Fightin’ Crime in a Future Time
Let’s talk about the CthuluTech combat system.
In general, it’s about what you’d expect from a skill based, gunfire-favoring system that’s not too far removed from modern horror. There’s a margin of success based damage modifier. There’s a list of special attack options that includes automatic fire, using cover, dual wielding, and all the usual stuff. There’s even a scatter diagram and a common item hardness chart. You’ll feel right at home paging through.
There are a few things it does that are unusual, though.
First, and perhaps most significantly, you always get a defensive roll at your full dodge skill without using an action (unless you’re restrained or something), and this sets the difficulty for an opponent’s attack. Note that your dodge skill is on the same scale as your opponent’s attack skill in most cases. So characters with a high Agility + Dodge are significantly likely to be missed by attacks. One of the major opponents of the setting, the Mi-Go (or Migou as the game calls them), are expected to start with an Agility + Dodge higher than is possible for a starting character (they get a big Agility bonus and start with Dodge 4 when PCs have a starting skill cap of 3). Effectively, combat is a huge whiff fest against a lot of opponents until they randomly roll low on dodge.
Thus, extra actions are a big help. There’s a standard multiple-action penalty, but you can’t even try to take multiple actions unless your Agility is high. So Agility makes it drastically more likely that you’re never going to take damage, gives you more chances to deal damage, and is also the operative ability for melee attacks. You want to buy this ability as high as you can. At least it’s not also the ability for shooting (that’s Perception).
So you’ve managed to land a hit against an opponent who didn’t have an overwhelming Agility advantage. Now you add up damage dice. The calculation for this is generally pretty straightforward: base dice for weapon (plus Strength bonus in melee) plus a bonus die for every 5 MoS on the attack roll. These are the standard d10s used everywhere else in the game, but for this roll you don’t count them the way you would when making a skill roll, you just add them all up. Damage dice are generally on the same scale as skill dice (i.e., you’re often rolling 1-4), so they could have been on the same curve as skill checks. Instead, they have a way more swingy high end and bigger numbers in general.
Because damage swings so high, you get a wounds system that can account for that. All characters have a lot of hit points, divided into five tiers with mounting penalties.
Effectively, combat seems to be mostly a very fiddly series of misses, complex to account for but small bits of damage, and periodic lucky rolls that obliterate the target.
Mostly, the reason for the fiddly damage seems to be an interesting conceit: the reason D-Engines have the side effect of giving pilots a sixth sense about their vehicles is so mechs can just use your own combat skills. You don’t pilot them via intense training so much as you just get in one, transfer your prioperception to its limbs, and are able to seamlessly translate your physical combat skills to mech combat. The Mech Piloting skill is used for things with no clear human analog, like flying, but you use your normal combat skills in mech combat.
So, while mechs have their own hit points, they use the same format as human-scale hit points. So human scale combat has bulk HP so mech combat can bring all the joy of marking off big blocks of hit points you used to love in BattleTech. Theoretically. In actuality, mech combat does add several more rules to baseline combat like acceleration speeds, tracking which mech systems are taken offline at different damage thresholds, and special self-repair systems that only function in the middle damage thresholds (because they don’t turn on until the mech has more than superficial damage, but are heavily reduced and deactivated at lower tiers… and they don’t really heal very much anyway).
Ultimately, I found that it was too complicated to really be on the same field of playability as regular combat in the game as it professed (and regular combat is already cumbersome), but attempting to be in line with human-scale combat meant that it wasn’t really fun as a standalone mech combat game either. As mentioned earlier, I played a lot of BattleTech back in the day, and even with the massive complications of two pages of small-print charts, multi-location HP tracking, heat sinks, ammo management, and the difficulty of customizing your mech without the aid of a computer program, CthuluTech‘s mech combat feels nearly as complicated without being nearly as fun. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I was running it with a group more invested in mech combat and against opponents without the Mi-Go’s massive dodge bonus, but I’m not optimistic.
Also, having mech scale combat required them to add mega-damage to the game (sorry, Integrity damage) so human-scale weapons can’t blow up mechs. Except they created “hybrid damage” for the occasional human-scale attack that can damage mechs… except it mysteriously does human-scale damage to humans and mech-scale damage to mechs. Effectively, there are weapons that will do the same percentage of damage against a human as against a mech with the same attack and damage roll… for some reason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.
There is a spell/ritual-based magic system in the book, and it is pretty Lovecraftian in its scope. It requires a lot of downtime to work, but often produces useful things that you could use later if you wanted to make a PC spellcaster for some reason. So it’s probably pretty decent, even though the player that got the caster in my one-shot wasn’t too pleased that his magic wasn’t super useful in a shorter game.