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Chapter 5: Abstract Combat System

5.1 Two Tier Combat Systems

Avatar utilises what is known as a two tier combat system. There are two interchangeable combat systems, with differing degrees of complexity and detail. This chapter deals with the first system: the Abstract system, in which the sequence of play is relatively simple. The next chapter deals with the Duellist system, which uses a more complex way of determining when an action occurs.

The systems are designed to be fully compatible, allowing the degree of abstraction to be chosen according to circumstances.

5.2 The Combat Process

The following is a step-by-step view of how one round of Abstract combat is executed:
1. Initiative dice rolled:
Initiative dice are rolled and added to each combatant's base number of Actions to get their Strike Rank (see section 5.3). Any die that indicates additional Actions are gained carries over to the next round.
2. Highest Strike Rank acts:
The person with the highest Strike Rank declares and resolves their actions, or declares themselves as holding their actions until later.
3. Next highest Strike Rank acts:
The person with the next highest Strike Rank declares their actions, and resolves them, unless someone who is holding decides to act ahead of them. In this way, a person who is holding can wait until they know what a person is going to do before acting. This continues until all the combatants have acted, or all the combatants have declared themselves as holding.
4. Repeat until resolved:
The sequence returns to step 1, and the combat continues. Combatants who gained an Initiative bonus in the current round (see section 5.3) will have a chance to gain an Initiative bonus in the next round.
At the end of any round of combat, the GM may switch to the Duellist system, if such a change is appropriate. In the event of a tied Strike Rank, the attack with the lowest Action cost should move first. If this is a tie, the attacker with the highest Dexterity acts first. In the event of a tie on Dexterity, assume the two combatants act simultaneously.

One round of Abstract combat takes as unspecified amount of time, somewhere in the region of two to three seconds.

5.3 Actions, Initiative and Strike Rank

The term `Actions' may seem out of place at first, but its meaning becomes readily apparent in the Duellist system (see section 6.3). In order to keep the two systems compatible, the term Actions is used here to describe the base strike rank of a character.

As explained in section 5.2, above, a combatant's strike rank determines when they attack in the Abstract system.

The number of Actions a character has (and hence their base strike rank) is dependant on their Agility Attribute (see Table 16, below).

Table 16: Number of Actions
Agility Number of Actions
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6-10 6
11-15 7
16-18 8
19-20 9
21-24 10
Each additional block of 4 above 24: +1 Action

In addition to this, at the beginning of each combat round the strike rank is raised by a certain number of Actions. This represents an individual's reflexes - how quickly they adapt to the situation - and is hence based on the character's Dexterity Attribute (see Table 17, below).

Table 17: Initiative Index
Dexterity Initiative Index
1-5 1
6-13 2
14-17 3
18-20 4
21-24 4+1
Each additional block of 4 above 24: +1 Action

The initiative index represents a certain number of d6's, possibly with a modifier. For example, an initiative index of 4+1 represents 4 dice, and a plus 1 bonus Action. However, when determining any initiative bonus, the dice are not treated at face value. Any 5's rolled are treated as +1, any 6's rolled are treated as +2 and all other values are treated as zero. This method is known as Index Resolution (see section 1.8).

After the first round of combat, a character's effective initiative index changes. Any die that came up 5 or 6 remains in effect, and all others are discarded.

For example, a character with a Dexterity of 25 has an Initiative Index of 4+2. At the beginning of a combat, the player rolls 4 dice and gets a 2, 3, 4 and 6. The 6 counts as +2, and all the others as +0, and so the character gets a total of 4 (2 +2) bonus Actions (that is, their Strike Rank is 4 higher for the first round). If none of the dice had come up as 5's or 6's, the character would still have got 2 bonus Actions.

For the next round of combat, their effective initiative index is 1+2, as only one die came up as a 5 or 6 in the first round.

5.4 Resolving Attacks

In the Abstract system, there are three main actions: attacks, parries and dodges. An attack is any move specifically intended to harm your opponent, a parry is an attempt to deflect an opponent's attack with your own weapon and a dodge is an attempt to move out of the way of an opponent's weapon. In Abstract combat, character's only get one melee attack per round (although they may get additional attacks by riposting - see below).

