Killing and not being killed

In the world of Heluso and Milonda, people who try to gain and maintain power find it very difficult to do so without killing or at the very least somebody trying to kill them. However, unlike the modern world, only the sheltered rich make it to adulthood without at least brushing up against the threat of imminent death – and often the combat training they can buy makes up for it. Most everyone has, at the very least, some idea of how to kill with weapons or their hands, dodge, defend themselves and try to ignore pain. Concepts like basic first aid are reasonably widespread, although actual Medicine is much rarer.

Fighting is mostly covered by four skills, although others can often be used in combat. Those four are Fight and Parry, coming under Body, and Dodge and [Weapon] coming under Coordination. The two physical stats each have a defense and an offense skill so in this way a hulking brute and a lithe rogue can be equally matched in combat.

Dodge and Parry are essentially identical in combat in that they generate Gobble Dice to attempt to ruin attacking sets, but each has their own advantages and disadvantages. Dodge can be used against area attacks like an explosive catapult shot (assuming you have something to hide behind) and – very importantly – can always be used. With Parry, you need something to block the attack with, probably a weapon or a shield. These might break, and without something to use you can merely redirect whatever damage you would take to your arms. On the other hand, Parry isn’t affected by how heavy your armour is and most importantly can be used to defend others. The lithe rogue can keep himself out of harm’s way but the strong defender can protect his archer friend from harm while ensuring his own survival.

Fight and [Weapon] are similar to Dodge and Parry in that each has its advantages and disadvantages. Fight represents raw, untrained fighting ability. The kind that you get from a childhood spent scrapping, adolescence spent brawling in taverns and adulthood spent as a hired killer. With high Fight skill, you are never unarmed. Fight allows you to use your fists, rocks, axes, clubs and swords with equal measure. Any object that can break bones or slice flesh is fair game for attempting to kill someone using Fight. The Coordination based [Weapon] skill is more refined. Unlike Fight, it represents formal training (or at least reasonably structured practice) with a single weapon. Incidentally, Unarmed Combat and Grappling are valid [Weapon] skills to take – they represent using your body with finesse rather than undisciplined eye gouging and groin-kneeing. The big disadvantage of [Weapon] compared to Fight is that it represents training with a single weapon. You have 4+MD in Weapon: Sword and are armed with a Dagger? Sorry, can’t use it – you’re stuck with Fight. On the other hand, [Weapon] is what gets you access to ranged weapons and the big advantage is that having a Weapon Skill is a prerequisite for Martial Styles.

Martial Styles cost additional points to take, as though they were skills, and are actual formalised schools of techniques which need to be explicitly taught to a student. Although some master or other at some point invented these schools, you aren’t going to discover a martial style of your own without Plot. Martial Styles can give you big bonuses in battle, from the ability to destroy weapons and armour, attack and defend simulataneously with no penalty, turn misses into Feints or simply do incredibly grievous damage, Martial Styles can give you a much needed edge against untrained opponents.

Aside from basic attacking and defending and any tricks afforded by Martial Styles, there are actually many other maneuvers to use in combat, often involving others skills, and I encourage you to think outside the box and use them to gain an edge. Particularly against an opponent who is better than you, merely slugging it out always carries the risk of them getting in a lucky hit and decapitating you – but knocking the weapon out of their hand, tripping them and getting them in a chokehold might even the odds.

Such things like Slamming, Tripping, Pinning, Tackling and Shoving can all be used to throw the opponent off balance, take their weapons out of the fight and put them in a disadvantageous position. Particularly if you’re fighting as part of a group, having somebody knock the enemy over so everybody can kick him while he’s down can be an excellent idea. Feinting and Redirecting can be good ways to use noncombat skills like Lie in combat – and can be shockingly effective. Things like Threatening, Display Kills and Disfiguring Strikes can be very worth it when fighting Unworthy Opponents – Morale attacks can do far more damage than any blade.

An important consideration in combat is equipment. Blades and armour can make a fight between the same two combatants very different indeed. A straight up punchup is extremely unlikely to end in a death, or even any permanent injury. Unless a Martial technique or weapon is used, only Shock damage occurs, which heals rapidly and without medical attention. In the vast majority of cases, someone would only die in an unarmed fight if their opponent kept hitting them long after they had passed out. As soon as a weapon comes into play, the fight will be infinitely more serious. Now a single good strike to the head could be the end of you and Killing damage can take an entire week of bedrest to heal a single point unaided. Even the best medical attention can still only reduce one point of it a day. Once the knives come out, odds are nobody is walking away unscarred. Armour can really level the playing field, however. Even light armour and a wooden helmet can mean the difference between being felled in a single blow to the head and living long enough to fight back. In addition, armour can help you Parry blows with your ‘bare’ arms if you have been disarmed. Shields can also help stack on the armour, although they can only protect a few locations at once. Although being hit successfully will always do a single point of Shock damage at the very least, which can add up in long combats, a heavily armoured fighter with a shield can outlast a whole group of less well equipped opponents. Furthermore, large and dangerous weapons can make the difference between a nasty bruise and severing a limb entirely.

The use of Endurance in a fight cannot be understated. If you are wearing heavy armour and carrying heavy weapons, which is likely unless you are fortunate enough to be able to afford lighter steel weapons, you will begin to take fatigue penalties if you cannot pass an Endurance check after only a few rounds of combat. Depending on how large your weapon is, even a light steel weapon will eventually start forcing these checks as the exertion of swinging around a heavy piece of metal begins to tire you. Considering the first die stripped from a pool by penalties is always an Expert or Master, this can make a crucial difference in combat.

Lastly, combat magic is a different game altogether. Depending entirely on the school of magic, sorcerers may be able to take on entire squads by themselves. If they have no bows between them, even a hundred men would have to flee when confronted by a flying Stormtongue raining lightning down upon them. Aside from a very few, spells are defended against by Counterspell rather than Dodge or Parry, and armour has no effect, so a fighter wearing full plate with a Master die in Parry is as helpless as the next man when it comes to defending himself against a Shadowbinder.

The important thing to be noted is that combat is almost always extremely deadly. Unless all sides are taking great care, injuries and even fatalities are incredibly likely. Even mock fights with wooden weapons can end with broken bones and permanent injuries. Any time you are confronted with a situation where you are considering drawing weapons and killing a human being, you should be acutely aware than one lapse in concentration can see you dead with a single sword thrust, and even a victorious battle can see you bedbound and limping for months, if not permanently crippled. People are largely sensible and being too quick to draw a blade will give you a reputation as reckless and dangerous. Perhaps this is what you want. Nevertheless, fighting people carries high risks and nothing can be done to avoid them.

Killing and not being killed

REIGN: Blood and Snow Doodmons