Archive for category Combat

Be Nasty With a Boffer Polearm

Gather round, yuenglings! This manual of ancient polearm lore has been passed down since ancient times. The polearm style, an often misunderstood weapon style, takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. With the help of this guide, you too can be a mobile, untouchable killing machine.

Part 1: Footwork

Footwork is absolutely critical for polearm fighters. When your enemy is at maximum range, a single step can make the difference between a hit and a whiff.

  • Keep your weight balanced between your feet. This makes it easy to step forward or back. If somebody swings for your foot, you can pull it up quickly without losing your balance.
  • Always be ready to jump back. Make sure the people around you know that you need some room behind you to fight effectively.
  • When your enemy advances at you, he will put his right foot forward. Strike as he steps. If he’s guarding his foot with a shield, go for the shoulder instead.
  • If your enemy steps forward while taking a swing at you, step back while swinging at his sword arm.
  • In many cases, stepping to the side is better than stepping backwards.
  • When strafing or circling around your opponent, move towards his shield side. This forces your enemy to attack around his shield, which reduces his reach.

 Part 2: Offense

Whenever you attack, you telegraph a vulnerability to your opponent.

  • Be sensitive to this weak point and correct for it in advance. For example, if you swing low, be ready to pull your weapon up and block your right shoulder. Make this part of your attack motion.
  • Polearm style relies on speed and precision. You should only be hitting with the top six inches of the weapon. This is a “lightest touch” style – use your wrists and forearms, not your biceps.
  • Feinting against a shield fighter makes him waste a lot of motion and breath. Feint for the foot to make them lower their shield, then go for the shoulder. Even if you’re not fast enough to land the hit, you’re making them spend their stamina faster than you.

 Part 3: Defense

  • Footwork, footwork, footwork. The best defense is to not be there when they swing. Polearm is a very mobile style – if you’re getting hit, it’s probably because you’re standing still. Be a moving target.
  • Scorpion Stance: Scorpion stance is a defensive posture. It’s a good defense against somebody moving directly towards you. Turn your shoulder towards your opponent and make your body as narrow as possible. Hold the polearm blade down, keeping your body behind the pole. One hand should be high, by the butt end. The other should be about halfway down the grip. Keep your legs wide and your posture low. From this stance, it’s easy to block your entire body and thrust at your opponent’s feet. You don’t need too much motion to block, just lean away from the attack and your polearm will already be in the right spot.
  • If your opponent lands a few hits on you, switch stances so they have to re-learn where your vulnerabilities are.

 Part 4: Dirty Tricks

 Pythagoras, the Father of Polearms

Pythagoras, the Father of Polearms

Pythagoras was a philosopher and mathematician who invented many of today’s devastating polearm techniques. He is known as the Father of the Polearm style. The Pythagorean theory of polearm maximizes reach by NOT attacking along the hypotenuse (longest leg of the triangle).

You have the greatest reach when you are attacking straight forward. When making a low attack, you get another few inches of reach by ducking.

(tip of the hat to Ted Marston)

Hedge Clippers

In a line fight, a polearm is a weapon of mass destruction.

  • Pair up with a shieldmate who will block for you. If an enemy draws too close, step back, adjacent to your ally’s shield.
  • Don’t focus too hard on the person you’re engaged with. You can make an attack of opportunity against anybody within your reach. Swing when they swing.
  • In a line fight, or if your opponent is engaged, you can often step back without giving your enemy an opportunity to advance. Stand a step out of reach, with your left foot forward. Step forward and swing, then step back.

High Road / Low Road

Here’s a teamwork technique

  • If you and an ally are engaging the same target, call either “high road” or “low road”. This indicates to your ally that you will be aiming at high targets (arms and shoulders), or low targets (legs and feet). Your ally will take the opposite height.
  • Coordinate your swings so that you are attacking at the same time.
  • Your opponent cannot block both spots at once without entering into a totally defensive posture. And he cannot win the fight without attacking.

