For many players and referees the characteristics of a Roleplaying Game are important. Does it allow for extensive character creation or it is quickly resolved, is it rules light or does it cover many situation with detailed mechanics? For some how realistic the combat system is an important consideration.

Which RPGs do you consider to have the most realistic combat system and why? Additional details would be appreciated like; How to you rate its usability and utility? How much customization do you get with improving the character ability with the various option? And so on.

A system that is able to combine realism, with quick character generation, character customization all in a minimal amount of rules would be ideal for the answer I am looking for.

Additional Notes Don't forget about fantasy or low tech combat as well.

  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ I think this would be more useful as a CW with one answer per system. It'd let us vote directly on individual systems (instead of lists of unrelated systems), and be a bit freer with the voting. \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Sep 23, 2010 at 14:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've found that one person's realism is another person's heresy! \$\endgroup\$
    – Pat Ludwig
    Sep 23, 2010 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ What era do you want realistic combat for? Some have great gun rules and horrible melee rules (or vice versa)? \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Sep 23, 2010 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Differentiating between 'realism' and 'deadliness' is an important distinction for this sort of question and the two are not necessarily the same thing. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2011 at 7:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Why was this question nominated for reopening? It fits even less now than it did when it was closed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tritium21
    Jul 8, 2016 at 5:40

10 Answers 10


Off the top of my head, here are some games I know feature "realistic" combat. I define "realistic" as "based on actual data or research from the real world."

  • Cyberpunk (the first one, 2013, not 2020), with its Friday Night Firefight rules, based on FBI ballistics data. Deadly lethal, quick, and playable. Character creation is moderately extensive, class- and skill-based with a cool lifepath system. Characters are customized additionally through cyberware and equipment. Includes charts of modern and speculative future weapons and ballistics stats.

  • The Riddle of Steel, written by a bunch of Renaissance combat re-creationists. The combat system is quick, fun, and playable.

  • Phoenix Command, a very complicated ruleset purportedly designed with physics in mind. It uses physics simulations for attacks. Terribly not playable.

Anyone who has actually played The Riddle of Steel or Phoenix Command is welcome to edit this post to flesh out those bullet points!

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    \$\begingroup\$ The two Charette/Hume games (Daredevils and Aftermath) for FGU that feature gunpowder weapons use real-world physics and munition data to determine relative damage values, as do most of Greg Porter's games (Time Lords, Space Time, Warp World, CORPS, EABA), and in fact he's published rules to help derive weapon designs based on real-world parameters for a host of other games (his two Guns, Guns, Guns books). \$\endgroup\$ Sep 23, 2010 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Viktor Haag Why not make that an answer, so folks can vote on it properly? :) \$\endgroup\$
    – AceCalhoon
    Sep 23, 2010 at 14:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AceCalhoon: I judged it was just an amplification of Adam's response, and thought it best to keep all the info in one answer. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 23, 2010 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ And that's why this should be a CW. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 23, 2010 at 15:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ One for Cyberpunk. The system is deadly!. I had my first group of fresh D&D converts dead or traumatized within the hour, then they started thinking twice before brandishing firearms. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – edgerunner
    Sep 23, 2010 at 17:29

Blue Planet v2


Combat in BP is deadly. Everything you know in real life about weapons is applicable in-game. Knives - kill. Guns - kill. Grenades - kill. If combat starts and the first thing you do doesn't involve diving for cover (or some similar defensive action) you most likely get injured or even killed.

The mechanics for handling injuries is abstract. There are "only" three degrees of wounds:

  • minor
  • serious
  • critical

Minor wounds impose a stacking -1 penalty on all checks. If you suffer 10 minor wounds (or stack up enough other wounds to increase the wound penalty enough) the penalty is so big that you - strictly following the rules - just cannot succeed at any given task, no matter your skill.

Serious wounds impose a stacking -2 penalty on all checks and require a check to stay conscious. A character cannot actually die from a serious wound but being incapacitated in a hostile environment is pretty lethal by itself.

