Combat botches

For the first time, twenty sessions in, there is potentially going to be a large combat in my saga when we play next. I have been looking over the combat rules and I am very uneasy about defence botches. From the core rulebook (p.171): 'A botch on a combat roll reduces the total to zero, just as for any other botch. If a character botches his Defense roll, he is almost certain to be killed if his opponent is armed and at all skilled.'

This surely means that even the most skilled warrior in Mythic Europe would have at least a 1% chance of dying every time he defends a blow from an at least half decent opponent. Now story considerations and player attachment to their characters aside (and I know this isn't D&D) that doesn't even seem to be very realistic. What is particularly odd is that a minimally skilled combatant will have the same chance of botching as a highly talented and skilled combatant.

A companion character in my saga is meant to be a combat veteran having fought in Spain over many years. He is now past his prime, in his late 40s, and slower than he was, but he is highly skilled and experienced. He won't be going into combat on his own - he will be supported by a dozen grogs, probably divided up into three 'Groups' - but he would take the lead. And I think he, and his player, based on the character's experience, should feel pretty confident going into combat.

A few possible solutions come to mind:
i) A botch means the die roll equals zero and your Defence Total = combat ability + Quickness + modifiers, PLUS something bad and dramatically appropriate happens (you drop your sword, or you stumble, etc).
ii) You can spend a Confidence Point to avoid a botch.
iii) You can spend a Confidence Point to use a simple die rather than a stress die throughout the course of a combat.

I think I like the first option best and might apply it to non-combat ability rolls as well. I suspect it is best to leave spellcasting as it is. Feedback would be very welcome!


I like your first proposition
the effects of the botch would depend on how many botch dice you got. So with a botch you could be able to escape (to defend yourself) properly because you are skilled, but your weapon breaks for exemple, or you drop it like you said.
I prefer this kind of botch effect than : unluckily, you botched and so you die, whatever skill level you have.

I'm not sure Dfn Botches is such a huge problem. In the many years I've played I don't think that many Grogs have died. I can't recall anything else that the playthrough of the Cursewood From Mythic Locations where I personally lost 2 Grogs.

Anyway, a Botch isn't certain death, even if the Dfn total is reduced to 0. Instant death is IMHO rare, and while Incapacitated is also quite serious decent help and healing bonus can still save the grog. Also, IIRC LoM have optional rules where Dead can be converted to Incpacitated + physcial flaw. THis cna further define the character's (sad) story plus is can be evolved further by finding him a skilled chirurgeon and curing the injury.
Plus, Grogs dying seems apporpriate to me.

That being said I think the original ideas for lighter botch results sound quite good. Using Dfn being as if rolling 0 instead of a flat 0, plus a sliding scale of bad things based on number of botches sound ok.
As grogs don't (or rarely) have Confidence this won't work good. However it can be a point to allow Magi and Companions this life-saver while the more expendable grogs just croak. I might actually consider this further, since I remember some magi being severely hurt in situations where the +3 for Confidence won't tip the scales.

Well, you know exactly who to blame for those deaths! :laughing:

I've experimented with alternatives to botching in combat for one simple reason: they affect PCs much more often than NPCs. Most NPCs are there for one combat. They might botch, but probably won't. If they do, it's a colorful end to an adversary and everyone's happy. But a PC fighter rolls in that fight, and the next fight, and the fight after that. It is inevitable he will botch. Critical failure rules impact PCs disproportionately, and the critical failure rules in Ars are especially harsh.

If you don't want to change the rules, Cautious with Single Weapon is your only real tool here. Characters with this Virtue simply live longer than those without.

I've experimented with a system in which, as your Ability rises over 5, you reduce botch dice automatically, an idea inspired by Spell Mastery.

Alternately, you could measure botch dice by the difference in skill between foes.

I like the idea of spending Confidence, because in my game PCs end up with large stores of Confidence. But combat/Certamen is already the largest Confidence sink. Spending Confidence to prevent a botch is much better than spending it to gain +3, so you might simply change behavior: melee characters will always save a few points for Botches.

Honestly, I am inclined to get rid of Defense rolls altogether, setting Defense totals at 6 + Qik + Ability + mods, for fights against Grog level characters. Against "named" bad guys (Companions, Magi), roll normally and risk Botch.

None of these changes have stuck in my game. I've yet to decide the best way to solve this problem. But it absolutely is a problem.

To me, this is "working as intended." It encourages players to find non-combat (dare I write 'roleplaying'?) solutions to problems, and reminds us all that yeah sure, trained, experienced fighters are more likely to survive/win a fight, but even they sometimes die, often to a newbie. Which is a historically observable fact.

And yes, I'm aware of people like Musashi who fought 60 duels and never lost. But he clearly had Cautious With... now didn't he?

I think this is perfectly fine as is, although as a frequent GM I do like the idea of using botches for creative fun stuff (e.g. you fall off the tower where you are fighting, you are disarmed, you are knocked to the floor, etc).

But in a combat situation, life and death are ever present. Even a professional warrior with dozens of life and death duels can slip on a patch of mud or ice, be suddenly dazzled by the sun between tree branches, etc. Very few mighty warriors live to ripe old age. Its not a profession to enter if you don't want to die.

If you really don't like it the Cautious with...Ability virtue makes it much safer.

And the book was exaggerating a little.

Defence total of 0 vs peasant with a staff and a little training.
Peasant has an average attack total of Dex (1) + weapon skill (2) + weapon modifier (3) + average dice roll (6) = combat advantage of 12. Add damage of str (2) + weapon mod (2) = Damage 16.
Deduct soak for a warrior. Probably stamina 2 and some reasonable armour, say full leather scale (5) = Soak 7, and suddenly your botch of death is a medium wound. Nasty, but not the end of the world for a reasonable warrior.

Now if the fighter was against a trained warrior with a nasty weapon, yeah, he is probably taking the long dirt nap. But that's as it should be. Combat usually leaves one guy dead and a botch is bad.