Friday, December 18, 2009

AC: Combat Continued

Continuing my revision of Action Cards-- draft of more material on combat.

Aiming and Prep
If a player spends an action setting up an attack, say by aiming or holding back by observing an opponent, they should gain a bonus on their next attack. The GM can determine the benefit (attack bonus, damage, and/or redraw) depending on how dramatic the description is.

Mooks are the wondrous hordes of nameless and faceless minions who serve actual named adversaries. Called agents, henchmen, extras or whatever, they form a staple of cinematic games. Mooks do not get defense pulls; if the attacker pulls a success then the Mook is hit. Mooks have two wound states: Wounded and Out. If a Mook takes a hit of Injured or less (see Damage, below) they become Wounded. A second wound of any level will take them out. If a Mook takes of hit of Cut Up or more, they are taken out.

All-Out Defense
Characters may take an All-Out Defense action, giving them an additional repull for defense. This stacks with other abilities. Characters may not attack or move when taking an All-Out Defense.

All-Out Attack (Optional)
GM's may allow players to do an All-Out Attack, sacrificing any defenses in order to gain a benefit. Character's performing All-Out Attacks gain a +1 bump to their attack result, a +1 bump to damage and an extra repull. However they may not make any defense tests until their next action.

Groups and Coordinating
As mentioned under Contests, if characters end up opposed by more than a single opponent, the GM can handle this in one of two ways. If the adversaries are named characters, rather than Mooks, then handle each contest in sequence, with a bump to the result of each successive opponent. The single target gets the choice of who to engage with first. If the opposition is generally Mooks, then handle them as a single opponent, with the additional persons granting bumps and/or repulls depending on their skills and quality.

Players may spend an action aiding another player or NPC. Such aid can provide bonuses to off-set difficulties and grants a combat test repull in addition to other abilities. Alternately, the players can use the aid action to increase damage done, useful against adversaries with strong armor or large numbers of wounds.

Defense Types and Limits (Detailed, Optional)
Players have the option of one of three defense types against attacks: parry, dodge or block. A parry requires the use of a weapon, is based on a Combat pull, may not be used against ranged attacks, and may be used once per round. A block requires the use of a shield, is based on a Combat pull and may be used twice per round. Dodges may be used against any attack and may be used an unlimited number of times per round. Characters only get one defense pull against any particular attack.

Characters compare the result of their defense pull to the attacker's result. Ties usually go to the Defender. However, a character's armor affects their dodge. A character wearing medium armor, loses ties; a character wearing heavy armor, loses ties and has a -1 drop to all dodge attempts. Depending on the armor system, wearing heavier armor may additionally affect a player's general physical actions.

Using this option, a character taking an All-Out Defense action may use a number of parries, blocks or dodges each turn. The GM may allow players to purchase abilities to gain extra parries.

Gamemastering Combat
Action Cards is a high-trust system. It relies on the GM to work with the players to tell an interesting story. That doesn't always mean the players win and combat can be one of those places where real tension can be introduced to the story. On the other hand, it can also introduce tension to the group. The GM should be fair-- and while keeping the combat fast-paced is a priority, take the time to slow down if players get lost or become uncertain about their actions. (For more on this see the section on GMing AC in General).

As you'll see in the section on damage, Action Cards can be deadly-- or at least can take players out of the combat relatively easily. GM's ought to play with the damage system-- substituting or complementing damage with other effects like temporary ability disabling or situational changes.

In general, players don't like to get penalties. In general a penalty for one side in a contest is equivalent to a bonus for the other side. Therefore when players would get penalties, instead apply those as bonuses to their adversaries, stressing the difficulty to up the dramatic stakes. The exception to this rule is for wound penalties, which players start taking at the highest level of damage. These should be applied and stressed to players to reinforce their current situation and the danger they're in.

Special and Unique Cards have their own effects, modified by narration from the GM or player. These cards don't generally get affected by bonuses or penalties. However the GM should keep them in mind when judging final results, using them to break ties or give one side the benefit of the doubt.

Once characters have successfully hit, they pull for damage. Damage pull uses Physical for muscle-powered weapons; Combat for devices like guns; and Knowledge for Magical attacks.

Characters have six wound levels
1 Grazed
2 Hurt
3 Injured
4 Cut Up
5 Bloody Heap
6 Death’s Door

Past this, characters will go unconscious and begin to make death checks.

The attacker's pull is modified as follows:
+1 for a light weapon
+2 for a medium weapon
+3 for a heavy weapon
+1 for a wide margin of success on the original attack
+2 for a Moment of Glory on the original attack
-1 for light armor
-2 for medium armor
-3 for heavy armor
+/- X for talents, edges, and other modifiers

If the attacker fails with the modified result then no damage is done. Keep in mind that Egregious Humiliation, “Lose Big” cards and Deadlock are not modified, and if drawn then no damage is done. Crawling from the Wreckage begins from a Good result and can be modified, but something breaks. For everything else, consider the hierarchy of results:

OK (standard) Grazed
Good (standard) Hurt
Sacre Bleu! (standard) Injured
Sacre Bleu!+ (from edges) Cut Up
“Win Big” Cards (unique) Bloody Heap
Moment of Glory (special) Death's Door

If characters are at X level and takes another wound equal to or less than X, their wound level increases by one. If they're at X level and take another wound greater than X, they go up to that new wound level. The GM may also decide a minor damage result doesn't raise a wound level, but instead temporarily knocks out one or more of the character's abilities. Repulls may not be made using those abilities until the damage is healed. For meta-abilities, this may mean temporary lose of the power as well. The GM may also apply ability knock outs based on the narration of the cards or circumstances.

Characters can attempt to shake off injury during a round of combat by spending a full action to do so. This may reduce your wound level. Players make a physical check with the wound levels currently take as a penalty against the check. Players may also opt to lower a wound result if they can narrate a longer term crippling injury or loss (like having an arm taken out of commission, being temporarily blinded, armor breaking, etc).

Wound Effects
Once a player gets to Bloody Heap they suffer a -1 penalty to all actions. At Death's Door they suffer a -2 penalty. This penalty applies to future soak-- so the more banged up a character is, the easier it is for someone to knock them out. The players should feel free not to calculate this into their actions. The GM will either notice and put apply the penalty himself or else he'll forget about it-- how will you know if he's clueless or merciful? Best to not think about it too hard.

Once a character gets to damage rank 5 and above, the GM reserves the right to start creating complications for the player based on their wound level. At the Bloody Heap stage, the GM reserves the right to make the PC make a Physical check to stay up if they strain themselves or do something crazy. At the Death’s Door stage, the GM reserves the right to make the player make constant and irritating checks to stay conscious every time they try to do something. The GM also reserves the right to cackle manically at this point.


  1. As usual, greatly enjoying this series. In agreement with all the concepts except Armor penalizing damage pulls. While this might simulate some physics (ie mass steals momentum from the weapon), in any dramatic genre the brick wearing armor does more damage. By all means, penalize their chance to hit, but not the damage.

    In a practical sense, armor lets the wearer ignore minor threats and lets them commit more fully to the swing. If you're unarmored, even a subtle cuts can be deadly. If you're wearing light armor it takes a pretty good swing to hurt you. If you're wearing heavy armor, glancing blows can be ignored. This really lets them wade into combat.

  2. Clarification: the armor of the target modifies the damage pull. Usually the factors for the weapon damage from the attacker and the armor resist from the defender will wash out, making things easy to calculate on the fly.

  3. I've been thinking over what I thought were some combat/damage alterations for the system and then I was pleasantly surprised to see most of those ideas listed in this post. I do have an alternate idea for the damage results that I'll have to run past you at some point.