Discussion On Advanced Combat

Originally posted by Jay Richardson at BGG this very detailed look at the optional combat rules has been preserved here on the Wiki for archival purposes. (We all saw what happened when Yahoo! closed down their Geocities service and the Maic Realm Keep suddenly evaporated into the electronic ether...)

Way back in January 2003, I posted a lengthy article to the Magic Realm Mailing List with the long-winded title of "Comparing the Magic Realm Standard Combat Rules to the Optional Combat Rules in actual game situations." That article was written in an effort to convince more players to give the Optional Combat Rules a try. The article drew several favorable replies, and was reposted on Nand's Magic Realm web site. But with the release of the 3rd edition Magic Realm rules, much of that article became outdated, as there were many substantial changes made to the Optional Combat Rules. This is a fully updated and expanded version of that article.

Introduction

Magic Realm's Optional Combat Rules provide an alternative combat system that is dramatically different from the standard combat system, without requiring any changes to the game's components.

The Optional Combat Rules were created primarily to prevent the most powerful characters from dominating the game the way they can when using the standard rules. They succeed in doing this, but many other aspects of combat are changed as well. Combat is somewhat more realistic with the Optional Combat Rules, and definitely much more challenging.

This article will demonstrate how the Optional Combat Rules work in comparison to the standard combat rules. The benefits and drawbacks involved in using the Optional Combat Rules will also be discussed, and the changes made to these rules in the 3rd edition will be analyzed and explained.

Quick Overview

The Optional Combat Rules make four major changes to the way combat is conducted:

  • All attempts to run from a battle are resolved with a die roll on the Stumble Table.
  • The harm that a striking attack inflicts is determined by a die roll on the Fumble Table.
  • Missile attacks roll on a table to determine the harm that they inflict, just as in the standard game, but they now use the Optional Missile Table.
  • Individuals riding on horseback may be attacked directly by characters; the horse does not need to be attacked and killed first.

There are two major consequences of these changes: First, almost all of the invulnerabilities of the standard combat rules disappear (almost any attack will have some chance of killing or wounding its target); and, secondly, many of the common battle tactics of the standard rules either won't work, or will be much less effective.

Absurdities in the Basic Game

I will set aside impartiality for a moment: this section is all opinion.

The Optional Combat Rules remove many of the absurdities found in the basic game. Some of these include:

  • Workhorses that are immune to Bats and Wolves.
  • Warhorses that are immune to most Medium and Heavy monsters.
  • Playing Move chits or Boots cards to charge a character, or run away, while riding a horse.
  • The inability to target an individual who is riding a horse.
  • Arrows that destroy armor.
  • The ability to always escape a horde of attackers, simply because you're one step faster than they are.
  • The inability to escape a single attacker, because you aren't faster than he is.

Consider a battle between the White Knight and the Black Knight: we'll give them each a warhorse, a suit of armor, and a Broadsword (which they can both overstrength to Heavy harm). Fight this out using the standard combat rules and see what happens... that's OK, I'll wait... hmmmm.... see what I mean? All they can do is yell insults at each other - a game that features knightly combat won't allow the Knights to fight each other, since the warhorses can't be killed by a Broadsword! Now try having these two Knights team up to take on two of the Knights of the Order; everyone is equipped similarly: a warhorse, a suit of armor, a Broadsword... but our heroes are doomed. The Knights of the Order kill them both without taking so much as a scratch; they can deliver T damage with Broadswords, but the two characters cannot.

(end of opinionated ranting)

When our local live gaming group was active, we used the Optional Combat Rules exclusively almost from the moment the 2nd edition rules were released until the group disbanded... a period of at least six years. Our group at times contained all skill levels, from beginners to veterans, and all were satisfied with the way combat worked. As a joke, we would sometimes pause a combat and explain to the less experienced players how that combat would have played out differently under the standard rules... just to see their wide-eyed looks of incredulity ("What do you mean... I couldn't run away from that Troll... or kill it?! You're kidding, right?"). I can't even imagine playing a game with the standard combat rules anymore; I'm not sure I could stand it!

That said, the Optional Combat Rules aren't for everyone. They add complexity and playing time to what is already a lengthy, complex game... and they make the game much more of a challenge for the players. But they also offer a whole new gaming experience for Magic Realm players that are willing to try them out.

Pros & Cons

I "burned out" on the standard combat rules many years ago, and now I only use the Optional Combat Rules in my games, but I will attempt to remain as impartial as possible when comparing the two systems, to allow the readers to reach their own conclusions. Here then, are the pros and cons of using the Optional Combat Rules, as I see them...

PRO
  • Combat is more realistic, with fewer artificial absurdities.
  • Combat is more interesting, since the exact outcome usually cannot be predicted with certainty.
  • Characters will rarely face an opponent that they have no chance of defeating.
CON
  • Playing time increases because of the additional die rolls necessary to resolve combat.
  • Playing time increases because it's more difficult to determine the possible outcomes of each battle; you'll spend more time pondering what course of action to take.
  • Combat is much more dangerous; it's more difficult to find battles that you know you can win.

However, the biggest "con" for many players is the belief that the Optional Combat Rules make combat resolution too random... so that battles are decided entirely by luck rather than skill. This isn't actually true: careful consideration of when, where, and what to fight is the key to success when using the Optional Combat Rules, just as it is for the standard combat rules.

At first glance, there seems to be a lot of math involved in figuring the die roll modifiers used in the Optional Combat Rules... but with regular use, this becomes very easy to calculate and is not a problem. Judge the Optional Combat Rules by the results they deliver, and not by any fear that they'll be too complex to master.

Comparing the Two Systems

I think that the best way to demonstrate how the Optional Combat Rules work is to show how they compare to the standard rules in typical game situations. Let's start by examining how the Stumble Table works. (In each of the following situations, the label "STD:" precedes a discussion of how the standard combat rules handle the situation, and the label "OPT:" precedes a discussion of the Optional Combat Rules.)

Situation #1: The Turkey Shoot

All 18 Goblins are stacked together in a clearing; the Elf is nearby, with his Light Bow; and the Ambushing optional rule is also being used. The Elf decides to hide, move into the Goblins' clearing, and open fire.

