Combat in RPGs tends to have a serious problem: it ends in death.
Sure. Some RPGs have morale rules and such. Usually, these are limited to NPCs and they tend to be more applicable in mass combat than skirmishes or duels.
It is duels that I’m concerned with here, duels and practice bouts. Non-lethal combats have a place in many genres. People test themselves against their rivals all the time. They train through practice. They participate in exhibitions. Usually, no one dies.
The thing is, despite no one dying, it is usually clear who the victor is. In D&D, you tell who the victor is by who runs out of hit points. That’s not really satisfactory for a boxing match or a practice bout… or even a duel that could end with one side yielding. 4e is a bit better in that it can depend on the bloodied condition, but it is still a bit unsatisfying in the sense that there’s no hard line that provides a necessarily compelling reason to yield – hit points lost after being bloodied aren’t any different than those lost before.
This is one of the things that I really appreciate about FATE. Damage in FATE is tracked in terms of stress (a lot of the abstract stuff that generally gets lumped into hit points) and consequences (more lasting effects). Combat ends when one side is taken out – the victor gets to determine the condition of the one taken out. It is usually death, but it can just as easily be unconsciousness. Combat can end before that, too. It would be simple to fight until the first consequence. There’s actually a concession mechanic built-in to handle this.
Are there any other systems that handle such things elegantly? If so, let me know.