Nov 072013

Combat is on my mind of late, and it’s mainly down to what I was up to on Tuesday. Our first week of playing Orbis Terrarum started a bit late as we were waiting on a couple of chaps who weren’t part of the group when we generated characters, so we dropped into the second game with a fight just about to happen. I will be doing part two of my PC diary soon, to give you a blow by blow account of my heroic exploits. For now though, lets just take a look at how the system works, and what it does well, and what it might not do quite so well.

To begin with we have initiative; each person rolls a D10 and adds their reaction modifier to the roll, to give them their place in the initiative order. The reaction modifier is calculated during char gen, and is usually a low number, probably no more than 3-4, so most of this comes down to random chance. What doesn’t is the situation when combat starts, and what the metier of the encounter is. We discussed metier briefly during the last part of the review, but it applies to more than just people, and can have a distinct bearing on the game play throughout. Since this was an ambush, it meant that most people would be taken by surprise – I never did find out what the rest of the combat’s metier was, but ambush was bad enough – unless they were used to being in combat situations.

This meant that the warriors and fighters amongst the party don’t get the surprised modifier of minus ten, and can respond regularly. Everyone else reduces their initiative by ten points, so unless they did pretty well, won’t get an action this first turn. After the first turn, they lose the surprise modifier, and if they’re back into positive numbers, get an action. Once that’s sorted, we move onto the actual fighting. Combat is a back and forth in Orbis, but still manages to maintain a simplicity of dice rolling that I appreciate. You choose the attack you wish to make and roll against the relevant skill. Different attacks are based on different attributes, and have a base in either brawl, melee, or ranged. You then specialise in a weapon, getting ranks in it, and increasing it further with advancement points.

Getting below your score with a D100 roll means you will have hit, but your opponent will certainly be trying to stop you. They have several options in how they do this, but they all work in pretty much the same way. If they have a weapon that allows it, they may attempt to parry. Usually the parry score for a weapon is half of its attack value, but can be modified based on size and after market modifications. A shield is designed to block blows though, so your score in it is equal to your parry, and your attack is halved. The other option is to dodge out of the way of the blow, which means just using your dodge skill level instead of your parry. Whichever skill you use, you apply the level in it as a negative modifier against your opponent’s attack score.

This might seem a bit complicated, but once the combat begins, it gets really easy, with a one roll being made to determine the hit, and a number against it as a modifier. If you do manage to get through your opponents defenses, you need to know where you’ve hit, and how hard. The ‘tens’ result of the attack roll gives you your level of success, and the ‘ones’ your location. The level of success is used as a modifier added to how much damage you do, and can be increased depending on how you fight. Fighting defensively for instance means you get a bonus to your passive defensive skills, but will do less damage – rolling a smaller die, and doing less per level of success – whilst fighting aggressively grants you a bonus to attack, and the chance to do more damage, but severely limits your ability to avoid being hit on the counter attack.

When all that’s done, you just roll the necessary die for damage, adding the level of success plus strength based modifiers, and apply it to your opponent. Hitting in various locations doesn’t make too much difference unless they’re armoured in certain places, but not others, or if you’ve succeeded in a critical hit. If they are wearing armour, then it all comes down to armour type versus attack type. Slashing a knife across the chest of someone wearing plate armour for instance, won’t really do much, but stabbing a rapier through someone’s mail might just hit home and cause them all kinds of problems.

So there we have the combat system in a nutshell, we’d better get to grips with the intricacies. The aim of the combat system is to make it dangerous but heroic. If you’re no match for your opponent, you will either flee, die, or be spared, but will certainly still offer a challenge to them. If you’re the one with a higher skill one opponent will be little challenge while still posing a threat, but even one more enemy could up the threat rate considerably. When fighting someone of comparable skill though, things get a bit different.

I ended up fighting two different opponents, one of whom was of lower level with poor equipment, the second was a much more equal match with a decent weapon and shield. Dispatching the first wasn’t much of an issue, although he did manage to survive one more round than I expected whilst bleeding heavily from the jugular, the second was more of an issue. The reason it’s a challenge to fight multiple opponents, is that you suffer penalties for using your passive defenses more than once a turn. Luckily I had a little bit of magic up my sleeve so I managed a distraction to stop myself from getting attacked twice in a round, but then the combat got a bit sluggish for me.

Because my opponent – Marco – had a shield and had seen me dispatch his comrade earlier, he decided to fight defensively. This meant that even if I attacked aggressively I would have next to no chance of hitting him. He was in the same boat too, which meant that for two rounds, nothing happened. On the second, I didn’t even attempt an attack as I had done the maths, and realised how risky it would be. You see, for each rank you have in an attack skill, you automatically gain a one percent chance of hitting your opponent. For me this meant three percent. What stopped me making the roll though was the chance of critical failure.

Whenever you make a skill check in Orbis, a double on the roll indicates a critical. If you pass, it’s a critical pass, and if fail, vice versa. So I ended up with a three in one hundred chance of hitting, but a 9 in 100 chance of critically failing. The GM said this was intentional as with two equal opponents, the fight should be a stalemate until a mistake is made or forced. For me though it just meant that I had nothing to do while everyone else was kicking ass. I was tempted to resort to magic again – don’t worry, I’ll get into that in a different review – but luckily one of my compatriots turned up looking like the wild eyed Celt he is, and Marco promptly saw his options were limited and surrendered.

That was the only thing that didn’t go very well based on my experience, but it was situational, and in terms of the game world and the system made perfect sense. To be honest, I had to struggle somewhat to find something negative to say about the combat system. Initiative was worked out quickly, and once everyone had got their heads around the way attack and defenses were calculated, the combat flew through several rounds over several small melees. Other people who were playing less combat efficient characters were able to bring their own abilities into play without any problems, making a big difference to how the encounter played out.

I think everyone managed to bring their personal metier into play at least once too, allowing for the character’s personality traits and background to shape the way the action played out. As well as this having an in game effect, it also made it easier for the players to bring these factors in on a role playing level too, something that doesn’t happen often in combat. The fact that there’s no separate dice rolls required to defend or determine hit location means combat flows quickly and is intuitive, with everyone picking up the essentials in just one round.

Over all, I had a damned fine time and managed to avoid getting hurt at all, even against an opponent with military training. It all felt heroic, as if we were great people doing great deeds against an evil aggressor, but also dangerous. One of my fellow players, who had earlier ripped the ground out from under two people with Earth Power, was unable to stop a teenager with a knife from slashing his chest open.

the next part of this review will either be looking at the general themes of the game and the setting, or if we get enough of it, some thoughts on the various types of magic that are found throughout Uma. Until then, why don’t you head over and check out their Kickstarter. At time of writing they were over half way to hitting their first stretch goal.

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