Synapse: Combat Review

To find out how combat works you have to actually roll your way through one, or more preferably, a few. In testing homebrews this is what I’ve done, alone, and with others – which is always better.

Kirigi the Ratling Spy & Assassin is going to fight an average NPC. Context and surprise will be ignored. It’ll be a stand up fight without terrain considerations. Kirigi will be wearing quilt arrmour or equivalent and be armed with a shortsword & his natural weapons. The NPC will have heavy leather armour and be armed with a club and buckler.

I already know that Kirigi will act first unless the enemy has Synapse of 7. With Multitasking Kirigi can do something in addition to making an attack. I’m not sure what these extra things are so I refer to the PDF. It says “two different actions” in a synapse phase. That’s a bit loose a description so I’ll go with the high-end, double actions.

NPC declares, “Club Kirigi in the head”

Kirigi declares, “Shortsword attack at shield arm, claw attack at club arm”

Kirigi makes his attacks. Synapse phase 6 is started. NPC can react to being attacked with a Block or a Dodge. Having a buckler the NPC blocks. As a conscript town guard the NPC is Amateur with a club. The combat section isn’t very clear on how to handle this. I have to assume it’s a skill test. Melee Weapon, Spatial/Balance. Spatial is only 3. He is Trained in Melee weapon for +2 dice – so rolls 5 dice, but -1 dice from aiming for the arm. A rather poor roll and only 1 success. It states that the GM determines the difficulty – I think that’s a bit rubbish. The target’s awareness and actions should determine the difficulty.

The guard NPC rolls to Block. It’s a Synapse/reaction roll. 3 dice with +2 for the buckler (doubled vs. edged weapons) and +1 for Amateur. 6 dice, roll and (wow) no successes. I really expected some that time.

All weapons inflict Strength damage unless otherwise stated. I check the Equipment section for shortsword. It does 2 slashing or penetration. I figure this is a slashing attack. I look for armour and find Leather is the lowest so I up the guards armour to Banded. Slashing protection is 2.

I really think this would be better done like in my Simple 2d6 system (and others) where the Melee exchange is an opposed contest. The most successes strikes the lesser. If they don’t block or dodge then they will be smashed because there’s no roll to counter the successes of the attacker. Back to how it actually works.

Kirigi has hit the armour which saved the guard’s arm. Kirigi has his claw attack against the other arm. Kirigi is not trained in unarmed. He rolls Spatial/Balance, 3 dice, and scores 3 successes. The NPC guard can’t do anything against this because the action is gone. Kirigi claws the guard’s arm for Strength damage + 1 slashing (claws), 4 and -2 from the armour, leaves 2, which is halved to 1 but the limb is disabled. The guard only has its buckler. Next synapse phase Kirigi can attack twice more to which the guard can do nothing. I think it’s safe to say the guard is toast.

This combat system is very Attribute/Talent heavy. If you have a good Synapse you could make mincemeat of a professional with a lower Synapse – simply by the number of attempted attacks that could succeed before they get a chance to respond. A professional duellist would have to have a high Synapse and a high Spatial. Tank type characters cannot exist in this system.

Synpase’s combat system needs an overhaul for a few reasons:

1. Clarity. The method of making attacks, defending against attacks, when and how this all works needs more clarity. How the talents tie into the combat system should be repeated here with their function. This all needs to be in the combat section. How to make melee attacks. How defense works. How shooting works. What extra successes do (or not do).

2. Synapse phases, and thus number of actions, seems incredibly important. Untrained but very Synpase heavy characters will probably demolish the trained professional with relatively lower Synpase. I might as well test the assumption. Kirigi vs. Otto das Messer. Otto das Messer, aka. Otto the knife, is a professional messer fighter. The messer is a very large straight single edged sword. Otto is Professional in Melee Weapon: Messer, has Spatial 3 and Synapse 3. He is not fighting with a shield. Kirigi with Synapse 6 goes first and attacks twice. Same as with the guard – attack the off hand with the shortsword and weapon hand with a claw (untrained). Otto is almost forced to block. We roll: Kirigi’s attack, 7 dice, -1 for aim, 6 dice. two successes. Blocking has nothing to do with his Melee Weapon: Messer (Professional) so he rolls whatever his Block skill is. Let’s say it’s professional, too. So 7 dice to block that first attack. Two success – I guess that blocks. Next attack, same Synapse Phase, and this time Otto das Messer cannot block (because he just did). One success (I actually rolled three sixes but rolled again for a less extreme result). 3 +1 slashing damage and Otto almost loses an arm. He also cannot fight effectively. Synapse phase 5 and it all happens again with Otto unable to do anything because he has only one combat action. This will repeat in Synapse Phase 4 and if Otto is still alive he can attack in Syapse Phase  3. I guess it says that to become a professional in combat you require a high Synapse. Which makes skill not very useful. Even if Otto’s Spatial was 8, with a Synapse of only 3 he’ll be destroyed in short order by any untrained enemy.

I’m stopping there with Synapse’s combat system. I know Greg (author) read my first review and am curious if I’m interpreting it incorrectly or missing bits of text. As it stands with the PDF I have, the combat system is far too weighted to favour the Synapse attribute – so much so it makes combat skill not very relevant.

