Streamlining the combat system?

Hi folks,

I've been working on a set of optional rules for the combat system in Ars Magica. I find that the combat system in the core book is somewhat simple, but it's also kind of slow, at least from my experience. So I'm doing an expanded combat system, which will also include rules for very detailed combat (duels, one-on-one and so on) and an option to streamline it so that it goes faster. These are some ideas on how to streamline it:

To begin with, at the Storyguide's option, any or all NPCs no longer roll dice when attacking or defending. Instead, where it says you add a stress die, rather add 6. Of course, the players still roll. So when a PC is attacked, the Storyguide has a static attack score, and the PC rolls for defense. Same works the other way, when the PC attacks, the NPC has a static defense score. This removes alot of the calculations on the part of the Storyguide, who often have several NPCs in a fight.

Also, I'm a big fan of the combat system in the new World of Darkness. In it, the attack and damage is calculated in one roll, with no calculations. So how about this:

Attack Total: Dexterity + Strength + Combat Ability + Weapon Attack Modifier + Weapon Damage + Stress Die

Defense Total: Quickness + Combat Abililty + Weapon Defense Modifier + Soak + Stress Die

Damage: every point the attacker gets above the defender is resolved as damage.

This removes some of the calculations, and especially if you use 6 instead of Stress Dice for NPCs, combat can move very quickly.

What do you guys think? At first glance, I can't see any breakage in the rules here. But I might be missing something? :slight_smile:


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On paper it looks smooth, but I think it is broken if you use the current attack and damage numbers found in the Rule Book. By placing damage into the "attack" calculation you make big damaging weapons more likely to hit than small less damaging weapons. This seems out of sorts. If you have a warhammer (+6 Attack and +12 damage) against a long sword (+4 Attack and +6 damage) then the warhammer will always have a +8 advantage. This ignores any shield defense.

The new rules for multiple wounds per level recognize that some weapons, while easy to strike are weak in damage. However, these light wounds add up.

Try running your calculation with multiple weapons to see what you come up with. If you want more bang for your attacks, try putting the attack advantage back into combat. Although it does not streamline, it makes the concept of a weapon master more effective.

Yes, I agree. After a second thought, and with using 6 instead of a stress die for NPCs, combat runs pretty quick anyway. :stuck_out_tongue:

So now I'm going to get some notes on detailed combat down, like duels and such. Any suggestions on where more details could be added in this regard?


Well, the usual. Exemples with utterly arbitrary numbers: Feints (No damage, add 50% of your advantage to next round total), total attack and defense (add 25% of attack/defense to defense/attack, at the price of no attack or defense), conceding ground (+2 to defense, but only if you can maneuver)... but this'll increase calculations

The idea is to keep calculations down. In combat, it's the best way to kill the mood, so to speak.
One idea I had was to use the rules that crop up for other abilities, where you pay 5 xp and gain some special ability related to the ability (true names for demons from Infernal Lore and Formulae in Art and Academe and so on). In combat, it could give special actions for each of the combat abilities. Like counter attack for single weapons and brawling weapons and overbear for great weapons.. arching shots for bows and quicker reloads for crossbows (a new ability I'm adding with my crossbow rules).

I'm also playing the rpg Alpha Omega, and in it, you have some very nice rules for Active Defense and Counter Attacks. One special ability, inspired from Alpha Omega, could be counter attack. The amount in which your Defense Total exceeds the attacker's Attack Total is counted as a counter attack, using the attackers roll on the attack as defense roll.
Well, something like that.. :laughing:


Couple of problems with this...

First...After a bit, the players will KNOW whats going on and take KNOW he CAN'T hit me...So I don't need to use Fatigue this round to finish this guy before he kills me....

Second...Your NPC's turn vanilla. There is no spectacular roll that saves him from "X", or dooms him to "Y".

Try this instead....You are spending a bit of time creating these characters...Why not just PRE Roll the scores. Put them in pairs under the character...
Att/Def per round: 12/11, 15/0, 14/7, etc. (rolled and pre added)
In this case, you know the guy will botch his second defense roll. You can come up with something really awesome to happen -Before Hand- This will also SAVE YOU time...You won't be stopping and trying to figure out what happens during the game, and it adds flavor. In the case of 7/8, 53/8, You know whoever is fighting him on the second round, is (most likely) going to get splattered... :laughing: You get to laugh about it in anticipation...

Well, I think the randomness in a combat round is good enough if one of the values, let's say that of the NPC, is static. Most other rpgs works that way. You roll against a difficulty, and that's it. Anyway, adding 6 instead of a die roll will mostly be used by non-important NPCs like grogs and soldiers. And in group combat, but that's a whole different thing I'm working on. :slight_smile:

That's just streamlining it. As for the more advanced rules for one-on-one combat and such, I thought about making combat maneuvers, for those who's interested in learning them.


Up until now, we've had no (significant) problems with the combat system, in 4th or 5th edition.

I don't think we'll want to change or add anything, keep it simple, this game is mostly about magic and character play.

