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 seconds’ 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.

Blocking 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 past or through an obstructing character requires a successful attack on the trespasser’s part, one that normally uses Strength or Dexterity paired with Stamina, Athletics, or Brawl and inflicts no damage of its own. Would-be bulwarks resist with their Strength plus Stamina or Brawl.

Blocking Other Actions: A character can devote their instant action to opposing those of others. On their turn, they declare what they’re attempting to protect against or interfere with, and roll a dicepool representing their efforts; for instance, Strength + Brawl can be used to seize and hold another character, and Dexterity + Weaponry to shield one’s self or another character against attack. Any successes rolled can be used to contest other actions until the blocker’s next turn. Targets of such hindrance might need to roll to accomplish what would normally be automatically successful (such as moving around or drawing a weapon), but only need to match, not overcome, the blocker’s successes to do something they could have otherwise done automatically. Preemptive interference of this sort doesn’t change the character’s initiative and might contest the actions of multiple other characters.

Attacking Other Characters: Attacking another character in a combat round is an instant action contested reflexively by the target. The attacker’s player rolls a dicepool based on their means of attack, the target’s player rolls a dicepool based on their means of defense, and net successes on the part of the attacker become some misfortune suffered by the defender. 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 net 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 by default.

The player of a character on the offense assembles and rolls their dicepool, declaring how many successes they’ve achieved and what those successes will do, before the defender choose their response. 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 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. The storyteller can decide that a particular means of assault requires 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.

Attacking Multiple Targets: Sometimes, circumstances permit one character’s attack to strike several characters. In these cases, the attack’s dicepool used is assembled (benefiting normally from Willpower points and other game-mechanical bonuses) and then rolled as many times as there are targets. The single worst result is then applied to each target, and each target contests that result on their own behalf.

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.

Autofire: Some guns allow characters to use autofire, showering an area with a hail of bullets in the process of attacking a target. A character using autofire deals automatic lethal damage equal to half their firearm’s Edge, rounded up, to every other character in the area they’re attacking. Each victim of an autofire attack uses Defense on their own behalf; one character’s escaping harm doesn’t help another.

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.

Resisting Attack: A character who falls under attack can usually roll a dicepool to mitigate the effects of that attack. Each success rolled stops one of the attacker’s successes. Dicepools used to resist attack can vary according to the nature and stakes of the attack. If multiple dicepools are appropriate, the defender’s player selects and rolls whichever one they choose, usually the highest.

  • Defense, Wits + the lower of Strength and Dexterity, represents a character’s general ability to avoid harm through agility and quick reflexes. A Defense roll 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 contested by Defense. The storyteller might impose Difficulty penalties to Defense in situations in which an attack is almost impossible to avoid, but by default a character is entitled to use Defense against any immediate physical harm the environment or another character might subject them to.
  • Strength + Dexterity measures a character’s grip, balance, and stability. Characters rely on this combination of traits to avoid being disarmed, tripped, or dislodged.
  • Strength + Stamina represents a character’s ability to hold their ground, take up space, and resist forced movement through sheer power and mass. Increased size almost always add an Edge to this dicepool.

Because Defense represents a character’s ability to take advantage of their surroundings and equipment on the fly, it doesn’t receive any Edge from equipment or other persistent states of affairs. Riot shields or smoke bombs can provide sizable bonuses to instant actions to guard or protect, but not to a character’s use of Defense to reflexively mitigate rolled damage.

Characters can sometimes use different traits to mitigate damage, usually as the result of special traits, merits, or supernatural powers. As with the base Defense trait, such pools normally don’t receive Edges from equipment. When one character is using their instant action to defend something or someone, they normally don’t use Defense, but some Attribute + Skill + Edge dicepool appropriate to the means.

If multiple characters or forces conspire to defend a single character – for instance, if one character is using their instant action to guard another – the best roll of the group is applied to the incoming attack. This holds true for a character who has made a special effort to defend themselves – they roll their Defense, and can then choose whether to use its result or the successes they rolled on their prior instant action to mitigate the incoming attack.

Individual Damage Cap (Optional Rule): A damaging attack can’t inflicts more than five wounds in total – net successes past the fifth don’t make the attack more deadly, though the Storyteller might allow them to have other effect. Five damage is usually enough to neutralize, incapacitate, or even kill unimportant or minor characters, but player characters and important non-player characters can’t be defeated in a single action unless they’re already wounded.

Group Damage Cap (Optional Rule): A character that suffers multiple attacks in the same round can’t take more total damage from those attacks than the number of attacks plus four – six from two attackers, seven from three, and so on. Damage beyond this maximum isn’t inflicted, but damage of more severe types supercedes damage of less severe types. A character that takes 4 lethal damage from one attack and then 4 aggravated damage from a second attack would wind up with 4 aggravated and 2 lethal wounds.

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 and can’t benefit from any kind of defensive roll. 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, but characters rarely have access to them.

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.

Like Defense dicepools, the dicepools used to resist supernatural powers aren’t increased by Edges resulting from equipment or other persistent states of affairs. Equipment that does somehow enhance reflexive resistance rolls provides 1, 2, or 3 guaranteed minimum successes, just as armor aids Defense.

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 dicepool, 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. Either way, threatened characters are entitled to roll their Defense or other appropriate dicepool to reduce the damage.

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