Critical wounds impose a stacking -4 penalty on all checks, require a check to stay conscious and require a check to avoid death. You can actually die instantly from the attack, survive the attack, or slowly bleed to death.

This mechanic allows for situations that are pretty hard to simulate in other, hit point based, systems, like:

  • conscious but slowly bleeding to death
  • unconscious but stable
  • conscious but wracked with pain and unable to get anything done

Armor works in a way that makes it (slightly) less likely for the attacker to score a serious or critical wound. Hitting is dependent on your skills and a few environmental circumstances but generally speaking there's nothing you can do if fired upon from some distance away.

Also, certain attacks are so powerful that it is really impossible for a character to survive the attack. An unarmored person being fired upon with a heavy autocannon (a vehicle mounted large caliber weapon - think something along these lines) using anti-personal ammunition would need to roll something like a -9 on a ten-sided die to not die instantly from the hit.


Healing in BP is also quite realistic. Depending on the most severe wound a character suffered he's out of order for a few hours or needs to stay in hospital for months. Note that the most severe single wound penalty (-1 for minor, -2 for severe, -4 for critical) is also applied to any checks a medical professional makes to heal a character. Someone with a critical wound is really in deep trouble.

Minor wounds are merely scratches that heal in one day.

Serious wounds are injuries that require the character to get medical attention for several weeks until the wound penalty is removed. A good medic can reduce the required time by a few days.

Critical wounds are life-threatening and require the character to be monitored and treated for months! Until the wound is completely healed the character is very likely not doing anything any time soon. A good doctor can get him out of hospital a few weeks earlier.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although the enthusiasm shines through this answer, it would be a better answer to the question if you took out the unrelated non-combat information. :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2010 at 3:33

FATE 3. This of course depends on you having a good understanding of combat. Since I've got extensive grappling background (wrestling, Judo and BJJ) so I can take FATE and make it pretty realistic. Someone else, won't be able to pull it off. They also won't care that it isn't realistic, or at least won't know any better.

ORE. Depending on the implementation and house rules it works differently. A Dirty World is realistic in a completely different way, by modeling change in capability (both up and down) over a short period of time. Reign and Nemesis work realistically from a traditional perspective. Monsters and Other Childish things rather perfectly models kids fighting on the playground.

Millenium's End - the overlay does gun shots and swinging swords, as well as handling punches and kicks. The percentile system inherrently handles grappling quite well, although falls short with submissions. Realistically though if you're playing commandos grappling is a means to an end involving a knife or a gun, so it ends up working out.

Aces & Eights - the overlay handles gun fights as well as anything really, I haven't had a chance to look at the bar fight system though, as I only have Showdown.

Dogs In the Vineyard - rather odd to bring up, but it simulates the adrenaline dump very well. You don't actually know how badly you've been hurt, so in that sense it really puts you into the role.

Reign, Nemesis, Monsters & Other Childish Things, Millenium's End and Aces & Eights are all realistic in a similar way, and that is what people normally think of.

FATE 3, A Dirty World and Dogs In The Vineyard are realistic on a completely different scale. Interestingly enough, there isn't a system that bridges all these aspects, so what it comes down to is what aspect you want to focus on to keep realistic.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +! for A&8 I've played it a few times and yeah, the combat is fantastically accurate. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 18, 2011 at 1:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Aces&Eights, definitely \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2011 at 6:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for A&8 - but simple? Ugh. The chargen took me back to my childhood. A dark place in my childhood that I had successfully repressed... ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Mar 7, 2012 at 19:25

While GURPS may gloss over some bits of reality, in order to make the in-game combat model much simpler to deal with using dice, pen and paper (rather than full-on FEM simulators and half-baked models of living beings), it has carried over one element of real-life weapons usage. It can be lethal to get hit by a weapon, and that pretty quickly.

