BattleBytes 101: Combat Mechanics

Continuing on from last week’s post, here is a little something on some of the thoughts I have for the combat mechanics. Note that these are definitely subject to change; the system needs to be both fun, and work well (i.e., give reasonable results), and some of that will only really be possible to figure out once the game is being played. With that caveat out of the way, on to the system.

As mentioned, the system is intended to be scalable, with the number of troops represented by a unit variable. The number of units in a single battle will be fairly low (the aim is 20-25 total units in a battle as a maximum), in order to keep battles from becoming too long and massive.

Turn Order and Momentum

The turn format is igougo. Each player takes their turn separately, and may – potentially – move and/or attack with all their units during their turn. The player chooses in which order to carry out their actions, but each unit must complete all of its actions before the next unit can be used. We say that the player has “Momentum” during their turn.

Units have a variety of actions available to them. Each action costs 1-3 action points, and each unit can perform two actions costing no more than three action points in total, every turn (with some limitations – e.g., units cannot normally attack twice in the same turn). Move is one action, and Attacking is an action – so units can Move and Attack, or Attack and Move, or even Move and Move.

The player cannot simply spam actions, however. For each action point spent during a turn, the unit must roll once against its resolve as a to-hit number at the end of its turn. One hit (i.e., one failed roll) means that something minor went wrong which inflicts one fatigue point on the unit. Two hits means that something went badly wrong – the result being that the unit gains fatigue, in addition to which the active side loses momentum. In other words, your turn ends.

In other words, one needs to be very careful when choosing which actions to take. You can play it safe, taking one action for every unit to ensure that you are able to move or attack with every unit. Or you can try to push units a bit harder, and risk the possibility of your turn ending. Since the chance of this is tied to the (modified) resolve of your units, pushing units will be easier with high quality units (who have high resolve), and prior to units taking hits. It will be hard to do if your units are rubbish, or have taken hits to their resolve.

The idea for the “push your luck” mechanic here is taken from the popular miniature rules Song of Blades and Heroes. I like the concept, as it makes every action an important decision.

To help ensure that you don’t lose a battle because of that one resolve roll that ends up failing, you can use your leadership. Each commander’s leadership rating gives them a number of “rerolls” (or auto-successes; we’ll see what works best when testing), which the player can use to avert the worst effects of bad luck. Leadership also gives some bonus to the resolve checks of nearby units, so a high leadership rating basically means that you’ll be able to take more chances, and push your units harder than if you have poor leadership.


Combat is resolved using the melee or ranged factor, together with the damage resistance. I’m quite happy with the theoretical mechanics right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up having to tweak these a bit to make them work the way I want it to. Anyway, the basic concept is as follows.

Depending on your equipment, your unit will have different attack actions available to it. A character with a musket, might have “shoot” and “aimed shot” available as two actions (a unit of troops with muskets, might have “volley fire”; i.e., weapons may work differently depending on the scale). This also means that we may distinguish between different types of weapons – a cutlass might have a “slash” action, while a rapier might instead have “thrust”. The initial version will probably be pretty simple, but this is one of the ways in which I hope to make the character items be interesting and relevant in the combat system.

When the player attacks, the character rolls a number of dice equal to their melee or ranged rating + the attack rating of the weapon + any other applicable modifiers. The number of hits are then compared to the damage resistance of the target. If the hits exceed the damage rating, then the excess hits are inflicted on the resolve of the unit. If the target unit’s resolve reaches 0, it’s morale shatters, and it will run. In the case that the damage resistance is not exceeded, we instead look at the hit numbers on the dice. A natural 6 (or natural 10 – depends on the size of “dice” used), will result in damage to the armor/cohesion; i.e., it reduces the damage resistance of the unit that was attacked. This is again one of the places where there are differences between weapons. An axe, for instance, will do more damage to armor, e.g., gaining +2 to hit on the armor. Other weapons will straight up ignore the armor parts of the damage resistance (e.g., a bullet doesn’t really care that you are wearing a breastplate).

Hits can of course cause casualties (in mass-combat) or injuries (in single combat), so that’s a factor too. Injuries are traits that will carry over into the rest of the game, of course.

In ranged combat, a unit will shoot/throw its weapon, and that basically it. In melee combat, a unit that is attacked will get the opportunity to hit back. Some units/weapons may even have a “first-strike” ability; i.e., they hit the enemy first, when attacked in melee.

There are lots of other mechanisms that (hopefully) add depth to the system. While the game system does not represent facing for units, flanking remains useful as one gets bonuses when attacking a unit from multiple directions. Terrain will affect combat, both in terms of movement costs to traverse, and in affecting combat factors. Elevation is also important. Units equipped with melee weapons also have a zone of control around them, making it possible to establish lines with intervals.

Routing and Morale

The resolve of units is the key factor in keeping them on the battlefield. When a unit is reduced to zero resolve, it’s morale is shattered – it has had enough, and will leave the field of battle immediately (in single combat, the character may instead collapse to the ground, if injured). Each time a unit shatters, every other unit on it’s side must pass a morale (resolve) check, to see whether they are affected. This check is affected by a lot of factors – whether you are winning, distance from the shattered unit, casualties, etc. If the unit fails the resolve check, it may become “Shaken” or “Routed”. Routing units will attempt to flee the battlefield, but unlike shattered units, the player can expend leadership to make them recover.

The system will rarely allow forces to fight to the last man – units and characters will tend to flee before that happens. A side wins when all of its opponents are fleeing, or have left the field of battle.

I think that’s about it for now. There are a lot of small details in the system, of course, and I could probably write another half-dozen blog posts if I were to cover them all. Keep in mind that a lot of this may still get changed – if there is one take-away I have from years of game development, is that things that work on paper, don’t always work once implemented.