Turn by turn action and combat

Initiative: Each character has an Initiative score representing their ability to act immediately and decisively. When multiple characters try to preempt each other with instantaneous actions – when, for instance, they are trying to kill each other – initiative is rolled to decide who acts first. To determine initiative, each player adds the result of rolling a ten-sided die to their character’s Initiative modifier. Characters with higher initiative totals act sooner, and ties are resolved by base initiative modifier and, failing that, at random.

Every character with an initiative total has an awareness of what pressing concern is prompting the use of combat time. Even if an assailant or environmental hazard ends up acting on a low initiative count, they’re assumed to have visibly begun to act and therefore to have informed the immediate responses of everyone else involved.

Characters totally oblivious of a dramatic conflict going on in their vicinity don’t need to be assigned initiative until they are somehow enmeshed in the conflict. If their initiative ends up higher than that of whichever actor has tipped them off, they can act immediately after that actor’s turn, and take their place in the usual order next round.

Characters retain their rolled initiative for an entire conflict, even if some of that conflict’s rounds are separated by lengthy pauses or negotiations. New conflicts, new scenes, or other significant changes in circumstance merit new initiative rolls.

Rounds and Turns: A round is roughly three seconds’ time, and each character involved in a fight or other immediate, time-sensitive conflict can take one turn in each round. Each turn’s action is fully resolved before the next turn is taken, and each participant should have taken a turn’s worth of action by the end of the round.

The end of the round is a minute span of time that’s nevertheless considered long enough to allow participant characters to assess the situation, exchange dialogue, and generally make decisions. If at least one player declares that their character is continuing to press the confrontation, or some element of the scene continues to demand immediate attention and response, all characters become aware and the next round begins.

On their turn, a character can delay, voluntarily lowering their initiative to a lower value in order to place themselves later in the turn order.

Interrupting Other Characters: A character delaying their initiative can opt to act in response to the action of another character. If they do, they can use their actions to contest those of that character, such as by attempting to parry an attack or block a getaway. In the next round, the delaying character’s initiative value falls directly behind that of whoever they responded to.

Actions: In one turn, a character can move around, take any number of reflexive actions and one instant action. The instant action ends that character’s turn once taken and resolved.

A character’s instant action represents the main thrust of their efforts in a turn and is generally resolved with a single dice roll. Successes on this roll don’t necessarily represent the completion of a task, but the specific progress that a character has achieved in the space of three seconds. Inanimate, passive obstacles that could normally be overcome with a single roll, or even without rolling at all, might be measured in terms of total successes required to defeat, since in combat time every second counts.

A character’s instant action doesn’t always require a roll, and isn’t necessarily the source of the only roll that character’s player needs to make in the course of a turn. They might need to roll a dicepool for part of a turn’s movement if their character’s ability to traverse an obstacle or get past another character is called into question, and they might make reflexive rolls for their character to perceive hidden things or shake off adverse influences. Whether a character can take a particular instant action might be contingent on that character first succeeding on some other, reflexive task, but a character who fails to set themselves up doesn’t forfeit their instant action; they can always opt to take a different one that is within their means.

Minor Actions: Quick, low-effort, uncontested actions necessary for a character to carry out their instant action are usually assumed to happen automatically and at no cost. Looking around, crossing a room, drawing a weapon, crouching down, standing up, pressing a button, opening a door, reloading a gun – all of these are incidental to the meat of a combat turn and therefore don’t take an instant action. “Minor action” refers to any such quick, low-stress endeavor that might still merit mechanical attention; there is no formal limit to the number of minor actions a character can take in a turn, and minor actions are not meant to act as an expendable tactical resource.

Some minor actions are involved or distracting enough that they aren’t automatic. They can require a roll to complete successfully, and conditions imposed by other characters might require a successful roll as a minor action to overcome. Alternately, a character attempting to accomplish something in their turn in addition to their instant action might suffer a Difficulty on their instant action due to the effort involved.

Movement: A character’s specific physical position in a scene is fairly fluid by default and is normally determined by their instant action. On their turn, an unhindered character has a few moments’ time to jog or run, normally to get wherever their instant action requires them to be, and outside of their turn a character is considered to be wherever their instant action put them. If a character has devoted their instant action to guarding or interfering with another character, they’re assumed to move with the target of their action, as needed.

If a character’s ability to get somewhere on their turn is called into question, whether some obstacle is in the way or their desired destination is particularly far, the character’s player can make a reflexive roll with a Difficulty assigned by the storyteller. Failure might mean an obstacle blocks the character or the character is simply too slow to cover the distance immediately, and must take their instant action while still stuck in whatever circumstance they were trying to escape.

