The Art of Fighting Section 11: Martial Arts Skills

Copyright Johs. Sondrup © 2012

Edited by Peter Mork for The Guild Companion

"The smallest formation possible ... is simply two warriors standing back to back, defending each other."

Editor's Note: The following is the eleventh in a series of 13 articles that enhance the combat rules for Rolemaster (RM2). It is our intention to publish another article in this series every month. This month's article discusses martial arts skills and introduces several new skills, including formation fighting. Next month we turn our attention to martial arts styles, our final topic.

Martial Arts

While most people think of Karate, Kung Fu or other Asian combat styles when they hear the phrase "martial arts," the truth is that combat styles have been developed all over the world for as long as there have been people teaching other people how to fight. Knights, samurai, Shaolin monks, Viking warriors and street fighters are all martial artists with different training. So the question arises: Why study a martial arts style? Simply put: To learn the skills.

Without a teacher, you cannot learn adrenal moves, adrenal defense, Vis abilities or many of the other special skills that martial artists use. Without a style a player is limited to the style of his culture, be that boxing, wrestling or whatever is normal where the character grew up.

Changes from RM2

Redefining the Martial Arts Skill:
The most important difference between this system and RM2 is that this system uses the skill system from Martial Arts Companion. That means that the four-tiered system for martial arts attacks have been replaced with a single skill for each general type of attack; Strikes is now one skill and not four. Because fewer martial arts skills are needed, add 1 development point to the cost of Martial Arts (1/3 becomes 2/4, 2/6 becomes 3/7, etc.).

Important notes on the Martial Arts rules from Arms & Claw Law:
Many seem to think that the optional rules described in Section 10.3 in Arms & Claw Law are core rules. They are not and furthermore according to the first paragraph they are not even intended to be used along with the Rolemaster combat system.

This means that a martial artist cannot decrease his OB to raise his initiative. He cannot make multiple attacks against the same foe or engage multiple foes any more than other Arms users can. This also means that the only ways to strike more than once in a round are Haste/Speed or similar magic, Adrenal Speed, or Multiple Attack Proficiency (RoCo V). This system does preserve the weapon kata system because it gives martial artists a fighting chance against Large and Super Large opponents.

Changed Skills

These are the skills from the various Rolemaster Companions that are either changed or restricted.

Adrenal Defense: Adrenal Defense is halved against throwing weapons and quartered against missile weapons. Adrenal Defense requires room to maneuver and that you are aware that you are under attack. That means that it's impossible to use Adrenal Defense when surprised, on a mount, flying, levitating, climbing, sitting by the dinner table or doing anything else that limits your movement, including fighting in formation. In addition the character cannot use a shield or weapons other than those belonging to a kata or Adrenal Melee.

Armored Adrenal Defense: Before anyone can learn Armored Adrenal Defense, Adrenal Defense must be learned to perfection first. This means that anybody who wants to learn Armored Adrenal Defense has to have 30 ranks of Adrenal Defense. Armored Adrenal Defense also suffers from the same limitations as Adrenal Defense: That means that it's impossible to use any form of Adrenal Defense when on a mount, flying, levitating, climbing, sitting by the dinner table or doing anything else that limits your movement, including fighting in formation.

The cost for Armored Adrenal Defense is the same as Adrenal Defense + 2. For example, if Adrenal Defense costs 3/7, then Armored Adrenal Defense will cost 5/9. Even if a style teaches both maneuvering in armor and adrenal defense it doesn't mean that they teach Armored Adrenal Defense or that a character can use Armor when using Adrenal Defense.

Please note that a skill like Armored Adrenal Defense can really upset game balance and it is only recommended for really high level games.

Adrenal Melee (Changed from Weapon Bugei): Adrenal Melee is the skill for using weapons while using Adrenal Defense. Like Martial Arts, I have removed the four-tier system and added 1 development point to the cost of Adrenal Melee. (1/3 becomes 2/4, 2/6 becomes 3/7, etc.). For each additional weapon type after the second, 1 more development point is added to the cost. (If the first weapon type costs 2/4, then the second also costs 2/4, but the third costs 3/5, the fourth costs 4/6, and so on.)

With the removal of the four tier system, the damage limitation that came with that system has been removed. It must still be developed separately for each type of weapon, weapon/weapon, or weapon/shield combination and when not used along with Adrenal Defense, the skill rank bonus is halved.

If used with a shield, the defensive value of the shield is reduced: Target shields only have a +10 bonus, and normal shields have a +15 bonus. Full shields and wall shields are not allowed.

