Thursday, September 22, 2016

Skirmish Rules: "The Pointy End Goes in the Other Guy"

And now, what every gamer, from storytelling fans to hardcore hack'n'slashers, wants to know: How to put the pointy end of your katana in the other guy. It takes time to build to to this point because it involves all those principles of Power, Potential, Difficulty, Narrative Control, even Time and possible interactions with other characters, coming together in cohesive action.

At least, it all comes together if it works.

It's also important to note there are tow levels of combat to consider: the small-scale Skirmish, and the large-scale Battle. These rules cover only the Skirmish; the Battle rules come after.



Every carefully managed peace or social activity in Hachigoku rests on the keen edge of latent, bloody violence. Often, though, competition and combat erupts between two or more individuals. A Skirmish breaks out. Typically this implies combat occurring during the Scene, but it doesn't preclude non-combat activity. Non-combat activity taking place without the pressures of combat, however, does not usually require bringing in the time management demands of a Skirmish. If it does, then treat the situation as a Skirmish.
There is a limit to a Skirmish, however. If fifty or more individuals are involved, the Skirmish becomes a Battle instead. Then you need to refer to the Battle rules.

Sidebar: Duels & Rules

Dueling usually concerns two individuals; even its variants involving more competitors still depend on two primary actors. Like many aspects of life in Hachigoku, these “personal” disputes are ritualized. While the subject of dueling in general is taken up in Chapter 1, there are some mechanical considerations. All challenges and their resulting, individualized combats are considered duels whenever it a designation is needed (certain Fortunes or Okuden may affect a duel), as are any competitions labeled a duel. Rituals so labeled are given mechanics in the chapters concerning their most common practitioners: Chapter 5: Bushi covers single-strike duels, Chapter 6: Onmyoji covers the onmyoji-jiai, and Chapter 7: Teishin covers the shodo-shiken.

At the start of each Skirmish round, you roll dice equal to your Void, plus any additional bonus dice. These are Action Dice, and they DO NOT shout and you DO NOT add them together. The numbers shown on the Action Dice are the Moments in which you will be able to take a risk. If you roll the same number on multiple Action Dice, you will be able to act more than once in that Moment.
Next, the SD will begin to count down from Moment 1o, until he reaches Moment 1. When they call a Moment in which you are able to act, you may do one of two things with each Action Die showing the current Moment:
  • Spend the Action Die in order to perform an Action. Spent Action Dice are gone, and no longer affect play.
  • Leave the Action Die where it is,holding” it until later in the round. Once youve held an Action, it remains on the table, and is considered to match any later Moment called. The Action Die itself, however, does not change, which is important when figuring an Initiative Total.

When the SD reaches Moment 1, everyone must use their remaining Action Dice or lose them. Once all Action Dice are spent or forfeited, the round is over, a new round begins, and the process repeats. If all characters pass, having no Actions they wish to take, the Skirmish ends.
If more than one character wishes to act in the same Moment, each adds up all their remaining Action Dice (including the one they want to spend, but not any spent Action Dice; theyre long gone). This total is their Initiative Total. The character with the highest Initiative Total can act first. If there is a tie, both act simultaneously.
If you really, really need an Action now (such as to defend yourself) but have no Action Dice in the current Moment nor any Held Actions, you can interrupt the Moment by exchanging any 2 Action Dice showing an earlier Moment for 1 Action Die showing the current Moment. You must declare your intention to interrupt at the beginning of the Moment, before anyone else acts, and must still compare Initiative Totals. If declaring an interruption for an Active Defense, however, you may do so even after the beginning of the Moment and regardless of Initiative Total. You cannot interrupt to make an attack.

Ambushes: Given sufficient time (at the SD's discretion), you can set up an ambush using the Stealth Skill (see the Stealth Skill for more information). Setting up an ambush must occur outside a normal combat round; once you are in a combat round, you must use Stealth (Sneaking) to catch a foe unawares.

When an ambush is triggered:
  • A Skirmish ensues.
  • The first round is asurprise round.Only those who detected the ambush or who are one of the ambushers can roll for Initiative and take Actions.
  • Thoseambushed,while unable to take Actions, are notunaware,meaning their Defense does not lower to 5 automatically.
  • Those ambushed can still spend an Honor Point to take an Action as normal, although it must still be a non-attack Action.

When you spend an Action Die, you may perform a variety of Actions: you may move (including simple activities), perform a complex Action, use magic, attack, or defend yourself.

