Authors: Robert Donoghue and Fred Hicks
Editors: Fred Hicks, Lydia Leong
This document is Open Game Content, as described in section 1(d) of the Open Gaming License.
The first thing to determine in a given combat is its pace. This is a choice that is best determined by the dictates of circumstance and the tastes of the players involved. It's reasonable to decide that one pace or another is an appropriate default for a game, but there's no harm in occasionally running a fight at a different pace, if appropriate. The three paces available are Scene Based, Exchange Based and Turn Based.
In a scene based combat, each participant makes only a single roll, and the overall outcome is determined by the overall result. Exchange based combats are composed of multiple rolls, each representing an exchange of blows or maneuvers. A turn based combat breaks things down to the finest grain possible, with each roll representing a single attack or defense.
All three paces operate on a similar mechanical principle - two rolls are compared, and the victor's margin of success is used to determine an outcome according to the table below.
|0||.||Scratched - A negligible result. A near miss, or a hit which fails to have any real impact.|
|+1||||Clipped - A noticeable result. A hit or maneuver that provides a momentary advantage to the attacker, such as knocking a blade out of line or knocking his opponent back a step. In general, getting clipped applies a -1 penalty to the next action.|
|+2 - +4||||Hurt - A palpable result. A hit or maneuver that grants a persistent advantage, such as a shallow cut or a disarm. Getting hurt usually applies a -1 penalty to all actions for the duration of the scene.|
|+5 - +6||||Injured - A significant result. A hit or maneuver with impact that carries on beyond the immediate scene -- a serious injury being the most obvious example. Injuries apply a -1 penalty per box to most actions until the injury is healed.|
|7+ and up||X||Taken Out - A decisive result. A hit or maneuver that ends the fight right there, either from a knockout or perhaps passing out from injuries. It's worth noting that this is not automatic death - that is left to out-of-combat decision.|
It might not be immediately obvious, but the above is just a highly detailed chart for a dynamic challenge (see "Dynamic Challenges").
Scene based fights are, mechanically, the easiest fights to run. However, they can be very challenging to make interesting. As such, the two situations when it is best to use a scene-level pace are:
When players want to play out fights in a primarily narrative manner, and just want to get the mechanics out of the way.
The fight is tangential to the game, and is best resolved quickly, such as fights involving only one player which leave everyone else twiddling their thumbs.
At the beginning of the scene, everyone involved states their goals and how they're going to go about them, and the GM states the opposition's goals and methods in general terms. Then everyone rolls and rerolls as normal. Ideally, the GM should be able to eyeball the results and work with the narratives to figure out how things went.
That sort of improvisation, while useful, is not always an option, and for those looking for guidelines, there are a couple of possibilities. The simplest is to look at the total numerical difference between the outcomes of each side, and determine the overall outcome based on the difference between those figures - the Combat Outcomes table provides useful guidelines in that regard.
For a slightly more complicated resolution, consider pairing off the sides, either by player choice or based on the narrative, and resolve the larger fight as multiple sub-fights, using the same guidelines above.
However it's resolved, the fight should end in a way that allows things to move onto the next scene. It was assumed that if there was a safe way to retry the effort, it's done as part of the scene. As such, continually re-attacking a fortified position in hopes of getting lucky is not an option.
The combat outcome table is a good yardstick for the sort of consequences a fight can have. However, the more minor outcomes (clipped and hurt) have less bearing, as they don't tend to extend beyond the scope of the scene. As such, treat those outcomes as follows:
Scratch - Close thing. No advantage or disadvantage
Clipped - Minor Inconvenience. The character isn't badly hurt, but they look like they've been in a fight, and may have suffered minor wear and tear on gear, items or reputation.
Hurt - Major Inconvenience. As Clipped, but it's something that could be a real problem unless it's dealt with - a damaged weapon or saddle, for example. Alternately, it can be an injury that's too small to provide a blanket penalty, but which could cause a problem under specific circumstances (running, using the left hand, etc.). This generally creates a -1 penalty that the GM can apply in appropriate situations.
Injured or Taken Out - These are resolved normally, see "Injuries and Advantages".
The exchange pace is considered the default for Fate. It's well suited to striking a balance between drama and tactics, and allows tension to grow over the course of an extended fight. While it has many of the earmarks of traditional combat systems, it still falls strongly on the narrative end of the spectrum.
An exchange begins with all involved parties declaring their intended actions. These actions should only be things that take a few moments to perform, such as attacking someone, or jumping onto a rope and swinging to safety. Those involved roll their dice and compare them against whoever they are acting in opposition to (or against a GM-determined difficulty, if there are no opponent). Those individual exchanges are resolved against the Combat Outcomes table. If the fight is still going on, a new exchange begins.
