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.