When it comes to the combat mechanics of The Legend of Zelda, Breath of the Wild pushed the series in a new direction and introduced a lot of new factors to consider. Link can approach combat challenges in a number of different ways. Weapon choice matters. The stage where the battle takes place matters. What you eat before you go into battle matters. These factors all work together to make Breath of the Wild a much more thought out and strategic Zelda game than other titles (at least until the end when you’re overpowered). In the tabletop RPG recreation of Breath of the Wild, the depth of the combat mechanics has been captured to a degree that makes the battle system worth examining on its own.
Reclaim the Wild is a tabletop RPG meant to give players the opportunity to tell their own stories in Breath of the Wild’s Hyrule. You create your own Zelda hero and then begin an adventure where you’ll be gathering resources to craft the supplies you need to face down terrible monsters and save villages and their inhabitants from a cruel wilderness. Combat is a significant aspect of the game with multiple stats applying exclusively to combat scenarios and many of the game’s rules covering how battles work. I’m enjoying the combat aspects of Reclaim the Wild and in today’s article I will share what I find to be compelling about it.
Let’s start with the basics. When battle starts, characters roll initiative to determine turn order. On a unit’s turn they have a series of actions including a movement, a standard action like attacking or casting a spell, minor actions like using an inventory item, and reactions which can be activated in response to specific stimuli. Basic attacks roll 2d6 and add the accuracy of the weapon with the accuracy stat of the attacking character, with the goal number being the target’s evasion. On a hit, the defender subtracts their defense stat from the sum of the attacker’s weapon damage and combat stat; whatever is left is subtracted from the defender’s HP. Once HP hits zero, the character is defeated, and the goal of the heroes is to defeat all of the enemies before the enemies defeat them.
Those are just the bare basics, though. Each character has a selection of techniques and/or spells learned at character creation. These abilities cost either SP (for techniques) or MP (for spells) in order to use, but they generally do not miss and have the chance of inflicting some sort of bonus on a successful roll. Because these attacks don’t miss, they allow you to circumvent to a degree the annoying problem of some RPGs where your turn can be totally wasted on a bad die roll. Techniques and spells allow you to take control of when you are guaranteed to be helpful instead of taking the risk that you might miss, a somewhat common complaint for games like D&D where you feel totally useless on a failed roll.
There are lots of special combat maneuvers in the game which each use different stats and have a variety of effects. Knocking an enemy prone makes them a sitting duck for a melee attack, while pushing them into a pit of malice might deal some seriousness damage to them. You can compel weakened foes to surrender so they back off peacefully, or catch them off-guard with a flirt to create a distraction that is advantageous for another hero. These maneuvers use different statistics than the combat-exclusive ones and can give heroes with weaker attacks an opportunity to contribute in different ways, sometimes targeting foes where they are weakest.
One aspect of Reclaim the Wild’s combat that I find the most interesting is the reaction. Reactions are abilities that can be used once per round in response to a specific action from someone else. This could be in response to being attacked, or having the opponent try to move away from you, or seeing an ally in danger, or a target stepping into your line of sight – the list goes on. Different types of reactions can set up interesting combos and they say a lot about the unique fighting style about a particular character or monster.
Reclaim the Wild wouldn’t be a Zelda RPG without some core Zelda elements, and those include some elements which are unique to Breath of the Wild while others are more ubiquitous across the franchise. What you’ll recognize from any Zelda game is the idea of a weak point, a special method of attacking the enemy or a specific place to hit them which if damaged will deal significantly greater harm. What I appreciate about Reclaim the Wild is that weak points aren’t just big glowing eyeballs – they are flaws in the enemy’s strategy which when exploited make them vulnerable in a very practical sense. The Deku Baba, for example, has a reaction which leaves the vulnerable stem portion of its body exposed to attack. The Bokoblin bodyguard has multiple techniques which rely on its shield, so disarming it reduces the abilities it is able to bring to bear against you.
More unique to Breath of the Wild is the concept of rank. Equipment has different ranks and these ranks like up with the ranks of monsters. A rank two weapon is pretty likely to deal respectable damage to a rank two monster, while rank zero weapons are unlikely to pose much of a threat at all unless the character has leveled up to a significant degree. This creates a system where the quality of your gear matters. Ever played Breath of the Wild on Master Mode and tried to beat a blue bokoblin with a couple of deku sticks? Reclaim the Wild recreates this by carefully balancing the monsters in the bestiary to the stats of the gear available for each rank.
