So this is a superhero game, so you’re going to want to know how well fights go. It’s a game that, in fact, suggests that a “Brawling” style of play—where two players just make characters and go at it GM-free—is totally valid. So how is the combat?

The stone-based nature of the system means that there is no randomness to add excitement. Instead, all drama comes from hidden knowledge of how your opponents are planning their attacks. A lot of games talk a lot about declaring actions in reverse initiative order, but in actual play it’s simpler to just go in order of initiative, losing the faster characters a huge tactical bonus (because the slower characters get to allocate their actions based on what’s already happened). This isn’t true in MURPG: the GM and players can hide their stone arrangements and then reveal them all at once. The fight then goes in order of Agility for initiative, and the slower characters may be completely screwed if they guess wrong (e.g., a lot of energy devoted to a Close Combat attack when the faster character spent stones to move away and use a Ranged Combat attack).

Beyond the weirdness of blind allocation, the way combat works is pretty straightforward:

  • Allocate stones to one or two actions (or more if you’ve twinked out your power armor) up to a maximum of the action total or your available energy.
  • Move stones out of actions into defense, if desired (i.e., you can’t just roll stones into Defense; each stone allocated to Defense functionally reduces the maximum stones that can be assigned to your attack).
  • Add free modifiers (from weapons, armor, and special modifier powers that are always on like energy resistance) to your attack and defense totals.

On your initiative, compare your total attack against the target’s total defense. The difference is damage. If the target isn’t taken out, he’ll get to do the same to you on his initiative. Repeat next turn.

Keep in mind that some characters can’t even make full use of some attacks with a full energy pool, and almost no characters recover energy fast enough to attack full on every round. Most characters have to choose between investing close to their refresh rate in attacks every turn (and keeping on this way indefinitely) and making one big attack followed by several turns of investing less than refresh to get back to a good total.

This creates a combat system that’s very close to an iterated prisoner’s dilemma, in that there are often four results determined by binary player decisions:

  • The character and opponent both invest in an attack and neglect to roll any stones into defense: both take heavy damage and the character with the higher Agility might just take the other one out before he can act.
  • The character invests heavily into attack and the opponent rolls heavily into defense: both take minimal damage.
  • Vice versa to the previous one.
  • Both characters roll heavily into defense: neither takes damage but both have probably wasted energy.

The only other variable (assuming energy totals aren’t completely mismatched) is when the player risks dumping in a high amount of energy. Do it too early and you might be on the ropes the rest of the fight if it doesn’t work out. Do it too late and you might have already been plinked down to low HP even if you win.

Plinking brings up another interesting aspect of the system: damage is divided by 3 and rounded up before being applied. Effectively, beating the target’s defense by 1 is as good as by 3, 4 is as good as 6, and so on. If you can correctly predict the target’s defense, you can save two energy on every attack by dealing just enough that nothing will be lost to rounding. Since even taking one point of damage probably reduces the target’s energy recovery, plinking can add up pretty fast.

In practice, the drama of combat with anyone on roughly the same power level comes down to gauging when the other guy is going to spend big and when you should do the same. If you’re fighting someone of lower power level, you can probably take him out without ever taking damage if you’re careful. Conversely, a more powerful target means that hopefully your allies can all focus fire and spend big before you start dropping like flies.

That is all to say that the MURPG combat system is interestingly different from other games, but lacks a lot of tactical combat options that are present in more complex and more random models. You can get actions that give you interesting tools like armor piercing, AoE, double damage, etc., but if you have these they’ll get used over and over and if you don’t have them your tactical options are often limited to trying to scoop up GM fiat bonuses from using the terrain. It really all comes down to whether you can risk enough stones in attack to beat your opponent’s defense without the same thing happening to you (and starting your inevitable death spiral as your recovery drops due to lost HP).

And since having a higher energy total effectively means a guaranteed greater level of damage and defense each turn, fights are often inevitably in favor of the guy that bought more energy.