Monday, September 26, 2016

Empress core rules - Section 3

This is the juicy stuff: combat.  I'd like to highlight the rules for initiative and armor.

3. Combat

There are a lot of small but subtle changes to how combat actions are resolved.

3.1. Initiative

During combat, the GM will count down segments, which are equivalent to Initiative levels, starting at the highest Initiative level of combat participants.  When a character’s Initiative segment comes up, he or she may act.  He or she may also choose to hold his or her action.  This means that the character refrains from acting during this segment, and may announce action at the start of a subsequent segment.

If a character holds, then that character is -2 to be hit during the period starting when action was possible and ending at the start of the segment that the character finally acts.  If the character chooses to attack, however, then he or she has a bonus of +1 to hit any character who has not already acted.

A character with Warrior levels has another option, which is to hold for counter.  What this means is that the Warrior chooses to hold his or her attack in anticipation of a specific opponent attacking him or her.  If and when this comes to pass, the character who is holding for counter gets to attack first with a +1 to AM/PM.  This can be done for missile attacks to fire upon enemies emerging from cover at a specific location instead of responding to an attack.

If two segments go by without any characters acting, the round is over, even if there are still characters holding their actions; any held actions are then lost.  The hold for counter, however, lasts until the character’s next action (i.e. next round), and that action could be used to continue the hold for counter without interruption.

3.1.1. Rolling initiative

Optionally, characters may determine their initiative values by rolling from round-to-round.  At the start of the round, each participant rolls 1d6 and adds his or her Initiative level.  The resulting value determines the character’s action segment for the round.

Rolling initiative for large groups of combatants can be tedious, and may end up slowing down combat without adding much drama.  In tense one-on-one duels, however, the effect is reversed, with much less bookkeeping and more opportunities for increasing the tension of combat.  The choice is left to the GM, who may vary in terms of ability to manage initiative for larger rosters of combatants.  For this author, the tipping point is past four combatants; i.e. for four or less, I will consider rolling initiative.

A hybrid approach is for the GM to roll initiative only for certain characters (e.g. PCs and important NPCs), while defaulting to a roll of 10 for everyone else.  While this is fully manageable, it probably only makes sense when you have a fight happening center-stage, with a large number of minor participants.

3.2. Armaments

3.2.1. Armor and shields

Armor and shields in Empress work a bit differently as compared to OD&D in general.  Armor is rated in terms of Coverage and Protection.  Coverage is based on how well it covers the wearer’s body.  This table provides a good guideline:

Table V: Armor Coverage
armor type
complete armor (i.e. total coverage, even visor down)
almost-complete armor (i.e. missing something, like visor up or no gauntlets)
suit of armor (i.e. typical complete armor for adventuring)
partial armor (i.e. breastplate, skirt, partial coverage of remaining limbs)
armor pieces (i.e. select pieces like breastplate, helmet and gauntlets)
breastplate and skirt or helm
just a breastplate
helmet or both arms or both legs
medium shield
large shield

Shields are italicized, and their Coverage values represents the maximum Coverage they can provide.  See the following section to determine how to interpret this.

The “default” Coverage for the kind of suit of armor that one would wear while traveling and adventuring should be six.  

Even with all of these areas covered, we’re assuming that there are still gaps in places.  If the armor is complete, then the Coverage is unimportant, and the Protection is all that’s considered.

The Protection depends on the material and thickness of the armor.  Here is a table of the appropriate values:

Table VI: Armor Protection
armor material
  • thick hides
  • thick hides
  • hardened leather
  • reeds and cured hides
  • light mail
  • reinforced leather
  • wooden planks
  • heavy mail
  • reinforced mail
  • cured hide on wood
  • light plate
  • elfin mail
  • reinforced wood
  • heavy plate
  • light metal
  • heavy metal
  • lacquered elfinwood

Shield materials are italicized.

If a character is either wearing armor or wielding a shield or both, then such a character also has an Armor Class (AC).  The AC is equal to the character’s HC plus total Coverage.