STD: With the standard combat rules, this is an absolutely perfect situation for the Elf. He can rack up an enormous score at no personal risk whatsoever: if he fails his Hide rolls, he simply runs away (his Move L2* chit is faster than the fastest Goblin move time of 3) and he will likely have the option to repeat the attack on the next turn, etc. until all the Goblins have been killed.

OPT: With the Optional Combat Rules, an Elf that tries this tactic is either incredibly foolish or incredibly desperate... if he fails his Hide rolls, he dies!

To use the Stumble Table, you roll two dice and take the higher of the two rolls, and then add in the die roll modifiers (DRM). If the final number is "6" or less, the character succeeds in running away. The die roll modifiers are: add the character's move time, subtract the fastest attacker's move time, add the total number of attackers on the character's Melee Section.

  • If the Elf fails to hide when he moves into the Goblin's clearing, his attempt to then run away would have the following DRM: +2 (his move time), 3 (fastest attacker's move time), and +18 (number of attackers).

+2 -3 +18 = +17 final DRM

It's kind of hard to roll "6" or less when you have to add +17 to the roll! The Elf is trapped, swarmed by a horde of Goblins and nothing short of a miracle will keep him alive for two rounds so the combat can end. Now, the more Goblins he can kill before he fails to hide, the better his chances of running away. But even just six Goblins will cause him trouble. Here are his DRM for running from six Goblins, calculated for each of the three different Goblin move times (3, 4, and 5):

+2 -3 +6 = +5 +2 -4 +6 = +4 +2 -5 +6 = +3

So: with six Goblins and their fast move a "3" the Elf must roll a "1" to run away (3% chance); with their fast move a "4" he must roll a "2" or less (11% chance); and with a fast move of "5" he must roll a "3" or less (25% chance). Or, to look at this from another angle, the Elf is only guaranteed of running away successfully from a single Goblin moving at a speed of "3"; two Goblins if their fastest move is "4"; and three Goblins if their fastest move is "5". And the Elf is the fastest character in the game!

In the standard game, a large stack of monsters or natives is often just a convenient group of targets; with the Optional Combat Rules, they can be extremely dangerous. Does this mean that the Stumble Table makes it impossible for characters to ever run away? Not at all. Let's look now at a situation where the Stumble Table greatly benefits a character.

Situation #2: Squashed Like a Bug

The Black Knight, a potent and capable fighter, fails to hide and encounters a Tremendous Troll.

STD: It's a grim situation... he can't kill the T Troll because he doesn't have a H or T weapon and a T Fight, necessary to deliver T harm to an armored opponent in a striking attack; and he can't run away because he doesn't have a Move chit that's faster than the Troll's move time of "4". His only hope of survival is to drop his suit of armor and try to dodge the Troll's attacks for two rounds with his Move M4* chit to force the combat to end. (And just how do you "drop" the suit of armor you're wearing while being chased at top speed by a Troll, anyway?) If his Move M4* chit is out of play (previously wounded or fatigued), he's dead. If the T Troll hits him and picks him up, he's dead.

OPT: On the Stumble Table: +4 (his Move H4**), 4 (T Troll's move), +1 (number of attackers); a final DRM of +1. If he rolls a "5" or less (70% chance) he runs away safely! Even if he has to play his pathetically slow Move H6 chit to run he still has a 25% chance of success (+6 4 +1 = +3 DRM, roll "3" or less).

The chance to run away even when playing a slow Move chit leads to a new battle tactic for the Optional Combat Rules: if you are in a battle you would rather not fight, but you don't dare to use a fast Move chit to try to run away because it would leave you too vulnerable (use up too many asterisks) if it fails, try a slow no-asterisk Move chit. It's a "free" run attempt that can often have a surprising chance of success, if you are only facing one or two opponents.

  • Playing a Fight chit to alert a weapon, and playing a Magic chit to cast a spell, work exactly the same as in the standard combat rules; they do not use the Stumble Table.

To summarize the effects of the Stumble Table: If you are facing a single opponent, and are faster than that opponent, you can automatically run away, just like in the standard rules (your Stumble die roll will always be "6" or less). If you are slower than that opponent, you may still have a chance of running away. But if you are facing more than one opponent, your chance of running away decreases dramatically as the number of opponents increases.

Now let's see what happens if the Black Knight fails to run away from the T Troll, and has to fight him, which brings the Fumble Table into play.

Situation #3: The Bug Bites Back

The Black Knight fails to run away from a Tremendous Troll and has to fight.

STD: The M Mace played with an H Fight cannot harm the Troll.
OPT: The Fumble Table gives the Black Knight a fighting chance.

To use the Fumble Table, you roll two dice and take the higher of the two rolls, and then add in the die roll modifiers (DRM). Looking up the final number on the Fumble Table shows how your attack's harm is modified. The die roll modifiers are: add your attack time, subtract target's move time, +4 if the attack undercuts the target instead of intercepting (lining up directly). If the Black Knight's Mace is alerted, and intercepts the Troll, his Fumble roll would have the following DRM: +3 (attack time), 4 (target's move time), 0 (no undercut).

+3 -4 = -1 final DRM

  • If he's using an H Fight with the Mace, its basic harm is H. A 1 DRM on the Fumble Table increases the attack's harm to T on a roll of "4" or less... giving the Black Knight a 44% chance of killing the T Troll.
  • If he undercuts the Troll, his Fumble roll would have the following DRM: +3 (attack time), 4 (target's move time), +4 (undercut).

+3 -4 +4 = +3 final DRM

A +3 DRM on the Fumble Table cannot increase his attack's harm, so he cannot kill the Troll with an undercut; his attack must intercept the Troll. The +4 undercut penalty makes scoring a direct hit of vital importance in most battles. A glancing blow (undercut) will only be effective when the attack is very fast and powerful, or the target is very slow.

An undercut is bad news for the Black Knight. Not only does he not have any chance to kill the Troll, but his Mace will be unalerted for the next round of combat. If he then plays a Fight H5* chit with the unalerted Mace (H basic harm), his chance to kill the Troll is only 11% if he intercepts (+5 4 = +1 DRM, need to roll "2" or less). A Fight H6 chit would give a +2 DRM and require a roll of "1" for a 3% chance. He could alert the Mace using his Fight M3** chit, but then he has to maneuver with his Move H6 chit which ensures that, if the Troll survives, he will pick up the Black Knight and kill him on the following round.

