Opt Combat Rules Fix

Fixing the Optional Combat Rules

The Optional Combat Rules, as printed in the 2nd edition rulesbook, greatly increase the power of Bows and the Fiery Blast as compared to their use in the regular game. While this in itself does not necessarily unbalance the game (because all attacks become more deadly with the Optional Combat Rules), it does cause two major problems: the Fiery Blast becomes way too powerful when used against natives, and the more powerful Bows make the Ambush rule too much of an advantage.

By my count there are now nine distinct (and mostly mutually exclusive) suggestions for fixing the Optional Combat Rules, listed below in the approximate order in which they were suggested. These are the ones that don't involve major changes like rewriting the victory conditions or the campaign chits rules.

After the first six suggestions were made, we received a corrected version of the Optional Missle Table from Richard Hamblen, along with a play balance adjustment for the Fiery Blast and Lightning Bolt (the "kludge"). The final three suggestions take this new material into account.

  1. Don't attack natives, always pay points for Insults and Challenges suggested by Jay Richardson
  2. Limit the Fiery Blast to a single target suggested by Eddie Vesely
  3. Use the basic game missile rules & table suggested by Joel Yoder, Steve Malczak
  4. No bounty point multiplication for Fiery Blast suggested by Tim Heinz, Robert Hentzel
  5. Always use chit time for missile damage calculation suggested by Patrick van Beek
  6. Subtract two sharpness stars from Fiery Blast at time 0 suggested by Deric Page
  7. Add 4 & 5 levels to the new Optional Missile Table, don't use the kludge adjustment, increase Fiery Blast undercut penalty to +7, Fiery Blast cannot target riders suggested by Jay Richardson
  8. Use the new Optional Missile Table and kludge adjustment, increase Fiery Blast undercut penalty to +6 suggested by Jesper Jensen
  9. Extend the new Optional Missile Table with "wound" & "negligible" results, use time 1 for alerted attack spell DRM calculations, increase Fiery Blast undercut penalty to +6 suggested by Jesper Jensen


When I worked on suggestion #7, I made a list of five requirements to meet, and have since added one additional requirement. I felt that it would be necessary to meet these requirements in order to create a fix that might eventually meet with Hamblen's approval.

  • The standard rules must remain unchanged. This is basic common sense; if an optional rule is causing problems, you change the optional rule... not the standard rules. Another way of looking at this is that the standard rules (used by all players) are more important than an optional rule (used by only a few players).
  • No single character should be able to defeat a native group by himself, but they are allowed to freely attack natives. This has been specifically stated by the designer.
  • The primary purpose of the Optional Combat Rules was to reduce the dominance of the heavy armored characters by making the monsters' attacks more deadly, again as specifically stated by the designer. These rules also make the attacks of the light and medium characters more deadly, which prevents them from being bullied about by the heavy characters quite as much as they could be in the basic game. We can infer from all of this that the missile weapons and attack spells should also be more deadly than in the basic game for the same reason.
  • The core element of the Optional Combat Rules is the way that an attack's final harm is modified by the relationship of attack time to the target's move time. This core element must be maintained, or else you are playing something entirely different from what the Optional Combat Rules were meant to be.
  • The Optional Combat Rules should not prohibit the players from doing anything that they could do in the basic game. The optional rules are almost entirely about increasing a player's options... not restricting them.
  • The designer's comments make it clear that he doesn't like the kludge adjustment: "it was such a kludge I was ashamed of it" so the kludge should probably not be used.

I still believe that the best solution is #1... don't attack natives in the first place. We played this way for many years with excellent results. Attacking natives seriously disrupts the game balance: you get notoriety, gold, treasures to loot, and possibly remove an opposing player's friends or allies... all with no penalty. But both the designer and most of the players believe that it should be part of the game, so some other solution will be necessary. -Jay

Is Fiery Blast really broken? It requires two phases to enchant a color chit, and one to alert a magic chit. Then after the blast it requires two rest phases to get back to where you were. During that time the character is not looting, nor moving and is very vulnerable. Is Fiery Blast really broken?--dwfiv

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I have looked at some of the proposed revisions of the optional missile table. In order to compare the different proposals I have written a program to do the combat math. Below I have tried to summarize the results in a couple of small tables. The results assume that the monsters are unalerted side up when combat starts. They are allowed to change tactics during combat.