One important note about Adrenal Melee: It's pretty much useless when fighting in formation. It's simply not designed for that and I usually impose a 50% penalty on Adrenal Melee used in formation.

That a Martial Arts Style teaches weapon skills does not mean that the weapon can be used with Adrenal Defense. It simply indicates that the style does not limit the use of the weapon to use with Adrenal Melee.

Martial Balance: Development cost: As Stunned Maneuver. (Sd/Co)
Though the result is the same, this skill comes in two forms: Either it is a special form of meditation taught to students of advanced Martial Arts or it can be a deep prayer as performed by people of faith. In either case, it enables martial artists to exist in balance with themselves and find inner peace, thus increasing their reflexes.

To gain the benefit of this skill, at least one hour must be spent in meditation or prayer. Once the meditation is complete, a Static Action maneuver is rolled modified by the character's skill in Martial Balance. If successful, the character receives a + 5 bonus to all OBs and DBs and resistance rolls for that day.

Restricted Area Combat: Development cost: 1/5 for warrior types, 3/7 otherwise.
Fighting in areas where there is limited room can result in penalties. This skill represents training in fighting in such an area, be that a corridor, a forest or anywhere else where there are obstacles. This skill is not rolled and has no stats. Instead the skill rank bonus is used to offset any penalties the character is given for fighting in such situations.

Tackling: Development cost: As Brawling (Ag/St)
Tackling is a Martial Arts skill in line with Martial Arts - Strikes, except that the Ram/Butt/Bash/Knock Down/Slug Attack Table is used. Rank 1 is a Small attack, Rank 2 is a Medium attack, Rank 3 is a Large attack and Rank 4 is a Huge attack. However, the attack sized is not only limited by technique, but also by the size of the attacker. Thus, a normal sized man can only make up to Rank 2 attacks.

Weapon Brawling: Development cost: As Weapon Type (St/St/Ag)
Weapon Brawling is the skill for hitting a foe with a part of the weapon that is normally not used for attacks, such as the pommel or cross-guards of a sword or the shaft of a war hammer. Due to the armor development in Europe it was an integrated part of most Western styles of fighting because plate armor protects against most cutting weapons. Weapon Brawling is also used where there is little room to fight.

A character may make a Weapon Brawling attack instead of a normal attack with his weapon, resolving it on the Mace attack table with a -10 modification, yielding half the number of concussion hits. (For example, a result of 12DK becomes 6DK.)

Wrestling: Development cost: As Brawling (Ag/St)
Wrestling is a Martial Arts skill in line with Martial Arts - Strikes, except that the Grapple/Grasp Attack Table is used. Rank 1 is a Small attack, Rank 2 is a Medium attack, Rank 3 is a Large attack and Rank 4 is a Huge attack. However, the attack size is not only limited by technique, but also by the size of the attacker. Thus, a normal sized man can only make up to Rank 2 attacks.

New skills

Formation Fighting (Sd/Ag) Development cost: As Weapon Category #1
This restricted skill is only used by fighters that have been trained in fighting in formation, such as Roman Legionnaires, Spartan Hoplites, Swiss Pikes, or Japanese Ashigaru. The skill is not rolled, but every rank in it adds +2 to combat (+1 to DB and +1 to OB) in any given round that the fighter is standing in a fighting formation. See below for more details.

Skills in Martial Art Styles

That a Style has a skill included in its skill list does not mean that the character gets that skill for free nor that the character has to develop those skills. These skills are those that typically can be learned along with martial arts styles, but other skills can be added as the GM sees fit according to his game-world and the martial arts styles used in it.

  • Concentration
    • Adrenal Defense
    • Adrenal Melee
    • Adrenal Move - Balance
    • Adrenal Move - Landing
    • Adrenal Move - Leaping
    • Adrenal Move - Quick Draw
    • Adrenal Move - Strength
    • Adrenal Move - Speed
    • Vis Technique
    • Martial Balance
    • Meditation - Cleansing
    • Meditation - Vis
    • Meditation - Sleep
  • Combat
    • Disarm Foe, Armed
    • Disarm Foe, Unarmed
    • Formation Fighting
    • Iai
    • Maneuver in Armor
    • Martial Arts - Strikes
    • Martial Arts - Sweeps & Throws
    • Reverse Stroke
    • Restricted Area Combat
    • Stunned Maneuver
    • Tackling
    • Tumbling attack
    • Tumbling Evasion
    • Two Weapon Combat
    • Weapon Brawling
    • Weapon Skill
    • Wrestling
    • Yado
  • Vis-skills
    • Vis-awareness
    • Vis-absorption
    • Vis Technique

Special Attacks

Note that Koppojustu and Koshijutsu from Oriental Companion are not used with this system.