Example: A character with an Agility of 13 is wearing a shirt, skirt and coif of light mail and carrying a medium reinforced wood shield.  This character’s base HC is 12 + 1 (for the shield) = 13.  The full suit of light mail has a Coverage of 4 and an Protection of 3, while the shield has an Coverage of 1 (versus melee and 2 (versus missiles), and an Protection of 6.  Total Coverage is 5 against melee and 6 against missiles.

Thus, this character has an HC of 13 and a AC of 18 against melee and 19 against missiles.  For melee attacks, this means that a roll less than 13 is a miss, a melee roll of 13-17 hits but is intercepted by protection, and a roll of 18 or higher will hit unprotected flesh for full damage.  With missiles, less than 13 is a miss, 13-18 is a protected hit, and 19+ hits bare flesh.  In both cases, 23+ and natural 20 are critical hits. Shields

Primarily, the shield adds to a character’s Coverage, as described in the section above.  The Coverage bonus from a large shield is quite significant, but equipping a large shield will penalize a character’s attack roll by one.  In addition, if a character is armored, then Coverage is capped at eight.  If armor Coverage is somehow greater than eight, then the shield does not provide any Coverage bonus on top of this.

When a character is equipped with a shield and no armor, then any armor-blocked hit uses the shield’s Protection to reduce the damage roll.  However, if the shieldbearer also has armor, then the question of which Protection to use is more complicated.  The following table explains the rules of determining which values to use:

Table VII: Shield and armor Protection
If the attack is...
...and the shield is...
...and the number of previously intercepted hits is...
...then the blow is intercepted by the...
1 or more
0 or 1
2 or more
0, 1 or 2
3 or more

For every hit that lands on a shield and has damage that past the Protection, its Coverage is reduced by one.  However, If a shield is hit for damage equal to twice its Protection, it is destroyed.  The benefits of a shield only apply if the defender is actively wielding it in the general direction that attacks are coming from. Shield walls
This is a pretty obscure rule, but if there is ever a situation with shield walls, the characters at the end of the walls benefit from +1 Coverage, while those in the middle get +2.  Those in the middle have a -1 to hit, however, since the wall cuts off their own attack angles. Armor and explosions

Armor may provide some assistance against explosions and other kinds of area effect damage.  When the GM feels this is appropriate, the way to calculate the amount of Protection received is to multiply the base armor’s Protection against the ratio of current Coverage to a max Coverage of eight.  Thus, a character with four Coverage and six Protection gets three Protection against explosions and similar kinds of damaging areas effects.  Round off any fractions.

3.2.2. Weapons

All weapons have a damage roll, which is the same as stated in LotFP.  Weapons also may have a minimum Toughness, and a wielder who falls short must reduce his or her Attack Modifier by the shortfall, and the weapon can’t be used defensively (i.e. -2 to base HC).  This is generally 7 for minor weapons, 9 for small weapons, 11 for medium weapons, and 13 for great weapons. Thrusting weapons

Thrusting weapons, like spears, polearms, most missiles, etc. reduce the effective Coverage of the defender’s armor by one.  Unarmed attacks also count.  Such attacks have the “Thrusting” tag. Penetrating weapons

Certain weapons deliver a lot of energy to a focused area.  These include maces, warhammers, flails, polearms, battle-axes, heavy crossbows, longbows, etc.  They effectively reduce the Protection rating of any armor they encounter by one.  Such attacks have the “Penetrating” tag.

Unusual weapons might ignore even more armor.  This could include firearms, siege weapons, flying tree trunks, magic swords, dragon tails, laser rifles, etc.  These kinds of attacks would be tagged “Penetrating+X.”  To qualify, the weapon must be able to deliver a huge amount of energy, or a significant amount to a small contact surface. Mighty weapons

As you may have noticed, there are some weapons that fall on both the piercing and the powerful list.  Those are: longbows, heavy crossbows and polearms.  

