Combat Primer

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The Combat Primer isn't so much 'new rules' as it is a treatise on applying the conflict rules in the book.

Vampire the Masquerade 5th Edition makes a number of significant changes to the combat mechanics and related rules from prior editions. These changes have been made in order to streamline the combat and make it take less time overall. But the examples in the V5 core book are pretty bad. Even per the developers like Karim Muammar, some of the examples in the book were either unfinished or poorly done based on the intent or context of various rules.

In this article, we are going to discuss a number of aspects of combat, how to use the system effectively, and give examples of various permutations of the combat system. We will be covering both the Basic Combat rules and the Advanced Combat rules; starting with Basic Combat and then addressing the Advanced Combat rules in order to showcase how to 'tack on' the Advanced Combat methods and mechanics to base combat.

Basic Combat

Basic combat begins on the V5 core, pg 123 under the Conflicts header. The first thing we're going to go over in this article is a bit of a breakdown of a Conflict.

A Conflict, at its core, is a Contest (see pg 123) between two characters in order to deal damage, either to the Health or Willpower. This takes the form of a 'turn' which is a variable-length section of time; a turn might be as simple as a single boxing exchange, the exchange of a few slashes of a knife against a parrying opponent in physical combat, while it might be an hour of innuendo and debate in social combat.

To give some narrative weight to a 'turn', some examples from media might include the the Neo/Smith fight in the subway in the first Matrix movie for an 'exchange' turn of Physical Combat, or the first hour of discussion by the Small Council in Game of Thrones as the first 'turn' of Social Combat. The ST decides the length, though V5's core combat intent seems to be that a turn is an 'exchange' in the manner of the media examples provided above. As this article is primarily about Physical Conflict, we aren't going to really touch on Social Conflict here.

Physical Conflict Dice Pools

The core book presents a number of potential dice pool options for physial combat, due to the malleability of what can be done during a combat turn in this section. For ease of access, some of the most common pools characters will use (including some pools listed in Advanced Combat, reiterated here for ease) are:

  • Brawl-based Physical Combat: Strength + Brawl (punches, kicks, bodyblows, martial arts maneuvers, claws)
  • Light weapon-based Physical Combat: Dexterity + Melee (attacks that don't rely solely on your strength, but on the speed and accuracy of a lighter weapon such as knives, short swords, rapiers, whips, light spears)
  • Heavy weapon-based Physical Combat: Strength + Melee (attacks that rely on your strength to heft a heavy weapon; axes, hammers, greatswords/broadswords, naginatas)
  • Ranged-based Physical Combat: This one is a bit trickier, because of the potential options. Some of the common pools include:
    • Dexterity + Athletics (thrown weapons, such as knives, shuriken, stakes, etc.) This is pretty self-explanatory and straightforward.
    • Composure + Firearms (keeping cool in combat; knowing when and where to fire to hit your opposition, not being surprised by the sudden appearance of new combatants). A media example of this would be how the TV show SWAT handles their firearms, or Will Smith's training gun shot in the first Men in Black movie; it's more about keeping calm and knowing when/where to fire than simply the speed to do so.
    • Dexterity + Firearms (speed-based gun combat; quick draw 'high noon' showdowns, dealing with an erratically moving target, getting a gun out of hiding and firing it before you get stabbed up close, clearing your gun before the enemy can draw theirs). A media example of this would be any cowboy TV show or movie with two people facing off to see who can fire first, or the movie Collateral as shown here.
    • Resolve + Firearms (dealing with endurance and how it applies to firearms; a sniper sitting in the brush for a full day waiting on a target or a combatant under some other mental duress such as having been tortured, laying down suppressing fire to ensure that specific targets are suppressed). A media example of this would be the movie Wanted, and the time and preparation/setup for the various distance sniping scenes (not the best example, but it gets the poitn across).
  • Dodging: Dexterity + Athletics (using your speed and athleticism to move and stay fast on your feet to dodge).

Both the attacker and defender will use these pools (in the case of someone trying to solely defend, will use Dexterity + Athletics to dodge). Other factors can change combat (such as setting a static Difficulty for Ranged combat, rather than a dodge pool). By default, however, if someone is trying to not get hit and they're not immobilized or assumed to have no cover, they would use the Dex + Athletics pool. The conflict examples in the book are a bit bad, and Karim has said that some of the intent was lost; a full set of examples will be below showing how pools interact.

Conflict Order of Operations

The conflict order of operations is pretty straightforward, based on the options presented on pages 124 and 125.

  • The ST determines the scene.
  • Each player declares what they're planning to do, and the ST does the same for the SPCs in the scene. Any consideration of movement should happen here, to account for any kind of extra movement beyond the base few yards, so that any kind of Minor Action penalties can be assessed appropriately.
  • The order of operations for conflict goes as follows:
    • Currently-engaged physical combat
    • Ranged combat
    • Newly-engaged physical combat
    • Anything else (this should be anything else that requires a dice roll, such as unlocking a safe or moving across a telephone line to escape).
      • You can use the Initiative rules (pg. 300) to determine who acts in what order, but Initiative breaks down heavily when dealing with Split Pools. Otherwise, use the options presented on pg. 125, with a Dex + Athletics contest (whoever gets more successes goes first) if one character acting before another matters.

