Mercenary Manual

THE CODEX

Mercenary Manual

This Bladeslinger’s Bible contains a number of hints, suggestions, and strategies that will help warriors get ahead and keep theirs in combat.


KNOW WHEN TO FIGHT

The first step to not getting killed is to never draw steel at a whim. In TROS getting hit even once is bad, especially if the warrior is unarmored. Whenever a character engages in real combat, there is a good possibility he won’t live to see another one. Players should always consider, then, whether or not the cause behind the violence is worth dying for. A good test for this is Spiritual Attributes. If a player’s Spiritual Attributes aren’t firing for the conflict, it’s possible that his character isn’t ready or willing to die for the cause.

Secondly, a smart fighter is a living fighter. As in real life, warriors in TROS rarely engage in a battle they don’t have upper hand. If a player’s company is an even match for his opponents, the players will probably not want to engage their enemies head on. Ambush and surprise are just two ways a hero can help move the odds in his favor.

Patience is a third and final trait of a good warrior. Using defensive maneuvers and clever tactics may not be the quickest ways to victory, but they are there for a reason. Watching an opponent and trying to exploit his weaknesses are a lot more difficult than just swinging at everything that moves, but in the end they are often what decides the quick and the dead.

The following table gives some advice on match ups by Combat Pools. After a round or two, a player should be able to surmise just what he’s dealing with. Surrendering or yielding to a superior foe may not always sound courageous, but it’s almost always better than dieing to one.

CP Compared to Opponent
+10 “You can take this guy without a sweat; no need to worry.”
+6 “You should win this almost certainly, but you will have to think a little to avoid being outwitted.”
+2 “Victory is not certain. You should consider if this battle is important.”
0 Even odds. Would you step into a deadly fight in which you had even odds?”
-2 “Unless you play really smart or get very lucky, you will lose.”
-6 “Run.”
Blade divider

USE UNCOMMON MANEUVERS

There are some maneuvers that seem to be greatly underutilized. Here are a few of the more commonly misunderstood maneuvers along with why and when a warrior might want to use them.

Expulsion is a maneuver that is a little confusing. It allows a defender to spend an additional activation cost for a parry (usually 2CP) to gain an advantage on his follow-up attack. If the parry is successful, the margin of defense successes is added as a penalty to whatever defense the opponent makes in the following exchange as long as the warrior targets his opponent with a thrust.

Jared and Davin are two rapier masters dueling with foils for some watching students. Jared declares a 10-die thrust at Davin’s chest, to which Davin responds with an 11-die Expulsion. This costs Davin an additional 2CP. Jared rolls and gets 6 successes, while Davin rolls 9 successes on the defense. Davin’s player describes his swordsman knocking Jared’s foil far and wide from its target and thus leaving a vital opening. Having won the initiative with his successful defense, Davin then declares in the following exchange a thrust to his friend’s stomach. Whatever defense Jared makes, it will cost him an additional +3CP because of the successful Expulsion.

Feint is a useful and widely used maneuver, but it is important to point out a couple misconceptions regarding it.

Firstly, the activation cost of a feint goes up when it is used repeatedly against an opponent, but it is only for each identical feint. This means that following a feinted slash at the head which was redirected, only the cost for future feints to the head for that opponent increase. A later feint to the arm is not identical and does not incur the increased cost.

Secondly, although the maneuvers are called Feint Cut and Feint Thrust, warriors can feint with bashing weapons or even from and into Draw Cuts, Beats, and Hooks. Just remember that the activation cost for the feint has to be paid plus the activation cost for the final maneuver actually performed.

The Stop Short maneuver is not actually an attack. It does count as one, but the main difference is that the opponent does not mount an actual defense against it. This means that beyond the dice he has invested into the maneuver, a warrior is not risking much because the opponent doesn’t declare a defense, he also cannot decide to ignore you and launch an attack of his own.

Although the opponent gets to roll his Reflex – which is likely to be slightly higher than the attacker’s WP – he has a base TN7, and for a minor investment of 2-3 dice this can be raised to 9 or 10. In return the attacker is following against his opponent’s PER score, which is usually an average of 4 with possible hindrances from wearing helmets. All of this adds up to a strong possibility of an advantage to the attacker, who them keeps initiative and costs his opponent some dice at the start of the next exchange.