Stunning Strike

Development Cost: As Iai (Sd/St)
A Stunning Strike is aimed against the nerve-centers of the opponent and is used to neutralize people, rather than killing them. Unfortunately, it doesn't work if the opponent is wearing anything more protective than Soft Leather armor.

Upon making a successful Static Action roll, the next Martial Arts - Strikes attack versus any target with AT 1-8 is designed to stun. If a critical is obtained, there is a 20% chance/critical severity that the target will be stunned, unless a CO based RR is made versus the character's ranks in Stunning Strikes. The target is stunned for 1 round/5% failure.

Unbalancing Strike

Development Cost: As Yado. (Ag/Sd)
This attack form focuses on delivering a hard punch to unbalance or push back a foe. To use Unbalancing Strike, a Static Action roll should be made. Success indicates that the character's next Martial Arts attack will deliver an additional Unbalancing critical of two degrees less severity.

Flying Jump Kick

Development Cost: As Jumping. (Ag/St)
This kick is executed while jumping into the air and can reach high enough to hit an opponent sitting on a horse (which this kick was invented for). Upon making a successful Movement maneuver roll, the Martial Artist has no penalties for the next striking attack versus a mounted opponent. This attack has to be done from a distance and is unusable after the enemy has closed to melee range.

Iron Fist

Development Cost: As Iai (St/St/Re)
This attack is best used against un-armored foes and has little effect against those wearing anything heavier then leather armor. Upon making a successful Static Action roll, the next Martial Arts - Strikes attack versus any target with AT 1-8 is modified by +20.

Greater Unbalancing Strike

Development Cost: As Yado. (Ag/St)
This is a kick where the attacker rotates and kicks at the same time, delivering a very hard blow. The drawback is that while rotating, the character is slightly more open to attack than usual (-10 to Melee DB in the round where the Greater Unbalancing Strike is used). To use a Greater Unbalancing Strike, a movement maneuver roll should be made. Success indicates that the character's next Martial Arts attack will deliver an additional Unbalancing critical of one degree less severity. Because this move is limited by the armor worn by the character, this action should be modified by the armor's movement maneuver penalties.

Leg Stomp

Development Cost: As Reverse Stroke. (Ag/St)
This kick is directed towards the opponent's leg, both to harm the opponent, but also to stop the opponent from advancing any further. To use a Leg Stomp, a Static Action roll should be made. Success indicates that if the character's next Martial Arts - Strikes attack delivers a critical (limited to Rank 2 due to the limited damage this kick can do), the character automatically gains the initiative the following round (besides giving the normal damage for the attack).

Tiger Claw

Development Cost: As Reverse Stroke. (Ag/St)
This attack form focuses on delivering a hard punch with the hand shaped like a claw with stiff fingers. The aim is to pierce the skin and cause a bleeding wound. It doesn't work if the opponent is wearing anything more protective than Soft Leather armor as the fingers can't penetrate rigid leather or metal armor. Upon making a successful Static Action roll, the next Martial Arts - Strikes attack versus any target with AT 1-8 has a 20 percent chance per Martial Arts Degree used of delivering an additional Puncture critical of two degrees less severity. (For example, if Martial Arts - Striking Rank 2 was used, the chance is 40%.)

Disruptive Strike

Development Cost: As Yado. (Ag/St)
This strike is aimed at the flow of Vis in the body and is used to stop people from using Vis Powers. Unlike most other special attacks, a Disrupting Strike can also be made with a weapon either a weapon used in a Kata or Adrenal Melee.

Upon making a successful Static Action roll, there is a 20% chance/critical severity that the next Martial Arts - Strikes attack versus any target with AT 1-8 will disrupt the Vis in the body, unless a CO based RR is made versus the character's ranks in Disruptive Strikes. The target is unable to use any Vis Powers for 1 round/5% failure.

Greater Disruptive Strike

Development Cost: 4 (Ag/In)
Also known as the Death Touch, Greater Disruptive Strike is an advanced form for Disruptive Strike, which is aimed at the flow of Vis in the body and is used to stop people from using Vis Powers.

Unlike most other special attacks, a Greater Disrupting Strike can also be made with a weapon either a weapon used in a Kata or Adrenal Melee. Upon making a successful Static Action roll, there is a 20% chance/critical severity that the next Martial Arts - Strikes attack versus any target with AT 1-8 or 13-16 will disrupt the Vis in the body, unless a CO based RR is made versus the character's ranks in Greater Disruptive Strike. This makes the target unable to use any Vis Powers until the disruption has been treated.

