Blood and Iron


Blood & Iron

The Riddle of Steel offers a very unique combat experience. It is gritty, realistic, and yet the same time cinematic. Combat in this game:

  • Has no hit-points. Characters die from fatal wounds and blood loss.
  • Has no initiative rolls.* Characters decide whether to be aggressive or defensive. Not attacking first may have tactical merit!
  • Has no turns. Players act simultaneously, dividing their exhaustible effort between maneuvers and tactics.
  • Is “Real Time”. To survive characters must make decisions quickly and stay aware of their surroundings.
  • Keeps players on their toes. Characters will need to use their environment to their advantage to give them the edge they need to defeat their enemies.
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Melee combat involves swords, axes, fists, shields, and quick footwork. Players use a Combat Pool to activate and pull off maneuvers, overcome complications, perform tactics, and withstand shock and pain suffered from wounds. A fight, called a bout, is measured over rounds and exchanges, which represent an unspecific amount of time.


The Combat Pool (CP) represents a character’s exhaustible effort and capability in combat. During a fight the CP will be allocated and spent on actions, refreshed every round, and fluctuate from Shock, Pain, and other modifiers.

  • CP is gathered from REF + Proficiency.
  • If a combatant is unarmed, he may use an unarmed proficiency. Otherwise he only uses REF.
  • Spiritual Attributes may increase a Combat Pool if the storyteller declares it is applicable.
  • To help players keep track of their CP, two small bowls or cups can be used:
    • One keeps the unspent Combat Pool.
    • One holds spent CP dice which will be refreshed at the beginning of the round.
    • Dice which are depleted through Pain or complications are placed off to a side on the table.
Combat Pool Description Examples
3-5 Untrained – Using weapons for the first time. Academic, Beggar, Servant, Farmer
6-8 Beginner – Some training or experience, but still a novice Mob, Clergyman, Merchant, Cutpurse, New recruit
9-11 Apprentice – Good basic training, standard level for most soldiers. Guardsman, Bandit, Scout, Soldier
12-14 Proficient – Very good training, maybe a combat veteran, practices regularly Captain of the guard, Mercenary, Cavalry
15-17 Adept – Very focused on martial training, likely his profession, lots of experience Bounty hunter, Tournament champion, renowned hero
18+ Master – Possesses unparalleled experience and an unmatched zeal for the craft King’s champion
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During a battle scene the narrative focus will shift between groups of combatants. A series of rounds between two or more opponents is called a Bout.

Bouts undergo frequent pauses in action, such as when opponents circle or break apart from one another. Once the conflict between these combatants has effectively ended, the bout is over and regular rules apply. A bout is measured in rounds and exchanges. When there is more than one bout occurring at the same time, the storyteller will keep the action on one at a time until something interesting happens and it is appropriate to shift the limelight to another bout.

Whenever a situation involving combat begins, the storyteller will declare that time is now measured in combat rounds.

  • A round represents an unspecific amount of time. For hand-to-hand combat it is usually thought of as lasting approximately 1-2 seconds. It is also possible that the actions described in a round may take longer. There are two things, however, which are always true.
    • Combat Pools always refresh at the beginning of a round.
    • Rounds always consist of two exchanges.
      • An exchange is roughly how much time it takes to attack with a weapon and begin to recover.
      • During an exchange both opponents execute maneuvers and Tactics.

While stealing a tomb relic from a temple, Lugh and Blaine are discovered by chief priest and three of his soldiers. Combat begins as Lugh attempts to grab the relic and Blaine assaults the soldier blocking the door. The action begins with Blaine. A few rounds go by before Blaine successfully stabs the soldier in the side and curses at him to move out of the way. The storyteller believes this is a good change to shift the limelight to Lugh. The storyteller doesn’t make Lugh make any rolls to grab the relic at his feet since the soldiers are moving into the tomb to start. In the first round, however, Lugh faces three opponents – a dangerous situation. Lugh decides to leap over the tomb with the intention of distancing himself from his enemies and allowing him to engage just one at a time. The storyteller likes it and calls for a terrain roll, which Lugh fails. As he loses his footing and stumbles to the ground. The storyteller decides now would be a great time to shift the limelight once again to Blaine.

