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Heya Space Cadets,

The combat model has been haunting me repeatedly, but in weaker and weaker ferocity. Now the question isn’t “How do I do this?” but “What do I have to finish?”

Maddeningly, the biggest problems were the most bland conventions, things like armor or combat resolution or shield usage. I didn’t want The Deepening to just be a re-hash of the same mechanics we’ve seen a million times, and not because I’ve got the grandest of ambitions. I just wanted the game to be better than the stuff people came up with back in the day of massive floppies and monitors that only had the color green. They did a good job for what they had, but I think its about time we stop treating shields as +2 AC or hitpoint levels as binary states.

So what I did was think up one of the most terribly complex systems ever, read up on real-world fighting, and dive into the kinds of stuff people actually went through in that fighting. Then I decided what parts of it looked the best for our game, and started trying to trash-compact it into as small of a system as possible. One of the design goals I set for myself was getting the Swashbuckling feel into action, so that means I need to have a lot of attacks being traded, a back-and-forth push of combatants, and a system for the parrying of blows.

If you want a good example of swashbuckling, try to watch The Adventures of Robin Hood, or for something with a bit more comedy, the duel in The Court Jester. Swashbuckling isn’t about good or realistic swordplay, but a very emotional give and take. That’s my feeling anyway. It always seemed focused on allowing for a lot of good quips, quick movement, and for the upper hand to be given and taken back and forth. Any good Swashbuckler fight tends to have a moment where someone does something dirty or gives their opponent a chance to yield, sometimes both. Blowing off a chance to surrender and pulling a dagger or something, that’s a good leadup to you getting offed.

So why would this be good for Delve Deeper 2, of all things? Very few times in any swashbuckler fight do you not know who is winning and why, it just has a great way of giving the necessary feedback to the audience as to what is going on. In a massive furball between teams, being able to tell what is happening will be important, and I need that to happen BEFORE your entire team ends up as corpses. Swashbuckling aesthetics may not make the most sense for guys wielding polearms and shields, but the ethos will still work just fine, and I’d rather that characters retreat before taking damage, and take some damage before getting killed. Layering on some wounds before the character just falls over dead will go a long way towards changing the tempo of the fight. It also means that combats will be slow enough (in terms of time until irreversible losses) that you’ll be able to get your bearings, pull back, and form a plan. That’s important for a strategy game. Fighting in a series of tunnels is probably a hellish affair, and we’ll be taking some of the edge off of that, but making it both tense AND fun and often funny isn’t so bad if you just think it through.

Built into this is armor. Armor will mitigate a lot of the damage you take, which is important when fighting things like Trolls or Dragons. Of course, not everyone wants to trade mobility for defense, so you’ll set up your team the way it makes the most sense to you. Armor gives you heavy resistance against slashing weapons, mobility tends to win out against slow thudding ones. It isn’t an equal fight though, the guy in armor is nearly always going to beat the guy not in armor, assuming otherwise equally skilled opponents, like another Dwarf. But if you’re choosing to rush into combat against a guy who has traded mobility for the ability to win in melee combat, you’re crazy. What about using traps? Why not use some teamwork? Etc. Armor will make you really nasty in melee, since you can not only take a lot of punishment but choose to be more aggressive, giving you a further advantage. Combine that with the swashbuckling mechanics and I think its shaping up interestingly.

What about shields? Well, shields and weapons in general need to be able to parry, since parrying is such a major part of the aesthetic. It was also a huge part of the quasi-renaissance era that The Deepening takes place in. You don’t just take a hit with a shield, you jam it into the sword before it comes down, knocking it to the side, and attack the foe. In swashbuckler fencing duels, nearly all the fighting is done sword on sword, but with a shield it works kinda the same… except that you can defend and strike at the same time. Someone with a shield has an advantage over someone without one, but carrying a shield means you can’t carry a two-handed weapon capable of clonking in the head of someone in armor. Again, armor gives you a big advantage, but there’s ways around it. It also means that shields aren’t just for heavy armor guys, they’re a good way for anyone to survive better in melee combat. But not everyone is going to want a shield, and that’s just fine, there will be a variety of off-hand items for people to use.