A character’s instant action can itself be devoted to movement, but only should be if that movement has a significant effect on the character’s place in the scene. An instant action might be used to flee a confrontation entirely, pass through and then securely lock a gateway, or close on a sniper or other foe who has made a point of putting themselves significantly far away. Usually, such actions call for their own dice rolls to determine the magnitude of their effect and how difficult it is for other characters to interfere, follow, or resist. An instant action to reposition on one character’s part usually demands an instant action on another’s to keep up, although supernatural powers or other advantages might mean that one character can trivialize a journey that costs another an entire turn’s worth of effort.

Hindering Movement: Sometimes, the obstacle to a character’s movement is another character. Since most movement happens reflexively, no special action is required to straightforwardly get in an opponent’s way – one character simply declares, once it becomes an issue, that they are not letting another character to pass by. This assumes that the defending character is blocking a hallway, standing before a door, or otherwise credibly obstructing passage through their presence alone – it takes more than a reflexive declaration to stop someone crossing an open field.

Getting around an obstructing character, or breaking away from an enemy who wants to keep their quarry in close combat, requires a successful minor action on the mover’s part, one that normally uses Strength or Dexterity paired with Stamina, Athletics, or Brawl; would-be bulwarks contest reflexively with their Strength plus Stamina or Brawl. Ties allow a hindered party to back away, but not to slip past a defender. This means that bypassing a guard completely requires at least two turns of action (one to get around to their other side, and another to break away from them and move on unhindered), and depends on the guard’s attempt to jostle back into their original position failing.

Attacking Other Characters: Attacking another character in a combat round is an instant action resisted reflexively by the target. The attacker’s player assembles a dicepool based on their means of attack, reduces that dicepool by their victim’s Defense, then rolls. Usually, attack successes become wounds of damage on the defender’s Health track, but not every attack’s purpose is inflicting wounds. Any attempt to inflict an unwanted consequence on another character could be resolved as an attack.

Any margin of success allows an attacker to somehow inconvenience a defender, but attacks with high stakes need multiple successes to work completely. Generally, inflicting a serious consequence on another character, such as disarmament, blinding, or defenestration, takes net successes at least equal to an appropriate attribute of the target’s (Strength to wrest away something they’re holding, Dexterity to tangle them with restraints, and so on; if multiple attributes seem appropriate, choose the highest). The effects of a completely successful attack are usually lasting, but subject to reversal by an instant action of the target’s own. A successful but incomplete attack otherwise becomes a Difficulty on appropriate rolls by the target during their next turn (which possibly requires the target to roll to perform actions normally automatic), after which they are assumed to regain their balance, strengthen their grip, or otherwise return to their full capacity. No attack should severely cripple, maim, or otherwise disable its target in the long term unless it would have rolled enough successes to incapacitate or kill them with normal damage.

Timing: The player of a character on the offense first spends any resources and activates any powers needed to assemble their attack dicepool, declaring its size and special properties and what consequences successes will have. Then, the player of the defender spends any resources and activates any powers they decide to before declaring what penalties the attacker will suffer. This means that the player of a character on the defense will know what kind of damage or consequence they stand to take before choosing whether to spend a Willpower point or expend any other defensive resources.

Attack Dicepool: [(Attribute) + (Attribute or Skill) + (Edge) – (Target’s Defense)]: Attack dicepools use either the Strength or Dexterity attribute, based on whether the attacking character is relying more on raw strength and speed or on balance and coordination. A particular means of assault might require one attribute or the other, but the default assumption is that a player’s own choice of Strength or Dexterity can be paired with any combat skill for the purpose of making an attack. Common attack dicepools include:

  • Strength + Stamina: This dicepool represents the straightforward exertion of sheer muscular force, and often gains an Edge or Difficulty based on its user’s size. It can be used to inflict bashing damage, but is more often used to push past or shove around other characters.
  • Strength or Dexterity + Athletics: Athletics can be used to throw objects such as rocks, molotov cocktails, or grenades. Athletics attacks normally either deal bashing damage or produce some environmental hazard with its own traits, and rarely enjoy sizable Edges to their dicepools. Athletics is generally used to get from place to place, reposition objects, or or otherwise alter the environment rather than to inflict damage directly.
  • Strength or Dexterity + Brawl: Brawl attacks usually inflict bashing damage and don’t gain Edge from equipment alone. They might involve straightforward punching and kicking, grappling, or smashing targets into walls. Strength is usually used to displace, grapple with, or otherwise wrestle with opponents, while Dexterity might be required to snatch away small objects, strike pressure points, or otherwise outmanuever an enemy.
  • Strength or Dexterity + Weaponry: The Weaponry skill can be used to strike with a weapon in melee or to throw a weapon at a distant target. Weaponry attacks usually inflict lethal damage and gain Edges based on the weapon used. Huge, heavy weapons such as sledgehammers or battleaxes might require that Strength be included in their attack dicepools, while Dexterity is required for precision-based feats such as hitting a small target with a thrown knife or cutting the buttons from someone’s coat.
  • Strength or Dexterity + Firearms: Firearms is used to fire projectile weapons, from crossbows to sniper rifles. Firearms attacks almost always inflict lethal damage (with no option to inflict bashing instead). They can usually be made at distances so great that their target requires one or more Instant Actions to close to melee, and often have additional special properties and concerns based on the weapon used. Almost all Firearms attacks use Dexterity, but Strength can apply when a character is using a bow or other muscle-powered weapon, when a a weapon so large, heavy, or destructive that holding it steady is more important than aiming it finely, or when a character is shooting so aggressively and in such close quarters that speed and decisive action outweigh pinpoint accuracy.

