The following system is inspired by a viewing of Chocolate, but should be able to simulate any kind of genre that specializes in a hero mowing through groups of thugs to get to a goal. It’s an alternative to using mook rules.

In every major fight, hit points are replaced with a Dominance meter. This is, essentially, hit points for a scene. Damage dealt by the player characters raises the Dominance meter, and damage dealt to the PCs lowers it. If the game system normally features hit points as a major feature, you can use HP beyond a pre-determined average amount as starting Dominance for the players.

In order to achieve the PCs’ goals for the combat scene, a particular Dominance rating must be met. This rating should be low for simple goals and situations that shouldn’t be much of a threat and scale up as the tension of the scenario rises. Many fights, particularly against “boss” characters, should have thresholds at which the situation changes. For example, one fight might start with simple thugs, move on to elite operatives, reach a penultimate state with a fight against one or more lieutenants, and end with the fight against the boss. When a threshold is met, going back beneath it does not move back down to the previous level of foes, but may Raise the Stakes.

Raising the Stakes occurs in two situations: the first time the player characters are driven below the previous threshold (0 to start, and it can occur as many times as there are thresholds in the fight), and whenever the player characters decide to negate a particular hit. Because of these related factors, it is often in the PCs’ interests to decide to raise the stakes by negating incoming damage rather than to take the damage and have the stakes raised anyway. In most cases, the players will raise the stakes due to a big single incoming attack, leading to a natural explanation of wounds.

Whenever the stakes are raised, the initiator must decide on wounds or weapons (the PCs are the initiator when negating an attack, the GM is the initiator when the PCs drop under a threshold).

Wounds impose a small but significant penalty to attacks by the character that took the wound for the remainder of the fight (and possibly longer, see Weapons, below). This penalty should be tailored both to the game system and to the wound. The wound is dealt to whatever character would have taken damage that was negated or did take damage that dropped the group below a threshold. An example wound in d20 might be a smashed arm that gives -2 to hand or fist attacks.

Weapons is a natural progression of threat during the course of the fight, from hand to hand, to blunt weapons, to blades or other cutting instruments, to guns (if period appropriate). Once the stakes are raised for weapons, the class of weapons cannot be lowered for the rest of the fight unless it is appropriate to the enemies in the next threshold. If the PCs choose to raise the stakes in this manner, they are the ones to pick up objects or draw swords. If the stakes are raised by going under the threshold, the PCs must scramble to upgrade in the face of suddenly bloodthirsty foes. The current category of weapons affects the recovery time for wounds; note each wound with the current category of weapons:

  • Hand to hand wounds disappear shortly after the fight.
  • Blunt weapon wounds require at least a day to heal.
  • Blade wounds may require a week or more to recover.
  • Gun wounds result in the character dying after the fight if medical help is not immediately available (how immediate depends on the drama of the situation and number of wounds). A character that survives gun wounds will keep them for at least a month.

This system favors a game engine that is cinematic and allows for a lot of movement and quick attack resolution. The descriptive format for the system is similar to a kung fu movie: each significant hit drops a target for the time being, only to have him replaced with a new combatant or an old one that got back up, with the current crop of fighters only staying down once a threshold is met and a new, more imposing threat arrives.

Heavy description is required to keep the fight moving and feeling like it is progressing, especially when the players are losing more Dominance than they are gaining. Use of the environment, like in all martial arts games, should be heavily rewarded.