Longswords are semi-mighty: a wielder can choose whether to use one as either a piercing weapon or a powerful weapon on a round-by-round basis.  Used one-handed, it gets neither bonus. Comparative weapon advantages

There are two important considerations when characters with different weapons face each other: is one character’s reach significantly longer than the others, and what is each character’s ability to parry the attacks of the other?  Let’s consider each in turn. Effects of reach
If one character’s reach exceeds his or her opponent’s reach by 50% or more, then that character has a reach advantage over that opponent.  When a character attacks with a reach advantage, he or she receives a bonus of +1 to hit.

When a character attacks with a reach disadvantage, then his or her opponent receives an opportunity attack, which is an opportunity for the opponent to make an attack now, if they haven’t already.  If the defender chooses to take the opportunity attack, then it is resolved before the actual attack.  The attack from the reach disadvantage is resolved immediately afterwards, assuming that the attacker survived and is still intent on delivering the blow.  

If the opportunity attack misses and the initial attack is pressed, then this subsequent attack receives a bonus of two to hit and the reach advantage is subsequently lost.  From this point onwards, any attacks made with the longer weapon are penalized -2 to hit, but if any of them succeed, then the reach advantage has been regained.  It can also be regained by disengaging from the opponent with the shorter reach, which opens one up to an opportunity attack.

Note that a buckler used on the part of the attacker with a shorter weapon will mitigate a reach difference of up to one foot, a medium shield mitigates a difference of one yard, and a large shield mitigates this issue, entirely. Parrying surfaces
It can be tricky to determine whether or not a defender has an effective parrying surface against an attack.  As a general rule, any weapon with at least a two feet of length that can be used for parrying is an effective parrying surface against attacks delivered by other human opponents.  This could exclude materials that are too light to block a blow; for instance, a broom handle would not be effective against a cutting sword.  However, most objects designed as weapons should be able to handle most other weapons.  So yes, a rapier can parry a battle-ax.

However, very powerful blows might not be blockable with any sort of weapon that a human could carry.  The swing of a frost giant’s ax or the swipe of a dragon’s claw should not be something that can be redirected with clever bladework.  For these kinds of attacks, the character must simply get out of the way.  Note that a character generally also loses shield HC bonuses in such cases.

Rather than lay down any hard rules here, GM rules and monster descriptions should create a ruling.  A good thing to keep in mind is size; melee attacks from opponents that are two or more size classes higher should not be reasonable candidates for parrying.

On the other hand, a sufficiently-armored character may be able to parry blades even when not armed at all.  The rule here is that the a character with armored hands or forearms may parry if the Protection rating is at least two points higher than the minimum weapon damage.  Penetrating attacks reduce the effective Protection for these purposes.

If a character is unable to parry an incoming attack, then the attack has a +1 to hit.  This penalty is cumulative with reach advantages, so using a sword to attack a character with a knife or unarmed receives a +2 attack bonus.  Two characters in a knife fight, however, only receive +1 bonuses against each other; they cannot parry, but their reach is not so great that they can attack each other with impunity. Dual weapon use

Is this realistic?  History tells us: mostly, no.  However, for the sake of fun, we’ll allow it, with some limitations.

Warriors need to take a Dual Weapon perk for this to work particularly well.  Otherwise, the effect of dual weapon use is to simply allow the character to choose which weapon he or she attacks with on any given turn, the off-hand weapon being penalized -2 to hit.

If a character has a Dual Weapon perk for the current combination of wielded weapons, things are handled differently.  The character can use them either offensively or defensively.  If used offensively, the character receives a bonus of +1 to hit, and on a successful hit, rolls damage for both weapons, taking the higher roll.  

If they are used defensively, then the character receives a +1 to HC.  In that case, the character can freely choose which weapon to attack with in an unmodified fashion.  This HC bonus applies to missile attacks that the character can see coming and conceivably parry.  It is also treated like a buckler for reducing reach disadvantages (i.e. reduces effective difference by one foot).

