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Fighting Styles

Copyright Jamie Le Rossignol ©2002

Edited by Lowell R. Matthews for The Guild Companion

This article grew out of a discussion on the ICE forums on how to handle shields in Rolemaster(TM). In examining how shields are used, I also needed to consider the main fighting styles. There are five basic melee-fighting styles: single weapon, two-handed weapon, unarmed combat, weapon & shield, and dual weapons. The last two styles are really the same thing when the shield is considered a weapon.

Two-handed weapons have an obvious advantage in that they are able to deal more damage, while a person using a single one-handed weapon is at a major disadvantage. Therefore, the decision becomes whether to use one or two weapons, when currently using two weapons has a distinct advantage. With more options in a round, why do not all melee-fighters use two weapons?

  1. Dual Weapons

    Using two weapons in melee has some inherent advantages, giving a fighter more options in combat-at the cost of splitting his focus between the two weapons. By trading progression with one weapon, he can gain two attacks. The fumble range for both weapons is increased by one.

    It takes effort to split one's focus between two weapons, so a fighter should have to reduce both weapons skills to 60% of the total. This figure represents the concentration required of the fighter and the difficulty of facing such an opponent; it gives the user of this style a slight edge.

    1. Defensive Weapons

      All weapons can be used in a defensive fashion, but several weapons as a group are designed to protect the user. These include the main-gauche, the sai, and the shield. Their main function is to deflect and absorb incoming attacks. They tend to have high Breakage Factors and low Strengths. These weapons are usually developed for the off-hand (i.e., the left hand if the wielder is right-handed), used with a -20 penalty to complement the primary weapon.

      When a weapon is used in a fully defensive way (i.e., Full Parry) then its attack can be sacrificed to gain the Shield-Parry bonus. This bonus is applied before the 60% skill reduction; if it is applied afterwards, the bonus is reduced to 60%.

    2. Shield Use

      With the development of firearms, armour had to be thicker and heavier. A point was reached at which armour was no longer effective, and being able to dodge firearms became most important. With these changes, the shield become redundant and an off-hand weapon replaced it. Most fantasy role-playing games are based in medieval cultures before personal firearms, when armour was thinner and shields served a more useful purpose.

      Shield Bash is a One-Handed Concussion weapon (RM2 Arms Law, 9.6) and is developed for each size of shield. Each is a similar skill to all other shield sizes. The skill is developed like that for any other weapon, except for the inclusion of the off-hand penalty of -20. With this skill, a character can bash, charge, and defend. Attacks are resolved on the Small (for target and normal shields) or Medium (for full and wall shields) Bash or charge attack tables.

      With shield use as a weapon skill and the ability to parry attacks with the Shield-Parry bonus, it provides a stronger form of defence for the fighter.

    3. Attacking the Weapon (or Shield)

      A fighter can also try to break an opponent's weapon by attacking it and not the opponent. He attempts to maximize the breakage roll by transferring all the damage to the foe's weapon instead of his body. For resolution, to the strength of the breaking weapon is added +1% per hit absorbed and +10% per critical level absorbed. Two-handed weapons increase this modifier by 50%. If zero hits are delivered, then the attack missed.

    4. Breakage

      The chances in the section on Combat Use Breakage should be adjusted as follows:

    01-50 The weapon has no chance of breakage.
    51-00 Attacker's weapon strikes Defenders parrying weapon. If Defender has more than one weapon parrying, then the chances of either weapon being hit are equal.


  2. Martial Arts (MA)

    One of the quirks of Rolemaster(TM) is how the martial arts (MA) are treated as a completely separate fighting style from weapon use. While both ways disable or injure an opponent and both ways involve using the body to outmanoeuvre the opponent, the only difference I can see is that one style uses weapons and the other does not. I will avoid the whole topic of weapon kata for the moment. Therefore, I believe that a MA style (Strikes or Sweeps & Throws) is another Weapon Category as detailed in the following section on Weapon Skills.

    The current MA rules seem based on the idea of an Eastern or Asian style of MA. What about the Western or European equivalents like boxing or wrestling? Fundamentally, MA is just another way of fighting. What makes them exceptional is that the Warrior Monks that train in them for years also develop other skills like Adrenal Moves and Adrenal Defence, which are used to enhance their natural abilities. I think it is these supporting skills, not just the MA, that make the Warrior Monk so very dangerous.

    When compared to other fighting styles, martial artists have some distinct advantages:

    • They cannot be disarmed, short of a foe hacking their limbs off or affecting their minds with spells-both of which stop regular fighters anyway.
    • Adrenal Defence works against multiple attacks, whereas a shield only works against one attack.

    The odds are so stacked against a Fighter or European Knight (Cavalier) that it seems better to throw away the armour in favour of a high defensive bonus (DB). The only advantage an armoured weapon-fighter has is the passive defensive qualities of the armour itself, and a good martial artist can use those properties against the weapon-fighter anyway.

    The MA skills are also treated differently in that the user can trade skill bonus for increased initiative and can make multiple attacks against either one or multiple foes-and then of course there is the weapon kata option.

    1. Increased Initiative

      For every 5 points traded from his skill bonus, a martial artist can add 10 points to his initiative. Although martial artists tend to be faster then someone wearing armour and fighting with a sword, that usually has to do with the fact that the martial artist does not wear armour and carries no weapon. The armour Quickness (QU) penalty is already part of the core RM2 rules, but the relation between initiative and weapon used was only introduced later (Rolemaster Companion III, I think).

      A way of changing the combat procedure so that the Warrior Monk still has an advantage over the Fighter is to use the Adrenal Move: Speed. Instead of focusing the skill for additional action, the martial artist can focus it so that his action comes first, before the weapon-fighter can respond. The martial artist still loses 20% of his action, but he can add his Adrenal Speed to his initiative. This means that the martial artist will tend to go first, but at the cost of an extra action, and the normal Adrenal Move penalties apply. The other way to change the combat procedure is to allow all characters to decrease skill bonus to increase initiative.