  • Red-side-up Tremendous monsters never roll on the Fumble Table; they automatically kill their target if they hit it, just as in the standard game.
  • In the standard game, an unhidden Black Knight caught by a T Troll is practically helpless and has no chance of survival unless he gives up his suit of armor. The Optional Combat Rules give him at least two decent chances to survive and even kill the T Troll.

Some players worry that using the Optional Combat Rules will make their character more likely to be killed with a lucky Fumble roll by an opponent that could not hurt them under the standard rules. While this can and does occur, the Optional Combat Rules also benefit the characters: most characters now have at least some chance of killing any opponent they might face; slow characters have a chance to run away from a faster opponent; fast characters have a chance of receiving less harm (and inflicting more harm themselves) due to their speed; and all characters are less likely to be hurt by an attack that does not intercept them. Swarms of monsters or natives can be deadly, but in my opinion that just brings back a proper degree of realism, and makes the game more challenging and interesting.

  • The key to surviving when using the Optional Combat Rules is exactly the same as when using the standard rules: never fight a battle unless you are sure that you will win (or at least survive). It's not your opponent's lucky die rolls that will kill you... it's making poor decisions about when and where to fight that will result in your character's death.
  • To summarize the effects of the Fumble Table: Attacks can have their harm increased by up to two levels; or decreased down to no effect. The faster the attack, the more damage it is likely to do. The slower the target, the more damage it is likely to receive. Attacks that fail to intercept are severely penalized.
  • A rule-of-thumb for the Fumble Table: An attack that intercepts and has an attack time equal to or faster than the target's move time never has its basic harm decreased. Often, when this occurs, no roll on the Fumble Table will be necessary (i.e. an H4 attack on a H monster with a move time of 4 is guaranteed to kill the monster if it intercepts).
  • The ability of the Fumble Table to increase the harm of any given attack removes almost all of the invulnerabilities of the basic game. For characters, about the only "impossible" attack is trying to kill a Tremendous armored monster with just a Dagger (and if you have the Oil of Poison, even a Dagger could do it).

If you ponder that last statement a moment and then think, "surely you don't mean that you can kill a Giant with a Dagger..." oh yes, indeed you can! And what's more, the Woods Girl will be much more likely to do it than the White Knight!

Situation #4: The Deadly Dagger

Fighting a Tremendous Giant with a Dagger.

STD: Not a chance. The Dagger is useless against armored opponents, and it can only kill Light or Medium unarmored targets.
OPT: With the Dagger, strength is meaningless... speed is everything; and it can deliver up to T damage to unarmored targets (H damage to armored targets).

If the Woods Girl attacks a Giant (move time "5") with a Fight L3* Dagger (M harm):

  • intercept: +3 -5 = -2 DRM
  • undercut: +3 -5 +4 = +2 DRM

25% chance (roll "3" or less) to kill if she intercepts, 0% if she undercuts.

If the White Knight attacks a Giant (move time "5") with a Fight H4** Dagger (M harm):

  • intercept: +4 -5 = -1 DRM
  • undercut: +4 -5 +4 = +3 DRM

11% chance (roll "2" or less) to kill if he intercepts, 0% if he undercuts.

Now, truthfully, fighting a Giant with a Dagger (without any other help present) would be an act of utter desperation... the Giant is far more likely to win. But the Optional Combat Rules at least give you the possibility of fighting, which you would not have in the basic game.

The Dagger, when used with the Optional Combat Rules, becomes a useful weapon. Is this important? Well, if you play with the Development rules, many of the lower level characters have no weapon other than a Dagger... and if you desperately need to raise gold, you could sell your weapon(s) knowing that you will retain at least some fighting ability with your Dagger.

  • The removal of the basic game's invulnerabilities both helps and hurts the characters, depending on the situation. Horses, for instance, become much more vulnerable.

Situation #5: Wings vs. Hooves

A Bat attacks a character's horse (we'll consider the following horses: M2 pony, H4 workhorse, T4 warhorse).

STD: A Bat cannot kill a workhorse or a warhorse; it will kill the M2 pony if its attack intercepts.
OPT: The workhorse and warhorse become vulnerable, but the pony gets a slight chance to survive when its move time is faster than the Bat's attack time.

vs.M2 Bat interceptsM2 Bat undercutsM3 Bat interceptsM3 Bat undercuts
M2 Pony+2 -2 = 0 DRM, pony is killedmisses+3 -2 = +1 DRM, pony is killed on "5" or less (70%)misses
H4 Workhorse+2 -4 = -2 DRM, horse is killed on "5" or less (70%)+2 -4 +4 = +2 DRM, horse is killed on "1" (3%)+3 -4 = -1 DRM, horse is killed on "4" or less (44%)+3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM, horse is safe
T4 Warhorse+2 -4 = -2 DRM, horse is killed on "3" or less (25%)+2 -4 +4 = +2 DRM, horse is safe+3 -4 = -1 DRM, horse is killed on "2" or less (11%)+3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM, horse is safe
  • Workhorses are now quite vulnerable to Bats, and even a warhorse is at risk, but the Bats will have to intercept to hurt the horses... their undercut attacks will be ineffective if the horses are galloping.

In addition to horses becoming more vulnerable, characters also gain the ability to target a horse's rider directly. This is most commonly done with a missile weapon, so first let's compare the standard game's Missile Table with the Optional Missile Table.

Situation #6: The Missiles Fly

An alerted Light Bow fires at an unarmored target moving at a speed "4", with an attack time of "1" and a basic harm of H.