The Fight Begins: When the action can begin with more than one character, the storyteller can give the limelight first to whatever he thinks makes for the most exciting scene. Otherwise the action begins in the following order:

  • Ambushes: Characters who are ambushing, regardless of the method of attack
  • Readied missiles: Characters with missile weapons ready to fire
  • Melee: Characters moving in to close combat
  • Ranged: Characters who are preparing their missile weapons
  • Sorcery: Characters preparing for a sorcerous action

Interfering: In the chaos of a battle scene only one bout is in narrative focus at a time. If a player whose actions are not in focus at the time wants to interfere with or interrupt those who are, he faces three challenges.

  • First, the storyteller must rule whether such an inference is possible. Combat in TROS should be dramatic but gritty and realistic at the same time.
  • Second, there may a physical distance which must be covered through Movement.
  • And finally, the character will have to act quickly enough to be effective. For this the storyteller may call the interrupting player to attempt to steal the initiative and/or win a first strike contest.

Although his own foe has yet to be felled, Blaine knows he must help Lugh. Blaine’s player says, “Blaine runs over and catches Lugh before he falls down!” But the storyteller replies, “No – That’s not possible. Lugh fell to the ground while Blaine was busy with the other soldier.”

Instead Blaine decides to interfere and thus place himself in the same bout as Lugh and his three opponents. Since the other bout is occurring close by, Blaine doesn’t have to spend CP to move but he has to steal the initiative from the enemies who are already moving in to slay Lugh.

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When a battle scene begins, the storyteller calls to hear what each combatant who is not surprised is planning on doing. Characters are then assumed to be carrying out those actions until the limelight shifts to them. As usual the storyteller is at liberty to ‘Say Yes’ and move the narrative along to actions which include compelling uncertainty.

After a few rounds Blaine is able to get the full attention of the soldiers. Lugh declares he wants to crawl to the corner and stand up. Since no one is actively opposing him at this time, the storyteller nods and keeps the action with Blaine who now faces four enemies!

Once the storyteller has decided which bout to begin with, it follows the following order.

  • Round begins: The storyteller calls out the number of current round.
  • Phase One: Stance: If given the opportunity, characters declare their stances.
  • Phase Two: Blood Loss: Wounded characters make an EN test to withstand blood loss.
  • Phase Three: Combat Pool: Players refresh combat pools with all modifiers including Shock and Pain.
  • Phase Four: Attitude: Players establish aggressor and defender by throwing Red or White or defaulting to the winner of the last exchange.
  • Phase Five: First Exchange: Aggressor announces his attack and the defender defends.
    • Resolve any damage.
    • Determine new attitudes (aggressor and defender).
  • Phase Six: Second Exchange: Aggressor announces his attack and the defender defends. These roles may have reversed since the first exchange.
    • Resolve any damage.
    • Determine new attitudes (aggressor and defender).

Phases 2-6 repeat until the bout ends or the limelight shifts elsewhere.


As the warriors face each other, they might have a chance to drop into a stance to prepare for the duel to come. Without time to take a specific stance or guard, a warrior is assumed to be in a neutral stance unless his Instinct is otherwise.

