As we mentioned last entry, things get very granular. The data going into the single hit depicted in the header is actually more complex than shown. The point of it is to tell a story of triumph or folly that is intimately yours. Being granular and realistic let’s you take part in that story in an intuitive way and then delve deeper as you discover aspects of the game you enjoy.
The fight engine uses the same decision mechanism used in all other systems. At any given moment a fighter chooses what they’ll do from all available things they could do (move, various attacks, defend, etc.). They make that choice based on their personality (aggressive, brave, logical, etc.), mental states (scared, angry, bloodthirsty), the tenants of the style they’re using (defensive vs. offensive, power strikes vs. jabs, etc.) and the fight plan you’ve crafted.
Whether they choose to headbutt, smash with their shield or swing wildly with a weapon is dependent on the same host of variables and allows for clever tactical traps to be set, especially since each fighter is working with imperfect data based on their evaluation skills and stats. A frustrated counter puncher might feign fatigue to draw in a reluctant opponent. A powerful grappler might eschew defense and rush in to get a hold of an agile opponent. And it makes for great emergent moments as you discover the unassuming peasant you threw into the ring has an inner Rocky that comes out the first time he gets hurt.
Repetition plays a huge part as well. Whatever fighters see they get better at anticipating and countering (again, dependent on their intelligence and observational skills).
This 3-minute video shows exactly how smart fighters make highly specific adjustments in the middle of fights (conversely it shows how inflexible fighters get knocked out by doing the same thing over and over again). At 2:15 you can see a perfect trap being set up that ends with a feint and a knockout. 2:42 shows what happens when a fighter relies on pre-set sequences of moves. Fighters don’t do that because they’re dumb, it’s usually caused by inexperience and fear. The adrenalin and anxiety make him unable to think, so he relies on whatever sequences he repeated in training. This is still preferable to no training which makes regular people clinch and try to grapple.
The fight plan can be thought of as a template of what you’d want your fighter to do in a perfect world. It has goals for a variety of parameters (target distance, activity level, offence vs. defence focus, etc.) and it has conditions which make it change those goals (increase aggressiveness when opponent is hurt, increase defensiveness when fatigued, etc). It’s very modular and flexible, in effect letting you program your fighter.
By taking what you know of the opponent, the equipment and fight conditions you can craft a plan that maximizes your fighter’s strengths and exploits your opponent’s weaknesses. An average fighter with a good fight plan should beat a good fighter with a bad fight plan most of the time.
The complexity of the fight plan is dependent on skill levels and the fighter’s ability to comprehend and execute. A dumb ogre will have a vastly reduced decision tree. A crazed berserker might discard everything once they start seeing red. And a smart, disciplined human might fare much better than pure attributes would indicate.
Arturo Gatti was a very good technical boxer. He could have won many of his fights by simply outboxing his opponents and coasting to a points victory. In pre-fight interviews he often articulated intelligent, well thought out fight plans, which I laughed at because Gatti was a berserker. The moment he got hit the plan got tossed and he reverted to a no defense, straight brawling style. And the more damage he took the more durable and dangerous he became. His three fights with Ward (also a tough brawler) were all fight of the year candidates. The body shot Gatti takes at the start of the round above would have absolutely stopped anyone else. He survives for the full minute it takes to recover by protecting his side and letting Ward punch him at will in the face. When he does recover he storms back and hurts Ward before gassing out to the point that he can’t even raise his hands in defense. What follows is more damage than I’ve ever seen in boxing, MMA or a Rocky movie. Gatti not only survives but somehow ends the round swinging.
Your Role (and the fun)
When you add equipment and negotiations to the complex characters and decision making you end up with a huge number of variables to play with. If the system was not granular enough to make each of those variables both meaningful and a viable way to win it would all be a colossal waste of time.
Your school could be a meat grinder, constantly churning through cheap, untrained warriors with your focus being preparing them just enough to put on entertaining fights (and pulling in purses above their skill level). You’d design and develop a fighting style and training aimed at curbing the natural fear an untrained peasant would face in the ring, implement simple defenses they have a shot of executing and no subtlety, only powershots to reap the occasional lucky blow.
Or you could carefully scout, recruit and nurture young adults, taking the time to craft them into perfect weapons. By carefully selecting fights and shepherding them along you could turn very cheap initial stock into champions who are loyal to the school and eager to do well intrinsically. Or do something more fluid, adapting the training and styles to whatever strengths the people who come into your orbit possess.
The point is to give you a lot of variables to work with and a lot of levers to stack the deck in your favor until the moment the fight starts. Once fights start the game changes into one of anticipation as your preparation and plans come in contact with an opponent doing the same but in a vastly different way.
Offense vs. Defense
A basic tactical consideration the fighter makes at any moment is their focus on offense or defense. There are a lot of things involved but defense will generally beat offense because it works in layers (fighters can dodge, move away, parry or block, each with a separate attempt). But offense only has to work once to win the fight so choosing the moment when to shift is a key turning point.
Imperfect knowledge helps add a layer of deception. A good fight plan will shift when an opponent is hurt. A crafty fighter might fake damage to remove an opponent’s guard. The goal, as always, is to let you outsmart your opponent and have a chance at winning with inferior stock but superior tactics.
