I have been playing the awesome new FromSoftware game Sekiro, Shadows Die Twice. They have a really cool (IMO) fighting mechanic whereby the enemies have both vitality (traditional health bar), but also a posture bar. You can defeat an enemy by depleting their vitality (traditional video game style), but also, if you can fill their posture bar, you make them vulnerable to a one-hit kill called a deathblow. In order to do the latter against the tougher enemies, it creates an interesting risk/reward mechanic, whereby one has to aggressively attack and defend/counter in order to fill the posture bar (as it decreases over time if one doesn’t keep increasing it). This makes for the best video game sword fights I have ever experienced. I am trying to brainstorm if something analogous could be applied to Blades. Certainly not for your rank/file opponents that are dealt with in a 1-2 rolls. However, for tougher opponents, I wonder if you could have some kind of linked clocks for vitality and posture, with the ability to focus on one or the other. Perhaps, the vitality clock is bigger, and trying to deplete it is usually less risky (i.e. better position), but has lesser effect. While the posture clock is smaller, but more risky, but with generally greater effect.
As you can see, I don’t have much in the way of concrete ideas. Just throwing it out there for discussion.
Yeah, for a special enemy, I could see a fun split there, with clocks for vitality and posture.
Another thing in Sekiro that is very Blades: you can see exactly what it means to have “limited effect” against the supernatural.
One thing that made me think of Blades tech in Sekiro is actually the phases of Bossfights. A “phase” of a fight to me seems to pretty directly correspond to a clock in blades - it’s about how difficult the phase is, and what fictional moves the opposition makes. I’ve definitely had a lot of fun before with linked clocks to represent different parts of a fight. For example, a “restraint” clock linked with “overwhelming power”, where the powerful opponent starts off like the classic swordmaster and eventually goes all-out supernatural.
Again I learned that lots of my fights are too conventional/d&dish… Have to improve that and embrace the weird site more. Thanks for that!
I did something kind of similar to this for when my smugglers fought Mylera Klev at the end of season 1. I think she had three clocks. A six-tic ‘Poise’ clock, an eight-tic ‘Defense’ clock, and a four-tic ‘Meat’ clock.
Basically, as long as her Poise was unfilled, she had the initiative in the fight and made the characters resist harm before they could act on her. And, as long as she had tics left in her Defense clock, she was able to deflect or dodge melee attacks.
The group could have attacked her Meat directly with guns, bombs, or other such, but that didn’t occur to them for some reason (until Mylera got the Slide grappled in her silk scarf and used him for cover; ‘if you miss this roll, the Slide will suffer the consequences’).
Aside from ‘unblockable’ attacks like bullets and bombs, I’m not sure how you’d model trying to target Vitality vs Posture in a FitD game. Maybe just with descriptions like ‘I try to roll under their guard and slash at their ribs’ type descriptions.
So. . . in terms of narrative authority, whose call is it what clock a character acts against?
The approach that comes to mind for me is two different attack actions. For my game, which is not really about this kind of combat (but maybe it should…) I’ve got Force and Handle. Force is for physical force, whereas Handle is about precision. To that end, I could see Force being the one to upset Posture, whereas Handle would target Vitality. Or, more likely, some sliding scale between the two.
For Dying in the Dark most enemies have some combination of “Toughness” and “Grit” in addition to their Tier. Toughness represents their physical health, while Grit represents skill. Rather than letting the player choose to target one or the other, the NPC is given the option to spend 1 Grit tick to reduce effect of a player action (for example, to resist being pushed around or disarmed) or 2 Grit ticks to completely negate/dodge the player’s action (if narratively plausible.)
Having enemies with varying amounts of Toughness and Grit can lead to very different approaches, and enemies with significant amounts of both tend to stand out as really dramatic bosses (since their 2 Grit dodges require the players to make a series of substantial attacks before they can even start really hurting them.) Since Grit still needs narrative justification to work, sneak attacks are very powerful against high Grit low Toughness enemies.
In an earlier version of the mechanic, the enemy could replenish their Grit clock as a consequence, but this felt very unfun to the players (like their efforts were being negated/erased) so I don’t recommend it.
@John_Harper Thanks for the reply. and, as an aside, thanks for designing my favorite RPG ever!
All interesting ideas.
Trying to conceptualize something analogous to Sekiro…
I wonder if you could have the Posture clock automatically tick down with every (fictional action)…but it ticks down slower the lower the vitality clock is?
For example, opponent = generic swordmaster
Vitality clock = 10 segments, starts full. Depleting this defeats the opponent. Default position/effect is Risky/Limited. However, Vitality clock can only be targeted after a successful set-up action. How long the set-up allows for targeting Vitality depends on the fiction.
Posture clock = 6 segments, starts empty. Filling the clock defeats the opponent. Default position/effect is Desperate/Great. However, each action taken in the fight allows the Posture clock to empty. It empties by a number of ticks = current Vitality clock ticks/2 (rounded up).
In order to target either clock, must first resist Serious harm (resisting negates the harm, and this resist can be avoided with a set-up action).
In this way, Posture is a quicker route to victory, but only really plausible once the Vitality has been substantially reduced and/or the character can score 5-6 ticks at once on the Posture clock (effect increasing items/special abilities, set-ups, etc).
