Hollow: Initiative Rules and Combat Sample

Good evening everyone.
I thought I’d take a moment to share the initiative system for my Monster Hunter themed game Hollow. The rules are a bit different than typical ttrpgs and are intended to capture the more methodical and reactive feel of Monster Hunter combat. I realize the rules are a bit on the crunchy side, but seeing as how the theme is fairly combat-focused, I don’t mind a little crunch as long as it fits the theme and add to the experience.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback or critics.

<Edit 8/16; Added for additional context about the system and my design goals>
Design Goals and Context

  • With this system, I’m trying to capture the methodical nature of Monster Hunter combat. For those who haven’t played a Monster Hunter video game, combat is slow and revolves around watching a monster for its tells and adjusting your gameplay to take advantage of the opening or avoidance opportunities that information gives you.
  • The game is intended for smaller groups, 2-3 players plus a GM
  • The system described here is for behemoth fights or behemoth fights that include minions. Standard fights, won’t involve the ACO system and will have a more streamlined initiative system.
  • As in Monster Hunter, a behemoth fight is typically a 1 vs group encounter. Monsters may have minions but minions are by design, throw away monsters similar to those found in D&D 4th or Star Wars (FFG).
  • Fighting two behemoths at once should be extremely rare. When this occurs, either they will be paired by design, balanced to function as one creature, or the second behemoth will be a good indication for the group to run. Like when spiderman is fighting Dr. Octopus and the Green Goblin shows up. The fight becomes more of a story beat and less about him trying to fight both of them individually.
  • Combat will be fairly lethal so while each combat round might take a bit longer, I wouldn’t expect behemoth fights to take much longer than your standard “big fight” in a game like D&D.

Initiative and Combat Outline

Step 1 : Players and GM check for Action Commit Order (ACO). ACO is calculated the following formula:

Fire Attribute + Skill Ranks + Modifiers

The skill used in the calculation is typically Perception but could a different skill appropriate for the situation. Example, the Empathy skill might be used in the first round of combat following a failed negotiation. Modifiers cover a range of situational and static bonuses, including those granted by surprise, talents, previous round maneuvers or gear.

Once everyone has an ACO number, players and monsters are ordered from smallest to largest. While Hollow is a setting about a group of players fighting a single behemoth, combats can include multiple behemoths, minions or a mixture of each. Each behemoth should have its own ACO but GMs may wish to consolidate minions into groups or have them share ACO with behemoths for simplicity.

Step 2a (Players and Minions) : Going in ACO from smallest to largest, players and minions take turns announcing their actions for the turn.

A player or minion must announce the type of each action they wish to take along with the targets of those actions. They must provide enough detail to establish an Initiative Order (IO) but do not need to provide details beyond that. For example, a player might specify that they are going to attack the behemoth with the Rising Thunder attack maneuver and take a move action. They are not required to say where they are moving nor are they required to commit to any actions they may take that don’t have an IO speed, such as activating the Power Stroke talent to increase their damage.

IO is calculated by totaling together the speed of all actions being taken and subtracting the character or minions Air attribute.

(Action 1) + (Action 2) + (optional: Action 3) - Air Attribute = Initiative Order

Note: Some activities, such as combat maneuver, may require the use of multiple actions. When this occurs, a single speed cost will be listed. Additionally, in Hollow, a character may take two strain to gain an additional action during a combat round. This additional action must be announced as usual during their ACO phase.

Some examples of typical Actions and their speed cost can be found below:

Move (s10) – The character moves his speed.

Attack (s5-15) – The character performs a combat maneuver at the speed listed.

Use Skill (var. speeds) – The character makes a skill check. Typically this takes 1 action and is s10, but GM may require more actions or speed as they deem necessary.

Active Defense (s5) – The character takes one of the active defense maneuvers such as Dodge or Block.

Refocus (s1) – The character spends an action to gain +5 on the next rounds ACO check

Hustle (-s5) – The character spends an action to reduce their IO by their Air attribute

Step 2b (Behemoths) : When a behemoth reaches its ACO the GM immediately draws a tactical battle card (name tbd) and displays it publicly.

