Example of Play in Diceless Combat with Norbert G. Matausch + Free Zine!


While I was asking for advice on running combat without HP/Hits on the Free Kriegsspiel Revival server, Norbert offered to run a diceless fight for me (unbeknownst to me, using Theatrix!)
This was a tense and exciting experience, AND because it was in text, it's one of those rare instances of an in-depth example of play which I'm always saying there's not enough of online, so here you go.

: so we're in a plane, and that huge guy in his black three-piece suit sitting next to you is grunting angrily. "Move yer ass, you little fuck", he says, and starts leaning into you heavily.

Wiz: aight let's say my guy's really small, like 1m70, fit but dry, some kind of Feng Shui shaolin archetype, works?

Norbert: cool

Wiz: so as he's pushing towards me, I'm gonna smash my airplane food tray into his face.

Norbert: whoa - with a satisfying whack, the tray lands in his face.

Wiz: oh yeah I was assuming an already charged situation, like maybe we're expecting trouble

Norbert: all good. You pull back your hand and see a huge bruise on his left cheek. NOW he's angry.
Grabs you - the other fist cocked for a mighty blow.



[Note: at this point, he's actually counting down, maybe 5 seconds per mark, and this is very stressful, in a fun way]

Wiz: Ok I'mma bite his nose - like lean forward as he grabs me.

Norbert: He swats you off his face like a mosquito, then shakes you. The world starts flying around you, but you can keep your wits.

: ah shit; am I off my seat? Like did he get up to do this?

Norbert: nah, he's so fricking heavy, he's still sitting. He stops shaking you...

Wiz: woah, he's like a gorilla or something.

Norbert: ...blood trickling down his cheek. He still has you grabbed. Now...

Wiz: could I stab his eyes with my fingers? Or is he holding me by the shoulders?

Norbert: my old rule is, "if you ask 'can I', my answer is always 'no', but if you just DO, it might work" ;)

Wiz: gotcha. I smirk and do a snake-style eye-stab with my right hand's index and middle-finger.

Norbert: ...and land straight in his right eye. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH. Screaming now.
But his left hand won't let go of your shoulder. AAAAAAAAAH YOU FUCKING LITTLE FUCK
Cocking his fist now...

Wiz: I'mma grab his hand with both of mine and put his wrist in a lock. The one grabbing my shoulder.

: he's too massive for that. Like a massive piece of ham.

Wiz: ah, makes sense. Then I do that and get WHACKED in the face, my head rolling back as I spit some blood on another seat. [in this context, it felt more natural to commit to a bad move than to rollback].

[music for added impact]

Norbert: cool. All in slow-mo.

Wiz: wooosh [yeah I was really into it]

Norbert: now he's flying off his seat... almost... 3 secs to impact


Wiz: still grabbing me?

Norbert: 2... yes.

Wiz: ah shit

Norbert: 1...

Wiz: I'll elbow him in the bicep to lessen the blow. Like I'm twisting to one side.

Norbert: good. His thousand-pound arm is trucking towards your face.

Wiz: the other hand in an open palm to grab the fist. More like "receive" it than stop it.

Norbert: you turn away from him, elbos him in the biceps, and try to catch his fist. Contact.


You catch his arm - but there still is impact... that dude must weigh in at about 300 lbs.
So he's half-straddling you - his right arm next to your head

Wiz: (half-straddling?)

Norbert: his left arm posted against the seat - like, he's lying on your upper body. Slightly across.

Wiz: oh yeah. So we're still in the seats.

Norbert: yep, lying now. And you see his neck muscles working.

Wiz: does it feel like my knee can reach his groin? Or is my lower body trapped?

Norbert: very little space, as your legs are kind of trapped. He's moving his head upwards.

Wiz: OH [I figured out he was gonna head butt me and frantically started typing - I wanted to bite his ear off but...]

Norbert: and his hand is grabbing your face now. [no way I can do that now]

Wiz: so biting didn't work earlier, I ain't trying that again.

Norbert: slo-mo now.

Wiz: cocking my right arm back for an uppercut in the neck.

Norbert: his head starts downwards, towards your face. You better be quick.

Wiz: seems to me like he's trying to headbutt me so - I'm catching him before that with my index finger, acupuncture punch. In his adam's apple.

Norbert: nice

his head: rushing towards your face

your hand: acupuncture punch in his adam's apple


he still is on his way down

but... somehow... weaker

landing on top of you

: the left hand makes a buddha palm - and smashes his ear, with a POP sound only he can hear...

Norbert: you hear his breath, heavy and strained

Wiz: ...to put him to sleep

Norbert: AAAAAAaaaaahh  aaa



Wiz: I carefully get off my seat and remove a teeth or two, shaking my head...

"the grasshopper should not face off against the lion"...

Norbert: you can barely walk - that guy was massive

Wiz: then it comes out of my mouth as: "ghgngrnggnnnggn"

Norbert: lol

Wiz: and I stumble on the next seat - pressing the what's it called - hostess call button.
Before falling uncounscious myself.