GMs are encouraged to play a little fast and loose with things; the above is only a guideline. There's nothing wrong with handling individual exchanges one at a time; the important thing is to keep the overall flow of things moving and not let anyone get bored.
A clipped result means taking a -1 to the next exchange, while a hurt, injured or taken out result mean the character is, well, hurt, injured or taken out (see "Injuries and Advantages").
Example of an exchange based fight:
(Note: This fight uses the rules from "Other Combat Modifiers") Cyrus and Finn have settled in for a pint when the three guards they got past burst in, swords drawn. Cyrus jumps from his seat, drawing his sword to defend himself, and Finn dives under the table. The guards split, two (A & B) going after Cyrus and one (C) chasing Finn.
Cyrus rolls his swords skill and gets a Great result, guard A gets a Fair and guard B gets an Average. Normally, this would allow him to damage one of them, but he was getting his sword out and defending himself, so he is simply successful. Finn is not so lucky - he only rolls a Fair tumbling result, while guard C rolls a Good. That's a clipped result, and puts Finn at a -1 on his next roll. The GM rules that the guard pulled the table aside one handed, and Finn is now exposed.
The next exchange begins, with Cyrus mixing it up with his opponents, who are getting a +1 to their rolls for outnumbering him. Finn is in a tough spot, and decides he's going to try to kick the guard and knock him away and buy himself some time. The guards simply continue attacking.
Cyrus gets a Good, guard A also gets a Good, and guard B gets a Great - the Good is just a scratch, but the Great is a clipped result, so Cyrus is going to be at -1 next round - combined with the guard's +1, that's not very good for him. The GM describes that the guards have managed to move into flanking position.
Meanwhile, guard C rolls a Fair, and Finn rolls a Great, modified to a Good with the penalty. That would be enough for Finn's kick to clip the guy, but he wants to really knock the guy back, which the GM has determined requires a Hurt result. As such, he spends a fate point to bring his roll back to Great. That's a Hurt outcome, and Finn opts to knock him across the room and out of the fight for the next exchange or two rather than inflict the level of Hurt.
Cyrus knows he's got a pile of pain coming his way and hoping Finn will cover his back. Finn obliges and takes advantage of the opportunity to pull out a knife and throw it at the back of one of the guards on Cyrus.
Cyrus rolls a Good. It's modified down to a Fair from the clipped result. A & B roll a Good and a Fair respectively. They get a +1 outnumbering bonus beyond that, raising things to a Great and a Fair. Cyrus checks off a box of his Brawler aspect for a reroll. He turns one of his - dice into a + and manages to bump up to a Great. He spends a Fate point for a Superb, and hurts one of the guards - he chooses guard A because his back is to Finn. Finn throws the knife at guard A, and the GM gives Finn a +1 on his roll because the guard is not expecting it. Finn rolls spectacularly, and gets an Epic result, which his +1 bonus brings up to Legendary. The knife is now sticking out of Guard A's back, he is now injured and hurt, and thus at a -2 to all actions.
Cyrus smiles the smile of the psychotic as Finn throws another knife. The Guard who was knocked back is dragging himself to his feet this round. The injured guard can't safely disengage, so he and his buddy concentrate on Cyrus. Cyrus fights fully defensive this time, gaining a +1 to his roll. He gets a Fair, which the bonus raises to a Good. A&B get an Average and a Good. Both gain a +1 bonus for outnumbering Cyrus, but A also takes a -2 penalty (-1 for being injured, -1 for being hurt), so their final results are a Mediocre for guard A and a Great for guard B. Cyrus is clipped by the Great. Finn rolls a Great, but checks off a level of Underhanded to get a reroll, and pushes it to Superb. Guard A isn't outnumbering Finn, so he doesn't get to count the +1, and his Mediocre drops to a Poor. Superb vs. Poor is a MoS of 6, so Finn spends a fate point to bring his roll up to an Epic (and a MoS of 7), and the guard is taken out.
The fight continues, but at least it's fair now...
Turn based fights work similarly, except they require a lot more die rolling. Initiative is determined by rolling alertness, with ties broken by tactics skill, then the combat skill being used. Characters act in the order of initiative, each taking an action. The actor rolls dice to attack, and if they beat the defender's roll to defense, damage is dealt according to the combat outcome table. The only real difference is that clipped results affect the next attack roll, and have no effect on defense rolls. Obviously, since it has the most rolls, this method can burn through aspects very quickly.
This is generally not the recommended combat system for Fate, but there are many players who swear by it, so it's included for completeness.