The reason why Greater Disruptive Strike is called Death Touch, as that while the Vis in the body is disrupted, the body cannot heal naturally: It will take Magic or Psionic healing or herbs to heal a person influenced by Greater Disruptive Strike. The only persons that can treat a Greater Disruptive Strike are persons with at least 15 ranks of Acupuncture or Tui Na. Even so, for every 5% failure, recovery takes 10 days.

Fighting in formation

The important thing to remember is that while Martial Artists are great individual fighters, they are not great soldiers. They are deadly in single combat or in small units, but in large scale combats they will fall prey to better units, which in this case mean units trained in formation fighting. The formation fighting skill is the foundation upon many empires have been built: The Roman Empire, the various Chinese Empires and the Greek Empire to name a few. There are many types of formations that can be used, but because this is meant to be used in a role-playing game and not a strategic war-game, it makes sense to stick with the basics. For the same reason only small unit formations are represented here. For more about large formations, please refer to War Law.

The Formation Fighting skill

The Formation Fighting skill adds +2 for every rank to combat in any given round that the fighter is standing in a fighting formation. Unless otherwise stated this bonus is spread equally between OB and DB so that a soldier with 5 Ranks in Formation Fighting will have a +5 bonus to OB and DB.

Any unit will have a Formation Fighting bonus equal to the average of the soldiers in the unit. This is one of the reasons why veteran units hate being reinforced with less experienced soldiers; it lessens the total effectiveness of the unit and thus lessens the chance of survival for the veterans. The formation bonus can be shifted by the leader of the formation. See below for more information about the leader's influence on a formation.

While the Formation fighting skill is best used in larger formations, it is possible to use similar teamwork in smaller groups. It is important to understand that everybody in a group need not be part of the formation. It is entirely possible for 3 fighter types to form a Line formation in front of the rest of the group and thus only the 3 characters in the formation count towards the average of the formation fighting skill.

Formations

Open Horde: Not really a formation at all (you don't get any Formation Fighting Bonus for being in an Open Horde formation), Open Horde is just a group of people. They may be running towards you with swords swinging over their heads, running away from you or just relaxing, but they are not standing in any sort of order. Attacks from people in an Open Horde can be surprisingly effective if the opponent is employing the same technique, in which case the combat devolves into a series of series of single combats.

However, if the opposite side has some formation training and the discipline to withstand the initial force of the attack, a force in Open Horde formation is usually on the loosing side.

Open Horde is better than most other formations at protecting against missile attacks because the openness of the formation offers no massed target to aim volleys at. Volley fire attacks against an Open Horde formation have a -20 OB modification.

Back-to-Back: The smallest formation possible, this is simply two warriors standing back to back, defending each other. It can only be used if surrounded by four or more opponents. The main drawback of this formation is that the defensive bonus from quickness is limited to that of the slowest fighter because the two are moving with their backs to each other. This is a defensive formation and the formation fighting bonus cannot be shifted to OB because the need to stay in the formation makes the warriors unable to press the attack.

Triangle: Three fighters standing in a triangle can protect each other's backs if they are surrounded by four or more opponents. This formation is more loose than the Back-to-back formation and does not have a limit on quickness. It is still a defensive formation in that a fighter cannot leave his place in the formation without ruining it, which also means that if the enemy simply stays out of reach the fighters will either have to be satisfied with not being attacked or leave the formation to take the fight to the opponent. Trained fighters can move the formation in any desired direction, but only at one quarter normal movement.

This is a defensive formation and the formation fighting bonus cannot be shifted to OB. It is possible to form a Triangle formation around one or two persons at the most, thereby using the formation to protect them.

Square: The Square is basically the same as the triangle, just with one more fighter added. It can only be used when surrounded by more than four opponents. Again this is a defensive formation and the formation fighting bonus cannot be shifted to OB. As with the Triangle formation it is possible to form a Square formation around up to 2 persons, using the formation to protect them.

Line: A line can be formed with as few as three fighters (two if in a limited space like a corridor) and apart from the Wedge, it's the only formation that can be used offensively. A Line formation can be moved at a rate equal to the slowest base movement rate of the fighters in the line. Standing in a line formation will give a -20 penalty to any Defensive Bonus due to quickness because there is no space to move in, but like the Maneuvering in Armor skill, this penalty cannot make the Defensive Bonus from quickness go below zero. This is partly offset by the +10 DB that anyone in a Line Formation gets when fighting against people using Open Horde formation. There is no formation bonus when fighting against other Line or Wedge formations.