Example: James, Joe, Jessica and Jordan are engaged in conflict. James and Joe are planning to engage Jordan in physical combat, while Jessica attempts to finish opening the safe. Jordan plans to try to avoid them and get to Jessica to stop her opening the safe, but can't get through without bypassing them first. Our order of operations would be:

  • Currently-engaged physical combat: None, as everyone is moving into position.
  • Currently-engaged ranged combat: None, as everyone is moving into position.
  • Newly-engaged physical combat: James and Joe roll vs. Jordan during this phase of combat (in this instance, James and Joe both roll Strength + Brawl vs. Jordan's Dexterity + Athletics/Dexterity + Athletics -1).
  • Everything Else: Jessica works to open the safe.

Had there already been other, more complex things going on (such as Joe attempting to jump through a window to escape before the others could get to him), then Initiative would have mattered and a simple roll-off to see if anyone could reach Joe would have sufficed (before applying powers, of course).

Conflict Examples

One on one combat is pretty straightforward and we are not going to reiterate it here. Any movie where you could see something like a boxing exchange, two people firing from cover such as the movie Heat, or one person firing on one who is dodging like Lethal Weapon or Underworld covers the 'media' examples for a single one-on-one combat.

Below are three combat examples for multi-on-one combat, vetted by Karim Muammar, one of the V5 developers. These are all simple examples and will include some media comments to try to present the 'visual' of what is going on.

  • Scenario A: T is attacked by A, B and C. T wants to try to damage them all back. This is easily represented by any kung-fu or martial arts film with one person fighting back against more than one opponent.
    • T has an attack pool of 8. A/B/C all have an attack pool of 6.
    • T chooses to split 2/3/3 against A/B/C.
    • A, B and C all use their full attack pool to attack T.
      • T rolls 2 vs 6 (against A); 3 vs 6 (against B) and 3 vs 6 (against C).
    • The person with the highest margin does damage, or on a tie it's a margin of 1 + any weapon damage.
  • Scenario B: T wants to dodge A, B and C. A media example of this would be Neo's running from the Agent through the city in The Matrix, or Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon dodging Maul in SW Ep 1.
    • T has a dodge pool of 6. Each die roll after the first has a cumulative -1 penalty applied to it.
    • A rolls attack against T's dodge pool with no penalty.
    • B rolls attack against T's dodge pool -1 (5 dice)
    • C rolls attack against T's dodge pool -2 (4 dice)
    • Only the attackers (A/B/C) can do damage as T is trying to just dodge.
  • Scenario C: T is attacked by A, B and C. T wants to damage C (as the weakest link) and dodge A and B. Karim clarified that you DO switch pools when you do this, despite the example on pg. 125 not showing that. A media example of this would be The Forbidden Kingdom, where Jet Li's character uses his weighted sleeve to hit one of the Witch's men and then dodges the sword swings of the other two attackers.
    • T has an attack pool of 8 and a dodge pool of 6.
    • T and C roll their attacks against each other per Scenario A.
    • A rolls attack against T's dodge pool -1 (5 dice) per Scenario B
    • B rolls attack against T's dodge pool -2 (4 dice) per Scenario B

For Ranged combat, most of the above applies (such as the conflict test and dealing damage, or deprecating defense pools). However, there are some differences:

  • If two targets are shooting at each other, they both roll a contested firearms pool to do damage to each other, as there is cover assumed (think of it like the movies where guy leans out from behind something, lets off some shots and leans back in).
  • If a target is actively dodging, it's a contest of the firearms attack pool vs the Dexterity + Athletics defense pool, with modifications for cover as described on pg. 125.

The example of Ranged combat mentions a static Difficulty of 2, which is an example from pg. 302 at the tail end of Advanced Physical Conflict. We'll address this more below during the appropriate section.

Adding Advanced Conflict

Advanced Conflict is less a separate system and more things that you tack on to the 'basic' conflict system in order to space things up, give it more breadth and options. As with most of V5's material, there is a heavy emphasis on story and narrative concerns.

Generally, you're going to use Advanced Conflict on more meaty or important conflicts; things like Three and Done (pg. 130) are great for short conflicts, but for the showdown with the coterie who framed you for murder or the Inquisitors who killed your sires, players might want more time and more options. Additionally, a number of players in general will want these options in order to mimic the prior Vampire rules as close as they can. All of these options are here for the Storyteller to play around with. We will be picking up here from the Additional Conflict Options on pg. 296 of the core, as the prior Advanced options (Are We Done Here?, Concessions, One Roll, Exuent) are pretty straightforward in their application.

