Sunday, February 7, 2016

Combat in Alma Mater

Art by Owen Oulten

Sometimes fights occur in high school.  As such, Alma Mater includes rules for combat.  Characters can commit up to two “options” in each five second turn.  An option is defined as “Any form of attack, defense, or other maneuver.”  The rules also explain that “Any option which is not an attack is considered to be a defense.”  In a turn, a character can commit two attacks, two defenses, or one attack and one defense (in either order).  Although a defense counts as one option, the defense – if successful – can last for the entire turn.  A character can also move during a turn.  Movement rates are shown in terms of entire turns, so it does not seem that movement can be performed in the same turn as attack and defense options.  One of the movement types is “Run & Dodge,” which could be interpreted as incorporating the 'Dodge' defense; however, this movement type seems to have an attack modifier against all attacks (instead of a single attack).  (Speed of movement, incidentally, is based upon a character's Constitution – the sum of Strength and Willpower.)

The beginning of combat happens somewhat differently than a standard turn.  The Courage attribute of each combatant is modified according to Table 44.  Examples of possible modifiers include “Must turn around to attack” (–4) and “Attacks from above/below without warning” (+2).  The modified Courage scores are compared.  “The combatant with the highest modified [Courage] gets the first attack, consisting of one action,” the rules state, “while the other character does nothing.”  Some complications are not explained, such as what to do if the modified values are tied.  Perhaps more importantly, what if there are more than two combatants?  Also, does this “First Strike” occur as the first of two options of a turn or does the fist turn have only one 'option'?
“Options occur simultaneously,” meaning that “first options are compared first...[with] the second options being compared second.”  Although options occur simultaneously, there is no provision for when options are declared.  It would seem that the person who declares first is at a disadvantage.  “In each turn,” according to the Combat section, “defenses are determined first.”  (Does that include determining second option defenses before first option attacks?)  Defenses are successful if the character succeeds with a Coordination roll.  The defensive options are Advance, Block, Dodge, Grab, and Retreat.  'Block' imposes a –3 modifier against one close attack (or –1 against two).  'Dodge' acts as 'Block', except against ranged attacks.  With 'Grab', a character may either take hold of a limb (or object) or place an opponent in a wrestling hold.  'Retreat' allows a character “to move out of an attacker's effective range.”  Decide for yourself what “effective range” means.  “Advance is the opposite of Retreat,” the description tells us, “Combatants resume close combat.”  Apparently, 'Advance' isn't used to engage in combat, only to resume it.

Before discussing attacks, it is practical to talk about damage.  “Each weapon attack is rated for either type A or B damage,” the rules state.  Type A damage is less severe than type B.  Presumably, unarmed damage is type A but this is never explicitly stated.  Type A damage is recovered at a rate of one point “per hour not spent in strenuous activity” while type B is healed at one point “per day not spent in strenuous activity.”  (More type B damage can be healed in a day with successful application of the First Aid skill.)

For any successful attack, damage is determined by rolling 1d6 and applying appropriate modifiers.  The Strength modifier “applies only to forms of attack where the physical power of the attacker is important.”

Inflicted damaged is subtracted from the target's Constitution.  If the amount of damage from a single attack is less than two-thirds of a character's (original) Constitution, 1d20 is rolled.   If the result of the roll is greater than the character's original Constitution, then the character “is stunned and unable to attack or defend for a number of options equal to the amount by which the roll was missed.”  If a single attack inflicts more than one-third, but less than two-thirds of (original) Constitution, then the character must – in addition to checking for stunning (as above) – succeed in a 1d10 roll against Coordination to avoid falling down.  Strangely, if a single attack inflicts more than two-thirds of a character's (original) Constitution, there is no possibility of being stunned or falling down.  Upon losing all of his or her Constitution, a character becomes unconscious.  Death occurs should a character's Constitution be reduced to –5.  Whenever a character's Constitution is reduced to less than zero as a result of type B damage, then the character loses an additional point per number of minutes equal to the character's (original) Constitution.  First Aid can prevent this loss.

Similar to defense options, attack options succeed with a successful Coordination roll; however, there are many possible modifiers.  Situational modifiers typically regard aiming, obscured vision, and movement of either attacker or defense.

While there are only five defense options, the are a plethora of attack options:  Bite, Claw, Elbow, Head, Kick, Knee, Punch, and Slap.  These are just the standard options; there are also several additional attack options.  The only differences among these standard attack options are the hit location modifiers associated with them.  For instance, a bite has a –3 modifier for hitting the head and a –4 modifier for hitting the chest or abdomen while a punch has a –1 for the head and a –2 for the chest or abdomen.  If the an attack hits and the attacker did not aim for a specific location, then the 'Hit Location' table is used.  Different hit locations apply different modifiers to damage.  For instance, +3 for a hit to the head, –1 for a hit to the foot.

An entire page is devoted to weapon listings.  Each weapon has a damage type, a damage modifier, and range modifiers (short, medium, and long) to the attack roll.  Among the more unusual 'weapons' are electric fans, paper shredders, oranges, chalk, chalk erasers, doors, marbles, medicine balls, rubber bands, yardsticks, bottle caps, dinner forks, cigarettes, hot liquids, wet towels, and spitballs.  Also covered, of course, are 'usual' weapons like switchblades, baseball bats, pool sticks, scissors, pellet guns, and M-16 rifles.

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