added combat options

As has been noted many times the combat options in ars magica are lacking compared to other systems. I'm interested in house rules to improve this that are not about fundamental changes to the system. As an example common to most modern games- how would you calculate the defense bonus against ranged weapons (or finesse-aimed spells) from taking cover?

As written in LoM; +3 for each 1/4 of cover you get.

I like that it works in steps of 3, like ease factors. Anyway, I also like the combat system in Ars Magica (with LoM options on the top), so probably I'm in the wrong topic.

honestly I hadn't given lords of men much of a look, since it seemed to me to be primarily comprised of rather vague rules for managing a lordly estate, some background fluff, and a discussion of sieges.
I don't suppose it also has optional rules for hit locations that I might have missed.

looking through LoM, I do find one thing I believe should be different- higher ground with regard to ranged weapons should be greater than simply a +1 bonus. IMO firing from higher ground only the lateral distance should count for calculating range penalties, while when firing from lower ground the combined lateral and vertical distance should apply.

This is LoM blasphemy if I've ever seen it!

Although I don't believe it has hit locations, no. Would be nice if it did, but I'm pretty sure that would require an overhaul of the whole wound system.

Not necessarily- for example some magic items might need to hit a particular body part to be effective (paralyze limb effect), while a simple addendum like a major would to a limb temporarily disables it, and also allowing you to know which limb needs to be amputated if that is the direction a surgical intervention winds up needing to go... perhaps a penalty (-3) to an attack roll to target a specific limb, and a chart for where you hit when its random- we don't need to go all GRPs where you have a specific penalty to target an eye or a kidney...

Hey, I do have a table for random damage locations! You roll a single roll for the body part and another for the sublocation:

  • 1 Head [1-2 Skull; 3 Left eye; 4 Right eye; 6-8 Face; 9-10 Neck]
  • 2-4 Torso [1-5 Chest; 6-8 Stomach; 9-10 Hip]
  • 5 Left arm [1-2 Shoulder; 3-5 Upper arm; 6 Elbow; 7-9 Forearm; 10 Hand]
  • 6 Right arm [as left arm]
  • 7-8 Left leg [1 Groin; 2 Hip; 3-6 Tigh; 7 Knee; 8-9 Shin; 10 Foot]
  • 9-10 Right leg [as left leg]

Then sometimes I switch the 2 points range from the legs to the arms (so it would be 5-6 left arm, 7-8 right arm, 8 left leg, 9 right leg) if I think arms are more likely to be hit.

wouldn't it make more sense to simply have 5-7 be arms and 8-10 be legs and roll for right or left? Unless you are simply taking into account that legs are lager targets than arms (though not as close to center of mass...) I could even see there being an adjustment based on relative elevation... (subtract for higher elevation add for lower)

Absolutely. My first thought had been "but I don't want to have to roll three times to get a location". But then, I can group arms to 5-7 and legs to 8-10, and then let the 2nd roll to determine not only the precise location but also which side it's on.

Something like this, then:

  • 1 Head [1-2 Skull; 3 Left eye; 4 Right eye; 6-8 Face; 9-10 Neck]
  • 2-4 Torso [1-5 Chest; 6-8 Stomach; 9-10 Hip]
  • 5-7 Arm [1-2 Shoulder; 3-4 Upper arm; 5-6 Elbow; 7-8 Forearm; 9-10 Hand; odd for left arm, even for right arm]
  • 8-10 Leg [1-2 Groin; 3-4 Tigh; 5-6 Knee; 7-8 Shin; 9-10 Foot; odd for left leg, even for right leg]

Yeah, I use that table with some flexibility. As a default it assumes a 10% of head hits, 30% of torso hits, and (now) a 15% in each limb, but the idea is to adjust these ranges on the fly if the situation asks for it. Let's say you are in a siege firing a bow (or throwing a PoF or whatever) from the ground outside a wall to a defender shielded behind the battlements. Then I'd probably use the table as if the first roll range were something like 1-2 Head, 3-6 Torso, 7-10 Arms, leaving legs impossible to hit.

Is there any rule or option that suggests to subtract Size from Defense? I know of the rule that applies a Quickness bonus or penalty, but that seems insufficient. Even if someone or something gets no defense because he/she/it is immoble, it is still harder to hit something small and easier to hit something big. It seems especially necessary for small animal Bjornaer magi or familiars where one hit that would be a light wound for a grown human would be a death blow to them.

Bjornaer Magi adopting small animals get the Quickness of said animal, so they already have a higher Defense. The best way for them to improve defense is by practicing or learning Defense while in Heartbeast form. Also, Magi get Form Bonus to Soak, so a bjornaer with a Turtle shape, and high Terram will have a much higher Soak than any turtle, and many humans, and so would be less vulnerable to metal weapons, despite having low wounds range.

