Rage against the God-Machine
These rules supersede some of the combat rules presented in the World of Darkness Rulebook, providing a lethal focus to fighting along with a unified system of conditions and reasons for characters to stop fighting before the other guy’s only fit for the morgue.
Down and Dirty Combat
The combat system in the World of Darkness Rulebook and expanded in this section provides a reasonably comprehensive system to use when two or more people attempt to kill one another. Some fights don’t deserve that much focus. When a fight has as much impact on the story as climbing a fence or breaking down a door, this simple system abstracts a fight to a single roll.
This system works particularly well when violence is a means to an end. To begin, the attacker declares his intent. As long as that intent is something that the Storyteller is comfortable with the character accomplishing in one roll, go ahead and apply this system. Since the nature of this combat reduces what would otherwise be a brutal act of violence to a single roll, the Storyteller may reserve it for characters who happen to be particularly capable combatants — or for facing enemies who are little more than chaff.
If your arms deal has gone south and you have to get out of the country, the two mooks waiting for you in the hotel bathroom aren’t a serious threat. The guys outside with a sedan and a range of fully-automatic weapons? They’re a different story. A player can call for a Down and Dirty Combat if he feels it’s appropriate. If the Storyteller is fine with the character dispatching his opposition with a single roll, then it happens.
As a rough guide, if a character has a combat pool of at least five dice, she’s internalized the mechanics of violence to a degree that it is second nature and can use this system. Note that Storyteller characters cannot use this option. Rather, it’s possible for a character to suffer some damage during this kind of combat, but Storyteller-controlled characters cannot initiate.
Action: Instant and contested
Dice Pool: Combat pool (Dexterity + Firearms, Strength + Brawl, or Strength + Weaponry) versus either the opponent’s combat pool (as above) or an attempt to escape (Strength or Dexterity + Athletics). Ignore Defense on this roll.
Dramatic Failure: The character’s opponent gets the upper hand. This usually includes the opposite of the character’s intent — if she wanted to disable the guards so she could escape, she is stunned instead.
Failure: The opponent wins the contest. If the opponent used a combat pool, deal damage equal to the difference in successes plus weapon modifier. Also, the opponent escapes unless he wants to press the combat.
Success: The character wins the contest. She deals dam-age equal to the difference in successes plus her weapon modifier and achieves her intent—if her intent includes killing her opponents, then she does so.
Exceptional Success: As a success, and the character also gains a point of Willpower from the rush of inflicting violence on an inferior opponent.
Going For Blood
A lot of the time, violence is an end to itself. Vinnie’s run out on your sister, so you hammer some nails into a baseball bat and go teach him a lesson. Doc’s going to set fire to your house with your family inside and dedicate their deaths to some forgotten god if you don’t put a bullet in his brainpan. That thing has been slithering out of the barn at the edge of town for a month now, and if no one else is going to put it on a spike, it’s up to you. Other times — most times — violence is a means to an end. You don’t want to punch this guy in the face, but you do need the book he’s holding and he won’t give it up. Donnie’s holding the coke in one hand and a pistol in the other, talking himself up like a big man. Unless they’re sociopaths or have a serious blood feud going on, nobody wants to get into a situation where they’re going to kill someone. When this is the case, the Storyteller should make sure that the players know that the fight’s about more than people trying to kill other people.
Beaten Down & Surrender
Any character that takes more than his Stamina in bashing damage or any amount of lethal damage has had the fight knocked out of him. He has the Beaten Down Tilt (see p. 206; a Tilt, remember, is just a Condition that primarily affects combat). He must spend a point of Willpower every time he wants to take a violent action until the end of the fight. He can still apply Defense against incoming attacks, can Dodge, and can run like hell, but it takes a point of Willpower to swing or shoot back.
On the other hand, he can give in. Give the lunatic with the butcher’s knife what she wants, whether that’s a bus ticket, an apology, a bag of crack, or a promise to stay out of the New Town after midnight. If you give in, you gain a point of Willpower and take a Beat, but you take no more part in the fight. If the other side wants to attack you, they’ve got to spend a point of Willpower to do so and probably suffer a breaking point.
