31 March 2021

Earthdawn 4E: Rules Variant 20 - Combat Options and Stances (Part 2)

This is the twentieth 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 revisiting of combat options is small part of a much larger side-project I'm working on in my spare time. It builds on and expands the first rules variant on the topic.

Some concepts introduced here are essentially formalizing various mechanics to enhance clarity, while others refine how they function. There's also some new ways of looking at things which will make more sense as this ongoing series goes into that side project more.

Combat options not presented here are unchanged.

For now.

Special thanks to Brett Bowen for all his help with this.


Abilities with the active defense keyword added: Avoid Blow, Cast Net, Glyph of Reversal, Influence Missile, Resist Taunt, Riposte, Steel Thought, Witty Repartee

Abilities with the aggressive keyword added: Acrobatic Strike, Aggressive Maneuver, Battle Bellow, Battle Shout, Burning Vigor, Concentrated Assault, Defiant Shout, Destructive Shout, Dirty Fighting, Ethereal Weapon, Fearsome Charge, Fearsome Dive, Fireblood, Great Leap, Howl, Impressive Display, Intimidating Bellow, Multi-Charge, Multi-Shot, Multi-Strike, Shared Anger, Shivoavara Dance, Shivoavara Escalation, Shout of Justice, Steely Stare, Sweeping Current, Swing Attack, Thunderstruck, Tyranny's Ruin, Undermine, Venom, Vicious Wound, Vital Strike,

Abilities with the attack keyword added: Ch’tard Pierce, Claw Frenzy, Cutting Words, Double Charge, Double Cut, Edo Sweep, Improvised Weapon, Improved Improvised Weapon, Melee Weapons, Missile Weapons, Scorching Breath, Second Attack, Second Shot, Second Weapon, Shield Bash, Shield Drive, Skora Slam, Snapshot, Spirit Strike, Swift Kick, Tail Weapon, Throwing Weapons, Unarmed Combat, Wind Slash

Abilities with the beast keyword added: Animal Bond, Alley Cat Approach, Animal Companion Durability, Animal Leadership, Animal Possession, Animal Talk, Animal Training, Armor Mount, Bloodhound Form, Borrow Sense, Dominate Beast, Enhance Animal Companion, Goring Attack, Howl

Abilities with the defensive keyword added: Absorb Spell, Acrobatic Defense, Anticipate Blow, Anticipate Spell, Defensive Posture, Deflect Blow, Disarm, Give Ground, Maneuver, Patient Maneuver, Setup, Skora Dance, Take the Hit, Wind Dodge

Combat Options

Command Animal Companion (1 Strain; Special)
Keywords: Beast. Command.
The character must be in the Commander stance to use this combat option. They issue a command to a single animal within their Animal Training rank ×2 (no less than 4) yards as a Standard action. This is a Simple action if the target is a bound animal companion or the character is mounted on the target. Issuing commands outside of combat or to the character’s mount does not cost Strain.

The character may make a command that combines multiple tricks by making an Animal Training Action test against the animal companion’s Social Defense. This requires one additional success for each trick included.

Mounted Combat (0 Strain)
Keywords: Beast.
The rider pays all associated Strain costs for using combat options and stances. For example, the rider pays the Strain cost if they use the Splitting Movement stance.

Mounting a trained mount takes a Standard action. An untrained mount requires the character to make a Riding Action test against the mount’s Social Defense as a Standard Action. Dismounting is a Simple action. A rider may jump off their mount to attack in close combat or may throw themselves off their mount to grapple a target. If grappling a target this way, the rider suffers Step 5/D8 falling damage from the impact of the fall. If the grappling attempt is successful, the target also suffers Step 5/D8 falling damage.

If the mount fails a Knockdown test, the rider is automatically knocked down and falls off their mount. Knocking the rider off their mount through whatever means causes Step 5/D8 falling damage. Flying mounts and their riders use the appropriate falling damage for their current altitude. If only the rider fails a Knockdown test, they fall off but the mount is unaffected.

