Comparative Review: Castles & Crusades, Runequest II and Warhammer FRP
Part III Melee
All three of the games I'm reviewing use detailed combat resolution mechanics with the level of abstraction not being that different between them. Melee in all three games uses a similar round based approach with an intitative system to control the order of events. RQII is unusual in that it does not use a random element in its Strike Rank system.
Strike Rank in RQII is based on a combination of dexterity, size, weapon length or spell power (in number of power points used) and has additonal modifiers for surprise. Larger individuals and longer weapons have a better SR,which is a lower number meaning spears are more effective than in D&D or C&C where the basic rules take no account of weapon length. Third edition D&D does take account of weapon length with the split between reach and normal weapons. There have been numerous optional rules based on weapon speed and reach for D&D, but these have never been a universal feature. In a round a character can act several times at different strike ranks with their actions being able to be broken down into each SR allowing for interaction with other participants in the round, for example moving 3 metres takes one strike rank so if a character is being shot at by an opponent with a loaded bow and a dex of 15 giving a SR of 2, they will move 6 metres from their starting point before the shot hits them.
C&C uses a system of rolling a d10 for initiative with no modifers for high dexterity. Most participants in a melee act once per round except for high level fighters with the Extra Attack ability or participants with the Haste spell cast upon them. The initiative is meant to be rolled each round which prevents luck at the start of the combat allowing one participant to dominate. In practice like many GM's or to be more exact Castle Keepers I actually roll once at the start of the melee and allow the character or creatures bonus for their dexterity to be added to the roll.
WFRP uses an initiative system which does takes a much greater account of participants abilities using a d10 plus the agility score of the character or creature. This inititive order will be last through the entire combat with a new roll being made for anyone or thing joining in the melee.
Armour in C&C is abstracted within the Armour Class (AC) of a character, which is the target number to be rolled on a D20 to injure that character. AC represents how hard it is to injure that opponent rather than to hit him, which matches the old D&D concept of AC. Historically of course D&D used reducing AC as harder to hit while C&C follows the D20 rules convention of higher is better, so a D&D character would have started at AC9 with no armour going down to AC2 for plate and shield while in C&C they start at AC10 and go upwards. An interesting wrinkle is the fact that shields only aid against a limited number of opponents from 1 with a small shield to 3 with a large shield. This aid is in terms of a positive modifier to AC.
Both RQII and WFRP use armour as Damage Reduction(DR) with RQ and the advanced rules in WFRP making this specific to hit locations. RQ always uses location specific armour for DR on attacks.
In the basic rules in WFRP armour is generalised as light/medium/heavy and that DR is applied to any hits recieved. The advanced system requires the hit location and armour to be cross referenced to see how much the armour reduces damage by. The Toughness Bonus (TB) in WFRP is also used to reduce damage from an attack which means that a character with a high Toughness score and therefore TB may be less damaged by a hit than a character in substantial armour with a lower TB. This is what gave rise to the 'naked dwarf syndrome' in WFRP, particularly the first edition. This effect does still occur, but is not so pronounced in WFRP2 though the anomaly of a character with a low Toughness in armour being less able to withstand being hit than a unarmoured (or even naked) character with a high Toughness score.
C&C uses a d20 roll with high as good in melee for the roll to hit and then variable damage depending upon the weapon with anything between a d4 and a d12 being used for damage rolls. Damage is enhanced by the character's strength bonus. Once a defender is reduced to 0 hit points they are unconscious and once at -1 hp or below the character may bleed to death unless treated before reaching -10. If the defender is reduced to -10 by the damage from the attack they are dead instantly.
In RQ the attacker first has to make a successful attack roll, then if the defender does not make a successful parry or defense roll then they are hit. Damage is rolled depending on the weapon using a dice bewteen d4 and d12 with a d20 used to resolve the hit location. If more damage is done to a location than it has hit points available then the limb may be incapacitated or on a hit to the head or chest death result. Any armour on the location hit will reduce the damage by its absorbtion rating. Critical hits ignore armour and impales do an additional amount of damge equal to the maximum for that attack plus the variable damage. Given the total hit points for many characters is only in the range of 10-20 this makes critical hits and impales very lethal.
Warhammer does have the advantage of using a successful attack roll to give the hit location avoiding the need to roll dice again that RQ has. In Warhammer damage is from a die roll plus the attackers strength bonus minus the defenders toughness bonus and armour on the hit location. There is an exploding damage rule called 'Ulrich's Fury', which potentially occurs any time a 10 is rolled on the damage die. The attacker rols again to hit and if succesful rolls another d10 for damage, if this is a 10 then another d10 damage die is rolled and so on until a lower damage roll occurs. It is possible to parry blows, but this requires having enough actions to do so in the melee round. The damage reduces the defenders total number of wounds and if the hit would cause the number of wounds to go below zero a critical hit will result. Player characters are able to use the Fate Point system to avoid certain death, but a GM will not usually make it too easy on them as they may wake up injured and robbed of their equipment, etc.
Warhammer places a greater importance on having allies in combat with this adding a bonus to the attack rolls of the combatants who have allies. Given the fairly lethal nature of WFRP combat this is highly useful in giving an edge. Funnily enough none of the three games actually requires use of miniatures despite the obvious relationship between WFRP and its Warhammer Fantasy Battle sibling, but WFRP does recommend the use of miniatures and a grid.
C&C does have the advantage of a much more rapid melee system than either RQ or WFRP, with a simple roll to injure then roll for damage if successful approach. This will speed up melees with large numbers of participants greatly.
RQ combat does have the disadvantage of requiring relatively high numbers of dice rolls and can be sluggish due to this particularly with inexperienced characters who may have attack rolls in the 20-35% range fighting trollkin or broos. The high level of danger from the lower level of hit points does reduce this a bit and the detail of having hit locations, critical hits, fumbles and impales does help to add descriptive interest to this.
WFRP has a better balance between detail and simplicity than RQ in some ways, for example using the to hit roll for hit location as well. This helps cut down the time for combats to occur, but is not as rapid as in C&C.
Overall the C&C system reflects the D&D trope of very intensive combat as a focus for the game and I prefer C&C compared to 3rd edition D&D because of the fact that its simpler rules without large numbers of skills and talents being used keeps combat faster. In many RQ and WFRP games combat is less frequent due to the lethality and the slowness of its resolution.
The rest of the review can be found in the following posts:
Part 1 Settings, Characters and Advancement
Part 1a Character Creation
Part 1b Characters and Careers
Part 2 Equipment and Encumbrance
Part 4 Magic
Part 5 Conclusions