When an attack is declared, the player should describe in as much detail as required what they are attempting. The GM then decides how compatible the action is with the character's Fighting style (see section 5.6) and determines a modifier, if necessary. The attack is resolved using the rules for Active Task Resolution (see section 4.1). The attacker rolls 1d20 and adds this to their combat Skill, and the defender adds 1d20 to their combat Skill plus a Parry bonus (which depends on the weapon they use - see section 5.8), if parrying, or to their Dodge Skill, if they are dodging. This can be summarised as:

Attack: Attackers Fighting style Skill + 1d20
Parry: Defenders Fighting style Skill+ Parry Bonus + 1d20
Dodge: Defenders Dodge Skill + 1d20

As mentioned, these values may be modified by the details of the attacks involved. If the attacker's total exceeds the defender's total, the attack is successful and damage is caused (see section 5.9). Otherwise, the attack fails.

Attacks are classified under four headings: thrusts, swings, blows and ripostes. The Gamesmaster should decide from the player's description of their character's actions which heading an attack should come under.

A thrust is a rapid, jabbing action, which is generally the least damaging, but the fastest form of attack.

A swing allows more momentum to be put into the strike and, for most weapons, swings are more damaging than thrusts. However, if a character performs a swing attack in a round, they are at -5 on any parry and dodge attempts.

In a blow, the whole weight of the body is put behind the attack. For almost all weapons, a blow is the most damaging attack, and also the slowest. Because of the effort involved in performing a blow, any parries or dodges performed in the same round are at -10.

The last form of attack is the riposte. A riposte is an attempt to turn a successful Parry into an extra attack. However, it can only be performed if the character has successfully parried their opponent by 20 or more (see section 5.5, below). A riposte is considered a thrust for determining Damage modifiers. A riposte may be parried, and in return, riposted.

The more parries, dodges or Armour blocks (see section 5.11) a defending person has to carry out, the harder it becomes. For each defensive move carried out earlier in a round, a penalty of -5 is applied. So a person who parries twice and then dodges is at no penalty for the first Parry, -5 for the second Parry and then at -10 for the dodge.

5.5 Overpowering

If the attacker rolls greatly in excess of their opponent, they have overpowered them. In this event, they gain certain advantages. Each 20 by which the attacking total exceeds the defending total by can be `spent' in one of the following ways:
  1. Called shot
  2. Disarm opponent
  3. One higher damage rank
  4. Two higher concussive ranks
A called shot allows the attacker to decide where the attack hits (rather than rolling randomly, as detailed in
section 5.10). If disarm opponent is chosen, the opponent's weapon is wrenched from their hands and falls to the ground several metres away. A higher damage rank is explained in section 5.11, and a higher concussive rank in section 5.12. Finally, anything else the GM considers appropriate can be carried out, e.g. leaving a scar on the opponent's cheek, or cutting one of their armour straps.

As an example, an attacker using the Swashbuckler Fighting style rolls 65, whilst his opponent rolls only 17. Having overpowered the defender by 48 (two blocks of 20), he could, for instance, elect to do a called shot to the head at one damage rank higher. Alternatively, he could disarm his opponent and cut the letter `Z' across their chest.

It is also possible for the defender to overpower the attacker. If a Parry total exceeds the attacker's total by 20, then the defender can turn that Parry into a Riposte (thus making an extra thrust attack on the attacker). If the Parry total exceeds the Attack by 30 or more, the defender could opt to disarm the attacker instead. If a Dodge total exceeds the attacker's total by 20, the person Dodging has manoeuvred behind their opponent. If their next attack is on the person they moved behind, that person can only Dodge or Armour block (see section 5.11) at half skill.

5.6 Fighting Styles

The following is a description of how, in general, the various fighting styles affect Abstract combat. It should be noted that these profiles are guidelines. The GM should assess each situation separately and award any advantages and disadvantages they see fit. It is also worth noting that characters can have more than one fighting style. Such a character can generally choose which fighting style to use in an attack, and may combine the abilities of these styles freely, except where mentioned below. The Gamesmaster is the final arbiter in what is possible by combining fighting styles.

Some of the Fighting styles (assassin, gladiator, swashbuckler) are designated solo fighting styles and similarly, a few styles (legionnaire, poleaxeman, spearman) are described as group fighting styles. All others are treated as neither solo nor group fighting styles.

Whenever a person with a solo fighting style engages in combat alone (that is, they are fighting with no-one else on their side), they fight at +5 (this bonus also applies when Dodging). If they fight a single opponent who is also using a solo fighting style, this advantage will be naturally cancelled out, as both will be fighting at +5. When using a solo fighting style to fight in a loosely organised group, the combat rolls are unmodified. If forced to engage in Ranked combat (see section 5.25), they suffer a -10 penalty.

