Time and Combat
Time Scale: the Exchange
Previously we discussed movement, and referred repeatedly to how fast one can move in an exchange. But just what is an exchange, you ask? When playing Saga System 13, an exchange is loosely considered to be six seconds - usually enough for every character to attempt at least one action each. In other words, one can think of an exchange as occupying that much time, but it can vary based on the situation at hand.
When player characters are not fighting with vicious enemies, much less each other, precision isn't really warranted. In other words, a player simply states what he or she would like their character to try, and with the Narrator's blessing, will attempt any applicable card play. On the other hand, in the midst of a life or death struggle, it may be absolutely vital for a Narrator to determine what can happen when.
When this is the case, it is imperative that players follow the combat sequence for an exchange, which allows each player to act in an orderly fashion... unless one character's actions obviate the need for another's. Exchanges proceed in the following fashion, for the most part, and are defined in much greater detail below:
- Narrator Draw
- Declare Actions
- Determine Initiative
- Resolve Primary Actions in Order
- Resolve Contingent Actions in Order (if applicable)
- Wrap Up
Step 1: Narrator Draw
At the beginning of each exchange, the narrator will draw a card, one which serves multiple purposes. Primarily, the value of the card can be used by NPCs, either when added to their own actions or when used to supply opposition to the actions of players, whenever applicable. This helps to give players an idea just how difficult any actions they attempt against NPCs might be, in order to adjust their own card play accordingly.
Secondly, this card facilitates an aura reading. Aura readings help to resolve multiple things over the course of an exchange, but at this stage in the game, they determine whether or not player characters will recover cards lost to injury or pushes. To wit, if the aura draw has a positive result, players may draw one card to replenish their stores, if necessary. NPCs, meanwhile, can add the Narrator draw to their Health score.
Finally, this card can serve as a random event, if desired. Sometimes the Narrator feels the need to mix things up now and then, and the event trigger described on a Narrator draw allows them to do just that, if he or she so wishes. This is a great way to draw players into the action, particularly if the indicated trigger matches their calling. Players can ignore such events if they like, but may pay the price down the line.
The above, of course, assumes that nobody involved in the exchange was in a state of surprise. Surprise indicates that one or more individuals present were caught unaware by another, which can often happen in the event of an ambush. If it is possible that a character might be surprised by one or more other characters, they must pass an easy difficulty Intellect (agility) action, using the lowest Agility score of the opposition.
Each character that can pass this action may act normally over the course of an exchange, but those who fail cannot be proactive. Sure, they can attempt a defensive action against those who have surprised them, but they lack the ability to engage in offensive combat on this first, surprise-filled exchange. Surprise does not last, however, and after an exchange during which a character is surprised, they may act normally.
Step 2: Declare Actions
Next, it must be determined what each character will be doing in a given exchange. This applies to both player characters and non-player characters. In the interest of fairness, the Narrator should determine what their non-player characters are going to do before the other players make their declaration. This helps to keep non-player characters from seeming omniscient - especially when they shouldn't be.
This does not mean the Narrator need declare NPC actions first, or at all, at least until they are made - just that NPC actions should be determined before other players declare theirs. This may lead to the players occasionally ruining the Narrator's carefully laid plans, but then that's what player characters are for. That and it always gives players a warm, fuzzy feeling to get a surprise victory out of left field now and then.
Step 3: Determine Initiative
Initiative is the order in which characters act. The initiative for characters acting in an exchange is determined by their Intellect, counting down from the highest to lowest to detail who can act when. In the event of a tie, the Agility scores of characters with similar Intellect can be used to sort initiative out. This generally assures that more clever individuals will be able to act first in an exchange.
Alternately, Narrators can ignore initiative entirely. Players may simply act in a set order - perhaps clockwise around a gaming table. While this often doesn't reflect the 'reality' of combat or the relative speed of characters, it's definitely consistent and easy to remember. NPCs can then go either before or after the players do, according to the Narrator's whims (speedsters and ambushers go first, while the rest go after, or whatever).
Players can mix this up to their advantage on occasion, as well. Perhaps they decide to coordinate their actions as a team, instead of handling each brawl on their own. If using team tactics, players determine initiative based on their characters' lowest Intellect, and they act relative to the NPCs using that value. When using teamwork, though, it's sometimes amazing what a group of players can actually accomplish.
