Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Swashbuckling: Personal Combat Zones

FATE's great for fast-and-loose combat, but for a swashbuckling game you (or I) arguably want something a little more detailed to provide more tactical options. One in-genre way I can see to do this is to expand on the concept of zones by subdividing them into what I'm calling paces.

Like zones, paces measure your relative distance to your opponent in abstract terms. When it comes to personal combat, there are three basic types of weapons: very short weapons (daggers) or fists, swords and other weapons of "normal" length (the middle ground), and extra-long weapons like halberds. With this in mind, when you're in combat with an opponent and you're both in the same zone (i.e., this doesn't apply to ranged combat), you're at one of three paces:
  • Corps-a-Corps (1): Literally "body to body." Too close to effectively make use of a rapier or longer weapon.
  • Melee (2): The "normal" distance appropriate for your average rapier or the like.
  • Extended (3): Too far for two rapier-wielders to engage, but close enough to hit with a polearm. (I'm on the lookout for a good French word for this; "lointain" isn't cutting it for me right now.)
Every weapon is most effective at one of these three paces, expressed like so: Dagger (1), Rapier (2), Halberd (3). Combat begins at the largest applicable pace -- Melee if you're both wielding rapiers, Extended if one of you has a polearm, etc. If your weapon's effective pace is different than your current pace, take a penalty to your attacks equal to the difference as long as that pace is maintained.

For example:
  • You have a dagger (1), he has a rapier (2): Your attacks with your dagger are at -1 (1 - 2).
  • Now you're the rapier (2) guy, and he's got a halberd (3): You still get a -1 to your attacks so long as you're both using those weapons.
  • You have a dagger (1), he has a halberd (3): You're at a -2 on your attacks.

"As long as that pace is maintained" is important. How do you figure out what pace you're at (that's awful grammar, but...) from round to round? The effective pace of the weapon that hit last is your current pace. If the dagger-guy hits the polearm-guy (despite that -2 for starting at Extended), he can only have done so by stepping inside the halberdier's reach and getting close enough to score a hit -- so you must be at Corps-a-Corps now. That means the halberdier's suddenly at a -2, because his weapon's much worse up close.

Combatants can also change the current pace as a full action with an Athletics roll (opposed by either Athletics or Weapons): 1 shift to adjust the pace by one step, 3 shifts (spin) to adjust it by two steps. If you have Great Athletics but only Fair Weapons, and you're in a dagger-vs.-polearm situation, it's worth your while to close distance before attempting to attack with that dagger.

Why do any of this? Well, in this genre, there ought to be more emphasis put on the weapons combatants use. Most fights are likely to be between combatants using Melee-pace weapons, which means it shouldn't have a big effect on every fight. Also, it's another little mechanical tidbit to play with when it comes to fencing techniques (up next!).

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