Design Diary: Combat Changes

Have been rewriting all the rules for combat over the last few months. The immersion was sometimes getting wrecked by a flurry of rule look-ups.

Ah, combat… sometimes this went smoothly, and other times things conflict devolved into a boring and confusing slug-fest. So over the last few months I’ve worked hard to make battles much more fun, more intuitive and the combat loop as easy as possible to administer.


Initiative determined the turn order each combat round, and acted like a “stance” for the Hero’s party, granting different options and a different turn sequence depending on who had the upper hand. I thought I needed this structure to orchestrate things like surprise and ambushes; turns out, not so much.

Initiative gone. RIP.

Hero attacks first, defends against monsters second – always.

Funny how you get stuck in a rut. Once initiative was thrown out I removed about 2 pages of rules and everything distilled down to something much simpler and more engaging. And then clever ways of co-ordinating ambushes and other effects using combat status instead just sort of revealed themselves.

Secret Status Sauce

Relative to other games, I thought there was a manageable number of combat status to start with; bleed, blight, confuse, stun, entangle, sunder, and weaken. But throw in different character activations and varied cooldown timings depending on ATTACK/DEFENCE phases and you have a recipe for regular look up frenzies.

With initiative removed I went on to simmer and reduce status down to; wound (bleed/blight combined), stun, weaken, entangle (sucking in confuse), and sunder. Perhaps the most critical change was to have all cooldowns go at end of a round, administering all combat effects in a single step.

Death comes as the silent footfalls of a cat

Simple targeting rules and status changes put every member of your party tableau (ie. companions) at more risk during engagements. You often find yourself making hard decisions about companion survival, and fleeing to fight another day.

This is a good change. All too often the game became unbalanced if you managed to accumulate a full complement of companions.

Boosted attacks

What started as an effort to give elite denizens a less predictable damage output developed into a nice little system whereby attacks get “boosted” when a character has advantage. Loot cards have “boost” icons that designate an increase in damage (0-3HP), and you get to draw one if the Hero or denizen has an “advantage”.

For example, elite enemies (the one’s with a special shield icon) always attack with a boost. Anyone who attacks an Entangled character gets a boost. Some weapon powers grant a boost… and so on.

Imagine your a hapless companion who is caught in a web (entangle status) being hit by an elite arachnid; yikes… damage plus double boost!

Putting it all together

The changes have required adjusting a lot of content to ensure both the removal of initiative with status effects and their cooldowns have similar outcomes to the original narrative intent of each encounter.

I’m still fine tuning as I play through, balancing older content. But this is so much fun because i’m often rewriting the encounter in much simpler language and have room on the card to spice things up as i go.

In short, fewer options each with more consequence.