The different systems that were compared are:

Bas : Using the basic missile table

Opt : Using the optional missile table in the rule book

Ham : Using Hamblens revised missile table and Hamblens "kludge".

Je1 : Using Hamblens revised missile table, Hamblens "kludge" and an additional undercut penalty of 1 for Fiery Blast. (Slight change from above)

Je2 : Using Hamblens revised missile table extended with 9=wound and 10=negligible. Alerted attack spells counts as having a time of 1 when determining time advantage. Additional undercut penalties of 2 for Fiery Blast and 1 for Lightning Bolt.

Jay : Using Hamblens revised missile table extended with 9=-4 levels and 10=-5 levels. Undercut penalty of 3 for Fiery Blast. Must target horses instead of riders.

Ja1 : As Jay

Ja2 : As Jay, but with an additional undercut penalty of 2 for Lightning Bolt.

The first table gives the chance of killing a stack of monsters using an Alerted Fiery Blast. The first four rows give the chances of killing a single Tremendous Non-Flying Dragon, Tremendous Troll, Giant or Bat respectively. The next four rows give the chances of killing ALL the Axe Goblins, Spear Goblins, Rouges or Lancers. All the numbers are percentages.

T Dragon118025233333
T Troll1150881523
Axe Gob1140401022
Spear Gob1140401744

The second table gives the average change of kill a random tremendous monster. The chance of killing a given monster is weighted with the number of monsters in the game of the given kind. This means that the change to kill a tremendous troll counts twice as much as the chance to kill the octopus. The chances are calculated for a Fiery Blast cast at time 3, an alerted Fiery Blast, a Lightning Bolt cast at time 3 and an alerted Lightning Bolt.

Average Chance to Kill Random Tremendous Monster

FB - 314241615141414
FB - Alert18601918283131
LB - 327333939343931
LB - Alert35764747548154

Like the second table except that shown here is the chance to kill a random Tremendous, Heavy or Medium monster using an alerted Fiery Blast.

Alerted Fiery Blast

Avg T186019182831
Avg H316132283737
Avg M658179665454


  1. Looking at table 1 one can see that Hamblens adjustments certainly reduces the power of an alerted Fiery Blast against heavy and tremendous monsters. However the chance of killing a large stack of light or unarmoured medium denizens are almost the same. A 40% chance of killing a whole stack of goblins is probably too much.
  2. The optinal combat rules are supposed to make missiles more deadly so we would like the numbers to lie somewhere between the numbers for the basic rules and the optional rules in the rule book. This is generally the case. Exceptions for single monsters are armoured fast tremendous monsters when using Ham and Je1 and the Bats when using Je, Je2 and Jay. The chance of killing a stack of goblins are well below the chance using the basic rules for Je2 and Jay.
  3. What should be the chance of killing a stack of Goblins? The 40% from the optional rules seem too much, but are the 11% from the basic rules too much?
  4. The undercut penalty for the Lightning Bolt was chosen as the minimum penalty that would ensure that a Giant was not an auto kill for an alerted Lightning Bolt.
  5. Hamblens revision makes the Fiery Blast (FB) deadly against medium monsters and not so effective against tremendous mosters. The revisions tries to adjust this and make it a bit weaker against medium monsters and a bit stronger against tremendous monsters. But if an alerted FB becomes too strong then there is no need for the Lightning Bolt (LB). Table 2 shows that the revisions narrows the gap between an unalerted LB and an alerted FB. For Ja2 the numbers are the same. How much separation should there be between LB and FB?
  6. Table 3 illustrates how the revisions tilts the power of the FB, making it stronger against H and T monsters but weaker aganist M monster. The average of killing a M monster is actually below the one using the basic rules for Je2 and Jay.