STD: If the target has H vulnerability, a roll of "3" or less is required to kill. The attack gives the same result whether it intercepts or undercuts. ("Kill" is harm that exceeds T, automatically killing the target.)

die rollresult
1Kill
2T harm
3H harm
4M harm
5L harm
6no effect

OPT:

die rollintercept: +1 -4 = -3 DRMundercut: +1 -4 +4 = +1 DRM
1KillH harm
2KillH harm
3T harmH harm
4T harmM harm
5H harmM harm
6H harmL harm

The Optional Missile Table makes missile attacks somewhat more deadly. If this attack intercepts, it delivers H harm minimum which is a guaranteed kill against this target; if it undercuts, a roll of "3" or less is required, same as am undercut with the standard rules. If the target's move time is faster than the "4" used here, these harm levels will decrease; if the target's move time is slower than "4" these harm levels will increase.

To summarize the effects of the Optional Missile Table:

  • Missile attacks can have their harm increased by up to three levels; or decreased by three levels.
  • The faster the attack, the more damage it is likely to do.
  • The slower the target, the more damage it is likely to receive.
  • Attacks that fail to intercept are severely penalized.

Missile attacks against armored denizens lose one sharpness star, just as in the basic game. But against armored characters, the method for resolving missile attacks is much different:

  • In the basic game, a missile attack against an armored character loses one sharpness star and applies its final harm to the armor, just like a striking attack.
  • With the Optional Combat Rules, the attack loses a sharpness star, and then it must penetrate each piece of armor it encounters in order to harm the character. Armor with a strength greater than the attack cancels the attack, otherwise the attack drops one level and moves on.

I'll demonstrate how this works later, with the fire-breathing Dragons. But first, let's get back to attacking a horse's rider directly.

Situation #7: Blowing Him Out of the Saddle

An alerted Light Bow is used to target Knight of the Order O3 while he is still riding his warhorse. The warhorse is galloping at speed "4" and the Knight's move time is "6"

  • In this kind of attack, the rider's move time represents his ability to dodge or make himself a difficult target while sitting in the saddle.

STD: This tactic is not allowed. In the basic game, the archer would first have to kill the warhorse before he could shoot at the Knight. Both targets are T vulnerability and armored, so with the Light Bow (M basic harm) each attack would require rolling a "1" to succeed.
OPT: The warhorse and the rider are placed in different boxes on the Melee Section. The attack must intercept or undercut the warhorse in order to hit the Knight. The rider's move time and position are ignored when determining if the attack hits; the attack must "hit" the horse in order to hit the rider. The rider's move is used only to calculate the attack's DRM.

  • The Knight is armored, so the Light Bow loses a sharpness star and has a basic harm of M and an attack time of "1".
The various factors involved in resolving the attack are
 +1 (attack time for the bow), 4 (warhorse move time), 0 (successful interception), 6 (Knight move time), +4 (successful undercut)

There are three possible outcomes when scoring a hit:

outcomeDRMcombat result
A) intercept the warhorse and undercut the Knight+1 -4 +0 and +1 -6 +4 = -4roll "3" or less to kill
B) undercut the warhorse and intercept the Knight+1 -4 +4 and +1 -6 +0 = -4roll "3" or less to kill
C) undercut both+1 -4 +4 and +1 -6 +4 = 0rider is safe

In the basic game a Light Bow is practically useless against a Knight of the Order, even in the hands of the Elf: it would take at least two rounds of combat to kill the Knight, with exceptionally lucky die rolling. But the Optional Combat Rules gives the Light Bow a better chance of killing the mounted Knight with just a single shot.

Now let's try the same shot against a fast horseman: Bashkar B5 (horse "2", rider "4") and Light Bow with H basic harm:

outcomeDRMcombat result
A) intercept the pony and undercut the Bashkar+1 -2 +0 and +1 -4 +4 = 0rider is dead
B) undercut the pony and intercept the Bashkar+1 -2 +4 and +1 -4 +0 = 0rider is dead
C) undercut both+1 -2 +4 and +1 -4 +4 = +4roll "2" or less to kill

His fast pony notwithstanding, the Bashkar's lack of armor and Light vulnerability make him extremely vulnerable to a Light Bow.

Attacking a horse's rider is not required; you can still chose to attack the horse as in the basic game.

Attacking a rider is not limited to missile weapons... you may also try it with a striking weapon. A striking weapon attack is resolved in the same way, except the Fumble Table is used instead of the Optional Missile Table.

Here's the White Knight playing a Fight T4** with an alerted Great Sword (T basic harm) to attack the Knight in the saddle:

outcomeDRMcombat result
A) intercept the warhorse and undercut the Knight+4 -4 +0 and +4 -6 +4 = +2roll "4" or less to kill
B) miss the warhorse but undercut the Knightn/arider is safe
C) miss bothn/arider is safe

And finally, the Swordsman playing a Fight M3** with an alerted Thrusting Sword (M basic harm) to attack the Knight in the saddle:

outcomeDRMcombat result
A) intercept the warhorse and undercut the Knight+3 -4 +0 and +3 -6 +4 = 0roll "1" to kill
B) undercut the warhorse and intercept the Knight+3 -4 +4 and +3 -6 +0 = 0roll "1" to kill
C) undercut both+3 -4 +4 and +3 -6 +4 = +4rider is safe

His speed cannot make up for the lack of a heavy weapon.

Now let's see how the Optional Missile Table works with a Dragon's head, and how missile attacks are resolved against a character wearing armor.

Situation #8: Dragonfire

The Tremendous Flying Dragon battles the White Knight.

First we'll concentrate first on how the M3 head attacks, and we'll assume that it will not change tactics to the T3 side. The White Knight is on foot, and will play his Move H4** chit to maneuver:

STD: In the basic game, the M3 head will strike the White Knight regardless of his maneuver, giving him one wound but not damaging his armor. With the use of Optional Rule 10.B.3. Dragon Heads, the M3 head again hits regardless of the White Knight's maneuver, and the Dragon rolls on the Missile Table: a "3" (14% chance) gives a wound, a "2" (8%) gives a wound and damages the suit of armor, and a "1" (3%) gives a wound and destroys the suit of armor. This weakens the Dragon when compared to using the head as a striking attack, because there is a 75% chance that the Dragon Head will not do any damage at all.

