USR Wednesdays: Tournament Fighting and Wrestling

There are a handful of pro wrestling-themed RPGs, and even an official “Street Fighter” game. Yes, really, from the early ’90s, when I was playing tournament fighting games. And though a setting that’s 95 percent combat seems like it should require a complex combat system, tournament fighting and wrestling-themed games can work very well in USR. Here’s how.

An ordinary character can be created, though most characters will have Action as their highest stat. But a player who wants to try something different, like a wrestling manager or a Vince McMahon-style macho businessman, could take Wits or Ego as the highest stat.

Combat Maneuvers

Combat Gear points don’t really apply in the setting; wrestlers grab chairs but don’t have one as a primary weapon. A fighter like “Mortal Kombat’s” Scorpion does have his “Get over here!” spear, but that’s not a weapon, in USR tournament fighting. Instead, it’s a Combat Maneuver. Characters typically have one +1, one +2 and one +3 Combat Maneuver, and the another single Combat Maneuver of any bonus, selected when they’re created. A heavy hitter might have two +3s, while a fast character has two +1s, staying in the fight for a long time by moving around swiftly. In game terms, there’s no difference between one +1 attack and another; that’s where your creativity comes in… although the narration can affect your attacks — if a character’s hands are tied, he can’t throw a punch. Name your attacks something interesting and action-packed.

In addition, all characters start with these two Combat Maneuvers.
Punch (could also be a kick or even head-butt) +0: in other words, a basic Action die roll.
Block: if your character chooses a block, he doesn’t attack on his turn, but until it’s his turn in combat again, he can make his defense die roll twice and use the best result. This gives the character no Strain — but he doesn’t recover Strain either (see below for more on Strain).

Here’s a few examples of Combat Maneuvers:

Grab +1
Jab +1
Quick Kick +1
Taunt +1 (this uses the Ego instead of Action)
Tough Skin +1 (this is for defensive rolls, not attacks)

Body Slam +2
Force Field +2 (this is for defensive rolls, not attacks)
Spin Kick +2
Summon an ally (to make a sudden attack, then disappear) +2 (this uses Ego instead of Action)
Throw +2
Uppercut +2

Weapon (sword, spear, pistol) +3
Hadoken Fireball +3 (being magic, this uses Wits instead of Action)

Fighting game finishing moves aren’t Combat Maneuvers; they’re just fun to describe.

Hope you brought a roll of quarters.
I could go either way on this fight, really. (image: Capcom)


An attack roll that gets the highest result on the die (for example, a 10 on a D10) starts a combo. The attacker can continue to make attacks, as long as they are on the same target as the first attack, and as long as each one hits. When an attack misses, the combo is over. In this setting, everyone has roughly 15 Hit Points, like a typical player character, to keep them in the game for a while, and to give heroes someone to try and score combos on.


Combat Maneuvers are, in a sense, weapons: they offer a bonus to (usually) Action rolls. But they also come with a cost. A character in this setting has a Strain total, which starts at zero. Each time a character attacks or defends using a Combat Maneuver — only one of each per turn — add the bonus the Combat Maneuver provides to the character’s Strain. If the Strain is less than or equal to the character’s current Hit Points, there’s no problem. If it goes above the Hit Points (or the Hit Points fall below Strain), the character can only make a basic attack, simply rolling a stat to attack without any Combat Maneuver bonus. A character’s Strain drops 5 points if he doesn’t use a Combat Maneuver at all on a turn, though it can never go below zero.


Sure, you can simply create a few tournament fighters or wrestlers, set them up in a playoff bracket-style showdown, and duel it out. But there’s more to the setting than fighting, believe it or not. Think of “Street Fighter’s” struggle against M. Bison, or the romantic storylines of WWE. While you’re thinking about what to call your character’s Combat Maneuvers, don’t forget they have Specialisms too. Even professional warriors have interests and skills — maybe your hero is a Spy, an Expert Pilot, or an Anthropologist who found another hero, a strange man-monster, deep in the Amazon jungle. Perhaps the hero is a former champion passing along his knowledge of Tournament History to the younger characters, or is Suave (or Wealthy) enough to impress non-player characters unimpressed with his talents in the ring.

What does your Tournament Fighter look like?

