Nerd Rage! or, Fighting When You Don’t Know How

by mshrm

The PCs in the current mid-apocalyptic campaign start with only 50 points. They are not fighters. No one has Combat Reflexes. Several characters have instances of Squeamish, Honesty, and various flavors of Pacifism. A couple have combat-oriented skills of questionable utility. What skills they have are hampered, either by improvised weaponry, or low damage, or unwillingness to use the skill to its full lethal potential.

This is all according to plan, but it takes some adjustment. We’re coming off a run of Dungeon Fantasy, where if a character can’t deliver 3d cutting every turn or so, they’re off the front line, and if they can’t take 3d cutting without breaking a sweat, they’re considered squishy. The scuffle at the end of last session really demonstrated that combat with knights and swashbucklers is a lot different than a fight between nerds and slackers.

First, your band of non-fighting, modern-day pencil pushers and couch potatoes is going to have a harder time landing a hit. DF characters have combat skill levels of 14, 17, 21… where normal slobs roll against their DX of 10 to land a punch at default. To review: a skill of 14 means a success 90% of the time; skill of 12, a 75% success rate; skill 10 means 50-50 chances; skill 8 only lands 25.9% of the time; skill 5 is about 5%, or the same as “roll a natural 20”. To put those numbers into character context, Rho the short-lived priest of Anubis started out with Axe/Mace at 14. An average mid-apocalyptic Portlander throws a punch at a 10, kicks on an 8 or less, and swings a baseball bat with a skill level of 5 (all defaults from DX 10).

Next, average non-fighters tend to not do a whole mess o’ damage. In the world of DF, even a wimpy spellcaster hanging out in the rear is going to have ST 12 and a small mace. The apocalypse PCs tend to hover around 1d-2, 1d-3, at best. We had an excellent demonstration, last session, when the scrappy Farrah was landing punch after punch on her adversary, only to roll 0 damage time after time. (I fully expect to hear “I would like to roll Scrounging to improvise some brass knuckles,” next session — assuming they aren’t all wiped out by the oncoming tripod.)

There are plenty of familiar combat options for DF characters. (“Shoot it in the eye” comes to mind, followed closely by “Stab it in the eye” and “Cleanse it with fire”.) But what’s J. Q. Citizen supposed to do when it’s the end of the world and things get confrontational? I’ve been flipping through the books, and here’s some thoughts.

All-out… something

If a character performs a regular Attack maneuver, they keep their active defense. When a DF barbarian uses a regular Attack to lop off an orc’s head, that barbarian is ducking and dodging and keeping an eye out to both sides. If the dead orc’s comrade pops out from behind a tree and throws a spear, the barbarian gets a chance to dodge.

I don’t see non-fighters doing that much multi-tasking. When Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris face off, there’s lots of punching and blocking. When Bubba Lee and Charley get into a brawl, there’s a lot more missed wild swings and cowering. I envision non-fighters as doing a lot of All-Out Defense (Increased Dodge) as they approach and look for their opening, followed by some kind of All-Out Attack when they think they’ve found it. That AOA is necessary to offset either their poor chance to hit or their poor damage.

My players are fond of using Extra Effort to get effects like All-Out Attacks without sacrificing their defenses. I expect this is the difference between a well-fed, well-rested combatant, and one who hasn’t eaten for some days. As their available Fatigue shrinks, they’ll change their ways…

The sucker punch

Applied when you’re the only one who knows there’s about to be a fight. This is where you Evaluate three times, then hit the target.

By the rules as written, that’ll give a +3. One could combine that with an AOA (Determined) and aim for the target’s face, for a net +2. That would give the hypothetical average character a 12 to hit, which isn’t bad at all. If you can take the victim by surprise — probably a question of Acting rolls or the like — they won’t get an active defense. If you can deliver any damage at all, you’ll force a knockdown roll, which could lead to a stunned (-4 to defenses) and prone (a further -3 to defenses, among other things), if not outright unconscious, victim. In the movies, this is when the poor guy on the ground starts getting kicked…

Body check

The slam never got much love in the DF game, but I think it deserves a second look, through the eyes of the unskilled fighter. It defaults to DX, no training required. A normal, ST 10, Move 5 character is going to be doing 1d-2 (still better than a 1d-3 punch) with a running slam, while the somewhat huskier characters with ST 11-12 will be doing 1d-1. You could also add extra damage from an AOA (Strong). If you do at least as much damage as your target, the target has to make a DX roll to keep their feet! (And we know what falling down means, with the kicking…)

Let’s say a ST 12 bruiser does a slam at Move 5, using an AOA (Strong), against a hapless ST 10 target. The bruiser is rolling 1d+1 for damage, while the target is rolling 1d-2. In five out of six match-ups, the target is rolling DX to keep its feet. On average, the target is taking 4.5 points of damage, verging on “major wound” territory, while the bruiser is taking 1 2/3. If the bruiser’s got a bit of armor… say, some appropriate sporting goods…

Stand behind something and chuck rocks at ’em

A classic favorite of disorganized mobs surrounded by rubble. The default roll to hit a person with a thrown rock is DX-3, or a measly 7 for the average character. An AOA (Determined) can bump this to an 8, which may not seem like much, but it’s the difference between a 16.2% success rate and 25.9%. The real secret to landing a thrown rock is to bring along a couple of dozen buddies to all throw rocks at the same time.

For maximum damage, a normal, ST 10 character is going to want to look for a 10 pound rock, which can be thrown up to 8 yards for thr+1, or 1d-1, damage. Lighter ammunition improves distance but decreases damage.