The Byronic Hero

Named for Sir Byron LeVolant, notable dandyman and braggart, this is a two hit combo which is designed for duels against shield fighters.

  • Start with a low leg sweep. This telegraphs to your opponent that he should attack your shoulder.
  • Be ready for the incoming shoulder attack. Pull your sweep up into a high block. For maximum style, this should look like you are curling a barbell.
  • As you block, step back and strike your opponent’s extended sword arm.
  • If you time it right you will have hit them twice while they have only swung once.



Socialist Monster Design

today’s article is a guest post from Dan Burke. If you’re interested in submitting a guest article, hit me up!

Socialist Monster Design OR  Everyone Gets to Play

We’ve been talking about total game participation.  This means everyone from level 1 to level 50 gets to play.  Some of the ideas that have been bounced about this, such as transforms on lower level characters have been posted up here.

On the flipside of that would be monster design:  This is the portion of the game which drives the actions of the player base at a logistical and tactical level.  If the story keeps putting out creatures which encourage players to stick themselves in golems…or get silver weapons…or do more damage…that comes back to how the creatures being used to push that plot were designed.

Having been around since the end of 6th edition rules and the introduction of 7th, seeing how monster design has shifted to be more inclusive over time is a good thing, but some of us are still on a crusade to eliminate ‘you can’t play this game’ moments.

A good example of things which have fallen to the wayside would be “Old Threshold”.  Originally this was a skill which said “if you do not swing more than X, no damage is dealt”.  On monsters this was a pain in the butt, as it essentially eliminated lower level players from participating.  These creatures typically were also high body so casters had to overdo it to achieve anything or flip into bind-o-mancy.

These days we have more forgiving mechanics in monster design, specifically “Minimal” and “Damage Cap” .  Rather than saying “You do nothing” if you do not break that magical X amount, you do a minimal amount of damage.  So it’s something versus nothing. The other end of this is Damage Cap, which is to say that a monster will only take up Y value in damage, with exceptions within the rules for overkill (slays, assassinates).

There are still a few places where “you don’t get to play” applies.  A noteworthy example would be “Magic to Hit”.  Magical weapons are a rite of passage in NERO.  You made it, you’ve been adventuring long enough to either luck into or maybe if you have a team, build your own magic weapon!  Now you can fight death knights!  How many months or years were you hating life that you would, at best, get 3 swings in with an Enchant Blade spell?

Consider if Magic to Hit monsters were made instead to “Cap 5 VS Non-Magic Damage”

Suddenly a magical weapon is the preferred weapon to use again this creature, but you can still inflict some damage.  This is not something to be applied to ALL instances obviously, a boss monster should not have a gaping weakness to slays just because.  Where “Cap VS Non-(damagetype)” would shine is on field and woods encounters where you cannot predict scaling.  It would allow for the use of ‘Cool’ monsters, without the fear of removing a portion of the player base from participating.  In a module situation (or for an appropriate Boss monster) using the standard “Magic to hit” would be fine.

Where else could you think of places that would encourage more participation without sacrificing the quality of experience for all levels of players?


Scaling Advice (continued)

Scaling for Spells

By mid level, column size is not a good factor for scaling. If a caster with a 4 column fights a caster with a 12 column, it’s still anybody’s game – the first caster to land two consecutive spells before the opponent can cast a protective will win.

Keep celestial casters in mind when building monsters. Their class is most effective when the monsters have lower amounts of body and are vulnerable to a certain element. If your monsters seem to be getting constantly spelled down by take-outs, it is better to grant specific defenses such as return vs mystic force or return vs imprison than general purpose return magics or <effect> shields.

Use return magic instead of resist magic wherever possible. Because casters can actually run out of things they can do, it’s very frustrating to have your limited resources consumed by spell resistance. Returns, like lesser parries (described under Scaling for Melee) increase the individual monster’s difficulty without severely draining the player’s resources.

NPCs should only throw take-out spells when fighting mid or higher level groups. Death and Imprison spells should be very limited in use, generally only used by elite monsters or in “high danger” situations.