But, if I want a detailed, tactical combat system, with choices, stances, dozens of manoeuvres, weapons and fighting styles, I'll go for The Riddle of Steel. Granted, it's a bit complex and perhaps offers too many choices, plus the later supplements change and add rules, in order to fix less fortunate older rulings. But with a little work, you can make lists or flash card with the relevant stuff, and you get the overview.

Well, I think the amount of combat in a campaign really depends on it's style. Our campaign focuses on knights and nobles as much as magic, and the crusades will play a big part.
Either way, I think the combat system as it stands in the rule book is too slow when compared to how simple it really is. Calculations, even simple ones, usually slows down play, I think. So my goal is to give the system more options and realism, but less calculations. :slight_smile:

Anyway, I'm hoping for Atlas to release a book similar to Ordo Nobilis someday. :slight_smile:


How many calculations do you actually have during play? With my group its "add roll to statical number" twice for each attack (rolling takes more time...). Add the use of group combat, and you really dont have many rolls (and btw - most NPCs - espesially in large scale combats, should use group combat system).

Well, I'm doing my own modification on the group combat rules, where it is based more on the strengths and weaknesses of the groups, and the leadership and tactics are what matters, instead of random rolls. Anyway, as I said, my campaign has a focus on both military and magic.

That said, players (at least my players) like rolling dice and focus on their characters. As a Storyguide, I like storytelling better than calculations, so I'm happy with making the NPCs combat values static when it is opposed by a player character, especially for, say, non-essential NPCs like city guards, commoners, and such.

As for calculations, I feel that the process of rolling a die, then adding the attack or defense totals, then calculating the result is a bit cumbersome compared to the variant I'm testing. Then again, I testing it for the first time on Friday, so I might be wrong. :slight_smile:


One gripe I have with "calculation only" and no die rolling is that you eliminate luck out of combat, an inherently chaotic time span.

So you no longer do the "whoa!" rolls. For instance, you're fighting... a dragon!!! Naturally, you're going to get tooled, because you're just a grog.

He rolls attack, standard +32, you're still not bad, you roll defense and do +29. You get hurt pretty hard, but you'll survive. It's your turn...

You roll a 1.
Then another 1.
Then a 10.

The dragon botches.

Your grog is then acclaimed as a dragonslayer, even though he got really lucky! It can happen. Do you really think that David brought down Goliath with a single rock by skill? No! He rolled three 1s in a row! (well, to be fair, I think God threw the rock for him)

[size=75]EDIT: I got the 30,000th post. Go me![/size]

Yes, I agree. The thing I'm doing is to have all the characters played by the players in the group (grogs, companions and of course magi) roll dice as usual. NPCs, especially non-essential ones, just add 6. Except for group combat in the expanded rules I'm doing, there will always be a level of randomness. Players do love to roll dice. Not all Storyguide do, however. :slight_smile:


Problem is that sometimes, a whole army ends up hitting the other guys every time, and them missing the attacker every time in turn. I think it may be better to take precalculated totals or use intervals (2,4,6,8, while the other guys get 8,6,4,2, or, better even, 2,6,8,4 and 8,4,6,2 to so one team does not have a first strike advantage).

Has anyone tried the combat system WITHOUT allowing your excess attack points add to damage?

This always seemed strange to me that you could be really really really good with a staff and utterly destroy a Knight in full armor with one single hit....

Hit him in the helmet and blow up his nose! 8)

To me, skill should be included into damage: you know where to hit to hurt.

I agree to this. Skill should potentially give more damage. Even fully armored knights can be taken down with a stick, if you hit good enough. :slight_smile:
Think they had special daggers too, that where used to kill knights who had fallen down. They slid it into the visor on the helmet or some such. There's a great example on how a small weapon can kill a fully armored knight in the movie Kingdom of Heaven. :smiling_imp:


The rules I'm doing does away with the Stress Die in group combat, but the variables are rather made with Tactics, Leadership and Confidence, when really needed. It every Tactic (or formation, if you want to call it that), changes how many combatants a group can have and still work as a Trained group, the multiplier on the Attack and Defense-bonus the vanguard gets based on the other members of the group and so on. Of course, there is nothing wrong with rolling a Stress Die instead of adding 6. :slight_smile:

This is in early testing now, but here's the section on group combat from the expanded combat rules I'm doing:

Group Combat:
This section introduces some changes and additions to group combat. These changes are made to make group combat focus more on tactics and less on the randomness of a die.

First, instead of rolling a Stress Die for Attack and Defense Totals, the static number 6 is added. Each round of combat, the leader of a group can either change tactics to manipulate the group bonus, or use his Leadership to bolster the attack and defense capabilities of the group. Only trained groups can gain advantages from Tactics.

The headers for each of the Tactics are:

Group Multiplier: The maximum number of combatants in a trained group, based on the leader’s Leadership score, is multiplied by this number.

Attack/Defense: These multipliers apply to the leader’s Leadership score, and are the limit of the bonus generated by the other members of the group when that bonus is either added to the Attack or Defense Total. For example, a group using the Shield Wall Tactic can apply as much as the leader’s Leadership score multiplied by 5 to Defense if, of course, the other members of the group can generate a bonus that high.

