So this weekend I watched the series finale of Avatar: The Legend of Korra (which, if you did not watch, go watch it right now. Immediately. Stop reading this, it will be here when you get back. No, you don't have to watch the previous Avatar series, this stands on its own. Yes, it's that good) and as with every time I watch Avatar cartoons, I think how I would structure the combat in an rpg. For those unfamiliar with Avatar in general (WHY? I SAID GO WATCH IT! THE ORIGINAL IS ON NETFLIX! GO! GO NOW!) the world has magic based on the four elements called bending and is carried out using martial arts with each element having its own visual style. In addition to the four core elements there are advanced skills like Lightning Bending (advanced fire), Metal Bending (advanced earth), Blood Bending/Plant Bending (advanced water), and Sound Bending (advanced air, not seen in the show, mentioned in an interview with the creators as a lost art). Each of these forms has very few unique abilities ( for example water is the only one that can heal), while all share certain basic things (they all can attack, block, etc) though at different levels of effectiveness. Fire, for example, is much more effective offensively than Air while Air is better at mobility, and Earth seems to be the most effective for defense. Some abilities are rare but shared; for example both Air and Fire can fly, though it seems to be a far more advanced skill for Fire than Air as only the most powerful Firebenders can do it.
Also recently I have taken to watching kung fu movies and templar movies while working on the elliptical to keep myself from realizing how terrible exercising is. This mixture of genres has made me realize something about my long gestating project Godwar (which you can read about here, here, and here). I've commonly described it as Occult Superheroes of the 15th century, but I now realize that's not the most apt description. It's really more of a kung fu game from a European cultural basis; instead of unlocking the secrets of kung fu and chi, characters get their crazy powers from more occult sources like the Holy Grail, and then use this power to take on vast armies, beat incredible odds, etc. I also wanted more the cultural/political conflicts that come up in kung fu than the hero vs. villain dynamic more common in superhero stories.
Now, what do these two ideas have to do with each other? Previously I've been going with sort of a Spirit of the Century/Over The Edge style system where players make up their own abilities and rated them using a pool of options. Then during gameplay players would draw five cards each round and allocate them to different abilities, up the the ranking of that ability, to accomplish tasks (so I can put up too three cards in Champion of the Edinburgh Templar Lodge when I want to attack someone or try to use my notoriety to impress people). Problem this is abuseable as not all abilities will be created equal (as Harbringer's Over the Edge game demonstrated when my character's Marine ability was useful far out of proportion to some other abilities) and without some sort of currency system ala Spirit of the Century fate points I'm not sure it will work well. So, new idea: steal my ideas for Avatar for Godwar.
Most of the characters in GodWar would have access to a primary power set; this could be Templar (super tough thanks to drinking from the Holy Grail), Angel, Hermetic Wizard, Gearsman (clockwork robot), etc. Each of these would have rankings in a number of different common abilities, such as Templar having high ranks in Toughness, Melee, and Defense while Hermetic Wizard has high ranks in Confining, Information, and Summoning. These would overlap, with both Gearsmen and Templars having high Toughness. The rankings in these abilities would be how many cards you can assign to them each round for tasks, so a Templar is going to brute force his way through and use melee combat while other combatants may choose other options. I'm thinking the list of abilities would be like Melee, Ranged, Defense, Information, Toughness, Confining, Healing, Movement, Stealth, Social, Mechanical. I probably need more, but I want to keep the list small. Players could raise these over time with experience points.
Also each power set would have a set of special moves, some of which are shared with other power sets while others wouldn't be. For example both Templars and Angels would have some sort of “come back from the dead” special move, while only Diabolists could summon demons.
Lastly players would have a number of traits that are descriptive phrases and modifiers that can be applied to abilities when they are appropriate. This means when a trait is applied the player can allocate more or fewer cards to that ability. This would usually be a +/-1 modifier, though larger it possible. Again some sort of currency like fate points may be good here.