Group fighting styles include a certain knowledge of tactics, which enable people using them to gain full advantage from fighting in Ranks (see section 5.25). Even if they are in a loose formation, people using group fighting styles may designate a leader who is considered to be Task Assisting (see section 4.5) all other people in the group. However, they are at a disadvantage when fighting alone, suffering a -5 penalty to their Skill.

This style applies almost exclusively to bows and crossbows. When an archer or crossbowman takes an aim action they treat the Aim Bonus as twice what it would normally be (see section 5.16). In addition, they have the option of aiming high or low at a target, represented by choosing a modifier between +3 and -3 on the Hit Distrubution table (Table 28), chosen before they roll. Combatants using this Fighting style can use bucklers without penalty (historically, the buckler was mounted on the forearm, leaving the hands free for using a bow). When the combatant attacks with weapons other than bows or crossbows, they are severely penalised. An archer or crossbowman can use short weapons (0.8 m or shorter) such as knives and hand axes at a -10 penalty to their Skill, and any other weapons and shields (except bucklers) at -20 to their Skill. Although training for archers and crossbowmen is centred around their missile weapons, they do have some training in defending themselves in close quarters. However, many users of these styles will take at least one other supplementary Fighting style for defensive purposes.
When attacking a surprised opponent (i.e. an opponent who has been successfully ambushed, as explained in section 5.21) the assassin causes wounds that are automatically 1 damage rank higher (see section 5.11) than would normally occur. This is a solo fighting style (see above) and hence an assassin is penalised when fighting in groups. Assassins are restricted to using fast weapons (Speed +0 or lower). They suffer a -10 penalty for using weapons with a Speed of +1, and a -20 penalty for using a weapon with a Speed of +2. Assasins can use bucklers without penalty and other shields at -10. If the optional Specialisation rules are being used (see section 3.18), assassin counts as a Specialisation in Ambush.
This is really two different styles. One applies when the character fights under normal circumstances, the other when the character goes berserk. The regular style is basically the same as skirmisher, although any defensive moves (such as Parries and Dodges) are made at -5. When circumstances warrant it, however (when the character is injured or angry, for instance), the character goes berserk. Once berserk, all damage that they inflict is treated as 1 Damage Rank higher (see section 5.11), but the character cannot Dodge at all and can only parry at -10 (or perform Armour blocks at -20). Once the character has gone berserk, they can still freely mix Fighting styles, but the penalty for being berserk carries over into any other style. For example, a person who knew the berserker fighting style and the gladiator fighting style goes berserk. They then attempt to Parry with their gladiator Skill. The Parry is made at -10. What causes the character to go berserk, and what must be done before they cease to be berserk is left in the hands of the individual players and GM to determine. Whilst berserkers are generally drawn to very damaging weapons, the only restriction is a -5 penalty when using missile weapons or shields.
The bladesman's speciality is thrown weapons, although they may still fight in melee to some extent. Bladesmen gain the same advantages that archers do, namely aim actions count double, and they can choose a modification of +3 to -3 on the Hit distribution table. Weapons which can be thrown (see Table 32) and missile weapons can be used in combat at -5. All other weapons and shields are used at -20.
People attacking in this style may perform the straight kick, straight punch, butt and knee moves (see Table 36), and attack with Improvised weapons (see section 5.19) without penalty. When making any other kind of attack they are at -20. It should be noted that brawling is one of the Skills all people have a natural ability to perform. Therefore, even if no time has been spent learning it (hence no Skill points allocated to it), a character still gets some degree of proficiency (determined by rolling on the 0 row of Table 10).
This style is described in section 5.26.
This style is restricted to short, concealable weapons (0.4 m or shorter), but can use most missile and thrown weapons at -5. They suffer a -10 when using bows and crossbows and are penalised by -20 when using any other weapons or shields. When attempting to render an opponent Unconscious, footpads treat hits to the head as one effective Damage Rank higher (see section 5.12). When outnumbered in combat, people using footpad fight at -5. If the optional Specialisation rules are used (see section 3.18), footpad counts as a Specialisation in Ambush.
One of the solo fighting styles, the gladiator is also allowed to make Armour blocks (see section 5.11) without penalty. The weapons that a particular gladiator learns to use vary from culture to culture, and the players and GM will have to determine allowed weapons in each case. If a gladiator has been trained in using a shield, they can use a shield without penalty. When fighting with weapons not specifically allowed, the gladiator fights at -10.
Unlike other styles, the horseman suffers no penalties when fighting on horseback (see section 5.23). However, when dismounted, they suffer a -10 penalty to all attacks. If the Specialisation rules are being used, horseman counts as a Specialisation in Ride (see section 3.18).