Reduced Damage: Monsters which take half damage from melee attacks are best targeted by spell casters.




The rate at which opponents respawn impacts the difficulty of the encounter.

  • Player Triggered Respawn: (easiest) the opponents respawn when the players decide to “move forward”. This is the easiest way to encounter opponents, as the party has as much time as it needs to organize and prepare for the next encounter.
  • Interval Respawn: (easy to medium) the opponents respawn as a group at certain intervals. Usually there is a bit of downtime between each wave, allowing players time to refit armor and resolve status effects. Monsters will be able to make effective use of teamwork, healing, and coordinated attacks, potentially increasing the difficulty of the encounter.
  • Popcorn Respawn: (medium to hard) opponents respawn instantly after they’ve died. Each NPC is usually given a time limit or finite number of lives. These types of encounters result in constant pressure on the party, making it challenging to heal the wounded or refit armor. Due to the staggered respawning, monsters will tend to be in smaller groups when they engage the players.



Carrier Attacks

see also:Status Effects

Carrier attacks will only work if they pierce the target’s armor. As such, monsters with carrier attacks do not need to deal as high melee damage as other monsters.

Monsters can be equipped with carrier attacks at three different levels of intensity:

  • Unlimited Use – A creature with unlimited use of a carrier attack may choose to call it on every weapon swing.
  • Critical Use – A creature with critical use of a carrier attack may call it against one opponent per battle, in the manner of a critical attack
  • Single Use – A creature with a single use carrier attack may choose to call the effect on one swing only.

Resolution: Because it takes spell power to resolve wounds from a monster with a carrier attack, this ability can drain player resources very quickly. As such, they should be used sparingly. After an encounter involving carrier attacks, players will need to resolve status effects, refit armor, and recast protectives. As such, carrier attacks are easier to resolve if the monsters attack in waves, (rather than a continuous trickle).

Weak Carrier Attacks: Weak carrier attacks can be resolved by a 4th level or lower spell, or will go away on their own. This includes disease, pin, fear, and bind.

Strong Carrier Attacks: Greater carrier attacks include take-out effects and effects which are resolved by 5th or higher level spells. This includes wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep.



Non-Spell Packet Attacks

Other than takedowns, there are plenty of things that NPCs can do with Packets. These might be minor effects like fear, pin, and disarm, or they could simply be elemental damage. The strength of packet delivered attacks is the fact that they cannot be stopped, and almost every point of damage will be delivered to a player (except for misses).

While these things are perfectly fine for use in controlled situations, modules with a large amount of resets for lesser NPCs with packet attacks can quickly go south, even if the rest of the module was scaled appropriately.

As a rule of thumb, lesser NPCs should be given the same amount of packet attacks as the average player level. The level of a packet attack is either the level of the spell effect or the damage divided by 10 (10 elemental <element> is level 1, etc). The lower the level of the PCs, the better it is to lean on effects rather than pure damage.

If you plan on having the NPCs continue to reset until a boss is killed, consider giving them a pool of packet attacks that they can access for the entire module, as well as a limit on how many they can throw per respawn. That way, bad NPCs won’t suicide themselves after they throw their packets, so they can respawn and do it again.

Example: A group of low level adventurers (APL 10) stumble into a spider cave. They decide to engage the queen that’s sleeping on a pile of treasure, and when they do, hundreds of spiders decend from the ceiling. Lesser spiders will continue to respawn until the queen is dead.

Since the APL is 10, each spider has a pool of 10 levels of packet attack they can access, but they are only allowed to throw a single packet per spawn. They can choose to use Physical Entangle your leg (level 2), Physical Entangle your body (level 5), or 10 physical acid (level 1). Once they’ve depleted their pool of attacks, they’re stuck meleeing the group, possibly with a lesser carrier attack.



Scaling For a Low Level Group

For purposes of this document, low level is defined as anything below level 10. A low level party may have access to a very limited number of life spells, and cannot use cantrips.

