Martial Arts Skill - Runequest House Rule

by Sven Lugar

It has often struck me and other experienced fighters from the SCA, Live-steel groups, etc that one blow with a sword or other fast weapon per 12 seconds is incredibly slow. Additionally archers often get multiple strikes per melee round. Experience has shown that a well-trained fighter can easily average 2, 3, or 4 forceful blows in that amount of time over an extended fight. Having been involved in the original play-testing of Version One and being an active SCA fighter at the time, let me conjecture as to why this happened. At the time of the original design the fighting style in the SCA was very roundhouse and slow, with bows rarely seeing any use other than an occasional war. Duke Sir Paul of Bellatrix was just beginning to have an SCA-wide impact on fighting styles and Steve Perrin, Count Sir Stephan de Lorraine, had already retired from fighting regularly. Also, historical information and research into period styles wasn’t readily available. Thus the newer innovations in fighting techniques were not incorporated into Runequest.

The remedy for this could be as simple as allowing a subsequent strike after 3 more strike ranks. This would be problematic in that it could unbalance the game and is not realistic with longer or clumsier weapons. Also this should not supercede the present rules for attack percents greater than 100%, but should augment that skill. I also didn’t want to make fights too protracted and clumsy to handle. I decided that this could be reflected as a martial arts skill and categorized by types.

I eliminated certain weapons based on mine and other’s experience. Roughly the decision is based on ENC of 2.0 or less and SR of 2 or 3, doing less than 10 pts possible damage, not an impromptu weapon or tool, not a shield, and not an impetus weapon (such as a flail).

  1. The martial arts skills are as follows and have a starting value of (00)
  1. Martial Arts - natural weapons: functions as the existing Martial arts skill. Also applies to Fist category such as cestus by adding an extra 1D3 of damage and 3pts of defense.
  2. Martial Arts - Cutting sword: applies to any sword used for a cutting blow.
  3. Martial Arts - Impaling sword: applies to any sword that is strictly impaling such as rapier or shortsword, or any cutting thrusting sword when used to impale.
  4. Martial Arts - Daggers: applies to any of the dagger weapons.
  5. Martial Arts - Mass weapons: applies to quarterstaff, and impact weapons doing less than maximum damage of 10 points, i.e. 1-handed: axes, warhammers, and maces.
  6. Martial Arts - Spears: applies to 1-handed spears.
  1. If the first attack of a melee round is less than or equal to his percent chance to hit and is also less than or equal to his Martial Arts skill then the fighter may make a Martial Arts attack or parry.
  2. The Martial Arts skill is only compared against the first attack in a melee round.
  3. The Martial Arts attack is made at the Martial Arts skill% plus the Attack% modifier as long as it doesn’t exceed the attack percent of the first attack.
  4. If a Martial Arts parry is used the percentage is made at the Martial Arts skill% plus the Parry% modifier as long as it doesn’t exceed the parry percent of the weapon.
  5. The first blow is delivered at full skill or split skill if the fighter can deliver a split blow because he has a skill level over 100%
  6. The second blow will be any split blow for those with skill over 100% and delivered 3 SR after the first blow.
  7. The martial arts blow will either land 3 SR’s after the first blow if no split or on SR10 if a split blow was thrown.
  8. A weapon parry may be substituted for the second martial arts strike and may made at any SR after the first blow.
  9. The Martial Arts skill percent may never exceed the base skill for the attack or parry in the weapon (excludes Attack% modifier or Parry% modifier).
  1. Compare versus the base Attack% if Martial Arts is being used as an attack or the base Parry% if used for a parry.
  2. Since the skill applies to broader categories of weapons and thus different weapons may have different skill levels, the effective Martial Arts skill may vary from weapon to weapon.
Example: Ingve has studied Martial Arts - Impaling Swords to a skill level of 37% and his primary weapon is the Broadsword at 84% on Strike Rank 6. He also has learned (but rarely uses) the shortsword at 26%. His Attack% modifier is 4%. He would hit his foe on an 88 (84+4) or less. If the roll is also 37 or less then he may make a Martial Arts blow on SR 9 at a 41% (37+4) chance to hit. Unfortunately Ingve broke his broadsword and is using his shortsword so his first attack is made at 30% (26+4). Since his skill with the shortsword is less than his martial arts skill his current effective martial arts skill is 26% (the base chance to hit with the shortsword). If he rolls a 26 or less on his attack then he may make a martial arts attack at 30% (26+4).
  1. An impale prevents the use of a Martial Arts blow until the impaled weapon has been freed.
  2. When earning experience checks the Martial Arts skill is earned separately from a regular attack or parry check and only on a successful Martial Arts attack or parry.
  1. This means that training or research is required to raise an impaling Martial Arts skill above the impale (special success) percent. This is logical because of the difficulty of such skills in compared to cutting attacks.
  2. Training has all the usual limitations plus is a guild secret taught only to warriors of a War God or amongst a Warriors Guild. Amongst most Barbarian cultures whose nobility also defend their folk, Followers of the ruling deity can also learn the martial arts skill. This is at the GM’s discretion.
  1. (Optional): Warriors with martial arts training may decrease the amount of time to make an attack by weapon SR for the entire melee round by expending an extra fatigue point for the round. This means they use the pure melee SR. Fighters with an attack skill of over 100% may make a roll of their attack skill -95 to avoid having to sacrifice the extra fatigue point.
Example: Ingve would normally attack on SR 6 and on SR 9 with his Martial Arts skill. His broadsword SR is 2. He will expend 1 fatigue point for the melee round and an extra one to increase the speed of his attacks to SR 4 and SR 7.