Mounted Movement
The rider and mount are treated as one character for the purpose of movement as long as the rider controls the mount. While mounted, the mount’s Movement Rate is used instead of the rider’s. Moving their mount requires the rider’s equivalent action in addition to the Command Animal Companion combat option. For example, a character cannot use their movement in a round in which they used the mount’s movement, even if the rider dismounts. The rider must use their Standard action to have their mount move twice its Movement Rate. The Mounted Charge combat option is an exception to this.

Additionally, characters not familiar with their mounts must succeed at a Riding Action test against the mount’s Social Defense to take their mounts into (but not away from) combat if the mount is not combat trained.

Mounted Charge
Mounted charges allow a mounted character to use the mount’s momentum to deliver devastating blows. A mounted charge requires a combat-trained mount or a successful Riding Action test against the mount’s Social Defense, using Command Animal Companion, and using the character’s Standard action to make a close combat attack. The rider and mount must move towards the target in a relatively straight line further than the mount’s Movement Rate. This requires the mount’s Standard actions and prevents the mount from making attacks if they have multiple actions. The rider must use the Splitting Movement stance if they want to move after the attack, which must also be in a relatively straight line.

Every 2 yards moved prior to the attack allow the character to add +1 to their Damage Step, up to the mount’s Strength Step. The character must be using a weapon at least at their one-handed size limit to attack while mounted. Unarmed attacks, even those with attached weapons and talents that effectively provide a weapon, cannot be used while mounted.

The high momentum can cause the rider to be thrown off their mount. After a successful mounted charge, the rider makes a Strength test against the target’s Strength Step. If the test fails, the rider is thrown from their mount, suffering Step 5/D8 of damage and becoming knocked down. The Cavalry Charge talent ignores this and the Cavalry Charge skill replaces the Strength test .

Setting Against a Charge (0 Strain)
Characters fighting mounted opponents are often at a disadvantage, and they sometimes cannot attack a mounted fighter on their Initiative. Against a Mounted Charge, the unmounted character can employ the Setting Against a Charge combat option to turn the rider’s high momentum to their advantage. The unmounted character often must be using the Reserve Action stance to use this combat option.

The unmounted character must use a weapon long enough to reach the mounted target beyond the mount’s fore section (at least Size 3 against most mounts and Size 1 against windling mounts, though longer weapons may be required against some mounts at the gamemaster’s discretion). The unmounted character takes a Reserved action and strikes the moment the mounted character rides into range. The unmounted character makes a close combat Attack test as normal, but replaces their Strength Step with the mount’s Strength Step to determine the Damage. This is not a replacement effect and the character can use a replacement ability as usual. The unmounted character may use the Dismount special maneuver.

Special Maneuvers

Dismount (Unmounted Character, Close Combat Attack): The unmounted character can spend an additional success from an Attack test against a charging opponent to force them to make a Knockdown test against a Difficulty Number equal to the damage inflicted (reduced by Armor as appropriate). This special maneuver can only be used if the unmounted character is using the Setting Against a Charge combat option.


Stances must be declared before Initiative is determined for the round. Unless otherwise noted, stances can be combined.Stances are declared before other actions are performed, including Free actions taken before Initiative is determined. Once declared, they cannot be changed without the use of an ability that allows this. All costs are paid at the time of declaration. Use common sense when/if applying thse to creatures and similar opponents.

Aggressive (1 Strain per attack)
Keywords: Exclusive. Stance.
The adept gains +3 to their Initiative test, and close combat Attack tests and the associated Damage test. The character suffers a -3 penalty to Physical and Mystic Defense, and a -3 penalty to Action tests without the aggressive and/or attack keywords.

This stance must be declared before any other stances or abilities are used. It may not be combined with Defensive or Splitting Movement stances.

Commander (0 Strain)
Keywords: Stance.
The character can use command abilities. If the character wants to use the Command Animal Companion combat option, they use the lowest Initiative Step between them and the animals they may wish to command after all modifiers are applied.

Defensive (0 Strain)
Keywords: Exclusive. Stance.
The character gains +3 to their Physical and Mystic Defense, and to Action tests with the active defense and/or defensive keywords. The character suffers a -3 penalty to all other Action tests. 

