Combo – The Killer Instinct in Advantages

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Ultra Combo (Breaker)We’ve all sat at our gaming table with fictional powers we can unleash. Often times these powers are straight forward. You might be able to throw a fireball, use ice breath, use a sword, or do a barrel roll. Such systems that list a bunch of powers has been rather staple to the gaming world of pen and paper. Video games, however, have expanded on such ideas, introducing us to the super mega ultra combo.

This article will explain possibilities for crafting custom combos for powers and advantages. Those who enjoy the thrill of cinematic tropes may find some enjoyable reading material when designing your next supernatural adventure.

Combo – What is it?

To understand how to build a combo we must first define what a combo is. Ordinarily, as a character, you are able to use any ability at generally any given time. Some might require specific maneuvers, materials, fatigue points, or other resources. On the other hand, the requirement for a combo is that you must first execute other abilities before you can activate it. This is often referred to as the setup. In this way abilities take on the role of a tree, where you have starting abilities that branch into other abilities the character can execute.

Why Would Anyone Do This?!

Those who enjoy the thrill of dramatics executing multiple events to pull off devastating ability will enjoy the combo mechanics. Those who like the technical value of combos can save cost on major abilities by making them chain together. There are also some powers that are best left to combos to explain better how they function. For myself, I simply enjoy shouting “Ultra Combo” after successfully pulling off the setup and execution.

Combo – The Setup

To create a combo the chain must be priced. GURPS has no RAW methods of crafting a combo truly. Thus I will be introducing new limitations and explaining how the price was achieved.

Limitation: Combo Chain

If an individual examines combat as a form of rounds or possibilities then the price for a combo becomes clear. We will be consulting Accessibility (GURPS Powers P.99) to formulate cost. If the ability can be executed during any round this is a 0% modifier. This means it may be made use of 100% of the time. If the ability requires that an ability was executed the previous round, this means it can, at best, be executed 50% of the time for -20% in the table. Then each subsequent combo becomes 1 out of every 3 rounds, 1 out of every 4 and so on. So let’s map this out in an easy to consult table.

Combo Modifier Table
Chain Position % Chance  Modifier
1st 100% -0%
2nd 50% -20%
3rd 33% -25%
4th 25% -25%
5th 20% -30%
6th 16% -35%
#8230; #8230;

That would be the precise best case chance of performing a specific ability in your combo. For ease of calculation we will simply make a generalized calculation. -20% for the 2nd action in the combo and an additional -5% cumulative modifier for every ability after the second. So the first ability in the setup is -0%, second is -20%, third is -25%, fourth is -30% and so on.

This merely requires the activation of an ability before execution on the immediate maneuver prior to the current one. If the previous ability must succeed then we can generalize the math for that as well and say, -25% for the second ability in the chain and -10% cumulative for each ability after. 0% for setup ability, -25% for the second, -35% for third, and so on.

These can easily be mixed and matched to create various combos.

Alternative Abilities

For Alternative Abilities (Powers P.11)  we simply apply the above modifiers then purchase the power as an Alternative Ability as above. This can make combos rather inexpensive, but that is part of the reason to create a chain of abilities. The price reduction makes them far more attractive than paying full price. Perhaps combos pricing is why characters can accomplish what they do in these cinematic videos games!

Activation Required

Some combo abilities aren’t necessarily chained in the above manner. We will consider the Master of Radiance from Dungeons and Dragons. The Master of Radiance must activate the Radiant Aura prior to using Searing Light ability. Power Ups Limitations P.5 prices such limitations as -10% for abilities that require activation of another. Thus the Radiant Aura would have no modifiers and Searing Light would be -10% to require Radiant Aura to be active.

This can be used in various abilities that requires characters to be in a certain state or another power to be active to function.

Combo Breaker!!!

The GM may argue if someone has studied the individual’s combo with success or been exposed to it enough they can get a +1 defense to resist or defend against abilities in the combo chain. After all, the enemy knows what you’re about to do since much of the combo is rather telegraphic. The GM might further modify the combination of abilities with -5% for a Nuissance Effect because of this.

Combo Examples

Now that the design for combinations is laid out we can describe various combos that can be created.

Homing Missile

The homing missile or power is staple in many technology oriented power sets. The idea is a target must first be painted with a beacon then homing attacks may be fired on that target.