And here’s another useful tip! If ever stuck in a situation where it’s the 2nd exchange of the round, a warrior who still has the initiative but only 1 or 2 dice and fears his opponent may consequently launch an attack instead of a defense can decide to simply declare a Stop Short instead. This only works once or maybe twice in a battle because the activation costs starts to mount up. The first time, however, is an easy way to ensure that all an opponent’s dice won’t be a threat.

At first glance Toss is not a terribly useful maneuver. The disadvantage inflicted on an opponent is a 1-die penalty per success, and that means the absolute best penalty is only equal to the number of dice the warrior rolled, making it both equal in die-loss. With an ATN7, it’s not likely that a warrior would even get that many successes!

So why use the maneuver? First, like Stop Short, the opponent does not declare any actual defense. Instead he is given the option of dodging – which requires CP – or not. Either way he will potentially lose dice from the toss attack, but he cannot ignore the toss and attack you instead. Second, and most importantly, he loses the dice at the start of the following exchange rather than immediately, which means that if used in the second exchange of a round, the following round the afflicted opponent would not refresh at his full Pool value, putting him at an immediate disadvantage for the round.

The only downside is that a warrior has to have something in his hand to toss, so it’s generally a once-per-combat kind of maneuver.

Holding Back or Scamming is a very simple but yet not-obvious tactic that clever duelers use. Holding back and appearing to be less proficient can be a powerfully deceptive technique used to lull an opponent into a false sense of security. Once confident that his opponent has “fallen for it”, a warrior will find this tactic is most useful at the beginning of a round when pushing his foe into spending all his CP in defense, only to be left defenseless in the next exchange.

Boris is facing off against a cutthroat who has him cornered in an alleyway. Boris has a CP of 14, but he chooses to only use 11 dice every round for the first 3 rounds or so of the bout. The cutthroat has been counting the number of dice Boris has been using and now thinks that Boris’s CP is 11. In the first exchange of the 4th round, Boris declares an 11-die swing at the cutthroat. Thinking that Boris has used his entire die pool, the villain feels confident enough to use his entire pool for a partial evasion in hopes of winning the initiative. The evasion is successful, but with no dice left the cutthroat is wide open to a follow-up 3-die attack from Boris that he was not expecting and has no defense against…

Blade divider

EMPLOY CLEVER USE OF TERRAIN

It should go without saying that one of the best ways to get ahead in combat is to make full use of the the terrain through Tactics. Rather than simply waiting for the storyteller to declare (un)favorable terrain and responding to it, wily characters will always be looking for ways to use terrain to their advantage. They could be leading or Pressing the opponent into unfavorable or unstable terrain, jumping onto a table, rock or other high spot to gain a height advantage, or perhaps shifting the combat so that the sun (or other light source) is behind them and in their enemies’ eyes. The possible uses of terrain are endless and can easily turn the tide of any combat if well utilized.

Tomas is battling a cultist on a high castle wall which is in ruins. Tomas’s player asks the storyteller how high the wall is and how crumbly the edge is, and declares that he will be using the terrain to press his opponent towards the edge. As the foe gets closer and closer to the edge, the storyteller begins assigning tougher and tougher TN terrain rolls to prevent slipping or losing dice due to a lack of balance and attention. Eventually the cultist fails a roll and his die pool drops to the level where Tomas can step in and easily finish him.

Blade divider

TAKE STANCES

Stances can be used if a character has time before a fight to prepare for the first exchange. Although they cannot generally be used after the first exchange of the first round, clever players will realize that any significant pause in the action will allow time to drop into a stance. It could be the lull between one opponent falling and the next stepping up, after a full evasion by either party, or simply because neither opponent declares an attack for an exchange. Additionally, stances can be used to trick opponents. For example, a High Back guard gives a bonus when swinging at an opponent’s head or shoulders but a penalty when thrusting at him. This will usually lead an opponent who has shown he likes Favoring to allocate dice to defending his head and shoulders. If he over-allocates those dice, a lower thrusting attack actually gives the attacker the advantage because the opponent may have lost more dice to the now useless favoring than the attacker lost due to the penalty, especially if the warrior declared the stance as aggressive, which gives the warrior +1 die back.

