Part I: Killing and Breaking Stuff
Part II: Ow, That Hurts…
Combat in the Midian Dark Fantasy Roleplaying Game is designed to be simple for anyone familiar with games involving 20-sided die. This is a rather long chapter of concepts that should be quite simple once you have the hang of it, and much of that length comes from this being something of a catch-all chapter for different guidelines. There is also a bit of repetition, but this is to ensure that you understand what we are getting at with these guidelines. Like the other (non-martial) skills, this is an open system that allows your character the potential to attack her foes in a grim and gritty duel in the rain and mud, or in a rapid bouncy combat just like your favourite anime character, with equal effectiveness and enjoyment.
Midian's combat engine is, in many ways, a specialised refinement of the skill system. The chief exception is that there are different applicable modifiers for the various aspects of battle, moreso than normal skill use. That is, there is no specific attribute that provides bonuses to martial skills, as there is with other varieties. To attack you roll 1D20, add in the skill level, attribute or other modifiers (martial skills having a special subset of attribute bonuses), and still have to roll over a certain number to be successful, just as with most proficiencies. Apprenticeships and basic martial skills work exactly as they do for social, technical, or mystic skills—the effects are stated in the text, and the exact results may be modified by the Game Master. This also means that other skill types can be made more like combat…
Most of the systems presented in this chapter can have applications outside of battle. For example, two people talking about something that neither knows about could both contest the other's skill checks of Distinguished Expertise by 'parrying' each other's arguments. The mechanics are the same, each person would receive a 'parry' for every two levels of that skill. This argument could be divided into rounds (likely longer than six seconds, admittedly), with only the initiative bonus for a high Wits applying to the initiative check, as quickness of arm won't help much there. The Conversational Dominance skill could be used for an interrupt, retests can be gained from a high Grace, et cetera. In another example, a carpenter and her assistant could both apply their Carpentry expertise for a bit of woodworking. The assistant's help would grant an increase of one skill level (or a +3 if a proficiency were used) for 'flanking' the problem.
I have always found examples of play to be more helpful than the text that they were illustrating… that is, when the examples don't cause further confusion. That said, I would begin with a story of gameplay first and have the guidelines section later. Emphasized/italicised terms are explained after the story. If you want to skip straight to the guidelines (i.e. you already know what initiative means), go ahead to Part I: Killing and Breaking Stuff or Part II: Ow, That Hurts….
"A monkey walks into the room—social challenge… I mean… I pick the lock."
"Are you sure we can't wait until morning?"
"All this because you're too cheap to pay for the armour you commissioned. Jesus, Tim, you are one cheap bastard."
"Roll for it," this bit from Kenny, the GM, who finally wakes back up.
"Stupid effing die. I haven't made a skill check yet tonight. Can I use my luck to retest?"
"No, Tanya has very lucky; you have strange luck. There is a difference. She gets the two free retests. You are about to get hosed."
"All of the noise you two have been making has alerted the city watch. They are coming around the corner now."
"Wait; one of my contacts is the captain of the guard," said Tanya.
"That's in another city, dumb bitch."
"While you were arguing, you got surrounded—lock pick in hand."
"Who's the dumb bitch now? I'm going to try and talk my way out of this mess."
"O.K. what exactly are you going to say, Tanya…"
"Screw this—I'm throwing my lock pick at the eyes of the closest one," Tim said, interrupting Tanya before she can even begin to speak.
"Tim, you prick."
"Do you have the skill Throw Pathetically Small Weapon at Large Angry Armoured Person?" asked Kenny.
Well then, roll one-dee-twenty at minus five to attack."
"Why minus five?"
"Standard penalty. You don't know anything about throwing, and it's a ranged weapon. Plus, it's a lock pick. Wait, make that minus eight since you are throwing it, and minus ten since your weapon is pathetic."
"Screw you, Kenny. It's sharp, balanced, and perfect for attacking someone's eyes."
"It's flexible, curved, light weight, and it's not sharp."
"Damn, that means I have to get a critical hit since they have an armour class of twelve from their thick chain mail. I got…a nineteen! Yes! Do you know what this means, Tanya?"
"It means that you are a pathetic loser, Tim. Nineteen minus ten is only nine. You still can't hit anything."
