Combat Dots

A note: This post first existed as a zine for Tech Jam #2 but it was not finished in time. After chatting with some folks on twitter, they suggested I should put it on my blog.

Keeping track of multiple actions and remembering which people have gone or not is often a pain. Especially in round based tactical combat systems! So let’s do something about it. With little circles…

Influence, command, morale, focus, or just plain action points. These are all words for what we’re going to call “dots.” In combat, dots are passed out, or allocated, to the characters at start of each round. Then each combatant is selected, or activated, in turn and can spend these dots on abilities or movement. Depending on the system, they might have a couple dots or they might have a few dozen. And actions might take many dots or only one each, or have variable costs. Once they are out of dots though, they must pass. If they pass early, discard those extra dots!

Now this tech is most useful for the players who are controlling multiple combatants. This is often just the GM, but characters with pets and other things can come up.

There are so many possibilities with dots! Scratching the surface, here are a few to consider: 

  • Characters can pass excess dots to each other.
  • The GM always allocates dots first and in the open, allowing players to react.
  • There are multiple types of dots for different actions (like dash dots for bonus movement).
  • Characters push themselves, gaining dots for taking consequences (like damage)
  • Characters generate a special team pool of shared dots in addition to personal ones.
  • Dots are only useable by certain characters (like mecha suits), other characters have a simpler activation system.
  • Enemies drop dots when they are defeated.
  • Dots are only used for special abilities, but persist between rounds.
  • Dots are only used by enemies.
  • Characters can gain bonus dots with critical successes.
  • Amount of dots spent on an action determines how likely it is to succeed.
  • Characters must be activated in “reverse” order, making characters with lower total dots selected before higher total ones.

What now follows is 3 different implementations of Tactics Dots. But with a twist, I’m not going to use any numbers in the mechanics that follow. I hope it inspires you!


The first one is a standard fantasy game, but with a special touch for Boss monsters.

Characters generate dots based on their “vigilance” or “perception” stat. This should be a low to medium number.


Movement (no dots)

Dash (low dots)

Attack (low dots, but increases for each attack)

Spell (based on level)

Feat (based on feat)


Health: Low

Vigilance: Low

Attack: Knife (Low Damage)

Special: Goblin Shout! (all their dots) Calls another goblin to the fight

Bosses have special abilities that can destroy dots instead of deal damage!


Health: High

Vigilance: High

Attack: Claws (High Damage), Tail (Medium Damage, Ranged)

Special: Firebreath (Medium Dots) High damage to an area

Wingbeat (Low Dots) Remove one dot from an enemy


The second is for sports games, with teamwork and friendship in equal measure.

Players control multiple characters, teams of 5 people. On their turn characters can move a Medium distance for free, but spend double movement when next to opponents. The team generates dots as a whole, which then must be split up.

A special dot is selected as the ball. If a character moves through the ball, they gain control of it and now the ball moves with them. At any point, a character can drop the ball or if it is adjacent to them pick it up.

Shove (Low) Push an adjacent opponent a Low distance.

Take (Medium) Take the ball from an adjacent opponent.

Boost (Medium) Move a Low distance, ignoring opponents.

Pass (Low) Send the ball a Medium distance to an ally or to open space.

Score (High) Shoot it! Must be within Medium distance of the enemy goal and have the ball.

Each character picks a “Focus” ability, reducing the cost of doing that action from High – Medium – Low. If it’s already at “Low” cost, increase the range instead.

Characters also have a special ability, which always costs a High number of dots. Teams can only have one of each special on them.

Long Bomb – Send the ball a High distance, then push all opponents around it a Low distance away.

Bounce Play – Move an adjacent opponent a Low distance, then you can move a High distance and ignore opponents.

Slam – Push all opposing characters within Low distance out to Medium distance.

Pull – Bring an ally within Medium distance adjacent to you.

Give and Go – Pass the ball a Medium distance, and then your target gets to take a free move.

Snapshot – After receiving a Pass within Medium distance of the goal, you can use this ability and declare a Score even though it is not this character’s turn.

Goal Defense – Until the end of the round, as long as this character is within a Medium distance of your goal, your opponent can’t declare a Score.

Spin Control – You ignore the first Take and the first Shove done against you each turn.

Speed Demon – Your free Move becomes a High distance.

Power Player – When this character has the ball at the start of each turn, your team generates extra dots. If this character Scores, the bonus becomes permanent.

The game is played on a field with two lines a High distance away, and then a low distance behind those lines is each team’s goal. Place it in the center.

Randomly pick one of the teams, they can choose to receive or kick.

  • The kicking team lines up their players on the line, and then gives the ball to one of them.
  • The receiving team lines up their players on the opposite line.
  • The kicking team then takes a free Move and Pass with their player who has the ball. The ball must travel at least to halfway between the lines.
  • Then both teams allocate their dots, and the receiving team has the first activation.


The third is for a game with wizard duels, come on monster summoning and powerful spells!

Spells cost different numbers of dots! And they have multiple variables that can increase dot costs like range or damage dice or area of effect or duration.

Spells include things like “Lightning Bolt” or “Sudden Forrest” or “Teleport”

It costs a High amount of dots to summon monsters, but monsters don’t need dots to do things! The monsters do keep those dots tied up tho, treat it like it’s needing an active continual spell powering it. When defeated by the enemy, those dots are “unlocked” back to the wizard.


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