A lot of these spectacular knockouts show two things at work. First, it shows how unfamiliar attacks coming from unusual angles defeat full, active defenses. Second it shows (skip to 2:53 for a perfect set of offensive sequences) how sustained offenses can paralyze defensive fighters and disrupt their fight plans. The correct counter to most of those wild attacks is stepping in with a straight right, but the instinct is to get away and block. Eventually something gets through.
Without getting into exotics (ie poison), damage is dealt along three lines: piercing, slashing or crushing each with five critical levels (A-E). Once a blow defeats active defenses (footwork, dodging, blocking, parrying) it must contend with passive ones (armor, toughness). The game uses the blow’s power, weight and weapon type to create a range for the RNG to determine exactly what got through and exactly where (location tables have over 20 possible hit locations that take relative positioning into account). A critical is then rolled to determine what happens. This allows the system to constrain damage appropriately (a small knife would cap at B-slashing or piercing criticals, which can still be deadly but not in the same dramatic way that D’s and E’s would be).
In practical terms, an orc hitting you squarely with a two handed sword to your unarmored shoulder might cause an E-Slashing critical (with high rolls resulting in limb loss) and a secondary B-Crushing critical (possibly crushing bones even if the laceration is not deep). Passthrough damage is also modeled, so if the limb is removed further damage might pass to the torso (if it breaks that location’s armor).
Damage is tracked along realistic parameters: blood loss, organ function, shock, adrenalin, pain (which impacts fear which impacts how an opponent executes their fight plan) and causes a variety of results which can be resisted.
Deadliest warrior was goofy, wasted a lot of time talking and had dubious science. But they handed trained martial artists authentic weapons and had them hit stuff, which was great. What you learn watching episodes (or any of literally a million internet videos) is that most weapons do horrific damage to unarmored flesh (15:06) and have a much harder time as armor thickness increases (23:52). Slashing weapons in particular are polarized in their effectiveness. Crushing weapons on the other hand transfer tremendous force without having to breaking armor.
Arms and armor is the final big layer that impacts everything in combat. We’ll get into more detail when discussing the setting, but for fighting purposes, the world is a very low iron world. This makes tactically distributing resources for maximum effect an important consideration. Arming a large orc with a two-handed claymore is a huge commitment of resources. Plate mail is nearly unheard of.
Durability is handled as obsessively detailed as the rest of the game, so how your fighter parries with a weapon plays a role in how reliable it is. Weight increases damage and material characteristics are modeled (obsidian can hold a sharper edge than steel but is useless for parrying, bronze bends instead of breaking and can be straightened and reused, etc.) This makes crafting its own risk/reward game as you stretch resources and make concessions based on your fighter’s and style. A stone cudgel is a perfectly effective weapon when used correctly as is a quarterstaff.
There is no specific attempt to balance various aspects. An Orc is vastly superior to a human in fighting most of the time. A longsword is a superior weapon to a dagger in most situations. The reasons games strive for balance is to keep things fair and to keep everyone from playing the same meta. Here, fairness is handled by letting everyone have access to the same things (unlike starcraft where you choose a faction) and letting you set the fights (if a fight seems unfair, don’t accept it – or at least gain concessions in negotiations so you make a profit off sending your fighter to the slaughter).
School size is another balancer and the primary difference between the free and paid versions of the game. Even the largest schools will not be dominant at all things and the imperfect data allows anyone to luck out on a talented prospect who they can ride to the top.
This is my second favorite movie sword duel (after this obviously) and captures a lot of the subtlety the game is going for, including Archibald’s playing to the crowd and how important the prefight details are (ending aside). I show a lot of boxing and MMA videos in these articles because they are professionals and we have no analogs using medieval weapons (no disrespect to the SCA intended). While many of the principals apply to weapon fighting, two things that are vastly different is how fatiguing swinging weapons is and how little toughness matters against clean weapon blows.
Styles, fashions and crowd preferences
To keep everyone from evolving to a few ideal metas (a problem CCG’s constantly battle) is a complex system that tracks and rewards style, fashion and crown preferences. This is done dynamically over time. Yet another slow, boring fight between two well armored, long sword and shield wielding orcs will be met by crowd boos and yawns. Failure to innovate will lower promoter interest, gates and prestige gains. The schoolmaster who freshens things up with an unarmored, female, knife wielding wild elf will garner massive fandom and rewards. If they’re skilled enough to keep that elf winning they might scale the hierarchy exceptionally fast.
Prince Naseem was a good but not great featherweight during an era of boxing full to the brim with talent. Why do I still remember him and why did fans who never bothered with the featherweight division order $50 PPVs featuring him? He was entertaining. He was brash and cocky in interviews, he somersaulted into the ring and wore leopard skin trunks. His style was completely unconventional and he constantly danced and acted a fool. Just as many people tuned in hoping to see the prince finally get knocked out as fans wanting him to win.
There will be a large amount of customization and visual progression of your fighters. However budget allows for just static images (think baseball trading cards). The game also tracks fights on a minute level and fight recaps will be detailed and with enough flavor to not be a slog to read. The underlying data can support a very cool visual fight replay, however the number of art assets required (and the animation) quickly spirals. And so, it’s a lovely wish list feature, to be tackled only if the budget allows after the game is complete and tuned.
Next we talk about the setting. It’s pretty cool. I’ll also start sharing the artist samples (after I ask permission) and some stats in a separate post. We’ll start tracking how effective various recruiting methods are and since I can only choose one artist maybe someone sees work they like.