Mercenary Mondays: The Primacy of Defense

Note: Mercenary Mondays is an going series of posts about the Schlock Mercenary Roleplaying Game and it’s behind the scenes development!

Additional Note: Sympathies and sadness to the affected at CCP and White Wolf (one of the oldest and one of my personal favorite RPG companies). Their RPGs live on at You should all check it out. 

One of the hardest struggles in designing and balancing an RPG will always be combat. It gets harder when you approach the science fiction genres due to the rather varied and excessive power levels of weapons and armor. For example: In World of Darkness (see note above. A modern setting) RPGs, when you shoot a gun, the only defense is reduction against the damage. You can’t dodge or leap out of the way.

In Pathfinder, you can use your dexterity to apply defense against ranged attacks, which stacks with armor.

In science fiction, you have to strike a balance between deadly combat, powerful weapons, and powerful defenses.

But then you run into other problems. Games that utilize  reduction mechanic for damage and a defense mechanic struggle with balancing both. Generally one is better then the other.

For example, in the Scion game, damage tends to always outweigh reduction, so in combat, it’s preferable to have high defense to avoid getting hit at all, as your reduction will not balance up with that.

However, in Mutants and Masterminds, it’s very easy to get hit, and requires much more investment to avoid an attack. Therefore, combat tends to skewer towards high resilience characters.

To throw additional wrenches into our intricate machinery here, what about different types of damage? Should all armor block bullets, lasers, explosives, and gravity weapons equally? Should we separate out damage types? And then how do we handle that? What blocks lasers? How does that impact bullets? What about weapon calibers, scale, melee combat, and more.

Geez, right? Welcome to the mess inside my head. Honestly, designing a intuitive, dynamic, effective, and tactical combat system, whilst trying to adhere to the prime rule I had established at the start of the design (keeping it simple), was the hardest task of the initial game. So, whew. What do I do to resolve such a dilemma?



Now seems like a good place to discuss my overarching design philosophy towards Schlock. During the first few weeks and my reread of Schlock, I established a few rules regarding how I should approach the game.


1.) Keep it simple. Complicated and convoluted RPGs tend to find difficulty grabbing long term players, and one of the primary goals of the Schlock RPG was allowing easy entry for all sorts of gamers, not just fans of Schlock.

2.) Keep it in the realm of common sense. All the rules should be easy to follow and be extremely logical in how they work. No THAC0 to overwhelm your brain. No calculus or algebra during creation.

3.) Keep it fun. Part of the appeal of Schlock is the humor and fun you get when you read it. Every day brings a smile to your face, and that’s something ever session should have.

4.) Keep it something people want. There’s a lot of SciFi RPGs on the market, and Schlock needs to stand out. We really need to deliver a top notch experience that shows that cooperative storytelling has a place in the Schlockiverse.


So, when approaching combat how did I handle each of these points? I feel like each rule requires it’s own post to really show the details and thoughts of how we got there.

Next week, I’ll talk about how Rule 1 affected combat design, and what we did.