Move: All characters in a Scene occupy the same general area, be that a single room, a building, a bustling street, terraced rice paddies, a smoking battlefield, etc. Most of the time, the exact distance doesn't matter; generalized distances are “close enough for...” or “too far...” or “if you spend an Honor Point you can move close enough to save the daimyo from the falling statue!” During a Skirmish you need a more exact accounting of spacing and location, but not too exact; you need to determine Range. Range is an abstract, relational distance between characters or objects, measuring distances in ease of interaction rather than solid measurements, although rough approximations at greater distances may apply. If you are face-to-face with and enemy, that's Close. If your enemy is a stick figure on a hilltop, or atop a watchtower across the city in another ward, then that's Extreme. Some weapons have different effects at different Ranges.

Once per Round you can spend an Action to move between Ranges. You can also spend multiple Action Dice to combine movement with other Actions, as long as they are spent in the same Moment; this often done with held Actions or interruptions. Ranges include:
  • Close: You are face-to-face with an enemy, or able to reach out and touch an object.
  • Near: When you are close enough to run up to your enemy but not close enough to strike. Also close enough for thrown weapons and objects. This includes being only one height level away.
  • Long: When you are too far away to rush smoothly at an enemy, but within range of bowshot by small weapons. This includes being a two to five height levels away.
  • Far: When you are too far away to reach an enemy without assistance by magic or another extreme conveyance, and only great strength or longbows can send missiles far enough. This includes being more than five height levels away.
  • Extreme: The distance between you and a figure reduces them visually to an indistinct shape you can identify by type but not as an individual: a figure on a hilltop, a figure atop a city wall from beyond easy bowshot, a tower only visible by spyglass.

Other Ranges exist, but are typically not applicable in a Skirmish: regional (across a space such as a forest or mountain range, or across an individual han), country (across one of the individual kingdoms), or imperial (across the Empire, an ocean, or the western wastes).
If mounted you can move and attack or use magic as well, as long as the mount is not galloping. If you are prone, you can move to stand up, spending your Action, or move by crawling. Climbing or otherwise moving up a height level (usually measured at 10intervals) also costs an Action. You can drop down more than one level in an Action, but will take falling damage doing so.

Sidebar: Falling Damage

Falling deals twice as many Wounds as every height level fallen, although you can make an Earth roll (5 x Wounds) to ignore all damage; each height level fallen greater than your Earth imposes an additional increase in difficulty steps. If a character is thrown, they take Wounds from the throw (the force of the strength behind the blow and resulting impact) and appropriate Wounds if they fall by any distance great enough be considered a height level (the toss is unexpected and you have little chance to cushion the landing).
Falling onto any surface sufficient to absorb the brute force (deep enough water, a haystack, a cart of futons, etc.) allows you to negate all Wounds from the fall or throw. Storytellers love tales of brave samurai surviving their ejection from the heavens by landing in the sea.

Simple actions are just that: simple. Anything that can be performed with no risk or Skill roll is a simple action. This includes drawing or sheathing a weapon, falling to the ground, taking out or putting away an ofuda scroll. These are classified as movements, and can be combined with more obvious movement in the same Action.

Some minor, quick, reasonable “movements” can be done without spending any Action Dice, such as talking, opening most doors (or sliding panels), tossing an item to a comrade, etc.

Complex Actions: A complex action is one that requires a Skill roll or otherwise requires care and precision. Sending a signal using your tessen across the battlefield is a complex action, because it requires a Senjotsu Skill roll. Picking up a fragile glass statue and putting it in your pack is also complex action; it requires no roll (unless the GM is feeling REALLY sadistic), but does require a certain level of attention.

Use Magic: This is covered more fully under the Renkinjutsu section further in this chapter. This not only covers making prayer rolls, but also counterprayer rolls against the prayer rolls of others as an Active Defense and any invocation or physical movement needed to activate the magical power of an item or location.

Attack: You may attack once per Action, unless an Okuden or other ability gives you more attacks per Action. Reloading a ranged weapon, as long as it is light (like a bow or a sling) can be combined with the attack itself, although it would normally be a classified as a movement. When attacking, your basic intention is always to cause a Wound, unless performing a specific maneuver says otherwise.

Sidebar: Wounds & Damage Ranks

How many Wounds you can survive is covered in detail in Chapter 3, but here's the quick and dirty: the typical character can suffer a number of Wounds equal to their Earth with no penalty (these are Light Wounds), then an additional number of Wounds equal to Earth with progressive penalties (-1k0 for the first Wound, -2k0 with 2 Wounds, etc., called Heavy Wounds). Each Wound after their ability to take Light and Heavy Wounds results in you being Down, then Out, and finally Dead. Thus, a character with Earth 2 is killed by 7 Wounds (2 Light, 2 Heavy, then Down, Out, and Dead).

