Gutting Mooks in Sword Noir

Eloy Cintron had a few questions about the combat system in Sword Noir, and he agreed to allow me to share them.

If you haven’t purchased your copy of Sword Noir: A Role-playing Game of Hardboiled Sword & Sorcery, I expect you to go do so now. It’s okay, we’ll wait.

Got it? Great. Let’s move on with this.

Those of you reading this, I will assume you’ve read the combat example, as Eloy’s questions originate with that example

Eloy asked:

1. In the multiple opponents combat example, Tara loses the initiative in the first roll, yet her first action is to attempt to seize the initiative. Doesn’t losing the initiative on the first roll imply that you need to spend that first round defending, and then declare an attempt to seize initiative at the end of the turn? By the combat example, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Tara loses initiative on the first roll, and her first action in combat is to attempt to seize initiative.

This is a good question, as it strikes to the very heart of how combat works in Sword Noir, and how it will work in Kiss My Axe.

Combat in Sword Noir is not the back and forth common to games like D&D or Savage Worlds. In Sword Noir, there is an attacker and a defender, and in the combat round they both act at the same time. When a character attempts to seize the initiative, that is the character’s defence—and if the character fails, it leaves the character undefended.

Given that being undefended, as illustrated in the example, is a really good way to get dead, attempting to seize the initiative every round isn’t necessarily a good idea. If the character has Qualities that can modify the initiative Test, the character is built to seize the initiative, and so will likely end up as the attacker in most combats—until that one in which the Test to seize the initiative sucks, and then it’s a white knuckle round, hoping the next roll isn’t the character’s last.

Eloy continues, and while he’s phrasing these as questions, he’s got it dead-on:

My next question is what happens if the Cohorts had lost initiative in that first roll? Say Tara rolled a 14 on the die, with her modifier effectively at +0, she still wins initiative against the Cohorts’ TN 12.

Now, depending on the answer to question 1, the cohorts either spend a round defending, or they can attempt to seize initiative.

2. If the cohorts try to seize initiative, they go as a single unit, no?

So, Tara’s attack modifier would be her Agility of Good (+2), plus her Concept of Mercenary, Good (+2) modified by -8 for her four opponents, so an effective -4. So she makes a single roll against the Cohort’s initiative number of 12.

If she misses, the Cohorts take the initiative and things proceed as per the posted combat example. But if she rolls a 17 (-4) = 13, the Cohorts fail to regain initiative, so they all become helpless against her.

That means that Tara would get the opportunity to roll her attack (-4) versus a TN of 9 for each opponent that turn. If she rolls 13 or greater in each of the four rolls, she could wipe them all out in a single turn, no?

This is where it gets a little complex; when groups are attempting to seize the initiative. There is only one initiative Test but four combat Tests. I would run it that the first roll, Tara’s first attack, is both against the first Cohort and the seize the initiative attempt. Tara rolls a 13, so not only do the Cohorts fail to seize the initiative, Tara has also scored a hit against the first Cohort, who—as with all the Cohorts—is undefended.

Tara is going remove these guys with extreme prejudice. This is not going to be pretty. Which—in my mind—would be totally badass, and we’d do a little cinematic scene of her sliding past the defences of each Cohort and putting that Cohort down, a la the Takeshi Kitano version of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman when he’s basically walking through a bunch of mooks.


Eloy continues:

3. The -8 modifier would apply to each attack in that case because there were 4 opponents at the start of her attack, no? In other words, the modifier does not change in the middle of the turn, does it?

For example, if her first roll is a 14 -4 = 10, she kills the first cohort. For her second roll, the second cohort is a TN 9, but does Tara’s penalty persist at -8 or does it go down to -6 because there are only 3 opponents left? I understand it to remain at -8 for the duration of the turn, as the turn is an abstract length of time and she has to fight all 4 opponents at the same time.

The only correction I would make to this would be if the first roll were a 10, the Cohorts would have successfully seized the initiative, and we’d move into the next round, with Tara as the defender. Now, if we go with the first roll being a 13, the example is dead on. The -8 remains through all the attacks. Consider it a penalty for multiple actions as much as it is a penalty for multiple opponents.

Consider: should Tara decide to only attack two of the Cohorts, her penalty is only -4. The problem with this strategy is that she is considered undefended for the other two Cohorts, and she’ll likely regret that.

In case I haven’t mentioned it enough: one does not want to find oneself undefended. It usually results in something messy, the kind of messy that is definitely not good.

Thank you, Eloy, for the questions and for letting me post them to the website. If anyone else has any questions, the SEP email address is right over there on the left. Drop me a line and hopefully you’ll let me share them on the site.

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2 Responses to Gutting Mooks in Sword Noir

  1. Rob says:

    Damn, that’s a fine looking cover.

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