Another possible benefit to consider is that dual weapons, when wielded by a character with the appropriate perk, create an effective parrying surface equal to the sum of both weapon surfaces.  For instance, dual long daggers by a skilled practitioner should allow the character to parry incoming weapon attacks.

The dual weapon perk does not stack with the weapon specialization perk for individual weapons, and in fact this perk essential counts as a kind of specialization.

Shield-plus-weapon (the weapon usually being spear, sword or ax) is a kind of dual weapon perk.  As with this perk, a character with a “sword-and-board” perk gets a +1 each round that can be applied to either the character’s HC or attack roll.  A character with a proficiency perk in the weapon being used cannot stack that bonus with the sword-and-weapon perk bonus.  There is no pure shield proficiency, here.

3.3. Attack rolls

When a character attacks another, the attacking character rolls a d20, adding his or her Attack Modifier.  If the attack is melee, the character can use his or her Power Modifier instead.

The result of this modified roll is called a character’s attack total, and it is compared to the HC and AC of the defender.  If the attack total is less than the target’s HC, the attack misses entirely.  If the total is equal or greater than the target’s HC, then the attack hits.  

What happens next depends on whether the character is armored.  If the character is armored, he or she has an AC which is greater than the HC.  If the attack total is less than this AC, then the attack strikes upon the armor or shield of the defender, and part or all of the impact is absorbed; this is called a protected hit.  If the attack roll is equal or greater than the AC, then the attack bypasses the armor, and this is called a direct hit.  

If a character has no armor, then things are simpler: any attack that hits is a direct hit.

On any hit, roll the attacker’s damage by weapon.  For protected hits, the damage is reduced by an amount equal to the armor’s Protection.  Things are more complicated with shields (see below).

A natural roll of 20 is always a hit, and a roll of 1 is always a miss.  An attack roll which is a natural 20 or exceeds the HC by 10 or more is a critical hit.  Critical hits score maximum damage for the die roll or allow the attacker to roll a second damage die (GM preference).  Also, a critical hit circumvents armor, unless the armor is completely enclosing (such as with certain monsters and science fiction or magical effects).

3.4. Cleaving

If a character is able to incapacitate his or her opponent in an attack, he or she can attack another opponent this round with a penalty of -3 to hit.  If this opponent is defeated, the character can attack yet another opponent with a penalty of -6.  And so on.  The cumulative penalty is reduced to -2 if the character has Warrior levels.

3.5. Breaking melee engagements

If a character retreats from an active melee engagement, engaged enemies get a free opportunity attack on the retreating character.  If the character wants to retreat more gracefully, he or she can move during combat at 1/2 normal movement rate.  Upon doing so, opponents always have the option of following up.  Trying to move past opponents in any way always provokes an opportunity attack.

A character may spend an action cautiously falling back.  If his or her opponent does not specifically choose to retain melee range, then the character may move out of engagement at the end of the round without triggering an opportunity attack from that opponent.  If the opponent does follow up, then the character has the option of moving up to half his or her movement rate in a rearward arc from that enemy, who keeps pace with this retreat.  If the enemy cannot move fast enough to keep up, then the melee engagement is b
roken without inviting an opportunity attack.

3.6. Multiple opportunity attacks

As stated, opportunity attacks are interrupting attacks that one opponent may perform against another if the attacker has not yet acted, and the defender is making itself especially vulnerable e.g. the target is attacking with a significant reach disadvantage, or breaking away from melee.  Taking an opportunity attack means that one’s action is immediately taken, not that the character is getting a free attack.

3.7. Combat stances

Any character can choose to trade-off +1 to Attack Modifier or HC for a corresponding -2 in the other, for one round.  A character with Warrior levels can double this trade-off (i.e. a +2/-4 trade-off).

Pure defense allows the defender to use his or her AM/PM as an increase to HC, with a minimum bonus of +2.  In this situation, a character gets double their normal allotment of opportunity attacks (i.e. four for Warriors and two for everyone else).

