Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Rewriting Combat: Optional Rules

Martial Arts brims with optional rules, some of which we already have, but we also have plenty of new ones to tangle with.  I've gone through the book and examined each in turn, and selected the following based on advice from the Campaigns section of the book, my experience with Cherry Blossom Rain, and the results of the research over the past 3 weeks.

Committed Attack and Defensive Attack (page 99): Spinning Attacks must be Committed or All-Out so we need to include these. Defensive Attacks also make a lot of sense for characters who want to probe their opponents. To make the latter even more interesting, we’ll use “Delayed Gratification” from Pyramid #3-52, which allows a character to make a “deceptive attack” that adds no benefit, but allows for a follow-up attack that does.  I had a rule in Cherry Blossom Rain that I'd like to bring back, which is that you can sacrifice the +1 to defense for a Defensive Attack for a +1 "Evaluate bonus" to your next attack.

Set-Up Attack (Pyramid #3-52): As mentioned above, but noted in its own entry so I can more easily find it.  Set-Up Attacks are classic "fencing moves" and explain many of the extraneous attacks that you see tossed back and forth in lightsaber duels.

Evaluate: A lot of what happens in Star Wars can be described as an Evaluate. Apply the bonus rules in Martial Arts (bonus against Feints and Deceptive Attacks, including Set-Up attacks!), and bonuses to non-combat skills while evaluating.  Furthermore, Peter Dell'Orto has some additional suggestions over at Dungeon Fantastic on how to handle an Evaluate.  Given the speed of combat, I like his simple suggestion: Evaluate adds +3 on the first turn, and allows you to ignore -3 in Deceptive Attack and Feint penalties.  That also fixes the problem of a defensive attack being superior to an Evaluate for defensiveness.

Beats: The problem with a Beat is that its utterly inferior to a Feint in Psi-Wars. Most force-swordsman will excel at DX over ST, as they don’t need high ST to inflict a great deal of damage in a battle, making Feint a superior option to Beat. Furthermore, a successful Beat applies its bonus against a single weapon’s defense, while a feint applies against all defenses someone can do. Finally, a beat requires a special set-up: the character must first parry, or be parried, which means that quick and clever opponents can dodge and attack only when they’re certain of striking home, to avoid a beat.

The one paltry benefit is that others can take advantage of this. But I have trouble visualizing this. Say, one space knight Beats an assassin’s force blade out of alignment for a -3 to defense. The assassin can then attack with said force blade with no penalty or problem, and despite the fact that the weapon has moved around, everyone can still attack her for the next second which her defending at a -3.  It's possible to knock a blade out of alignment for the purposes of attack as a defensive beat, but then your opponent has no problem making a defense.  Whatever this actually looks like, it doesn't look like the dramatic, sweeping beats we see in Star Wars.

Icelander has a nice house-rule that I’d like to borrow here: A Beat requires a contest of ST-based skill vs ST-based skill, and it applies its margin of success as a penalty to both attack and defense with that weapon only, to a maximum of -4, until the end of his next turn. If the margin of success is 5 or greater, the weapon becomes unready. The opponent may choose to ready his weapon as his next action to remove all penalties (I’m okay with a character giving up his turn to defeat a beat, as it puts him on the defensive). Characters who have successfully performed a beat may maintain contact. If so, then any attempt to Ready the weapon requires a contest of ST-based weapon skill vs ST-based weapon skill. A character cannot defend or attack with a weapon that remains in contact, and must not move out of range (C or 1) with the beaten character (if the beaten character retreats and the beating character does not step to remain in contact, contact is lost). If a defending character defeats a beat, he may initiate a beat of his own. Characters may spend one fatigue to gain a +4 to their Beat, or make an All-Out (Determined) Beat to gain a +4 to their roll. Weapons that count as two-handed weapons (including one-handed weapons in a defensive grip, or weapons currently in a cross-parry) gain +2 to Beats.

You can also "beat" the body in the same way as described in the rules.  This applies a penalty to Dodge and all Kick attacks, to a maximum of -4, with a margin of 5 or higher forcing your opponent to move one yard of your choice and to make a DX (or Acrobatics or Judo) check or fall (as though he had been knocked back one yard).

This should nicely emulate the strength contests between two Jedi, with their lightsabers sparking and buzzing against one another, though I'd like to note that Douglas Cole has an article discussing this in greater depth, but I haven't really had a chance to look at how this would impact my broader play-scape.

Beats are their own Technique.

Ruses use their standard rules (but remove the DX-based option: You can only defeat a Ruse with a Perception-based skill roll, or Tactics), and are their own techniques.

Defensive Grip applies. Force Swords gain +1 defense to forward attacks (front 3 hexes), -1 to defend from rear or side hexes, it counts as a two-handed weapon for defenses, and has -2 attack, +1 damage.

Reverse Grip applies. While “resting the weapon on the forearm” is not practical with a force sword, Psi-Wars isn't exactly realistic.  It looks good, and allowing karate and bralwing parries with a reverse gripped weapon is a nice trick.