If some gangbangers want your truck and your two buddies have surrendered for that sweet combination of Willpower and not getting hurt, that does mean that they’re all coming for you. You could fight them off, but it’s three against one. Or you could do the sensible thing and remember that you get a lot of trucks in this life but only one pine box. Once everyone on one side has surrendered, the fight’s over. These rules only apply to humans and human-like creatures — anything that would incur a breaking point for committing (or attempting) “murder.” Creatures that don’t have a problem killing people in general can ignore surrender without penalty and don’t have the fight beaten out of them like normal folks.
It’s important to know what people want out of a violent encounter. Before any violent encounter, the Storyteller should pause the action long enough to get a statement of intent from both sides. This intent describes what the character wants to see as the outcome of a violent encounter. It also can’t involve outcomes that fall outside the current scene: “I want to become President of the United States” isn’t a valid intent for a man with a gun, even one on the White House lawn, and the Secret Service will soon disabuse him of that notion. Some examples include:
- I want to throw Amado out of the window to get him away from me.
- I want Sheena to give me the statue.
- I want to get away from this gun-toting psycho.
- I want to steal Larry’s wallet in the fray.
- I want to get to my truck to get the fuck out of Dodge.
Every statement of intent starts with the words “I want.” That’s the clearest way to phrase it. Once you’ve got the Intent sorted out for both sides, you know what it means for a character to surrender: Her opponent gets what he wants, and in exchange, she gets a point of Willpower and isn’t the target of any more violence. The basic rule of intent is that it’s something that the character is willing to hurt — or kill — other people to get.
Sometimes you don’t know that you’re willing to kill for what you want until you actually kill someone. If your intent has nothing to do with hurting people and you end up killing someone (not just beating them into unconsciousness), you lose a point of Willpower.
Sometimes, a character’s intent puts limits on the combat. “I want to kill Tran for sleeping with my daughter” is fine as a statement of intent, but it does mean that the character’s opponent isn’t about to surrender: sure, Tran would gain a point of Willpower, but he’d have to die first.
Even “I want to hurt Danny to teach him a lesson” is problematic: what can Danny gain from surrendering? If one party’s intent is violence for its own sake, their intended victims don’t acquire the Beaten Down Tilt no matter how much damage they take, and (obviously) gain no benefit from surrendering. When someone actually wants to kill you, the only thing you can do is to stop her by any means necessary, whether that’s running or shooting back.
Most conflict happens between characters under the players’ control and Storyteller characters. The difference between the two is negligible in most combats — one character with a gun or a knife is much like any other, regardless of who is in control of the character. That said, Storyteller characters do have easier access to one resource: Willpower. A player has to monitor her character’s Willpower throughout the whole story, deciding when and where to spend points and when to hold back, balancing those concerns against the chance of regaining points through indulging her Vice in a scene — or going all-out and hoping to trigger her Virtue for the chapter.
A Storyteller character has none of those concerns. He’s not going to be present in most of the scenes, so it doesn’t matter if he blows more Willpower — he can regain it when off-screen, and even if he doesn’t, it’s not like he’s going to spend it.
This is especially noticeable in combat, when Storyteller characters can spend Willpower to hurt characters who have surrendered, enhance their attacks, and defend with greater ability than the players’ characters. If a Storyteller character spends a lot of time around the other characters and has enough spotlight time to both spend and recover Willpower over a similar timespan to the other characters, that’s fine.
Otherwise, Storyteller characters should reduce their available Willpower to reflect their “one shot” nature. Gangbangers, thugs, and similar characters who don’t have a name don’t have any Willpower available to spend. Minor named characters — the kind who recur but aren’t the main antagonists of a story — have one point of Willpower available. Recurring antagonists and major Storyteller characters who don’t spend a lot of time around the characters can spend up to half their total Willpower in a scene. Storyteller characters with reduced Willpower totals can still regain spent points through the normal means for regaining Willpower, but can’t go above their modified Willpower total for a scene. Note, though, that their Resolve + Composure values are unaffected (in case the Storyteller needs to have them roll this dice pool), and supernatural powers that drain Willpower work normally.