USR Wednesdays: Mecha

Maybe it’s a feeling of nostalgia, maybe it’s wandering down the Transformers aisle in the supermarket toy section, maybe it’s the need to round out my science-fiction gaming genre collection: I realized there are no rules out there for giant mecha combat in USR. Here’s a few guidelines for your game. To start with, giant mecha (or mechs) in these rules refer mainly to the Transformers (G1 especially) and old-school, FASA Battletech. I don’t watch much anime, and I can’t say I was really impressed by “Pacific Rim” either, though I like the concept. It should’t be hard to take your USR mecha game in any direction you like, though.

How far transforming technology has come.
Call him Jetfire, call him Valkyrie, any name is fine. (image:

The biggest change is probably not what you’re thinking: mecha, though more powerful than ordinary humans (say, Rick Hunter from “Robotech” or Sam Witwicky from “Transformers”), don’t use the superhero tiers rules. Humans can’t possibly compete with a mecha, with one exception — if you stretch the definition of mecha to include robot suits, like Iron Man or the Space Marines of Warhammer 40,000, which we’re not doing here. If you want a Transformers-style game, every character is created using the regular Domino Writing-style USR rules… they’re just giant robots. If you want a Battletech game, where the humans are the ones with stories and the mechs are just gigantic weapons platforms, you can do that too. It’s best in that case to make one human character, the pilot of a mech “character” you also create.

It’s the game master’s call on what each character can do; a mecha can’t pick a lock, while a human can’t change shape into a car. That’s why you need both characters to simulate a lot of mecha fiction. The main way they interact in the rules is in damage. Combat is calculated normally for mecha-to-mecha or human-to-human fighting. But when they mix and match:

Mecha attacks human: double the damage the human suffers.
Human attacks mecha: if the human’s attack total minus the mecha’s defense total is 5 or less, it does 1 damage to the mecha. If it’s 6 or more, it does 2 damage.

Destroyicon narrowed his optic sensors at Jack. “Get out of my way, puny human,” he growled, his voice rumbling the rocks beneath Jack’s feet.
“No way!” Jack shouted. “This is for the Herobots!” He squeezed the trigger on his laser pistol.
An Action roll of 6 +2 for his pistol is an 8. Destroyicon’s defensive Action roll is a 4 +2 for his Villitron armor plating. Jack’s 8 minus Destroyicon’s 6 results in a 2, enough to hit for a single point of damage.
A scorch mark seared the giant robot’s leg. He laughed coldly. “My turn, fleshling,” he said, and swung his energy sword.
This time, Destroyicon rolls a total of 10, and Jack’s total is 6, for a hit and a difference of 4. Doubled, Jack takes 8 points of damage.
Jack looked around frantically for the Herobots.

The Transformers change shape normally. That doesn’t call for a die roll, but you can represent their “alt mode” as a Specialism. Optimus Prime, for example, has a “Transforms Into Semi-Truck” Specialism, while each of Voltron’s pilots has “Voltron Form” as a Specialism. Keith, Pidge, and the rest are the heroes, and joining into Voltron is an action that doesn’t call for a roll. The weapons and special abilities of Voltron do require a roll, though, by whoever is taking their turn at “controlling” Voltron.

What’s your favorite mecha fiction?

VSGMR: Expanded Rules Part I

The second part of the VSGMR rules has been complete for more than six months now, and it features nine different sets of rules that add to the basic rules set, plus a few examples of different game styles. Many of them are inspired by existing, professionally published rules sets. They add a little more complexity, but not too much. Here’s what inspired each part of the rules.

When I revisited VSGMR, it was in the face of dozens of miniatures games, from the giants of Warhammer 40,000 and Warmachine to even brand-new ones like Star Wars Legion. I’m not trying to compete with those games — to start with, I don’t have the capability to produce my own miniatures — but what I don’t have in art I have in flexibility. VSGMR is designed to be used by any figures you own, and with a minimum of complexity. The basic rules require only one d6. So the goal of the expanded rules are to recreate the options found in those other games… while at the same time keeping the game fast-moving and still “realistic,” as realistic as you can be in a game with monsters and superheroes.

Everyone Acts

This keeps the action moving for both players, instead of having one player wait until the other player is all done. It’s also more realistic, as the combatants would be moving and attacking individually, not just when their entire battle group acts. Someone who has a good shot will take it as soon as a target moves into view.

Unit Actions and Squad Movement

This is a simple rules revision that speeds up bigger games immensely. It seems easy to manipulate, with figures slipping past their alloted movement amount by a little bit each turn. The rule that no “support” figure can go past the unit’s leader keeps that under control. And since a lot of the “support” figures are there to make one or two attacks before they’re defeated, there’s no need to keep track of the movement for individuals; they’re not alive long enough.

