2nd <-> 5th edition combat differences?

Howdy ho,

We're getting our newbie Ars Magica group together and one of the player is not that newbie having lead some 2nd edition Ars Magica sagas. He mentioned that the 2nd edition combat rules were one of the few good systems out there being realistic and fast at the same time (first strikes etc) and the guy wielding the big axe isn't automatically the winner.

Even though I like the relative fastness of the 5th edition's system (though that's just by judging from what I've read in the rules and not having played it), I'd like to know if there are any big differences between the editions?

I'm a relatively good handwaver in these things so we can do some house ruling here and there (I liked some group's house rule about short weapons vs. long weapons - where you check if the short weapon guy gets inside the range of the long weapons guy and if he does, the long weapons guy has to brawl successfully to withdraw the distance necessary to wield the long weapon again). But are there any major major things that you might have missed from 2nd edition or is it all there, just with a different name? :slight_smile:

Differences? It would be easier/shorter to write down the similarities!!! :stuck_out_tongue:

The 2nd and 5th edition combat systems are as dissimilar as a turthe and a goat when it comes to combat systems.

They both have 1st strike, attack, defence and damage stats (most systems out there do) but here the similarities end. UIt is still true that the big-axe wielder does not win automatically, but thatis true in quite a few systems out there :slight_smile: Besides, I would heavily refrain from saying that the 2nd edition combat system was realistic, or that the 5th edition combat system is realistic, but that is me :slight_smile:

Basically, hand him down the rulebook, and tell him to read the combat section. it will be easier :slight_smile: In general, I find it to be an improvement over the 2nd edition system. In 2nd edition you also had different abilities for weapon X attack, weapon X defence, shield attack, shield defence.... (repeat for every weapon or shield type you want to use for attack and defence)



Yes; off the top of my head here are a few:

  • 2nd ed. has round-by-round checks for fatigue; 5th doesn't.
  • In 2nd ed. Damage and Soak are rolled, in 5th they aren't.
  • Missile attacks use totally different rules from melee attacks in 2nd ed.; in 5th they are the same
  • 5th ed. has group combat rules (not my personal cup of tea but some people like them)
  • Note also that Confidence points work totally differently between 2nd and 5th editions; this has a big effect on combat

I would agree with the assessment that 5th ed. plays faster and 2nd is, well, more detailed (tries harder to be realistic, whatever realism means). They both have good and bad points, really. My ideal system would combine elements of both.

At first glance, (tables and character sheet) they seem very similar. The big difference, as i see it, is in how wounds are applied. You used to have 5 hitpoints (can i say HP on this forum? :smiley: ), with penalties to your actions as you lost them. Now it doesn't use a hitpoint system at all, each wound is taken seperatly. So no such thing as death due to accumalated hitpoint loss, simply death by being kicked about so much you can no longer defend yourself. (5th combat system has many flaws, and many house rules. This, imo, is one of the best ideas i've ever seen in an rpg. If the flaws weren't there, the combat system could be as good as the magic).
I'd say the 5th gives a higher risk or taking a wound (due to effectiveness of weapons vs shields), but also makes for slightly longer combats.

And forget about playing a realistic combat system. If such a thing ever exists, it'll be no fun to play. :laughing:

They are both, generally speaking, a bit on the lethal side.

It would be far easier to read them as if from scratch, as it were a brand new system. After (I forget!) how many different Companies, and 3 editions, essentially it is.

If you try to adapt your old understanding to the new system, you're bound to drag preconceptions along, old concepts that were done away with looooong ago.

Out of curiosity, can you enumerate some of the flaws you see in the 5th Ed. system? I don't want to turn this into a gripe session, but maybe your insights can help me/us come up with house rules to make the combat system better and more fun.

My main comment is that the (5th ed.) combat rules are rather bare-bones and don't cover unusual situations like sneaking up behind someone or fighting in the dark.

May I chime in? The biggest problem we've had is abuse of the Defender rule. According to the rules, simple as they are, a single Defender can defend against any and all threats regardless of number or the direction of attack.

For example, a defender defending against an opponent in front of her and the magus she is protecting, can also defend against an attacker who suddenly rushes the magus from the rear.

Players also want the defender to intercept magical damaging attacks, saying that their defender should be able to throw himself in front of the oncoming BoAF to protect the magus.

Matt Ryan

One flaw I've seen:

Movement rates-- I think, and I have a hard time hunting it down again, we saw that a round is 6 seconds. Knowing how fast a person can move in that window is very useful. Sure you can ballpark it, but when you want someone to try fleeing from voice range, when you want some sort of chase sequence, when you want to see if someone can get to something in time... (L&L especially makes these sorts of contests relevant.)