The core of the wound system can be summarized with the following chart.
|1||Clipped||||-1 to next action|
|2-4||Hurt||||-1 to actions for the scene|
|5-6||Injured||||persistent -1 per box checked|
|7+||Taken Out||X||Unconscious or Disabled|
Using the chart is simple: when the character suffers a particular result, mark off a box of the appropriate type. If there are no boxes of that type left, mark off a box of the next category down the chart. So if all three hurt boxes are marked off and a character takes another hurt result, mark off an injured result. Of course, this means if both injured boxes are full, the character goes directly to being taken out.
Clipped results generally result in a -1 to the next roll in the combat, but have little lasting effect beyond that. Clipped can be described as a very minor injury, but is better suited to some sort of momentary advantage. Practically speaking, there is rarely any need to actually mark off clipped boxes, since they go away so quickly. Multiple clipped results do not increase the penalty beyond -1, though they could conceivably spill up to a hurt result.
Hurt results generally put the character at a -1 to all actions for the duration of the scene. Generally, problems that qualify as Hurt may be bad, but can be taken care of with a bit of downtime - a small cut over the eyes, for example. As such, Hurt is the general yardstick for problems which can be remedied by action, such as a disarm or cutting someone's belt. If any hurt boxes are checked, the character is at a -1 to combat actions until the issue is resolved (generally the end of the scene).
Injured results generally mean the character has been hurt, and hurt badly. Characters take a -1 to actions for each injury. This -1 to all actions extends beyond the scene, and continues until the wound heals. How long a wound takes to heal depends greatly on the severity of the wound and the resources available. Assume it takes 2 weeks of rest or 3 weeks of light activity to heal a wound, with one day removed per MOS above Average of an applied healing skill.
Taken Out is not killed. Killing usually should occur after the fight, be it by cutting throats or by leaving opponents to die. Characters tend to be sufficiently willing to kill themselves through their own enthusiasm that there's no need to help it along with a bad throw of the dice.
In general, use common sense when applying the wound penalty to rolls. If someone is bedridden with injuries, and people are bringing him books, there isn't at any penalties to read, converse or listen. The penalty comes in when the character would have to move.
If there is one thing to take away from the combat system, it is this - All of the results emphasize the end effect, not how it's achieved. What does that mean? It means that someone could have every box on their wound track filled in, and not have a scratch on them. Clips, Hurts and even injuries are just as often the result of a momentary advantage or disadvantage, the psychological upper hand, a physical impediment, embarrassment or nearly anything else that reduces effectiveness. Bearing that in mind, and combining it with the rules for challenges (see "Tests and Challenges") means that the combat system is easily extended into other conflict, like debate.
While the wound boxes as presented are the default for the system, there's no reason that they cannot be changed to make combats more or less brutal.
One effect of wounds overflowing into the next category is that over the course of a long fight, small injuries may accumulate to the point of becoming lethal. It also means that the more injured you are, the less well you'll be fighting and the more likely you are to be injured some more. The impact of these compound penalties is called "the death spiral" and while some players like the effect it has, others are very uncomfortable with it. In the latter case, the issue is easily addressed by adding more wound boxes, or simply removing overflow entirely.
In certain circumstances, characters may deal or be dealt non-lethal damage, such as from fists or padded weapons. This has no impact on things during combat, but any injured results delivered in this fashion heal much faster, anywhere from at the end of the scene to within a day or two, depending on their nature.
Exactly how long an injured box stays filled depends on how the injury was inflicted and the general tone of the game. An injured outcome from fisticuffs may fade quickly, but one from an assassin's dagger may linger for some time. In a gritty game, that injury may trouble the character for weeks or months, while in a more cinematic game, it can be quickly shaken off.
By default, assume an injury from a dangerous source (like a weapon, fire, falling or poison) takes one week to recover from. This may be reduced by making a medicine (or similar skill) check against a difficulty of Fair, and reducing the duration by 1 day per MoS. This is a cinematic assumption: more realistic games may extend that time two, three or even four times.
The exact rules for weapons and armor tend to be a matter of taste, so we have included a number of possible options. While we have broken these down into three categories (dramatic, simple and advanced), mixing and matching is encouraged. There's no reason one could not use dramatic weapons with advanced armor, for example.
(This is the default for Fate)
Weapons are not judged in terms of highly specific statistics, but in terms of the advantage they provide in combat. The rule is simple: superior weaponry provides a +1 bonus. As such, two combatants facing each other, one with a mace and the other with a sword, are on roughly equal footing, so no penalties are applied. Situation also plays into this - if one combatant has a sword and one has a knife, and there's lots of room to maneuver, the one with the sword gains a +1 advantage. If they have the same fight in a cramped sewer tunnel with little room to swing the sword, the dagger gains a +1.
