Some of my favorite games involve tactical movement where the risks and rewards are a known quantity. I’m a very visual person, so I think the focus on positioning appeals to me. Games like D&D 4e, Imperial Assault, X-COM, Push Fight, Door Kickers, Santorini, Frozen Synapse, and Overland scratch that itch. I spoke about positioning and emulating certain styles of gunfights before, but a recent delve into blogs and forum posts helped me break through my creative block and come up with some core ideas for rpg firefights.
Credit Where Credit’s Due
I stumbled upon Gregor Vuga’s blog post Murder by any other name. It makes great points about the futility of codifying into rules that which we can more easily imagine at the table naturally. It also gets bonus points for Die Hard references.
From there, I read Emmy Allen’s wonderful article Shit games don’t get about combat situations. Then, I read some old Vincent Baker posts here and here. I ended up thinking about all those PUBG and Apex Legends matches where I died because I found out I was in a firefight after I’d already been shot.
This is the result. I’m kind of using D&D 5e terms here, but it should be a workable skeleton for most initiative-based, turn-ordered trad or trindie systems.
Shoot and Scoot
Your turn comes around and nobody’s attacked you yet. You’re in a firefight, so you look for a target. Everyone’s in cover because the people who aren’t got shot in the first round of combat. You need to move around, to flank someone, but you need to leave your own cover to do it.
If nobody is waiting to shoot you as soon as you move, and the next bit of cover is within your movement, then you’re good. Scoot away. If you have to move farther, you’ll be exposed. Get a friend to cover you. If you have to, you can suppress while you move, but this slows you down and probably needs a roll to make sure it’s effective.
The Big List
- Not under fire since your last turn: +1
- Moving: -1
- Using an ideal weapon for the situation: +1
- Using a lousy weapon for the situation: -1
Your target is…
- Exposed (out of cover, not double moving/running): +1
- Behind cover: -1
Add all the relevant things. If it’s a positive number, you have advantage/bonus dice. If it’s negative, you have disadvantage/penalty dice/the opponent gets a bonus.
After being narrowly missed, you leave your cover, sprinting around the side of a truck to flank your target. You were under fire recently and you’re moving, for a -1. Your target is exposed once you get around the truck (+1), so you roll normally.
From your new cover behind the truck’s engine block, you see another enemy try to cross the street. You haven’t been attacked since your last turn (+1). Your target doesn’t have cover, but they are dashing, trying to get across the open ground as fast as possible. They’re not exposed. You still have advantage, however, because you’re not currently under fire and can take that extra moment to aim.
After you shoot the poor guy crossing the street, his friend shoots up the truck you’re hiding behind while another guy tries to flank you. You move to the jersey wall to avoid getting flanked, firing at your shooter as you go. You’re moving (-1) and your target is behind cover (-1). You roll with disadvantage.
Automatic Hits and Misses
Optionally, and depending on what the rules end up looking like, having +2 or more means you just hit, and -2 or more means you miss. In the last example above, when, after being attacked, you move (-1) and shoot at a target behind cover (-1), you’d automatically miss. Maybe if you had a weapon good for firing on the move, like a submachinegun on full auto, you could get a +1 for ideal weapon and thus still get a roll, albeit at disadvantage.
Getting Shot At
When you get shot at, if you’re aware of the attack you can choose to stand your ground or to take cover. If you’re behind cover, taking cover aborts your next action but the incoming attack misses. You’re pinned or suppressed. If you don’t have cover, taking cover aborts your next action. You dive prone – you can move a little bit to cover if there’s some near you. If you were exposed, taking cover negates your exposure. If you weren’t exposed, taking cover can find you some cover. This happens before the attack.
If you stand your ground, the incoming attack happens normally, taking into account movement and cover.