View Full Version : Designing/Revision RPG Systems: Small Battles. 1 player = entire party of characters

2017-12-03, 01:37 PM
My team is constructing a game focused on "the party" of characters rather than individuals. One player is a party of around 5 characters. The idea is that the player focuses on themselves as a "party", but through storytelling and character building, the individual characters within their party begin to manifest personality. A kindof start with "You have 5 goons." and end up "My party is made up of 5 unique individual heroes. Let me tell you their stories!"

We've got some ideas, but are still trying to figure out a game system which uses polyhedron dice like the D20 system (1D4, 1D6, 1D8, 1d12, etc.) I thought invoking the wisdom of designers & experienced roleplayers here would be a fantastic resource to glean from. Especially considering how awful sites like StackExchange have become (it's gotten to the point where you aren't allowed to ask any questions of any kind, and the power user's bias/corruption has gotten out of control, so there is no correcting them when they're wrong. It has rendered the site near useless).

What this it NOT: Large scale battles. I'm not talking one player being hundreds of units or even scores. I'm talking a full but small party. Think of one player being "The Hobbit" cast or "Lord of the Rings" in some chapter or another. Four halflings on a journey, or a Merchant & his mercenaries.

Most RPG's focus on the individual, with all rules tailored to individual combat. This is fine to handle many situations in my team's game, but many events don't work well for individuals when we need a group roll (such as combat, running scenes & what happens to each character, etc.) I've researched Miniatures, but their rules also focus on the individual (scores to hundreds of soldiers are counted as a single unit, who live or die as a unit).

I know miniature skirmish games are exactly this: One player is a team of characters. However those too focus on individual conflict resolution for combat.

And Combat is where I find most of our problems. If the task is to lift a boulder, that's easy- cumulative strength. If the task is to defeat a boss Dragon, that is easy- you NEED all party to roll all their dice because the boss is so powerful. It's when you have skirmishes, like 5v5's, where everyone is of relatively the same power class, where I have issues. Individual rolls bog down combat too much. Cumulative rolls (everyone combines all dice in one big roll for both teams) doesn't take into consideration the tiny skirmishes that happen. For example, flukes like "While the two parties clash, Character2 is singled out by two much stronger monsters." Do the other party members have a chance to act? Are they too busy so it's a small 1-round of combat for Character2?

Search results yield lots of suggestions for fighting enemies as "Swarms", which isn't a bad idea - until you consider my unique circumstance: 1 player would also need to be treated as a Swarm too. It might work, but doesn't feel right.

Handling as individuals would get bogged down when sometimes we just need a quick group resolution roll or just want to focus on the important, exciting bits.

Most would say that simply rolling using normal rules for multiple characters would suffice. One character is the focus, they roll, and the rest assist them by adding to the roll based on their own success. This seems very unintuitive for what I am trying to accomplish. (An unskilled player shouldn't be able to help with a complex skill roll. However, al characters can fall victim to being wounded - even if they're a non-combat character.


Our RPG system is actually the reverse of this idea of rolling for individuals: The PARTY is the primary focus, not the individual, but the story-telling/character-building revolves around the characters in the party. It feels cheap & inefficient game design to abuse systems designed to only occasionally have multiple characters attempt the same action.

The greatest difficulty is that each party can vary widely. 5 combat-centric characters for one player, a healthy mix of classes for another. I have to keep all of this in mind.

The characters are also simplified, but still individualistic. Each has their own wound counter (but only a few hits and they die). Each have their own statistics & skills, abilities & items. So the party isn't one entity - it is individual characters who contribute to an overall entity. You just play as this collective party of individuals.

The final caveat I will say is that I'm okay with having quick, abstract conflict resolution. A battle between 10 characters (5v5) could just focus on a single success/failure roll followed by dealing with the fallout by only focusing on Storytelling which seems exceptional. "During te battle, Character1 is cornered by 2 orcs! Resolve for Character1." "Character3 finds an open opportunity to send 4 goblins to their grave. Roll to see how well he did." I am also open to just going with purely individual rolls for everyone - even if it sometimes gets bogged down - if you think that would still be best.

However it's much easier for us to design using some references. What we may or may like, what we think would work, or systems which make more mathematical sense.

Any tips, notes, resources, or references are greatly appreciated. I for the life of me can't find any rulesets of combat systems which are not completely focusing on Individual's actions or war gaming where one group is still just one very simplified unit who all live or all die as one.

Are there even any game systems designed around the idea of 1 player being multiple characters?