Blade divider

SELECT THE RIGHT WEAPONS

The correct choice of weapons for the right opponent can make a lot of difference in the outcome of a fight. Against a fast-moving, lightly-armored and primarily evasive opponent, light and fast weapons such as rapiers, backswords, and the like are generally the most useful. Against more heavily armored opponents, heavy mass weapons – especially picks and hammers – are useful to punch through armor and add shock to wear down their CP even if it is difficult to actually wound them very heavily. Flails are very useful against opponents who use shield blocks and Favoring. A player should ensure that he has a wide variety of reasonable weapon proficiencies and is prepared to switch between them to suit the fight.

Another important consideration with weapon selection is Reach. Fighting someone with a weapon of vastly different length may seem like a good benefit to start with, but it can cause issues if enemies manage to get inside their comfortable range and the warrior can’t get back. Remember also that although all weapons suffer a range penalty on attack against longer ones, only a longer weapons suffers a range penalty on defense against a shorter weapon. In other words, wielding a pike against a dagger is only a benefit until the dagger wielder successfully closes range. Warriors wielding longer weapons should be prepared to draw and switch to shorter weapons if the need arises. On the other side, warriors wielding shorter weapons should attempt to close range as quickly as possible and then harry their opponent, keeping him om his toes so that he never has the opportunity to extend the range back or spend Tactics dice to draw a shorter weapon.

Blade divider

USE SKILLS IN COMBAT

Some of the more combat-oriented skills are easy to overlook during combat, but to do so can be a deadly mistake. Some of the more common combat useful skills are listed below.

Athletics: Intimidation. Often a lesser opponent – or one who has been convinced he is inferior – can be intimidated into backing down from a fight or surrendering. This use of the intimidate specialization will be opposed by the opponent’s Willpower or Wits. Players can usually earn additional Edge from good role-playing and clever use of characterization – for example knowing what the spiritual attributes or flaws of the opponent are and using them against him. If the intimidation is successful, the opponent suffers a 1-die CP penalty for each success or he flees entirely.

Ridicule (from either Language or Etiquette: Ridicule ) can often be used to start a combat by taunting the opponent into attacking. This is particularly useful when the foe has adopted a defensive stance and to attack will therefore cost him dice. Storytellers may also allow this skills to be used to draw NPC opponents into overextending their attacks and over committing dice through anger and rage.

Style Analysis is not a skill per se, but a Tactic which uses the PER attribute. It is possible that a Military -trained warrior could use his skill to analyze a soldier or unit of fighting men. The importance of being able to predict the maneuver an opponent favors cannot be overestimated! When faced with an opponent using a similar proficiency, the advantage may even award the patient fighter with even more vital information such as how large his opponent’s combat pool is.

A combination of theMilitary skill and SO or WIT might allow an ally to call out suggestions and advice to a harried friend. These rolls could perhaps grant a number of extra Edge dice. Battle, Leadership, and Tactic specializations also allow allies to have an advantage when facing multiple opponents or acting in a group themselves.

Blade divider

SWAP STYLES & WEAPONS

One good way to throw off an opponent is to change weapon styles or even weapons during a bout. Many weapons can be utilized with more than one weapon proficiency, and other weapons can be drawn during a combat. Switching proficiencies can only be done between rounds, but it possibly opens up new maneuvers or changes the activation cost of maneuvers. Swapping weapons may allow you to switch to a weapon that will be more effective against an opponent – a flail to get around a shield, a pick to punch through armor, a dagger because he has managed to shorten the range.

Steradian and Lysander are battling as a part of Lysander’s prize playing exhibition at his weapon school. Steradian is wielding a greatsword, while Lysander is using Sword & Shield. Finding himself unable to punch through Lysander’s defense, Steradian evades during the second exchange of the round and drops a terrain die to draw his flail from his belt, switching to his Mass Weapon proficiency at the start of the next round. Seeing that his shield has now become a lot less effective, Lysander drops it a couple of exchanges later, and thus shifts from Sword & Shield to his Longsword proficiency, losing the now relatively useless blocking options, but giving access to a few new maneuver such as Half-Sword, Stop Short and Evasive Attack. If he gets really desperate, he can now even use defensive grappling to attempt to catch or trap Steradian’s flail.