Determine Initiative at the start of a combat as normal. Many weapons now include an Initiative modifier. When your character is using that weapon, her Initiative is penalized by that amount — even if she’s kicking out at a close attacker, she’s got to account for the shotgun in her hands. The only way to avoid an Initiative penalty from a weapon you’re using is to stop wielding it — either sling it or drop it. You can drop a weapon as a reflexive action in order to return to your unarmed Initiative. Slinging or holstering a weapon is an instant action. When you change what weapon you’re using, you act on your new Initiative at the start of the next turn. If a character is wielding two weapons — showing off with a pair of pistols, or carrying a baton and a riot shield — take the highest Initiative penalty and increase it by one. An Initiative penalty can never reduce a character’s Initiative below 0.
Example: Riots sweep through the city streets and Cass joins her comrades on the police lines. She’s got a baton in one hand, and a large riot shield in the other. The baton has a -2 initiative modifier; the riot shield has a -4 modifier. Her total Initiative modifier is −5.
When your character runs into an ambush or is oth-erwise the victim of a surprise attack, she has a chance of reacting in time to defend herself. Roll Wits + Composure, contested by the ambusher’s Dexterity + Stealth. If you lose, you cannot take an action in the first turn of combat and do not get to apply Defense against incom-ing attacks. Roll Initiative in the second turn as normal.
The following changes apply to the rules to attack in combat.
Attack Dice Pools
Characters do not add a weapon’s rating to their attack dice pool. Calculate dice pools for attacks as follows: Unarmed Combat: Strength + Brawl; Defense applies Melee Combat: Strength + Weaponry; Defense applies Ranged Combat: Dexterity + Firearms Thrown Weapons: Dexterity + Athletics; Defense applies If your character has a scope or similar that affects how likely he is to hit his target, add the equipment bonus of the scope to the attack pool. These modifiers are listed separately to the weapon’s base damage. Weapons that use system permutations — such as 9-again, 8-again, or similar — apply those effects to the attack roll.
The harm inflicted by an attack is determined by the number of successes on the attack roll, plus any weapon bonus. If you get no successes on your attack roll after applying Defense, you deal no damage — your victim doesn’t have to defend against your weapon’s bonus successes. Attacks with fists and feet deal bashing damage. If you use a weapon, the damage is always lethal. Cricket bats and brass knuckles can shatter bones and crush skulls with far less effort than kicking someone to death. Some weapons have modifiers of +0. They don’t add any bonus successes, but the attack still deals lethal damage. If you don’t want to kill someone by accident, drop your weapon.
The following changes apply to the close-combat rules in the World of Darkness Rulebook
A character’s Defense is equal to the lower of her Dexter-ity or Wits, plus her Athletics Skill. Some Merits can allow a character to use a Skill other than Athletics. Defense is sub-tracted from all unarmed, thrown, or weaponry attacks that the character is aware of. Spending Willpower on Defense increases it by two, but this bonus only lasts for one attack. Every time your character applies his Defense against an attack, reduce his Defense by one until the start of the next turn. You can choose not to apply your character’s Defense against incoming attacks. Sometimes a character might be attacked by weaker foes who act ahead of a stronger enemy, and thus you’d want to save the bulk of your Defense. On other occasions, you have to give up your Defense for an entire turn to use a combat maneuver, such as an all-out attack.
If your character is in over his head, he can forsake his action to Dodge. When Dodging, double your character’s Defense pool but do not subtract it from attack rolls. Instead, the defender’s player rolls the character’s Defense as a dice pool and subtracts any successes from the attacker’s successes. This is an exception to the normal rules for contested actions. If the defender rolls at least as many successes as the attacker, the attack misses. Subtract successes for Defense before adding the weapon bonus. As Dodging is a roll like any other, the player can spend Willpower to enhance it (getting +3 dice as normal). Merits and supernatural powers may allow additional dice pool effects such as allowing the Defense roll to be 8-again, or even a rote action. Reduce Defense by one for each attack as normal when Dodging, before doubling the pool. If this reduces his Defense to 0, the defender is reduced to a chance die. On a dramatic failure, the character is left off-balance and out of position; reduce his Defense by 1 for his next turn.
Example: Julia has Dexterity •• and Athletics • for a Defense of three. When she Dodges, she has a pool of six dice to roll. She is attacked by a man with what looks like a radio antenna coming out of his neck and tries to Dodge his wild swing. The Storyteller rolls seven dice for the man’s attack (Strength + Brawl); Julia’s player doubles her Defense and rolls six dice to Dodge. If the Storyteller rolls three successes and Julia’s player rolls two, the man gets in with 1 success and inflicts 1 point of bashing damage.