    2. Making Multiple Attacks against the Same Foe, or Engaging Multiple Foes

      I agree that a martial artist can make multiple attacks against one target-but so can a character that fights with sword and shield. Under the section on the Tactical Combat Sequence (Arms Law 3.0), it is said, "...the rationale is that, thought he or she may actually swing or fire more often than this, only one effective attack is made in a given round." This contradicts the MA section, so I do not allow characters to make multiple attacks against the same foe.

      Then there is the problem of engaging multiple foes. A good weapon-fighter can easily engage two or more opponents-a situation that is common on the battlefield. I recommend allowing all fighting styles, armed and unarmed, make multiple attacks.

      The sections from Arms Law on Changing Targets (9.1) and Engaging Multiple Foes (10.3) are combined so that a -20 OB penalty applies to each additional foe attacked in the one round, and an additional -20 for every angle change of 90 fraction thereof. The character has to split his OB between the foes.

      Therefore, a character attacking two targets in a 90 arc incurs a penalty of -40. For two foes at 130 separation, the penalty is -60.

    3. Weapon Kata

      The weapon kata rules just complicate matters by having to list the few additional weapons that a martial artist can use and not allowing the broad weapons skills that exist with some MA. With a few changes, the martial artist gains the ability to use more than one weapon without unbalancing the game. Requirements include:

      • The martial artist must have 10 ranks or 50 OB to use weapon kata.
      • The OB is the average of the weapon skill and the MA skill; the -20 penalty inherent to weapon kata use is then applied to that average.
      • The fumble range is reduced by 1 for every 10 OB above 50 OB, to a minimum of 2.
      • The concussion hits delivered are equal to the result on the MA attack table less the maximum of that table plus the maximum for the weapon used, i.e., damage = (normal MA hits) + (maximum weapon hits versus that AT) - (maximum MA hits versus that AT).
      • An additional critical strike equal to the one scored less one level is inflicted.
      • If two weapons are to be used in a kata, then all three skills are averaged and a -40 penalty is applied, one for each weapon. Additional hits and criticals are scored as above for the second weapon.

      The weapons allowed for a kata include:

      • MA Strikes tend to use direct weapons that deliver a Slash, Puncture, or Crush critical.
      • MA Sweeps & Throws tend to use indirect weapons that entangle, grapple, trip, or otherwise ensnare the target.
      • Missile, Thrown, or Artillery weapons cannot be used for a weapon kata.
    4. Weapon Skills

      The hardest thing in moving the MA skills into the Weapon Skills is what to do about the skills' Development Point costs. In general, these should simply be inserted into the list of weapons costs for Monks, Warrior Monks, and other MA specialists. A general rule of thumb is:

      • Add the MA skill to the other weapons skills when the MA skill is easier than 4 DP.
      • Add another 20-DP weapon category column when the MA skill is 5 or more DP.

      As the result, most Non-Spell-Users, Spell-Users of the Realm of Mentalism, and Semi-Spell-Users of all Realms gain another relatively cheap weapon skill, while Spell-Users of the Realms of Essence and Channelling do not gain any advantage.

      I have also changed the Warrior Monk's first two weapon skills from (4; 6) to (2/5; 3/8), and the Monk's from (5; 8) to (3/9; 5) to allow Monks to develop a weapon or two for kata.

      Every style of barehanded fighting has it strengths and weaknesses, and every region has its own style. So if a referee does not like the idea of every man and his dog developing MA skills, he should just restrict what level of MA skill (1, 2, 3, or 4) characters of various professions can learn. This is best done using the local style in the referee's campaign.

    5. Adrenal Defence

      The only difference I recommend is that anyone training in Adrenal Defence should be able to use a weapon as long as he knows how to use the weapon and can use a weapon kata, but he should not use armour, wear a shield, or be encumbered in a major way.

      I judge that Adrenal Defence can be split between multiple attacks or used intact against one attack, but not applied intact against each attack. A character can only move so much in a round, and it seems that a high-level martial artist with 360 vision could have a DB of 150 versus six or eight opponents. I see the character moving between opponents to reduce the number of attacks and splitting his Adrenal Defence between fewer foes.

    6. In the End

      Even with these changes to the rules, reasons still exist to play a Warrior Monk or a Fighter-both are specialists in different styles of fighting; both have advantages and disadvantages. In general, the Warrior Monk trades armour skills for Adrenal Move skills and specialises in a single fighting form, usually MA. The Fighter now has a way of improving his DB with training.

  3. In Summary
    • All dual-weapon fighting styles operate at 60% due to the additional focus required.
    • The new manoeuvre "Attack Weapon" is used to damage an opponent's weapon or shield.
    • Shields are One-Handed Concussion weapons.
    • A weapon can get the Shield-Parry bonus (RM2 AL&CL 8.2.5) if it is not used to attack.
    • Adrenal Defence must be split between foes.
    • The full armour QU penalty still applies, up to equal to the QU stat bonus.
    • Adrenal Speed can be added to initiative instead of been used for an additional action.
    • No multiple attacks are allowed against the same foe.
    • Attacking multiple foes is -20 per additional foe, and -20 per 90 arc. The remaining OB is then split between the foes.
    • A weapon kata OB is the average of the MA OB and the weapon OB used, with a -20 penalty. Damage is calculated in the normal way.
    • A weapon kata with two weapons is first calculated as a weapon kata, then as a dual-weapon attack that gives two attacks.
    • Everyone gets an additional weapon category for unarmed combat/MA.
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