Cinco: Combat Examples

I don’t like reading rules examples, but I wrote this to help communicate the potential for improvising combat and hit locations. It’s funny focusing so much on combat after saying I don’t want any combat-specific rules! But this is because people were interested in what combat situations might look like otherwise.

Notice that nothing below is really set in stone. The dragon can lose up to 8 hearts, sure, but where or how those hearts are lost are not a concern of the rules. Instead, it’s all about the player negotiating their own fictional positioning to decide what risks they want to take. If it makes sense attacking the dragon’s tail would usually deal 1 damage, that’s what happens. If it makes sense the tail falls off if it takes 2 damage, that’s what happens. Remember in the previous post, I didn’t even mention the dragon having a tail! This is improvisation based on conjecture.

Example 1: The Dragon

GM: The dragon is sleeping, its wings and tail curled around its soft belly.

Player: I want to cut off its tail.

GM: What?!

Player: I want to cut off its tail!

GM: You’re not going to finish cutting off its tail before it wakes up.

Player: Then I’ll just cut off the tip.

GM: The dragon will wake up.

Player: With a little bit off the top! Or bottom.

GM: Okay, fine. You’re committed. You whack off the tail-end of its tail. Let’s call that 1 heart. The dragon is awake now, and it’s pissed off. It flinches, roars, and opens its eyes to see you with sword and tail in hand.

Player: I goad it to bite me. So I can poke one of its eyes.

There’s an understanding that the dragon’s head is an essential part of its body, so dealing damage there specifically is worth “more” than damage elsewhere on its body. Let’s say that if it takes 8 hearts of damage to down a dragon in general, it might take 4 hearts to specifically down its head as a shortcut. However, this necessarily exposes the PC to greater risk on account of its sharp teeth.

Instead of counting damage on individual parts, damage to essential parts could be multiplied to express their worth. For example, hitting the head could deal 2 hearts of damage to the dragon rather than just 1 heart. I don’t really care to pick one way or the other, though. Besides the point.

GM: You’re stupid. Good luck. Since the dragon is awake and coming for you, roll d20.

Player: Can I add +4 as a veteran? I killed dragons in the war. Vietnam flashbacks.

GM: Yeah whatever. You’re still stupid.

The player rolled 11 and added +4 on account of their veteran aspect applying to the situation, for a total of 15. That’s less than 20 but more than 10, meaning that the PC has the choice of getting what they want or avoiding harm to themself.

Player: That’s a 15.

GM: Stupid games, stupid prizes! You know a dragon could just swallow up a person, so let’s give you a choice: take 2 hearts and poke its eye for 1, or jump out of the way just in time for you to not get bit.

Player: I want to use my feat to spend 1 inspiration to avoid taking 1 damage, so I’ll only really lose 1 heart. I’ll get a good scratch, but the dragon’s getting a good poke.

This PC has a feat that allows them to spend inspiration instead of taking damage. Not every PC has it, but it comes in handy if one does.

GM: Okay. Dragon’s down 1 eye and 2 hearts. What’s the next step of your master plan? You going to try to get another shot at its head?

The dragon has lost 2 hearts in total, meaning it’s about one-fourth of the way down. However, 1 heart of damage was dealt specifically to its head—an essential body part—which takes 4 damage to destroy.

The player could target other parts, taking longer but exposing the PC to less risk, or continue to risk a gnarly death by continuing to target the head.

Player: Run away.

GM: ???

Player: Run awaaay!

GM: What was the point of all that?!

Player: I like stupid games!

GM: Well, the dragon is winding up its fire breath. Since the worst outcome is getting burnt and the best outcome is running away, let’s say the middle outcome is having to choose between getting out of the way of its breath but not being able to leave, or leaving the premises not unscathed.

Player: How bad would it hurt?

GM: It would hurt worse if you weren’t wriggling around. I think 1 heart. You should be dead already anyway, but you aren’t.

Player: Actually, I won’t roll for this. Will accept the middle road.

GM: You positive?

Player: I have a snowball’s chance in hell at getting away unhurt, and I don’t want to take the much greater chance of getting hurt and not getting away in time.

GM: That’s what I call character development! Cross off 1 heart and you’re out of here.

Example 2: The Mannequins

Using living dolls because it feels gruesome to narrate violence against human-like creatures with such detail. Anyway! It takes 2 hearts of damage to down a grunt, which at first glance seems difficult to separate out into body parts. However, keep in mind that the sum of all the body parts’ hearts might be completely disparate from how much damage is necessary to defeat the creature—and they might not even be defined ahead of time.

GM: A gust of wind breathes air into the mannequins’ fabric lungs, and they come to life. As they come to their senses, they realize they have but one mission: to get you!

Player A: I slash at one with my sword.

GM: Okay, roll d20.

The die turns up a 20, so the player deals 1 heart of damage against the mannequin. The damage itself is not targeted towards a specific spot, so that’s all there is to it. The mechanical effect is basically always the same, but thinking of individual parts makes the fiction more engaging if the player is interested.

GM: Easy enough! How about you?

Player B: I want to grab both of the other mannequin’s arms and tear them out with their insides.

GM: Jesus. Roll d20.

The die turns up a 13, a mixed success. This would mean that the player’s character both deals and takes 1 heart of damage, but since the player gave some flourishing, the GM can give some flourishing back.

GM: You manage to tear one arm off but, with the downward force of you pulling on one end, the mannequin slaps you with its other arm. You didn’t know it would hurt like that.

Rolling a 20+ would not have necessarily meant that the player’s character dealt 2 hearts of damage unless they had a special feat. In that case, would the character have still pulled off both arms? Here’s the fun thing about improvisation: you can make it work! Maybe the mannequin has its arms pulled out, but it’s still alive and kicking (literally).

On the other hand, only a real fighter has a chance of really tearing the mannequin in half for good.


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