If the man had been using a knife doing 1L damage, he would have inflicted two points of damage: one for the success and one from the weapon. On the other hand, assume Julia is accosted by a whole group of these radial-men. If four of them attack and Julia applies her Defense against each one, she has Defense 3 against the first attacker, 2 against the second, 1 against the third and 0 against the last one. If she chooses to Dodge the third attacker, she would roll two dice, because she applies the reduction to Defense before doubling it for Dodge. Likewise, if she were to Dodge the final attacker, she’d be rolling a chance die since her Defense was reduced to zero.
Sometimes you want to beat the fight out of someone without killing him. To that end you can choose to pull your blow, not putting full force behind an attack. You nominate a maximum amount of damage for the blow that can’t be greater than the higher trait in your attack pool — for example, if you’ve got Strength •• and Brawl ••••, you can deal be-tween 1 and 4 points as your maximum damage. If you would ordinarily do more damage, any extra is ignored. Because you’re holding back, it’s easier for your opponent to ward off your blows: the defender gains a +1 bonus to Defense. At the Storyteller’s discretion, you can reflexively spend a point of Willpower when pulling your blow with a weapon to deal bashing damage. Otherwise, the only way to avoid dealing lethal damage is to stop using a lump of metal or wood to inflict trauma.
h3. Unarmed Combat
In addition to punching and kicking people, characters can use the following options when brawling.
Mostly used by animals, bites damage depends on the size and lethality of the creature’s jaws. A human’s teeth do −1 damage; like other unarmed attacks, the damage is bashing. Animals have a weapon bonus depending on the kind of creature: a large dog would get +0, a wolf applies +1, and a great white shark gets +4. Humans and similar creatures that do not have protruding jaws can only bite when using a Damage move as part of a grapple.
You attempt to snatch an opponent’s weapon away. Roll Strength + Brawl contested by your opponent’s Strength + Athletics. If you succeed, your opponent drops his weapon. If you get an exceptional success, you take possession of your opponent’s weapon. On a dramatic failure, you take damage equal to the weapon’s bonus — if you’re struggling over a gun, you take damage equal to its damage rating (the gun goes off).
To grab your opponent, roll Strength + Brawl – Defense. On a success, both of you are grappling. If you’ve got a length of rope, a chain, or a whip, you can add its weapon bonus to your Strength when grappling. If you score an exceptional success on this first roll, pick a move from the list below. When grappling, each party makes a contested Strength + Brawl versus Strength + Brawl action on the higher of the two characters’ Initiative. The winner picks a move from the list below, or two moves on an exceptional success.
- Break Free from the grapple. You throw off your opponent; you’re both no longer grappling. Succeeding at this move is a reflexive action, you can take another action immediately afterwards.
- Control Weapon, either by drawing a weapon that you have holstered or turning your opponent’s weapon against him. You keep control until your opponent makes a Control Weapon move.
- Damage your opponent by dealing bashing damage equal to your rolled successes. If you previously succeeded at a Control Weapon action, add the weapon bonus to your successes.
- Disarm your opponent, removing a weapon from the grapple entirely. You must first have succeeded at a Control Weapon move.
- Drop Prone, throwing both of you to the ground (see “Going Prone”). You must Break Free before rising.
- Hold your opponent in place. Neither of you can apply Defense against incoming attacks.
Restrain your opponent with duct tape, zip ties, or a painful joint lock. Your opponent suffers the Immobilized Tilt. You can only use this move if you’ve already succeeded in a Hold move. If you use equipment to Restrain your opponent, you can leave the grapple.
- Take Cover using your opponent’s body. Any ranged attacks made until the end of the turn automatically hit him (see “Human Shields,” below).
If more than one person tries to grapple the same victim, count the attempt as a teamwork action (World of Darkness Rulebook, p. 134). On the team side, both primary and secondary actors roll Strength + Brawl – Defense to engage, but the victim’s Defense is unaffected by how many people are involved — even if five people try to grab him, he treats it as one attack. In the grapple, both primary and secondary actors roll Strength + Brawl in a contested action with the victim. If the defender wins, any chosen moves only affect the primary actor.
h3. Ranged Combat
The following changes apply to the ranged combat rules in the World of Darkness Rulebook.