  • Stances provide stronger attacks and defenses at the cost of predictability and flexibility.
  • The character with the lower REF declares their stance first.
  • Stances can be aggressive, defensive, or neutral.
    • Aggressive stances provide a bonus to attack while making defense more difficult.
    • Defensive stances provide a bonus to defense while making attacking harder.
    • Neutral stances allow a great deal of flexibility.
  • More advanced stances, called Guards, are available to those who have trained with certain schools.
  • The modifiers from stances only last for the first exchange of any combat
  • A stance cannot be taken until the combatants separate and cease swinging for a moment – the bout must be interrupted by a full pause.
Stance Description Effect
Aggressive Raising the weapon high and over the head.
  • Aggressive stances add 2 CP dice when attacking during the first exchange in a round.
  • Aggressive stances increase the activation cost for any defensive maneuver by 2 CP.
  • Charging counts as an aggressive stance.
Defensive Blade or weapon head facing down.
  • Defensive stances add 2 CP dice when defending.
  • Defensive stances increase the activation cost for any offensive maneuver by 2 CP.
Neutral Weapon is positioned in a default manner to allow a quick attack or defense. No bonuses to either attack or defense.


As the round begins, wounded warriors must attempt to shake off the weakness suffered from blood loss.

  • Wounded characters make a BL test.
  • Player rolls a Simple EN Challenge vs his BL total as the TN. If this means the TN is higher than 10, rolls of 10 stack.
  • Whenever a roll is failed, one point of HT is lost.
  • When HT reaches 1 the character is severely weakened and all his Attributes and Pools are halved.
  • When HT reaches 0, the character enters a comma and dies shortly.
  • BL tests may be forgone if the TN is less than EN. TNs of 8 and greater should be tested regardless of EN.


All dice spent in Maneuvers, Tactics, and lost through Shock are refreshed. Dice lost from Pain, ongoing Complications, or other depleting factors are left out.


At the beginning of a round, each player is assigned an attitude: aggressor or defender. The aggressor is assumed to have the initiative, which means he declares his offensive maneuver. Attitude is determined by Winning the Initiative or Throwing.

Winning the initiative: The winner of an exchange gains or retains the initiative and becomes the default aggressor for the following exchange except in the case of a Full Evasion when there is a measurable pause in the bout. In this situation the combatants must Throw again. When there is a tie between the offensive and defensive maneuver, the attacker retains the initiative as the defender has just barely held off the attack. Although a player wins the imitative, he may give it up. If he does this, there is a pause and the duelists must Throw to determine initiative for the next round.

Throwing: At the beginning of a Bout or after a pause like that created by Full Evasion, initiative is determined by the throwing. Each combatant picks up a white die and a die. When the storyteller calls ‘throw!’, each combatant drops one of them. White indicates the character will be starting off as a defender, while a colored die represents aggression.

  • Red/White: The aggressor announces his offensive maneuver and dice allocation. The defender declares his defensive maneuver and dice allocation. The exchange is resolved and the initiative is given to the winner of the exchange.

After finishing off the last of the chief priest’s guards, Blaine turns to see the chief priest move forward to engage him. Blaine is injured and getting tired quickly; he knows he must end this fight quickly. He takes an aggressive stance to let the priest know he means business and at the top of the round he throws Red. The priest, carrying a short sword and expecting as much, throws White. Blaine now has the initiative so he declares his attack and allocation – a 7-die Thrust to the torso. The priest declares a 8-die Parry. The winner of this exchange will have the initiative at the bottom of the round.

  • White/White: If both sides have thrown white or given up the initiative, then the combatants circle each other for the round as they exchange insults or silently survey their opponent. If this happens more than once, characters may want to engage in ridiculing. See the taunting tactic below.
  • Red/Red: In this messy situation both sides have committed themselves to an aggressive maneuver and forfeited defensive maneuvers in order to make a quick attack. It is necessary to have a First Strike contest.

First Strike is given to the winner of a REF contest.

  • The TN is the player’s ATN.
  • Range penalties may apply for the contest.
  • Thrusting attacks give +1 REF for the contest.
  • Combatants may be allowed to add CP for this contest.
  • The winner’s attack is resolved before the slower fighter makes his attack.
  • The loser may strike second, assuming any dice remain in his Combat Pool.