OPT: As a striking attack, the M3 head does the following:
intercept: +3 -4 = -1 DRM on the Fumble Table A roll of "5" or "6" gives M harm (wound)
A roll of "3" or "4" gives H harm (wound, damaged armor)
A roll of "1" or "2" gives T harm (wound, destroyed armor)

undercut: +3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM on the Fumble Table A roll of "6" has no effect.
A roll of "4" or "5" gives L harm (no wound against armor)
A roll of "1" to "3" gives M harm (wound)

As a missile attack, the M3 head does the following:
intercept: -1 DRM on the Optional Missile Table A roll of "6" gives L harm, blocked by the H armor
A roll of "3" to "5" gives M harm, blocked by the H armor
A roll of "1" or "2" gives H harm (wound, armor is unaffected)

undercut: +3 DRM on the Optional Missile Table
A roll of "4" to "6" gives no effect
A roll of "2" or "3" gives L harm, blocked by the H armor
A roll of "1" gives M harm, blocked by the H armor

So, the fire-breathing missile attack is still less dangerous than the striking attack, because it is often too weak to penetrate the White Knight's suit of armor.

Now let's see what happens if the Dragon head flips over to the T3 side:

STD: In the basic game, the T3 head will strike the White Knight regardless of his maneuver, giving him one wound and destroying his armor. As a missile attack, the T3 head again hits regardless of the White Knight's maneuver, and the Dragon rolls on the Missile Table:
A roll of "6" gives L harm (no wound against armor)
A roll of "5" gives M harm (wound)
A roll of "4" gives H harm (wound, damaged armor)
A roll of "3" gives T harm (wound, destroyed armor)
A roll of "1" or "2" kills the White Knight
* The missile attack again has less overall chance of hurting the White Knight, but there is an 11% chance that he could be killed outright.

OPT:
As a striking attack, the T3 head does the following:
intercept: +3 -4 = -1 DRM on the Fumble Table
A roll of "5" or "6" gives T harm (wound, destroyed armor)
A roll of "4" or less gives T+ harm (wound, destroyed armor)

undercut: +3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM on the Fumble Table
A roll of "6" gives M harm (wound)
A roll of "4" or "5" gives H harm (wound, damaged armor)
A roll of "1" to "3" gives T harm (wound, destroyed armor)

As a missile attack, the T3 head does the following:
intercept: -1 DRM on the Optional Missile Table
A roll of "6" gives H harm (wound, armor is unaffected)
A roll of "3" to "5" gives T harm (reduced to H harm by the armor and then applied to the character for a Kill or Serious Wounds result, armor is unaffected)
A roll of "1" or "2" kills the White Knight

undercut: +3 DRM on the Optional Missile Table A roll of "6" gives no effect
A roll of "5" gives L harm, blocked by the H armor
A roll of "4" gives M harm, blocked by the H armor
A roll of "2" or "3" gives H harm (wound, armor is unaffected)
A roll of "1" gives T harm (reduced to H harm by the armor and then applied to the character for a Kill or Serious Wounds result, armor is unaffected)

The T3 missile attack is strong enough to penetrate the White Knight's suit of armor, although it really must intercept to be serious threat. If it does intercept, it has a 70% chance to then inflict H harm or better directly on the White Knight, which makes it potentially more dangerous than the T3 striking attack.

When using the Optional Combat Rules, missile attacks will never damage or destroy a character's armor. They still lose a sharpness star, just like they do when attacking armored denizens. A character's armor blocks any missile attack weaker than itself. A missile attack equal in strength to the armor counter is stopped and inflicts one wound. A missile attack stronger than the armor counter passes through and drops one level in strength. A T+ (exceeds Tremendous) missile attack ignores all armor and simply kills the character... a "critical hit."

If the missile attack encounters more than one piece of armor, it must pass through each one, dropping a level each time. For example, if the fire breathing T3 head intercepts and rolls a "5" for T harm, but the White Knight is protected by a M shield as well as the H armor: the T harm passes through the shield and drops to H, and then it hits the H armor, which stops it, but the White Knight takes one wound (the armor pieces are not damaged). If this attack had been M3 instead of T3, the M shield would have stopped it and no wound would have been suffered (because the attack did not make it through M shield to reach the H armor... where it then would have to be H harm to inflict a wound).

Missile attacks aren't, of course, limited to Bows. Let's see what a Fiery Blast does on the Optional Missile Table.

Situation #9: The Raging Inferno

The Wizard casts Fiery Blast against multiple unarmored opponents moving at a speed of "4", with a basic harm of T. He can use a Magic IV 4* chit, a Magic IV 3* chit, or either chit alerted with an attack time of "0". Note that if an alerted Magic chit is used, a sharpness star is lost, so the basic harm then becomes H instead of T.

STD: Results from the Missile Table:

6L
5M
4H
3T
2Kill
1Kill
  • If the attack hits, a Heavy unarmored monster is killed on a roll of "4" or less.

OPT: Results from the Optional Missile Table:
intercept, attack time "4": +4 -4 = 0 DRM intercept, attack time "3": +3 -4 = -1 DRM intercept, attack time "0": +0 -4 = -4 DRM

 T4T3H0
6HHH
5HTT
4TTT
3TTKill
2TKillKill
1KillKillKill

undercut, attack time "4": misses undercut, attack time "3": +3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM undercut, attack time "0": +0 -4 +4 = 0 DRM

 T4T3H0
6missLM
5missLM
4missMH
3missHH
2missHH
1missTT
  • If the attack lines up, a Heavy unarmored monster is automatically killed.
  • If the attack undercuts, a Heavy unarmored monster is killed on a roll of "3" or less with the Magic IV3* chit, and on a roll of "4" or less with an alerted Magic chit.
  • And, as in the previous situations, targets moving faster than "4" will receive less harm, and targets moving slower than "4" will receive more harm.

A Fiery Blast on the Optional Missile Table is more powerful than in the basic game... if it intercepts the target. The other magic attack spells will show similar results: Stones Fly will be more deadly than in the basic game when it intercepts, and a direct hit from the Lightning Bolt will often result in an automatic kill.

We've looked at a lot of bits and pieces of the combat systems. For our final situation, I'll present a full battle to show how the various parts of the Optional Combat Rules come together.

Situation #10: Sharks with Wings

The White Knight, on foot and unhidden, battles two Bats.