"No dummy, a natural nineteen is a critical hit. I hit any armour class with that. Plus I do double damage; plus special results—Kenny?"
"Well, since you were aiming for the eye; I'm going to judge that he is blinded and in shock enough to be out of the fight for now. Since Tanya was talking to them, I'll give you this first attack for free. Now roll one-dee-ten for initiative."
Tanya: "I rolled a six.
Tim: "I got a five, plus I'm Wicked Quick. That gives me a plus three on initiative for a total of eight. Take that, Tanya."
Kenny: "Well, since the guards have a speed penalty for the claymores, they have a seven for initiative and will go between both of you. Tim, what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to kick the next nearest in the nuts. This time I do have the skill for it."
"You actually have a Kick in the Nuts skill?" Tanya asked.
"No, stupid, I have High Kick, with a second level of skill, which makes him sing soprano for a while."
"O.K. Tim, roll to attack."
"Rolled an eight plus two for my skill and another plus one for my Agility, so I got an eleven."
"Clang! You hit his heavily armoured codpiece. No damage."
"Screw you Kenny."
"Hey, you rolled it. The armour class is twelve."
"The guards are drawing their swords. What are you going to do, Tanya?"
"Well, I'm going to try and look for an escape route before this dumb bastard gets my character killed. Again."
"The guards have drawn their weapons now. Tanya, you are completely surrounded. You will have to get past at least one of them in order to run down the alleyway and hopefully to safety. O.K. that was the first round, and since no one did anything to affect initiative; roll again."
Tanya: "Damn; two."
Tim: "Yes! Nine! That plus the three gives me a twelve. I get two attacks this round!"
"The guards also got a two, but since your Wits is high, you get to act before them, Tanya."
"I'm going to…"
Kenny: "Don't you want to see what they are going to do first? One of the advantages of having initiative is that you get the option of reacting to what your opponent is doing." Usually there's no reason to wait, but Tanya recognises this is something from Kenny's Game Master bag o' tricks.
"In that case, I'm going to wait."
"O.K. the guards are advancing closer, but not attacking just yet. They seem like they are attempting to take you prisoner."
Tanya: "In that case, I'm going to shove past the one that's in my way and let idiot-boy here get killed."
"Thanks a lot, dumb bitch."
"Don't call me that."
"Anyway, I'm going to go for the nut-shot again. I rolled an eighteen this time. That plus bonuses gives me a twenty-one."
"Alright, Tim. That's not a critical hit since it wasn't a natural nineteen or twenty, but each number above twenty adds to damage."
"I got a two plus one for my Strength and another for the high roll, so I did four points between his legs."
"Not exactly. Four points doesn't penetrate the damage reduction of his armour. Codpiece, remember? You did no damage."
"Now it's your turn, Tanya. Roll to see if you can shove past the guard."
"Damn, I rolled a two. Catastrophic failure. Wait a minute—I have a retest from being Very Lucky. This time I got a Nine."
"Since you were only shoving past you didn't need to get past his armour so as to damage him, then that nine connects. Now we roll for a contest of Strength to see if you can shove past him or if he stands fast. Roll two-dee-twenty and try to get as close as possible to your Strength without going over."
"I got a seven. That's four under my Strength attribute."
"O.K. the guard rolled a twenty-five. Failure. He would have had to roll under his Strength score, and over your roll of seven, to stop you. Since he rolled over his Strength score he automatically loses, so you win. Tim, it's time for your second attack."
"Left nut in the corner pocket—I got a fourteen. So I did…"
Kenny rolls; "doesn't matter; he blocked it."
"What do you mean?"
"The guard rolled a seventeen to parry your kick. Apparently he knows something about footwork, too."
"Damn. Why don't you help out instead of running away?" Tim whined.
"Because I know a lost cause when I see it."
"You're the lost cause, dumb bitch."
At this point Tanya throws a nearby brass candelabrum at Tim's head. Tanya in real-life throws better than Tim's character does and hits Tim dead between the eyes. Critical hit. God deems that this causes unconsciousness—or at least Tim has suddenly gained the wisdom to play dead. She then proceeds to pick the candelabrum back up again to finish the job. Fortunately, Kenny—although far from being either large or strong—is quite fast and stops her from making a mess on his carpet that he would rather not explain to the authorities.
