Combat and Tactics

Combat and Tactics #

This subsystem is about tactical combat between the group of PCs and a group of GM-controlled characters.

The Game’s Concept of Conflict #

First, think about the game’s concept as it relates to conflict. What tone is being set? What are the important aspects? What part of the characters matter or don’t matter for combat? Does restriction on an archetypical level (i.e. character classes, etc) make sense?

You might end up using some character qualities (like Health, etc) and not combat at all. That’s entirely valid. Not every game actually needs an explicit tactical combat system!


Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Characters engage in combat and face peril as per fairly rigid archetypes. Combat is an “as sport” thing where it’s not intended to be terribly lasting on characters.

Liminal Void #

It’s very much about what characters bring with them and what they have - suits, weaponry, gear - as well as training. Archetypes as such are less important. Combat as such is largely supposed to be dangerous.

Machinations of Court and Frame #

Tactical Combat isn’t a system as described here: rather, your mech and pilot qualities will be used like equipment and skills on a battlefield.

Overlap with Personal Duels #

Many of the concepts presented here can overlap with Personal Duels concepts. A guide to how to properly overlap them is presented at the end of that section.

Character Qualities #

Each character can be defined by various modular components. PCs should have all of these, while GM Characters will probably have fewer.

Health, Harm, and Defeat #

To engage with this system, characters need something representing their physical well-being. The generic term used going forward is Health (though the name will often change depending on the game.) If someone is at half or less Health, they’re considered Staggered, which is used as a condition for various abilities. You might make a distinction between “combat” Health, representing something more temporary, and “real” Health, representing more lasting harm. When they have 0 Health, they’re Defeated.

PCs should probably have 12 Health on average, going as low as 9-10 or as high as 15-18.

Health is reduced by Harm. Harm is most frequently a Low, Mid, or High die from a roll depending on the character or circumstance causing it (and as such, it’s usually in the 1 to 6 range).

For reference:

  • Low Die Harm is on average 2 Harm.
  • Mid Die Harm is on average 3.5 Harm.
  • High Die Harm is on average 5 Harm.

As such, a character with 12 Health will take roughly 5-7 Low Die Hits, 3-4 Mid Die hits, or 2-3 High Die Hits before dropping.

Harm typically comes with a specific type, like Weapon, Physical, Spell, Energy, etc. Try to keep the number of Harm types to 2-4, usually. (Even for games that aren’t leaning on a combat system as such, it might be helpful to vary types of Harm.)

Lower than average Health should probably come with some kind of benefit (like Disadvantage to or Resistance against attacks of a certain Harm type or at a certain range, or more Resources). Higher than average Health should probably come with a penalty (like Vulnerability to a Harm type, Advantage to attacks of a type, or less Resources).

Valiant Horizon #

We’ll use Vigor instead of Health - a measure of exhaustion rather than actual wounds, with Staggered representing actual hits landing. Harm types are Weapon and Spell: steel and magic, that’s it.

Defeat should be very temporary (as in PCs should be able to revive each other in combat if they’re alive).

Liminal Void #

Health becomes a combination of Endurance (stamina, armor, etc) and Health (personal well-being). As noted in the physical concept, it should feel like the gear you have is a huge contributor. Being Staggered in this case means your personal Health has been Harmed at all rather than being at half Endurance, and comes along with a potential penalty - and Health is harder to restore than Endurance. Harm types are Kinetic (melee and high explosive), Ballistic (gunfire and anti-personnel explosive), Energy (lasers, plasma, electricity), and Hazard (acid, fire, unknown substances, etc) - Liminal Void has a more granular concept of physicality so a wider spread makes sense. Ballistic and Energy are going to be more common from human threats.

Defeat should probably be something fairly strict: taking you out of combat, and probably adding some lasting penalty or complication that lasts until addressed directly or proper downtime is secured.

Non-Health Statuses #

Statuses are abilities beyond Health.