STD: This is a very straightforward battle. The White Knight cannot run away from the Bats, he cannot dodge their attacks, and he cannot undercut them. Therefore he will maneuver with a Move H6 and attack with a Fight H6, and use all of the other chits for wounds. The Bats, for their part, will hit him each round; they cannot damage his armor, but each hit will give him a wound. The White Knight should survive. If he lines up with a Bat, he will kill it (T harm), thus he has a 1 chance in 3 of killing his target each round. He should kill the first Bat by the end of the third round, taking up to six wounds in the process; this leaves him with enough active chits to survive at least five rounds against the second Bat, which should be more than enough. If he has a run of bad luck, however, he dies.

I won't actually play out this battle, since from this point on it is just a die rolling contest... there are no decisions for the player to make that will affect the battle. Strictly speaking, the player would actually replace one of the H6 chits with a H5* chit, to save a REST phase should he survive; the point I'm making here is that the standard combat rules give him no reason to actually try to fight. His best strategy is to just stand around and hope that the Bats impale themselves upon his sword.

OPT: Here's how it could play out using the Optional Combat Rules:

Round 1: The Bats, and the Knight's Great Sword, are unalerted. The player's first decision is what Move chit to use to try and run away (survival, not winning, is his primary concern). The choices are:

Move H6 (+6 -3 +2 = +5 DRM) Roll "1" (3% chance)
Move H5* (+5 -3 +2) = +4 DRM) Roll "2" or less (11%)
Move H4** (+4 -3 +2) = +3 DRM) Roll "3" or less (25%)

This is a difficult decision... if he takes his best chance to run away and fails, the Bats will hammer him against his maneuver time of "6". However, with his armor undamaged, this may be his best strategy. Even with a move time of "6", he can't be killed in the first round unless:

  • one of the Bats changes tactics, and
  • the M2 Bat lines up and rolls "5" or less on the Fumble Table to destroy his armor, and
  • the M3 Bat then rolls "2" or less on the undercut

If the Serious Wounds optional rule is being used, then the Knight can't be killed at all on the first round. But that you might actually have to worry about the White Knight being killed in one round by a pair of Bats shows just how different, and how much more challenging, the Optional Combat Rules are!

Knight plays Move H4** to run away on "3" or less: rolls "4" and fails. Knight plays Move H6 to "Dodge" and Fight H6 to "Swing." He will always use his Fight to cover his Move, so if his target lines up on him he'll at least get a chance to kill him after being hammered... and in the first round his longest weapon actually attacks first.

The Bats move to "Thrust" and "Smash" and neither one changes tactics. The Knight misses (his weapon becomes alerted) and the Bats hit on an undercut.
Bats: +2 -6 +4 = 0 DRM
Bat 1 rolls "5": M harm, one wound
Bat 2 rolls "3": H harm, one wound, armor damaged

Knight wounds Fight H5* and Fight T5*, fatigues Move T6*

Round 2: With his armor damaged, the Knight decides to maneuver fast to try to preserve it.

Knight plays Move H6 to run away on a "1": rolls "6" and fails.
Knight plays Move H4** to "Dodge" and Fight H6 to "Swing."

Bat 1 (his target) moves to "Swing" and Bat 2 moves to "Thrust" and changes tactics to M3/2.
Bat 1: +2 -4 = -2 DRM; rolls "4": H harm, one wound, armor destroyed
Bat 2: +3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM; rolls "4": L harm, one wound (no armor)

Knight: +6 -3 = +3 DRM; rolls "5": H harm, Bat 1 is killed, weapon is unalerted
Knight wounds Fight H4** and Fight T4**, fatigues Move H5*

Round 3: This is the last chance for the Knight to run with a Move H4**, as he is getting tired. This is probably his best strategy, and if the remaining Bat had not changed tactics he would have a 44% chance of success instead of 25%. But, for demonstration purposes, he will stand and fight.

Knight plays Move H6 to run away (+6 2 +1 = +5 DRM) on a roll of "1"; rolls "2" and fails.
Knight plays Move H4** to "Dodge" and Fight H6 to "Swing."

Bat moves to "Smash."
Bat: +3 -4 +4 = +3 DRM; rolls "1": M harm, one wound

Knight: misses, weapon becomes alerted
Knight wounds Magic I5**, fatigues Move H4**, recovers Move H5*

Round 4: With his weapon alerted, the Knight will risk another fatigue to speed up his attack in hopes of killing the remaining Bat, who is perhaps due to line up...

Knight plays Move H6 to run away on a roll of "1"; rolls "6" and fails.
Knight plays Move H5* to "Dodge" and Fight H5* to "Swing."

Bat moves to "Swing."
Bat: +3 -5 = -2 DRM rolls "6": M harm, one wound

Knight: +5 -2 = +3 DRM rolls "6": M harm, Bat survives, weapon is unalerted
Knight wounds Fight H4**, fatigues Fight H5*

Round 5: Knight plays Move H5* to run away (+5 2 +1 = +4 DRM) on a roll of "2" or less: rolls "2" and escapes!

  • He killed one Bat, but lost his suit of armor, took six wounds, and fatigued four asterisks... and is lucky to be alive (the Bat had a 70% chance to kill the White Knight when it lined up in Round 4).

The Optional Combat Rules gave the White Knight, one of the slowest characters in the game, five chances to run away from the Bats, some of the fastest monsters in the game; but the Bats were able to destroy his armor quickly and had several chances to kill him, and they also had a slight chance of surviving a direct hit from his Great Sword.

A player using the Optional Combat Rules once described Bats as "sharks with wings." This is a very apt description. They are to be feared: relentless, remorseless, insatiable, and efficient killing machines that appear in ever increasing numbers. I will leave, as an exercise for the student, the question of what you would need to defeat all six Bats at once.

Notes on the 3rd Edition Changes

The Optional Combat Rules in the 3rd edition of the Magic Realm rules include a number of significant changes from the 2nd edition. These changes, provided by the game's designer, Richard Hamblen, correct some errors from the 2nd edition rules, and clarify some previously ambiguous rules. The two primary areas of concern with the 2nd edition Optional Combat Rules were the power of alerted missile attacks, and various issues concerning the use of horses.

