Friday, January 21, 2011

Crimson Blades of Ara Part 3: Actions and Combat

This is part three of a five-part series in which I describe and discuss the major features of Crimson Blades of Ara, the FRPG that I co-created with Dave Miller in the 1990s. The previous installments were on the game's Introduction and Character Generation chapters; this post will cover Chapter Two, Actions and Combat -- pdf available here.

The CBoA combat system, unlike D&D, uses a "one roll = one swing" concept, yet, interestingly, our combat rounds last 6 seconds (see p. 57). That seems a bit long for just one attack or defensive maneuver by each combatant; looking back now I see that Dave and I clearly did not grasp the "abstract" nature of the D&D combat system. No, like so many young players of that classic game, we assumed that each "to hit" roll referred to a single attack. Hell, even today in my current Labyrinth Lord campaign that is how we tend to talk about combat: each "to hit" roll is a single strike. I now understand that D&D combat is more abstract than that, yet this is how we tend to describe and conceive of things in game play.

At any rate, in CBoA it takes 3 seconds to make a single attack or defensive maneuver -- each round consists of one complete exchange of blows between attacker and defender, each participant attacking for 3 seconds and then defending for 3 seconds. Combat is resolved via contested rolls: the attacker and defender each roll their attack roll (d%, like most game mechanics in CBoA), add their relevant combat skill to the roll, and the higher roller prevails. The defender (the combatant who loses initiative -- see pp. 71-73) may either parry, dodge, or counterstrike. The latter option means that both combatant's blows land and therefore both the attacker and defender take damage for that exchange (see pp. 71-71 and 75-82). So in theory, if neither combatant chooses to defend, both participants could end up taking two attacks worth of damage every single combat round.  I told you CBoA combat was deadly!

Armor, rather than preventing hits as in D&D, absorbs damage (see pp. 94-96). There is a small chance that a given attack will bypass one's armor completely -- this is called "coverage" and is determined by how complete the suit of armor is (see p. 94). A full suit only fails to cover on a 1 in 6, and a half-suit (chainmail shirts and the like) fails to cover on a 2 in 6.

One of my favorite combat-related mechanics in CBoA is our concept of Life Force. In addition to a PC's Body Toughness (= hit points), s/he has an attribute called Life Force, derived from the Courage Primary Trait (see Characters Chapter pp. 29-30). Once a PC's Body Toughness (BT) is reduced to zero, s/he is considered unconscious; below zero, and s/he is unconscious and bleeding to death, i.e., his or her Life Force is draining away at a rate of 1 point per round. Once one's Life Force (LF) is brought to zero, s/he is actually dead (see p. 97).

An additional twist: in the Characters Chapter I mentioned Power Pools, which are pools of points tied to specific primary traits (in CBoA the five primary traits are Strength, Courage, Agility, Dexterity, and Craft -- see "Characters" pp. 13-14). In combat situations, one may use one's Courage Power Pool to keep oneself conscious (and fighting) by investing points to replenish lost LF points and to keep one's BT at 1 (see pp. 97-98). In early iterations of CBoA, we had rules for decreased prowess at extreme wound levels, but (as is mentioned on p. 97) we did away with that set of cumbersome complications as the game system evolved.

Lastly, I'd like to mention healing potions. In the Lands of Ara under the CBoA rules, healing potions were fairly cheap and abundant, because (a) there was no equivalent to a Cleric class who could heal PCs in the field, and (b) there were NPC "Healers" who were non-adventurers and remained in towns, offering their services for a fee. So healing elixirs were about the only way PCs could heal wounds while in dungeons. They came in two types, an "instant-heal" type that restored lost BT or LF instantly, and a second type one quaffed before resting to increase one's overnight healing rate. CBoA technically used a silver standard, but converting to gp rates, our game's healing potions cost approximately 50-100 gp each (see pp. 100-101), as opposed to the 400 gp and 800 gp rates for potions of healing and extra-healing given in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide (p. 121). Needless to say, in my current Arandish Labyrinth Lord campaign, I now defer to the higher DMG rates for such potions.

Next: the final chapter, "Magic"!


  1. Thanks for posting this. I have found your rule system novel and unique. I am trying to finish up a review of it to post on my blog. Unfortunately I am easily distracted by shiny objects.

  2. Thanks for the support, I look forward to reading your comments!