3.8. Surprise and backstabbing

If two parties meet each other unexpectedly, they can both independently save against Wits to avoid surprise.  Whoever fails is unable to act during the first round, but they can still react defensively.  If one party is surprised and the other is not, then the unsurprised party uses their action to attempt to hide before being detected, using the stealth skill.  A failure squanders the advantage of surprise.

Those with Sneak Attack skill add their Stealth skill to their Attack Modifiers when the opponent is surprised or unaware; this includes ranged attacks.  A character’s sneak attack level acts as a multiple to damage in these situations.

Making an attack against a truly unaware opponent is even more effective.  If the target does not see the attacker, and the attack is a ranged weapon, then the defender is automatically unaware.  

In the case of a melee attack, however, the attacker must get close enough to the defender via a Stealth skill roll in order to achieve this.  In addition, if the target may attempt to make the usual Wits saving throw to avoid being caught unaware.  If the target is vigilant, then he or she becomes aware at the last moment by either a failed Stealth roll or a successful Wits save.  If the target is not vigilant, then he or she will only become alert if there is a Stealth failure and a successful saving throw.

For melee attacks, the effect of attacking an unaware target is the same as attacking a helpless target: automatic critical hit.  The effect is less pronounced for missile attacks - the target HC loses all benefits from Agility and any shields (although the shield could still affect the AC).  Either way, these benefits are in addition to any received from the Sneak Attack skill.  If an ambusher wants to simply charge from hiding, no stealth roll is required, and the defenders get their usual saving throws to avoid surprise.

Table VIII: Stealth and surprise resolution
target is...
saving throw
Hiding or sneaking past
not alert
Wits - 2
Hidden on successful Stealth roll or failed Wits save
Wits - 2
Hidden on successful Stealth roll and failed Wits save
Sneaking close for backstab or shadowing
not alert
Target surprised on successful Stealth roll or failed Wits save
Target surprised on successful Stealth roll and failed Wits save
“Sucker punch” to the face
not alert
Target surprised on successful Deception roll or failed Wits save
Target surprised on successful Deception roll and failed Wits save

The GM should modify saving throws based on the situation.  For instance, be among others who are making minimal noise incurs a -2 penalty, or -4 if they are very careless (if they are truly noisy, saving throws can be worse or automatic failure).  If the circumstances are particularly inimical to Stealth or Deception, the GM may call for multiple rolls.  Walking past a guard in broad daylight should be extremely difficult, even if the guard is highly inattentive.

3.9. Unarmed combat

When a character attacks without a weapon, there are a few considerations.  First, if one’s opponent is armed, all the usual considerations of weapon reach and parrying surfaces apply.  Second, an unarmed attacker always uses his or her Power Modifier instead of the usual Attack Modifier.  Third, unarmed attack damage is quite modest at 1d2 damage.

3.10. Special maneuvers

A player can always describe any sort of special maneuver against an opponent, such as forcing them backwards, disarming them, grappling them, etc.  As a rule of thumb, all such maneuvers are penalized -2 to hit (the GM can adjust this according to circumstance).  Even then, the target usually gets a saving throw, which is penalized -4 if the attack was a critical hit.  If the attack roll succeeds and the defender fails to save, then whatever special effect the attacker desires will take place.

If the attacker is trying to achieve some kind of special effect in combination with an attack, or two effects at once, then the penalty increases to -4.  Only Warriors have this option.

3.10.1. Grappling

Grappling attacks are initially treated as unarmed special maneuvers, although no damage is inflicted.  Instead, if the grapple attack hits, the defender must save against Reflexes to avoid the hold, as modified by the difference in Toughness modifiers between attacker and defender.  As with all special maneuvers, this save is penalized by -4 if the attack was a critical hit.

When a character is successfully grappled, he or she cannot move, and can only engage his or her attacker with very short weapons or try to escape.  An escape is a special unarmed attack maneuver.  If the defender is grappled three times without making any escapes, then the defender is pinned; these grapples can come from different attackers.  A pinned character is helpless.  Either party can also spend an action to attempt to disarm the grappled party, which is an unpenalized special maneuver.  Attacks against the other grappler gain a bonus of +1 to hit, and attacks against others are penalized -1 to hit.