Certainly, athletics is going to play a part and foci within that skill will have an impact...but we're talking about just a number that you can then baseline out to creatures and modify by load and improve upon with athletics or MuCo or specific virtues.

I don't want something that gets down to a miniatures compliant sort of combat system...but just a movement rate would go a long way to adding a little appropriate complexity.


Thanks all, good stuff and comments here. I'm personally not worried about any 2nd <-> 5th edition mashups etc. Since it's been years I've played RPGs and the last Ars Magica I viewed was the 3rd edition. Can hardly remember anything from that either.

So this was mostly an out of curiosity -type of thing for me. I'd prolly just ballpark the defender issues mentioned before, if he flanks you and you're busy defending against one opponent, your defense against the flanker should severely drop unless you're a real master swordsman and generally fully aware of the space you have around you. I think other systems just applied minuses to your defense versus additional attackers or you could choose to focus on one specific (and leave that wounded guy alone and hope he doesn't hit) person to defend against.

Movement is an interesting question as well. Used to play Gurps back in the day and the system was tailormade to a real hex grindfest where you played around with miniatures etc. Was fun, but for RPG purposes it was real hell. I'd nowadays rather just do what's good and exciting for the game regardless of how some specific distance and movement rules would say.

Some of the inconsistencies annoy me. Such as rolling for damage and soak for some stuff (BoAF, falling), and not for others (combat).
Too short rules, such as missile fire (what IS the maximum range for a given weapon? or a spear that parries arrows as well as it does sword blows, could apply similar rules as the invisible fighting ones from flambeau, but thats not core)
Any result that involves subtracting a dice roll, such as defense. (ok, thats maybe me expecting too much. But "attack total - (defense+die)" seems clunky. On a par with pre-3rd dnd. "ac hit = thaco-(die+bonus)". Well, maybe not that bad :blush: )

Well, combat damage is modified by the attack advantage. That's the "roll" if you like. Spells and falling etc do not have an attack roll as such (though with finesse-aimed Rego spells there's an argument to be made). So, ironically, to keep it consistent you add a die roll.

Personally, I like the House rule of "taking 5" on defence "rolls". That cuts down on the number of dice being rolled and could in theory speed things up but I think you lose that measure of interaction - that hope that you'll roll a really good defence roll to save your ass against the dragon's breath. Or something.

The major flaw I see with the system is the weapons chart itself. I fail to see much sense in it, really. It is an almost direct ripp-off from 4th edition, so no biggie, but IIRC the mace is the supreme weapon there if my maths (done quite a long time ago) were correct. We have been using a completely different and highly styliozed combvat system, so my grasp of the official rules here is tenuous at best, but there are quite a few things in this scale of weirdness when it comes to weapons. (Thjat reminds me that I promised Alex to write it down as an article for Sub Rosa...)

Movement rates are also a factor, even if not as big for me.

The group combat rules, while a cool idea are not as ideal as the first impression you have of them: we tested them and they both unbalanced a combat heavily and took thwe tension out of the combat from the players, since they (except the Vanguard) felt that they were watching an action movie instead of taking part in life-challenging action.

Also, horses are rendered uselñess by the group combat rules as well. 2 knights (nopt in group) fighting a group of 3 grogs armed with daggers (and using the group combat rules) have a fair option of losing the engagement....

The fact that a magus is immortal if defended. He cannot be targeted by any kind of missile INCLUDING magical missiles unless the dfefender goes down, IIRC. And that is regardless of the dfirection of the attack, as a previous poster posted before.

This is a group pet peve: we find that the division in attack and defence scores is artificious. The difference between attacking and defending is hard to spot when you are interchanging blows in combat since you try to strike and parry contantly. We use a more general "melee score" for weapons, and bunch the defence capabilities of all your equipment (shield, armor, weapon...) into soak. Not to everybody's liking for sure, but it works for us.

Basically, we do not like the approach :slight_smile: It doesn't mean that the system is bad per se, but it means that it does not fit our approach to combat situations. We think there are too many numbers in combat, and that you can do better with a more stylized combat syustem. And this is what we have been using (and constantlyu evolving) for the last 2 sagas.



So Reko, the summary.
Some people like the 5th combat rules, some people don't. Use this thread as a guideline of possible problem areas, and houserule whatever you don't like.

If you do this...

I would never allow this....

No doubt!

Never be a slave to the rules, especially when the rules don't make any sense.

As many have said, many times and in many ways, the Story >> the Rules.


I pointed out a flaw I see in the system as writen, not in how we play it!



Don't forget that the defender can be split from the defendee (q.v. p.175).