Thoughts on combat in ArM5

Hi all!

I've just started my first ArM5-saga and I'm currently easing a group of three consisting of players who are totally new to Ars Magica into the rules by means of a series of simple, linked, one-evening sessions.

The first session I resolved to dedicate to non-magical combat and simple skill checks. This being my first SG experience of ArM5, I looked over the combat rules first. After a bit of reading and reflection I came to a few personal conlusions.

First of all, I really missed the "advantage"-concept from ArM4, where you could opt to not apply your attack advantage but instead let it "carry over" to the next round, so i put that back in.
Next, I didn't like the group rules. To me, they didn't appear helpful until you started combats with a lot of people on either side, so for the time being i replaced it with a +3 bonus to attack for each person after the first attacking a given target. This all worked fine, but I did encounter one thing that I hadn't expected as we were playing through te first combat encounter, probably out of oversight on my part, so I thought I'd put the question to you guys.

Everone rolled their initiatives and took their first round of combat. Everything rolled on smoothly. Then, one of my players wanted to change his wielded weapon from a small wooden club he'd initially chosen to try and inflict non-fatal damage to the short-sword he carried around for earnest defence. The sword has a different initiative-rating and I usually only roll for initiative once, at the beginning of combat. Now, if you roll for initiative for each combat round it's pretty straightforward to just generat a new total. The twist is that I have my characters first declare their actions, lowest initiative first so the highest initiative can respond to the "slower" ones, and then resolving declared actions reverse order, result being that highest initiative declares last and acts first. That said, I'm rather fond of generating initiative once and then sticking to it.

Any ideas for integrating weapon-changing inte these customised variants of ArM5? I resolved it by just modifynging the existing initiative rating by the new modifier, but there might be better solutions out there, right? :slight_smile:

Any comments or thoughts on the rest of my house-rules on combat are also greatly apreciated.

Let the roll stand.
If a Magus decides to cast a spell, he goes on X (plus bonuses of course).
If he decides to hit a target with his staff, he goes on X plus the staff bonus (I don't have the number here).
If the character decides to change weapons, let them. Use the new total. Perhaps this is simplictic, but you could give him a negative for that round...say -2?

Some groups use group combat, some don't. Some use group combat for large groups only...some don't. If YOU don't like it...

The AM combat system does NOT try to simulate reality, but instead is a method of representing it in a game*. So wipe any words like "realism" or "realistic feel" out of your mind- this train ain't goin' there, not even close to there.

(There are some that do model reality- the Twilight 2000 1st ed vehicle rules were taken from the Dept of Defense vehicle combat simulation games. Various RPG's come close or don't- it's the "feel" they give that's important, and AM aims for a dramatic feel to a dramatic game, rather than a realistic one.)

So, a Weapon's initiative generally more represents differences in longer weapons, not "quicker" ones (if the latter, they'd go "more often" than their "slower" counterparts.) Not entirely, but basically, yeah.

Typically, this only matters once/combat, and only once, when the two sides first clash together - to decide who goes first.

But after one side goes first, for whatever reasons, it's one side, then the other, then the first, then the second, back and forth- we swing, they swing, we swing, they swing, ad infinitum. Those are the mechanics of the game.

While changing initiative mid-stream may seem "realistic", it also invites the problem of a character having two attacks in a row- at the end of the last turn, and the beginning of the next- and this can create problems. (Especially if Players decide to abuse this effect.)

So, both for the above reason and just to make things "simpler" overall, I'd recommend ingoring the new initiative*, and just sticking with the original turn order. It's artificial, but so is the whole "we swing, they swing" thing, and anything else gets sticky.

(*unless the character truly breaks combat and comes back in, or goes after a separate group, etc.)

my 2.

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The fifth edition rules were developed with at least the intention of solving some percieved problems with the fourth edition combat system (At least I gather that they were, I did playtesting not development) .

One of the issues that cropped for many folks (Myself included) was that when you can carry over advantage round to round attack and defense become the only weapon stats of value and combats loose their excitement as the stronger combatant builds up a sufficent cussion of advantage to protect them from any poor rolls. In fifth edition carrying over advantage was dropped all together. If you like the carry over advantage I suggest you at least consider capping the advantage at some level (like +5) to prevent overly static fights and to make other combat scores more valuable.