If the saving throw to avoid the grapple was a critical failure (i.e fails by ten or more), then the attacker immediately pins the defender.

Attacks within a grapple reduce the effective Coverage of the defender’s armor by two. Giant grapplers

When the difference between size and Toughness is too extreme, then a successful grapple where the defender fails to make a Reflexes save results in the defender being utterly pinned.  Such victims can either be attacked by the assailant every round for critical damage, or hurled away for even greater damage.  Being thrown should usually result in 2d6 damage and up, depending on nearby surfaces and the strength of the thrower.  

In the case of some monsters, a successful grapple of this sort results in the defender being swallowed.  In such cases, the swallowed party takes automatic damage every round, and may be allowed to attack the swallower from within; when this is permitted, it is usually only with short stabbing weapons.  The victim may need to succeed in a Reflexes saving throw when swallowed to earn the use of a permitted weapon.

Grappling attacks against oversized opponents are doomed to failure.

3.10.2 Dirty tricks

The character can attempt a dirty trick in combat against an opponent.  This attack is a special maneuver, thus receiving a penalty of -2 to attack.  On a failure, the trick fails to go off, and the attempt is wasted.  On a success, the trick goes off, and the opponent must attempt a saving throw against Wits to evade the effects, with the usual penalty of -4 if the attack was a critical hit.

If the defender suspected a trick, or this trick in particular, then he or she receives a bonus of +2 or +4 to the saving throw.  It should go without saying that the player or GM must actually describe the trick in question, and the GM should modify based on the situation.

If the trick takes effect, then the defender is considered to be surprised, meaning that he or she cannot attack, and is vulnerable to being backstabbed.  Surprise ends when the defender would ordinarily act next, although this action itself is lost.  

In addition, the perpetrator gets an immediate opportunity attack, which is penalized -2 to hit as a result of it being part of a special maneuver.

3.11. Helpless defenders

If the target of a melee attack is not significantly moving or defending, these are automatically critical hits (i.e. double-rolled or maximum damage, ignoring armor).  If the defender is well-armored and the attacker is attacking without thought, then treat the defender as having a base HC of two for purposes of circumventing armor and obtaining a critical hit.  For these to count, the target must be stationary and not engaged in combat with anyone.

3.12. Physical contact and venom

Something that is slightly complicated by introducing the abstraction of hit points as defensive ability is the concept of hitting an opponent; if the target has a high number of hit points, an attack that inflicts modest damage might represent something that was entirely evaded, at the cost of stamina, footing, momentum, etc.

Normally, the point of these abstractions is that it doesn’t really matter if the character took a glancing blow or dodged hard to get out of the way, because the end result is similar.  However, this is not true for certain kinds of attacks that require actual physical contact.  The most common example would be venom and poisoned blades; it’s important to know if these attacks actually make contact.  However, it could also come into play when considering the effects of certain kinds of spells that require touch contact, or other kinds of attacks that may have side effects (e.g. electrified weapons).

When it’s necessary to determine whether or not an attack actually makes contact, the first thing to consider is whether or not the attack was intercepted by armor.  If it was, then the attack can only makes physical contact with the skin of the defender if the armor is penetrated.  This is generally impossible for blunt weapons, but piercing and cutting weapons may do so if they inflict three or more points of damage past Protection.

If the touch doesn’t have to be on bare skin to take effect, then it is sufficient to score any hit.  Likewise, if armor is worn, an unprotected hit is not impeded by it.

If skin contact is possible, then it will happen if the attack causes the target to be wounded in any way (i.e. hit points brought to zero or less).  Otherwise, the defender gets a saving throw against Reflexes, at a penalty of four if the attack was a critical hit.  On a failure, physical contact occurs.  From that point, the effects vary based on the situation (spell, poison, taser, etc.).  The defender may receive further saving throws to mitigate these effects.

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