A pretty average pistol does around 2d6 (2d, in GURPS terms, as the system only uses D6) damage and an average human has 10 HP, so there's a definite chance that a single hit will take them out of a fight and you're looking at over 50% not being able to take more than two hits before being on negative hit points.

There's also some pretty severe penalties for range that can (to some extent) be negated by taking time to aim (the exact values depends on the quality of the sight mechanism and how long the character takes to aim).

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    \$\begingroup\$ It worse than that depending on the damage type the bullet does and what hit location it hits. Participating in a GURPS playtests is an experience given the amount knowledge some of the playtesters and authors bring. They got folks that really know how things work and are able to translate that into GURPS terms. \$\endgroup\$
    – RS Conley
    Sep 24, 2010 at 20:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Plus the chances of critical hit, and the 1/2damage range... \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Sep 24, 2010 at 23:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, I was tempted to start talking about hit locations and what-have-you (and the penalties for aiming for a specific hit location), but, well, GURPS combat is deadly enough as-is. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Vatine
    Sep 25, 2010 at 14:01

I'm actually going to suggest D20 modern. Obviously it's d20 so it's fairly abstract, but the base system lead to fairly realistic combats (at low level). I suggest it as a good balance between realism and playability.


  • D20 Roll vs AC.
  • AC is based on dexterity, a class bonus and armor.
  • Damage is much the same as the d20 system but I find the balancing of firearm damage to be good.
    • Knife/Dagger: 1d4+Str
    • .22 Pistol 2d4
    • 9mm Pistol 2d6
    • AK-47 2d8
  • Guns can do heinous damage or light damage (grazes and flesh wounds happen IRL). Melee attacks do less damage, but are reasonably powerful in the hands of a strong character.
  • Armor is rare, but so are attack bonuses, leading to a fairly realistic amount of hits. Remember in real life, dozens of shots are fired for every one that hits.

Massive Damage

The rule that adds the most to realism in d20 Modern is massive damage.

  • If you take a single hit that does more damage than your constitution score, take a fortitude save against that damage. If you fail, go directly to -1 HP.
  • With guns this works well. Even if you have more than 16 HP you still can go down from a single rifle shot, and firearm critical hits are particularly deadly.


  • There is no rapid healing. If you get shot you don't magically heal that in a day or at night.
  • Per day healing is low (1point / level).
  • Surgery is the only way to get lots of hit points back quickly, but it can impose other penalties.

Most realistic system? Definitely not! But I think it's a reasonable balance between realism and playability.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I did like the tweaks to combat such as the massive damage threshold. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 24, 2010 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are far more realistic d20 variants around, let alone avoiding the whole levels and per-level-hitpoints issue \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Sep 24, 2010 at 23:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @aramis Admittedly, it's not the best, but it is fun and more realistic than many. Can you suggest the more realistic d20 variants you mentioned? \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Sep 24, 2010 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't recommend ANY D20 as "realistic", but TravellerT20 does a fair job (as well as, if not better than D20M), by virtue of having lethal damage against "Lifeblood" which does not go up with level, and non-lethal vs "Stamina," which does (and corresponds to the normal D20 HP); all attacks do both components; armor reduces damage to LB but not to stamina. True20, as well does better, with a wound system, rather than HP. \$\endgroup\$
    – aramis
    Sep 25, 2010 at 1:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I could also add the system of the Babylon 5 d20 rpg (not the revised edition). It was based on 3E rules that were heavily modified. Some of the changes were: a) less max hp in total (a level 20 soldier had ~70 hp); b) Con didn't increase hit points but only increased the chance to stabilize once you were dying; c) armor gave DR and AC was basically 10+Ref save bonus, making it very likely to get hit; d) random starting hp and high damage weapons - a normal PPG pistol was 2d8, a PPG rifle was 3d8 (or even 4d8) with starting hp between 2 (!) and 12 (with Toughness feat). \$\endgroup\$
    – user660
    Sep 25, 2010 at 12:44


Combat round: 1 second.
Initiative: 1st skill to be used
Actions per round: depends on what skills you're doing and how skilled you are in them.