In low level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 8 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 3s and 5s. Characters will have a maximum of 25 body points, though most will have 10 or less.

Carrier attacks: A low level group has difficulty resolving carrier attacks. If carrier attacks are used, stick to lesser effects, and single use or critical use attacks.



Scaling For a Mid Level Group

For purposes of this document, mid level is defined as levels 11-25. A mid level party may have access to multiple life spells, and can spend resources to get more power via cantrips or formal magic.

In mid level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15 damage or lower. Templars will usually swing between 4s and 7s. Characters will have a maximum of 50 body points, though most will have 20-30.

Carrier attacks: A mid level group can handle a few creatures having unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks (such as pin, bind, fear & disease). Greater carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be deployed in single-use or as a critical attack.

Scaling for a High Level Group

For purposes of this document, high level is defined as levels 25+. A high level party has access to many ways to resolve status any status effect including death. Fighters will often swing 15s or 20s. A well positioned rouge will be capable of unleashing hundreds of points of damage in a few backstabs.

In high level groups, PCs focused on melee damage will generally swing 15-20 damage. Templars will usually swing between 5s and 10s. Characters could have 60 or 80 body, but most will have less than 30.

Carrier attacks: A high level group can handle unlimited use of lesser carrier attacks. Dangerous carrier attacks such as wither, web, paralyze, taint blood, and sleep may be used more commonly.





Scaling for Mixed Level Groups

Mixed level groups are the hardest to scale for, especially if there is a large level disparity. The goal is to make sure every player has something to do in the fight.

Dynamic Challenges

In a dynamic battle, there are multiple tasks or objectives. These are often simultaneous. Players performance towards these objectives affects the completion of other tasks. Here are some examples of dynamic challenges:

  • high and low level monsters are respawning from opposite sides of the encounter area
    a puzzle must be solved while monsters attack. (some characters must focus on the puzzle while others focus on the battle)
  • the boss is only vulnerable while somebody is playing the drum of sundering, brandishing a light spell, or doing some other activity
  • the players must use one or more items which are delimited to only be used by characters in a certain level range
  • a group of players is outside, dealing with monsters trying to get into the building, while another group faces the challenges inside the building


There are also a few abilities which lend themselves for groups of mixed level:

Damage Cap: Damage caps are a good tool for mixed level groups as they put fighters and templars of disparate levels on the same footing. If a monster has cap 5 and 25 body, you can be sure it will take 5 swings to kill it whether the players are swinging 5s or 20s.

Threshold / Immune to <damage type>: Monsters with a damage threshold, or monsters which are silver/magic to hit are best targeted by characters who can beat that threshold or immunity. These abilies are best used to create monsters which must be targeted by spell casters or higher level fighters. Whenever abilities like these are used, you must also include creatures who can be affected by the remaining characters. Avoid situations where certain characters have nothing to do in a given fight. For example, never stat every single monster on a module to be magic-to-hit.



Scaling for Large Groups

Large groups have a wide variety of resources at their disposal. The advice for scaling for mixed level groups also applies. Dynamic encounters may be slightly be more complex, but be sure to explain the encounter’s objectives to everybody in advance.

When creating encounters for large groups, use a variety of different monster types. The majority of the monsters should be melee types, but also be sure to include ranged and rogue opponents. Large groups may have to contend with occasional boss-type monsters as well.

Boss Fights

A boss fight is a dramatic encounter, often the climax of an adventure or battle. As such, they should be memorable and exciting. This is the time to bust out the best props, costume, lighting, music or sound effects you have available.

Generally, it is better to use a group of bosses than an single tough opponent. This maximizes the number of players who can feel heroic for defeating a boss.

Bosses are generally are what players save their really powerful skills for, so boss types should have multiple resistances to take-out effects. They should have take-out or escape effects of their own which they use to avoid being surrounded or overwhelmed. Bosses are most effective when fighting in concert with a complimentary class such as a healer (for melee bosses) or a fighter (for packet slinging bosses).