These cards represent the chaotic ebb and flow of a battle, presenting the players with both challenges and opportunities. While lots of different data is present on the card, of relevance here is the behemoths attack this round, denoted by a letter corresponding to an attack on the monster’s stat block, as well as possible modifiers to the IO for the round. Additionally, most cards offer a tactical opportunity that a player may take advantage of provided they are taking the right actions.

The GM will then reveal the basic characteristics of the attack being performed by the behemoth as well as provide a little narrative describing the monster’s Tell. Tells are behaviors or posturing that a behemoth performs prior to an attack. An example might be static electricity crackling along a monster’s quills prior to an electrical attack or lowering of the head and pawing the ground prior to a charge. The GM will them insert the behemoth into the IO based on the speed of the attack, modified by adjustments on the card.

Step 3 : Once all players and monsters have an IO, action resolution begins at the lowest IO and moves upwards. If the state of the battle changes to one such that a player or monster can no longer perform the action they announced or if a player simply wishes to change their action, then they may instead opt to “go last”. Going last moves them to the last initiative slot. When their turn again comes around they may choose and execute new actions. Tie breakers for multiple instances of “go last” are broken based on speed of the overall action being performed.

Step 4 : Once everyone has acted, a new round begins, and action announcements proceed in ACO. Note that ACO is generally static unless a player spent actions or used abilities to modify their ACO in the previous round.

Sample Combat Round

Combatants: A Quillfiend behemoth, Greenbeard and Flit

Greenbeard is observant and cunning with a strong fire attribute (4) and 2 ranks in perception. His ACO is 6.

Flit distracts easily with no ranks in perception and an average fire attribute (2). Her ACO is 2

The Quillfiend has an ACO listed at 4.

Actions will be announced in order of Flit > Quillfiend > Greenbeard

Flit announces that she will take a move action (s10) and an attack action to perform the combat maneuver Bladestorm (s15). Since her Air stat is 3, her initiative order will be 22 (10+15-3=22). Not knowing what the monster has planned, she opts for a powerful but slow attack.

The GM begins the Quillfiend’s ACO round by flipping a tactical battle card. Among other information on the card, the GM reveals that the Quillfiend will be make its C attack. Checking the monster’s stat block the GM informs the table that the Quillfiend will be making a large AOE attack at speed 22. Additionally, the battle card has a global effect of -5s to all monsters this turn, making the Quillfiend’s IO 17.

The GM takes a moment to describe how the Quillfiend hunches over into a ball and while its quills quiver ominously.

However, its not all bad news, as the card also offers a tactical opportunity the players may wish to exploit. If the characters can make a successful taunt action, the monster will instead perform its type A action on the taunting character. Type A attacks are usually basic single-target attacks and would be preferable to the C type listed.

Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity, Greenbeard announces a move action (to get within range, s10) followed by a Taunt (s10). With an Air attribute of only 2, Greenbeard must also spend 2 strain to gain a third action. This allows him to take the Hustle (-s5) action, reducing he overall IO to 13, allowing him to act before the Behemoth.

Now that all combatants have an IO, turns are resolved in order from lowest to highest.

Greenbeard rolls well, successfully taunting the monster from is Quill attack. Using the mana sparks (aka advantage) generating by the roll, he further applies a penalty to the Quillfiends attack roll.

The Quillfiend charges Greenbeard and performs his Type A action, a vicious slash. A far less deadly attack than he would have otherwise performed but that is little consolation to Greenbeard as he suffers a solid blow.

Finally, Flit takes his turn to move up behind the monsters to deliver a series of mighty sword slashes to the Quillfiend’s flank.

TLDR: Initiative Rules: Announce actions by Perception, Resolve actions by Speed. This allows players to respond to and exploit monsters tells. Sample combat included.

Pretty cool! Very crunchy, but good for a tactical combat game. I like how being perceptive lets you announce last, and thus do the optimal action

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