Suggestions (or how will I would like to play it)

Based on these numbers I have two suggestions of how to play it.

  • Staying as close to Hamblens suggestion and preserving the difference between the FB and LB. In this case I would use a modification of Je1. Use Hamblens suggested revision and the following rule. When casting a Fiery Blast against MORE THAN ONE target use an additional undercut penalty of 1.
  • Eliminating the chance of killing a large stack of M monster, while making the FB more useful against H and T monsters. In this case I would use Je2 as described above. I believe that this gives a pretty good balance.

I would love to hear what conclusions other people make from the figures.


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And Yet Another Idea...

(People I've discussed the following proposal with all think that it's pretty idiotic, so I'm just going to add it to the bottom of the list here without making any effort to promote it or tell people about it. Don't say I didn't warn you. -Jay)

The problem with all of the above proposals is that they all make noticeable changes in the way the game plays... which is exactly why there will likely never be any agreement as to which idea is best.

I'd like to propose a solution that does not change the game in any meaningful way... at least to my way of thinking. Other players disagree and thus reject this idea out of hand. See what you think...

Add one simple house rule:

The Fiery Blast spell cannot target unhired natives in Dwelling clearings, even if those natives are attacking the spellcaster.

What makes this idea different from the rest?

The most important difference is that, unlike all of the previous ideas, this is not one player's personal interpretation... it is not me saying "here's how the Fiery Blast should work" only to have someone else come along and say "no, it should work this way" and then a third person who says "you're both wrong...it should actually work like this."

This instead is simply allowing the Fiery Blast to work (away from the six Dwelling clearings) exactly as the designer intended it to work.

Within Dwellings, the game will also work exactly as the designer intended, in that no one character is powerful enough to defeat an unhired native group by himself.

The price of making the game work as the designer intended is an artificial restriction on three of the sixteen characters... And the thing that is being restricted -- a character single-handedly defeating a native group -- is something that no one wants to see occur... so who will be offended? When it does not occur, who will miss it?

This house rule does slightly penalize the three characters who can start with and cast a Fiery Blast: the Wizard, Witch-King, and Sorceror.

The Wizard is penalized very little: with only two Type IV chits, he is the least likely of the three to engage in one-man unhired native bashing.

The Witch-King is penalized a bit more, but he can always take Absorb Essence and grab a big monster if he wants to join other characters or hired natives in an attack on unhired natives.

The Sorceror is penalized the most, as without the use of the Fiery Blast he has no effective way of attacking (or defending himself from) unhired natives at all.

But I think that these penalties are penalties only in theory. With Watchful Natives in play, none of the other characters will dare to attack, or risk being attacked by, unhired natives either. This places all sixteen characters on a more-or-less level playing field: In order to attack unhired natives, any character will first have to hire other natives to assist him.

And with the Fiery Blast forbidden from ever being used against unhired natives in a Dwelling, those unhired natives are going to be much more difficult to defeat... which again seems to be in keeping with the designer's wishes for how the game should play.

Hired natives will, of course, continue to be vulnerable to a Fiery Blast... but hired natives controlled by a player are far more dangerous than ones that just sit in a Dwelling waiting to be attacked: if they accompany their hiring character or their leader they can hide and thereby avoid Fiery Blasts entirely, and if the hired natives move first and block the spellcaster before he can alert a Magic chit, it won't be the natives who will be dying!

The Fiery Blast will also remain highly effective against Goblins, but its reduced effectiveness against large monsters may make it difficult for spellcasters to find a Goblin stack that they can safely attack.

This simple house rule seems to me to be a very clean and painless way to resolve the Fiery Blast controversy. Other players feel that protecting unhired natives from the Fiery Blast will itself somehow unbalance the game. What do you think?

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