All weapons have Damage, a Rank affecting the attack roll. Unlike most Ranks, this is not a solid number but an XkY modifier. A katana, for instance, has Damage +2k2.

A successful attack deals a single Wound, plus 1 Wound for each kept banzai die. You may also make Raises to increase the Wounds dealt; each Raise deals an additional Wound, and must be spent for just that purpose. If attacking Kaonashi as a group, you may divide up the total Wounds dealt (from intention, banzai dice, Raises, and other sources) among them as you wish. Since typical Kaonashi are Down from a single Wound, it's not terribly difficult to render a small force harmless.
When making an attack, you roll your Skill (usually a Bujutsu or Karate)/Element (usually Fire for melee attacks and ranged attacks involving throwing, or Wind for ranged attacks involving bows), plus any bonus dice equal to the weapon's Damage, against the opponents Defense.

When using ranged weapons, the distance between you and your target imposes a difficulty modifier to your attack roll.

Ranged attack cannot normally be attempted.
Average (no penalty)

Generally speaking, there are a variety of different maneuvers and effects you can accomplish with an attack; these special maneuvers impose difficulty modifiers, and may invoke another special mechanic. Of course, you may also use bonus Effects via Raises to take narrative control of the situation. However, the standard limitation on bonus Effects still apply: they cannot replace a roll or other mechanic (such as a special maneuver or increased Wounds). These special maneuvers may target either a single Namae character or multiple Kaonashi if Raises are used to inflict additional Wounds, within reason. After all, a person cannot normally grapple multiple people, but entangling a few in a net is quite simple.

  • Blind Shot/Blind Strike (Heroic): When making a ranged attack, you can attempt to fire at an opponent you cannot see. You may also lash out an opponent you cannot see with a melee attack. You must have a general idea that the opponent is out there (you swear you just saw them a moment ago, heard the trees on that side of the river rustle, know an invisible foe is near, etc.). Your attack roll (and any other roll involving the unseen foe, such as an Active Defense) suffers from the same difficulty penalties as being in pitch black darkness or sense blindness (Heroic difficulty). If successful, you have gauged their approximate position and struck them. They still benefit from any cover, however, so if completely concealed, such as behind a wall, they are still safe from the attack, although quickly considering a swift career change...
  • Charge (Moderate): With Moderate difficulty (-1k0), you can combine your attack with a move, but you must only move in a straight line, and your movement ends after your attack. If you are mounted, the mount can continue to finish their movement after the attack. This can be embellished with bonus Effects for showy moves like flying kicks, sword-slashing leaps, etc.
  • Cover Shot (Varies by cover): When making a ranged attack, you normally lose any cover you benefit from until your next Action. By taking a difficulty penalty depending on the amount of cover you enjoy (see the Defense sidebar in this section), you can pop out of your cover, attack, and return to your cover. Even if your attack fails, you still regain the benefit of your cover. Slight cover imposes no difficulty penalty (nor do you risk losing its benefit), partial imposes Moderate difficulty, substantial imposes Hard difficulty, and total cover imposes Heroic difficulty.
  • Entangle/Grapple (Moderate or Hard): If you have the appropriate weapon (see the Equipment section in Chapter 4: Character) you can attempt to entangle your foe in its chain, rope, or leather. Alternatively, with your bare hands you can grapple with them. If you want to partially immobilize them (capture only their arm, leg, point their head in a particular direction, etc.), the difficulty is Moderate. If you want to completely immobilize them, the difficulty is Hard, and you may combine this with a Knockdown maneuver (an additional Moderate difficulty) to dominate an opponent to the ground. A successful capture deals no Wounds from intention, but does deal Wounds from any kept banzai dice, and you may still spend Raises for more Wounds; with each subsequent Action you may either release the hold, increase the hold from partial to full, or deal more Wounds (up to your Earth). Anyone partially captured suffers a Moderate difficulty to all rolls, while anyone fully immobilized further may take take no physical Actions, except escape; escaping from either a partial or full capture requires spending an Action and rolling either Earth or Water, with an active TN of the attacker's Earth (certain Skills may replace these raw Element rolls).
  • Feint (Hard): You make a quick, distracting melee attack against an opponent to throw them off-guard, then quickly follow it up with a true strike. The attack roll has a Hard difficulty, but the foe's Defense is measured by their Wind x 5, instead of their Water x 5, and they can make no Active Defense.
  • Knockdown (Moderate): You attempt to force your opponent to the ground as you attack, either by pushing them or attempting to trip them up; Karate Skills may call this a push or sweep kick when done barehanded. Instead of using your Fire to make your attack roll, use your Earth. If your attack is successful, you deal damage as normal, and the opponent is knocked prone. As an active Defense, the opponent can attempt an Earth roll (TN 5 x your Earth) to resist being knocked prone, but still suffers damage (they may still attempt a normal active Defense, but cannot try both against the same attack).
  • Knockout (Hard or Heroic): Sometimes you just need a foe to go down without being seriously Wounded, making sure you keep them alive for capture, questioning, or rescue. With a Hard difficulty, you can only make such an attack with a blunt instrument (appropriate improvised weapons count). With a Heroic difficulty, you may do so barehanded or with a weapon normally unsuited by using a flat edge or handle. The attack is made against the foe's Earth x 5 instead of the normal Defense. If successful, the foe does take normal damage, but you probably don't want to increase it spending Raises. They are also considered unconscious (as if they had taken enough Wounds to be Out) until the next Scene they appear in (or whenever seems reasonable). Since it takes so few Wounds to render Kaonashi harmless, this is a maneuver best used against Namae characters. However, against Kaonashi you may spend Raises to target an additional foe per Raise as if your were spreading the Wounds around.
  • Stun (Moderate or Hard): You can deliver a melee blow meant less to bleed than stun, leaving your foe momentarily disoriented. With Moderate difficulty, you can only make such an attack with a blunt instrument (appropriate improvised weapons count). With Hard difficulty, you may do so barehanded or with a weapon normally unsuited by using a flat edge or handle. The attack is made against the foe's Earth x 5 instead of the normal Defense. If successful, instead of suffering Wounds the foe loses equal Actions until the next Round (excess lost Actions do not roll over into the next Round), and they are considered immobilized and unaware until their next Action.
  • Throwing (Hard): You attempt to throw your opponent through the air, either with your bare hands or an entangling weapon that gives you enough leverage (such as a chain or whip). Alternatively, you could try to shake off a person who has grappled your weapon by the shaft. You can only throw someone using a weapon if your Earth is higher than theirs. If successful, the foe is thrown 1 Range increment, +1 Range increment per 2 Raises in any direction; you cannot throw someone a number of Range increments more than half your Earth, unless graviy lends you a hand. The target may make an Athletics/Water roll with a passive TN of your Earth x 5 to land on their feet, suffering no damage. If they fail they take damage as normal and lie prone.

