Thursday, March 12, 2015


The combat system in Crowns of Blood needs almost zero modification from its Pendragon roots. George R.R. Martin's setting is almost entirely concerned with knightly types fighting other knightly types (individually or in mass battles) and Pendragon does a pretty excellent job modeling this. 

It is quite a bit different from B/X however, being a skill-based combat system, which makes my off-hand comment about "B/X Pendragon" patently ridiculous. While there are "levels" of knighthood in Pendragon (young, ordinary, old, notable, famous, extraordinary) related to their accumulated levels of "glory," and while high glory generally translates into greater combat ability, it's not nearly as cut-and-dry as D&D. In basic D&D, a fighter is presumed to develop in a single, specific way...the variation in the adventuring group comes from different players using different character classes.

Pendragon's design choice comes from having all characters starting as the same class...literally. Every PC is a first born son of a landed vassal knight, and (as their fathers have all died) have assumed the rights and responsibilities that come with the gig. The variation between player characters comes with their choice of how they develop (where they put their skills) and their personalities (how they develop traits and passions). It's a fine design choice, and actually makes for fairly fast character creation, despite being a skill-based RPG.

Which is good, because combat can be pretty deadly.

This isn't a system of heroic comic book fantasy, where dudes with stacks of HPs go toe-to-toe with giant monsters while their "luck/fatigue/training/karma" gets gradually depleted. Your character has a static HP total based on Size and Constitution that doesn't improve with experience or leveling up. Armor (the knight's usual tool) does an excellent job of protecting you against major wounds, but a luck blow can still do serious damage and large monsters (like the giants of Westeros) can simply tear through the toughest plate armor...though perhaps not enough to "one-shot" a particularly stout knight with a good shield.

Armor...very knightly.

That serious damage is important, because it takes a long time to heal from wounds; as said, this isn't some sort of abstract, D&D-style of hit point that's being measured but your character's real flesh and bone. Which is refreshing, as it should cut down the overall number of "combats" that take place, making each one more important. And combat should be important in a game where all the characters have been martially trained since youth.

Contrast this with the latter editions of D&D. Combats become rarer because they are long (in "real time"), complicated affairs given the plethora of options and special maneuvers available to characters. Running a combat eats up time...real time...from the gaming table. I know that 3rd edition suggested a four hour game session might include four encounters (involving combat) and I felt this to be a good...maybe even an optimistic...estimate, depending on the level of the characters and the experience of the players. Like B/X D&D, the (few) combats in Pendragon are pretty simple affairs to run, leaving more time for other aspects of gaming. In a game that spends so much time on other "knightly pursuits" (tourneys and hunting and romances and courtly intrigue), that's a good thing.

I could go into the "highlights" of Pendragon combat, but it probably wouldn't be terribly useful; folks already know it and like it OR they don't and prefer their current system...there just isn't too much to take and add to D&D due to the systems being so fundamentally different. Instead, I wanted to talk about the few tweaks I'd make to the original system in model the slightly grittier setting of Crowns of Blood:

[NOTE: all Pendragon rules/systems are as per the 3rd edition]

Dirty leather...not very knightly.
Primary Combat Rules: Knockdown. A fatigued character suffers armor's normal DEX penalty to balance checks. Fatigued characters that have been knocked down must make a DEX roll (with armor penalty) to regain their feet.

Combat Modifiers: Fatigue and Minor Wounds. A character wearing non-metal armor (cuirbouilli or less) takes twice as long to become fatigues (20 melee rounds).

Combat Modifiers: Length of Weapon. A character suffers a -5 penalty to combat skill when fighting on foot against an opponent (also on foot) whose weapon is substantially longer. There are five categories of "length:"
1) dagger or unarmed
2) normal sized weapons
3) "great" weapons (other than great spear), including war flail
4) spear
5) great spear
Penalty assumes the opponent has enough room to maneuver weapon; in cramped quarters the penalized party is reversed (i.e. the person with the larger weapon receives the penalty). This rule does not supersede the rules when one or both opponents are mounted and/or using a lance; mounted and lance rules always apply normally.

