Characters adventuring in a fantasy RPG setting are probably going to have to fight, sooner or later. This chapter is about how to handle it when at least one of the characters participating in a scene decides to try to hurt or physically overpower somebody else.
0. Guarding, Stealth, and Scouting
Characters on guard against potential foes may roll a Wariness challenge (or have it rolled for them, if the GM determines that they don’t know how well they’re watching). Characters not specifically on the lookout use their passive Wariness. On the flip side of the coin, characters attempting to hide themselves or move quietly roll a Stealth challenge. Both of these skills are penalized if the characters are moving faster than half speed.
The results of these rolls determine who is aware of whom and at what distance. If neither side is aware of the other and they meet, they will generally do so at room, reach, or even contact distance. If either side is aware of the other, it will generally be at area or estate distance. Naturally, the specific circumstances will affect this: maximum encounter distance may be “reach” in a cramped and noisy labyrinth, while large obvious groups can be spotted from good lookout positions even at region distance. If one side is aware of the other first, they may attempt an ambush.
If the aware side opens combat from ambush or surprise, they automatically win initiative. If everyone is aware, all involved roll an Intuition challenge (or Combat Fluency challenge, if they have the skill) and initiative is ordered from highest result to lowest. Characters who are not aware of combat do not roll initiative until the start of the next round after they become aware of it, and may not do anything except roll saves; their only defense against most attacks is the passive deflection and absorption of any armor they may be wearing.
2. Distance and Engagement
People in a fight usually move around a lot, so where characters are in a scene is treated in relatively abstract terms, as a function of both in-world descriptions and the actions they take to move, engage, or disengage. Players should pay attention to descriptions of their surroundings, asking questions when necessary, and have their players respond realistically. (The GM may reward clever thinking with bonuses ranging from +1 to a one-step bonus on a roll!) When the narrative doesn’t make it clear how long it will take to get from point A to point B within a scene, refer to the table below for the Move action.
Meanwhile, a fight can be confusing and distracting, with tunnel vision, pain, fatigue, noise, and lots of moving parts – even for a one-on-one duel. When you’re focusing on someone in order to attack them and/or block their attacks effectively, you’re “engaged” with them. Each opponent engaging a character who isn’t engaging them back hampers that character’s actions, applying a cumulative 1-point penalty to all their rolls! In addition, actions including ranged attacks or spellcasting invite free reaction attacks from an engaged opponent unless the character is specifically engaging and targeting that opponent.
Each character is (re)set to a default (usually 2) of Action Points (AP) at the start of each of their turns, and may use any number during their turn. A character not yet aware that combat is happening has no AP allotment and can’t do anything beyond rolling saves, but characters who are aware may act reactively at any time, or may “hold” AP to use at any point in the round after their turn. (A common example would be using one AP to attack and holding the second for defense in a duel.) AP may go unused; at the start of the character’s next turn, their AP allotment is reset to their default.
Even characters with no AP remaining may take action reactively: For example, a character who is attacked may still use their defenses. However, when a character has used up their AP allotment, each additional action carries a cumulative one-step penalty on the dice.
Common actions used in combat include:
–Ready/Aim: Taking out a weapon, setting up a polearm to interrupt a charge, loading or aiming a ranged weapon, or recovering the balance on a heavy weapon after an attack all take AP. As a rule, weapons at hand and arm size take 1 AP to ready or aim, and each size category above that increases the cost by one. Spending an extra AP to steady and aim a ranged weapon gives a one-step bonus to the attack roll, up to a limit determined by the weapon’s skill level.
–Engage: Focusing on someone with the intent to fight them directly. This will usually be done at reach distance, but some ranged actions use engagement as well, and grappling occurs at contact distance. Engaging with an opponent can be done automatically (cost 0 AP) by simply switching your attention to them.
–Disengage: You don’t have to engage with anyone if you don’t want to! For example, an archer standing back from the action can pick targets freely. If someone wants to stay engaged with you, spend 1 AP to disengage or they get a free reaction against you… and even then they can try to follow and re-engage on their turn.
–Move: You can move around the scene, or leave. The number of actions it takes to get where you want to go on foot depends on the distance. (Keep in mind that interruptions or obstacles will often take extra time to bypass!)
- At reach distance, it’s 1 AP.
- At room distance, it’s d6 AP.
- At area distance, it’s 2d6 AP.
- Beyond this, you probably can’t get there within a single scene! Keep in mind that mounts, vehicles, or magic can all change the time it takes to get somewhere, though.
–Attack: You can try to hurt someone. Roll a challenge of your relevant skill against the defense of their choice.
–Defend: You can try to dodge someone’s attack, deflect it with your armor or shield, parry it with your own weapon, or simply take it and hope that it doesn’t penetrate your armor.
–Magic: If a spell has a casting time listed in real units such as minutes or hours, it probably can’t be used in a fight. If the casting time is listed in rounds, moments, or AP, then it probably can. Casting a spell while engaged may invite reaction attacks unless you are also engaged with that opponent.
–Other: A wide variety of actions are possible in combat. Anything not listed above should be discussed with the GM, who should assign it an AP cost (ranging from “free” to a die roll, but generally one or two) or a time cost (generally in rounds) and any necessary rolls, situational bonuses or penalties, and other costs (such as allowing reactions from engaged opponents).
Roll a challenge using the skill of your choice (as long as you’re appropriately armed for it!). Your target may choose to let you hit them in the hope that their armor absorbs the blow, but otherwise they’ll probably oppose you with a skill of their choice.
The weapon used has a default damage rating; if it hits, each degree of success increases the damage by one step. Roll this damage and apply it to the target’s HP after subtracting any absorption from armor. Specific skills may also use degrees of success to trigger extra benefits or maneuvers such as disarming a foe.
When attacked you can roll a challenge to use the Armor skill to deflect, a Weapon Specialization skill to parry, or Dodge to dodge (funny how that works). As with attacks, specific skills may allow extra benefits at times, such as a free riposte.
If the defender purposefully takes a hit, then the attack rolls against the armor’s passive blocking value (to determine degree of success). In either case, armor may have an absorption rating that reduces or eliminates the damage even from a strike that connects.
Everything in the world, even mindless undead and animated constructs, have conditions that cause them to fight or to not fight. The GM should know these ahead of time and adjudicate them in a common-sense way: animals will avoid potential injury when possible unless driven by hunger, territorialism, the urge to defend their offspring, etc. Intelligent foes would often rather surrender than face death or severe injury, but will fight to the last if they don’t believe a surrender will be honored or if driven by their value system.
That said, GMs who wish to determine morale issues by chance rather than fiat may use an optional scale based on the Stability meter. In addition to strain, keep track of blows to morale: evidence of a strong opponent; allies being killed, incapacitated, or driven away; personal injury or loss; etc. When this track of the SP meter is full roll a “break” check as normal, with any fail-state result being read as a desire to flee or surrender.