This stance must be declared before any other stances or abilities are used. It may not be combined with Aggressive or Splitting Movement stances.

Delay Actions (0 Strain)
Keywords: Stance.
The character postpones their turn until later in the round. They may take their turn before another character’s turn begins, but cannot interrupt a turn already in progress. This reduces the character’s Initiative result as appropriate.

For example, Simon has 24 as their Initiative result, but decides to delay their turn. They want to act before their opponent with Initiative 10, but after their ally with Initiative 15. When Simon takes their turn, they change their Initiative result to anywhere between 10 and 14, as required for their turn during the Initiative order.

This stance cannot be combined with the Reserve Actions stance.

Reserve Actions (0 Strain)
Keywords: Stance.
The character postpones their turn contingent on a specific trigger later in the round. In contrast with the Delay Actions stance, this can interrupt an ongoing turn. The character’s Initiative result is reduced as appropriate. The adept suffers a -2 penalty to all Action tests this round. If the trigger does not occur or the character does not react to it, their turn in the round is lost.

This stance cannot be combined with the Delay Actions stance.

Splitting Movement (1 Strain)
Keywords: Exclusive. Stance.
The character can move a portion of their Movement Rate, then perform their Standard action and/or Simple actions, and move up to the remainder of their Movement Rate. All Standard and Simple actions must be performed between the character’s movement. Their movement cannot be further subdivided unless an ability specifically allows this. The character is Harried.

This stance may not be combined with Aggressive or Defensive stances.

Tail Combat (0 Strain)
Keywords: Stance.
The character suffers a -2 penalty to all Action tests and can use the Tail Attack combat option.


  1. Using this system you need to decide if you are going to delay or reserve your action before you roll initiative. I can see how that works for Reserve. Why did you change it from a +2 to DN to a -2 penalty? I don't think it works well for delay. I think if I added this in to the game I would removed Ready and Delay as stances and allow them to be used on your turn.

    1. A -2 penalty is easier to remember and implement as it doesn't need to potentially interact with multiple Difficulties per result, and it evenly affects all actions. For example, increasing the Difficulty of an attack doesn't affect the attack's result. Meaning it's no easier to avoid.

      Allowing Reserve to be used on a character's action means they suffered no penalties to tests prior to their turn.

      Making someone decide to delay before they fully know how things are going to unfold is a feature. Alternatively, this is pratically how it already functions since there are no penalties for delaying. Though there may be interactions with other instances of the stance keyword in the future.

  2. Trying to follow here. A +2 to DN is just as easy to implement and remember. It effects how many extra successes you get or if you succeed at all. You never need to avoid a blow that does not hit.

    I can see that. I have been running it as written. You only need to declare general type of action, (attack, weave, cast), and combat options before initiative. While I have yet to have anyone try and abuse Reserve as a way to avoid taking a penalty to rolls like avoid blow. I can see the potential. I can see why you would want to put that in with combat options to declare before initiative is rolled. I am not sold that it is necessary.

    How is deciding to delay before you roll initiative a feature?

    A little left field but still in the ballpark. Changing your declared action has been removed from 4th edition. Do you make people do their declared action even if it no longer valid when their turn comes around?

    1. If your result is 15 and the Defense is increased to 15, the Avoid Blow test is made against 15. If your result is 15 and a -2 penalty is applied, making it a 13 against a Defense of 13, the Avoid Blow test is made against 13.

      I disagree +2 to the Difficulty is just as easy to implement. This is only true if you are tracking one Difficulty. If you need to track multiple Difficulties against a single result, it's much easier to apply a penalty to the single result. There are also instances where an ability isn't tested against a Difficulty, but arguably should be affected by the penalty.

      Some groups like decisions without perfect clarity as to what is happening. You decide to do things with your best guess as to what is going on at the time. 4E is much more forgiving in this regard than previous editions with just declaring intentions and assessing no penalties for changing your mind.

      No, declaring intentions isn't a stricture, rather a chance for people to generally assess what is happening and make however imperfect decisions based on that. It's also a clear time to use and declare some effects which need to happen before the turn order is fully known.