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As some of you may know, Exalted 3E is on its way, but isn't released yet. In some of the preview/teaser info, the Devs were talking about combat in the following way:

...in the epics, and in cinema...most of the storytelling of the fight is contained in that "dead zone" where every swing is getting blocked or dodged or only banging the enemy around and otherwise generally not accomplishing its main goal of killing or defeating the other guy. It's not just whiff-whiff-whiff-- we can look at that fight and see how the momentum of the battle is running, we can tell who's winning and losing, and we can tell when someone has just pulled a marvelous reversal and is mounting a comeback.

...

In Exalted Third Edition, the majority of attacks heroes launch at one another don't damage the opponent's health track. Instead, these attacks are used to build momentum, gain the upper hand, and place the character in an advantageous position relative to his opponent(s!). They are also calculated to stymie the enemy's attempts to do the same, to disrupt his tempo, and to confound his efforts to harm you. If an attack of this sort succeeds, then it might force the opponent back, batter down his defenses, push him into disadvantageous position, or even land a blow that rattles him but inflicts no telling injury.

Once you feel you've garnered sufficient advantage, your character can attempt to launch an attack which can damage the enemy's Health Track-- and if you've fought well enough, picked your moment well, and the dice are with you, you might even slay your opponent in a single well-aimed blow, striking off his head or running him through! However, attempting to strike such a blow with undue haste can be quite risky-- it might even create an opportunity for the opponent to turn the tables completely, and seize control of the fight!

My question is, what games out there emulate this cinematic emphasis on fighting over the momentum of the fight and trying to get the upper hand?

I have found some games that are able to do this, but only in the context of 1 on 1 fights, and/or the game bogs down to a slow crawl of infinitely detailed maneuvers, neither of which we're looking for. Additional criteria:

  1. The game can handle normal RP combat (i.e., 4-8 PCs and that many or more opponents) in a way where the momentum mechanic still shines and is central.

  2. Has fast, smooth combat and is low-crunch.

The problem with the Riddle of Steel (as I understand it) is the huge lethality of the game, which means you're going to get way less exciting, cinematic fights. Burning Wheel, and its derivatives, have interesting and tactical combat (for sure) but aren't really about momentum in the same way that the Exalted Dev was talking about.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The lethality of TRoS is frequently misunderstood: it only comes into play if PCs are fighting for no reason that they care about. When fighting, a TRoS character should always have one, if not several, of their SAs relevant and adding to their combat pool so that they have lots of extra dice to devote to an overwhelming defense and offense. But I suspect TRoS doesn't suit for other reasons (i.e., not low crunch), so I'm not suggesting that that should make you re-evaluate it for this use. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 15 '14 at 20:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ What is the problem with a system focused on 1v1? It can be just as cinematic as 1vMany or ManyvMany. In Exalted terms, it's the difference between a pair of Exalts duking it out and an Exalt fighting against a swarm of Extras. \$\endgroup\$ – Brian S Dec 15 '14 at 20:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BrianS Many systems designed to make dueling work really nicely this way are bad for larger fights and multiple people on a side. It's not the lack of cinematicity, it's the lack of working. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Dec 15 '14 at 20:38
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There are two that I feel come close, but are very different from each other. First is Runequest 6 with differential rolls-- players attack and the opponents parry the rolls are compared success, failure, critical, fumble. Based on the differential level of the roll, special effects are generated by the actor that won the roll. So different from Exalted 2E's Stunt, get bonus, then roll, Runequest is roll, opponent rolls parry, check differential for special effects, then describe the hit. Effects are things like start a bleeder, force surrender, bypass armor, stuff like that. One special likely won't end a fight, but 2-3 at once will. For example if I get 2 special effects I can force surrender at which time the opponent rolls willpower vs my original attack roll, but with my second effect I can use 'force failure' which automatically fails that roll. Cinematically then we can describe the narrative effect of my character twisting around the opponent and getting a knife at his throat-- all at the expense of 2 die rolls...

Second is Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. This also has opposed rolls between effects. So if Thor is tossing his hammer at LIVING LASER, they both create a pool of dice and choose a success and effect die from the roll of the pool that oppose each other. The effect die can be used to create a consequence rather than direct damage to the opponent-- so Thor could decide that rather than try to hurt LIVING LASER's body, he would pound him into the ground so he couldn't move. This is handled by a persistent 'effect' die that sticks with the player as they try to do other actions-- so if living laser is in the ground D10, he will add that D10 to the opposed rolls of his opponents when he tries to blast them. What's more, opponents trying to hit him will add that D10 to their dice pools-- making it much easier to damage or add new consequences.

Both of these systems are extremely fast in combat (despite Runequest's complexity--it is fairly crunchy) and are inherently cinematic.

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