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Simplifying Combat


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On the Hero G+ Page, a person asked for ways to simplify Hero System Combat. Most people answered with organizational responses. Be better prepared, have everyone's key stats on a combat sheet, that sort of thing.

 

I responded with the following (this is for 6e):

 

SPD is dormant.

No CSLs or PSLs.

END is dormant and all powers are bought with 0 END cost.

No martial maneuvers/martial arts -- only the basic manuvers are allowed.

STUNx returns to 1D6-1

 

Just posting this here for comment.

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As a newcomer to the system, I definitely notice a nice range of combat options to mix and match. The algorithm could be as speedy or involved as everyone enjoys.

 

A few more for your list:

Use standard effects

No hit locations for effects--just raw BODY and STUN to characters

Distribute the workload with player-facing rolls (roll defensive actions for free)--GM manages action, while players manage fate

 

I suppose as an extreme (anyone for dialectic reasoning?), all of the above + go diceless--compare stats to see how many turns before someone falls over or withdraws.

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Yeah probably the easiest way to reduce complexity is to use standard effects, avoid skill levels, ignore endurance, and assign a flat x2 or x3 to killing attack stun totals.  That gives a really straight forward, simple sequence of combat.  Treating everyone as if they have the same speed also makes things go faster; I'd use 4 for simplicity (you need the speed in the background for effects like flash attacks).

 

You could simplify martial arts to a few very straightforward base effects: +1 damage class for base attacks, +2 for major ones, without bothering with combat value adjustments.  Treating all combatants as if they have the same DCV helps as well.  You could break it down to 3 categories: DCV 3 for normals, 4 for mooks and thugs; 5 for PCs and lieutenants, and 6 for really hard to hit guys.

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My philosophy is to change the game in stages, starting with changes that have the least impact on the rest of the game experience, and incorporating more extensive changes only as necessary (i.e., if combat still isn't fast enough). I recommend starting with changes that don't require any changes to character builds, and only institute policies that impact character builds as a last resort.

 

The number one way to speed up combat is simple to describe, but difficult to get players to adhere to: 30 seconds to take your Phase. A player who isn't resolving their action in 30 seconds is either Holding Until Attacked or taking a Recovery (player's choice). This really shouldn't be an issue for experienced players. It takes around 10-15 seconds to move a miniature figure, declare a maneuver, and roll the attack and damage dice. The reason it seems to take players 5-10 minutes to conduct their Phase is because they wait until their Phase comes up to even begin to assess the current situation and decide what to do. Basically, they aren't paying attention to the game while others are taking their Phases. They should instead be constantly assessing the changing situation in real-time, and have a number of possible actions to take in their heads at any given moment. When the GM says, "It's your Phase," the player should take no more than ten seconds deciding which action to take, and then 10-20 seconds resolving it. This alone will cut your combat time down by an order of magnitude.

 

If that isn't speedy enough, then try the following:

 

1. Don't give villains Recoveries. When dropped to 0 Stun or less, treat as -30 (GM-unc).

2. Everyone uses 5 End per Phase, regardless of what they do (unless unconscious or recovering, in which case they obviously use no End that Phase).

3. Don't use the Speed Chart. Characters act in Speed order, then Dex order within a Spd category. There are no Segments therefore there is no post-Segment 12 Recovery.

4. If really desperate, don't let player characters take Recoveries either (except to recover from being Stunned).

5. Don't allow any Held Actions.

 

I feel that these changes, combined with the 30-second Rule, are enough to speed up combat without losing the essential flavor of the game. If that's still not enough, then I'm not sure the Hero System is the right system for your group. You would be asking for a combat system so fast and abstract that the primary value of employing the Hero System is lost, so what's the point?

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Strange, the biggest issue with speedy combat I ever had was when I ran a Terran Empire stats Space Opera game. Getting through the shields on many of the larger ships could take forever. I've more often had problems with some players who got bored waiting for their phase to come around again. So, not so much for speeding up combat as much as keeping players involved, I second the suggestion of standardizing Speed and letting Dex/Lightning Reflexes determine who goes first.

 

As to the rest, I used a fully dialed in Hero and did not suffer much in the way of speed of combats. Some of the other things I did was to give mooks very low Body to represent their expendable nature. They take a point of Body or three and they are dead. More important characters got better stats. I guess the only other difference is that I use MapTool and automate a lot of the little stuff, so Hit Locations, Defenses, Martial Maneuvers, etc. all get calculated with the press of a button.

