. Which is kind of the OP's complaint.
I see no easy solution that doesn't require restructuring the entire combatmechanic. Which I don't want to do, as I think it works brilliantly as it is.
I really enjoy that the big queston really isn't about tactics, weapons, numbers or special effects. It's whether you want to fight at all, because you know it can, and most likely will, be messy.

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AmazingOnionMan said Mar 23, 2013 21:25:11
I'd like to hear more about this "outrageous stuff

Outmanuevering opponents, skirting just outside of reach taunting and throwing things, bashing foes into each other or into ravines. Bleed or impale and then withdraw is a signature move of one of my players.
The "Grip" SE is renamed Vulcan Deathgrip by one of the others(because it is just that good)

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lawrence.whitaker said Mar 23, 2013 21:33:43
I can't see how to avoid being a slave to the dice. All of those "Special Effects" (as they are now called) are hidden behind a wall of "Roll vs your Combat Style, and hope the enemy fails his parry".


Or you score a crit while your opponent scores a straight success...

There is no way to feint, or take a penalty on your attack roll to penalize the enemy's parry roll, or step behind them to get an attack on their exposed back, or attack at a penalty to improve your next parry attempt.


Outmaneuvering an enemy is a question of using terrain, movement and distractions (how about rolling your Deceit) and tactics, rather than relying solely on the dice. You can also use weapon reach and combinations of different Combat Actions to keep a foe at bay. It requires some tactical thinking though, and a good grasp of how the rules can be applied.

no way to do quotes on this forum....


My browser - Chrome on a Mac - has a quote icon above the dialogue pane, but I know that this doesn't display for some people. You can always wrap something you want to quote in quote] [/quote; that will work just as well.
[Last edited Mar 23, 2013 21:34:18]
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AmazingOnionMan said Mar 23, 2013 21:39:35
"My browser - Chrome on a Mac - has a quote icon above the dialogue pane, but I know that this doesn't display for some people."

My Chrome on PC don't:-(
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bluefenix42 said Mar 23, 2013 21:42:05
My memory is that once you get an SE, you have pretty much won. Yes you have to pick the correct one, but the choice is pretty obvious depending on the situation.


I would disagree with this vehemently. I've had enemies get bashed across the room and reenter the fight a round later. I've had players get a sword stuck in their guts and ripped back out, and still be able to counter with a blast of magic to their foe's face. I've seen trip attempts both succeed and fail, disarmed players retrieve their weapon or draw another (one even sent his pet monkey to retrieve it!), and stuns that either completely removed a foe from the fight or didn't do enough damage to get over his armor or turned out to be a minor inconvenience.

Special Effects are NOT auto-win by any stretch of the imagination, especially because many of the most powerful ones (Maximize Damage, I'm looking at you!) are locked away behind needing a Crit or a Fumble to happen first, and many others are effective only relative to the amount of damage dealt or the location struck, or allow the opponent an extra roll to avoid the effect. On the flip side, a well chosen SE can, at the right time, be a matter of life or death.
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Brian said Mar 23, 2013 22:21:02
Thanks for the quotes code...

Outmaneuvering an enemy is a question of using terrain, movement and distractions (how about rolling your Deceit) and tactics, rather than relying solely on the dice. You can also use weapon reach and combinations of different Combat Actions to keep a foe at bay. It requires some tactical thinking though, and a good grasp of how the rules can be applied.


Outmaneuvering specifically says you can't use it against a single foe, but yes I do like it as a way to handle 1 vs many.

Use of skills like Deceit in combat isn't described in the book as far as I can tell, but if a player wanted to do it I'd be hesitant about making it a Deceit vs Insight roll. It seems like Combat Style vs Combat Style would make more sense, because your ability to "sell" the bluff is based on your combat ability, and your ability to read the bluff is based on your combat experience and training. But at least it would be an opposed test rather than a regular attack vs parry roll, so I agree that's different... is this one of those unspoken things that wasn't written in the book because it's so obvious?

I suppose you mean taking a reach weapon and using the Delay action, and then interrupting the enemy's Change Range action with your own Change Range action, thereby never letting him get close to you? That's pretty cool, actually, though it does leave you doing nothing but defending and backpedaling.

I would disagree with this vehemently. I've had enemies get bashed across the room and reenter the fight a round later. I've had players get a sword stuck in their guts and ripped back out, and still be able to counter with a blast of magic to their foe's face.


Maybe I need to tweak the damage to HP ratio a bit, because I have to admit if you can survive an SE then it does make things more interesting.

For my group the top choice was Impale. It's actually better than Maximize Damage the way I read it, because you get to pick the better of two rolls putting it in, and then you can ignore armor when it comes out. That adds up to doing about 125% of your damage on an impale, and only 100% on a Maximize Damage. I do see now that you have to wait until your next turn to pull it out in RQ6, but that just means the enemy gets to deal with a massive penalty to all of his actions until he dies.