Movement: If using the rules for movement, this multiplier is applied to the group’s movement when using this Tactic.

Leadership Ease Factor: The leader of the group must roll this Ease Factor to get group to use this Tactic. This generally takes a round, in which the group can move and defend itself. If the group leader rolls double the

Ease Factor needed, the group changes Tactic immediately, and can act normally the rest of the round. In the case of a botch, each botch die makes the group work as if it was untrained for one round. At the end of these rounds, the leader can try to get it into a formation.

Group Multiplier: x2
Attack/Defense: x1/x5
Movement: x0.5
Leadership Ease Factor: 9
Special: All members of this group must use the same shield, which can be of any type, except for bucklers. When in combat, the group using this tactic will always loose initiative against any group not using this tactic.

Group Multiplier: x2
Attack/Defense: x2/x3
Movement: x0.5
Leadership Ease Factor: 9
Special: All members of this group must wield the same weapon, either long spear or pole arm. If the group using this tactic is being charged, they will always win the initiative against the charging group.

Group Multiplier: x1
Attack/Defense: x2/x1 (x2/x4 ranged)
Movement: x1
Leadership Ease Factor: 6
Special: Use the ratings in parenthesis for ranged combat. The group can use this tactic even when running.

Group Multiplier: x2
Attack/Defense: x4/x2
Movement: x2
Leadership Ease Factor: 6
Special: The group must move at full movement rating the round it uses this tactic.

Group Multiplier: x1
Attack/Defense: x5/x3
Movement: x2
Leadership Ease Factor: 9
Special: Every member of the group using this tactic must be mounted. Each mount also counts as a member of the group when determining Attack and Defense bonus. The group must move at full movement rating the round it uses this tactic.

Group Multiplier: x1
Attack/Defense: x3/x3
Movement: x1
Leadership Ease Factor: 6
Special: This is the standard group Tactic, which works as a regular trained group as per Ars Magica 5th edition.

Some additional uses of Leadership:

Leadership (General Ability): In addition to the regular rules for Leadership, a character can learn special group Tactics for use in a trained group. These cost 5 experience points normally gained from training Leadership, but these are set aside to learn a Tactic. See Group Tactics for more information.
Leadership can also be used to give group bonuses to the Attack Total or Defense Total. The Leader rolls for Leadership and receives a +1 bonus for every 3 points of Ease Factor the check succeeds by. These bonuses can then add to either Defense Total or Attack Total, or a combination of the two. The bonus lasts for the current round only.

I am just really getting into ARM5...
I apologize ahead if these questions get really annoying!

Why is there so much focus/attention on doing 'group combat' in ARM5?

Is there an ARM5 wargame I am unaware of? (which would be cool!) or is this an effort to speed up 'several folks versus several folks' combat?

Where in the ARM5 book does it talk about using a shield with a weapon?

Is 'moving while fighting' covered in ARM5 anywhere?

Does your knight's armor provide burden while mounted, or only while walking?

Can your mount attack &/or move at the same time your mounted knight attacks?

Why do 'farm implements' as weapons seem way too effective to me?

Why is a Staff as effective in defense as a shield?

I think the focus on Group Combat is because the game isn't about physical combat as much as magic, and a single swordsman really isn't much of a threat to a magus anyway. Another reason is that combat in medieval times most often involved groups of combatants, like raiding parties for examples.

As far as I know, there are no wargame for Ars Magica, as the game is really focused on magic and mysteries. There are, however, some mass combat rules in the 4th edition book Ordo Nobilis (I would love a similar book for the 5th edition).

The Defense Rating for a shield is just added to that of a single weapon, although in the expanded combat (house) rules I'm writing, there will be rules for using two weapons, and setting the shield as one of these will make shield bashes doable in the rules, for example. Using a shield offensively was a very common tactic in medieval times. But in ARM5, shields are detailed along with the rest of the weapons.

As for movement, there are no rules in ArM5. Most people use the 4th edition rules, which I cannot remember now.

Your character is burdened by equipment, mounted or not. It really depends on the actions he wants to take. Of course, the horse is burdened more by a fully armored knight than a person in plain clothes.

Mounts only give a bonus equal to the Riding Ability to Attack and Defense, to a maximum of +3. However, a rule I'm using is to allow mounts to be counted as a member of the group in group combat. Consider a mounted knight a group of two members; the horse and it's rider. Use Animal Handling instead of Leadership in this case. :slight_smile:

Farm Implements are a bit to effective, are they not? Didn't think of that, and I agree. However, they're great weapons, meaning they cannot be used with a shield. Then again, compare it to a Great Axe or Greatsword. :slight_smile:

Staves, if used correctly, are very effective for defense, but they're great weapons, and a sword used with a shield would be even more effective.

Hope that answered some of your questions. I really hope for a book about "Nobles and Warfare" in Ars Magica, especially since the last Tribunal book, Lion and the Lily, had a big focus on mundane affairs.