Lugh is cornered and unarmed. He faces an advancing temple guard with a flail, which has a Medium reach. Even though Lugh stands over a pile of the fallen foes, the guard can’t help but smile as he sees Lugh bleeding profusely. Lugh knows he can’t play defensive for long; he decides it’s now or never. During the guard’s next attack Lugh completely evades, creating a pause in the bout. When the combatants throw for initiative, Lugh throws Red along with the guard, who assumed the large unarmed brute was going to try and evade again. The storyteller calls for a First Strike contest. The guard gets a bonus +1 die since his weapon has a reach of Medium. It would have been two, but Lugh has Minor Gift: Large which gives him a larger reach.

Stealing the initiative: Preemptive strikes are waiting for an opponent to strike then attempting to beat him to the blow. It is a risky move used by the desperate, the quick, and the suicidal. In any situation where one combatant is on the offensive and the other defensive, the defensive character may elect to declare an attack instead of defending himself. If he wants to try to make his blow land first, he can attempt to steal the initiative. Note that this does not include Red/Red situations where both characters have declared aggressive maneuvers.

  • The defensive character declares an attack (offensive maneuver) instead of a defense. He allocates dice and attack location as usual but also pays an additional activation cost based on his Proficiency. See the table below.
  • The exchange is now effectively Red/Red and moves to a contest for First Strike.
Proficiency Activation Cost
0-4 5CP
5-9 4CP
10+ 3CP

The chief priest is frustrating Blaine. Every time Blaine wins the initiative and attacks, the priest evades, jumping out of Blaine’s reach, which has been making it difficult for dagger-wielding Blaine because of his shorter ranged weapon. Feeling desperate, Blaine circles his opponent until the priest finally throws Red. Blaine throws White but immediately calls for an attack. He pays 4 CP to steal the initiative. Now the round becomes a Red/Red situation and the storyteller calls for a first strike contest. Blaine hopes he has enough CP left to hit the priest first.

Surprise: Sometimes a character is unprepared for an incoming attack, whether or not he was aware of an enemy. Such characters who were unaware or unsuspecting may be asked to make a Simple REF challenge.

  • Success: The character may defend or attempt to steal the initiative. The character may not take a stance.
  • Failure: No action may be taken until the next round.

With all their enemies dead or fleeing, Blaine and Lugh emerge from the vault to tread quietly down the temple hallways out to the garden wall to make their escape. Before they can escape, they have to climb over the wall. Since there are still hostile characters around, the storyteller calls for an Athletics: Climbing challenge. As they are busy readying the rope, they are surprised by the town watchman who was patrolling the temple grounds. The watchman readies his bow. Blaine and Lugh roll REF vs TN8. Lugh fails but Blaine succeeds. In the first moment of combat Lugh stands with the rope in his hands. Blaine, meanwhile, dives into the brush to gain cover.


Once initiative has been decided, the round is then completed in two exchanges. At the beginning of each exchange the aggressive characters (Red) announce their tactics, maneuvers, and respective allocations. Defensive characters then announce theirs. Successful maneuvers are resolved and wounds deal Shock, Pain, and Blood Loss. Some maneuvers may also result in Knockdowns and Knockouts. The winner of the exchange earns or retains the initiative and may become the aggressor for the following exchange.

Wounding* : Should an attacker have one or more successes over his opponent, then the attack has landed. A d6 is rolled to determine the specific location within the targeted zone. The losing defender then suffers a wound.

  • Wounds are rated from 0-5 and are not cumulative.
    • A 0-level wound is usually a bruise or scratch.
    • Level one wounds are a tad bit worse.
    • Level three wounds are quite dangerous and often end a fight.
    • Level five are usually fatal.
  • Location makes a difference as well; a level three wound to the head is worse than to the shoulder.
  • Wounds are calculated by the following formula:

(MOS + DR) – (TO + AV) = Wound Level

  • MOS: The Margin of Success is the number of successes over the obstacle (opponent’s defensive maneuver) an attacker has won.
  • DR: Damage Rating is listed for each weapon. For melee weapons this is usually the attacker’s STR plus some bonus.
  • TO: Toughness here refers to the defender’s TO. In most situations TO should not be allowed to “soak” more damage than is being dealt by the attacker’s strength.
  • AV: Armor Value is applied if the blow landed on an armored section of the defender.