And now the explanation of terms used in the story:
- Skill check
- Attempting to do something, usually not involving combat—see the Skills chapter for details.
- Lucky, Very Lucky, Strange Luck
- These are traits—see the Traits chapter for details on each.
- This enables someone to re-roll the dice to try to come up with a more favourable outcome. The results of the retest are final—unless you have another retest available.
- People you know; this is a type of relationship. Since Tanya doesn't have guard contacts in this city, her being acquainted with the other captain doesn't help here—see the Social Interaction chapter for details of contacts.
- Throw Pathetically Small Weapon at Large Angry Armoured Person and Kick in The Nuts
- Tim doesn't actually have these martial skills, nor will you find them in the Skills chapter. Kenny and Tanya were making fun of Tim (which is entirely too easy to do).
- Roll one-dee-twenty
- In other words, 1D20, written phonetically. The standard die used to determine how well your character does in combat is the 20-sided icosahedron die.
- Rolling the 20-sided (1D20) die to determine whether or not you actually connected with your target; sometimes referred to as 'to-hit'.
- Ranged weapon
- Anything that attacks from a distance: an arrow, thrown knife, or in this case—a lock pick. Weapons are either ranged or melee (up-close and personal).
- Critical hit
- Rolling either a 19 or 20 on a D20. Also called a natural 19 or natural 20 because critical hits are only when the number actually rolled (before bonuses) is either number. When you get a critical hit you always connect regardless of penalties or armour class, and you do double damage, plus any extra goodies the Game Master grants such as disarming, crippling, unconsciousness, or blinding. In addition any amount rolled above 20 (after bonuses) adds to damage done. As an extra bonus critical hits cannot be defended against (such as with a dodge or parry).
- Armour class
- This is the number that you must roll at or above in order to attack your target. Being agile or wearing armour add to your armour class.
- This is how you find out who attacks first in combat, and whether or not you can act multiple times. The highest roll on 1D10 acts first. If you have a result of more than 10 then you get to have multiple actions—just keep subtracting ten after each to determine how the multiple actions fit in with the pacing of everyone's actions. Kenny didn't have anyone roll for initiative on the first round because no one was expecting a lock-pick to come flying towards anyone's eye (this is called being surprised). Actions made during one round (such as receiving damage) can affect your initiative in the next.
- Wicked quick
- Another Trait; this one was the result of bribing the Game Master with Canadian whiskey.
- High kick
- A skill that Tim does know; it's a skill he developed and talked Kenny into letting him use (buying snacks for the troupe helped). Each level of a martial skill adds to the attack roll. In this case, Tim gets to add +2 on his attack roll for having a hand-to-hand skill at 2nd level.
- A physical attribute; Agility measures dexterity and coordination.
- A mental attribute; Wits measures how quickly your brain operates.
- Natural 19 or 20
- When the actual result of the 20-sided die showing face-up is a nineteen or twenty, before bonuses and penalties. This is a critical hit. A natural one or two is a catastrophic failure.
- Another physical attribute; it's exactly what it reads on the tin.
- Damage reduction
- Armour not only protects with increased armour class, but it also reduces the amount of damage done per attack.
- Catastrophic failure or critical fumble
- The opposite of a critical hit. This is when you roll a natural one or two. You miss regardless of bonuses, and something nasty can happen such as your weapon breaking, or being dropped, or you may trip and fall. Also sometimes just called a fumble.
- Contest of Strength
- Or other attributes—in order to determine who wins an outcome that is directly resisted (for example an arm-wrestling contest) you roll 2D20 as an attribute check. The winner is the one that rolls highest without going over her attribute. You can think of it like a certain popular long-running game show where you have to guess the price of prizes. If both fail to roll under their attributes or the result is a tie, then the contest is unresolved for this round—try again the next round. And don't worry, this is the last time we're going to write out 1D20 (or any dice) phonetically like that.
- Blocking an attack with a weapon, shield, or body part. If you have an appropriate martial skill (such as with a melee weapon) then you may parry for free as many attacks per round as you have levels in that skill divided by 2 (round up). If you do not have any appropriate skills, then each parry counts as your action.
Kenny was kind of a dick for making Tanya roll to attack first to shove past the guard, but it does work as another example of attacking.