Norbert: (fade to black, roll credits)

--- Some Notes from the Post-Mortem.

Norbert: What I did, was: I let you develop a personality, if only for the fight. All I knew about my guy was this, literally: "Heavy, strong as heck, some brawling experience".

Wiz: You put so much emphasis on his size I felt compelled to go with a really light frame guy in contrast. Plus the very subjective descriptions made it feel way more "present" than something more objective sounding might have had - like in my head this dude was troll sized. And with 140kg, yeah that's a small troll. [I'm thinking Shadowrun troll here]

Norbert: YES that was my intention - one of the "secrets" to diceless combat is purely subjective descriptions. Because impressions is ALL we really have in real life.


Wiz: Some other observations/remarks:

- Subjectivity with a Group: how does it work? Is it like you're running a small part of a scene from each PC's POV?

- How about medieval combat? Until I get some HEMA under my belt :joy: - got any good references?

- Do you have some ideas of how else the scene could have played at (retrospectively?) key moments?

Oh yeah, and it was challenging. [that was my main concern with running my own diceless games so far]. I was really stressed (in a good way) trying to figure out how to not get destroyed in tight quarters like that. So I guess that's another lesson(s) : I gotta think more about the environment, and how it affects characters' abilities. Typically, fighting in a dark dungeon should be messy and scary.


ad subjectivity: yes, I go around the table and  play with each player for a couple of sentences, then I move on to the next one

ad medieval combat: I recommend reading Zelazny, he was an aikidoka and swordfighter in real life, and it shows in his novels

ad alternative endings: Oh yes! If you had taken too long to decide, or if you had moved in a different way, things might have ended up really bad for you. Like, trying to push him away from you instead of punching his adam's apple. Bad idea, because you are about half his weight...

ad challenging: YES! This is what a fight should be. If a fight is easy, just be done with it in one sentence

Wiz: "Bad idea, because you are about half his weight..." --> this reminds me of another interesting bit. When I first went with something that just wouldn't work and you were like "it wouldn't work". In a more slow-paced/procedural game, running it myself I'd also assume the player would just not do it - but here it felt more natural for me to go with "ok I actually commit to this bad move, and it messes me up a bit". And I'd have been fine if there had been worse consequences even I think.

Norbert: yes, exactly. That works so well because both you and I had images in our heads, we saw the fight commencing...that's why description is so important: Immersion.

Wiz: at first I was slightly wary of starting off with minimal descriptions, even though I'm favorable to these myself, but I didn't really have problems with fictional/tactical positioning. The only hiccup on my end was with the "half straddle" cause I never heard these words before. But I figured he was like, nearly bear hugging while staying seated - so like lots of weight and pressure, might just clobber me to the ground.


Norbert: See how tactical positioning and fictional positioning take a backseat. The moment you SEE what's happening, the moment you FEEL you're in the scene, positioning happens automatically.

Wiz: from your perspective as a Ref ? I suppose it's mostly description/flavor on your end, though since I felt immersed, any move would be both adding flavor and a part of tactics. Kind of how Sorcerer describes how fights ought to be run. Where if you go "I attack", you get penalty: you gotta be specific cause otherwise it takes away from the scene.

: If all you have to work with is words, using bland ones creates bland experiences.


That is all for now. Right now, I'm re-working Murdersoup (calling it Murdersoup ∅) to go back to diceless with a framework of my own, mostly inspired by Primeval 2d6, Barons of Braunstein and Norbert's Landshut & Voltrum games. Oh, and Classic Traveller + Any Planet is Earth, of course. Because rules are going to be so tiny a spot in the book, I'm hoping to make it a sort of Referee's Guide to Running Fantasy Adventure Games. Compiling good advices and techniques I've found and figured out along the way in this decade+ of gaming.


  1. Quite a long scene! Really inspirational.

  2. A referee could use a random number from 1-10 or whatever and as a player describes their actions they also choose a number from 1-10 and if they were close the action succeeds better or worse depending on how close that chose. Would forgot numbers and go with a selection of elements or symbols.

  3. > my old rule is, "if you ask 'can I', my answer is always 'no', but if you just DO, it might work" ;)

    THIS is gold!

  4. Super interesting, but it doesn't really read as challenging to be honest. Or rather, no offense, but I don't see how you overcame the challenge with your smarts or with playing well, which is I guess what challenging means. Can you elaborate on that? Was there really a chance of losing?

    1. Hi Miha, thanks for your feedback!
      Basically the big thing was that I had limited time to respond most of the time. Plus, the threat was plain stronger (if using brute force) so I had to think about it creatively (in this case, targeting weak spots, trying to use the environment and our bodies to create advantages) AND quickly (quite stressful, but the fun kind of stress) to avoid getting wrecked. See that one bit where I made a mistake and got messed up? I think even one solid punch from the big guy would have put my character down and out and ended in "failure".

      I provided the practical application, I suggest you check out this post for the theory around it as I'm not as eloquent as explaining it further: