Sunday, December 23, 2012

Combat in Year of the Phoenix

The Year of the Phoenix boxed set comes with a 17" x 22" sheet Martin Wixted refers to as 'the Battlefield.'  Printed on this sheet is a “grid of alternating squares.”  (see below)  This arrangement is something I like to call 'a poor man's hexes.'  “Each square represents 1 meter.”  I'm assuming each side of a square is one meter in length.

On page 38 of the Training Guide, Wixted remarks:
          All forms of combat are mutually-agreed-upon rules for attempting to inflict injury upon one another.  If this were untrue, there would be no such thing as 'fighting dirty'.
Wait...Wouldn't 'fighting dirty' be a form of combat?

Anyway, for purposes of combat or other fast paced game events, game-time is measured in 'Sequences.'  How long is a Sequence?  In general terms, a Sequence has a duration of one second.  However, Wixted tells us on page 15 of the Training Guide that “Sequences can expand or fit the dynamics and pacing of the adventure...”  This deftly curtails player arguments about what can and cannot happen during the span of a second.

Actions a character can perform require one or more Sequences to be spent, but the number of Sequences spent can vary among characters.  For example, it would take David Long – the character we made over the last couple of weeks – two Sequences to fire a pistol.  Firing the same pistol in the same circumstances would take only one Sequence for pre-gen 'Keeps' Keeler, but would take three Sequences for pre-gen Julie Whitmore.  These differences occur due to the Phoenix concept of 'Skill Speed' which is inversely proportionate to skill percentage; the better a character knows a skill, the faster he or she can perform said skill.  This is where the system gets a bit clunky; characters have Skill Speeds for Skill Spheres as well as for Specific Skills.  The 'highest' Skill Speed value is five and the 'lowest' is one.  Outside of combat, for long term tasks, Skill Speed can represent minutes, hours, or days.

During a combat situation, the gamemaster literally counts out the Sequences.  In the combat chapter of the Training Guide, a section called 'The Combat Clock' explains the four 'steps' of performing actions.  The steps are:  (1) Announcing Intentions, (2) Counting Down to Action, (3) Acting, and (4) Recording Changes. The phrase 'Counting Down to Action' can be somewhat confusing because the progression of Sequences goes from lower to higher numbers.  Players are supposed to track the actions of their characters and – at the appropriate Sequence – inform the gamemaster that a given action has been performed and needs to be resolved.  Actions can always be cancelled, perhaps to perform a defensive action (all of which only require a single Sequence).  Alternatively, the multiple skill use rules can be used to perform two actions simultaneously (such as attacking and defending or defending against two separate attackers).

Within a given Sequence, the character with the fastest “raw Skill Speed” acts first.  In the case of ties, actions are simultaneous.

The 'Moves' value indicates the number of meters a character can move in one Sequence.  It is determined by subtracting the character's Kinetics Skill Speed from six.  Thus, our character David Long would nave a Moves value of two (i.e., a Kinetics Skill Speed of 4 subtracted from 6).  Different forms of movement are derived from this value; running distance per Sequence is twice Moves.

Characters can reduce the number of Sequences the performance of a given skill normally requires by 'Shaving Speed.'  Each Sequence 'Shaved' off of a skill attempt incurs a penalty of one Difficulty level and an additional Erg loss.  Although not expressly stated, one supposes that Skill Speed cannot be Shaved to less than one Sequence.  Wixted warns us on page 16 of the Training Guide:
          Players should refrain from using this technique often, because a character's self-preservation instincts have a tendency to override such foolishness.
On the other hand, characters can obviate a Difficulty level by taking an extra Sequence (and an additional Erg loss).  Curiously, this can only be done to counter Difficulty penalties; it cannot be used to gain a bonus by virtue of preparation.  With regard to aiming an attack, the combat rules on page 39 of the Training Guide offer two methods.  Both methods regard hitting a specific 'Hit Location.'  Method One allows a player to modify the Hit Location roll by one for each extra Sequence consumed (to a maximum number of six).  Method Two imposes a Difficulty penalty based on the size of a given Hit Location (e.g., 2 Difficulty for the chest, 5 Difficulty for the left hand, etc.).

Aiming isn't the only circumstance for which Phoenix addresses alternate rules.  With regard to “dealing with ammunition,” Wixted says on page 40 of the Adventure Guide,“Some gamemasters will ignore the question entirely, while others will want a detailed account of every single bullet expended...”  Wixted suggests that a rapid-fire gun run out of ammunition when the roll for using said gun results in doubles or a klutz.  This means on any given use (including the first), the gun has about a 1-in-8 chance of being out of ammunition.  Ultimately, Wixted writes, “...when it is dramatically necessary to run out of ammunition, the firearms should do so.”  Immediately following this statement Wixted scribes, “Naturally, common sense should prevail.”

We close this post with some good advice from Wixted:  “When designing the combat area decide if it would make a good setting for a movie.  If not, open it up.”

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