Brainstorming – Reversed Combat Mechanics

Hear me out; I get a lot of ideas for gaming mechanics. Most of the time, they don’t fit anything I’m working on so I might write them down on a note and shelf it for later, where it still remains to this day. I’ve decided to share some of these ideas with you, dear readers, and hopefully these ideas will spark some ideas that you can use (and if not, you can use my ideas freely). Let’s start with an idea I had the other day about reversed combat mechanics.


This works best with the kind of game that uses dice pools, like the World of Darkness or the Chronicles of Darkness games, or Shadowrun, or Thousand Kingdoms, where each die has an impact. For this sample, I’m using a simple system made for the occasion: D6 is used, each die showing 6 is offensive, each die showing 1 is defensive, everyone has 3 levels of health, mooks have 1 level. Simple, for now.

Before combat, decide on teams (PCs are normally on the same team, with antagonists on the other team). At the start of the first round, Initiative is decided. It might be a roll, it might be comparing stats, or the players decide who goes first. Then, everyone rolls their combat dice pools. Each team pools together all their rolled 6s, but players keep their own rolled 1s.

Then starts the initiative order. Each character can perform 1 significant action on their turn, such as rush to a door, break a window, or find cover (which gives bonus on the round after). BUT, their players must describe how they get hit and damaged by one of their adversaries, and suffer 1 or more damage to their levels of health. Once they have decided how much damage they’re going to take, they can counter it with their 1s on 1-on-1 basis. The last player on either team to take their turn takes any remaining damage, but can counter it with any 1s they rolled.

This is why I call it “Reversed Combat Mechanic” because you don’t describe who you attack but describe from whom you get damage.


There are a few things to discuss with this mechanic. First, arms and armor: Weapons and shields can either add dice to your pool or increase your chances of making an impact, or both. Having a weapon might add +1 or more dice to your roll, or make it so that any die you roll showing 5 or 6 is a hit! Armor might work the same way, either adding dice or make it so that any roll of 1 or 2 counters. With a d6, magical items might do the latter.

Second is dice. I’ve been explaining this idea with the classic d6, but any larger die is just as suitable. In case of the d10 or the d12, for example, just double the range of offensive hits and defensive counters. In case of dice of that size, it would make more sense that better equipment increase the range instead of the dice pool, but it also gives you room to have weaker equipment reduce the ranges of either.

And how to handle magic in this sort of system? Here’s the best idea I have so far: Assuming spellcasters have a reserve of magical energy, like Mana, each would have their own pool at the start of the scene. Spells of various potency require different amount of Mana to cast, so spellcasters could run out of magical energy pretty fast. However, assuming that you’re using the d6 version, each die rolled by the spellcaster’s player that shows 3 gives them 1 Mana. On a larger die, the Mana-range can be increased with training. As to the spellcasting itself, casting a spell would count as a significant action.

Another thing I’ve given some thought to is an answer to the question “Must I take damage every turn?” Answer is “no”. If your other team-members have siphoned all the damage and nothing remains (your opponents rolled poorly) then you can’t take any damage. If you decide not to take damage even if there’s damage to be had, you instead add 1 more hit to the remaining damage pool. This could be because taking any damage would kill you, or perhaps you’re just a coward, or perhaps one of you plans to sacrifice themselves so that everyone else can escape. The only exception is, if you’re acting last of your team-mates this round you have to take any remaining damage.

It makes sense in this mechanic, since everyone pools their roll before taking any action, that death doesn’t apply until at the end of the round. That also means that a lone combatant gets one final hurrah before everyone gangs up on them and cuts them down. Imagine dozen mooks ganging up on one remaining PC; how many can they take with them into the final rest?


Let’s look at an example of how this would work, using 3-on-3 combat. In this example, the Initiative is determined by players’ choice, but it goes back and forth between teams. Team with fewer members goes first, but in this case, the PCs go first.

GM: It is your turn.
A: I run to the door, getting hit by an arrow for 1 damage as I do. I don’t want the Villain to escape.
GM: Mook 1 clashes swords with B, who strikes him down with their longsword.
B: After cutting down the mook, I get between A and Mook 2, who cuts me with their sword for 2 damage, but my armor counters 1 (rolled a 1).
GM: Mook 2 tries to fight off B but is struck down. It seems no one stands a chance against that guy.
C: I stand between B and the Villain, but get struck by another arrow. I take the remaining 3 damage, but I counter them with my shield (rolled three 1s).
GM: The Villain is chanting their demonic prayer as they nock another arrow, but is struck by C’s warhammer for the remaining 4 damage. His demonic aura siphons some of the damage, as does his armor, but he is hurt (rolled three 1s).

Second round, another roll is made, but this time the Villain goes first since their team only has one member standing.


It helps to brainstorm these ideas like you’re trying to explain it to someone else. That way, you need to give it some more thought. For example, in the case of the idea above, I’ve realized that one of the pitfalls for this idea is that it takes away the fun of describing your own attacks. It does give the game a bit more strategic value, since you need to decide order according to how much damage everyone can take.

For GMs, having the mooks act first might seem like a good idea. They can siphon the damage by sacrificing themselves until the real threat gets a chance at taking action. Or, if the Villain goes first, they could skip taking damage and have their mooks take all of it. Any remaining damage is gone into the ether anyway. That makes Villains with a big group of mooks very dangerous, as they’d just keep sacrificing their underlings, so it stands to reason that mooks always have to take at least 1 damage (they can’t pass it on to the next one).

Well, that’s it for now. Next time, I’ll talk about something else, likely because I’ll have thought of something else. It’s how this thing works.

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