Step 4: Resolve Primary Actions in Order
As the Narrator counts down initiative values from the highest to the lowest, each character may act in turn. In complex encounters, PCs and NPCs will act in varying order, which can make some matters tricky. In fact, as some characters act, the actions of others will be rendered moot or impossible; knocking out one character means, quite naturally, that the unconscious person cannot perform his or her desired action.
If, after seeing the actions of others playing out, or even if they change their mind upon hearing the declarations of other players, a character has the option of changing their stated action. This requires the character to pass a challenging difficulty Agility action. If successful, the newly declared action can proceed as normal, though at an increased difficulty level - which accounts for the lack of preparation, etc.
If this action fails, however, the character in question may not act at all in a given exchange. This represents them dropping the ball (either figuratively or literally), and may leave them in a disadvantageous position upon the start of the next exchange. What form this 'disadvantage' may take depends on what task(s) they failed to accomplish, but may or may not represent an increased difficulty applied to their next action.
Step 5: Resolve Contingent Actions in Order (if applicable)
Step five only occurs in a given exchange if one or more characters have the ability to attempt a contingent action. Contingent actions are those that occur after or as a result of one's primary action in an exchange. Contingent actions most often include a power with the range of touch triggering after its wielder makes physical contact with their target, or multiple actions granted by skills or powers, like boxing or time control.
When characters engage in card play to attempt contingent actions, they act in the same order as when performing their standard action. If one or more characters can attempt in excess of one contingent action per exchange, as is often the case with super speedsters, repeat this same process with each additional set of contingencies until every character manages all the actions they are capable of.
Step 6: Wrap Up
Once every character (player or non-player) has expended all of their actions, it is time to end the current exchange. The Narrator will use this time to take stock of the action at hand, and determine if another exchange of activity is necessary or if action is done for the moment. He or she will also use this opportunity to introduce any events or changes in the situation as it currently exists.
This is when bombs go off, floors collapse, fires ignite... that sort of thing. Assuming circumstances cause them to occur, or the Narrator invokes the event on their draw (remember those?), they fall into the flow of action here, if they weren't already triggered by characters previously.
As you can see from the above, the structure of an exchange is very precise in order to best allow combat between characters to function as seamlessly as is possible. So keeping that in mind, let us speak about the essentials of combat when using System 13.
While there are many techniques one may put into play in combat, a large number of these require education in their use before they'll function properly, as is the case with throws or wrestling. On the other hand, most characters have a basic roster of attacks they can attempt even without formal training, even if a few might suffer a penalty when at such an advantage. The most basic offensive maneuvers include the following:
Blast: whether one cannot move to become adjacent with an opponent, or simply prefers to attack from a relatively safe distance, attacking with a blast involves ranged combat of some stripe or another. This can take numerous forms, whether it involves flinging a rock at one's enemy, firing a shotgun in their general direction, or even unleashing some sort of super power at their person!
Blast attacks require an easy difficulty Agility (agility) action, though one will substitute the intensity of a super power for their Agility when wielding such in combat. Relying on brute strength to inflict damage as much as the precision with which they hit, blast attacks use the successful, Agility-based action score to determine the base amount of damage they inflict when they hit.
When flinging an object, one can add its material strength divided by four to the base damage, while wielding a ranged weapon will instead provide a consistent modifier to the harm inflicted (most often from +1 to +5). Super human ranged powers, on the other hand, simply use their listed intensity instead of one's modified Agility score, in order to determine the damage they cause.
Charge: actions which combine movement with assaults, a charge is a high speed body check which terminates at the target - often violently. A charging individual may make his or her full movement and still execute a charging maneuver - in fact, this is usually required, as one must cross at least one distance category in order to inflict a charging attack upon a target (whether it is a living foe or an inanimate object).
A charging attack is a contingent action, made after spending at least one exchange in movement, and requires an easy difficulty Strength (agility) action. A charge inflicts a base amount of damage equal to a normal strike, but its executor may add a +1 to such for each distance category crossed when closing the space between them and their target, as well as for each +1 modifier of body armor they possess.
If the target possesses some form of protection from the resultant damage, some of the energy of a charging maneuver may well rebound back upon its source - sure, the target will take a hit, but so will the aggressor. Upon impact, a charging character will suffer an amount of damage equal to the material strength or body armor of their target, though they can possibly discount it if their Strength or armor is high enough.