Range of results: any lethal damage attack that hits and penetrates has a chance of being just impairing, or of doing eventually fatal and/or long-term injurious ("broken bone") hits.

Further, given the reduced dice mode of play, it can be surprisingly fast to run.

Damage is per location, weapons lists are based upon real world data. Damage can be lethal, half-lethal, or non-lethal. Armor converts some lethal to non-lethal, and stops some non-lethal.

Called shots, pushing for extra damage, and autofire exceedingly well done. Rules are concise, and easy to run.

Characters are point generated with dual pool system; one pool for attributes and 1 for skills, with advantages and disadvantages being able to be for either pool.

System handles firearms and melee easily. Magic system is present but may require some work. At present, only available in PDF. Several excellent settings, as well, ranging from moderns to Sci-Fi, and 13 minisetings for "end of the world."


The Riddle of Steel was my first foray into the world of indie gaming, and I can provide some insight into what makes its combat system "realistic" - for some values of the word.

  1. It has a resource-allocation system that approximates the realities of fighting (I say this as a martial-arts practitioner, though not WMA). By forcing the player to split a dice pool over a two-clash exchange, the player makes decisions about how much to commit to an action similar to the decisions made in fighting, or at least in sparring.

  2. Damage was divided up into three categories, which represented both short and long-term effects of being struck.

  3. Wounds were bad.

On top of this was ladled a system of Spiritual Attributes that formed the basis for meta-game points and experience rolled into one. It was a huge eye-opener for me.

However, the combat system was a totally separate system from the other skill system, and the magic was so unusable (to my mind) that I eventually replaced it with Ars Magica when I wanted a magical game. The result was The Riddle of Magic - a homebrew I'm pretty sure I was the only one to enjoy. :)


I recommend Deadlands. It's a 1800's style "Weird Wild West" game and It's very deadly. And the gun combat is realistic. You take damage to specific body parts: (Head, Arms, Legs, and Torso), and the wounds can fester and cause you to lose limbs (That's the downside of 1800's medicine.) But the system is well done. Unlike in games like DnD, where a level 1 guard can't hurt a level 10 barbarian. In deadlands, a well placed shot with a shotgun is going to take out any tinhorn. The Fate Chips keep the game less deadly for the players since they can spend these chips to stave off damage. Very great rules for duels and stuff. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! If you want realistic combat that is PLAYABLE.


Following my besmirching of another game wrongly. I now remember clearly, and Living Steel was the name of the game. It had most of the rule books taken up with ballistics tables and while it had some interesting concepts was totally unplayable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ There is an edit function. Please edit your earlier answer and delete this one. Thanks. :) \$\endgroup\$ Sep 25, 2010 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ And FWIW I think Living Steel and Phoenix Command are in fact the same (unplayable) system, at root. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 13, 2010 at 0:26

None. We can collect quantifiable data on how modern gunfights are carried out; the FBI's Officer's Killed Summary is a good starting point: http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2008/summaries.html. See also S.L.A. Marshall's Men Against Fire for observations on armed combat between contemporary land armies.

From the former - Many shots fired almost blindly at extremely close ranges, like less than six feet. Ugly, brutal, stupid, and decidedly not heroic. From the latter - 15-20% of soldiers in WW2 would even fire their weapon at an exposed enemy soldier.

For historic accounts of battles waged with hand weapons, the same rule applies, but without the metrics. Utter carnage, horror and blinding terror mixed with exhaustion.

No game approaches reality, and modeling physics is a poor starting point.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Cyberpunk 2013 actually took some of those things into consideration, more than physics! =) The Riddle of Steel modeled the game designers' experience with recreational sword-fighting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Sep 23, 2010 at 16:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ -1. Sure, no system is perfect, but saying there is no answer isn't helpful. There are almost a dozen on this page, and one of them may meet the OP's needs. \$\endgroup\$
    – user1861
    Oct 2, 2011 at 4:17

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