The RogueWare Project

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FreeHolder Combat System Revised

Posted by Chris Crooks on March 9, 2014 at 5:40 PM

Admittedly, probably not many people dove into the combat system available in the prototype, due to its glitchiness. I had become mildly obsessed with creating an elegant combat system that was mostly automated but still very tactical, but it was not particularly intuitive and the coding was a bit clumsy.


The Final-Fantasy-ness of my original conception of battles suggested a more traditional command-menu style but I thought I could innovate even in this dimension. However, it occurs to me now that even with the larger-scale battles achievable with mass hiring of mercenaries you probably won’t have to manage more than 16-20 units at a time, and if micro-management became tiresome one could still assign a tactic to the unit for the battle. Most people immediately get the concept of assigning commands to characters in battle - less so the indirect control of automated tactics. And I have to admit, direct commands ultimately do give the most precise tactical control, and as a strategy freak omitting this is painful on principle. Still, the Bushido Blade-like wound system and scaled D100 rolls keep it exciting, fast, and brutal. I wanted to keep as many of the worthwhile game innovations while scrapping the clumsy automation.


As such I’ve taken another whack at a standalone combat simulator that allows you to create pitched battles between a friendly group of mercenaries that you control and a group of some of the low-level enemies you encounter in FreeHolder. I’m nearly finished implementing all of the mercenary classes - everything else except morale is good to go and it’s much quicker, more elegant, and very nearly glitch-free. This seems a fairly good time to put down on record an overview of what is intended to be, after more trial and error, the actual system that will be implemented into the final version of FreeHolder.



 Of utmost importance to learn first is that the characters in your battle squad can be assigned to the front or back row. This has immense implications. Characters in the front row are your first line of defense. As long as there are any standing characters in the front row, all melee attacks made by enemies must be directed at the front row characters. Obviously, this means that weaker characters like farmers, mages, and those without strong combat skills should be positioned in the back row to protect them from fighters and the like, and tough defenders should be put in the front.


Ranged attacks, on the other hand, can hit either row, so enemy archers and skirmishers are still a threat to your back row. Many fighters have a “Cover” ability, which allows them to absorb ranged attacks intended for characters in the back row. However, they must sacrifice the ability to attack in order to do this.


Characters in the back row cannot ordinarily perform melee attacks, unless they are armed with a reach weapon like a spear or have some sort of special ability. Characters with ranged weapons, mages, and stealthy types are a natural choice for the back row. Incidentally, a reach weapon allows a character in the front row to attack the enemy rear, and since it is not a ranged attack, Cover is ineffective at redirecting it. This is useful for getting at entrenched snipers behind covering defenders.




1. Ranged Phase

2. Melee Phase

3. Delayed Phase

Once your characters have assigned attacks, all combatants execute their orders one-by-one in initiative order, determined semi-randomly. However, certain attacks are given priority over others. All Ranged Attacks occur before any melee attacks occur, and occur simultaneously, meaning that even a character that is downed by a ranged attack will still take their own shot (it was taken before he was killed). After all ranged attacks are executed, the combatants will execute melee attacks in initiative order. If a combatant is killed or incapacitated before they act, they lose their attack. Finally, any delayed actions take place in initiative order in the delayed phase - this usually includes the Snipe ability, spells, and Stealth attacks.


As you can see, ranged attacks give you an uninterruptible attack at the very start of the round, making them crucial for pre-wounding enemies your melee fighters will then finish off, or downing hurt enemies at the start of a round before they can attack you. Conversely, delayed actions take place only after ranged and melee phases are complete, meaning the character has to survive the round to take the action.


After all three phases are complete, character status ailments are rolled for, inflicted or cured, and everything starts from a new round.




Characters do not have hit points. Rather they simply are either fine, wounded, critical, or dead. It is easier to inflict wounded on a character than critical (technically, a major instead of a minor hit is required). When a character is reduced to critical status, they collapse and are of no further use in the battle unless healed. There is a chance they may yet live. Critical characters that bleed out or are finished off become dead. Living is no longer a possibility. Certain enemies like the Berserker or Gladiators with the Juggernaut ability can continue fighting even while Critical, and ignore the usual penalty to attack rolls for being Wounded.

 Combat Rolls


Attacking is done with a D100 roll that determines the severity of the hit, from miss -> glancing blow -> minor hit -> major hit -> critical hit. The glancing blow and critical hit inflict status ailments based on the type of weapon wielded. Minor hit will wound unwounded characters, but will not reduce wounded characters to critical.

 These rolls and your chance of a critical hit are modified by many different things, including the relative combat skills of you and your enemy, the armor worn by the enemy, and whether you are stealthed or not.




Every time a combatant is attacked by more than one enemy each round, each successive enemy receives a “flanking bonus” to hit, and this bonus increases with each enemy. Gang up on tough enemies for better results!



Thieves, Assassins, and others can use Stealth Mode. When Stealthed, their attack is delayed but they cannot be targeted by enemies during the round. They may also target any enemy in any row. When attempting to attack, a stealth check must be rolled to beat a spotting number generated by the number and type of alert enemies in the battle. If they are spotted, they lose their attack. If they are not, the stealthy character strikes with a substantial bonus to hit and critical hit. They will still be spotted after this attack unless they either down the enemy or perform a critical hit, which is an instantaneous “silent kill.” If spotted, the character will be unable to stealth in the next round. After that round, they can use stealth mode again as normal.


Sharpshooters and other ranged units with stealth can make stealth ranged attacks. With ranged weapons, if the attacker is spotted, they still complete the attack, but lose the stealth hit and critical bonus.


There is a lot of other information about equipment, armor types, armor piercing and so forth but it’s not essential to play with and enjoy the combat system. Everything has descriptive text when moused over to help. The fact that your characters might be going down on the very next hit most of the time keeps everything exciting and unpredictable, and when you have a great round it is very satisfying to see the damage you’ve done in a short amount of time. Of course, things can also go awry as enemies get the rolls that were intended for you. :)


As a design note, the mercenaries in this sim are supposed to be more or less the actual variety of mercs you can hire in the full game, and I’ve tried to represent a spectrum of roles so the player can fill in gaps in his own squad with the appropriately helpful mercenary. However, if there seems to be a blatantly obvious type missing, or some other consideration that you think hasn’t occurred to me, please let me know. I do intend, given the time and art budget, to have a couple of very powerful Mercenary Lords who will join you if you build your guild reputation up very high and complete a very difficult quest.


I will post an update with this simulator soon. I think you’ll find it a satisfying blend of old-school conventions and tactical wargame mechanics. It was always my dream to have some kind of battle system that LOOKS like Final Fantasy but PLAYS like Baldur’s Gate. This ain’t that by a long shot, but still is a taste of what some sort of “ideal” combat system would be like, in my opinion.


Thanks all! More updates forthcoming.



Categories: Game Design, FreeHolder

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