Missile Attacks

The Optional Missile Table from the 2nd edition rules has been replaced by an all-new Optional Missile Table. This "new" table was actually intended for publication in the original 2nd edition rules from Avalon Hill, but, in one of the many production errors that plagued the 2nd edition rules, the wrong table was accidentally used, without the designer's knowledge or consent. When compared to the one that was in the 2nd edition rules, this new table reduces the power of almost all missile attacks, particularly when they are used against the bigger, more difficult targets.

In addition, the 3rd edition Optional Rules have also adopted Hamblen's play balance adjustment for the Fiery Blast and the Lightning Bolt, which he named "the kludge" (although the 3rd edition does not use that term). This play balance adjustment states that when a Fiery Blast or Lightning Bolt is cast using an alerted (Time "0") Magic chit, they lose an extra sharpness star. I was originally reluctant to use this adjustment, because of how weak it makes the Fiery Blast when used against some of the bigger armored monsters. But it is the designer's official rule, it makes parts of the game much more challenging (always a good thing, in my opinion), and without it the Fiery Blast will automatically kill Goblins and many of the weaker natives.

The following examples will give you an idea of the effectiveness of the various missile attacks when using the new table. The first result is for an intercept and the second is for an undercut. For example, when attacking a Giant Bat (speed 3) with an alerted Light Bow, an intercept will automatically kill and an undercut will kill on a roll of "2" or less.

WeaponresultGiant Bat (H, speed 3)Heavy Dragon (H armored, speed 4)Giant (T, speed 5)Tremendous Troll (T armored, speed 4)
Light Bow L**1intercept / undercutKill / Kill on 2 or lessKill on 4 or less / -Kill on 5 or less / Kill on 1 or lessKill on 2 or less / no effect
Medium Bow M**1intercept / undercutKill / Kill on 4 or lessKill / Kill on 3 or lessKill / Kill on 4 or lessKill on 4 or less / no effect
Stones Fly L*0intercept / undercutKill on 4 or less / no effectKill on 3 or less / no effectKill on 4 or less / no effectKill on 2 or less / no effect
Fiery Blast L***0intercept / undercutKill / Kill on 3 or lessKill on 5 or less / Kill on 1 or lessKill / Kill on 2 or lessKill on 3 or less / no effect
Lightning Bolt M***0intercept / undercutKill / Kill on 5 or lessKill / Kill on 4 or lessKill / Kill on 5 or lessKill on 5 or less / Kill on 1 or less

The effect of the play balance adjustment can be seen as the Fiery Blast is always weaker than a Medium Bow, it does not get a guaranteed kill against Heavy armored monsters, ...and even the powerful Lightning Bolt cannot get a guaranteed kill against the toughest Tremendous monsters.

Attacking Natives using the Fiery Blast Kludge

The biggest question, however, is how effective the Fiery Blast will now be when used against natives. This has been the source of much controversy in the past: in the 2nd edition Optional Combat Rules, an alerted Fiery Blast was devastatingly effective when used against unhired natives. With the 3rd edition Optional Combat Rules, the only natives that can possibly survive a direct hit (intercept) from an alerted Fiery Blast are the Knights of the Order. This makes attacking the Order with a Fiery Blast a very dangerous undertaking, as the spellcaster is likely to be killed.

  • When battling natives other than the Order, the only threats that a spellcaster using Fiery Blast must deal with are Archers, whose weapon length will allow them to attack first in the first round of combat, and any native who can both survive the Fiery Blast and undercut the spellcaster's maneuver.
  • If the Witch-King is riding a broomstick, he will be perfectly safe as long as he does not attack any natives with Archers in the first round of combat. The broomstick's speed of "1" cannot be undercut by any native attack.
  • The Wizard and the Sorceror have two other natives that can possibly kill them while they are casting an alerted Fiery Blast. The first of these are the armored Crossbowmen: if they avoid lining up with the Fiery Blast (66% chance), and if they change tactics to their H1 side (30% chance), and if they survive the Fiery Blast undercut (56% chance)... then they will get a chance to kill the spellcaster on an undercut (usually a 70% chance). In other words, they have one chance in ten of getting an opportunity to roll "5" or less to kill the spellcaster (move speed of 4). The spellcaster has an overall 8% chance of dying each round if there is an unalerted Crossbowman in the target native group.
  • The other natives that can kill a Fiery-Blasting spellcaster are Bashkars B1 and B5. If the Fiery Blast undercuts both the rider and his horse (a 1 in 3 chance), there is a 30% chance of the rider surviving and getting either a "4" or less to kill, or a "5" or less to kill, on the spellcaster (move speed of 4). So the spellcaster has either a 4% or a 7% chance of dying if he attacks the Bashkars and either B1 or B5 is present... I'm not sure how the odds change if both are present, but his chance of dying in that case is unlikely to be much over 10%.
  • The other Bashkars as well as all of the other non-Order natives cannot hurt the spellcaster, because they either cannot survive a Fiery Blast at all, or they cannot undercut the spellcaster's Move 4 with their attack if they do survive.

Here are how each of the native groups will fare when attacked by alerted Fiery Blasts, as determined by my tests in which I took the Sorceror, with three alerted Type IV chits and three Purple chits, and battled each native group numerous times with the Watchful Natives optional rule in effect:

  • Bashkars most will be killed in two rounds
  • Company most will be killed in two rounds
  • Guard they are hard to kill, it may take many rounds
  • Lancers most will be killed in one round
  • Order almost impossible to defeat
  • Patrol most will be killed in one round
  • Rogues most will be killed in one round
  • Soldiers most will be killed in two rounds
  • Woodfolk almost impossible to defeat if they can attack in the first round, otherwise most will be killed in two rounds

Keep in mind that these are average results that in some cases can vary widely: for example, the Guard could be wiped out in a single round, or a member of the Company could survive even three consecutive alerted Fiery Blasts. The only sure bets here are that the Order will survive... and that the Patrol will not. Thus many natives are still quite vulnerable to alerted Fiery Blasts, but overall they are much less vulnerable than they were when using the 2nd edition rules. Whether this will still result in play balance problems remains to be seen.