  • Staggered: As mentioned previously, this is usually an indicator of when you are at half or less Health. Sometimes this can be used for if you have taken any damage to a split Health.
  • Conditional Advantage/Disadvantage: The character either gains Advantage or Disadvantage when rolling to do certain actions, or gives anyone who rolls against them Advantage or Disadvantage when doing certain actions.
  • Resist X: Step down any Harm dice from the source indicated in X. Only one Resistance is in effect at a time. If a target both Resists and is Vulnerable to an instance of Harm, the effects cancel out.
  • Invulnerable to X: Any Harm taken from the source indicated in X (as per Resist) is divided by 5 (round down).
  • Vulnerable to X: Step up any Harm dice from the source indicated in X. Only one Vulnerability is in effect at a time. If a target both Resists and is Vulnerable to an instance of Harm, the effects cancel out.
  • Immune to X: The noted category of abilities does not affect you. This can include:
    • Critical: Ignore anything noted as Critical (effect). These are generally effects from specific abilities and high rolls.
    • Movement Restriction: Ignore Immobilized and anything else that would penalize movement (including through Harm).
    • Vulnerability: Ignore anything that would grant Vulnerability from outside sources.
    • Disadvantage: Ignore anything that grant Disadvantage from outside sources.
  • Slowed: The Hustle action and any abilities that move the character use two actions instead of just one, and you gain 1 Disadvantage on any roll that involves movement.

Roles #

Qualities for combat characters typically fall into one of three Roles, which are each split into four Sub-Roles. A lot of these will overlap for various abilities, which is fine, but it’s helpful to start with one particular one in mind when creating qualities.

The Attacker role is focused on defeating threats, reducing enemy defenses, and hitting targets at varied ranges.

  • Spike is about dealing high Harm to one target.
  • Spread focuses on Harming multiple targets.
  • Break interferes with enemy defenses.
  • Exploit focuses on repositioning and battlefield conditions.

The Defender role is focused on prevention of harm to themselves and/or others.

  • Shield focuses on protecting yourself.
  • Provoke influences enemy actions.
  • Disable reduces enemy offenses.
  • Lockdown restricts enemy movement.

The Supporter role is focused on supporting allies in various ways.

  • Heal restores allies’ Health in combat.
  • Ward increases allies’ defenses.
  • Boost increases allies’ offense and active capabilities.
  • Command enables allies' actions.

Roles will be noted for all sample abilities as a reference.

Traits #

Traits have small, passive effects. These should be useful and meaningful but not terribly complicated. Characters will have 1-3 of these depending on their level.


Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Traits come from a class.

  • Lifegiver: Gain 2 Advantage when using Powers that restore Health. (Supporter/Heal)

Liminal Void #

Traits come from vocational training and background.

  • Workhorse: Gain +1 Health and +2 Endurance. (Defender/Durable)

Powers #

Powers are active abilities that can be used on a player’s turn. When using a Power, the character’s player rolls and uses the Effect to determine the Power’s effectiveness.

They usually use the following template:

Target(s), Range, Type, (Provokes)
(X Uses/Charges)

Baseline outcome.

X+/X-/etc: Changes to the outcome based on the roll.

  • Targets(s) describes who or what this ability can be used upon.
  • Range is the range at which and is usually not inclusive (so Near doesn’t include Melee, for instance).
  • Type usually refers to a Harm type for the purpose of determining what kind of Harm the ability does.
  • Provokes is present if the ability provokes reprisal when used when enemies are in Melee range. (This is typically Mid Die, stepped up for every enemy past the first.)
  • X Uses/Charges indicates that the ability can be Used X times before being expended or uses X Charges from a pool defined elsewhere. (Expended means it can’t be used again until a Recharge action makes it available again or until a total resource reset happens) Sometimes, several Powers can share Uses or Charges (such as if they’re associated with the same weapon and it represents ammunition or fuel). If omitted, the ability can’t be expended through use.
  • Baseline Outcome is what always happens when using this power. It’s changed by the qualifiers below it if the Effect rolled matches any of the conditions noted.

Powers that don’t have limited Uses or take low Charges are called Standards. Powers can be grouped together as well (by something like a character class or by virtue of coming from the same piece of equipment).

Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Powers and Standards are selected within a character’s Class. Powers have Uses.

Liminal Void #

Powers are largely facets of equipment that share Charges. Instead of Standards, some Powers just have a lower charge requirement than others.

Reactions #

Reactions are similar to Powers, but they can only be used when a Trigger condition is met. However, unlike Powers, they can be used at any time during anyone else’s turn as long as the Trigger is fulfilled (but a character can only use one Reaction to any given Trigger). Unlike Powers, you don’t have to roll. Any dice referenced are from the triggering event’s roll.

They usually use the following template:

(X Uses/Charges)

Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Reactions are provided by archetype.