Line formation can be used with the shield wall and the formation fighting bonus can be used for both OB and DB. Please note that if two lines are formed, the warriors in the second line can strike past friendly combatants (front line) if they are using pole arms. This requires that both the front and second lines have the Formation Fighting skill.

Wedge: A modification of the Line formation, where the middle of the formation is bent forward to form a wedge. It takes at least five fighters to form an effective Wedge. Standing in a Wedge formation will give a -20 penalty to any Defensive Bonus due to quickness because there is no space to move in, but like the Maneuvering in Armor skill, this penalty cannot make the Defensive Bonus from quickness go below zero. This is partly offset by the +5 DB and +5 OB that anyone in a Wedge Formation gets when fighting against people using Open Horde formation. There is no formation bonus when fighting against other Line or Wedge formations. A Wedge formation can be moved at a rate equal to the slowest base movement rate of the persons in the line.

The Wedge formation is mostly used for attack, but is sometimes used by experienced infantry units as a defensive formation against cavalry because the wedge shape allows the attack to 'slide off' the shields of the infantry instead of smashing through. This translates to a +20 DB bonus against charging attacks, if the formation is standing still and using a shield wall. Wedge formation can be used with the shield wall and the formation fighting bonus can be used for both OB and DB.

Shield Wall: A shield wall is a defensive tactic. It is only possible when each man in the unit, or at least the front line, carries a full or normal shield. A shield wall offers great protection against frontal attacks on the formation because each man not only protects himself, but also partly the fighter on either side. A Shield Wall can only be used with the Line and Wedge formations and gives a +20 bonus to DB. Due to the limited room for weapons this tactic offers, melee weapons other than one handed polearms (such as spears) or stabbing weapons (such as a short sword) suffers -20 OB.

Skills that cannot be used in a formation

Adrenal Defense and Adrenal Melee are impossible to use while in any formation except Open Horde. The same goes for Frenzy because you cannot stay in a formation while in a state of Frenzy. Standing in many formations gives a -20 penalty to any Defensive Bonus due to quickness because there is no space to move in, but like the Maneuvering in Armor skill, this penalty cannot make the Defensive Bonus from quickness go below zero.

While this might seem as a huge disadvantage to most adventurers, it does not really matter for ordinary soldiers because the benefits of fighting in a formation hugely out-weigh the penalties and most formation fighters wear heavy armor and don't usually have any defensive bonus from quickness anyway. It also makes Open Horde the formation used by barbarians, attacking mobs and Martial Artists, though they do it for different reasons. The barbarians use it because they are not trained in formation fighting and because you cannot use the Frenzy skill in a formation. Mobs use it because they have neither the training, nor a leader to organize them. And, Martial Artists use it because it's the only formation that allows them to use Adrenal Defense and Adrenal Melee.

Changing from one formation to another

Changing from one formation to another takes one round and requires a successful leadership roll from the leader of the unit. If the leadership roll fails, it takes a number of rounds equal to the number of fighters in the formation. However, for every five ranks of Formation Fighting the unit has, deduct 1 from that number. It always takes at least 1 round to change formation.

E.g., if the leadership roll failed, a formation with 5 fighters takes 5 rounds to change formation. However, because the unit has an average of 11 skill ranks in formation fighting, it takes 2 rounds fewer bringing the total down to 3 rounds.

A unit that is in the process of changing formation when attacked is considered to be in an Open Horde.

The leader

All units have a leader, be it an educated officer or just the strongest or smartest person in the group. It's the leader of the group who, with a successful Leadership roll, can allocate the Formation Fighting bonus to either OB or DB.

Example: A small band of soldiers (with an average Formation Fighting skill of 5 ranks) is attacking an orc camp, when the orcs counterattack. Seeing the danger, they quickly form a line to defend themselves. However Captain Ilsarin feels that the line will have problems holding against the orcs, so she orders the formation to go on the defensive. Rolling a successful leadership roll, she decides that the group's Formation Fighting bonus goes to Defensive Bonus, thus giving every soldier in the group + 10 to DB.

If the leader of the unit dies, the unit must make a successful morale check or break formation.

NPC Morale

NB: Player characters do not have to make morale checks.
All unit starts out with morale equal to 100
+ The average number of ranks in Formation Fighting for the unit.
+ The number of ranks the leader has in Leadership.
- The percentage number of casualties that the unit has taken. (I.e., if the unit has taken 50 percent casualties, it has a minus 50 penalty to morale checks.)

If a unit fails a morale roll, it will assume Open Horde formation and try to flee. This means that the unit cannot make any attacks and any attacks against the unit have a +25 bonus.