Specific Skills

The simple option of having specific skills brings what are otherwise collections of weapons and hit points to life. Well, in VSGMR, each figure only has one hit point, but the concept remains the same. VSGMR is ideal for skirmish-size combat, just a handful of figures in each army. That’s the perfect size for a team who each have a unique skill (one’s the leader, one’s the demolition expert, one’s the thief, and so on). This option turns the game into more of an RPG, and to take full advantage of it players will need to come up with scenarios that call for dice rolls using the figures’ skills. We’ll explore some examples in a future blog post.

Solo Rules

I rarely buy games that can’t be played solo these days; it’s fun to get a group together, or even just a gaming partner, but with schedules and families and life in general, it’s really challenging to make it work. There’s solo rules for many games available online, even games not designed that way, but solo rules need to be simple, and not change the requirements of the game (not add a bunch of extra components, for example). If the solo version is so much more complicated than the original game, the amount of play time you get by being able to play by yourself is cancelled out by the amount of time spent trying to set up or understand the solo rules. So, the ideal solo rules are tweaked from the original rules, while still offering the challenge and variety you can normally only get from a human (or well-written AI) opponent.

Miniatures For Every Scale

This is what makes VSGMR a game like no other, that and the very simple single d6 combat resolution system. I don’t own a lot of action figures; as a kid, I did because I played with them, but as an adult, they would just sit on a shelf. What’s the point? That’s why there’s rules for figures of that size in the game, so you can play with that collection of figures. It’s also a cost-saving measure; if you can buy an entire Lego-sized army for a few dollars but all your opponent has is classic D&D miniatures, why let the different in scale keep you from playing against one another? I tried to include every figure size I could think of in the rules, and some of the example brands mentioned on the page have already disappeared in the few years since the original version of the game and this newer edition. But again, the concept is sound, and putting any figures you have into VSGMR battles is one of its most interesting drawing points.

We’ll take a look at the other rules options and the motivation behind them next time.

USR Wednesdays: Warhammer 40,000

I didn’t get to see the preview of “Wrath & Glory,” the new Warhammer 40,000 RPG, at Free RPG Day a few weeks back, though it’s coming to PDF soon. The mechanic that I am aware of in the game, the one that caught my eye, is a balancing mechanism to make sure super-soldier Space Marines can be in the same party with low-level Imperial Guardsmen… it’s basically superhero tiers, like in Domino Writing-style USR. In that game’s case, the Guardsman has enhancements to reach the Marine’s level; in USR, of course, the lower-Tier hero has extra Narrative Points to accomplish the things other characters are expected to do normally.

But what if we added the 40K universe to the USR rules? There’s plenty of reference material — you know what an Adeptus Astartes is, even if you’ve never played any 40K game of any kind — and USR is a great way to tell the expansive variety of stories that can be told in that universe:

  • A down-and-dirty gang war (to show how tough and non-heroic ganger characters are, limit them to 2 Gear Points, take away all their Narrative Points, and roll dice to determine starting Hit Points, like in regular USR);
  • A battle against the ravening ork horde (take a cue from our exploration of tropes, and consider one ork blown away for each point of damage rolled by our heroes); or
  • A struggle between the mighty Space Marines and a daemon of Chaos (the main heroes and villains are at Tier 5 in a setting where the baseline character might be a Tier 2. Also, boost up their armor and weapons: Space Marine armor is probably worth more than a +3, maybe a +4, and Terminator armor is a +5 — higher than that and it will be tough for anyone to score a hit).
You're definitely stretching the rules with Space Marines.
Who doesn’t want to play these guys at least once? (image: Games Workshop)

If you’ve ever read any 40K fiction, or even watched 40K video game cut screens, you’ll know there’s not much to most characters’ personalities: with the exception of a few Imperial Guard characters, everyone in the 40K universe just wants to kill somebody else (usually a lot of somebodies). In a role playing game, characters need to be distinct somehow, to be a “role” you can play. If you don’t want to go too far off the traditional 41st Millennium character type, try Specialisms like “Lone Wolf,” “Carries Big Guns,” or “Quick To Anger” — they offer the right attitude without making the characters much more than traditional 40K killing machines.

Here’s some other Specialisms for 40K: Team Player, Aggressive (all orks), Good With Native Populations, Devoted To His/Her Commander, Natural Leader, Perfect Physical Specimen, Hates Psykers, Lockpicking Tools, Likes Big Explosions, Stealthy, Historian

Who will you be in USR 40K?