Combat: Mechanics and the Meaning Thereof

Combat, pt. 1

The combat mechanic is simple and straightforward:

The attacker rolls a Bonus and adds it to their Attack Skill. If this total equals or exceeds the Defense Skill of their target, they hit.

The attacker then rolls another Bonus and adds it to their Damage Rating. This is compared to the target’s Toughness, each Success Rating doing 1 Wound and 1 Shock, plus 1 point of additional Shock for any level of Success.

Example: Failure means no damage. 0 SR means 1 Shock. 3 SR means 3 Wounds and 4 Shock.

Those are the mechanics. But what do they represent, in real-world terms?

An Attack roll is a test of the relevant combat skill. Like a Skill Challenge, the character is attempting to accomplish a specific task, employing their knowledge and experience to do so. What this task is, varies with the type of weapon used: bare fists, sword, grenade, pistol, etc.

The firearms skill represents the ability to use a firearm to aim at a target (tracking with their movements, leading them, compensating for cover, concealment, windage, and so forth), shoot at them, and hit with one or more rounds. It also represents the training to identify common types of ammo and weapons, reload magazines, perform preventive maintenance, identify common problems and fix them (such as clearing jams), draw the weapon with expediency, and otherwise prepare their mind, body, and materiel to shoot.

In combat, the specific task at hand is attacking a target in the most efficient, effective way. For firearms, unless the player specifies otherwise, this is a shot at the target’s center, their torso. This is the only consistently reliable target, shots at extremities (feet, hands), limbs (arms and legs), and the head are very difficult. In live-fire conditions even skilled shooters usually miss. Players can declare an attack against one of those hard-to-hit areas, a “Called Shot”, but otherwise the character is shooting at the center of the target’s torso. (Or at whatever body part is currently exposed.)

Opposing the firearms skill is the dodge skill. Which, despite its name, is not about dodging bullets. The dodge skill is the knowledge of cover, concealment, and movement, and how to maximize all three: how to keep your head down, knowing where foliage or smoke is thickest and will obscure the shooter’s sight the most, knowing how to jink or juke when running. By doing one or more of these things, they make it more difficult for a shooter to draw a bead. A person in the open, who isn’t running, doesn’t get the benefit of dodge.

The Attack roll is all about skill, and it determines the outcome of this one specific attempt to attack a target (or targets). In contrast, the Damage roll is all about the physical characteristics of the weapon and random chance.

Swords are often swung, and like swinging a bat, people make stronger or weaker blows. Different areas of the body are more or less vulnerable to attack — sometimes a couple of inches is all that separates a lethal blow from an insignificant graze — and attacks hit different areas, all at random. Combat is dynamic, and the exact motions of the defender can affect both hit location and the effective force of a strike or bullet. Then there’s the thousands of tiny variables, like the effect of safety glass on a bullet passing through (which can affect its angle and speed).

The Damage roll encompasses all of these elements, and more. It abstracts them into one roll, which determines how much damage this one specific attack did.

The Attack roll is all about skill, and unless you aim for a specific location, a more vulnerable location, it doesn’t affect damage. The Damage roll is all about chance, about the many non-skill variables and events that can increase or decrease the basic damage of a weapon.

This is the core combat mechanic: roll to hit, roll for damage. The rest of the combat system is built off the assumptions and mechanics above (with variations, where necessary).

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