We're still hard at work on Shadows Over Sol: Siren's Call. If you haven't read its announcement, go do that now! As of last night, an estimated 58 pages have been written and the initial playtest is well under way.
In today's post, however, we're going to talk about the Shadows Over Sol combat system. It's come to our attention that the internet could use a better extended combat example, and we're happy to oblige! And since we have Siren's Call on the brain, the combat example below is inspired by that upcoming combined sourcebook and campaign.
Our team has just made a desperate crash landing on the exoplanet Siren, orbiting Alpha Centauri A. Their drop module is damaged, their air supplies are depleting and they are preparing to spend their first night on this new world, unaware of what dangers this alien planet may hold. Our team consists of the following (for the sake of clarity we are treating player and character names as the same):
Jesse: It's getting dark quickly - surprisingly quickly. This must be a result of the planet's fast rate of rotation. If you don't find some shelter soon you're going to be caught out in the open when it gets dark.
Darin: I look around the area. Do I see any good spots to hole up for the night?
Ben: I'll accompany him to make sure he's safe.
Jesse: Darin, make a Perception-Naturalist flip. Secretly decides that the target number is 10. That means it is a Per/naturalist-10 flip, using the game's usual convention for listing actions.
Darin: Looks at his hand and decides that he would rather flip a card off the top of the deck. Flips a card and gets an 8 of spades. He adds this to half his Perception (half 4 is 2) and his Naturalist skill (2). Nice! I got a 12.
When making a flip, you always have the option to either play a card from hand (your Edge) or play from the top of the deck. To succeed, you must meet or beat the target number. When you play a card from hand, you don't immediately draw another one. This makes them a limited resource - a bit of certainity in an otherwise uncertain game. Darin decides not to play a card from hand because he doesn't want to use up his limited resources.
Jesse: You're in luck. After scouring the area nearby you come acorss a small cave that's been carved out of a short bluff. It looks just big enough for the three of you to crawl inside.
Tammy: Are we sure crawling into this cave is the best idea?
Ben: It's almost dark and we don't have anywhere else to go. I say we chance it.
Tammy: Fine, but I'm getting a bad feeling about this... I hunch over and begin to crawl into the cave.
Ben: I follow close behind.
Jesse: Smiles evilly. Excellent! As you head in the boots of your vac suit squish slightly in the mud of the cave floor. Suddenly, with little warning, the cave floor where you put your foot begins to give way, as if the rock is crumbling, explosing a hole. Tammy, since you're in front, go ahead and make me a Dexterity, target number 12 flip to avoid falling into it. (Dex-12 using the game's usual convention.)
Tammy: I told you so! Looks at her hand and chooses the 7 of diamonds. She adds this to her Dexterity (a 6) and gets a 13. Hah! Thirteen! I might die, but it's not going to be to the cave floor crumbling away.
When a skill is involved in a flip - such as with Darin's action above - the player adds half her relevant stat, plus the relevant skill, plus the value of the card and compares the total to the target number. On the other hand, when a skill isn't involved - such as with Tammy's action here - the full value of the stat is added to the value of the card. The reason is that since there is no skill providing a bonus, using the full stat's value makes up for it.
Jesse: You deftly avoid falling into the hole that opens up under your feet. As you step back you can hear the rocks hit the floor far below. Unfortunately, the noise from all this seems to have gotten the attention something lurking in the back of the cave. Right at the edge of your vision in the darkness you can see a large creature shift. It has numerous sets of legs, like of like a centipede, but no clear head. Skeleton-like struts form a web around its carapace. On the top of the creature a single tendril flicks back and forth.
Ben: Awww... Shit... I draw my gun.
Jesse: A reasonable precaution. I think it's time to go into combat.
Every round each character gets 3 Action Points (AP) to either spend on actions or hold to take reactions. Each round consists of a declaration phase, where everyone declares their actions, and three execution phases, in which those actions are executed. The execution phases are called Phase 3, Phase 2 and Phase 1, respectively. It costs that many AP to act in a particular phase. So, for example, it costs 3 AP to act in Phase 3 or 2 AP to act in Phase 2. This means that acting first costs more, and thus require more of a commitment.
Jesse: Alright, so what's everyone going to do?
Tammy: I quickly back out of the cave in Phase 3.
Ben: Decides to hold onto 1 AP in case he needs to defend himself. I'll shoot at the creature in Phase 2.
Darin: I'll draw my gun in Phase 2 and fire at the creature on 1.
Jesse: The creature is going to charge at Tammy in Phase 2 and attack on 1. Jots down a few notes on everyone's actions.
Jesse: Phase 3. Tammy, you quickly scuttle away from the creature, putting as much distance between you and it as possible. This is good because it will open up a clear line of fire so that Ben can shoot at the beast.
