Chapter 25: Introduction to Combat

Many players (referees included) often find that violence is the simplest solution to a problem. Regardless of the moral issues of using physical force, a role-playing game needs a system for deciding combat. There are many different types of combat: psionic, space, robotic, and vehicular. The type of combat covered in this and the following two chapters is lethal personal combat. Lethal personal combat for EXP must be able to simulate physical violence between diversely equipped personas, and their opponents. No combat system can account for all the detailed trajectories, deflections, material strengths, or other such physical peculiarities, of real life combat. All any combat system can do is have arbitrary rules and regulations that are consistently applied to varying situations. A combat system must treat all members of combat equally. Referees, and players, should note that ‘equally’, does not mean ‘fairly’. Equally only means that the same rules must apply to all sides of combat, regardless of an apparent mismatch.
Combat situations are different from all other situations in that time and movement are critical. Everyone must know their location during combat at all times. It could be important for area of effect weapons, ranged attacks; or line of sight. How players resolve the bookkeeping of persona location is up to them. Drawings on paper are often sufficient, but other more elaborate ways also exist, such as lead figures and sheets of plasticized paper. More recently virtual table tops have become a reality and computer projections can keep track of location, timing and results of combat in real time. Gamers that do not use tokens, or figures, may opt to eliminate movement rules, but time will still remain a critical component.

When regular play becomes combat is the referee’s decision. Regular play involves bantering with referee personas, trying to figure out strange new artifacts, or arguing over how an alien culture would respond to a new idea. Situations where combat rules would need to apply would be in any violent interaction where the course of a campaign could be changed, or the existence of a persona is at risk. Combat time and combat movement need not be employed for the sake of an angry blow from a club, or the striking out of a paw.

It is also wise to proclaim a combat situation whenever a projectile weapon, or an area of effect weapon is about to be deployed. When to declare ‘combat time’ (the use of combat movement and timing) is not the sole prerogative of the referee. If the players want to start using combat time then they can ask for ‘combat time’ from the referee. Lethal personal combat has the potential for staggering complexity. Imagine trying to integrate handheld fusion weapons with medieval polearms in the same room. Luckily enough, all attack weapons are designed with one goal in mind, to kill the opponent. This goal is carried out by shattering bones, puncturing internal organs, tearing muscle tissue, and severing nerves. These little factors are too gruesome, and too complex, to include in a combat system EXP employs a figurative way to judge the destruction of the physiological life support system. This process is euphemistically called the removal of Hit Points. Removing hit points from a creature is the same as damaging a creature, and the number of hit points removed is called the Damage. All weapons are capable of doing damage, and the severity of accidents are measured by the amount of damage they inflict (falls, car accidents, etc.). Hit points are also used to measure the strength of inorganic objects too: doors, walls and robots also take damage.

Before a weapon can inflict damage, the weapon must hit the target. Furthermore, the weapon must hit the target in a particular way. It is possible to hit a target without doing damage, and these sorts of hits are of no interest in lethal personal combat. Those weapons that have scored a proper hit will do damage. Different weapons do different amounts of damage. E.g., a large mace that hits a target would subtract 1 to 6 hit points; a blast from a lazer pistol would do 2 to 20 points of damage. Weapons inflict variable amounts of damage because it cannot be predicted how a blow will land, or how a projectile will ricochet. The more damage inflicted, the more damaging the hit. Another general rule is the more deadly the weapon, the greater the potential damage. When a weapon makes contact with a target in a particular way, it can inflict damage. A weapon that can inflict damage has Hit the target. An attack that makes contact with a target, like a glancing sword blow, or a hair singe from a lazer pistol, but causes no damage, is called a Miss. Any attack that does not inflict damage is called a miss. All attackers (those attempting to inflict damage) must make a Roll To Hit. A roll to hit determines if the attacker’s weapon has made contact, and penetrated the armour of the target thus inflicting damage.

Combat is messy.
Combat is messy.

Tale of Two Combat Systems

To try to simulate all of the potential occurrences in modern combat is impossible. Some gamers like to account for every possible physiological, geographic, and technical aspect humanly possible. Others want nothing more than an arbitrary, but fair die rolling system for this reason EXP has two distinct combat systems. Both combat systems are integrated into the technology of the game, and both are fun to play. They are fun to play for different reasons.

EXP offers both a theatrical, and a tactical combat systems. The theatrical system is presented first, because it is easier to learn. Both formats explain in detail all the elements of their combat system. This way neophytes can start out with either system. It is recommended that new groups start out with the theatrical system. It prompts fewer (i.e. leaves more time for) potentially argumentative situations. Eventually you’ll find that one system will best suit your group. It is expected that most groups of gamers will find that the inadequacies of the theatrical combat system will force them to look to the tactical one for increased realism. The artifact technology section is better suited to the tactical combat system.

Theatrical Combat System

This combat system does not require figures or detailed maps. The process is very fast, compared to the tactical combat system, and leaves more time for vivid descriptions from the referee, and the players. More importantly it leaves more time for the campaign to focus on things other than combat. This is definitely the easier of the two combat systems to learn, but it not necessarily designed just for beginners. Experienced players that don’t like combat, and don’t feel it is worth the energy meticulously resolving combat may prefer the theatrical combat system. See Chapter 26: Theatrical Combat.

Tactical Combat System

This game system for resolving lethal personal combat is much more detailed than the theatrical one, but it would be false to say that it is more realistic. The tactical combat system is delicate balance between playability and realism. It considers factors like movement terrain, attributes, and weapon types for each to hit roll. It is best played with tokens, miniature figures, placed on a grid (hex or graph paper). This way terrain, and ranges can be carefully monitored for as much detail as humanly possible. See Chapter 27: Tactical Combat.