  • Cleave (Attacker/Spread)
    • Trigger: Defeat an enemy in Melee with a Power.
    • 1 Use
    • Deal Low Die Harm to anyone in Melee with them.

Liminal Void #

Reactions are able to be purchased through cybernetics.

  • Predictive Processing (Supporter/Command)
    • Trigger: An enemy moves within attack range of an ally.
    • 1 Use
    • That ally may immediately Hustle.

Resources #

Resources are quantitative measures of how much capacity a character has to push themselves in various ways. These are tied into Recover (which restores Health in exchange for a resource) and Recharge (which restores Uses or Charges).


Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

As noted, the plan is to keep resource management on a per-encounter level. We’ll give each character 3 Stamina, and each character can use it to either Recover health equal to a die or Recharge uses equal to half of a die. It’s restored at the end of combat.

Liminal Void #

We’re emphasizing gear, so we can emphasize it here as well. Each character has a number of gear slots dictated by their armor/outfit. Players can choose between stims (Recover health equal to a die or Recharge Reaction uses equal to half of a die), clips (re-adding Ammo to a weapon or Ammo-using tool), rechargers (re-adding Charges to a tool or more tech-based weapon), or can be used en masse to bring another piece of equipment. It can be restocked at a sufficiently large armory.

Combat Qualities and Leveling #

When characters gain levels, their base “numbers” don’t go up. Instead, they gain new features. As such character should gain at least one thing - a Trait, Power, or Reaction - per level.

Typically, characters start with at least 1 Trait, 1-2 Standards, and 2 Power uses at Level 1.

  • They gain new Standards and Talents at level 4 and 7.
  • They gain new Reactions at 2, 5, and 8.
  • They gain new Powers at 3, 6, and 9.

But it won’t hurt to tweak these in any given direction. You can add minimum levels to future abilities, so the pool of available .

Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

This will stick to the standard progression: 1 Trait, 1 Standard, and 2 Power uses at level 1, to be chosen from a pool specific to your archetype. However, each set of qualities is tiered by minimum level, with new Powers, Reactions, Standards, and Traits being made available every time you get a new one. For the added Level 10, you get a “signature” version of one of your Powers - maybe it becomes a Standard or gains some extra effect.

Liminal Void #

At Level 0, your background gives you a Trait, some starting consumables, an outfit, and one weapon/tool, which has you a low-charge-drain Power and a high-charge-drain Power (as Liminal Void doesn’t have Standards). You can bring along more equipment to gain more powers, at the expense of less inventory slots for resources.

Sample Characters #

These characters have other non-combat aspects to them, but these are the parts relevant to combat.

Valiant Horizon #

Class: Warrior. A budding master of all things martial. (Attacker/Defender. Each class provides its own set of Traits, Standards, Powers, and Reactions to choose from. At Level 1, each character has 1 Trait, 2 Standards, and 2 Powers.)

  • Vigor: 15 Vigor. Harder to take down than most.
  • Resources: 3 Stamina, spend to Recover or Recharge.
  • Recovery/Recharge:
    • Recover: High Die Health
    • Recharge: Half Low Die Uses
  • Trait:
    • Unignorable: Anyone you Harm gains 1 Disadvantage when attacking anyone else this round. (Defender/Provoke)
  • Standards:
    • Guardian’s Strike (Standard, Defender/Lockdown)
      • One Enemy, Melee, Weapon
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 9+: If this enemy tries to move away this turn, they take the Harm again.
      • 11+: Mid instead of Low Die.
    • Shield Bash (Standard, Attacker/Break)
      • One Enemy, Melee, Weapon
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 9+: The target is Vulnerable to Weapon for the rest of the round.
      • 11+: Mid instead of Low Die.
  • Powers:
    • Deathblow (Attacker/Spike)
      • One Enemy, Melee, Weapon, 1 Use
      • Mid Die Harm, or High Die Harm if the target is Staggered.
      • 13+: Double the Harm.
    • Cleave (Attacker/Spread)
      • One Enemy, Melee, Weapon, 1 Use
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 11+: If this defeats any enemies, you may Hustle for free afterwards.

Liminal Void #

Background: Engineer. The complex electrical, code, fluidic, and other systems of any given vessel or station will always require an overworked engineer to maintain them. (Each Background comes with a Trait and gear at Level 0.)

