Sword Noir Sneak Peek: Multiple Opponents

This is your second sneak peek at the actual rules in Sword Noir: an RPG of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery. Following the preview is a question asked by someone who got an early look at the rules and my answer to it. This should give you a peek not at the rules but at the thinking that went on while developing the rules.


If the order in which actions take place is important, those involved in the action must make an Initiative Test. This is a conflict test between opponents. The Initiative Test may only use either the Agility or Wit Trait, and those Qualities attached to them. Qualities actually used in the following actions may not be used in an Initiative Test.

Background cannot be used to modify an Initiative Test.

The winner of the conflict test is the attacker and the loser is the defender. This does not necessarily mean that they are involved in combat, this merely a designation for the winner and loser of Initiative. If there are more than two characters involved in the actions, an Initiative order can be used, with the highest result first, following by the second highest, etc to the character with the lowest result acting last.

Multiple Opponents and Initiative

In combat, a single character may face multiple opponents. In a case in which both sides include multiple characters, the various opponents “pair off,” though this may still lead to some individual character facing multiple opponents.

Multiple opponents may add together all their Qualities into one modifier to apply to a single initiative test when facing a single opponent. One of the multiple opponents makes the roll and only that opponent may apply a Trait—either Agility or Wit.

For example, if there were three characters facing a single character, two of the characters could apply the Qualities Great (+4) “Fast” and Good (+2) “Strikes Like A Snake,” while one of the three could apply both Qualities and a Trait, such as Good (+2) “Flashing Blade” and Good (+2) Wit. This would make the total modifier for the single character’s initiative test +10.

When a single character faces multiple opponents, one of the Qualities or the Trait being applied to initiative are downgraded one rank per opponent faced. For initiative, when any of the Qualities and Trait is lowered to Basic, the character automatically loses initiative.

This does not apply to any Flaw or Weakness which may apply, as Flaws and Weaknesses begin at or below Basic.

As an example, let’s say a single character uses Great (+4) “Fancy Footwork” and Good (+2) Agility for an Initiative Test against three opponents. The single character’s “Fancy Footwork” is lowered to Average (+0)—minus 2 ranks—and Agility is lowered to Average—minus 1 rank, accounting for all three opponents. If the same character faced four opponents, one of the Qualities would then be lowered to Basic (-2) and the character would automatically lose initiative.

Graeme asked:

Initiative with multiple opponents. I haven’t tried out the mechanics but it seems like a double whammy to give the multiple attackers a bonus AND give the individual a penalty. What happens if the character has a Quality specifically for multiple attackers, like “Seven in one Blow”?

And I answered:
Any Quality modifies actions to which it applies, so “Seven in One Blow” would basically modify the Initiative Test and possibly offset the multiple opponent penalties. It might be more useful to create a Quality simply for Initiative, like “Cat-like Reflexes,” since an added Rank in such a Quality would work much the same way and be useful outside the situation of multiple opponents.

Some more design philosophy: one of the key aspects of the Sword Noir definition is that violence is fast and deadly. In this, Sword Noir is more noir than it is sword. Fighting multiple opponents is a really, really, really, really bad idea—unless one is a total bad-ass. So, yes, it is a double whammy. It is actually meant to be so. And in game, it seems to work okay. Characters built to kick all sorts of ass come out okay, unless really heavily outnumbered. Characters that are more well-rounded, or whom don’t emphasize combat, are messed up big time. That is how I had hoped it would work.

And as an added note, written for this post rather than in response to the question:
Since the draft referred to above, the fighting process evolved. There are four levels of characters, heroic, regular, and minion. Heroic characters are significant characters such as the player characters (PCs) or other very significant, very important narrative characters (NCs). Regulars are recurring but not significant—kind of like supporting cast in a movie. Minions are nobodies who are there to serve very specific purposes—the bartender, the waiter, the thug. Only heroic characters modify Initiative Tests, therefore while multiple opponents still inflict penalties, they do not get bonuses. When going up against multiple heroic characters, expect to get an ass-whooping. Against regulars and minions, a heroic character which fairly competent in combat should fare relatively well, but it is still a risk. A combat monster will be able to tear through multiple regulars and minions relatively well.

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