When someone attacks you, their chief obstacle is your passive Defense. Unless some other ability (such as an Okuden or attack maneuver) modifies it, your Defense is your Water x 5. Some situations may change your Defense, but most only penalize the dice pools of those attacking you (such as armor or cover).

Sidebar: Armor

Much more detail on armor is given in the Equipment section of Chapter 4, but it may save some time to briefly give the most relevant combat mechanics here. Armor doesn't add to your passive Defense; instead it imposes a conditional difficulty on your attacker's roll (and mayhaps some rolls of your own).

  • Ashigaru armor (Moderate): Attack rolls against you have a Moderate difficulty, and so do any of your social rolls involving Jutsugaku Skills.
  • Light armor (Hard): Attack rolls against you have a Hard difficulty, and so do any of your social rolls involving Jutsugaku or Chonin Skills.
  • Heavy armor (Heroic): Attack rolls against you have a Heroic difficulty, and so do any of your social rolls involving Jutsugaku, Chonin, or Hinin Skills. Also, all physical rolls have a Moderate difficulty.
  • Poor Quality: Only light or heavy armor can be poor quality. Attack rolls against you gain +1k0, and appropriate social rolls lose another rolled die.
  • High Quality: Only light or heavy armor can be high quality. Attack rolls against you lose another -1k0, and appropriate social rolls gain a rolled die.

Cover: You may be able to grab some cover when under fire or even when fighting in melee combat, using the terrain to you advantage, giving your opponent's an additional conditional difficulty. While using the cover, the benefit applies at all times.

Cover Type
Other people close by, bushes
Large creature nearby, bamboo stalks, low wall
Partially submerged, trench, trees
High wall, building, completely submerged
Attack fails

Unaware or Immobilized: If for some reason you are unaware of an attack or otherwise immobilized (including prone), your Defense is reduced to just 5. You still receive any armor benefits and cover bonuses, but you do not receive any other bonuses unless they specifically say you gain a Defense benefitat all times.

