Combat in Mech and Mage

So, I have thought a bit about the combat system in Mech and Mage. Most of what I have been trying to do so far is set up a base system, which represents the baseline Mech and the baseline Mage, before any powerups or additions. I want to make the combat for that at least mildly interesting, and then everything after that will just be enhancements to the fun. As such, I have not really put any design work into the second phase at all so far. Anyways, here are my thoughts so far.

The thought before about wanting combat to be back and forth, and never drag on led me to think that having some sort of simultaneous choice system, where the players are both picking actions that resolve at the same time, or having certain kinds of contingent actions, where one player can respond if the other player does something expected. The easiest way to do this would be to have a codified system of actions that could be written down on cards. Each player could play their action cards face down, and flip them up to resolve each round of action.

Initially I was thinking that the battles would be on a grid, first thinking about a normal square grid, then contemplating using a hexagonal grid, but my thoughts turned away from this, as grids often lead to any player who gets a speed advantage being able to play keep away from the other player, which doesn’t have the sort of back and forth tension that I wanted the combat to have. Instead I wanted to borrow from a system in a game called Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel’s combat system does not use a grid, and instead uses an abstract system of “closeness”. Combatants are either within grabbing distance, arms length apart, a step beyond that, or really far away. How close you wanted to be depended on your weapon and your fighting style, and instead of having the players move around some sort of grid, the only thing that mattered was where they were in relation to one another. There was a special round where the players would compete to see who got the better position, and that person would get to choose how far apart the battle was for that round.

Something similar seemed like a good fit for this system. Instead of having one metric for position, I decided on having two however. Because one of the combatants is riding a large, heavy machine, I decided that facing was going to be important. In face to face battle, the Mech combatant would be stronger and faster, but the Mage would be much more able to maneuver, and so having both a distance, and a facing component to the combat seemed like a good fit. Distance would be close, medium, and far. Facing would be Face to Face, Off Line, or Behind, with both players potentially having the option of getting behind the other, but it being largely the Mage who is shooting for that, while the Mech is shooting for Face to Face. I decided that the Mage would be better at controlling the facing, while the Mech character is better at controlling the distance, in order to represent the relative differences in speed vs maneuverability. Both players had a chance to control both of these, their characters just having certain advantages in their respective areas. Both players would have an array of choices at how they were trying to maneuver, and their would be the card clash that would determine facing and position for the start of a round.

Another thing that I think would make the system very tense, and keep the combat from ever really getting too one sides was making the characters all only have one hit point. The Mech character maybe has the chance to have part of their machine fall apart to save them in some circumstance, but generally, if either player manages to land a clean hit, they take the other guy out. It will obviously have to be hard to land a clean hit with this sort of a situation, but I think it will make the combat really dynamic.

In a system without hitpoints, their generally has to be some resource in order to make sure the players don’t just keep fighting indefinitely. As such, both characters would have a resource that they can expend to take cooler actions, or evade opponents actions. Basically these resources would enable different action types outside the standard set. The thought I had was that the Mech would be steam powered, and it would have up to two steam points. These steam points restore over time passively. They don’t come back very fast, but they do so regardless of what else was happening. In order to make it a bit more exciting, the steam continues to build up even after two points are reached, and if it builds up too high, then the Mech character’s steam engine would explode. On the other hand, the Mage character would have some number of magic charges, currently thinking five. They would use these charges to cast their spells and stuff. In exchange for having a much larger pool of points, recharging the points would require an action, something that takes time and could potentially be interrupted. I am still wavering on how difficult the recharging will be, and stuff, but I think that will largely be up too play-testing.

The other sorta interesting thing I was considering about this would be the idea of initiative. After the initial jockeying for position, players would start out as both being potential aggressors, but most likely one of them will gain the upper hand. When that happens, that player gains the initiative, and the aggressive actions are in their control, as the other player is constantly reacting to the others attacks. This continues until the aggressor succeeds in winning, the defender manages to make a good prediction and does a defensive counter that turns the initiative in their favor, or something happens that disengages both combatants and sorta resets the combat back to the initial position jockeying phase.

That’s the basic gist of what I have thought about so far in terms of combat. I have some tentative stuff written down for hard numbers on some of these abilities, but I am still so deep in the initial concept phase that I don’t think there is much value in posting that. Instead, I want to give a potential example of a combat going down, as a sort of design story, something to work towards.

Mage and Mech face one another down. The Mech player wants to get in close, because they have a plan to use their steam in a sneak attack. The Mage player is nervous, not knowing what the Mech might have up their sleeve. Both players place their position cards face down, then flip them. The Mech had placed the Charge card, that aggressively pushed for a close combat, while giving up any control over facing. The Mage player was expecting this kinda bold move, and wanted nothing of it. They used their Teleport card, and in exchange for one of their mana points, they stay far away. The two cards’ priorities are compared, and the Teleport one is higher because it used a resource. So the distance ends up being set to far, and because neither player cared about facing, it remains at Face to Face, the position it is when the battle starts.

The DM thus describes them both fighting for position, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage almost getting caught before casting a spell and vanishing back across the field. Both characters now have a chance to try and strike. The Mage player wants to try and take a shot at fighting this guy from long range, and readies an electric blast as their action. Meanwhile, in case the Mech player has some kind of trick up their sleeve, they ready their reaction card to teleport them away again. Meanwhile the Mech character has no long ranged attacks. They figure they need to try and get in closer, even if it gives up the initiative, and they also need to be ready for some kinda long ranged attack. They thus ready a charge as their action, and a shield maneuver as their reaction.

They both flip their action cards. The charge maneuver moves the battle one space forward, and thus puts them both into mid range. Meanwhile the lightning bolt would fry the Mech, if it did not use its shield. Because it is using its reaction card, and it is not a super effective reaction, the Mech player loses initiative, but at least they are not dead from lightning.

The DM describes the action, the Mech charging forward, and the Mage standing its ground, firing a blast that slows the advance, forcing the Mech to take cover behind their massive shield. Now that the Mage has initiative, they get to ready an action and a reaction, while the Mech player, on the defensive, only gets to ready a reaction. The Mech player thinks the Mage is likely going to try and teleport behind it, so they ready a spin-counter-attack. They know this counter will have no effect whatsoever if the Mage just decides to blast them with lightning again, and they are toast if that happens, but they want to take the risk in order to try and gain the upper hand again. The Mage meanwhile is worried that the Mech will just keep shielding indefinitely, using up the Mage’s magic charges, so it elects to try and teleport in and strike from behind. It readies a second teleport in case it needs to get the heck out of dodge though. The actions is played, and they Mech player gives a hoot, shouting about “activating my trap card” and turning over the spin-counter-attack. It uses up one steam in order to get a free attack on an opponent who just got behind them. Its a critical counter, and it would win the game for the Mech player if the Mage had not had their own counter. They activate their second teleport, giving up the initiative in order to reset the situation.

The DM narrates the Mage teleporting in, only to find the Mech ready for them, steam twirling the Mech knight around, sword just moments from the Mage’s neck. At the last moment, the Mage teleports away again. So now the situation is that the Mech player has the initiative, and the Mage player only has one magic point left. The Mech player only has one steam point left as well. They are face to face, at mid range, the teleport counter returning the range to mid. Both players consider their next move carefully…

Anyways, that’s how I want the game to feel when its being played, and as we move forward with the game creation, I hope it starts to seem more and more like that.


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