This should increase the number of hits skilled fighters can make and also decrease their hits taken.

Combat Examples:

Ingve has studied Martial Arts-Impaling Swords to a skill level of 37%, Martial Arts-Cutting Sword to a skill level of 56%, and his primary weapon is the Broadsword attack at 84% on Strike Rank 6. His parry is 79%. If he swings his broadsword his chance of a Martial Arts hit is 56% but without risk of trapping his weapon. If he thrusts with it his chance of a Martial Arts blow is 37% but it will get trapped and prevented from use on a roll of 17 or less.

Ingve, our intrepid Viking raider, is charging some militia defending a door. His first two opponents are in front of the doorway. He cutting attack comes before the militia fighters and he rolls a 51 and can use his Martial Arts ability! His first opponent is hurt but not badly enough to take him out of the fight. Both militia fighters attack and Ingve will parry one with his shield and one with his broadsword. He rolls a 73 and misses his parry since he is using the Martial Arts skill. Seeing that the blows of the militia delivered wildly, Ingve has sized up his foes and decides to concentrate on taking down one fighter in the second melee round. He throws his first blow and rolls a 02. Wow, a critical success!

But his blow is parried and the fighter loses his left arm. The return blow is wild and the blow from the other fighter misses again and he parries it with his shield. Ingve throws his martial Arts blow on SR 9 and hits with a 03! His opponent has no defense left since he used it earlier and his arm is mangled. Anyway, after two mighty blows in one melee round on top of his previous injury, he crumples to the ground like used Kleenex. The second fighter has retreated through the doorway and is holding it with the third fighter for the third round of combat. Since the doorway is narrow and partially protects the fighters within Ingve elects to make a thrusting attack. He rolls a 16 which is an impale and his opponent crumples like a duck when he misses his spear parry.

Ingve is unable to use his Martial Arts -Impaling Sword skill since his weapon is stuck in his opponents forehead and must be freed. Ingve rolls a 91 and is unable to free his sword so he uses his shield to defend against the final opponent. The next round he draws his shortsword, which delays his attack by 3 strike ranks to 9. He will be unable to use his Martial Arts skill this round because of this totaling over 10 rounds after adding another 3 strike ranks. On the 5th round of combat Ingve thrusts first with his shortsword and rolls a 35 which is a success for his martial arts skill but not an impale so he will finish his foe with another attack on SR 9.

A few years later Ingve, now a Jarl, has an attack of 108%. Faced with a similar situation of two fighters he might split his attack at 50% against one foe, 58% against the second and reserve his Martial Arts skill as a second parry instead of using it as a third attack on SR 10. He also has a 13% chance (108-95) of not spending an extra fatigue point to speed up his blows to SR 4, 7, and 10 from his normal 6, 9, and 10.

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Copyright 2004 by
Sven Lugar. Posted: August 06, 2007. Updated June 25, 2008. v.1.1