Blade divider

WEAR OUT OPPONENTS

One useful tactic to use when facing a heavily armored opponent is to rely on the weight of his armor to tire him quickly. Remember that the higher a CP penalty a character has from armor, the faster he will lose dice from Fatigue. Clever players will use Full Evades and other defenses to slow the pace of the bout as well as the terrain by Pressing opponents into difficult terrain.

Blade divider

PICK ATTACK LOCATIONS CAREFULLY

A lot of players like to attack the most vulnerable body locations, especially the head and the upper torso because of the extreme damage results hits to those locations can yield. It’s quite easy to forget some of the other less-obvious body locations that one can target, such as:

The arms: Blows to the arm (and especially the hands) usually force a roll by the opponent to prevent dropping his weapon; this is the case even with relatively minor margins of success in such attacks.

The legs: Strikes to the legs usually force knockdown rolls. On top of that, the legs are often the most weakly armored parts of the body, and so you may find it easier to damage an opponent there (to rack up his pain and take advantage of shock results) than other, more heavily protected regions. Finally, the legs (and especially the lower legs) cannot easily be protected using the Favoring rules, so they are often a good spot to swing at to avoid targeting a Favored location where the opponent has extra protection.

Blade divider

MISSILE ATTACKS DURING MELEE

A useful tactic within melee combat is to keep the opponent on his toes by using missile weapons. Pulling and firing a small loaded crossbow or flicking throwing daggers at an opponent can be very effective. This especially true when performed while using Terrain dice to force the opponent back or during a regular attack so that he has two attacks to defend against at the same time – see the Double Attack maneuver for more information regarding defending against double attacks. This is particularly effective when several missile attacks can be made in quick succession, such as with multiple throwing knives.

It’s pretty obvious that the character has to have a hand free, and he has to already have the missile weapon in that hand or he’ll need to use the rules for drawing weapons during combat. At any point thereafter, he can declare that he is making a missile attack against his opponent. Because this is taking attention away from the melee combat, the dice come out of his CP, but he cannot use more dice than his Proficiency with the missile weapon (his Aim does not come into play since he doesn’t have time to stop and aim the weapon) and the attack has an activation cost of 1. If desired, this attack may be made at the same time as another attack is launched with his melee weapon; this counts as a double attack for the purposes of the opponent defending himself and has an activation cost of 2.

Rinaldo is dueling his archenemy Stefan. Stefan is using two rapiers, while Rinaldo fights with only one. At the end of one round, while defending himself from a low thrust, Rinaldo drops two dice in a terrain roll to pull grab a loaded small crossbow hanging on his belt. At the start of the new round, his CP refreshes and he declares a shot at Stefan.

Because Rinaldo has a Crossbow proficiency of 6, he cannot assign more dice than this to the attack, and he has to pay a 1-die activation cost as well. He elects to use 5 dice for the attack and so he subtracts 6 dice from his CP and rolls the shot. Because he’s firing at point-blank range, he gains an extra die as well. Stefan has little option but to Partial Evade the shot (he cannot Full Evade, since he attacked in the last exchange). He will also need to spend an extra 2 dice to gain the initiative or Rinaldo will keep it and be able to attack him in the second exchange (perhaps while using terrain dice to draw a throwing knife from his belt…).

Blade divider

DEFEND BY ATTACKING

Although it seems obvious when rationally thought out, many fighters fall into the trap of simply defending against incoming attacks and relying on a successful defense to gain the initiative and thus go onto the offensive. Analyze your opponent’s attacks carefully – strong attacks should be met with strong defense, but weak attacks (particularly those that you are fairly confident will miss or will be stopped by your amour) can often be ignored in favor of launching an attack at the same time (which, under normal conditions will land just after your opponent’s attack). This move can be risky, because your opponent may end up rolling a lot better than the odds would suggest.