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Synapse: Combat Review

4 thoughts on “Synapse: Combat Review

  1. gregorychristopher says:

    You are misreading something here a bit. I have 2 kids under my care right now, but I will reply in more detail later. In the meantime, be aware of the following:

    1. The number of attacks in a single combat cycle is based on Focus. I think you missed that completely because you don’t reference Focus anywhere here. I need to look into making that more clear.

    2. Multitasking means you can take two different actions in the same synapse phase, as opposed to only one action per synapse phase like everyone else. So while someone with a focus of 5 can take 3 actions per combat cycle, they have to take them in different synapse phases. You, on the other hand, could take two actions within the same synapse phase, thus being even more bad-ass.

    3. Synapse determines how fast you can act, focus determines how many attacks you can make, spatial determines whether you hit or not.

    4. Regarding the “GM assigns difficulty”, let me elaborate a bit. Basically, hitting someone that isnt blocking or dodging is no different than hitting a rock. The GM gives you a difficulty number to hit based on visibility, range, etc. So if the person just stands there, you roll to hit them just like you were shooting an inanimate object (i.e. difficulty). If they dodge, then they add their dodging ability to that difficulty, thus making them harder to hit than if they just stood there.

    5. The system as a whole is designed to play out very fast and dramatically, not so much fairly. Real life combat isnt fair either. The person who invests their attributes in Synapse and Focus and Spatial will kick ass. If you only invest in one, say Spatial like you said, then you are a great marksman. You can hit difficult targets. But that won’t help you in a shootout if you don’t have the presence of mind to react quickly. See my point?

    I will reply more later when I get a chance to get away from these kids. 🙂

    1. I’ll respond directly to your points for convenience.

      1. What I think happened is that I deleted that paragraph in editing and then forgot to mention Focus at all. My bad.

      2. I interpreted that correctly, it seems, but because of 1 made it unclear.

      3. This conflicts quite a lot. If Synapse is how fast you can act why is Focus how many attacks (Combat Actions) you can make? What happens when there’s a character with Focus 8 and Synapse 1? They act last but perform 6 actions? That suggests that they are slow to act but incredibly fast – which is a contradiction. It also implies that they can react 5 times. Which makes me wonder what the Reaction talent is for and why it has little to do with anything in combat. I strongly suggest your combat system needs to be overhauled.

      4. That elaboration should be in the text. It would be very helpful.

      5. It’s got nothing to do with fair. It has more to do with your own premises in the text. I was expecting the combat system to better support this paragraph on page 125:

      “This translates into a world where training is at a premium. A trained individual is far better than an untrained one at accomplishing a task. Someone who has never picked up a sword in her life cannot put up much of a fight against someone with comprehensive training. A talented professional is near unstoppable. A great swordsman kills most opponents with a single blow. A veteran thief can hide in the smallest shadow. A master spy can talk his way out of nearly any situation.”

      As it stands that paragraph is not well supported by the mechanics – in particular, “Someone who has never picked up a sword in her life cannot put up much of a fight against someone with comprehensive training.” With higher attributes she could put a fight against a professional and probably win. If there’s a premise that most professionals have high attributes then it needs to be mentioned.

      Attributes are at a premium, or attributes and training combined, but training only matters when attributes are even between those in opposition. A rewrite for clarity could make a huge difference.

      I see your point in (5) but it conflicts with your own writing on skills and training. If there was a mention that Attributes, particularly Focus, weigh so heavily in combat I’d have far less issue with it. Currently there’s not enough internal consistency in the combat system. I’m not sure why you brought fairness into it. I’m sadly well aware of how unfair combat is. It’s also terribly unfair in life that there are people out there with the equivalent of a few 8’s and all 6’s as their attributes if you were to describe them with Synapse’s rules. We call these people bastards. 😀

      Looking forward to some more info from you Greg. 🙂

    2. gregorychristopher says:

      Well, I will admit that when I wrote the paragraph about how training is at a premium, I actually had a different system that worked more heavily on the side of training. I did not rewrite the paragraph as I should have.

      Regarding Synapse/Focus, think of it this way:

      1. High Syn/Low Focus = Dude who jabs you to the throat with a fast reflex reaction, but who gets confused when multiple combatants start circling him.
      2. Low Syn/High Focus = Dude who sees everything going down but just can’t seem to react in time. The focus is probably a result of the ability to really buckle down on a task and not actually do things in combat. For example, bomb squad dude.
      3. High Syn/High Focus = Jason Bourne
      4. Low Syn/Low Focus = Normal dude

      Make sense?

  2. I can see what you’re trying to do but it doesn’t make sense for me.

    “The focus is probably a result of the ability to really buckle down on a task and not actually do things in combat. For example, bomb squad dude.” Which implies that if you have high focus it doesn’t help you in combat.

    I can work with Multitasking coming from Focus but I can’t work with the base number of Combat Actions coming from Focus – especially since the Reaction talent comes from Synapse.

    Perhaps;
    Combat Actions = Synapse Attribute (allows one action per Synapse Phase)
    Reaction talent = +1 combat action
    Multitasking talent = +1 combat action
    Awareness talent = +1 combat action

    Not a huge change. You could even add Motivation and Deduction talents as adding a combat action each. It also means that the person with Synapse (1), who almost always acts last and has terrible reflexes, doesn’t have a massive flurry of activity because they’re Focus is high.

    I hope that clarifies my thinking to you.

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