Armor operates on a similar principle - superior armor grants a +1. In most circumstances, superior armor is easy to determine just by looking. The only exception is when armor becomes a true detriment, in such as underwater or in quicksand, in which case the lighter armor is superior. (Simply being in an open area is not enough to invoke "superior mobility".)
The dramatic system works on a very simple principle: modifiers are only necessary to represent an advantage, not every specific detail of a fight. The assumption is that if two opponents are fairly matched, with roughly equivalent position, equipment and plans, the matter is settled purely by skill. However, if a character uses better equipment and smarter tactics, they will have an advantage over their opponent, and that's what modifier are there to reflect. Guidelines for what sort of things provide modifiers can be found in "Other Combat Modifiers".
This approach introduces a finer degree of granularity to weapons and armor. Both have ratings, generally ranging from 0 to 4. After a successful attack (one which produces a Scratch result or better), add the weapon's rating, then subtract the armor's rating, and consult the Combat Outcome table for a result.
For melee weapons, the weapon's rating equates to the penalty to carry it concealed. For armor, the rating translates into a penalty for activities requiring full mobility.
|1||Knife, Small Club, Martial Arts Strikes, Holdout Firearm|
|2||Sword, Mace, Club, Pistol|
|3||2-handed Sword, Polearm, Rifle|
|4||Ludicrously oversized 2-handed weapons, Heavy Firearm|
|1||Leather, Studded Leather|
|3||Partial Plate, Light Plate, Scale|
|4||A Wood Stove|
These numbers are really just guidelines. A particularly deadly (or "realistic") game might have much larger numbers.
A somewhat more sophisticated model for armor breaks it down into general categories (roughly equivalent to the ratings of simple armor).
If someone wants to represent something beyond AT4:
Special Armor Types
Armor's protection is generally limited to preventing wounds. As such, it does not change the difficulty of maneuvers. When fighting someone in plate mail, it is easier to disarm them, a hurt outcome equivalent (AL 0, 2-4) than it is to actually hurt them (AT 3, 4-5).
It is possible to have an even finer grain of difference between weapons by assigning specific attributes to them. For example:
Armor Piercing (AP) - Armor Piercing weapons reduce armor rating by 2, but are -1 to use. Extremely potent armor piercing weapons (APx2) reduce armor rating by 4, but suffer a -2 penalty.
Flexible (Flex) - Flexible weapons grant a +1 to maneuvers like disarms, but provide a -1 penalty in any fight where both parties have reasonable mobility.
Vicious (Vcs) - Vicious weapons are designed to rip and tear flesh, and increase their damage by 1 points. However, any armor greater than 0 is considered 2 levels higher against the attack. Vcsx2 weapons increase damage by 2 but improves existing armor by 4.
Locking (Lock) - Weapon locks to the user's gauntlet (or is part of it). As such, the weapon cannot be disarmed, but it also takes a -1 penalty to any maneuvers requiring finesse.
A number of other elements can affect the direction of a fight, including:
Superior Position - this is something of a catch-all to cover situational modifiers. Possible reasons for receiving this modifier include:
Fighting from horseback
In general, these situations shouldn't provide more than a +1 bonus, save in the most egregious of circumstances.
Outnumbering - +1 bonus for outnumbering your opponent.
Flanking - +1 bonus for getting in a position where your opponent's back is exposed. Cumulative with Outnumbered.
Surrounding - +1 bonus for completely surrounding your opponent. This is cumulative with outnumbered and flanked - since it's hard to surround someone without outnumbering and flanking them, this generally means a +3 bonus total.
If a character is not expecting an attack and has no reason to be on the defensive, the character's skill is considered to be Mediocre or equal to their Alertness, whichever is higher.
When fighting multiple opponents, a character still only makes one roll. All members of the attacking group who beat the character inflict damage as normal. If the character beats all members of the attacking group, he may select one opponent (usually the one who rolled worst) and inflict damage on them.
If a character is unarmed, or does not wish to attack, many physical skills (especially Tumbling or Acrobatics) can be used in lieu of their combat rolls. If the defender wins the exchange, no matter how much they win by, it's treated as a scratch, though the GM may allow some defensive maneuvers, if in keeping with the skill - leaping out of the way of a sword blow is in keeping with leaping off a balcony.
If a character is using their combat skill and wishes to fight defensively, they may add +1 to their skill, but if they win the round, they inflict no damage. They may use this roll to perform maneuvers, such as getting away from their opponent, but may not perform maneuvers which affect their opponent.
Fighting defensively must be declared before dice are rolled.
* See simple and advanced rules for alternate arms and armor rules.