Boss fights are great opportunities for dynamic encounters. Perhaps the boss can only be slain under certain conditions, or must be defeated multiple times. Perhaps he splits into several aspects which must be defeated in different places or by different groups.

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Using Status Effects

Carrier attacks and status effects can be used to complicate a battle and increase a monster’s threat level. But be careful not to overuse them.

When NPCs are armed with carrier attacks and status-effect abilities, it drains certain player resources. Be careful not to overtax specific resources by sending out too many of the same status effects. Be aware of which skills the players are using up to resolve the damage they’ve taken.

For example, charm, sleep, and fear effects are all cured by Awaken spells. If you’ve been sending out willow-the-wisps with charm spells and creatures with sleep carriers all day, think twice before sending out more creatures with fear carriers.

Carrier attacks become very frustrating when you’re hit by them too often, or when you must simply endure the effect because a cure isn’t available. If nobody’s willing to unparalyze you, you might up spending 10 minutes as a statue every time someone hits you. That’s not a very fun way to spend a fight.

As a rule of thumb, no more than a third of the monsters in a group should have take-out carrier attacks. Those monsters with carrier attacks should do lower damage than the other monsters, making armor and protective spells useful defenses.

When using monsters that deliver status effects, set up tactics they will use to maximize the effect. For example, giant spiders which web their opponents might be paired up with archers who pelt helpless targets with arrows. A PC that is diseased and feared is only walking away from the fight and is therefore very vulnerable to rogues. Disarm + fear is a nasty combo as well, as it sends an unarmed character running across the battlefield.

Be especially reserved in using spell strikes and massive damage, as there are few ways for players to avoid these attacks. Being targeted by them is frustrating because the monster doesn’t need to land a fair hit for the attack to work.

Massive damage, a type of damage which cannot be blocked by weapons, was originally meant for traps but has been used increasingly frequently as a monster ability. In order ot deliver it with a trap, you generally need a large impressive prop to justify why you can’t block the blow.

Massive damage delivered by weapon lacks this atmosphere and therefore should be uncommon at best. When it is employed by a creature, that creature should have props, roleplay, or costume which communicates the creature’s size and strength. Maybe when they deliver a massive swing they must roleplay a slow, powerful swing, giving players time to dive out of the way.

When using massive damage, keep in mind that you’re not really fighting fairly, and this can be no fun for your opponents if you use your ability too liberally.


Called Defenses and Effect Timing Resolution

When exactly does an incoming attack take effect? How much time should a player fairly be given to call out his defenses? Specifically, if a spell caster is struck by a packet attack while in the middle of his spell incantation, should he have to immediately stop his spell to call a defense?

There are a few operative rules here to consider.

First, if the target doesn’t hear you, technically by the rules he doesn’t have to take the damage or effect at all. So going by that statement, all those flurries of, “Hold! Ok, did you get my 37 imprisons, 18 dragon’s breaths, and this guy’s 4 assassinates?” shouldn’t be done. If he didn’t act out the effect of the spell, then he didn’t hear you, he shouldn’t take the effect, and you should take your spells/items back. 

But we all know the game simply doesn’t work that way. Everyone is just trying to play fair here, so when a hold is called by someone else for whatever reason, we run down a quick check of all the attacks we think the target may not have heard to give them a chance to respond. There’s nothing wrong with that.

The problem lies in the fact that if the target had heard the effect and used a defensive ability, the call for that defense would use up real time. This is a critical dynamic of the game. It takes a discrete amount of time to state the call for an attack, and likewise for a defense call. Monster abilities and gasses consume much less real time to use than spells – that’s one of their primary advantages. Allowing the monsters to call out dozens of defenses during a hold makes them so much more dangerous, because they can continue to blast you with their extremely quick packet attacks or weapon strike abilities without stopping to say “return” or “phase.” Similarly, the verbal calls for cloak and bane were extended for exactly that reason – to increase the real time it takes to use the defense. Individual PCs go down extremely fast to status effects, so it’s absolutely essential that the players be able to interrupt the boss’ stream of attacks by forcing them to call defenses.

