Combat in narrative games

I don’t know if anyone is still reading this forum, but I figured I’d ask for some input about how people imagine action-style combat being handled in a &quottext adventure&quot format.

Fallen London is one example where the physical conflicts are almost entirely abstracted. When a &quotDangerous&quot challenge happens, you can imagine it to take place in any way you like. The important thing is not the details but the result.

I’m fiddling with a super-hero style game. There’s only so much rescuing kittens from trees you can do. At some point, the player wants to punch out some bad guys, and she wants that experience to be at least somewhat visceral. A superhero gamer wants the &quotfeel&quot of combatting evil and having larger-than-life action as part of the conflict resolution for whatever problem she’s currently attempting to overcome.

At the same time I don’t want to get into treating each individual punch as a dice-roll, in effect. In a tabletop game, maybe you could get away with that, but I think that the narrative-based player needs to feel some immediacy in the resolution of the combat. If he feels like he can just click &quotgo&quot a couple of times, walk away for two hours, and come back and say, &quotwhere was I – Oh, yeah, I was about to kick Snidely Whiplashe’s butt&quot then something’s lacking in the combat experience.

Never mind that managing it that way may be the completionist thing to do but it’s also the most potentially boring thing to do with button-click after button-click after button-click to accomplish something as simple as defeating one evil minion.

I guess I’m wondering what the middle ground might be and how it might be implemented in a format like Storynexus.

Have you tried the moon league in knife and candle? Maybe something like that could be put in for the harder enemies. (Raise speed, strength, and endurance for each fight or something)

But I don’t think that would work with the weaker enemies. Or at the least it seems like it would make the system grow boring quickly.

Or maybe pokemon’s system, or some other RPG system, since that’s mostly text based, or can be converted to text without much problem. (I think, it’s been years since I’ve actually programmed something, so just ignore this if it won’t work)

I haven’t played Knife and Candle. I’ll give that a try and see how it works.

For weak enemies, I’m figuring that a basic challenge-result is alright. The trick will be to describe in a satisfying way, that’s still sort of boilerplate. &quotSignature&quot villains will require more of an actual battle, or at least the feel of one.
edited by slickriptide on 4/17/2016

Metroplexity is my favorite example of combat in a narrative game, but requires programming beyond a Story Nexus structure. It has a deep combat minigame, but almost all the tactical decisions happen when you build your deck and use equipment and items. Most actual combats are quite short, so they fit in smoothly to the narrative RPG structure of exploration and questing.

I have barely played Below, but I do enjoy its threat system. I wouldn’t say the combat feels visceral, but there’s a lot of tension as your character gets progressively more bloodied, or gets penalties from losing fights. You’re trying to gather various resources, and judge how much risk you can take on trying to do so, before a random encounter surprises you. If you don’t have the right resources to bypass it (and the stats), you still move on, but you get injuries or more penalties. You advance the quest through &quotboss fights&quot which you can access at any time, so there’s a meta-goal affecting your decisions about which resources to save up.

The exact Below approach may be too dark for your superhero game (or it may not), but you can borrow from the idea of enemies-as-resource-drains. That seems to fit the text format better than enemies-as-visceral-experience, which gets old fast when the &quotvisceral experience&quot is reading.
edited by TheThirdPolice on 4/17/2016

Your description of Below is rather interesting. I kind of like the idea of a battle-based mission map having a &quotbudget&quot and having the player’s success or failure depend partly on how she spends her character’s resources on &quotminion&quot battles, &quotlieutenant&quot battles, and &quotboss&quot battles. Sometimes, the &quotbest&quot solution to an objective may be to avoid fighting entirely and attempt stealth or negotiation instead.

I realized recently that what I really want to do is have a deck for each mission that represents the setting and the potential conflicts.

So, let’s say the player just feels like doing something random - &quotPatrol the city&quot. There’s a &quotpatrol&quot deck that is conceptually equivalent to the area deck of Fallen London that has &quotrandom encounters&quot. The player witnesses a super-powered street gang rob a tourist bus and tracks them to their lair in an abandoned building.

Now the objective is not just to catch the robbers, it’s to defeat the gang and clean out the lair. Switching area to the lair activates a new deck attached to the lair. The lair’s &quotbudget&quot gives it X number of minion encounters, Y number of lieutentants, and Z number of bosses. The cards in the deck represent the rooms, passages, and encounters. The shuffling of the deck each time provides a random &quotmap&quot of the lair so that playing the same encounter multiple times can have a slightly different feel each time.

Either the deck can be completely random, in a rogue-like manner of exploration, or it can be pseudo-random, in that the encounters are random, but that successes with minions build up and at a certain level trigger a lieutenant or boss. &quotYour Black Skull Gang threat level has become Hated. Black Skull himself has appeared!&quot

The player’s success will depend at least partly on how he’s kitted out and partly on how he manages his resources in the battles leading up to the boss.

It also means that once I have a &quotgang lair&quot deck created, that I can use it as the base model for any &quotsignature&quot story that also takes place in a similar setting.

I’ve got dynamic chase scenes in my game (both being chased and chasing) and I’m planning on adding more pure fighting. There are a lot of weapons, ammo types, knives, etc. It’s a lot of work, but player response is very positive. The dynamic scenes work by locking the player into a looping storylet, where the branches available are always changing based on the situation (e.g. how far they are ahead), who has the initiative, a randomiser, weapons equipped, etc.