Defense: Defense, the lower of Strength and Dexterity, represents a character’s general ability to avoid harm through agility and quick reflexes. It might represent ducking out of the way of a swung sword or hurled rock, diving behind cover in the face of gunfire, or dropping and rolling to minimize exposure to flames. Any attack that attempts to somehow establish physical contact can be resisted by Defense. Some attacks might penalize or outright ignore Defense, particularly those of supernatural origin or that benefit from automatic successes.

Attack Results: Generally, an attack’s results are proportionate to the successes rolled for it. They might include:

  • Damage: The target suffers one wound per success, of a type determined by the means of attack. Armor or supernatural powers might downgrade, cap, or wholly cancel some or all of the damage dealt.

  • Hindrance: The target suffers a Difficulty to take a specific action equal to the attack’s successes, and can only take that action on a successful roll even if they could normally take it automatically. This penalty lasts at least through the target’s next turn; past that, the Storyteller rules if it fades on its own or requires a minor action (rolled or otherwise) or counterattack to reverse. If successes equal or exceed a relevant trait of the target’s, the target also either takes a point of damage appropriate to the means of attack, or completely loses the ability to attempt the hindered action until the penalty is somehow reversed – their weapon might be stolen or destroyed, or they might be firmly clinched, or similar.

  • Seizure: The attacker gets hold of something the victim was carrying or wearing but not actively using. On a second successful such attack, or with successes equal to an Attribute of the target’s (normally Strength, Dexterity, or Wits) the attacker takes complete possession of their quarry.

Attacking Multiple Targets: Sometimes, circumstances permit one character’s attack to strike several characters. In these cases, the attack’s dicepool used is assembled, reduced by the number of targets under attack (usually at least -2) and then applied against each target. Each target’s Defense is subtracted from the attack made against them normally, and if the attacker spends Willpower to enhance the attack, they can only do so for one of the attacks.

The Storyteller decides when one character is in a position to strike at multiple others. Usually, such a manuever requires its targets to be clustered together and, for a melee attacker, close at hand; multiple targets separated by appreciable distance or physical obstacles might impose a Difficulty on a character attacking them, or require that character to succeed at a minor action before making an attack attempt. Preternatural speed or reflexes might widen a character’s ability to attack groups; someone who can cross a room in the blink of an eye or casually sidestep bullets has an easier time overcoming the logistical difficulties of fighting many opponents simultaneously.

Attacking Areas: Some circumstances, such as use of full autofire with an automatic weapon, allow characters to attack every target across an area. This works like attacking multiple targets, but each attack pool is penalized based on the size of the area affected, not the number of separately-targeted characters. The size of the penalty is adjudicated by the Storyteller and depends on the scope of the weapon relative to the size of the target; some weapons might suffer no penalty at all.

The ultimate area of effect of an autofire attack depends on the weapon and how it’s used. Usually, automatic fire can sweep across a room or fill a hallway without much difficulty. Such an attack is usually indiscriminate, affecting friends and foes alike, but characters who’ve made a point of taking cover or leaving line of sight ahead of time might be safe.

Defense as an Instant Action: A character who does nothing but dodge, parry, or flee attack on their turn can further mitigate the wounds they suffer. Their player rolls a dicepool appropriate to their actions, such as Dexterity + Athletics to flee for cover or Strength + Weaponry to shelter behind a shield, potentially benefiting from Edges. Each success downgrades a lethal or aggravated wound that character might have taken to a bashing wound, or cancels a bashing wound. Extra successes “roll over”, such that enough successes can turn what would have been a lethal wound into no damage at all. One character who defends another in this way can downgrade damage on behalf of both themselves and their beneficiary, but no more in total than the successes achieved.

Such an action might simultaneously constitute an attempt to disengage entirely or shift a fight from one arena or another – even if the defender’s assailant can keep pace or attack at range, the defender still benefits from their efforts. Otherwise, a character concerned chiefly with self-defense might still be able to use minor actions to search the area, attempt social influence, or otherwise wisely spend the time they’re buying themselves.