The extra dice gained for using automatic fire (and penalties for shooting at multiple people) apply to the gunman’s dice pool. Any successful hits deal successes + weapon modifier damage. This is one of the few instances where wielding a weapon grants dice bonuses to attack as well as bonus damage.
Example: Weston’s packing a submachine gun when the gang boss’s three henchmen draw pistols. He pulls the trigger for a medium burst and sprays bullets at all three punks. Weston’s Dexterity is 2, his Firearms is 4, and he gains a +2 bonus for a medium burst, giving him a total of eight dice. As he’s shooting at three people, he suffers a −3 penalty. Weston’s player rolls five dice three times, once for each henchman. As he’s using a large SMG, he adds two successes to any successful roll to determine damage.
Characters can use automatic weapons to provide covering fire — firing on full-auto to dissuade the character’s enemies from coming out into the open. Covering fire is only possible with a weapon capable of fully automatic fire. The character states the general area he’s firing at, and rolls Dexterity + Firearms. If the roll succeeds, characters in the affected area must make a choice on their next turns. They can avoid the attack, either running to any cover that’s within their Speed or dropping prone (see “Going Prone,” pp. 164–165 of the World of Darkness Rulebook). Or, they can take an action as normal but suffer damage based on the covering fire successes + weapon modifier. Covering fire takes 10 bullets, the same as firing a medium burst.
Example: The Santos Militia has military-spec hardware and they’re on to Danny. One of the militia opens up with an assault rifle and the Storyteller informs Danny’s player that he’s using covering fire. The Storyteller rolls the militiaman’s Dexterity + Firearms and gets two successes. Danny can either get out of the way by going prone or ducking behind one of the Santos’ Hummers, or take a shot at the guy with the gun and take five points of lethal damage.
Firearms and Close Combat
Any firearm larger than Size 1 is too big to use to accurately shoot someone when fists and crowbars are the order of the day. In close combat, the target’s Defense against firearms attacks is increased by the gun’s (Size − 1). If using a gun larger than a pistol to bludgeon your opponent, treat it as an improvised crowbar (see below for weapon traits).
When shooting at a target in cover, subtract the cover’s Durability from the damage dealt. Any remaining damage affects both the object providing cover and anyone hiding behind it equally. If the object’s Durability is higher than the attacker’s weapon modifier, the bullets cannot penetrate cover. Durability for a range of objects is provided on p. 136 of the World of Darkness Rulebook. Remember that cover only applies when the intended victim is entirely hidden — a chain-link fence or steel lamppost isn’t large enough for a person to hide behind. If you can see your target through cover — glass, for example — subtract half the cover’s Durability from incoming attacks (round down). This does not apply if the object’s Durability is higher than your weapon modifier.
Example: Cross hides completely behind a wooden door. Drake shoots at the door in the hopes of hitting Cross beyond. The door’s Durability is 1. Drake’s attack roll nets three successes and he’s using a heavy revolver, for a total of five damage. The shot passes through the door, dealing four damage to the door’s Structure and to Cross. Today’s lesson: in the roshambo of life, bullets beat a cheap wooden door.
When the shit hits the fan and the SWAT team hits the botched bank job, the only available cover may be a terrified member of the public. Unfortunately, the human body is nowhere as effective at blocking bullets as television and movies would have us believe. If your character is in the morally dubious position of using another human being as cover, any shots directed his way do damage to his victim first. Reduce the damage dealt by the victim’s Stamina and any armor. Any remaining damage blows right through to your character. If the person you want to use to save your ass is already part of the fight, you need to use the Take Cover grapple move. Using a human shield is almost certainly a breaking point with a pretty severe modifier (–3 or more) if the victim dies. Someone else might have pulled the trigger, but you forced your victim to take the bullet.
Example: Drake only wanted to jack the pale lady’s car. Now, he’s facing down three dudes with hand cannons. In desperation, he grabs a guy off the sidewalk who’s about to learn the meaning of “wrong place, wrong time.” One of the lady’s minions pulls the trigger. He’s a practiced marksman (Dexterity 2, Firearms 2) so the Storyteller rolls four dice. He gets two successes and adds the gun’s weapon modifier of 2. The human shield takes four points of lethal damage. Drake’s player subtracts his human shield’s Stamina of 2 from the damage and marks off two points of lethal damage himself.