Other Combat Notes: Longsword. The longsword (also called bastard sword or hand-and-a-half sword) may be used with either one or two hands using the same "sword" skill. When used two-handed, it adds an extra D6 to damage; however, it does not have the length of a true great sword (treat as category #2, not #3) and no shield may be used when fighting two-handed. Characters should note whether a weapon is a longsword or the shorter (one-handed) "arming sword;" historically, knights would own one of each.

Special Combat Tactics: Antagonize. When facing a defensive opponent in one-on-one combat, the character uses well-chosen words to annoy or irritate the foe into changing to a more aggressive stance (and thereby forgoing the normal benefits of fighting defensively). The antagonizing character must make an opposing intrigue skill check against the opponent's prudence or cowardly trait (defending character's choice). If the antagonizer wins the opposed roll, the defender loses all defensive bonus and fights normally. On a tie or partial success, the opponent remains defensive but the antagonizer can try again the next round. If the antagonizer fails and loses, no further attempts to antagonize the opponent may be used this combat.

Spears...kind of knightly.
Special Combat Tactics: Pin. A downed opponent can be pinned to the ground and thus immobilized (as per Other Combat Notes) with a successful piercing attack (i.e. one that inflicts damage) such as from a spear. The attack must be unopposed and the attacker loses the weapon in the process, but the opponent remains immobilized until able to remove the weapon (requiring a successful STR/2 check), suffering the usual penalties. Pinning an opponent is not considered knightly, and may cost a point of honor in most cases.

Special Combat Tactics: Two Weapon Fighting. A character may choose to fight with a dagger in an off-hand, allowing two attacks against a single opponent. The weapon skill of the main hand is halved and used as the skill value for both attacks (though this number cannot exceed the character's own dagger skill level), and both attacks suffer the standard -5 penalty for multiple actions. However, unless the opponent chooses to divide his own attacks (as per fighting multiple opponents; see Other Combat Notes), the off-hand attack is made unopposed.

Unknightly Combat Skills: Brawling. All characters have brawling skill equal to DEX/2; this skill can be increased with experience on a critical attack roll or by "self-training" in the Winter Phase. Brawling is a dishonorable pursuit and training such a skill automatically results in a 1 point loss of honor as does using brawling in combat, except in dire circumstances (such as when defending oneself while unarmed). Additional honor loss may result depending on the circumstance and outcome of brawling.

Wound Classification: Major Wounds. Rather than roll on the Statistics Lost Table (used for aging in the Winter Phase), the victim of a major wound must immediately roll on the following Major Wound table (roll D20); all stat losses are permanent:

1-5: Nasty, permanent scar (Lose D3 APP)
6: Loss of eye (Lose 2 APP and 2 DEX; -2 points from awareness)
7: Loss of ear/hearing (Lose 3 APP; -2 points from awareness)
8: Broken jaw, lost teeth (Lose 2 APP and 1 CON; penalty to "talky" skills until healed)
9: Concussion (Lose D3 APP and 3D6 skill points)
10: Broken ribs/torn muscles (Lose 1 DEX and D3 CON)
11: Broken/sprained back (STR and DEX reduced by 50%; no movement till healed)
12: Internal organ damage (Lose D6+2 CON)
13-14: Broken arm never heals properly (Lose 2 DEX; useless till healed)
15-16: Maimed hand/arm (Lose 4 DEX and ability to use arm)
17-18: Broken leg never heals properly (Lose 2 DEX; half movement till healed)
19-20: Hamstrung or amputate part of leg (Lose 3 DEX; movement reduced to one-half)

["major wound table" adapted from Stormbringer, 1st edition, thank you very much]


  1. If you assume the base "everyone is the son of a landed knight," how would you handle bastards, or even minor factions like the Black Brothers or the various mercenary corps?

    1. @ Tanner:

      The Pendragon supplement. Knights Adventurous, has chargen rules for non-knights and non-1st born, legit sons. Much of it was later incorporated into the 4th edition.

      My idea at the moment is that all PCs would be from one region/faction (even if they were fosterlings from a different house), whether lords, bannermen/knights, sworn swords, or mercs.

      The Black Brothers are more an option for exiled/disgraced or otherwise "retired" PCs then for an actual character type. PCs don't have to be Black Brothers to adventure north of the wall.
      ; )