Combat should be based on two new concepts: engagement and stances. An engagement is officially when a character has entered combat. When engaged a player can not move, or work on projects. A player is always in one of the stances when engaged.
Guard - Focuses on blocking, you do not attack, you simply attempt to block everything that comes at you. This is passive, it lasts until no one has engaged you.
Guard Other - Same as above except you're guarding another player. This is passive it lasts until no one has engaged you or your target.
Drag - You're dragging someone else who's engaged in combat, it's time based on all participants skill/strength. This is active, it's timed. If the engagement ends except for the dragging it's converted to the non-project and not time based.
Attack - You attack someone, and only guard against the person you attacked. Anyone else attacking you has a much higher chance of getting past your shield. This is active, it's timed, based on weapon.
Dragging works the same way it usually does, when not engaged, but if another is attacking the you or the person you're guarding dragging any of you takes time.
Let's look at some scenarios here:
A leader and some senators. In this instance there's a leader, we'll call in Caesar just for now, and there's some senators, one's named Brutus just, you know, for example.
Read from top to bottom.
You see Senator 1 attack Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Senator 2 attack Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Senator 3 attack Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Guard 1 begin to drag Senator 3.
You see Guard 2 begin to drag Senator 1.
You see Caesar put his guard up.
You see Brutus attack Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Senator 1 novicely damage Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Senator 1 being dragged by Guard 2 to the courtyard.
You see Senator 2 skillfully damage Caesar with a steel dagger.
You see Senator 3 being dragged by Guard 3 to the courtyard.
Caesar says, "Et tu Brute?"
You see Brutus expertly kill Caesar with a steel dagger.
Let's break down this leader assassination now, how bout it? I made a comparison to a known historical event to make a point.
In the beginning of the battle 3 senators attack Caesar with daggers, daggers are fast weapons and do modest damage.
You see Guards 1-2 try to pull away two of the Senators. For this example we assume the Guards are expert fighters and very strong, capable of pulling the senators off alone.
Senator 1 manages to stab Caesar, and then he's no longer being engaged so the dragging moves from an engagement project to a normal dragging project and he's instantly dragged off.
Senator 2 stabs Caesar.
Senator 3 is not given a chance to stab Caesar before being dragged off, because the Guard's dragging project was faster than the Senator's striking project.
Brutus stabs Caesar fatally, no combatants remain and no one in the scene is engaged. Caesar is dead, and Senators 1 and 3 are drug off.
While the dragging and such didn't happen in the story, it made a good point in the example. The reason the guards did not attack the suspects is because they'd have had no chance to have struck the Senators before they managed to stab Caesar, because they were carrying the much slower and larger swords. With the guards being expert fighters and very strong they had a much better chance of being fast enough to drag them than having to wait out their weapon strike time.
In the story Senator 1 still manages to stab Caesar, this is because a dagger is a fast weapon, the Guard couldn't have hoped to pull him away before he managed to stab Caesar.
I believe this combat system is fair to all parties. It removes the dreaded insta-kills, but still allows mechanics that allow for quick strikes and a quick organized kill. It also introduces a strong roleplay element to battles, and they play out in a fairly dramatic way.