Sometimes, we opt to use player skill instead of character skill.
It’s why we ask players to tell us what their character says in the game, rather than which skill their character uses (like it’s some kind of button on a controller).
We ask players how they search the room for secrets instead of making them roll a Perception or Search check. We do the same for knowledge in some cases, prompting players to ask where they can find the information they’re looking for instead of which number will get them the results they want without engaging in the world.
Player skill, not avatar strength.
Now, sometimes this doesn’t always work. I have yet to see a game that makes players do push-ups to push a boulder aside or fight their neighbor with Nerf swords to see if they best the orc. That’s bordering on LARPing. And I don’t do that. I sit in a chair, thank you. In some instances I’ll stand on a chair, but that’s besides the point.
But what if you could make combat a player skill. Much like how you master inputs in Super Smash Bros or Mortal Kombat or Hollow Knight or Dark Souls? What if your character was as strong in combat as you are skilled?
Enter this random idea I had in the shower.
Samurai Duels (or “One Strike Takes All”)
Give both combatants a stopwatch. Or, more likely, have them pull up a stopwatch app on their phone.
The combatants must look each other in the eye. No peeking at the stopwatch.
Both combatants press start at the same time.
No counting, no speaking. None of that.
The combatants may stop the stopwatch whenever they choose.
- The closest to 10″ flat without going under wins the duel.
- If one combatant is under 10″ while the other is over, the latter wins the duel.
- If both combatants are under 10″ then whoever is lower wins the duel.
And just like that, the fight is over.
It takes the precision and patience of a samurai duel into account without the rolling of dice back and forth. You can train this too, to get it just right. Some players may end up being better than others, just like real dueling. A hierarchy of power may even develop, like some sort of chain of command.
In the battle, it’d be all about waiting. Maybe you could also widen your eyes to fake your opponent out and get them to stop their watch early. Maybe you know your opponent is rash and stop your watch as soon as you start it, knowing they’ll stop their watch early. Who knows?
You could extend the timer if you like. Or make the players wear blindfolds. Or play some tense music to set the mood. All of that and more, please.
Oh, and please try this out for gunfights and jousts. Japan needn’t take all the fun from other great settings like the American West and feudal/fantasy Europe.