On Fighters & Fighting: Addendum

Another one? ABSOLUTELY!

…though a short one. My previous post in the On Fighters & Fighting series grew a bit too large to accommodate some of the ideas I had, and a number of people requested an Unarmed Fighting Style Generator as a companion to the one focused on fighters.

Here, then, are my final thoughts… for the moment.

Abstracting Hit Points In Melee Combat

Everyone understands, on some level, that Hit Points are meant to be an abstraction. Why? Because going up in levels does not give a character gallons more blood, extra internal organs, or bullet-proof eyes. While it is surely in-genre for many games to treat warriors who have reached a heroic status to actually be unrealistically tough in the fibre and recover from wounds that would maim others for life, that can only carry the idea of HP so far.

So what if we took a page from real life combat for some inspiration?

Here are some brief suggestions:

  • Winded – When two people are facing off in combat, one of the things on everyone’s mind is how long they can last in the fight before their performance starts to wane due to fatigue. The stronger and more enduring opponent certainly has an advantage, but the master of a fighting style can often wear down even a more powerful if inexperienced foe through the use of proper breathing techniques and far more efficient use of their energy.
    This can be reflected by describing someone who is steadily losing HP as wavering, looking desperate, and otherwise showing signs that they will not be able to stay in the fight if this goes on.
  • Collateral Damage – An exchange of blows or clash of swords is not usually a one-touch situation, where the injured side walks away with a single new wound that adds to the pile but doesn’t otherwise impact their ability to fight. Attempting to block a powerful punch might wrench a shoulder, and a battle of strength as two hardened warriors lock their blades together can lead to sliced or broken fingers, which adds up in ways that even adrenaline can’t cover.
    Reflecting this sort of HP loss is as simple as describing minor but important damage that someone can only attempt to ignore for so long before it will catch up to them.
  • Head Games – Intimidation and smack-talk has its place, but finding yourself on the wrong side of an axe and bleeding has a tendency to leave a much deeper impression. Part of fighting is having the will to press on and the confidence to seize advantages as they arise, and even if someone is very much still a threat to their opponent they might become less of one if they’re distracted by their own mortality or pride. Relating the loss of Hit Points to mental state is not common, but if HP represents the ability to stay in the fight and not get down to that last deadly wound, then increasingly leaving themselves open for such an attack – only to recover at the last moment to take a less serious wound – is entirely appropriate.
    This can be reflected by describing a character’s behavior when they lose HP as increasingly wild-eyed, uncertain, or desperate.

Random Unarmed Fighting Style Generator

Unlike the previous post I will not attempt to recreate the tables involved here on the blog, but instead will link to the random generator itself, along with the Google Document that holds the tables I used to make the generator work.

I found myself making some interesting, or odd, choices in trying to put this together and I hope you enjoy them. If not, or if you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment!

Unarmed Fighting Style Generator

UFS Random Generator Tables

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Liner Notes: The Role of Bards In A Setting

Medieval fantasy settings have bards. It’s something that many players or Dungeon Masters might not even note anymore, especially as the class has been a staple of Dungeons & Dragons for so long now. It’s been my experience, in fact, that the class really only comes up – in regards to how it fits the game – when the subject is “How do the various classes balance against eachother?”

Like any other class, however, there is a ton of potential there for character backgrounds and conflict to be found if you just go digging around enough.

Bards as presented in most fantasy games may be more than a mere performer, just as a fighter is something more than a soldier and a wizard more than a hedge-mage, but looking to their mundane origins can be very useful. So let’s start with the traditions.

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Casting Conflict: Fighting It Out Over Arcane Traditions

The default assumption of many fantasy game settings is that the magical study wizards devote themselves to is rewarded by the slow – but constant – accumulation of knowledge and power. The fact that this knowledge takes the form of spells that may come from various different ancient masters, widespread cultures, or deep secrets of the universe doesn’t seem to matter very much in the grand scheme of things.

But what if the mental disciplines and understandings necessary to use certain Schools of Magic didn’t just translate over to all of the others? What if those secrets were closely guarded, or required guidance from someone who has already mastered them?

What if unlocking that knowledge was something a character had to fight for?

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Made Me Who I Am Today: Mentors and Life-Paths

Backgrounds are an amazing potential resource during character creation, because they are quick ways to give your character a history while mechanically reinforcing the character concepts you may already have in mind.

Sometimes, though, having just one Background pick to represent all the formative years of a character’s life can seem a little one-dimensional. For some people the Background – by itself – isn’t quite enough to give a handle on who a given character is.

Or maybe you’re like me, and just get a kick about adding some randomness to your character’s life. Whatever the case, let’s use Backgrounds to make ourselves a life-path.

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Flaws to Punch that Inspiration

This is a small expansion of the Inspiration system, utilizing the existing “Flaws” category–but adding some flavor and contingency so players can better grasp when they might be able to leverage their RP for Inspiration with the DM.

So, I wanted to help the Backgrounds system get a bit of a facelift. In my game, and everyone is a great RP’er, its been a challenge reinforcing and representing the Ideals and Flaws consistently–I suspect it’s because whereas most of the system punches a pretty clear action->benefit, Inspiration is a bit more free.

So, I decided to write-up some Flaws that might help players (certainly newer ones) grasp what their flaws are for and how to actively exploit and use them (the side-effect being RP, but hopefully not purely disruptive RP).

  • Craven – Gain 1 Inspiration when your cowardice causes a material inconvenience for the party – “You see this?  Eh?  Paudicas?  Do you see this?  That’s an arrow.  Yeah.  Your job was to make sure I didn’t get any stuck in me this morning… guess what?  Yeah, while you were off behind that tree..? This little guy?  Stuck in me, exactly.  Jerk.”
  • Unmannered – Gain 1 Inspiration when your loutish behavior hurts an NPC or Faction relationship – “Fine!  They want to stiff me on some of what they owe me, they can KISS MY ARSE! No skin off my hide!  Thaddian, I’m tellin’ you it LOOKED like a spitoon–not my fault!”

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