In addition, he may in fact be feinting and the attack will instead target a different area of your body, usually one that isn’t as well armored or which is otherwise more vulnerable than the one you thought he was attacking. When pulled off right, however, this kind of pre-emptive attack can punish a complacent opponent who under-invests in his attacks, hoping to save dice. It is also possible to steal initiative, of course, meaning that your attack will actually land before your opponent’s one. This can be deadly if pulled off right, but be wary of two important considerations:

  • First, making an attack and stealing initiative is expensive in terms of dice from your CP, and this means that if you don’t kill or disable your opponent you may be unable to successfully defend yourself against a follow-up attack from him.
  • Second, your opponent (if he has dice left in his pool) can simply choose to steal initiative back, meaning that his attack will land first after all and you’re down a number of dice.
Blade divider

DEFEND BY EVADING

Although the Full Evasion maneuver is well utilized, many fighters overlook Partial and Duck & Weave evasions in favor of parries and blocks. Duck & Weave is seen as too difficult to pull off, while Partial Evasion does not win initiative unless 2 additional dice are spent. However, there are a few good reasons why both maneuvers are a part of any successful fighter’s repertoire.

Partial Evasion is the defense of choice for any fighter using a weapon that has a poorer DTN than the Partial Evasion’s DTN of 7. However, the maneuver is useful for another very important reason. This is that a partial evasion involves a great deal more movement – if you are trying to lead your opponent into difficult terrain or simply want to move around so you can get closer to the door, a partial evasion gives you more movement than a block or a parry would. It is suggested you allow a character who is doing a Partial Evasion to move up to half their Movement score (assuming the Evasion is successful) and the attacker is forced to move with them to remain in close combat.

The Duck & Weave is a great deal more useful than it may first appear. As well as being a defense, it resets the combat to the usual range for your own weapon – you have weaved and maneuvered yourself back into the optimal position for your weapon length. This can usually only be done with successful attacks, not successful defenses since Partial Evasion doesn’t affect range at all, and Full Evade doesn’t reset the range so much as halt the combat and reset it to whatever the longer weapon’s optimal range is.

Even better, follow-up attacks after a successful Duck & Weave are deadly because you are now at the correct range for your weapon and your opponent can neither use his shield, nor a Full Evasion since he attacked in the previous exchange. On top of that, he is treated as if he botched the attack you evaded, meaning that he loses a number of dice from his CP equal to half the number he had committed into the attack. This loss makes up in great part for the extra dice you may have had to allocate to the attack because of the possibly high DTN of the Duck & Weave maneuver. The opponent’s now-reduced die pool along with his limited defensive options and your optimal range can spell a lot of trouble for him!

Full Evasion is a powerful defensive move as it can be used to avoid all incoming attacks in the same exchange (and it ends the round, which means you can use your entire die pool on it). Just a note of warning, however: using all of your dice on a full evasion that fails in the first exchange is very deadly – youʼre left in the second exchange not having evaded and having no dice left to defend yourself. A couple of points to remember/consider:

  • First, you cannot perform a Full Evasion in an exchange immediately following one in which you attacked your opponent.
  • Second, in some situations you canʼt perform a Full Evasion at all unless itʼs reasonable that there is some way for you to get quickly away – behind a tree or table, through a door, and so on. It may not be possible to full evade while youʼre surrounded, your back is to a wall, in an open field without cover, or so on.

Finally, all evasions are useful in the case of a fighter with a longer weapon than his opponent while the fight is in his opponent’s optimal range – for parries and blocks the range difference is applied as a penalty to the defense of the character with the long weapon, but this is not the case with evasions. On the other hand, armor CP penalties may be applied to evasions so this must also be taken into account.

Hemi, a Domr club-and-shield fighter (with a medium length club) is attacking Ashwa, a Barim spear fighter with a very long reach. The range is currently in Hemi’s favor and he has declared a downwards swing (zone V) with 6 dice at Ashwa. Knowing that the range penalty means that a parry will cost him an additional activation cost of 3 dice, Ashwa instead declares a Duck & Weave evasion with all but 1 of his remaining 11 dice and spends a Drama point to get 10s-again. They both roll, Hemi achieving 4 successes, and Ashwa gets 5 successes. Not only was Ashwa’s defense successful, he has moved back to the optimal range for his spear, and Hemi loses 3 dice from his pool at the start of the next exchange as well as not being able to use his shield for defense. Suddenly, the fight has swung very much in Ashwa’s favor!