Here’s a real-life example from the campaign I am running. At the end of the first session, I decided to plant a story seed for the next session. I had an NPC show the characters the spike of a lizalfos tail and reveal that another villager had been kidnapped by the creatures. When I went to prepare the encounter and saw the stats for the various types of lizalfos, I knew there was no way I was making that battle happen anytime soon. The rank two monsters could deal way too much damage and would barely take anything from my player’s attacks. Rather than using the rules provided in the game to rank an enemy down, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to teach the players about the game’s mechanics. Villagers warned them about how strong the lizalfos were and now they are going on a series of quests to help them claim enough rank two gear in order to go toe-to-toe with the kidnappers.
Just like Breath of the Wild, there are some other tools available to the heroes in this type of situation. Elixirs and food crafted from local ingredients can provide stat boosts to the party, making them more effective in battle against opponents which might otherwise prove too great of a threat. Gems can give helpful enchantments to equipment in order to add magical potency that might mitigate a difference in rank. Utilizing environmental features to push foes into dangerous terrain can deal damage that ignores defense and perhaps chips away at the target in other meaningful ways. If you play your cards right, maybe you can have a foe struck by lightning during a mighty thunderstorm.
This can be a lot to juggle for new players, and unfortunately the book doesn’t offer much in the way of guidance for new GMs when it comes to staggering out these rules so that your players can learn them slowly over time. However, one of the best tools that the book gives you for teaching players key game mechanics are the monsters themselves. Planning encounters for Reclaim the Wild has been one of my favorite activities during session prep, particularly when it comes to showing the heroes how they can use different combat maneuvers, reactions, techniques/spells, and the environment to assist them in battle.
Monsters in the bestiary are organized alphabetically but can be searched by rank in the index. Each monster has a stat block including all of their traits and combat stats, the quality of their weapons and the things they’ll drop upon defeat, as well as their techniques, spells, and reactions. Each monster in Reclaim the Wild has a defined role which indicates the types of strategies they’ll use in battle. Blasters for example want to hit as many targets as they can at once while warriors focus on dealing heavy melee damage. Protectors divert attention and damage away from their allies while ralliers give beneficial statuses to their allies or even heal them. Two monsters with the same role may still fulfill that role differently: one protector may literally put shields on an ally to block attacks coming for them while another may carefully manage the space near their allies, zoning foes by pushing them away strategically.
These roles become even more nuanced when you combine two together. A classic of course is the protector and the warrior – one foe focuses on dealing damage while the other draws aggro from the party and gets in the way. But there are plenty of potential combinations available. A blaster might separate party members who are then picked off separately by one or more stealthy hunters. A rallier may keep a front-line warrior in the battle with healing abilities while also buffing their attacks. When you factor in the fact that different monsters handle these roles in different ways, the creative possibilities really begin to expand.
Here’s an example combo I used in a recent session. Crows have the ability to steal items from their targets and when holding a stolen item, they become more evasive and can move farther. I placed a crow in a room with a narrow staircase guarded by a Deku Baba and a Zol. Zols protect by interfering in the physical space with their bodies, throwing themselves in front of anyone running past them and shoving them onto the ground. If attacked, they break into a bunch of small Gels that can grapple an opponent to slow them down. A slowed opponent is a perfect target for the crow, who can increase its movement speed by stealing and then easily escape the grappled hero. Once the crow flies past the Deku Baba, anyone moving into the plant’s reach has to deal with a reaction which allows it to lunge forward, deal damage, and push the target backwards. The crow may not be physically dangerous but when paired with two protectors, it has an opportunity to steal something the party cares about and then fly off safely while they are blocked at every turn.
Each time I begin to prepare for a session, I look through the enemies who are ranked at the right level for my players and I think about the creative possibilities opened up when those enemies work together. I haven’t even used a boss encounter yet because for me, the fun is in creating small one-off puzzles with the monsters where they can quickly show off their unique strategies and then burn out, allowing the players to be challenged in short but sweet bursts. This is another way in which Reclaim the Wild feels very much like Breath of the Wild – there’s less focus on long-form challenges and instead the potential for a world populated with little stories to tell, little puzzles to solve, and little but ferocious enemies to overcome. I died more in Breath of the Wild figuring out the day to day battles than I ever did going in to face a boss, and I think Reclaim the Wild has the potential to create that same sort of mundane danger.
My first impressions of Reclaim the Wild are positive overall. I’m less impressed with some of the game’s non-combat mechanics and will probably discuss those at a later time. But the way that reactions, techniques, and monster roles work together to create battles which are challenging and compelling without being multiplied to an unmanageable scale is deeply impressive to me, and I love how the rules of the game do such a good job at capturing specific elements of Breath of the Wild like the emphasis on growth-via-gear and the importance of crafting and preparation. If you’re a big fan of crunchy combat in tabletops, Reclaim the Wild is definitely worth a look.