  • Advance: This type of advanced conflict option represents working towards the goals of the conflict; a number of options are on pg. 296, but applying those options is less an 'in the moment' conflict concern and more of a narrative concern. Advance is most easily used in Social conflict. Examples of an Advance in Social conflict might be providing appropriate refreshment that pleases an elder (such as the blood of his favored type of mortal, directly from the tap), providing the files you procured earlier in the night, and others. Advances are generally a specific type of Extended Test, usually in conjunction with some other goal, and aren't often designed for a physical conflict, since their outcome should often be story-based.
  • Maneuver: This type of advanced conflict option is most directly relevant to combat, though it can also apply to social conflict. Relevant to physical combat, Maneuvers are some action you take to gain an advantage in a conflict, and for combat, cover most of the options that were spelled out in minutiae, in prior editions of Vampire such as aiming, flanking, providing distractions, and any 'bonus option' from the old combat systems. Maneuvers are the best place where the mechanics and narrative comingle, as players get to do their awesome stuff (often referred to as stunting in other games) and show off in the narrative for bonuses. If you're familiar with Scion or Exalted, compare to 'stunting' but with a die roll. The character must make an appropriate roll, such as perhaps a Dexterity + Stealth roll to flank, or a Wits + Awareness roll for aiming under pressure with the ST awarding a bonus based on the action and how well they succeed. The book suggests not to exceed a +3 dice bonus, and a good rule of thumb should be a +1 or +2 for reasonable common actions, with an additional +1 on a Critical Win.
  • Block: There are no examples in the book of how to apply a block, particularly in physical conflict. A block is, for all intents and purposes, a distractionary measure to keep someone's sights away. In physical combat, a block might be laying down cover fire or shoving boxes from the catwalk onto their heads. Based on the text, blocks are intended to impede the target; in combat, a character must test against the Block's successes to be able to perform their chosen action against their chosen target.
    • Example: Ulysse is laying down cover fire against an Inquisitor trying to come after Sasha with a holy sword. Ulysse rolls his Dexterity + Firearms and gets 3 successes in order to cover the most ground, and the Inquisitor must overcome Ulysse's 3 successes to be able to make his roll against Sasha. If the Inquisitor gets more than 3 successes, then he gets through and his action affects Sasha normally. If he fails to overcome the Block, then he would have to try again next turn (but wouldn't lose his action this turn and could declare something else, such as taking the long way around).
  • All-Out Attack: This example is a sub-optimal choice, but can be useful in certain situations. Best used when facing a weaker opponent that you want to finish quickly, or as a last ditch effort to try to get that extra damage to take out an equivalent or stronger opponent. The example on pg. 298 details the exacts of how damage is applied.
  • All-Out Defense: Pretty self-explanatory in its text. A good option when cover is in place.
  • Initiative: Initiative, as described on pg. 300, breaks down, to a point, in combat due to the way that split attack pools work. There is no specific advice in the book about using it, but we've found that all characters attacking each other should act at the same time regardless of initiative, and then anything else they're doing (such as moving) happen on their Initiative. Initiative can be used to break ties otherwise, but Storytellers lose nothing by not using the Initiative rules.
  • Surprise Attacks: This section is pretty straightforward in the book.
  • Ranged Combat: Following the description of Ranged pools above, and in the book, Ranged combat also has two other factors when characters are dodging, and are unable to dodge:
    • Dodging in Ranged Combat: It's generally assumed that a character will try to use any available cover (as detailed on pg. 125), allowing them to make a Dex + Athletics roll to dodge. If the character is actively utilizing the cover to help them dodge, or there is no cover to speak of, use the dice modifers on page 302.
      • Example 1: Gerard is trying to shoot Stacie. Stacie is in an alley with a dumpster or two and some fire escapes, things that would obscure Gerard's visibility. The ST can choose to award Stacie a bonus, such as a +1 which would be appropriate in this situation based on the chart.
      • Example 2: Erik is trying to shoot at Xavier. Xavier is running down an empty street, and has no cover to speak of; Xavier's pool would take the -2 penalty due to no cover.
  • Immobilization: Characters who can't move, or chooses not to move, does not apply a defense pool. Instead, the attacker has a Static Difficulty. The book mentions both 1 and 2; the Static Difficulty should be 1 to be in line with the difficulties for similar things from powers such as Lightning Strike or the suggested difficulty of a Surprise Attack.
    • Example 1: Yves' leg is caught under the remains of a fire escape, and an Inquisitor fires on him. Since he can't move, the Inquisitor rolls their Composure + Firearms pool at a Difficulty 1; if they roll at least 1 success, anything else becomes margin of damage.

Putting it all together

With everything laid out with examples, ways to put things together should be pretty straightforward. However, we are going to supply a few examples below, of some one on one and multi-on-one conflicts using things such as Maneuvers, All Out Attack/Defense, and other combat options in order to illustrate some of the things that an ST and players might do with the conflict rules.


Author: ElmerG

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