Literary Combat System

'Literary' Combat System

The goal of a 'literary' combat system is to create an environment where player vs player and player vs environment encounters play out very much as they do in literature and film. Players must be able to take an active part in all aspects of combat. They must be able to engage the enemy directly while at the same time defending themselves and able to intervene when others get into trouble. This rule must apply to all characters/classes so that no archetype is pigeon-holed into the clich├ęd roles of tank, healer, or dps.

Health System:

Characters must regain health rapidly unless seriously wounded. It is common in stories and film to see a character beaten down or removed from combat only to quickly recover and return to the fight. This occurs without the use of healing or healers. Players will recover quickly as long as they are not taking damage. Even when under attack if a player successfully defends themselves they will regain strength. To mimic this we will use 'Strength' as the measure of what would be called 'health' in traditional games. The stronger a character is the more offensive options they will have available. As they are weakened by incoming attacks or from making attacks of their own their options and/or effectiveness will gradually be reduced forcing them to defend themselves or flee. Once a character runs entirely out of strength they will collapse. This will be key to the intervention system that will be described later.

Active combat mechanics:

In order to immerse players in the action combat will be based on a system of openings and counters. When a player attacks an opponent they are also choosing an attack vector. Each vector creates and exploits a different set of openings. For example lets pick a standard melee archetype such as the swordsman.

The swordsman using a longsword and shield has several options for an attack. They are:

Attack Targets Opens Speed Damage
Jab Center Weak High Fast Low
Thrust Center Weak High/Low Mid Mid
Feint n/a n/a Mid n/a (note 1)
Counter Feint n/a Fast Mid (note 2)
Slash High Weak Low Fast Low
Swing High Weak Low/Center Mid Mid
Chop Low Weak Low/Center Low High (note 3)
Sweep Low Weak High Mid Low (note 4)
Slam Center Weak Rear Mid Low (note 5)


  1. Attempts to trick the opponent into exploiting an opening that does not exist so that it can be quickly countered.
  2. Can be used against a feint to disrupt it or in response to an attack after a successful feint.
  3. Having chop target low is to represent trying to cut through the enemy from top to bottom.
  4. Has a chance to knock the opponent down.
  5. Has a chance to push the opponent back.

In addition to these attacks a player has a number of defensive options as well.

Defense Protects Opens
Duck High Low
Dodge (left or right) Center High/Low
Jump (up) Low High
Parry Center Varies (note 1)
Block (High) High Center
Block (Mid) Center High


  1. A parry must choose which area to target. If successful it will stop the attack and create an opening on the opponent. If unsuccessful it will further open whichever area was targeted. Attempting to parry a feint opens all areas.

Finally the swordsman has a third category of abilities that can be used to assist an ally.

Charge Character runs headlong into an opponent in an attempt to push them away from their target.
Intervene Character steps between target and their attacker taking/defending against any incoming attack.
Distract Character diverts an attacker's attention turning whatever attack they were executing into an opening.
Grapple Grab the target from behind and attempt to hold them still preventing them from attacking and exposing their center to attack

Note that none of these options can be used while being attacked. In addition a character could attack their ally's assailant. Attacks from the side or behind cannot be defended against. [Collision detection prevents a player from running through an enemy to attack from the side or behind and all combatants will auto-face their current target at all times. Further movement speed will be reduced while attacking/defending. Players will have the option to break off and flee but doing so while engaged (within striking distance) lowers all of their defenses creating an opening an attacker can exploit].

Each of these attacks and defenses uses a certain amount of strength. More for attacks than defenses and more for a failed attack than a successful one. An unsuccessful defense will not consume any strength. A successful defense will restore strength (excluding a block). Striking an area which is weak will cause more harm than striking one that is not. Areas have varying degrees of weakness which is determined by combat actions as well as armor.

The number of options available to a player may be overwhelming. Careful design of the user interface will be required to make these choices as simple and natural as possible so that players can use them quickly and easily without fumbling for keys.

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