Jesse: Phase 2. Ben, you've got a clear shot. Go ahead and make your flip.
Ben: Flips a card from the top of the deck - a 3 of clubs. Ugh... Adds this to half his Dexterity and his Guns skill, for a total of 10. I got a 10, I hope that hits. The damage is 3 moderate.
Jesse: Looks at the stat block for the creature's Defense (7/15). He then notes that the creature has spent all its AP for the round and thus can't take a reaction to Dodge. Finally, he compares the damage to the creature DR (4) and Shock threshold (12). The good news is that your bullets ring out, deafeningly loud, and strike the creature in the center of its carapace. The bad news is that the damage they inflict barely seems to phase the beast.
When making an attack, the attack's total is compared to the target's Defense score. This score consists of two target numbers, separated by a slash: the number needed to for the attack to hit and the number needed for the attack to be a critical hit. In the case of Ben's attack above, he got a total of 10, which is good enough to hit the creature (target number 7), but not good enough to critically hit the creature (target number 15). The creature's Defense is 7/15.
Ben's attack then deals damage to the creature. Damage is determined by the weapon being used and the suit of the card played for the attack. Every weapon has four possible damage values listed, one for each suit. Use the one that matches the card that was played. In this case Ben played the 3 of clubs for his attack, so he uses the clubs damage listed for his weapon (which happens to be its lowest value). This means he deals a measly 3 moderate damage (usually written as 3M). You will also notice that damage has both a value and a severity. This severity comes in four levels - light (1), moderate (2), severe (3), critical (4) - ranked from least severe to most severe. (These same four severities are used throughout the game in the consequence system.) Receiving damage will be explained later.
Jesse: Still on Phase 2. The creature charges straight at Tammy. It's frighteningly swift. It's top tendril looks ready to strike. Darin draws his gun.
Darin: My hands shake a bit as I level the barrel at the monster. Uh... Guys, I really should have learned how to shoot this thing...
Ben: It's point and click. It's not that hard!
Jesse: Phase 1. The creature lashes out with its tendral, striking with lightning speed. He flips a card off the top of the deck and gets the king of diamonds (+3). Since this is a face card he also flips the next card off the top of the deck - the 4 of hearts - and adds its value, for a total of 7. Thankfully lightning speed doesn't also mean lightning precision. The creature gets a 7 to hit.
Every card has a value which is used when taking actions. The value cards - ace (1) through 10 - are worth exactly the number printed on the card. The face cards, on the other hand, are special. They are what we sometimes call "adders." They each have a value - jack (+1), queen (+2) and king (+3) - but when one is played, you flip the next card off the top of the deck and add the two values together. In the example above, Jesse played a king (+3), he then flipped the top of the deck and got a 4. Because his initial card was a face card, these two cards' values add, totaling to 7.
Tammy: Looks at her Defense (8/16). Phew... Just barely a miss. Thank god, I didn't have the AP to dodge that.
Jesse: Darin, take your shot at the creature. Unfortunately, the beast has closed with Tammy, meaning your line of fire isn't entirely open. If you miss, you might accidentally shoot her.
Darin: Guys, I really should have learned how to shoot this thing... He decides to play the best card from his hand in order to reduce the chance of shooting Tammy. He plays the 10 of spades and adds it to half his Dexterity and his total lack of Guns skill. I have 12 to hit the beast. But if I do hit, that's 15 moderate damage (15M).
Jesse: Compares the total to the creature's Defense - a hit! He then compares the damage to its Shock threshold - enough to increase the damage to a severe wound and stun the beast! Hands shaking, you raise your gun and shoot at the creature. For a moment there you worry that you're going to hit your teammate, then BLAM! The thing rears back as you've dealt it a solid gun wound! It begins to twitch a bit.
When a character is dealt damage, the value of the damage - in this case 15M - is compared to that character's DR and Shock threshold. If the value is less than DR, the severity of the damage will be lessened one category, for example, going from moderate to light. On the other hand, if the value is greater than Shock, it will be increased a severity, for example, going from moderate to severe. Being increased in this way also gives the target the Stun consequence. This is the case with Darin;'s shot above. He dealt 15M damage, which is greater than the creature's Shock of 12, so the beast takes a severe wound and is stunned. So far the creature has taken a light wound (from Ben) and a severe wound (from Darin).
The Wound consequence imposes a penalty to the character's next action. These consequences can also add up and eventually kill the character. To determine this, the total number of wound severities is compared to the character's Wound threshold. A light wound consists of one severity, moderate is two, severe is three and critical is four. (This is the same scale that is used for all consequences.) For example, at this point in the combat the creature has a light wound (1) and a severe wound (3), for a total of 4 total severities. Once this total meets or exceeds the creature's Wound threshold (5), it will begin to die. This will be detailed later.