[Last edited Mar 23, 2013 22:23:48]
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DanTrue said Mar 23, 2013 22:46:01
For my group the top choice was Impale. It's actually better than Maximize Damage the way I read it, because you get to pick the better of two rolls putting it in, and then you can ignore armor when it comes out. That adds up to doing about 125% of your damage on an impale, and only 100% on a Maximize Damage. I do see now that you have to wait until your next turn to pull it out in RQ6, but that just means the enemy gets to deal with a massive penalty to all of his actions until he dies.


It also means that your weapon is stuck in the enemy, which can leave you at a disadvantage if you're not dual wielding. And if something forces you to move away (say, a comrade coming to aid his pall), you leave the weapon in the enemy.
If the impaled enemy is smart, he'll use Brawn to resist you withdrawing it which can leave you hanging trying to retrive your spear, while his friend comes to aid.

Remember that sword deals in the vicinity of 3-4 damage on average - with an average human having 4 HP in an arm, more in other locations, and most people entering combat having at least 1-2 AP on most locations... an average blow is by all means survivable. Even with an SE using Choose Location to hit an unarmoured location, or an Impale raising the average, I still have plenty of experiences of both players and NPCs surving an SE.

On top of that, don't forget that even the ability to Impale is a decision made by the player, as he foregoes on the option to use Stun or Sunder, simply by weapon choice.

I have some experience with historical medieval fencing, and in my experience this "as long as no one makes any mistakes, both are safe" is pretty realistic. In reality though even seasoned fencers make mistakes when blows are traded quickly and forcefully, so it usually comes down to "who fails first".. which is usually the least experienced fencers.
In addition, as many have already mentioned, you should never fight fairly. Use terrain, dirty tricks etc. to gain an advantage over yuor opponent which further helps it being him who fails first.

Also remember that sometimes (often in an urban setting at least) the best outcome of the battle is not the death of the opponent, but the incapitation of them. In a medieval setting you might feel serious legal repercussions from killing a foe with a powerful family, even in self-defence. So, choosing non-lethal SEs to end the combat quickly (like trip, disarm) will sometimes be advantageous.

But, if you really want to change something, say the HP table or the details of some SE, then feel free to do so :) RQ6 is built around the assumptions that you'll make your own changes. However, I will recommended trying out a few combats first, because in my experience this is not a problem. A fight might be rather booring if it's a simple 1on1, between two equally skilled opponents on a flat surface with no surrounding terrain, objects or hazards. But a fight in an RPG should never be like that ;)

- Dan
[Last edited Mar 23, 2013 22:47:54]
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Brian said Mar 23, 2013 23:18:37
It also means that your weapon is stuck in the enemy, which can leave you at a disadvantage if you're not dual wielding.


Giving the enemy a penalty to all of his skills in return for having to draw a backup weapon isn't so bad. Shield+Spear with a backup short sword is a pretty reasonable Combat Style. I think if you choose impale, you're going to be expecting to leave a weapon behind, and you'll have a backup ready to go.

I have some experience with historical medieval fencing, and in my experience this "as long as no one makes any mistakes, both are safe" is pretty realistic.


I'm not criticizing the realism of the game. It would probably be even more realistic if the player wasn't allowed to make any decisions, and the game simply took a bunch of variables as input, outputted the chances of Opponent A beating Opponent B, and then let you roll d100 to see who wins. But that wouldn't make it a good "tactical game".

I'm asking what a low skill fighter can do against a very high skill opponent to win, other than get lucky with dice rolls. If the answer is "nothing, but it's fun to watch!" then that's fine... but a lot of people talk about the combat in this game being highly tactical, so I'm trying to figure out how.

In addition, as many have already mentioned, you should never fight fairly. Use terrain, dirty tricks etc. to gain an advantage over yuor opponent which further helps it being him who fails first.


Yes, I totally missed the potential for tactics using the Situational Modifiers table. I think it shows promise, but I'll have to figure out how to implement the movement system. Last time, when I ran MRQII, I mostly hand-waved the movement. I think more detailed movement rules will be needed if people want to use the terrain.

Do you have an example of a "dirty trick"? There's nothing in the book outside of the SE's, as far as I know.

EDIT: I think I came up with a cool idea for a Feint action:
Make an opposed test of your Combat Style limited by your Deceit* vs the opponent's Combat Style limited by his Insight*. If you win the test, the opponent uses a CA to parry. Unlike on a normal attack, your opponent can't use a defensive maneuver if you fail, only if you fumble. This is useful if you have a low Combat Style skill, and want to avoid giving your opponent a defensive combat maneuver against you, but still want to burn one of this CA's.