 

I have not used Hero Combat Manager, so maybe that would do something similar to what my MapTool framework does. Probably a bit more polished as well.

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On the Hero G+ Page, a person asked for ways to simplify Hero System Combat. Most people answered with organizational responses. Be better prepared, have everyone's key stats on a combat sheet, that sort of thing.

you will pretty much have your players then building their PCs w/o that stuff or asking to repurpose those points

 

the big thing to getting combat to go faster is for everybody to pay attention and be ready when their phase comes up

 

As martial arts the levels are fixed  I just see this as just punitive

if your not going to use End why make everybody buy it down to 0 end cost

just drop end altogether, your just making powers cost more and you will drive player to buy certain ways to exploit your rulings

I responded with the following (this is for 6e):

 

SPD is dormant.

No CSLs or PSLs.

END is dormant and all powers are bought with 0 END cost.

No martial maneuvers/martial arts -- only the basic manuvers are allowed.

STUNx returns to 1D6-1

 

Just posting this here for comment.

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You spend too much time staring at a watch or a clock not paying attention to the game yourself, to ensure a player doesn't go over the limit.

Well, most GMs ballpark it. But in this day and age of digital assistants and mobile apps, a 30-sec alarm is not hard to setup and reset as each player's Phase comes up.

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The thing that slows down combat most in the groups I've been in is the same for all systems: interruptions, non-game related chatter, people telling stories, etc.  If everyone is on their game and focused, it goes pretty fast.  The hardest part for me as the GM is that I don't have time between phases to figure out what each creature or villain does, so I have to wing it and sometimes it can be tough to come up with smart combat moves unless I plot out maneuvers and responses in advance.

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Shameless Plug:  One of the reasons I created Hero Combat Manager was to help speed up combat/bookkeeping for the GM. 

 

General Advice

Even so it is important to get people to think ahead when they are playing their characters:

  • Encourage folks to 'pre-roll' prior to their action

  • Encourage folks to roll everything all at once - roll to hit and damage at the same time

As a GM I think it is important to KISS when it comes to the opposition:

  • Large number of minions - make them all the same and use the one-hit wonder rule

  • Major bad guys - Give them some flair but still fairly straight forward for their attacks/defenses/tactics

 

Shameless Plug: BTW:  Next release of HCM should speed things up considerably by eliminating a large number of 'clicks' in the attack dialog.

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The hardest part for me as the GM is that I don't have time between phases to figure out what each creature or villain does, so I have to wing it and sometimes it can be tough to come up with smart combat moves unless I plot out maneuvers and responses in advance.

This is precisely why I rarely ever GM the Hero System. I think it would be a grave injustice to players everywhere to subject them to me as a GM; despite 30+ years of experience with the system, I just don't have what it takes to run it effectively. Now, my expectations are formed from my experiences playing Champions under the brilliant GM-ship of the guys at Flying Buffalo Games in Tempe back in the day (circa 1983), and any campaign run with less mastery is simply not worth showing up for, IMO. I know that sounds extreme, but who has the time or patience for game sessions where players are distracted, unattentive, and only engaged when their Phase comes up in combat?

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To be truthful I don't find Hero combat to be that difficult or slow.  To me it is far easier than D&D 4th Ed or Pathfinder and actually shares a lot of issues with other RPG's that get people confused an then blame the game as being slow or hard. 

 

The big issue is options.  If you choose to allow too many options then the game can indeed bog down.  Personally I have long given up on every playing Pathfinder or D&D 4th Ed, not because they are inherently bad.  But because they are extremely bloated with options and add on's to the point that I simply cannot dedicate the time needed to read the books, let alone learn them enough to even to play them, let alone GM a game.   This does not mean they are bad games.  Just that they are not MY games.

 

About Hero.  I have always split Hero into 2 distinctly separate parts.  The Build part (Char-Gen, Device Creation, NPC builds etc) and the Play part. 

The Build Part can be a challenge to veterans and new players alike.

But the Play part is relatively easy.  The actual in game mechanics are stupid simple.   Once the PC is properly recorded onto the character sheet, there is very little need for even having the books at the table. 

Most problems trace back to the GM and the players trying to add too many options into the mix too soon.  For instance, I very rarely use hit location rules.  Ever.  They just do not fit my cinematic play style.  But I definitely use hit location in my descriptions.  A high body/stun hit is obviously a head shot (if it fits narrative).  But I never bother rolling hit location or even looking at the charts.

 

Another thing is I don't believe in is cheesy rule lawyering.  I have the player describe their action in non-game terms and then we all make sure to factor in everything (Don't forget your combat bonus!). 

