OK, so the basic non-fight component of a conflict is this: take a swing, beat a 4, if successful, the other guy is taken out.
(I like “taken out” as a euphemism because it underscores that all ways of taking someone out of a fight are roughly equal – unconsciousness, death, getting tossed overboard and the like all fall into the same bucket, and it leaves the exact color and fiction flexible. It also leaves a hook in place later to allow players to offer their own taken out outcomes if you want to avoid death in interesting ways, but that’s a matter to think about later.)
Once we’re in an actual fight, we don’t want things to be quite so quick as all that, but we still want to respect the 4+ success rule. We could go for a numeric system (hit points or the like) but let’s think of this in terms of statuses – we have this idea that a good enough roll can result in being taken out, what else might happen as a result of a roll?
Suppose that there are two other results – inconvenienced and harmed. Inconvenienced means that the other side has gotten some transitory advantage - they’ve knocked you back, rung your bell, seized the high ground or whatever. Harm is more palpable – it’s a disarm, an injury or some other major setback. And, of course, the third result (taken out) has already been recovered.
So, at their baseline, let’s map these as follows:
4 – Inconvenience
7 – Harm
13 – Taken Out
Now, that maps to our difficulties, but it raises some immediate questions. Does it mean that you need at least a 3d pool to be able to win a fight? And what happens when two people of high skill go at each other? Do they both just die? Obviously, we need to address these issues.
Now, the first is pretty straightforward, and we’ll do something that has been done in many other systems and just have damage “roll up”. That is to say, if you inconvenience someone who is already inconvenienced, they are now harmed. If you inconvenience someone who is already harmed and inconvenienced, then they’re taken out. Pretty simple. It allows high skills to get decisive results while allowing unskilled combatants to have sloppy, ugly fights that end badly.
Still brutal, though, especially since there’s no idea of defense. Skill won’t keep you standing any longer, and that’s problematic.
The fix for this is tied into how I view the statuses. Note that it would be normal to put a checkbox next to each status an fill them in over the course of a fight, but that’s more static than I like. I actually don’t want them to be static, I want them to come and go – not just inconveniences (which are already often tenuous in games like Fate) but harm and maybe even taken out. This means that, at a high level, I want people to be able to improve their status as they play, so that’s another axis of action. Sometimes it will be a dull axis (shrugging off an injury) and sometimes it’ll be flashy (getting out of a tight corner) but the bottom line is that status can fluctuate over the course of a fight.
(Saying that, my gut is suggesting we need a 4th status, just so there’s more room for things to slide. That may be true, but I’ll sideline that concern for now. If I figure out a good mechanic for this, then one good test for it will be expanding the status list).
So how should we implement this? My first thought is to make it something you can spend extra dice on (that is, for those who don’t recall, dice that weren’t needed to hit the target number). This has an interesting upshot because it provides a double incentive to go for inconveniences and harm rather than KO’s, because you’re more likely to have extra dice left, at least in theory. Of course, the fact that hitting three “4s” may be easier than hitting one 13 may also play into that. This also provides an interesting tool for NPC behavior, since the target number an NPC aims for speaks directly to their tactics, and can be a solid part of an NPC writeup.
Anyway, at the simplest you could just say that 1 extra die can reduce things by one “step”, so a hurt can become an inconvenience for 1 die, or go away entirely for 2 dice. That’s a good baseline, but it might be too easy. This is something to test, but I’d absolutely want to fiddle with different costs, including a higher base (say, 2 dice per step), or a sliding scale (1 for inconvenience, 2 for harm, 3 for taken out if apt – or perhaps the reverse!) but the idea is solid. It just leaves two real questions – how it interacts with a taken out result, and how it sequences. Those are pretty fiddly bits, so they’re best left for tomorrow.