Jesse: New round. What is everyone doing?
Ben: I'm going to shoot at the thing on Phase 2, then again on Phase 1.
Tammy: I'm going to extend my knife implant on Phase 2 and attack with it on Phase 1.
Darin: Not getting out of the way? Uhhh... Well, it worked out last time. I'm going to fire on 3.
Jesse: The creature is going to pull itself together and remove the Stun consequence on Phase 2. It also holds onto 1 AP so that it can take the Dodge reaction.
Ben: I think we've got this.
Darin: I wouldn't get too cocky yet.
Jesse: Phase 3. Darin, again you fire at the creature, hoping not to hit your teammate. Make your flip.
Darin: Flips a card off the top of the deck. It's a joker. Fuck...
When a joker comes up as part of a flip, that action results in a critical failure. The GM gets to make up something extra bad that happened as a result of the failure. On the plus side, however, the player who suffered this failure gets to discard any cards she no longer wants in her hand and then draw back up to her full Edge value. She then shuffles her discard pile into her draw pile - jokers never sit in the discard pile.
Jesse: You thought you had a clear shot, but maybe your hands were shaking too much. Or maybe you really should have learned how to shoot. The bullet misses the creature and instead strikes Tammy in the back.
Darin and Tammy look at the numbers involved and determine that she takes a moderate wound.
Tammy: I always thought I would die in the pilot's seat, not shot in the back by a scientist and then eaten by a giant alien bug.
Ben: You're not dead... yet.
Jesse: Phase 2. Tammy, you activate your knife implant. The blade extends outward with a satisfying shing sound. The creature gathers its composure and shakes off the Stun consequence. Ben, you take aim and then fire at the monster.
Ben: Flips a card off the top of his deck, then adds it to half his Dexterity and his Guns skill. This gives him a total of 12. Looks like a 12! I deal 6 moderate damage (6M).
Jesse: Compares it to the creature's Defense and determines it's a hit. Then compares the damage to the creature's DR and Shock. He determines it is a moderate wound. You watch your bullet crack a hole in the monster's carapace; a much better hit than your last one. Black ichor oozes out of the wound.
The creature now has 6 wound severities - a light (1), a severe (3) and now a moderate (2). Once this total meets or exceeds a character's Wound threshold, she is said to be in its Dying Gasps. She gains the Bleeding consequence and needs immediate medical attention or she will die. For the creature, this just happened; 6 severities is greater than the monster's Wound threshold of 5. If her total number of wound severities ever equals or exceeds twice a character's Wound threshold, she expires from her wounds. For the creature this hasn't happened yet, but it's coming up...
Jesse: Phase 1. Ben, you have another shot.
Ben: Flips a card off the top of his deck, does the math and gets a total of 9. I have a 9. It deals 9 moderate, if I hit.
Jesse: Notes that the creature saved an AP this round so that it could Dodge. The creature seems to have figured out that it should avoid the spot where you're pointing your guns. Since you're in the cave, it can reach you with its deceptively long top tendril. It lashes out and knocks your aim aside.
Dodge is a reaction that helps a character defend against an attack. It costs 1 AP, which must be spent to perform. When dodging, a character may double her Defense bonus from the Cover or Concealment consequences. This effectively increases her Defense - the target numbers needed to hit her. In hand-to-hand range (or in this case hand-to-tendril range), however, there is a second option. A character may instead add her Melee skill to her Defense. Basically she is knocking the attack aside. That's exactly what the creature did above.
Jesse: It's just you left, Tammy. You have your blade implant extended from your arm. Knife the beast.
Tammy: Flips a card from the top of her deck - the 9 of hearts. Since this is a Dexterity-based action, hearts are trump! She flips another card from the top of the deck and gets the 6 of hearts. Since the suits match, they add! She gets a 20 total. Hot damn! I got a 20 to hit. If that's a critical, I'm picking Vital Hit for my effect. Normally that would be 12 moderate, but it's doubed to 24 moderate.
Jesse: Looks at the creature's Defense and confirms that it's a critical hit. Nice! That's enough to kill it.
Every stat has an associated suit. When a card of that suit is played, the action is said to be trump. When this happens, flip a second card off the top of the deck and take the highest of the two values. If the suits for these two cards match (they're both trump), then they add together instead! For Dexterity hearts are trump. In the example above, both cards were hearts, thus their values added!
When an attack's total is high enough to meet ot exceed the target's second Defense number, the attack is a critical hit. The attacker gets to pick a critical effect from a short list of possible effects included in the Shadows Over Sol core rulebook. In the example above, Tammy picked the Vital Hit effect, which doubles the damage dealt.
Jesse: Finally, the creature collapses, nearly falling on top of Tammy as its legs give way. It twitches twice and then ceases to move. The three of you are now alone in the cave, ready to wait out the night.