There are some factors that work against spellcasters who might want to try attacking natives with Fiery Blasts. First, many native groups will require multiple Fiery Blasts to defeat, which could leave the spellcaster vulnerable to any other characters that might be nearby... defeating a native group doesn't do you much good if someone else chases you away or kills you and takes their loot for himself. Secondly, the Fiery Blast is less effective against monsters in the 3rd edition, so it will be harder for spellcasters to travel around the map to get at the natives in the first place... and spellcasters may find they have more need of hiring natives for protection rather than killing them for loot.

Horses

During the preparation of the 3rd edition Optional Combat Rules, the effort to figure out the correct use of horses sparked quite a debate between myself and 3rd edition rules editors Teresa Michelsen and Steve McKnight. The published rules for horses, from the 2nd edition rules, were woefully ambiguous and incomplete. The designer had not been heard from for some time, so it appeared that we would simply have to take our best guess as to what the rules actually meant. I was arguing for the interpretations that my old gaming group used, on the grounds that they were the most logical interpretations and that they worked without any problems, while Teresa was opposed to them on theoretical grounds. I'm not sure that Teresa and I could ever have found a set of interpretations that we could both have accepted. However, the discussion became moot when Richard suddenly got back into contact with Steve. Steve asked Richard to clarify a key issue concerning horses, got a surprising answer in return, and then everything else fell into place.

We now know exactly how horses are to be used when playing with the Optional Combat Rules. I'd be surprised if anyone in the past has ever played them as the designer intended, considering that both Teresa and I were interpreting the horse rules incorrectly! Let's start with the native riders.

Native Riders

Assume that a Knight of the Order is riding his warhorse in a battle. The rider's maneuver speed is "6" and the horse's maneuver speed is "4". Several attacks, each with a different attack speed, are made against the warhorse, and they all hit. The first of these attacks (the fastest one) kills the warhorse. Once the horse is killed, all subsequent attacks in that combat round that would have also hit the horse hit the rider instead, just as in the basic game.

But the Optional Combat Rules use a comparison of speeds attack speed vs. maneuver speed to arrive at a die roll modifier (DRM) for the attack resolution roll on either the Fumble Table or the Optional Missile Table. In this situation, what is the maneuver speed of the Knight once his horse is dead? In our games, we ruled that once the horse was dead, it was immediately removed from play... so the maneuver speed for the Knight for all subsequent attacks that hit him would be his own maneuver of "6". This seemed to be consistent with all other aspects of Magic Realm: characters & denizens are removed the instant they are killed, armor is removed the instant it is destroyed, and spells are removed (and their effects disappear) the instant they are cancelled or broken. We were wrong.

Here is the official rule: all combat roll DRM are set at the moment of hit determination and then never change, regardless of what may happen as hits are resolved. Our mistake was in assuming that combat roll DRM are calculated at the moment of hit resolution. So, in our example here, all of the attacks that originally hit the horse continue to use the horse's maneuver speed and direction to determine the combat roll DRM... even after the horse is killed. The DRM for all of the attacks that hit the horse are calculated before any hits are resolved, and they never change after that.

It can seem a little odd to see the subsequent attacks (that were originally aimed at the horse) hitting the rider while ignoring his maneuver speed of "6", but here is Hamblen's explanation. His comments were given in response to a question from Steve:

Richard Hamblen wrote: The answer is that the horse's speed still affects the blow even if it was killed earlier that round. The formalism of the rule is that everyone: 1st reveals plays, 2nd calculates speeds of attacks and defenses, and their interaction, 3rd resolves attacks in appropriate order (i.e. length or time), using the interactions calculated in step 2 above. In other words, nothing during the resolution phase can affect the interaction of the timing of the attacks and defenses. Events during the resolution phase can affect the results (by killing an attacker or damaging armor), but not by changing the timing. The rationale for this is simple: the horse's movement has already affected the incoming attack by the time the horse is actively killed, so the horse's effect cannot be retroactively removed by killing the horse later in the phase. That would be time travel, which is a different game entirely.

Player Character Riders

The 3rd edition rules also clarify that a character riding a horse may, or may not, play a personal maneuver of his own (Move chit or Boots card) in addition to that of his horse, and that if he does not play such a maneuver he suffers no specific penalty. The only time a character rider needs to play such a maneuver is when there is a possibility that an opposing character might choose to target the rider directly, instead of aiming at the rider's horse. Natives and monsters must target the horse, so only the horse's maneuver will be used to calculate their attacks' DRM.

This is a big change from how I've interpreted the rule in the past, so you need to make sure that you go by what the 3rd edition optional rules say... and not by what I may have written prior to their publication. And so now I must apologize. In the past I've made statements indicating that characters who continue to ride a horse when attacked by alerted Bows or Attack spells aimed directly at them are committing suicide... well, it ain't so. In many cases a character can play a fast Move chit while riding a horse and decrease his vulnerability even to these fast attacks.

Here are some examples
  1. If you are attacked by an alerted Bow (speed "1") while riding a horse with a speed of "4", playing even a Move 4 will decrease your vulnerability. Playing a Move 5 will give you the same vulnerability as playing the horse by itself while still offering additional protection against any slower attacks.
  2. If you are attacked by an alerted Attack spell (speed "0") while riding a horse with a speed of "4", playing a Move 3 will decrease your vulnerability, and a Move 4 will match that of the horse by itself.

Many of the native riders are quite vulnerable to fast missile attacks from characters aimed directly at them, because they have either slow Move times or slow horses, and that is probably what led me to mistakenly assume that character riders would also be highly vulnerable. But as long as both rider and horse are moving at speed "4" or better, you will not be more at risk even to the fastest attacks. It is possible to find situations in which playing a personal maneuver while riding a horse would end up making the rider even more vulnerable to a potential attack, but these situations should not happen very often.

Conclusion

So then, are these horse rules perfect? Well, no... Some people will continue to dislike the very idea of playing a maneuver while riding a horse (what exactly are these "maneuvers" supposed to represent?), while others may not like the idea that riders that do not play a maneuver are not penalized for just "sitting there doing nothing"... and watching a dead horse continue to "carry" its rider does take some getting used to. But these are all minor quibbles; the important thing is that the horse rules are now fully explained, (hopefully) unambiguous, they work as the designer intended, and they work well.