Shock, Pain, and Blood loss: With no hit points, TROS measures physical trauma from combat in Shock, Pain, and Blood loss. These values are determined by wounds and are listed in the damage charts.

Shock and Pain measure how badly a given wound immediately affects one’s ability to fight and carry on.
  • Shock subtracts dice from all dice pools immediately upon receiving the blow.
    • Should the Shock rating exceed the total current CP, the remainder of the penalty is applied at the beginning of the next round unless the Pain penalty is greater.
    • Shock is only applied once for each wound, unless that same body zone is struck a subsequent time, in which case the higher of the Shock ratings—new or old—is suffered again.
  • Pain is subtracted from pools at the beginning of every combat round.
    • Whereas Shock is a static number, a character’s WP can reduce the effects of Pain.
    • Pain is also important in figuring out healing times.
  • Shock and Pain are cumulative as long as they are applied to different zones.

Blood Loss covers the deterioration of one’s health due to bleeding and internal damage.

  • Each wound carries, alongside Shock and Pain, a Blood Loss target number.
  • These numbers are cumulative adding up to one big BL number.
  • At the beginning of each Round all wounded characters must roll EN vs. BL.
  • Whenever a roll is failed, one pint of HT is temporarily lost.
  • When HT reaches 1 all Attributes and Pools are halved.
  • When HT reaches (0), the character enters a comma and dies.
  • Assuming the wounded party lives, one point of HT is recovered for every day of rest.

Knockdown and Knockout: The Knockdown (KD) and Knockout (KO) attributes are used to represent how steady on his feet a character is.

  • Knockdown: Any time a character receives a blow that through Shock or Pain reduces his CP to less than zero, he may be knocked down. Additionally, KD is used to withstand Disarm attempts.
    • The player rolls KD/TN8.
    • Some maneuvers and wounds may modify the dice pool for this test.
    • Success: The character has remained steady on his feet.
    • Failure: The character has fallen to the ground. He suffers the usual halving from being prone.
    • Botch: As above, but additional complications make it difficult for the character to stand up.
    • Standing up: While engaged in a bout, standing up requires a Tactics roll against TN8 if acting defensively or TN9 if attempting aggressive maneuvers.
  • Knockout: Certain wounds, especially those to the head, call for a KO test.
    • The player rolls KO/TN7, modified according to the severity of the wound as listed in the wound chart.
    • Success: Character has remained conscious and alert.
    • Failure: A KO failure results in 1d10 seconds of unconsciousness.
    • Botch: This results in 1d10×10 minutes of unconsciousness.

After the watchman fires at Lugh, he moves towards the gate. However he doesn’t see the Domr thief Kapakahi, who was waiting for him. Kapa works quickly, swinging his quarterstaff in a Hook Trip maneuver at the watchman’s legs. The watchman fails his KD test and falls to the ground. Kapa steps forward and executes a powerful Bash at the man’s head, doing enough damage to crack the skull. The watchman now fails his KO test and falls unconscious.

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Complications are factors which make combat more difficult for one or more of the opponents by reducing Combat Pools.

Surprise TN Description *
5 Purposefully standing with no stance. Perhaps attempting to invite an attacker.
7 Aware of opponent but victim of a cheap shot.
8 Unsuspecting or inattentive.
10 Blindsided!
Botching Terrain Visibility
Reach Fatigue

Botching results in failure to strike anything and allows the weapons’ momentum to lose control.

  • Botching on any attack may cause the weapon to drop, break, or otherwise be rendered useless.
  • Botching reduces the CP on the next exchange by half the number of dice spent on the failed attack.

Terrain can often be a secondary foe. When fighting on unfriendly ground, characters must be careful to keep their footing. Characters must use Footing tactic.