Active Defense: While your normal passive Defense is an ongoing concern, you may perform Defense maneuvers that change a passive into an active Defense. Performing any of these maneuvers requires spending an Action in the same Moment an attack roll is made against you (this may even be done as an interruption) once the attack roll beats your passive Defense. You could possibly attempt one before the attack roll succeeds, but there's little incentive to do so. Any failed active Defense means the initial attack succeeds and you suffer the normal effects.
Every maneuver has a conditional difficulty modifier, although the simplest are only Average.

  • Counterstrike (Hard): When wielding swords, samurai do not parry as barbarians do. When fighting with any weapon covered under Kenjutsu, you may combine a slight parry with a swift, reflexive strike; the top edge of your blade slides against the flat side of your opponent's, then pushes its way forward or down as a thrust or slash. This interception is both a defense and attack roll with Hard difficulty; if you succeed the foe's attack fails and you inflict Wounds as normal. This cannot be attempted untrained, but can also be attempted with weapons trained to be used by thrusting (such as those under Sojutsu, Bojutsu, and other weapons labeled).
  • Dodge (Average): Dodge is the simplest active Defense: you just get out of the way. Except in certain circumstances, the default roll is Athletics/Water to dodge. Success defeats the attack roll. Two notable exceptions are when you are on horseback (you must use Bajutsu) or on a boat or ship (you must use Sailing). The SD may require other substitute Skills in extraordinary circumstances.
  • Disarm (Hard or Heroic): If an opponent has just missed you (whether because of your passive or active Defense, or whatever) with a melee attack, you can spend an Action to attempt to disarm them of their weapon. If you attempt the disarm with a weapon, your roll has Hard difficulty. If done without a weapon, your roll has Heroic difficulty. If they are using a smaller weapon than yours, the difficulty penalty is reduced a single step. If you are attempting to disarm with your bare hands, you may end up with the weapon in your hands by taking an additional difficulty penalty step. If successful, the weapon is pulled from their grasp.
  • Dive! (Moderate): You cannot normally dodge ranged attacks, but you can quickly grab some cover. If any available cover is nearby, you can attempt an active Defense by making an opposed Athletics (Cover)/Void roll against the attack roll. Regardless of whether you succeed or not, you end up prone behind under cover. If successful, you negate the attack. There must be some cover obviously around for you to attempt this maneuver (you don’t just conjure up a tree out of thin air) and you must be able to move (it doesn’t cost you an additional Action to simply move for this, but you can’t be otherwise immobilized). In certain situations, such as a duel in a field of bamboo trees, you may be able to use cover against melee attacks as well.
  • Guard (Moderate): You can attempt to interpose yourself with an attack meant for another, if you are within melee combat range of the target. You must make an Athletics (Guard)/Void roll as an active Defense against the attacker’s roll. If your roll succeeds, you maneuver between the foe and their original target (dodging in front, pulling either party aside quickly, charging and shouting to divert their attention, etc.) becoming the new target of the attack. The attack roll hits you if it would otherwise hit your passive Defense. Yes, you can make an additional active Defense against this attack, but if you fail your roll to guard, the attacker's roll is still applied against the original target's Defense.
  • Parry/Block (Average or Hard): If you have an appropriate weapon (see the Equipment section of Chapter 4) or face a barehanded attack, you can attempt to parry (with a weapon) or block (barehanded) a melee attack, using an appropriate Bujutsu Skill/Fire roll. If successful, the attack fails. You can attempt to block a melee attack from a weapon by using your body (fists, arms, feet, legs, body blow), but since this is far trickier (you must expose your body to a part of the weapon not meant to damage, or better yet move within its reach and control the limb wielding the danger) it has Hard difficulty.

Minor Skirmish Difficulties
During a Skirmish certain factors may provide additional bonus or penalty difficulty modifiers as well, including:
  • Higher Ground (Simple or Moderate): You have Simple difficulty when attacking opponents from higher ground. When attacking an opponent who has higher ground, you suffer Moderate difficulty. A mounted samurai attacking infantry on roughly even ground is considered on higher ground.
  • Off-hand Fighting (Moderate): Any physical task using your off-hand (most samurai are right-hand, but not all) normally performed with only your primary hand imposes a conditional Moderate difficulty. This does affect rolls beyond combat.
  • Uneven Terrain (Moderate): When fighting an opponent on uneven or even unfamiliar terrain (a bog, a jagged cliff, a ship in rough seas, etc.) all physical rolls suffer a Moderate difficulty.

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