First glimpse of Combat (Series on Crunch – Part III)

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A Responsive Action Economy

The stated goal of the Knights of the Black Lily ruleset is to emulate the fantasy genre more faithfully than any other game before it and to challenge its players within these confines. One of the shortfalls of traditional fantasy RPGs in doing so lies in their lack of proper interruptability and reactivity:

  • Interruptability: An enemy who has a readied arrow aimed at you is often not necessarily faster than your PC who has only a sword (or worse: a still sheathed sword) to swing at him, depending on who rolls higher Initiative scores.
  • Reactivity: An enemy that takes a longer action (running up 20 meters, casting a spell that takes the entire round to complete, unlocking a door, etc.) should give you the opportunity to realize what is about to happen this round and to act accordingly.

Knights of the Black Lily improves on such traditional designs by creating 3 Action Types which are solely based on how easy it is to interrupt them:

  • Full Actions (Action Cost 3): Full Actions are actions that take the entire round to complete, like running, casting certain spells or any other extended activity. Their main characteristic is that these actions can be reliably interrupted by sword swings or the release of a readied arrow
  • Base Actions (Action Cost 2): Base Actions are those actions that can be reliably interrupted by the shooting of a readied arrow (e.g., a melee attack). They can not reliably interrupt a melee attack themselves but do reliably interrupt longer actions like the above Full Actions.
  • Short Actions (Action Cost 1): Short Actions are the fastest type of actions. They reliably interrupt both the above Action Types (like running enemies or melee attacks)

This threefold structure allows for built-in basic interruptability. To guarantee reactivity as well, Knights of the Black Lily requires actions to be declared based on action speed – with those characters who choose the slowest actions having to declare first, giving everyone else the chance to act accordingly. For example, if your archer-type character and his party encounter a bunch of orcs, he will know which orcs will charge him in the upcoming round because they need to declare first (their charge movement constitutes a Full Action after all). Such prior declaration then in turn will allow your archer to specifically pick on those orcs that are coming for your jugular!

The whole action economy is, of course, a little bit more involved than that – with rules for sequencing actions (readying an arrow, shooting it and drawing the next one, all in the same round), parallel actions (moving and drawing a sword at the same time) and aborting actions (foregoing a charge move and diving down to dodge an incoming arrow instead) and much more.

Initiative and the Momentum of Combat

Knights of the Black Lily operates on the principle of minimized Initiative determination. The above action economy facilitates this automatically to a fair degree: there is no need to determine Initiative if your character’s ranged attack is reliably faster than your enemy’s charge attack. In fact, the number of cases in which two combatants try to be faster than the other and the outcome is in doubt is relatively rare. The most significant of these cases is the initial round of melee combat, when both sides try to get in the first attack on the other – under these circumstances, determining who goes first is inevitable. Beyond that initial Face-Off, however, the outstanding way that Knights of the Black Lily emulates cinematic melee combat and minimizes Initiative resolution comes fully into play.

You see, in Knights of the Black Lily opponents do not alternate attacking each other. Instead, if you’ve won melee Initiative in the above Face-off, you have the exclusive right to attack your enemy, while the opposing party needs to defend for their life, being under constant attack. Most importantly, you retain that right automatically from round to round, always looking for the kill or creating openings to exploit in the following round – while the Defender hopes to seize the Initiative themselves, possibly with a straight and lethal counterattack! Determining an Initiative order does not come into play at all for as long as an outside force does not try to interfere with the duel!

We posit that such handling of the momentum of combat is overall way more faithful to cinematic combat than the back-and-forth of attacks in 99% of traditional fantasy role-playing games. Have a look yourself:


And even:

Now, ask yourself: which is more evocative of such dramatic fights and which captures better the dynamics of cinematic combat – combat systems with alternating attacks or the attack sequences in Knights of the Black Lily? To us, the answer seems self-evident.





In the next installment of this multi-part series on the game design of Knights of the Black Lily, we will be taking another look at combat – this time at the nitty-gritty of fighting: the interplay of attacking and defending and the game’s elegant emulation of some of the most frequent elements in cinematic combat.

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