  • Health: 6 Health; Endurance: 6 Endurance. This is the average.
  • Resources: 10 Slots (12 with Coveralls), stocked with 4 Stims and 4 Chargers.
  • Recovery/Recharge:
    • Stims: Restore Low Die Endurance or 1 Health
    • Chargers: Restore High Die Charges
    • Ammo: Restore Mid Die Ammo
  • Outfit: Coveralls: +2 Slots, Vulnerable to Hazard. Unrestrictive clothing designed for pocket capacity and ease of repair rather than protection against the elements.
  • Trait:
    • Coolheaded: You never take penalties from escalation to perform tasks.
  • Equipment: Recharger, 8 Charges. A repurposed electrical tool originally intended to quickly restore power to failing battery-powered systems.
    • Disrupting Jolt (Standard, Attacker/Break)
      • One Enemy, Melee, Energy, 1 Charge
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 11+: Allies gain 1 Advantage to attack this enemy this round.
      • 13+: Mid instead of Low Die.
    • Supercharge (Supporter/Boost)
      • One Ally or Self, Melee, 3 Charges
      • This round, Energy attacks by the target gain 2 Advantage.
      • 11+: Step up any Harm.
      • 13+: Next round as well.

Range and Combat Maps #

Combat tracks four ranges.

  • Anything in your zone (or at very short range) is at Melee range.
  • If you’re one zone away from something (or at a slightly longer range), you’re Near to it.
  • If you’re two zones away from something (or at a fairly long range that’s still fit for engagement), you’re Far from it.
  • Anything past that is Extreme.

Combat typically expects a map separated into different zones representing prominent “local” areas. (You can also use a more abstract “theater of the mind” approach and it’ll generally work fine.)

Moving to a location might require a roll of some kind depending on what it represents (such as to get on a roof). Ranges are not inclusive with one another: an attack that specifies Near, for instance, may only be used at Near range.

Rounds and Turns #

Tactical combat is split into rounds. Each Round consists of every PC taking a Player Turn and every enemy taking an Enemy Turn.

Player Turn #

A Player Turn is split up into two actions. These can be any of:

  • Hustle: Move your character to a Near location.
  • Power: Use a non-expended Power.
  • Recover: Spend a designated resource to recover Health.
  • Recharge: Spend a designated resource to replenish expended Powers or Reactions.
  • Interact: Do something with the surroundings, an object, someone else, etc.

Reactions #

At any point during the round, if the appropriate event noted in its Trigger occurs, any character may use any Reaction they have access to. A Reaction usually takes place before or during the triggering event unless otherwise specified. Only one Reaction per character may be used from a given Trigger.

Enemy Turns #

Enemies typically take two Actions on their turn from the same list. Only one may be an Attack.

Types of Rounds #

There are two kinds of rounds you can use for your game in Tactical Combat.

Phased Rounds #

Each round is split into two phases:

  1. Player Phase. Each PC takes a Player Turn in any order they see fit.
  2. Enemy Phase. Each Enemy takes an Enemy Turn in any order they see fit.

At the end of the round, add 1 to Escalation (which starts at 0). Escalation is added to every PC roll in combat.

Phased Rounds are better for games with a lighter tone. Use this if you’re fine with PCs coming up with combos that defeat or lock down several enemies before they can act.

Popcorn Rounds #

During each round:

  1. 1 or 2 players take Player Turns.
  2. 1 or 2 Enemy Activations happen. An Enemy Activation is any of the following:
    • Five Swarm enemies take Enemy Turns.
    • Two Minions take Enemy Turns.
    • One Elite takes an Enemy Turn.
    • One Prime takes one of their two Enemy Turn actions for the round. (They can be activated twice per round in this fashion to take both actions.)
  3. Repeat until out of players to take turns. After that, every remaining Enemy takes their Enemy Turn.

At the end of the round, add 1 to Escalation (which starts at 0). Escalation is added to every PC roll in combat.

Popcorn Rounds are better with games where enemies are supposed to be more threatening. Use this if you want to ensure that PCs will be under some kind of threat.

Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

Phased Rounds are employed here. The emphasis is on working as a team/adventuring party/etc.

Liminal Void #

Popcorn Rounds with 1 player turn/enemy activation at a time are used here. (Players can, however, eventually gain a facility on their ship to increase it to 2 turns/activations, signifying increased training.)

Enemies #

Enemies are any character doing combat with your party, or vice versa.