When two enemies come into contact, we’ll probably resolve combat as a series of opposed attacks, with Dude A having priority for the first attack (due to higher agility, surprise attack, longer weapon, etc) and Dude B having priority for the second attack. Assuming that they have light weapons there could be a series of follow up strikes on both sides. If you add shields to the mix, people will be able to parry and attack with higher frequency, leading to a very dynamic back-and-forth. This all plays out in a second or two, keeping combat from being too sluggish.

If it goes well, the way it should look is this:

Bejord “Axebreath” Uyrard is a Bear-Kin Berserker, a Dwarf Warrior who channels the spirits of the bear and actually fights alongside a big Tunnel Bear.

Scrabblegrab is a Goblin ratmancer and has a team of ruffians at his side.

Simultaneous resolution begins, and while running around, Bejord, alongside Ursus his bear compansion, and Scrabblegrab’s swarm run into each other, and that will not do. Combat is declared between these two groups, with two goblins next to Bejord, another a hex away, and Scrabblegrab three hexes away from the combat. During their respective turns, Bejord chooses the Aggressive Posture for the coming combat turn and Scrabblegrab (who isn’t locked into combat since he’s not adjacent) chooses to fire his Cone of Rats spell. Additionally, he sends his minions off in an Aggressive attack as well, moving the last one up into combat.

The Combat round begins, Cone of Rats starts to ‘wind up,’ but in the second before it activates, Bejord and the goblins begin exchanging attacks. Right now its two against three. There’s a Combat Morale meter over the shared hex space, showing who is winning the emotional tug of war between the goblins and the bear/dwarf tag team. Though it starts off even, it quickly goes in Bejord’s favor. The goblins get in an initial hit or two, but Bejord parries with his shield and attacks, smashing a goblin into pulp. The bear savages another.

Berserkers do not suffer negative morale, as they are berserk, and thats kinda what happens. Normally a unit would lose some morale from taking abuse like this, but because the victory was so complete and because his class makes him impossible to panic, not even the swirling horizontal tornado of dead rats cast by Scrabblegrab is enough to weaken his resolve. The three goblins try to retreat, having ended the combat encounter with zero morale… but this plays into Bejord’s advantages. Bejord advances after them due to his Aggressive stance, and due to their aggressive stance they take a penalty for retreating, and it quickly becomes a rout. The bear and dwarf advance one hex after the fleeing enemy, taking the hex they were just on and killing two of the goblins in the process. The last goblin manages to complete its panic behavior and runs to the nearest leader. The ruffian and its leader, seeing how futile this fight is, start their next turn by running as fast as they can. The day is Bejord’s.

Had this been between two equally skilled fighters, the one who had flubbed a parry would have taken some damage and possibly tried to back up. If they had been nimble enough, they may even have dodged the successful counterattack, which works similar to a retreat. They’d have ended up one square backwards, safely out of reach, but unable to attack again. The opponent, unless they were in defensive posture, would likely have advanced to continue the swashbuckling duel. Two opponents with shields and swords might trade several blows without doing serious damage to each other, but the weaker of the two will nearly always yield ground for safety’s sake.

You might be able to guess that such a system, in a complex web of badly lit, unexplored tunnels filled with monsters, machinery, and traps of all design… that can be a kinda exciting thing. At least, that’s the plan. One skilled warrior may be able to force back a small squad of opponents himself. A team of powerful warriors may be able to smash their way, in a relatively believable fashion, through a horde of lesser foes.

Now I’ve just got to draw and animate all of it, hoo boy.

Spacelab Signing Out

What do you think of the ideas posted? Obviously, these fights take no account of flanking and advanced maneuvering. This was also a situation where none of the hexes were stressed above capacity. If you have a small tunnel you won’t be able to pile Dwarfs up on it forever, so even a well designed army might get bogged down by a chokepoint. Bonus points if you named your chokepoint defender Leonidwarf. You’re going to want to design your tunnels in such a way that an opponent who comes knocking on your front door will have to worry about getting attacked from behind. All that awesome armor won’t save you for long from a pair of heroes smashing on you from both sides. Even Bejord would probably start losing morale if you managed to kill off his fuzzy bear buddy in a pincer maneuver.

Neil Wickman wants to tell you about the musketmen.

He has been working for Lunar Giant studios since its inception as one of the lead designers and the Creative Director. Listen to him @LunarNeil on Twitter.