General Combat Factors
The following changes apply to the general combat rules in the World of Darkness Rulebook.
Attacking specific body parts has its benefits. In addition to ignoring armor (see “Armor,” p. 205), strikes to limbs and the head can have added effects.
• Arm (–2): A damaging hit can inflict the Arm Wrack Tilt if it deals more damage than the target’s Stamina
• Leg (–2): A damaging hit can inflict the Leg Wrack Tilt if it deals more damage than the target’s Stamina
• Head (–3): A damaging attack can stun the victim (see the Stun Tilt, p. 212)
• Heart (–3): If the attacker does at least five points of damage, the weapon pierces the opponent’s heart, with special effects for some monstrous targets
• Hand (–4): On a damaging hit, the victim suffers the Arm Wrack Tilt
• Eye (–5): On a damaging hit, the victim is blinded (see the Blinded Tilt, p. 208)
When performing a killing blow, you deal damage equal to your full dice pool plus your weapon modifier. You’ve time enough to line up your attack so it avoids your victim’s armor. While people who kill in combat can justify their actions based on the heat of the moment, performing a killing blow is a premeditated attempt to end a human life without the target having a chance to do anything about it. Going through with a killing blow is breaking point whether the victim survives or not.
Weapons and Armor
Weapons are one of the fastest ways to turn a fight into a murder. Sometimes, that’s a good thing: pulling a gun can cool down a knife fight before it starts. To that end, this section updates the weapons presented in the World of Darkness Rulebook to work with the altered combat system presented here. A weapon’s damage rating doesn’t add to an attacker’s dice pool. Instead, it adds bonus successes to a successful attack roll. When using weapons from other books, subtract one from the listed damage rating — every successful attack does at least one point of damage. Also, every weapon deals lethal damage. A baseball bat, club, or mace does just as much serious trauma to the human body as an edged weapon or a bullet — though some super-natural creatures don’t take lethal damage from weapons. Melee weapons also have a Strength requirement divorced from their Size. This works exactly the same as the Strength requirement for firearms.
For more info about weapons and stats for weapons and armor, see the rules update PDF.
With the changes to Defense and weapon damage, a character wearing armor no longer adds its rating to his Defense. The two armor ratings work differently to compensate.
- Ballistic armor applies to incoming firearms attacks. Each point of ballistic armor downgrades one point of damage from lethal to bashing.
- General armor applies to all attacks. Each point of general armor reduces the total damage taken by one point, starting with the most severe type of damage.
If armor has both ballistic and general ratings, apply the ballistic armor first. When applying armor to an attack dealing lethal damage, you’re always going to feel some pain. Even if your armor would reduce the attack to 0 damage, you still take one point of bashing damage. Characters can only benefit from one source of armor at once — wearing a Kevlar vest under full riot gear is hot and uncomfortable and offers no appreciable extra protection. If a character insists on “layering” armor, it’s up to the player to decide which single source applies to all incoming attacks. That decision’s final, until the character chills out and remembers that most people don’t walk down the street in full riot gear just to buy a quart of milk.
Characters with supernatural armor, such as a mage’s warding spells or a werewolf’s tough hide can benefit from such protection in addition to mundane armor; add the ratings together to determine a character’s final protection.
Example: Detective Black knew something was off, but he didn’t know what until he heard the crack of a handgun. The shooter got two successes, plus two for a heavy pistol, for four points of lethal damage. Black’s wearing a Kevlar vest (armor 1/3) which converts three of the four points of damage to bashing, then subtracts one point of lethal damage. He takes three points of bashing damage and runs for cover.
A weapon that’s listed as having the armor piercing quality has a rating between 1 and 3. When attacking someone wearing armor, subtract the piercing quality from the target’s ballistic armor first, then general armor. If you’re shooting at an object or a person in cover, subtract the piercing quality from the cover’s Durability. Once the shot’s passed through cover, any armor-piercing quality is lost.
Example: The gunman shooting at Detective Black sees the cop stagger but keep moving and switches to his backup piece: a light revolver packing armor-piercing rounds. The Storyteller rolls three successes and adds one for the pistol. The rounds are armor piercing 2, which reduces the vest’s ballistic armor to 1. Detective Black’s vest converts one point of damage to bashing and reduces the lethal damage by one, so he takes a further two points of lethal and one point of bashing damage.