Strike: the basic form of combat since time immemorial, striking involves walking up to someone and hitting them. A strike might be with one's bare fists, a sword, or even a cargo container, but the basic mechanics are the same. Striking another requires a successful, easy difficulty Strength (agility) action, and the damage inflicted by such a maneuver is equal to the total action score generated by the striker.
A strike almost always requires the attacker and the target to be adjacent to each other - or, in other words, within close combat distance. Some weapons and special abilities may extend this range somewhat, but they are generally few and far between; after all, carrying a halberd about these days isn't all that practical. And closing to strike is generally considered a charging attack, and behaves somewhat differently.
If the striking character is armed, they may add a bonus to their damage, as is determined by the weapon they hold. For the most part, this will generally range from +1 for incredibly small weapons (such as brass knuckles) to +5 (two handed hammers). The raw lethality of an armed strike, on the other hand, depends entirely on a weapon's shape. Is it blunt, used to inflict bashing damage, or edged, used to inflict slashing damage?
Instead of attacking in an exchange, a character may opt to focus on defense, instead. This can be a matter of avoiding undue harm to one's person or simply biding one's time while waiting for something specific to occur. There are numerous means of preventing incoming damage, even when a character finds themselves unarmed or without fancy super human powers to back them up, including the following:
Block: instead of dodging an attack, a character may instead attempt to block it. A blocking maneuver involves using one's Strength to counter incoming damage. No effort is made to avoid being struck by an attack; instead, one leans into it and attempts to 'muscle' away the damage with brute force. When attempting to block, a character forces an opponent attacking them to work against their Strength, instead of their Agility.
Furthermore, the blocking character may add the result of a played card, taking full advantage of trump and/or edge, in order to better ward off damage. The sum of such card play, when added to the character's base Strength score, is the amount of damage an attacker must inflict to overcome the blocking maneuver. Which is why super strong characters prefer this defensive technique instead of a dodge.
A block is proof against most physical attack forms. Bashing and slashing damage, whether attempted from melee or at range, can be countered by a block. Blocking maneuvers can defend against solidified energy (force) attacks, as well. A block cannot protect a body from piercing attacks, however, for the focused nature of such an assault - usually coming in the form of arrows or bullets - penetrates a body all too easily.
Dodge: the dodge maneuver is the primary means that most characters can use to avoid incoming damage. This basically involves getting out of Dodge, so to speak, and being somewhere else when an attack comes calling. A dodge maneuver does not overtly negate the ability of an attacker to score a hit on its executor, but may do so based on the resultant card play. When attempting to dodge, characters simply play a card.
They may add the value of this card to their Agility, along with any applicable benefits of trump and/or edge, in order to increase the difficulty of actions intended to hit them. While a dodge can help characters avoid being struck, they do not reduce the damage of an attack that actually hits them, bringing the full force of such to bear should they fail to dodge it.
A dodge maneuver is nonetheless quite versatile. It may be attempted against any melee or ranged assault that requires card play to actually hit, regardless of the type of damage it might inflict. A number of powers may bypass a dodge, however, most often those that involve overcoming the physical or spiritual resistance of their intended targets. Such abilities most often take the form of sorcery or psionics.
Shield: quite simply put, a shielding maneuver involves placing something between an attacker and their target, in order to prevent harm from coming to him, her or it. In order to shield something from someone, one need only perform an easy difficulty Strength (agility) action, and they will cause an attacker (if they manage to connect with their attack) to instead assault whatever it is that is being used as a shield.
For the most part, this involves a character using something to protect themselves from incoming attack. When carrying a shield, one may divide the material strength of an object by four to determine the defensive bonus they shall receive. Hiding behind a brick wall, for example, adds +2 to one's protection from attack, thanks to its material strength of 8 - which may also prevent a body from being struck in the first place.
On the other hand, a shield maneuver can be used to interpose oneself between an attacker and their quarry. In the event of such an occurrence, the shielding character will suffer the full force of an attack if it hits, upon making a successful shielding action. This is particularly helpful when the shielding character can (or at least thinks they can) absorb the brunt of the assault better than whoever or whatever they're protecting.