Writing Series

Writing Atlas: Combat Pillar

Been a while since last post. (Pretty sure my last three posts have started this way.)

Atlas Spire is the game I stopped RPG a Month to write. It’s meant to be my magnum opus in a sense. I’ve been at it for a while and I decided a couple months ago to kind of restart it from scratch and try to fit all the pieces together better. Because I don’t have much else going on, I was planning to write about video games or whatever else I played here as filler so the site didn’t die. But now I write about video games for Cultured Vultures. So just to pass the time until Atlas is done, I’ll talk about the process here occasionally (not regularly. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.)

What I’m going to start with is some basics. How the game is meant to play and some of the basic mechanics, stuff like that. So these first posts might not be all that interesting if someone is just looking for creative process stuff.

Atlas is built on a three pillar core of Combat, Crafting, and Travel rules. Each of these three pillars has their own sphere of influence on the game and play out differently. I tried to make them unique but at the same time familiar so people would be quick to grasp them but excited to try them out and use them in play. I’m starting with Combat because a lot of people have experienced it from other games and it might be the first thing someone wants to know coming into a game. “How do I hit a thing?”

So it works more or less the same as any other D20 style game. Roll a d20 and try to land a number above the target defense. Add your modifiers from attributes, or circumstances, or whatever. Pretty classic, pretty basic. The difference here is in Momentum and the way Critical Hits are handled.

Momentum is achieved through different means for each weapon type. Axes will earn momentum based on the damage they deal, while Shortswords will earn momentum simply for landing the hit rather than based on damage dealt. Each weapon has a “threshold” and when the momentum tallied hits that threshold you may cash it in for a special attack unique to each weapon type.

The Special Attack each weapon does when it hits the momentum threshold may also be performed on a critical hit (Nat 20 usually.) This gives me a lot of variables to work with when designing my weapons list. A weapon can have a good Attack / Damage / Momentum / Threshold / Critical Range / or Special Attack and likewise a not-so-good stat to balance it out. So when choosing a weapon from the armory a player can look at what attribute they value most or what works well with their character concept rather than finding the one with a direct damage upgrade.

Health and Wounds are another aspect to the combat pillar. Health (or HP) drains when damage is suffered, same as every other game ever, but when your Health hits 0 you suffer a Wound rather than death. Your character will only be able to take on so many wounds (usually 3) before death. Think of it as “three strikes and you’re out.” Each wound will incur some stat penalties that the attacker who caused the wound will get to choose. Basically if you’re fighting a big brawler type you can elect to target his arms to strain his ability to deal damage. Again, this is not a new or fascinating concept. Death spiral games already exist, you can probably name one off the top of your head. Death Spiral mechanics are tricky to pull off but I feel like it adds something to the game to make a player concerned for every bit of damage they take rather than treating health as a resource they can spend.

The real advantage I’m finding in having Wounds is that I can make them unique for monsters. If there’s a giant scorpion creature and the PCs damage it enough to wound it, I can give them the option of wounding the stinger tail or the claws so it damages them less, or cracking the carapace to reduce the defense on it. For PCs the wounds would only incur attribute penalties that can be healed later, but for monsters and stuff it can be more debilitating since (generally) the creatures can’t complain about it.

While I contemplated adding Advanced Maneuvers like disarming and tripping opponents, I ultimately decided against it. My logic being that I could make those class abilities and that Momentum as a mechanic would stand-up to support combat at lower levels in place of Bull Rushes and stuff of that nature. Plus it’s rare to see a non-combat oriented class take advanced combat actions, so saving them for classes that would actually use them. They would also be able to provide better and more interesting benefits as class abilities rather than universal ones that anyone could perform.

I think that about wraps up Combat. I’m sure I’ll think of something else to say about it as soon as I hit “schedule post” but oh well. Next up I think I’ll talk about attributes before moving on to the other three pillars.

Hey. I haven’t done one of these in a while. But you know, if you’re interested, here’s a link to a Patreon page. You can go there and read about how it’s under construction because it was made to support the now derelict RPG a Month platform (which will return eventually) and how at the turn of the year it’ll be changed to support Archfossil more generally instead. Or you can read it here like you just did. Either way.

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