Are there any rules for ambushing from stealth? Like whatever you beat the opponent's awareness by you get as bonus damage on your attack? (doesn't include spells unless aimed and silent)

Ambushes don't require any special rules boosting damage because you're already probably gonna kill in one hit. If you're attacking from a 100% undetected position, like shooting an arrow at them from a hidden vantage in the trees behind them or stabbing someone in their sleep, they probably don't even roll Defense, essentially treating it like a 0, and they'll almost definitely die unless the attacker botches or the beings in question are profoundly mismatched (like, a normal dude trying to kill a dragon in its sleep might still fail from the sheer overwhelming Soak and wound range of something as large as a dragon). If you have to reveal yourself to attack but are still ambushing them, they'll get a Defense roll, but won't have time to draw weapons and so will have to defend with Brawl and not get any of their weapon/shield benefits, again making a fight-deciding blow very likely.


Fair enough, thanks!

No, however that's typically factored in an enemy's stat, for example, if you're taking a creature, and building the stats with Might, every increase in Size will increase Str by 2 and decrease Quick by 1.

That's the risk of turning in to a bird, or having a small familiar. If you put them or your transformed self in to harms way, there can be a harsh cost.

And while large targets are easier to hit, the abject terror of being crushed by the giant's club, means probably staying out of range and then darting in when the opportunity presents itself. I would consider that logically weakens the attack, so there is no reason to weaken the defence of large creatures.

That's how it is build indeed and the rule is repeated and used consistently all over the books. Size makes you easier to hit but, in return, increases damage levels: that makes a lot of sense and is an elegant solution. But then Quickness is also used in Initiative, so a bigger creature is going to be slower and attack later than a small one, and I really don't see that so elegant at all. Think of a fight between a cat with size -3 and a dragon with size +8. ¿Are really the huge claws and jaws of the dragon (or his fire or whatever) really going to happen most of the times after the cat's tiny claws initiative? If a human is fighting a a giant, the rules suggest that most of the times he'll be able to sneak into the giant's reach and hit him before the giant responds, which for a creature with a longer attack range is odd to say the least.

I have the feeling that most of the people designing creatures face this issue and say "well, ok, this makes no sense, I have to spend some qualities fixing this thing's size, picking Improved Initiative, or both" (I know I do, all the time).

See Polymathes in RoP:M: he is size +7, Qik -4, the magical quality Improved Initiative x4, Improved Defense x4, and then the virtue Improved Characteristics picked up 35 times (I guess most of them coming from Magical Qualities) because his characteristics, before size adjustment, require 105 extra characteristics points indeed. These characteristics pre-size adjustment leave it as a creature of Str -2 and Qik +3; so to make some sense in the final combat stats this dragon had to be designed as something weak in strength and quite quick, and even after that have his initiative bumped up a couple times for each of his attacks.

It all ads up and ends making sense but the process of having to fix an utterly low initiative by spending an incredible amount of Magical Qualities again and again for every big foe you design is quite odd. Not that I think that all these Magical Qualities points should be spent on anything else because then Polymathes would be just too much (or even more too much anyway): I think the whole process can be read as something like.

  1. Adjust your big creature's quickness (and strength) to make it easier to be hit because, well, it's big, offers more room to land hits, which is completely intuitive and logical, but also making it almost geologically slow, which makes no sense because you are making a warrior giant or a dragon or whatever.
  2. Pick the creature might. Ok, we want a powerful one, because we are making a mighty thing here. Makes sense again.
  3. See that that might gives you just too many Magical Qualities. Can make no sense because you can get it way too many powers and qualities and virtues and everything.
  4. Use that excess of qualities to correct the issue of your creature being so slow either bumping its quickness or by picking improved initiative (and now that you are at it you'll probably pick improved everything -attack, damage, fatigue, soak...- quite a few times). Makes sense, but...
  5. In the end, discover yourself with a creature that isn't actually easier to hit because you invested in increasing its quickness and defense, which started being such a logical premise.

During this process there are two not much logical parts and now that I'm spelling this out I'm starting to think that maybe it would be a good idea to separate quickness from speed, so big creatures are easier to hit but not inherently slower, and to cut by half magical qualities granted by might (or the rule that allow you to design dragons as big as you want them to be without investing in qualities to get that size).

(One funny note, taking a final look to Polymathes, is the fact that it's creator got Reduced Might x18 to be able to round it up. Considering that its final might is 41 that means that he did quite a job of moving things around trying to fit everything in place and still making sense).

So, to sum it up: yes, size and defense are related by the rules. But the actual use of the rules suggest that the solution have some issues.

Interesting analysis, but am not sure it's 100% right.
A creature of great size also has more swing, so it takes longer to bring it's weapons back to attack, same way a dagger is easier to wield fast than a great sword. I can see some quality to be able to attack opponents coming into your range, but Ars has no reach, sneak attacks, or attacks of opportunity.

Well, any combat system is an abstraction and as such it's going to get odd stuff wherever you dig deep enough.

With that in mind I think I'm going to switch back at looking to the the Magical Qualities toolbox as stuff that can be used to correct inconsistencies and push numbers the way one feels they should go, and in the process keep everything canon.