Enemies are Characters First #

Before a combat situation starts, an Enemy is just a character, be they people or otherwise. Their motivating factors (what do they want out of a fight, do they even want a fight, will they fight to the death or run when things look bad, etc) are important to think about, because they’ll impact how they fight, who they target, etc. When a fight starts, though, they’re numerically Enemies.

Types of Enemies #

Enemies fall into one of 4 different types.

Swarms represent enemies that are mostly dangerous in packs. Each member of a Swarm has 1 Health. A Swarm always attacks as a group, and two groups can combine to increase their effective member count for one attack. A single-target attack can hit a number of Swarm members in range equal to half the Harm it would deal. Swarms are almost always Melee range attackers.

Minions represent enemies that are more of a threat than Swarms but still not a very powerful threat. They attack individually, don’t have many traits, and don’t have much Health (usually 4).

Elites represent enemies that are roughly 1:1 with player characters. They attack individually and can be dangerous.

They have a little more Health. Typically:

  • 6 with some kind of specific resistance (Resist X, give Disadvantage to X kinds of attacks)
  • 6 with two resistances and a vulnerability (Vulnerable to X, give Advantage to X kinds of attacks)
  • 8 with a resistance and a vulnerability

Their abilities are usually on the level of PC Standards. They usually have 1-2 of them.

Primes represent enemies who are true threats and are worth about two Elites. Unlike other enemies, they can attack with both actions.

They have about double the Health of Elites, and should gain some extra bonus when Staggered. Their abilities are usually on the level of non-Standard PC Powers, and they might have a Reaction.

Examples #

Valiant Horizon #

  • Pack of Dire Rats (Swarm)

    • Bite and Scratch
      • One Enemy, Melee, Weapon
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 15-16: Mid instead of Low Die
      • 17+: High instead of Low Die
      • Gain 1 Advantage for every two Swarm Members past the first currently attacking.
  • Skeleton Lord (Prime, 16 Vigor): An ancient, malevolent undead commander.

    • Disadvantage to Near and Far attacks, Vulnerable to Spell.
    • When Staggered, adds Escalation to attacks.
    • Charge Attack
      • One Enemy, Near, Weapon
      • Move into Melee with the enemy, then deal Mid Die Harm.
      • 13+: High instead of Mid die.
      • 17+: Critical (Double Harm).
    • Hardened Bones
      • Self, Spell
      • Until next round, gain Resist Weapon.
      • 13+: Resist Spell as well.

Liminal Void #

  • Corporate Security (Minion, 4 Endurance):

    • Rifle Fire
      • One Enemy, Near, Ballistic
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 13+: Mid instead of Low Die
  • Riot Suppression Captain (Elite, 6 Endurance): A more heavily armored soldier with a riot shield.

    • Resists Ballistic, Kinetic.
    • Gives Advantage to Energy attacks.
    • Repulsor Smash
      • One Enemy, Melee, Kinetic
      • Low Die Harm.
      • 9+: Attacks against the target this round gain 1 Advantage.
      • 11+: Mid instead of Low Die.
    • Mobile Cover
      • Self, Melee
      • You can’t move for the rest of the turn. 1 Disadvantage to attack allies at your location this round from Near or Far.

Encounter Balancing #

Encounters should usually include either mostly swarms or mostly minions, with an Elite or two. Primes should be fairly rare.

  • Easy Encounters: One Elite’s worth per PC. One Elite is worth 5 Swarm members or 2 Minions. Two Elites are worth one Prime.
  • Moderately Challenging Encounters: One and a half Elites' worth per PC.
  • Harder Encounters: Two Elites' worth per PC.
  • Very Challenging Encounters: Three Elites' worth per PC.

Feel free to scale up or down as necessary, this isn’t terribly restrictive. There’s a lot of variability based on things like role diversity and specific defenses or answers to certain kinds of enemies: one group’s easy encounter may be another group’s moderate challenge, and the nature of rolls mean that an encounter can easily go one way or the other.

Enemy Tier Mismatches #

If players encounter an enemy who’s from the next Tier, scope-wise:

  • They gain 1 Advantage on every roll.
  • Every roll against them gains 1 Disadvantage.
  • Double their Health.

And vice versa for enemies a Tier down. Having Tier-mismatched enemies every once in awhile is useful to show how far characters have come or how far they have to go.