30 December 2019

Earthdawn 4E: Rules Variant 07 - Combat Options (Part 1)

This is the seventh Rules Variant, part of an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

This entry into the series takes a look at two very specific combat options: Aggressive Attack and Defensive Stance.These two have been around since 1E and mostly unchanged. However, being completely honest, they aren't created equal.

Aggressive Attack is very popular, while Defensive Stance is... not—putting it mildly—and it's easy to see why. Aggressive Attack's downside doesn't apply if your opponents are unconscious or dead, and you still have active defenses (Avoid Blow, Steel Thought, etc.) to fall back on without penalty. Your actions are unaffected by penalties—this is a place where how the penalties are applied between 1E and now changed without changing all the fundamentals.

Defensive Stance is largely unpopular because it may give you a bonus, but it gives a blanket penalty to your actions. Everything. Including actions that may make sense for a character in Defensive Stance to take, like Avoid Blow.

The goal is balancing them within the system—not equal to each other or of equal utility, but Aggressive Attack doesn't have enough of a downside and Defensive Stance has too much downside for what it offers. Both "stances" must be declared before Initiative is determined and use the following modifications:

Aggressive Attack

  • Cost: 1 Strain per affected close combat attack, all attacks made must pay the cost; e.g., Melee Attack, Second Weapon, and Second Attack are individual attacks and each costs 1 Strain.
  • Benefit: The adept gains +3 to close combat Attack and Damage tests or each attack.
  • Drawback: The adept suffers -3 to Physical and Mystic Defense, active defenses (e.g., Avoid Blow, Riposte, and Steel Thought), and abilities that improve Defenses (e.g., Acrobatic Defense, Anticipate Blow, and Maneuver).
  • Clarification: If an ability has an active defense and creates an attack (such as Riposte), the initial test suffers -3 and the subsequent Attack test gains +3. Abilities that improve other tests (such as Defensive Stance) but do not generate tests of their own are unaffected.
Defensive Stance
  • Cost: Special; 1 Strain per ability that improves Defenses, all such abilities used must pay the cost (this does not include Active Defenses).
  • Benefit: The adept gains +3 to Physical and Mystic Defense, active defenses (e.g., Avoid Blow, Riposte, and Steel Thought), and abilities that improve Defenses (e.g., Acrobatic Defense, Anticipate Blow, and Maneuver).
  • Drawback: The adept suffers -3 to the following: Attack (including Spellcasting and similar) tests, Damage tests, Effect tests, Thread Weaving tests (and similar, such as Spliced Weave), Standard actions that don't involve defense (e.g., Inspire Others), ability tests that only improve Attack tests (e.g., Acrobatic Strike, Aggressive Maneuver, and Mystic Aim), and Initiative tests.
  • Clarification: If an ability has an active defense and creates an attack (such as Riposte), the initial test gains +3 and the subsequent Attack tests suffers -3. Abilities with a duration in minutes that improve Defenses (e.g., Earth Skin) cannot benefit from Defensive Stance. Abilities that improve other tests (such as Defensive Stance) but do not generate tests of their own are unaffected.
This variant has a lot more going on. It's more complicated and represents a first draft at dialing Aggressive Attack back and making Defensive Stance more attractive. If that complexity is worth it is to be seen, including ways to make it easier to express without costing too much precision.

Aggressive Attack more closely resembles where it started; giving +3 to Attack tests against the aggressive attacker effectively includes the penality to Avoid Blow. The other penalties further emphasize the all-out nature.

Whereas Defensive Stance at its most basic use is still free, which is important (falling unconscious from using it on your last legs isn't useful), while there are additional benefits that can be gained at cost, creating a tactical decision about using it. Giving a bonus to active defenses is important, otherwise they can easily become useless in light of the improved Physical Defense. I don't know if this provides similar utility as Aggressive Attack, but it should be more useful.

An aside on why there isn't a version of Aggressive Attack for ranged attacks and spellcasting: the downside isn't much of a downside. Regardless of contriving an explanation of how it could work, it's not good design because the risks are minimal. Limiting to close combat makes the risks of decreased defenses very real, while ranged combat (including spellcasting) reduces those risks considerably through range. 

2 comments:

  1. A very right proposal. I am not sure if Maneuver is purely defense and whether it should receive a bonus, but this is details and would not matter in my decision to propose this change at my table.

    I have tracked how often certain options are used at my table and with the most it was zero. Attack to stun? Rarely used. In my opinion a pity. It is literally impossible for a thief to walk up to a guard from behind and knock him out.

    In my opinion attack to stun and to knockdown should be merged and helped to their own beauty. Some more sercretly operating characters like thieves, scouts and similar should be able to silently overcome easy prey without the bloodshed.

    One could couple the difficulty to knock someone (who is unaware) unconscious to durability rank successes in his attack test above his wound threshold+armor rating and at least damage above his wound threshold with a suitable weapon.

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    Replies
    1. Maneuver is not purely defensive, but it still receives a bonus because it isn't a Standard action.

      To be fair, it is literally impossible to walk up behind someone and knock them out. This is only seen in media. Merging Attack to Stun with Attack to Knockdown feels like an answer in search of a problem. It certainly doesn't solve anything - Attack to Stun is useful when there's a reason not to kill someone. Otherwise, there's little point. This isn't a mechanics issue, but a motivation issue. Attack to Knockdown is a useful tactical choice, even if it isn't always useful.

      Providing a way to eliminate a combatant with one strike quickly makes that the only tactic, which is a terrible design philosphy. Again, the perception someone can quickly be knocked out with a single blow as seen in media does not exist in a meaningful way. Nor should it ever be introduced. This is pretty much the opposite direction of eliminating Armor-Defeating Hits. So, no, this is never going to happen.

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