Against animals, the hunter gains a +10 bonus to their Skill, but this is offset by a -10 penalty to any Parries they perform. People who employ this style are also good at making the most of terrain and if the optional Specialisation rules are being used (see section 3.18), hunter counts as either a Specialisation in Ambush or in Track (the player can decide which suits their character best). Hunters suffer a -5 penalty with shields.
This style is trained to fight in heavy armour (at least Armour Index of 2 or better in one or more locations - see section 5.11), and tends to overcompensate in other situations, fighting at -5. However, whilst in armour, the knight can attempt Armour blocks (see section 5.11) without penalty. In addition, people using this Fighting style can opt to Parry and Armour block an attack. In this case, the Parry is resolved first and, if it fails, the Armour block is resolved. Because this effectively counts as two defensive moves, the Armour block must suffer the -5 cumulative defensive move penalty (see section 5.4). Naturally, if there is already a defensive move penalty from earlier moves, this must be applied to both as well. Knights have some training with shields and suffer no penalty when using them, but are at -20 with missile and thrown weapons.
This is a group fighting style, and hence benefits are gained when engaging in ranks (see section 5.25). The legionnaire style covers most swords and shorter blades (up to 0.9 metres in length), and legionnaires fight with a -10 penalty with other weapons. They are trained with shields and use them without penalty. In addition, when fighting without a clear strategy or leader, people using this style may suffer a -5 penalty, if the Gamesmaster considers it appropriate.
Martial artist:
This style covers all of the moves in Table 36. Some martial arts may also cover a few weapons (staves for instance) but, in general, all weapons, shields, missile and thrown weapons are used at -20.
The shieldman style is a defensive style that fights under a -5 penalty if they do not have a shield, as almost all of their moves involve attacking using the shield as cover. Shieldmen can use any one handed weapon without penalty, and attack with a -10 penalty with two handed weapons, missile weapons and thrown weapons (this includes the -5 for fighting without a shield, where applicable). The key advantage with this Fighting style is that the -5 penalty for cumulative defensive moves is reduced to a -2 penalty. After five shield Parries, for example, the penalty is only at -10 and not -25. In addition, they can use a shield to knock a weapon aside and make a shield riposte. To do this, they must Overpower their opponent by 20, at which point the opponent's weapon is considered held away by the shield being used. The shieldman can then attack with a weapon in their other hand, and their opponent can only Dodge or Armour block.
Their are no special advantages or disadvantages to the skirmisher style. This is the basic, generic way of fighting. It should be noted that skirmisher is one of the Skills all people have a natural ability to perform. Therefore, even if no time has been spent learning it (hence no Skill points allocated to it), a character still gets some degree of proficiency (determined by rolling on the 0 row of Table 10).
Like legionnaire, these are group fighting styles, and hence benefits are gained when engaging in Ranks (see section 5.25). These styles cover only spears and polearms respectively, and when fighting with other weapons (including missile weapons) there is a generally a -10 penalty. However, a spearman can use a polearm at -5, and likewise, a poleaxeman can use spears at -5. The spearman Fighting style includes the ability to throw spears, and both styles can use shields without penalty, provided the weapon being used is one handed.
There is a specialist style for every weapon which is considered a specialist weapon (such as a whip). When fighting with anything other than that specialist weapon, the specialist is at -20. A specialist fighting style is necessary for combat with specialist weapons and a separate specialist style is needed for each specialist weapon.
Like the gladiator, this is a solo fighting style, but the swashbuckler's strength is a greatly enhanced mobility. Any Tasks which involve moving in combat (jumping onto tables for example) can be made on the swashbuckler Skill instead of Agility. This style uses Blades with a Speed of +0 or lower and Improvised weapons (see section 5.19) without penalty, and other weapons and shields at -10. In armours with a greater Armour Rank than 2, the swashbuckler is too encumbered to gain the advantages of mobility, and suffers a -5 to all weapon skills as well.
These are intended to be general rules to indicate the differences in the Fighting styles. Players should be encouraged to think of their character's Fighting styles as another function of the character's personality. Combat should be thought of by the player in terms of the Fighting style(s) of their character, rather than simply applying a set of hard and fast rules to all combat situations.

It is possible that over a period of time, due to various circumstances, Fighting styles will change for a particular character. That is, that character may develop their own version of a certain Fighting style, with advantages and disadvantages that might differ from the style as it was originally taught. Any changes should be discussed and agreed on between player and GM.

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Last Updated: April 16th, 1999