  • Failing a terrain roll results in slipping, falling, getting stuck in a narrow tunnel, or losing a stuck weapon. The characters suffers the loss of half of the character’s CP for the duration of the round.
  • Botching a Footing test means a nasty fall or other disaster which removes all CP dice and leaves the poor fighter prone or otherwise disabled.
  • Standing up: While engaged in a bout, standing up requires a Tactics roll against TN8 if acting defensively or TN9 if attempting aggressive maneuvers.

Visibility affects combat as well. In near darkness such as during the failing light of dusk reduce all pools by 1. With minimal light – the moon or distant torch light – reduce all pools by ¼ total. In pitch darkness reduce all pools by half.

Reach, or weapon length, often means the difference between striking enemies and missing them entirely. Reach Penalty: Attacks against a longer weapon are made at a -1CP for each step the attacker wishes to close.

  • This penalty holds until the shorter weapon makes a damaging strike, after which the penalty transfers to the longer weapon until he scores a damaging blow.
  • When the shorter weapon is out of range, this penalty applies only to attacks.
  • When the longer weapons is penalized, it applies to both offense and defense.
  • Smart fighters wielding long weapons caught inside their defense will resort to a full evasion or drop weapons and wrestle. Certain maneuvers, such as half-swording, are particularly effective in such situations. Certain weapons, such as spears and other two-handed weapons, may shorten their reach.

Reach is divided into six categories.

Hand Short Medium Long Very Long Extreme
Up to 1’ reach. Fist, daggers, knee-strikes, grappling. Up to 2’ reach. Hatchets, short swords, long knives. Up to 4’ reach. Arming swords, flails. Up to 6’ reach. Great swords, bastard swords, spears. Up to 8’ reach. Long spears, polearms. Everything over 8’ reach. Pikes, lances.

Fatigue is the physical strain that comes from strenuous activity such as combat while wearing heavy armor and other encumbrance.

  • Every (2 x EN) rounds, 1 CP die is depleted from a warrior’s total.
  • Characters wearing armor suffer this sooner. Reduce this number of rounds by the armor penalty.
  • CP dice depleted in this way recover after the duelist rested a number of rounds equal to his total fatigue penalty.
    • The resting warrior makes a EN/TN6 test. MOS is the number of dice recovered.
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Moving in combat means getting across the battlefield while keeping up the best guard possible. As described in Flesh & Bone: Movement, there are six paces in TROS. The fastest three – Hurried, Sprinting, and Rushing – reduce a warrior’s Combat Pool as he focuses more on moving than keeping up his guard. Additionally, quicker paces also result in fatigue building up quicker.

Pace Distance covered in feet Description Combat Pool Cost Fatigue Penalty
Crawling 1 foot per round Down on hands and knees 0 CP None.
Cautious 1/2 MOV per round Careful, deliberate steps 0 CP None.
Normal MOV per round Most natural pace 0 CP None.
Hurried 2 x MOV per round Jogging or moving hastily 4 CP x 2 if heavily armored
Sprinting 4 x MOV per round Running quickly 8 CP x 2 if heavily armored
Rushing 6 x MOV per round Blindly charging ahead ALL x 2 or x 3 if heavily armored
  • During a round a combatant is assumed to move half his MOV in feet as he circles, advances, and retreats. If this is not possible because the warrior is trapped in an enclosed area or he’s bound, the storyteller might require a Footing challenge or simply impose a CP penalty.
  • Hurried or sprinting movement constitute “charging”, an offensive stance which grants +2CP to offensive maneuvers but -2CP to defensive maneuvers.
  • Rushing characters are automatically surprised by any attacks made against them.
  • Characters wearing heavy armor suffer additional fatigue. When calculating fatigue count rounds spent hurrying or sprinting as two rounds.
  • Moving across difficult terrain may require additional dice to be allocated for a Footing challenge.

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Blood and Iron

Legacy of Orphans seanpmcochran