2017-12-03, 03:11 PM
I haven't tried it, but Ars Magica immediately comes to mind. In the edition I read, each player controlled a noble mage and all of their staff. I believe there's an edition available for free online; that might serve as a source of inspiration.

2017-12-03, 05:29 PM
There's a lot to unpack here, so I'm going to try and summarize the points I see.
Comments in bold.

-The basic idea: Each player controls a whole party of characters, rather than a single one. Is this meant to have more than one player at once?
If so, how do you imagine that working around the table? Note that 3 players * 4 characters each = 12 characters total, which seems like a lot to keep track of/develop as characters.
-Over time, those characters become distinct people via character building and interaction.

-The focus remains on small-group interactions, rather than large numbers.
-RPGs as they are handle the actions of individuals well, but not group actions, especially teamwork. When they do handle group actions, they do so by fusing the group into singular characters for the purpose of rolling. This kind of fusion doesn't work great for complexity. I agree with this completely. I've messed around a bit with more complex army combat rules that can handle stuff like group formations and such, but the rules don't work well for this.

-These rules should be able to describe some degree of complexity in the events of combat. However, large parts of it could be abstracted away? This is rather unclear, and could use some clarification in terms of requirements. It seems as though you want to focus combat down into individual moments of battle?

So, the system so far as I understand it.
-Everyone has skills and stats, which translate into some number that they can apply to tasks. If multiple people attempt a task, their numbers are combined in some fashion in order to determine overall success- you might add them together in the case of everyone pushing a boulder, or take the lowest in the case of stealth.
This is actually where I think combat can best be handled. Much like social encounters, it's a sort of "complex interaction" where everyone is helping the overall goal through their own individual skills.

Dropping out of bold:
Right now, I'm thinking of it as a sort of "multistage action", where you go through several attempts to do things which make the overall encounter easier, until eventually you reach a point where you've won:
Each character picks a skill they use to use to make the Encounter Easier. It can be used in one of two(?) ways:
-Directly attack the encounter's difficulty. There's a sliding scale of how "risky" the action is, which lets you adjust the difficulty by a certain amount in order to increase the rewards/dangers for doing so (diving into the army vs. staying with the group, for example).
-Assist an ally's attempt; the warrior keeps the goblins off the wizard, for example.
Depending on how you handle it, this could:
-Reduce the penalty for failure
-Decrease the difficulty
-Improve the rewards of success.

So the flow is as follows:
-Describe your action for each character.
-Identify what skill is most applicable.
-Roll for every unassisted action
-Narrate their effects. Resolve success and failure.
-Roll for every action for which all assistance has been resolved
-Narrate their effects. Resolve success and failure.
-When everything is done, start again from the top until the encounter is over. It might already be over, though.

Combats are less about grinding away at the enemy, and more about the group coming together to assemble their win condition.

This is really just individual action, though, isn't it, even though teamwork is emphasized.


Let's unpack this statement a bit:

The final caveat I will say is that I'm okay with having quick, abstract conflict resolution. A battle between 10 characters (5v5) could just focus on a single success/failure roll followed by dealing with the fallout by only focusing on Storytelling which seems exceptional. "During te battle, Character1 is cornered by 2 orcs! Resolve for Character1." "Character3 finds an open opportunity to send 4 goblins to their grave. Roll to see how well he did." I am also open to just going with purely individual rolls for everyone - even if it sometimes gets bogged down - if you think that would still be best.
See, the problem I have with this is that I don't really see an easy way to pull all that information

"During te battle, Character1 is cornered by 2 orcs! Resolve for Character1." "Character3 finds an open opportunity to send 4 goblins to their grave. Roll to see how well he did."
out of only one success/failure roll.

Alright, idea.
Everyone's rolls come in two parts, Ability and Skill. Each of them is represented by a different die, from 1d4 to 1d12.
When you have to make an applicable roll, you roll your most applicable ability, and also roll an applicable skill if you have one. Add them together.
If multiple characters roll via teamwork, combine them. Maybe add them, maybe take lowest, maybe take highest, maybe take their multiplicative average.
But the individual roll represents how much that character contributed to the encounter, and low rolls there indicate that the character was placed in danger during the encounter- perhaps wounded or killed. Other characters can reduce their own success level to save them, but if they sacrifice too much, (and the DM doesn't tell you whether you won or lost until it's decided), you might lose the encounter.

2017-12-03, 06:06 PM
I've got a few ideas for you.

You probably want a system where stats are scaled. That is to say, the point cost of a stat should increase exponentially with the actual number value of the stat, such that every X points of a stat the cost doubles.