Narratively, I think actions targeting Vitality would either be trying to wear down the opponent, or score actual wounds (not fatal or disabling), whereas targeting Posture is more like taking the initiative, feinting, getting inside the opponent’s OODA loop, etc.
Can players actively target an opponent’s Grit?
If Grit = 0 is the enemy defeated, or they just are out of their special player canceling ability? Can enemies use Grit actively to create problems for the character (i.e. spend 1 Grit to increase harm to a player by 1 level).
Well, if you did want to directly simulate the game, having the enemy recover posture as an additional consequence would probably simplify things a bit, and be accurate to the game. If you attack/parry flawlessly you can posture kill enemies without ever damaging their vitality, since they only heal when not taking posture damage.
In my experience though, having an enemy regenerate in a way that can’t be turned off can create a really negative experience. Especially since it means having someone who isn’t optimal for the conflict make an attack could actually provide negative progress for the team. You could probably fix/bypass this with a rigid turn structure (after each player takes 1 action, then the enemy regenerates.)
If you do want to go with the approach you outlined, instead of doing ticks/2, you could give the enemy 1, 2, or 3 4-tick vitality clocks, and have each unfilled clock regenerate 1 tick of posture. I think that’d be more intuitive to count and more satisfying to break. At 1 point of regen per 4 points of vitality damage, you also then shouldn’t need to have effect change based on approach, and can have that remain based on the fiction instead.
Players can target Grit with methods that wear down their competence (poisoning, psychological attacks, etc.)
Grit 0 doesn’t directly defeat them (and most ordinary enemies have no Grit) but it does make them vulnerable to really big attacks, and since I increase clock progress with each level of effect beyond Greater (ie, Greater+1 is 5 ticks, Greater+2 is 7 ticks) players will tend to follow that up with a bunch of setup actions and then destroy the enemy in just a few big strikes.
I did originally let enemies use Grit to create problems! The original system was that for 1 tick they could set an action in motion that players would have to deal with in their next action or it would go off, or for 2 ticks they could just immediately declare a consequence that happens. I very recently removed that system for two reasons
- it meant enemies had to give up defense to attack, and usually that was a bad strategy. Players have a much harder time forcing dodges than they do resisting a single attack. (Edit: this might be due to my tone in particular. Players are often at Desperate Position, or the even worse “Deathwish” Position when attacking. May not apply if players can easily attack at Controlled or Risky in your game.)
- Since the action in Forged in the Dark is player driven, I was constantly in a reactive state of mind, and didn’t do a good job as GM of interjecting with their actions.
So I ended up replacing it with a modification of the pre-consequence (Elite/Master) system. It is still under some internal testing, but I’m pretty happy with it as a replacement for spending Grit actively.
To make sure I understand how the Grit feeds into big attacks, if the players were going to do Great effect that would be 3 ticks to Toughness. They push, giving increased effect, which is then 5 ticks. So, the enemy spends 1 Grit to push them back down to 3 ticks, which is a 1 tick for 2 trade-off. Do I have that right?
Yeah, or if they have 2 ticks left on their clock, they can just dodge the whole attack (a 2 tick for 5 tick trade-off.) Of course, they can only do the 1-tick trade if they could plausibly mitigate the damage, and the 2-tick trade if they could plausibly negate it. So trapping the enemy or attacking them in an unusual way can bypass Grit.
I’m a little late to the party here, but I had written something months ago about how I’ve handled for monsters in the Blades Against Darkness play-tests. Reading your post (and playing a bunch of Sekiro myself) made me think about it.
Bringing down the Fractal Serpent
- Later in the dungeon, after the PCs have managed to outwit the cult’s attackers and hide amid the collapsed and vine covered statues they confront an aspect of the cult’s worship, the Fractal Serpent! It is a series of fanged maws and scaled tendrils that wends its way through the cracked stonework like veins and arteries under the skin. The GM gives it 2 clocks, at 4 segments each: “Adamantine Scales” and “Fractal Biology” in parallel. These two clocks protect a 6 segment “Vulnerable” clock. If the players want to make the beast vulnerable they must first overcome its diamond hard skin and endlessly regenerative body. The GM describes one of the beast’s eyeless heads rearing up and opening up like a massive lamprey maw or toothy flower. The PCs hear the rattle of endless tales and look around to see more scaled toothy forms writhing in the shadows. Will they attempt to bring this thing down? The Chimera could certainly use the power its heart will grant. Maybe it would be best to try and escape while they can though…
- Remember to have clocks represent something specific in the fiction and pointed at the factors the players must overcome, not at the method by which they do so. Don’t give monsters a “Hit Points” clock. “Vulnerable” clock is a thing the PCs want to achieve, not their method of doing so. Even once they have somehow overcome the beast’s adamantine scales and/or its endless forms they still need to make it vulnerable somehow.
- How would you handle this differently? These two defenses that the monster has are pretty tough. What even works against diamond hard scales? Magic is probably the best bet, but that carries its own risks. Maybe it’s enough to give it an Armored Hide, instead. Could you put these clocks in series rather than parallel? Perhaps the PCs need to overcome it’s fractal geometry and isolate its heart, then overcome its armor, then make it vulnerable. Alternatively, the “Fractal Biology” clock could heal the “Vulnerable” clock (making these “racing” clocks, see page XX.) because the creature is constantly regenerating and moving its heart around. Maybe that one layer of defense is enough.