*I'm not sure I like these, but it would tie in the Deceit vs Insight aspect of the Feint.
[Last edited Mar 23, 2013 23:31:34]
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SebastianJansson said Mar 24, 2013 02:51:21
My go to tactic against more skilled opponents is RUN. Then when they chase after me, I'll try something funky, like a stealth roll to dive into hiding, athletics to outrun, acrobatics to get somewhere they can't, heck, oratory to pull somee (hopefully) supportive people to my side. Then, when the battlefield is more to my liking, I'll engage them, on MY terms. Or, y'know, run away and live.

I would also like to note that most of my characters are often poor or inept fighters, so doing things like this is silly fun.
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DanTrue said Mar 24, 2013 09:02:21
Giving the enemy a penalty to all of his skills in return for having to draw a backup weapon isn't so bad. Shield+Spear with a backup short sword is a pretty reasonable Combat Style. I think if you choose impale, you're going to be expecting to leave a weapon behind, and you'll have a backup ready to go.


Perhaps. It might be your backup you're already using, and a backup will likely be a shortsword or handaxe - which means you then need to change range to get closer to utilise the backup weapon - which can get him a free whack at you, which he might hit with even when impaled.
And even if there's no problem, it's still a CA to ready the new weapon - a CA where you're effectively unarmed (save for a shield) - which means if the enemy bull rushes you then or trips you, you're not just on the ground, you're on the ground without a weapon.

All of these situations have possible "but what if..." or "but I would just have done X in advance.." counter arguments. But, in combat planning falls apart and you're sometimes pressed for time, room to maneuver, might be lacking your full kit etc. I have experienced a myriad of situations with my players where their carefully laid plans and tactics fell apart on first contact with the enemy.

I'm asking what a low skill fighter can do against a very high skill opponent to win, other than get lucky with dice rolls. If the answer is "nothing, but it's fun to watch!" then that's fine... but a lot of people talk about the combat in this game being highly tactical, so I'm trying to figure out how.



Ah, okay. I think I misunderstood your reservations.
Do you have an example of a "dirty trick"? There's nothing in the book outside of the SE's, as far as I know.


Well, they're not in the book as they're too myriad to enumerate in any way. But many movies are full of them. If I was facing a superior skilled opponent somewhere I would try something like:

- Set him on fire with an oil lamp, get him to fight on uneven ground, get a long pole and keep him at bay then when he tries to move in you trip him, then you pounce.

- Use terrain hazards against him, such as trying to piss him off first with taunting, then lure him into an area where I can do nasties. For instance into a warehouse and tip a crate on him or near a ledge where I can push him off. I can use his supposed superiority as his weakness, as if he is a mighty and well-known warrior, then he can't simply let me run escape and keep his honour - he should beat me with no question, leading him into dangerous circumstances when following me (depending on his personality and culture ofc).

- Try to use my people skills to make other people step in, if I'm in a town or city for instance. Running, screaming and yelling would likely lead someone to interrupt the fight and investigate why he was trying to murder me (he might be justified in that attempt, so I should have a backup plan to make him appear a lunatic).

- Run away as cowardly as possible, then try to frame him for attempted murder.

- Fallback to an area where I can mitigate his advantages - for instance to a stairway, where I can defend from on high, or if he's fighting with Shield, Large sword or spear lure him into a tight alleyway where he can't use his weapons optimally. Or maybe I'll just try to get him to step in front of my friends crossbow bolt.

- Ganging up. In many other systems defence is static, so you don't get much benefit from surrounding an opponent. In RQ, if four peasants with 2 AP attack a knight with 3 AP and armour, they will likely still win. He'll run out of AP, some of them will succeed in a trip attempt and then the fight is pretty much lost, as they swarm over him.

Of course you can then say "but Dan, you can do these things in any game system". True, but the effects are modelled differently. If I tip a crate on top of a Runelord-level RQ character, it won't kill him. But it will do more effect than if I tip a crate onto a lvl 15 Fighter in d&d (where natural hazards quickly become completely irrelevant, AP is not modelled and weapon reach is not modelled).

It is also a question of what you mean by "defeat a more skilled opponent". If I face someone very much more skilled than me on equal terms, what is my criteria for success? Simply "winning the encounter" by adding another head to my kill list, or would simply surviving be counted as a defeat?

But, none of these are by any degree sure things. They can fail, they depend on other skill sets etc. and so it should be. If you're facing a superior skilled opponent then of course you're statistically likely to loose. But in RQ where any non-magical ordinary shortsword can still threaten the mightiest of mighties, you have a better chance of making it than if you were playing d&d where the other gay has a bazillion hit points (and you could bury him in swords without him feeling more than a slight stingy sensation).

And that is one of the main points of the statement you quote at the top I believe - however high you are, the right arrow or sword at the right time (before you cast your defensive magic, when you're out of AP etc.) can mean death to anyone.

- Dan
[Last edited Mar 24, 2013 09:04:32]
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