The big bonuses for ganging up on a single oponent often lead to fights that closely resembled blocking diagrams in american football as characters teamed up to get the advantage on single opponents. If this starts happening in your game I'd suggest softening your multiple person advantage rules perhaps by capping the level of advantage (perhaps something akin to the +2 flanking bonus in d20).

Not to take the discussion away from Daedric's ideas too much, but there is a slightly worrying issue that I've seen with the new initiative system. The issue concerns fast cast spells. Because a character only rolls initiative once in the combat, the difficulty to beat that character with a fast cast spell is fixed for the duration of the combat so if a target rolled poorly the first round of combat they'll be easy to interupt with a fast cast on the forteenth round of combat and if a charcter rolled well on round one then it will still be difficult to beat them on round 4.

It all still works, but I don't actually like it.

(Yeah, that's one of the first things I changed with Houserules*. The above was advice for a group just learning the rules, shoulda clarified that. Tweaks and Houserules can come later, once the basics are down.)

(*Generally, in my Houserules, everyone declares their actions (and I silently "declare" the NPC's as well, they're locked too), then they all roll for new initiative each round - no one "knows" who goes first if they want to try something tricky, but they can risk it if they want to. So everyone reacts to what folk did LAST turn, not "just before them this turn." It's a lot more "fog of battle" chaos feel to it, but it works.)

I really really would just take the fifth edition rules at face value as far as possible. Just pretend the fourth edition didn't happen. Not because it was bad but simply because the fifth edition rules were designed to work together. +3 for each enemy beyond the first becomes overwhelming very quickly unless artificially capped. Group rules are probably just as harsh but they are designed with groups in mind.

Having said that there is some wiggle room. I tend to record the initiative roll alongside the initiative total. That way, there's a consistent way of changing weapons and actions as you just need to apply the new bonus.

I also like to give the players wipe-clean cards with boxes for roll and initiative as it makes life easier.

As for combat events influencing initiative, I simply play it by ear. As it's all an abstraction, I'm happy for a character to keep acting on their lucky high initiative unless it gets silly, say they've been knocked over countless times already. At some point I might want them to re-roll initiative or impose any bonus or penalty.

If there's a genuine break in combat, where the combatants break for a round, you could re-roll initiative but as has been pointed out, these rules don't mirror reality, just give a framework to resolve certain things.

Play it by ear but I'd try losing all the fourth edition stuff and going vanilla fifth. You'll feel better for it.

Quite right. I am not, however, aiming for realistic. What I'm aiming for is quick, fun and cinematic.

I hadn't thought about that. What you're saying makes a lot of sense. The cap is in. The main reason I like the carry-over rules is that they more often than not generate a kind of swashbuckling, cinematic combat situation, with a combat flowing back and forth instead of death by a million cuts (exaggerated, granted, but you get the idea).

I fully agree with you. As SG I really like that combat has become much more daunting and serious, wound and cosequense-wise, but I also want to instill the view that attacking two opponents should be a really dangerous thing to do. One guy armed with a club is one thing, another guy wanting to kick you, even if he's in sight is quite the other, not to mention the third guy from another direction again. I see even professional martial artists and fencers having trouble with that setup, and in my saga I simulate that by giving the third guy +6 to his attack total.

I really should, I know :slight_smile: , but I just can't help myself... I've never been able to leave these things well alone. :wink:

Thanks for your feedback, everyone.

My suggestion is that you take apart the Burning Wheel combat system, translate it so that it works flawlessly with Ars, then post it here along with instructional flowcharts and play aids so that I don't have to do the work myself.

Thankfully for my employer I haven't run into the Burning Wheel combat system, 'cos if it would have lent itself to it I probably would have at least tried... I'm hopeless that way :slight_smile:

with an intellectual property release, natch. :wink:

Of all the targets for HouseRules in RPG's in general, "Combat" is probably the most common. Different groups of Players want more realism, or streamline something, or remember/project rules from older/other games, or their eyes just glaze over after the basics and they fake it. This is not because the system is flawed or "bad", just that, of all the various machines in the rules, players mileages are apt to vary more with that.

My vote is for The Riddle of Steel personally :wink: It already uses d10 too!

-m