First create the setup ability for painting a target. Such an ability could be priced using affliction, but it makes little sense for their to be a resistance roll for the beacon. Thus we will use Innate Attack instead. Applying No Blunt Trauma -20%, No Knockback -10%, and No Wounding -50% nets us -80%. This ability does no damage at all. This makes it a perk by such a pricing scheme. This may change if the range is increased or any other modifiers such as Rapid Fire are added. If it’s a beacon that might be removed we might add a further -5% to the ability as a Nuissance Effect, requiring a Ready Maneuver by the target to brush it off or yank it out. If the attack needs to do damage, you might decide it’s a needle and add a piercing damage to it, removing the no damage modifiers all together.

Then we build the homing attack with Homing and add -10% for the target needing to first be painted with a beacon.

Call Down the Thunder

In this combo the user builds up an electric charge on the target before finishing them with a lightning strike. We will make it a three step combo.

Step 1 – Static Charge

The first step is ionizing the target. This is a minor damaging burn innate attack. The argument is this is needed before the attacker can unleash a electric burst. We build this power as a normal burning attack with Surge.

Step 2 – Electric Burst

Now that the target is charged the attacker can direct an internal blast of electrical power. Because the Static Charge must first hit the target we use the -25% 2nd Combo modifier. We add Surge (Arcing) enchancement to denote the nature of the electricity in this attack. It may stun the target if enough damage is delivered.

Step 3 – Lightning Blast

Finally, with the target now thoroughly charged with lightning, the attacker can call down electricity from the sky to strike. Build the attack as a burning, surging attack and add Overhead modifier as well as -35% for it being a 3rd Combo modifier.

Final Touch

These could all be argued as Alternative Abilities of each other, further reducing the price of the entire combo. They certainly all fall under electrical attacks.

Know Thy Enemy

Combos need not be limited to attacks. They could also work for other abilities. Imagine an enemy who uses some vile power to afflict the enemy with ghostly energies. Once the enemy is afflicted they may be able to target them with powers such as the homing missile above. They may also be able to use detection powers or information gathering abilities. They might even be able to activate a mind control attempt. The possibilities are limitless.

Ultra Combo

While combos on paper are not very thrilling, those with the foresight can see the impact and enjoyment of the combo during play. As players chain abilities together it can build quite a bit of drama during the action which is important at the gaming table. Some abilities even make sense to be combos from the onset.

Clever GMs might even use combos for enemies while players look for ways to resist the chain of events that might lead up to their demise if they don’t find a way to break the chain. After all, it’s easy to see a combo like a count down to the final ability.

Hopefully this article has given you food for thought in regards to ability chaining. As always I look forward to hearing feedback.

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  1. Cool use of modifiers to set it up. How do you decide how much of a discount the limitations are worth?

    Also, there’s a kind of combos in GURPS Martial Arts which do something entirely different – they define a series of attacks that can all be performed in the same turn as a technique (and hence the pretty large penalties can be bought down). It doesn’t do anything like what you’re doing here, but it bears the same name so I thought I ought to mention it.

    • I tried to outline how I came up with the pricing for the combo limitations in the post. Essentially it boils down to the idea that a 0% modifier means you can use the given Advantage as any action. If you are confronted with situations you cannot use an advantage then it obviously gives a price reduction in points. Because the nature of combos means some Advantages will require another Advantage to be used or active first you price based on this limitation.

      I summarize this by considering each turn that comes up a point where you can decide to use an advantage or not. If you needed to use a previous Advantage before this turn this essentially gives you 50% chance. If it needed two actions first it begins to lower the % chance you could use your advantage.

      So imagine you have to have doused someone in oil before you could light them on fire. The combat turn would look like:

      Turn 1. Ready (Douse in Oil)
      Turn 2. Attack (Light on Fire)
      Turn 3. Ready (Douse in Oil)
      Turn 4. Attack (Light on Fire)

      Your best use % becomes 50%. Looking up 50% in the Powers Book (P.99) you see that 50% is listed as -20% cost reduction on the Advantage. Since you can ALWAYS douse someone in oil, that gets 0% modifier. But the follow up “Light on Fire” gets -20%. That’s the basis for the pricing. Now if there are 2 steps before a combo your turns look like:

      Turn 1. Step 1
      Turn 2. Step 2
      Turn 3. Action
      Turn 4. Step 1
      Turn 2. Step 2
      Turn 3. Action

      This means to perform “Action” you can only do so 33% of the time. The price reduction for this is -25%. And so on and so forth. However, to keep numbers simple and easy I just break this down to simple math in a “Close enough” method instead of constantly referring to this table. Thus the new Limitation “Combo Chain”.

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