That’s also why the “2 second rule” is so important. If you’re hit with an effect while in the middle of a spell incant, you can finish the spell, but you must immediately call a defense before starting any other attack or skill. If you wait too long, you’re supposed to take the damage or effect, even if you had a “dumb” defense ready (like shield magic) or an appropriate cloak. Timing is critical, and those precious seconds when your opponent is essentially stunned because he must call out a defense make the difference between a win and a fail. 

The simple answer is, you have 2 seconds to call out a defense when hit with an attack. Unless you have a speech impediment or are purposefully casting slowly, you would always be able to finish your spell before calling a cloak, without disrupting the casting. Calling it beyond those 2 seconds, especially during a hold, shouldn’t be done. If you honestly didn’t hear it, and the PCs tell you what you got hit with during a hold, I’d say you should still be able to use your defensive abilities after the lay-on is called.

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Create Undead PSA

The following public service announcement is brought to you by the necromancers of Nero International.

Here’s a summary I wrote for the Create Undead spell a year or two ago:

  • Body Points equal to ½ the value listed on your Character Sheet
  • Melee Damage equal to the base damage of the weapon itself. This includes the additional damage from a Damage Aura on a magical weapon, but not any ProficienciesSuperhuman StrengthStrong Arm, or any other skills or abilities.
  • Lesser Undead creature type: You are affected by the Control UndeadFree UndeadHarm UndeadHelp UndeadTrap UndeadTurn Undead and Sanctuary spells, as well as the Voice Control Lesser Undead monster ability. Your weapon damage is not absorbed by the Desecrate spell. You are completely destroyed by the Destroy Undead spell regardless of your Body Point total. You are healed by Cause spells, damaged by Cure spells, and take double damage from the Healing damage type. Being undead is a visible effect and should be stated as such if you are asked for your description.
  • Immunity to: all alchemical substances, all Poison attacks, Waylay, Calm, Cause Disease, CharmDeathLifeParalyzeShun, SleepTaint Blood, and Wither Limb.
  • Mindless: You are a mindless berserker. When the spell takes effect you must immediately stand up and attack the nearest living creature (except the caster) with your weapons. Generally you will “zone in” on the nearest target you see and relentlessly attack that character without concern for defense or tactical fighting. You will follow the target into a crowd unless other characters completely block your way, in which case you will re-orient to the nearest target. You will continue to fight until destroyed or ordered to stop by the caster. You may not use any game skills or abilities whatsoever, only melee combat. Finally, you will not remember anything that happened while undead.
  • Controlled: You must obey the commands of the caster to the best of your ability, taking into account the fact that you are now mindless. For examples of commands that you can and can not understand, see the Control Undead spell.
  • Death Count: When affected by this spell, continue to count down your five-minute Death Count. If you are reduced to zero Body Points or otherwise destroyed before your Death Count is finished, you fall down dead with your Death Count continuing and may be given a Life spell as normal. Additionally, you may only be affected by this spell once for each time you enter your Death Count. Once Created and then destroyed, you are immune to further castings of the spell until you are given a Life spell and then killed again. If you are destroyed after your Death Count has finished, or if the spell’s one hour duration expires, your body immediately dissipates and you can seek resurrection

Here’s what you WON’T do:

  • Yell “I’m a zombie!” at the top of your lungs. This is cheating.
  • Loudly groan, moan, or otherwise yell anything. The spell does not instruct you to make loud noises. This is cheating.
  • Yell, “Visibly undead,”, “You see an undead,” or, “You see a zombie!” Players should only indicate visible effects if ASKED for them. This is cheating.
  • Throw your weapons out to your sides and make no attempt to fight. “Mindless berserker” does not equal gimpy, defenseless lump. The spell does not say you can fight poorly on purpose, or refuse to block.