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I am writing a RPG game handbook, and I am using an action point (AP) system for the game mechanics. Each turn, each character has 8 AP to spend in actions however he likes (moving costs e.g. 1AP per square, a normal attack costs 2-4 AP depending on the type of weapon and so on).

I am facing a small problem when it comes to melee combat. Say 2 melee fighters confront each other. Player A wins initiative, charges into player B (moving at double speed), moves his miniature, and stays there, cause he has no more AP to attack. Player B, who lost initiative, now has player A in reach, and can spend 8 AP to attack him, despite having lost initiative. I feel initiative loses its punch in melee fights, and I want first-hit to be important (i have implemented a wound / pain system)

I am not very versed in P&P RPGs, having played D&D 3.5e (which shares this problem; although the charger can attack the defender gets to make a full-round action) and a friend's game. I am looking for advice on how to solve this issue and make winning initiative and charging a more rewarding action than simply waiting for the enemy to charge.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the question might be fine: there's a clear problem ("I have AP and there is a situation incompatible with hitting people") and solutions can be available from discussing extant AP systems. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Mar 10 '15 at 9:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I concur, this is pretty answerable given how most other games work. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 10 '15 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ I wanted it to be realistic, and MrLemon and gomad both have valid points; in most cases it is better to position yourself than to charge recklessly. On the other hand, it seems too much of a punishment for a tactical mistake. I also like gatherer818's suggestion to limit the maximum AP dedicated to offensive actions. I'll give it some more thought and playtesting. Thank you all for your advice. \$\endgroup\$ – Noel Mar 10 '15 at 18:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related, almost duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/55212/… \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Mar 10 '15 at 21:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please edit relevant clarifications into your question. Comments have been pruned. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 10 '15 at 22:32
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No charge action

Why does charging give double movement? In fact, in an AP system, why is "charging" a separate thing? If a given character can "carefully move" 1 hex per AP, or "normally move" 2 hexes per AP, or "recklessly move" 3 hexes per AP; then his distance to his target determines whether he can get there and still attack or not, you don't need a separate "charge" action to cover "move-then-attack", it's already built in to the system.

Please note the numbers are examples, clearly I don't know how far (and in what units) your system allows movement, only that move-then-attack is already covered by an AP system.

No multi-attack

Mutants and Masterminds collapsed the move-standard-full action economy into either two half-actions or one full-action per turn, but separately restricted the character from performing more than one attack per turn. This meant that all of the sudden, all the cool stuff in 3.5 that took a standard action to do was now compatible with attacking in the same turn. AP systems can get the same effect from implementing the same rule. Allow a single attack (say, for two AP) with more only in special circumstances (two-weapon fighting might allow two attacks, a particular "feat" could let you attack again, etc) and still make it where at least half their AP are spent on something besides attacking.

Getting hit matters

White Wolf's Storytelling games and systems use a wound system that penalizes wounded characters on most of their combat actions. This makes striking first much more advantageous, since the defender now has to compete with a penalty for the rest of the fight. Exalted especially can reach a level known as "paranoia combat", where both parties are using all their magic to ensure they can't be hit and the fight comes down to who runs out of magic first - with the guy who's still running hot hitting for enough to instantly incapacitate the opponent the first he gets an attack through.

Any or all of these can be combined, of course.

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The CRPG Way

This is a common thing in tactical computer RPGs with similar systems. The usual answer there is that this is a tactical concern the players need to take into account which boils down to - don't rush up to opponents if you can't also attack.

In this case, people will tend to edge up a bit by bit, either hoping to goad the other side into rushing and trying to survive the first attack and counter with their response, or edging up until they can rush and still get some hits in. Notably, in Tactical CRPGs, a common tactic is to try to figure out how to get it to where you can get 2 or more of your side to rush an opponent and hit them before they can respond.

This tactic is even more weighted when first hits are favored (such as death-spiral mechanics where injured targets are more likely to lose even further).

This is one way and doesn't actually require any changes.

Defensive Bonus for Movement

Some games will give a defense bonus for moving. This is usually for games with ranged attacks as the focus, but there's no reason you can't assume someone who spends their AP on running around probably isn't also looking to stay safe. Of course, if you're subject to multiple attacks, it's still hard to not catch any damage or injury.

Split Initiative/Action

This is a rule that mostly shows up in tabletop war games, but it also appears in some early versions of D&D and there's no reason you can't use it here.

