The multiple opponent rules have been changed, and a new post with a combat example is presented here. The rules don’t change the numbers, they just remove the necessity to track the penalty through Ranks and rather apply a straight penalty.
Sounds good to me. I’m going to use Tara the Mercenary, whose character creation is explained in the book and whose character sheet is included in the Appendices (and on this very website!). She’s going to first face Croydon from the adventure Farewell, Something Lovely (included in Sword Noir) and then four of his Urban Cohorts.
Here’s the statblocks for each. Quick explanation—Tara is a PC, meaning that the character is a “hero.” Croydon is a “regular,” and the Cohorts are “minions.” You can see the different builds, with the hero being the most extensive and the minion being the least.
Concept: Mercenary, Good (+2)
Background: ex-Monastic Order, Good
Faculty: Scrounging, Good [Cha]
Flaw: Papa needs a brand new bag, Basic (-2)
Phy: – ; Agl: Good; Wit: -; Cha: Good; Wil: –
Swordplay, Great (+4) [Agl]; Fancy Footwork, Good [Agl]
Concept: Centurion +2
Faculty: Fight Dirty (Phy) +2
Phy 12; Agl 9; Wit7; Cha 7; Wil 9
Concept: Urban Cohorts +2
Phy: 12 Int: 7 Soc: 9
So, Tara faces off against Croydon. The weapons used are immaterial—the success level is what is important. First, we do an Initiative Test. Only players roll—you’ll note that Tara’s Traits (Phy, Agl, Wit, Cha, Wil) are all ranked, Croydon and the Cohorts have Target Numbers.
An Initiative Test always uses either the Agility or Wit Trait for heroes. Any Quality used in an Initiative Test cannot be used in the following combat. Tara feels pretty confident against Croydon, so she doesn’t need to save all her Qualities for combat, so she’s going to use Fancy Footwork—she dazzles with her quick movements to get the blade in first. As the GM, I know Croydon is worried, so he’s going to modify the Test with Centurion—his years of fighting have taught him all the tells of someone getting ready to throwdown, so as soon as he sees Tara intends to kick butt, he moves.
The player rolls 2d10 and gets 9. To this, the player adds 4 (Tara’s Agl and Fancy Footwork are Good). 13. Croydon has a 9 Agl and Centurion gives him a further 2, so that’s 11. Tara won initiative and is the attacker.
Well, when it comes to actual fighting, Tara has little to fear. She can use Agl as the Trait for a Combat Test, and could modify it with both her Qualities attached to Agl (Swordplay and Fancy Footwork), except that she already used Fancy Footwork for the Initiative Test, so she’s left with Swordplay. She can also use Concept of Mercenary, for a grand total of +8. Croydon’s Target Number would be 14 (his Phy is 12 and he applies Fight Dirty). The player rolls a 12, which modifies to 20, and beats Croydon’s TN of 14. She beats it by 6, providing a “Good” success. That inflicts 1 damage rating. Since Croydon is a regular, that’s it for him. He’s down.
But he was only stalling Tara until his squad of Urban Cohorts could arrive. There are four of them, and they mean to make Tara pay for gutting their centurion.
Initiative time: Tara is a bit worried. These guys don’t look particularly tough, but if they get the drop on her, she’s done. The player applies Fancy Footwork and Swordplay to the Initiative Test, knowing that being the attacker is not particularly dangerous, but being the defender against four is very much so. The Target Number for the Initiative Test is 12, the Cohorts’ Phy.
You see, because there are 4, Tara is penalized at -8 (-2 per opponent). The player rolls a 6. Modified with Agility (+2) Fancy Footwork (+2) and Swordplay (+4) that becomes 14. But with the -8, that’s back to a 6. Ouch. Yeah, she totally lost that.
The first thing Tara wants to do is try to seize the initiative. Tara makes another Initiative Test but against The Cohorts’ combat Target Number. Since the Cohorts can now use their Concept of Urban Cohorts, the Target number is 14. The player rolls a 10. In the end, she’s pretty much rolling unmodified, because her Trait and Qualities are countered by the multiple opponent penalty. That 10 isn’t enough. Fail!
Unfortunately, that means the Cohorts considers Tara “Undefended.” Tara’s player has to roll 4 unmodified Tests against the Target Number 15. The player rolls a 9, a 13, a 5 and a 16.
The first roll is not only a failure, it provides Cohort 1 with a “Good” success. Tara receives 1 damage rating, she incurs a cumulative -1 modifier on all physical actions, including combat for the length of the combat, and—for the next combat turn—she may not attempt to seize initiative. The damage rating inflicts a further -2 modifier to physical actions, so a total penalty of -3. That means the next roll is a 10—an Average success, so a further -1, for a total of -4. Not pretty. That makes the 5 a 1, which is a Great success for Cohort 3—another 2 damage ratings and a total modifier of -9. That makes the last roll a 7, a Good success for Cohort 4, inflicting another damage rating on Tara, which puts her down. She receives a Doom and may have died.
Multiple opponents, even a bunch of minions, can lead to a Doom with one or two bad rolls. The effects of failure in combat are cumulative. One of the precepts of Sword Noir is “Violence is deadly and fast.” The Tara character is pretty much totally devoted to combat—she could only have been improved for combat by making her Faculty something like Widowmaker or Sharpest Blade. That extra +2 might have helped her, but not by much, and she likely still would have been taken down by the four opponents.
That’s an example of how combat works in Sword Noir, and how it is—in fact—deadly and fast.