5 card blood: Fast-paced combat rules

I rather enjoyed John Wick 3, but I must admit that I spent about half of the movie wondering, “How would I model this kind of fight scene in an RPG?” (And I’m really glad I’m not the only one who wonders this kind of thing.) I’m still thinking it over, but here’s where I ended up:

  1. The GM shuffles the deck and deals you a hand of 5 cards. The GM gives you one joker face-up, and slides the other in the bottom half of the deck.
  2. The GM plays cards by flipping them from the top of the deck. When the GM flips a card, they must describe how someone is trying to kill you. You must play a card of your hand in response within 3 seconds, or else the attack is considered unopposed. Draw back up to 5 cards whenever you have a chance to catch a breath and/or reload.
  3. If your card is higher, describe how you beat the attacker. (That should be sufficient to take out “mooks,” but later in the game, some tougher foes might need to be “beaten” some number of times specified by the GM.)
  4. If your card is lower, but red, describe how you beat the attacker, but sustain some kind of injury or setback from their attack.
  5. If your card is lower, but black, describe how you avoid their attack and either escape alive, or deal some kind of setback that doesn’t yet take them out, like tripping, pinning down, or stunning.
  6. If your card ties, describe how you face a sudden stalemate, like simultaneously pulling the trigger on an empty clip.
  7. If your card is a joker, describe how you take them out instantly, but it must be accompanied by a snide comment or witty quip.
  8. If there’s some kind of interesting scenery that might be useful (like antique weapon racks, mirrored walls, vats of molten metal nobody wants to fall into, etc.), and you work that into your description (to your benefit or detriment), immediately draw a card after playing a card.
  9. Injuries probably won’t kill you because you are the hero, but if the GM plays a joker against you, that attack definitely injures you—and if the attacker has an established name, you’re either taken out or permanently injured. If you play a joker in response, it still takes effect, albeit after the damage is done.

I have no idea whether this actually works or would be fun. Seems iffy! My hope is that it should move fast enough even with multiple players that nobody will get bored, but I imagine it might work better as a one-on-one game. And it might work better with dice, with adjustments to replace the colored suit effects. The cards would be thematically appropriate if you play a game about fancypants murderspies in a Casino Royale setting, though.

Astute readers will notice that there are no rules for resolution outside of combat. My advice is to just roleplay stuff, and if you ever need to persuade somebody to do something they really shouldn’t do, say “please” really emphatically and remind them of when you saved their life that one time. You could probably co-opt the entire Debt system from Urban Shadows, but mostly I imagine you’ll just get your way as long as you make it sound good and heart-wrenching.

If you happen to give these rules a whirl, let me know! And if I ever get them to the table, I imagine I’ll be back to announce which parts were busted!

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