I am a big fan of fantasy Action RPG video games and, while I haven’t had the opportunity to play a wide variety, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to adopt their mechanics for tabletop games.
One of these in particular is Stamina or a system that tracks action points or energy consumption. For example, running or climbing in the last two Zelda Games (Breath of the Wild, Tears of the Kingdom). Stamina could also be used to replace HP but I think that would be more of a narrative explanation than a unique mechanic.
Instead, I’ve been trying to adapt a mechanic that might be closer to to the stamina gauge found in FromSoftware games (Elden Ring, Souls series). Something that actively influences combat. Both speeding it up, making it more dynamic, and making it feel closer to player skill when avoiding attacks instead of the lame feeling that comes from rolling a critical failure and missing an attack.
So the first step to fix that problem is to make all attacks auto-hit. Narratively this usually makes more sense. Adventurers often have training and skilled backgrounds. They should know what they’re doing.
This can speed up turns, especially if you combine attacks with static damage. Thinking about crafting an entire game system, you can put more emphasis on weapon upgrades or specific tags having more meaning. Whereas your +3 Great Sword could still miss on a Nat 1 (or 20 for roll-under systems), now that +3 means so much more.
Notice this subheading isn’t about avoiding attacks. Sometimes, you want an attack to hit, or you have Armor to soak damage. That’s the point of armor, right?
So now you have options to avoid damage; which in turn gives you options on how to use or track your Stamina gauge:
Next we’ll assign a relevant stat to the last two options. Strength to Parry and Dexterity to Dodge. So any time an enemy is about to make an attack, you can choose how you’re going to react.
But you have to have the Stamina available to do so.
Another mini-system I like using at the table are die counters. So in this case we’re going to start with a d6 to track our Stamina. With that in mind, here are the basic rules that worked pretty well in play testing with a simple OSR-style roll-under system. If you’re familiar with games like Into the Odd and it’s multitude of hacks this could slot really well into that.
The nice thing about this system is it allows PCs to pick a choice that makes sense for their build. In some rules-lite systems I’ve played in the past, it recommends only using Dex to avoid incoming attacks. And while that might make sense narratively, it doesn’t give players who just want to carry a big weapon and smash things much of a choice. This fixes that.
Also, this should be able to work across genres. Can a Vibechete parry? I don’t know. Probably. One way to find out.
In play testing with a friend to see how this would work, we thought of a few other ways you could expend Stamina. These probably won’t work, at least not at early levels with just a d6 of Stamina.
|1||Overclock/+1 Damage/Damage Die|
|1||Sprint (Extra Movement)/Ignore Difficult Terrain|
|2||+1 Action or Turn|
Running out of stamina always comes at a cost: Zelda games you are slow and lethargic while recharging and FromSoftware games you lose the ability to Attack or Dodge entirely.
I haven’t quite worked out what that ideally looks like in this system. A possible consequence could be loosing a turn. Or even optionally, if you’re low, a PC could hold their turn turn to regain 1-2 STA.
As with both of our examples, you should be able to upgrade your Stamina. In this case, upgrades would be increasing to the next die value (see the table below) at every other level. This should be up to a max of d12. You could try a d20 but for most games, if your combat is lasting long enough for that to be necessary, Stamina isn’t going to fix your turn length.
Theoretically you could do every level but that gets a little difficult to track (either d6+1 or d7) and it’s easier to factor in what dice are commonly on hand at any given player’s table.
In brief playtests, Combat Stamina worked pretty well for medieval melee. Once you start including any sort of arcane or range abilities however it becomes slightly more complicated. So long as those weapon attacks can still be dodged, though it might work.
I’m curious to see if anyone else tries out this system in their game how it works or if there are any other systems that have a similar mechanic that works as smoothly at the table as it does on a console. If you have any notes I’d love to hear about it!