Blade divider

RE-ATTACK OLD WOUNDS

One of the more overlooked rules in TROS is the idea that repeated attacks at the same location can re-open and re-hurt old wounds. Subsequent attacks to the same specific location will cause the higher shock result of the two wounds, thus it only takes a very minor attack to seriously hurt an opponent if you can strike a region that previously took a more serious blow. Note – by “region” the rules are talking about specific locations, not zones. So, if you target zone I and hit the knee, any further attack to the knee (which could be zone I or II) is eligible for this rule, as long as it’s the same knee of course!

Geralt and Rinaldo are battling over a comment Geralt made regarding Rinaldo’s parentage. Early on in the battle, Rinaldo manages to land a level 4 wound to Geralt’s right shoulder – a nasty blow that causes 10 Shock but not much actual pain due to Geralt’s abnormally high WP. Geralt manages to push on and they fight for several more rounds. At one point, Rinaldo is seriously low on dice but has the initiative, so he declares a swing to Zone VI (upwards swing) with 1 die (leaving 1 in his pool). Geralt knows that a 1-die blow to that region will do little damage, and so he ignores Rinaldo’s attack and announces an attack of his own. At this point, Rinaldo declares his attack to be a feint, spending his final die as the activation cost and shifting his attack to zone V. With his Major Accuracy gift and Geralt’s lack of defense this gives him a 50/50 chance of striking the shoulder, and even that 1-die margin of success will guarantee 10 dice of shock, foiling Geralt’s attack and probably leaving him at a die disadvantage for the following round.

Blade divider

DON’T OVER-INVEST IN ATTACKING

Many novice fighters in TROS don’t see why it’s not a good idea to throw all (or at least most) of their dice into a single attack. However, this can be very foolhardy thing to do. While it does generally force your opponent to invest heavily in defense, he has a few options that can seriously turn the fight immediately in his favor.

  • First, he could choose to declare an attack himself and steal initiative – with all or most of your own dice already invested in your attack, you have no way of stealing initiative back, and the shock from his attack will reduce your attacking pool first.
  • Second, if he has more dice than you and successfully defends, you may have put yourself into a bad situation for the second exchange – being down 1 die to 3 is a lot worse than being down 4 dice to 6 for example.
  • Finally, and most importantly – the Counter and Rota maneuvers will use all of your attack successes against you in the following exchange if successful and there will possibly be very little you can do about it.

Devon, a doppelhander fighter, is attacking Feula, a cut & thrust student. Thinking he has a die advantage (and a bigger, nastier sword), Devon declares a mighty swing at Feula’s left-hand side (zone IV) using 12 of his 13 CP. In response, Feula declares a counter using all of his 14 dice in his pool (less 2 for the activation cost). Devon rolls 12 dice and achieves a mighty 7 successes, but is horrified when Feula rolls his counter and gets 9 successes from 12 dice. In the second exchange, Feula rolls on the counter table and ends up thrusting at Devon’s face with 7 dice (from Devon’s 7 successes) while Devon has only a single die left to defend himself with (and he can’t even Full Evade). What happened next involves a loud squishy noise…

Blade divider

USE TWO WEAPONS

One fairly common misconception is that fighting with two weapons does not provide as much of a benefi t as it should in TROS. It actually provides several advantages that are often overlooked.

  • First, it opens up a few nifty maneuvers that would not otherwise be available, such as simultaneous block/strike (yes, that can be done using a parrying weapon, making it actually “simultaneous parry/strike”) and bind and strike.
  • Second, it allows the double attack maneuver – even though on first read it doesn’t appear that splitting your attacking dice between the two weapons is much of a benefit, being able to launch two half-dice attacks against different areas of the opponent can be a huge advantage. Unless he also has 2 weapons (or a weapon and a shield) he will have a hard time defending himself properly, and the shock and pain results from 2 medium wounds can often total up to more than the results from one slightly larger wound would have been!

Mercenary Manual

Legacy of Orphans seanpmcochran