I would make actions party-based and results should be character-based. Each party performs actions as a single unit, and the results of those actions affect specific individuals. The party's stats are based on the stats of characters making it up; some actions, those where everyone's contribution directly adds to the likelihood of success and magnitude of effect, would use cumulative stats, adding up the costs of every member to get a final stat value for the party. Some actions would just use the highest individual stat in the party. However, most buffs and debuffs would affect individual characters' stats directly.

So for example, say the basic cost system is like:

1: 10 points.
2: 15 points.
3: 20 points.
4: 30 points.
5: 40 points.
6: 60 points.
7: 80 points.
8: 120 points.
9 160 points.
10: 240 points.

Maybe you have a party of five characters, one has Offense 4, one has Offense 6, one has Offense 5, one has Offense 8, one has Offense 3. That's 30 + 60 + 40 + 120 + 20 = 270 total points in Offense, so the party has an Offense of 10. If the fifth character takes a -2 penalty to Offense, that doesn't matter much, it just brings the group's points to 260, still within Offense 10. But if the Offense 8 character takes -2, that drops the team's total by 60 points, bringing the party to Offense 9. Likewise, if something happens where the Offense 8 character becomes unable to contribute to the fight at all, that takes 120 points out, bringing them down to 150, or party Offense 8.

But for most social challenges, raw numbers don't matter. There the party just uses whoever has the highest stat.

I'd also say don't focus too much on actual positioning the way like D&D does. But develop a robust system for tactical maneuvers, formations, and conditions. Formations might do things like limit area effects, allow you to decide where conditions go rather than your enemies, and so on. Your example of two strong monsters isolating a party member might be from an Isolated condition, which allows that target to be attacked at its own defense rather than the party's defense or something.

I also imagine character abilities might individually work more like "stances" sort of, maybe with a party-wide resource that can be used to power them up to represent more active use or higher-level abilities. Like, a priest with a Healing power active might not contribute points to Offense, but instead provide the party with a regeneration-like effect. And then the resource could be spent to like instantly remove a certain damage condition or something. But the party itself can acquire abilities of its own that represent like team maneuvers or combos or whatever. The Fire Mage might have a basic ability that adds bonus damage to the party against groups to represent area attacks, the Lightning Mage might have an ability that adds stunning effects to the party's attacks. But the party can acquire an ability that combos a fire and lightning spell into some big area damage/stun move.

Just some thoughts that come to mind. Hope that helps!

2017-12-04, 12:41 PM
Yddisac, aimlessPolymath, & Quellian-dyrae thank you each very much for your comments. Fantastic help/resources that give me plenty to think about.

I will fill in on my results & some more details/answers when I find the time to post again! :smallsmile:

2017-12-04, 03:48 PM
I would design a system where you roll multiple dice at once then make tactical decisions based on the rolls.

So first I would have attributes represented by dice size. Ie your combat skill rates between d4 and d12. In a 5 by 5 match roll the appropriate dice for each character all at once, then the player determines what outcome occurs, by deciding which dice or characters he wants to use against which other characters.


Players parties combat skills are represented by 1d12, 1d10, 2d8, and 1d4
Enemy combat skills represented by 2d10, 3d6

Each side rolls and results are as follows:
Players: 7, 4, 3, 8, 2
Enemies: 9, 5, 6, 3, 1

The player then decides that character 1&2 on that list will attack enemy 1, so add together 7+4 = 13 > 9 so enemy 1 takes damage equal to the difference. In this case 4
Then he decides that player 3 will hold off enemy 4. 3==3 so neither takes damage
Player 4 and player 5 will fight together and since that is all the player they must fight enemies 2, 3, and 5. 8 + 2 = 10 < 5+6+1 = 12. So the player must assign 12-10=2 points of damage to the involved characters.

Once players are downed they are out and you don't roll for them. This system can also work for aoe spell effects if desired. For example a wizard has fireball, so the combat skill for that is 3d4 where each d4 must be used against a separate enemy.

Using the example above:
Players: 7,4,3,8, (2,4,1)
Enemies: 9,5,6,3,1

Player decides character 1 and 5(2) attack enemy 1 for 7+4=11-9=2 damage to enemy 1
2 and 5(1) will attack enemy 2 for 4+2-5=1 damage to enemy 2
3 will hold off 4 again for 3-3 = 0 to either side
4 will fight 3 for 8-6=2 damage to enemy 3
and 5(3) will hold back enemy 5 for 1-1=0 to either side