USR Wednesdays: Three Ideas For Descriptive Combat

Even though Domino Writing-style USR characters have a good number of hit points and variety in their weapons and armor (even if it is only differentiated as Light, Medium and Heavy), combat in a rules light game system will be quicker than in a more “crunchy” game like most on the market. That’s one of the reasons people play rules light games, so they can tell a story, not play a wargame. Here’s a few ways to get the best of both worlds — a battle that lasts a while, but isn’t just:

“I swing my sword at the orc.” (roll to attack)

“Your swing misses.” (players fall asleep)

  • Terrain: a battle doesn’t have to take place in a room with no features. At the very least you can have obstacles like furniture, walls or plant life. But you can also literally change the scenery as the combat goes on. What if the floor is shaking because the building is falling apart, or an earthquake is rattling the ground? What if a nearby lantern catches the furniture on fire, a fire that spreads further each round? What if there’s several levels to the battle, where some of the enemies are high above, shooting down, while others are directly in front of the heroes?
  • Maneuvers: Disarming the enemy, throwing sand in his face — these are easy to forget while in the heat of combat, when it seems easiest just to keep cutting away at the foe’s hit points instead of trying different tricks. A game master can encourage the use of maneuvers by changing the setting a little bit. One way is by making the characters chase the enemy, so they have to drive or fly at the same time they’re opening fire. Another is to give the heroes, and villains, a chance to catch their breath. What if the laws of physics suddenly stop working, and everyone has an opportunity (say, one turn) to freely move around or come up with a quick plan before getting right back into the action?
  • Third-Party Problems: The heroes are on one side of the battle, the enemies on the other, and then a dragon comes bursting out of the ground? Or someone steps on a hidden trigger, and poisoned darts start flying across the entire room? Or the jewel that both the heroes and villains are competing to get is grabbed by someone else, and they start running of with it?

Now imagine this with people holding axes and crossbows.

    • The laws of physics being violated in combat in “Inception.” (

image: Legendary Pictures


All of these options can lengthen the time spent in combat, while making it much more memorable than just adding hit points to a monster so it stays in the fight longer.

What are your favorite ways of describing combat?

USR Wednesdays: Chases

Two weeks ago, we looked at vehicle rules — vehicles as narration, as equipment and as characters. One of the most common uses for vehicles in adventure fiction is in a chase, where one vehicle (the pursuer) is trying to catch up with another (the target), to make an arrest, to get in a shootout, or just to beat the target to the final goal.
stuntman 300x169 - USR Wednesdays: Chases
Or to make a cool getaway. (image:
Let’s take a page from the chase rules developed for the 3rd Edition d20 game system and track a chase in Domino Writing-style USR. In addition to the regular rules, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a line and put a series of evenly spaced marks across the paper, about every inch or so. Put the pursuer at the first mark on the left (write “P” or use a miniature) and the target two marks farther along the paper (write “T” or use a miniature for it too), so there’s a mark in between them. The two vehicles will move across the line from mark to mark until they reach their goal — usually by going off the other end of the paper, or landing on the same mark.
IMG 3981 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Chases
Like this, with a “P” and a “T.” Same idea as the picture above, but a lot less interesting, at least on paper.
Decide if the heroes are the pursuer or the target. Choose a target number based on the difficulty of the terrain (empty space is a 2, a crowded city street is a 7, lava flowing around you is a 10). Have the player acting as driver or pilot make a roll to control the vehicle (usually Action + relevant vehicle Specialism), and have NPCs who are pursuing or who are the target make the same roll.
If one group (heroes and/or NPCs) succeed at the roll, move them forward one mark. If the roll fails, the group doesn’t move.
The character who is driver or pilot is usually using his or her turn to control the vehicle, but everyone else in the party who’s in the vehicle can take a normal action, like firing the vehicle’s weapons or shooting their own guns out a window. In a game with more detailed vehicle rules, a character might spend their turn trying to repair the vehicle, or perform a scan for more enemies. If nothing else, a character can spend its turn offering support, providing a +1 to an attack roll or the driver or pilot’s control roll.

What do you do to visualize chases on the tabletop?