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Witcher Dev Notes #3: Combat in the Witcher RPG

One of the most important things to take into account when writing the Witcher RPG was the combat system. The combat of the Witcher, especially in Witcher 2 and witcher 3, is vastly different from the standard, hack and slash combat of traditional RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. The combat of the Witcher is constantly in motion. Attacks are immediately deadly and “critical wounds” do much more than just lower your hit points. The way your survive in a battle in the Witcher is to constantly reposition, aim for enemies weak spots, knock them off guard and prepare ahead of time.

As I mentioned before CD Projekt was very specific about wanting the Witcher RPG to be similar to our game Cyberpunk 2020. This meant bloody, viscous and unforgiving combat. However, Cyberpunk relies heavily on guns, (being a dark future game), and gun combat doesn’t translate too well into melee combat especially in the fast paced, frenetic combat of the Witcher. So I set out to make the combat system for the RPG fit the world while still delivering the deadliness CD Projekt was looking for. In the end the combat system is about where I was hoping to get it thanks to three major system tweaks and a major system addition.

The first tweak was to take an in depth look at melee combat. We wanted more granularity to combat in the Witcher. More than just, “I hit him, he misses me, I hit him, he hits me.” In the Witcher RPG, when using melee weapons you have specific attacks that you can use. We took this approach in Cyberpunk as well but because it was relegated to martial arts mostly it didn’t get a lot of play. In each round of combat you can take 2 seperate attacks:

  • Fast Strikes: You can make 2 fast strikes during a turn. Both are rolled separately and can be rolled against separate targets.

  • Strong Strikes: You can sacrifice your second attack to make 1 strong strike against an opponent for double damage if you really need to get through tough armor or you want to bet all your damage on one attack.

  • Pommel Strike: You can strike your opponent with the pommel or heel of your weapon to stun them temporarily.

  • Sweep: You can sweep your opponent’s legs out from under them to get them on the ground.

  • Disarm: You can attempt to disarm an opponent.

  • Grapple: You can grab an opponent which keeps them from getting away and then leads to further attacks you can make.

  • Throw: Once grappling an opponent you can throw them a distance based on your strength or just throw them to the ground.

  • Pin: Once grappling and opponent you can pin them to immobilize them.

  • Choke: Once grappling an opponent you can choke them.

Similarly you have an arsenal of defenses based on the style of your character or what you need at the time:

  • Dodge: You can simply dodge an opponent’s attack.

  • Reposition: Similar to the combat roll in Witcher 2 & 3 you can dodge and move yourself into a new position to get behind an opponent or avoid being ganged up on.

  • Block: If you don’t trust your dexterity you can block the attack which negates damage.

  • Parry: If you feel confident you can try to parry the opponent, negating the damage and staggering your opponent..

The idea is to give the player options in combat that would make their combat less predictable and less static. With this system people can think about their options, stay in constant motion, re-positioning, striking, tripping their opponents, going for grapples and parrying blades.

The second system tweak is healing. While there are some healing items in the RPG such as healing potions and healing magic the major brunt of healing must be done over time. Part of the realistic, violent feel CD Projekt wanted to get in the RPG is that you can’t always just drink a health potion and get all your hit points back immediately. Healing items allow you to regenerate hit points but you still have to stay on your toes until you regenerate. Unlike the video game you can’t get hit points back by eating a ham sandwich or some raw wolf meat. Unless you have a mage or some potions on hand healing is done through R&R.

To really capture the feeling of combat in the Witcher I created a critical system for the game. In the Witcher books the brutality of combat is often underscored and characters never just “get hit”. Bones are broken, arteries are cut and emphasis is always put on how Geralt is able to get by due to his incredible skill, (and high pain threshold). In the Witcher RPG you can score “critical hits” on opponents by rolling a higher attack roll than their defense roll and the larger the difference between your totals the more damaging and hindering the attack is. Low range examples are things like dislocated limbs, lost teeth and minor head wounds with which you can battle on but which impose small penalties and give more feeling of life and danger to a combat. The most dangerous of critical strikes can kill you outright if not treated and always take a piece of you such as dismembered limbs, septic shock and lost eyes. This means that if you have a high weapon skill you know that it will count for something in combat. If a master swordsman fights a peasant he knows he can almost always take the peasant apart with ease. But it also encourages players to weigh their options, and keep on their toes. If their opponent is far more skilled than them they might want to wait and try a more stealthy approach rather than risk broken bones or worse. All critical wounds can be stabilized on the battlefield so the victim won’t bleed out or the like but to fully heal them they must be treated by a Doctor, Priest or Mage and, as with standard healing, they take time to heal.

In the Witcher RPG we want to deliver a combat system that feels as risky, and dynamic as the combat of Witcher 3. Something that stands out and has it’s own feel and encourages players to think before they leap into combat.

Written by Lisa Pondsmith — April 13, 2016

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