Acrobatic Movement definitely applies. Evading and Tumbling are particularly popular (treat flipping while jumping about as Tumbling).

Acrobatic Attacks and Flying Attacks definitely apply, and have their own techniques.
Stop Hits definitely apply (as they reduce defenses).

Cascading Waits: Is just a useful rule to know to handle odd situations. Add levels of Combat Sense, and allow Combat Sense (skill) Precognitive Parry to be substituted for any cascading wait roll.

Pummeling (page 111): Is definitely allowed, and counts as an unarmed attack, thus benefits from unarmed etiquette.

Telegraphic Attacks: Doesn’t reduce defenses, but it can still end a fight quickly in the right circumstances by allowing a stealthy character to make a very effective strike.

Tricky Shooting (page 121): Allow characters with Gunslinger to make Prediction Shots. Definitely allow this to apply to precognitive blocks and parries (this brings the gunslinger to parity with a melee fighter).

Cross Parry (page 121): Definitely a classy and cool movie for a dual-wielding space-knight.

Multiple Blocks (page 123): I can see no reason to disallow this rule, and it definitely benefits the Force Sword-and-Buckler combatants!

Parrying with Two Handed Weapons (page 123): Applies to one-handed weapons in a defensive grip!

Retreat Options (page 123): Allow dives, slips and side-slips!

Riposte (page 123): Is great! It reduces your opponent’s defenses, and your own, which will certainly make the fight go a lot faster! Unfortunately, like Beat, as written it’s rather weak. Apply the Riposte bonus in full to any defense against the character that attacked you. That is, treat it like a deceptive attack.

Multiple Attack (page 127): Implement all multiple attack rules, including the Rapid Strike (see Very Rapid Strike, above), Feints and Multiple Attacks (which applies to Beat and Ruse as well)

Contest of Wills (page 130): Chambara movies regularly feature two characters staring one another down, their “spirits” contesting one another. Star Wars, especially in the original trilogy, seemed to feature that sort of thing. Psi-Wars can and should too, but with a sort of subtle “psionic contest.” Because the penalties aren’t exactly clear, if a character attacks after losing a contest of wills, all of his attacks are penalized until his circumstances change sufficiently to allow him to recenter himself (GM’s discretion. Ending a fight is certainly enough, but it should be possible to reassert himself in the midst of a fight, given the right circumstances).


Characters with Weapon Master or Trained by a Master may use the Chambara rules.

Chambara Movement (page 128): Apply all of these rules, especially the jumps during combat (for ease, assume a character can jump half his move, or his full move after with a running start), and halved penalties for acrobatic attacks and flying attacks. Acrobatic attack techniques and flying attack techniques require Trained by a Master or Weapon Master, thus should always include this bonus.

Chambara Attacks (page 128): These rules are largely already in effect for everyone. The big benefit is to Flying Attack and Acrobatic attacks. Chambara characters may spend a fatigue point to ignore all penalties for an Acrobatic or Flying attack (Heroic Charge).

Chambara Defenses (page 129): Apply all of these, including the superior retreat to all weapons (Which interacts nicely with slips and side-slips!) and the multiple retreats. Acrobatic defenses are available for everyone! Apply rule regarding rear attacks to anyone with Trained by a Master or Weapon Master and one of Combat Reflexes, Danger Sense, or ESP Talent 1+.

Special Feats for Cinematic Skills (page 129): Applies to all of the noted skills. To cut down on rolls, allow No-Nuisance perks to skip on rolls, even in combat, provided the intended use puts the modified skill at 16+. Some examples
  • Graceful Glider [1]. Requires Flying Leap at 16+. Allows a character to instantly jump at double distance with no bonus for damage without making a roll (folds -10 for instant in with +5 for “light body” and +5 for only double distance)
  • Superior Graceful Glider [1]. Requires Flying Leap 21+ and Graceful Glider. Allows the character to triple his jumping distance with no bonus for damage without making a roll (Folds -10 for instant concentration with +5 for light body).
  • Delicate Walker [1]. Requires Light Walk 20+. Allows the character to light walk across anything whose penalty is no worse then 4, walking across most cables or delicate rope, and maintaining perfect balance on things up to 2/3” across.
  • Wall-Runner [1]. Requires Lizard Climb 20+. Allows the character to move along any non-slippery (not glass or wet walls, etc) vertical with only his two feet in contact with it without rolling, even in combat (even to retreat) so long as he remains in motion and is unencumbered. He cannot stand still on a vertical surface without rolling.

Injury and Recovery

Most of these rules are genre inappropriate and would only slow combat down. Do not include them (and do not include the rules for Bleeding). Some additional notes:

Extreme Dismemberment: Force swords certainly allow very dramatic dismembering attempts, but it’s rare that a PC would suddenly find himself a double amputee while fighting another space knight. Treat it as a special effect that sometimes happens to already-defeated characters.

New Hit Locations: Most of these are too finicky, but allow Jaw and crushing attacks on the Vitals.
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