So, how do you make a game where every class has a different combat mechanic? I grappled with that idea for a bit, and came up with what I thought was a good solution: The Rule of 4+. But before I got there, I had to move through two other combat systems to arrive there.
The first system used the same ideas you get in D&D and the like, an AC that each person is trying to hit, then roll damage. This is workable with the asymmetrical systems, because everyone can roll different types and sets of dice and still try to hit an AC. The problem is, some classes felt really effective while others felt...not fun. Mathematical balance has never been my goal (more on that in another post), but I was failing the perceived balance test. How do you come up with fair stagnant AC values for both the monsters and the PCs, when everyone is throwing around different types of dice.
Ok, scrap static AC. What about something dynamic? One thing of note about Slayers is that nobody is really wearing armor, since there aren't rules for equipment. So what does AC even represent? Combat readiness, and speed. If that's the case, then it shouldn't be a set value, because combatants are more or less ready for different fights. If you're being ambushed, you should get rocked, and if you're ambushing, it should work.
This lead to the second system, still using AC, but having it be dynamic. Everyone is rolling for initiative already, let's use that. Monsters and PCs alike used their initiative score, after rolling, for both determining turn order, and acting as their AC. This meant people who were caught flat-footed, slow to react, were going to be easier to hit than those with quicker reflexes. Combat in Slayers is already quick and lethal, so basing AC on speed felt right.
Seems cool, right? I thought so, and still do! But it has problems, and those problems weren't worth solving with Slayers. I might use this system in the future with another project, but here is why I scrapped it for now. It is entirely possible, with the dice I was using, for someone to roll an initiative score so high that nobody could hit them! How to fix that? Either reduce the range of possible initiative scores so that everyone essentially has the same AC, or start giving everyone abilities that affect initiative score.
For example, throwing some dirt in an opponent's eyes will distract them, and maybe reduce their AC/Initiative by 1. Now you might be able to hit them, which is good, but now the turn order has changed. And if everyone has these abilities, then the turn order is constantly changing. I even gave PCs the option of using an action to reroll their score, and have it apply next round. As you are probably imagining, this is a nightmare for the GM to keep track of. And so the dynamic AC system was scrapped. Again, not permanently, I'm sure it can be fixed and used somewhere, but not with Slayers. Then I stopped working on Slayers for a few months, because I was frustrated, which turned out to be a good thing.
Recently I decided, what the hell, let's just put the game together and throw it out there and see what people think! Just need to fix the combat system so that three different attack mechanics all work towards a common goal, and have perceived balance. That's when I came to the Rule of 4+.
The Rule of 4+ is the core mechanic of Slayers. No matter how many dice, what size they are, or what they are being rolled for, a 4+ is a Hit. Outside of combat, you just need 1 Hit to succeed on an action. In combat, you usually deal damage per Hit. As the classes will be rolling different sized dice for different actions, you now see that Slayers become really effective, and not so effective, in a bunch of situations.
This seems to have solved my problem though, and another problem I didn't even realize I had! Now everyone is still playing for the same thing. Just like Root players are looking for sweet sweet Victory Points, Slayers are looking for 4+s. Now everyone can focus on their own combat mechanic, and the whole table will know when their allies are successful because everyone is looking for that 4+. And then it also solves rolls outside of combat. There is no longer a weird divide between how combat and non-combat is resolved. Everything revolves around the Rule of 4+, and that has been the magic ingredient.
So what does this rule look like in practice? The next post will be about Skills in Slayers, actions taken mostly outside of combat, and then after that I'll start highlighting classes. Until next time,