The rule usually goes: the losers of initiative must MOVE first, and the winners move last. This means the winners of initiative can see what the losers are trying to do and react instead. When it comes to attacks, actions, spells, etc. the winners go first.

This allows initiative winners to have a significant advantage in terms of positioning, getting attacks in, etc.

On the other hand, this is also more complicated as it requires the group to go through a movement phase, then an action phase. (Old D&D could get even more complicated by splitting out a phase for ranged attacks and magic, and so on.).

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Combat can be Simultaneous

This is a fairly fundamental change in mechanics, so consider it carefully. Rather than treating combat as a series of attack actions that the target passively defends against, you can treat combat as a mutual interaction; both combatants are active and can inflict harm equally.

For example, you could have both roll a melee skill check. If both are successful or both unsuccessful, they spar and parry amongst themselves. Only if one is successful and the other unsuccessful does an injury occur.

This works better if there are degrees of success, as with dice-pools, or recognised increments of success. There are lots of variations and options possible within this type of mechanic.

What this means is that initiative allows you to get into position. If you don't have time to initiate combat, it doesn't matter if your opponent does in their turn because the combat is mutual anyway.

It also leads to some interesting side effects:

  • A good combatant is not likely to be struck down by a weaker opponent simply because he gets lucky; he has to fail as well.

  • A superior combatant may press his opponent (continuously initiating combat) while the weaker combatant tries desperately to draw it out (choosing not to initiate combat even when in a position to do so).

You do need to add extra rules, though, especially for ganging up and what happens when the opponent can't retaliate for various reasons.

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One possibility (as used in C&S) is to allow movement to be simultaneous with preparing an attack/parry. After all, there is no real-life reason why you cannot use your arms to swing your sword at the same time as your legs are carrying you forward.

I would suggest a rule along the lines of "Attacking with a melee weapon (and other actions marked with a * on the list) may be combined with APs spent in movement, but the die roll is reduced by 1% for every AP so combined", together with a 'momentum rule' saying "any successful attack while charging does X extra damage".

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As far as the attacker, if he uses good tactics (cover, distraction, attack from behind) to be in position to get the first strike then he should get a bonus to damage. A wise defender should use some AP to defend with various options for defence- at least one to stop the first attack being a free critical hit- critically that free hit just straight kills. A heroic defence with a good shield stops all the attack but leaves him no AP to counter-attack and various options in between with some damage getting through. You don't want the defender to be on such a back foot after the first hit that the fight is totally on-sided so give him a bonus to hit with a cost to some other stat. This way the fight is much more dynamic. The attacker has to apply a lot more AP to defend against the first counter-strike.

If the attacker is unable to be in a tactical position to give the power first strike, then give him some evaluation of his opponent's skills (sizing up his opponent) if he moves quickly without charging the enemy. The defender get some information but less. Each deciding if and how to engage. First strike is no so powerful but costs less to apply some defence.

Also use a second weapon in hand as means of defence rather offence since duel striking is mechanically inefficient- much worse than putting your all into one strike.

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Just throwing in a different kind of fix, although it might need a bit of in-game explanation on how it works exactly so that people don't think it's weird:

You need to "engage" an enemy, even if he's already attacking you

Forcing the defender to also spend AP even while he's already next to you before he's allowed to swing away equalises the playing field; the attacker had to spend his AP to move adjacent, but the defender has to still spend AP to face his new opponent and assume his fighting stance before he can hack into him.

Essentially the "engage" action involves turning to face your opponent, bringing up your shield, readying your weapon, quickly scanning his stance to find an opening, etc. If you perform a charge or move up to an enemy, the "engage" action is a free part of movement, since you have already determined your target.

Having to spend AP to engage an enemy before you can attack him might have the following impacts on fights:

  • Fighting multiple opponents will be harder, because you need to spend AP to switch between targets
  • In addition, actions (including defensive ones) might only be possible against an engaged target, which makes facing multiple enemies more dangerous

This could still give an opponent the option to pre-engage (which is basically known as "readying" in other systems) although it means sacrificing your ability to defend against other targets in trade for being ready to catch a charger's blow and counteract immediately.

More powerful fighters might have the option to maintain multiple engagements; this would let them fight more effectively against multiple opponents because they don't need to spend AP to switch targets and can use defensive powers against multiple enemies.

It could also play into a surprise/sneak attack system, where you gain a bonus with someone who is not engaged in combat with you.

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