 

Think if Hero like this. 

Most RPG's are complete self contained games (Halo, Diablo, Bioshock, Destiny etc)

Hero is like being given the source code to write Halo, Diablo, Bioshock, Destiny etc.

The toolbox has lots and lots of tools and options.  But if you take too many of them on the job, you will just create more problems than solutions. 

Throttle back and use less.  Add more things later as you need them. 

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Seconding several comments already mentioned:

  • Ignore END - make sure all characters have enough END to last for 2 Turns. Instead of using Increased END to limit use of high-end powers, limit them to 1 use per combat or similar.
  • Flat STUN Modifier.
  • Limit number of opponents; mooks don't get Recoveries and may break & run rather than fighting to the last man.
  • Minimize the number of Optional Rules
  • Etc.

But the two biggest ones in my experience are:

 

Have the SPD-DEX Chart matrixed out in advance, so you know who goes when. "Phase 8, Defender your Phase, Witchcraft you're up next" cuts combat time in half compared to "Okay, Phase 8; who goes on 8? What's your DEX?"

 

Pre-add OCV+11 on the character sheets. You can still give players a half-dozen decent options as long as those options are clearly spelled out. I've mentioned this on a couple other threads, but I use an attacks matrix that lists each of the character's major attack options (powers or maneuvers), and spells out any OCV/DCV bonuses, applicable skill levels, damage, etc. It looks like this:

 

Attack Roll + Skill Bonus (– Range) – 3d6  =  DCV hit

Attacks              Attack     Skill    DCV    Damage   END   Notes

Basic Attack          19-         +0        8         5½d6         3

Offensive Strike    17-         +1        9         9½d6         3

Martial Throw        19-         +1        9      5½d6+v/10   3      Target Falls

Martial Dodge        ---         +1       13          ---            1       Abort

Energy Rifle          20-         +2        8         12d6       [16]     STUN Only, no KB

Grenade Gun       19-         +2        8           9d6         [6]     4m Radius

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 Have the SPD-DEX Chart matrixed out in advance, so you know who goes when. "Phase 8, Defender your Phase, Witchcraft you're up next" cuts combat time in half compared to "Okay, Phase 8; who goes on 8? What's your DEX?"

 

I really like this. Straightforward and sounds like it would work well. Thanks BDH! :)
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About Hero.  I have always split Hero into 2 distinctly separate parts.  The Build part (Char-Gen, Device Creation, NPC builds etc) and the Play part. 

 

 

I would nominally add a third section and that is Campaign Prep/Build. Depending on the genre, defining how things like magic, Force powers, certain gear and similar things can add a bucketload or more of extra work. This is where using an established prefabricated system works out best. If you want to get inventive though...

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I would nominally add a third section and that is Campaign Prep/Build. Depending on the genre, defining how things like magic, Force powers, certain gear and similar things can add a bucketload or more of extra work. This is where using an established prefabricated system works out best. If you want to get inventive though...

 

Good point.

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I would nominally add a third section and that is Campaign Prep/Build. Depending on the genre, defining how things like magic, Force powers, certain gear and similar things can add a bucketload or more of extra work. This is where using an established prefabricated system works out best. If you want to get inventive though...

And this is exactly what has always appealed to me the most about Hero: the ability to create any game I want, exactly how I want it, rather than trying to fit my ideas inside someone else's system.

 

But yeah, can be a lot of work.

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Re the SPD-DEX matrix: I use an Excel spreadsheet. Takes maybe a minute to add in the NPCs for any given encounter. I even color-code it: blue for PCs, red for villains, and black for other NPCs. Changing DEXes (due to Aid, Drain, etc) is a snap: just cut-n-paste that row to its new location. Changing SPD is a little harder, but not much. When a character holds an action, highlight it. If they abort their next phase, use strike-through. For Lighting Reflexes, list "Name+" at their lightning DEX and "Name-" at their normal DEX. Single best GM aid I've come up with in 30+years of Hero-ing!

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I used to use this wonderful old ugly DOS program called GSPC that I got from Red October BBS back in the 80s that worked beautifully.  It kept track of who moved when, was easy to edit, even would chime on post-12 so people knew recovery time had come.  You could flag people as flashed etc.  Was a neat little cheap, simple tool.

 

Doesn't work on modern operating systems, because unlike everything else in the world, computers don't even give a crap about backward compatibility.  It would be super easy to do, but they want people to forget the past and buy new, new, new.  So its just a memory now.

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