Active self-defense of this kind is redundant with armor; a character benefiting from both uses the better of the successes apportioned to them or their applicable armor rating.

Defenseless Characters: If a character isn’t in combat and is unaware of an incoming attack, they can’t use Defense to protect themselves against it. A character that has been assigned initiative and is acting in combat time can’t be denied their Defense by a surprise attack; even if they don’t see a blow coming, they’re in a state of high alert and can roll with it immediately. It costs one Willpower point for a character to force themselves into a state of alert for the duration of a scene in which they’re not actually involved in combat.

If a character is totally incapable of acting in response to an incoming attack, they can’t defend themselves against it. For example, a character that has been paralyzed from head to toe can’t use their Defense against a punch or gunshot. If a character is totally helpless and is being attacked outside of combat time, such that their assailant has time to line up a killing blow, the attacking character’s player can opt to convert each die in the attack dicepool to an automatic success.

Surprise itself isn’t enough to justify the loss of Defense, and sudden explosions or sucker punches can be defended against despite their unexpectedness. Some sources of protection, most commonly armor, operate continuously whether or not their beneficiary is conscious.

Resisting Supernatural Powers: Characters sometimes fall under attack by supernatural forces that can’t be avoided with simple strength or reflexes. In this case, they rely on an appropriate resistance attribute. Supernatural creatures additionally benefit from their power traits (such as Blood Potency or Spirit Rank).

  • Composure + Power Trait represents emotional stability and ability to manage sensory stimuli; it blocks enchantment, disorientation, or fear.
  • Resolve + Power Trait represents integrity and clarity of mind; it prevents a character from being brainwashed, confused, or mind-controlled.
  • Stamina + Power Trait represents the resilience and tenacity of the physical body; it resists disease, enervation, or unwanted transformation.

Unless the specifics of a supernatural power dictate otherwise, characters are always able to use their Composure, Resolve, and Stamina to reflexively resist supernatural powers, even if they are unconscious or otherwise inactive.

Groups, Mobs, and Swarms: Mobs of humans, swarms of small creatures, and large-scale animate hazards in general are often easiest to model as though they were single characters. A Storyteller can assign a group of enemies an initiative rating, attack dicepool, Defense rating, and health track, and treat the group as the equivalent of any other non-player character.

When a group attacks, it makes one attack roll that applies to every character the mob is engaged with. The mob’s targets all defend separately, their resistance rolls subtracting from the damage they take personally but not protecting any of the mob’s other targets.

A group defends against attacks and suffers damage as any other character would. Groups often have more health levels than single characters would, but a group’s health track isn’t literally the sum of the health tracks of its members; dealing damage to a group usually represents disheartening, scattering, or otherwise routing that group’s members rather than literally beating every last one senseless. As a group takes damage, the S toryteller might opt to reduce its attack dicepool, the number of characters it can attack at once, or both.

The storyteller adjudicates if and how groups of characters can be targeted with supernatural powers or other unusual forms of attack. Attacks that strike an entire area, such as explosions or hails of bullets, might inflict extra damage or be more difficult to defend against. On the other hand, attacks or powers that affect lone targets only can be ineffective; an ability that forces a single character to flee in fear could lower a mob’s dicepool, but not prevent it from continuing to act.

Environmental Hazards: Explosions, fires, and other disasters can all inflict damage on characters’ health tracks. A hazard might make attacks the same way a character does or simply inflict an automatic amount of damage. In the latter case, passive Defense is useless, but characters might have the opportunity to use Instant actions to downgrade or entirely eliminate damage they would have taken.

Characters often produce environmental hazards intentionally, either by taking advantage of the features of a scene or by using specialized powers or equipment. The dicepools of instant actions taken to bring environmental hazards into being can vary: Athletics is used to hurl explosives and Firearms to project them from launchers, but sparking gas leaks, hotwiring vehicles, or commandeering security systems require more varied traits. Successes on such rolls don’t increase the damage of an explosion or other hazard, but merely ensure its correct placement.

Ongoing Damage: Some attacks leave a character poisoned, ablaze, or otherwise afflicted with a source of continuous harm. Characters under such conditions suffer either dice or levels of automatic damage at the end of each turn.

Usually, characters can’t use Defense or other traits to cancel ongoing damage as it harms them; instead, Defense comes into play to oppose the successes of whatever attack or special ability inflicts the damage in the first place. Characters can often attempt to rid themselves of ongoing damage in the course of their own turn, though with some difficulty when the damage doesn’t have an obvious, external source.

Turn by turn action and combat

The Act of Hubris Ferrinus