Duking it Out in Ashen Stars

By Robin D. Laws

This is the second of two installments covering additional combat options for Ashen Stars. See part one for explanation and disclaimers. While the rules themselves are from the Esoterror Fact Book, the enhancements and gear are new and have not been playtested. Because, seriously, who playtests columns?

Critical Hits

Fact Book

When your raw die roll on an attack attempt is a 6, and your total result after pool expenditures are taken into account exceeds the target’s Hit Threshold by 5 or more, you score a critical hit, rolling two instances of damage and adding them together.

Nadia, escaping from an organ harvesting complex run by radical cybes, punches a guard, whose Hit Threshold is 4. Her player, Piera, spends 3 Scuffling points on the attack, then rolls a 6, for a final result of 9. This exceeds the Threshold by 5, allowing a critical hit. Nadia deals damage equal to two punches, with a -2 damage value. Piera rolls a 5, for a modified result of 3 damage, and a 6, which modifies to 4 damage. The guard loses 7 Health, going from 5 to -2.

If PCs can score critical hits, their dramatically important enemies can, too.

Viroware Enhancement: Occipital Overclocker

Initial Therapy Cost: 1

Upkeep: 3

This enhancement allows you to divert your brain’s processing power to visual acuity and hand-eye coordination, briefly granting you a supranormal ability to zero an enemy’s weak spot and execute the perfect attack against it.

Spend X academic or technical investigative points to turn any successful hit, regardless of your die roll or the difference between result and Hit Threshold, into a critical hit.

The value of X starts at 2 and doubles each time you use the occipital overclocker over the course of a single case. When a new case begins, the cost resets to 2. So in one case, the cost accelerates from 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 and so on.

Defensive Mode

Fact Book

By going into defensive mode, you can opt to decrease both your chance of being hit and your chance of hitting anyone else. For every 2 Athletics points you spend, your Hit Threshold increases by 1, up to a maximum increase of 3. When you try to hit anyone else, their Hit Thresholds against you increase by 2 for every 1 point your Hit Threshold increased. While in defensive mode, you duck, weave, backtrack, and otherwise concentrate on not being hit. Announce that you’re going defensive at the beginning of your action for the round; doing so does not cost an action itself. The effects last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them (provided you can afford the cost.)

Badly pressed and running out of Scuffling points, Nadia attempts to fend off a lipovore while waiting for her fellow lasers to swoop by on their shuttle, dangling an escape-ready rope ladder. Her player, Alex, declares evasive action and spends 4 Athletics on a 2 point Hit Threshold increase, taking Nadia’s threshold from 4 to 6. The lipovore’s Threshold increases (against Blake’s attacks only) from 4 to 8.

Viroware Enhancement: Limbic Defender

Initial Therapy Cost: X

Upkeep: 1

The Limbic Defender virus harnesses the power of your fight-or-flight reflex, flooding your body with additional adrenaline. You needn’t spend Athletics to go into Defensive Mode. Instead, you may, once per case, add X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold. When you attack others, add 2X to their Hit Thresholds. The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.

Reckless Attacks

Fact Book

By fighting all-out, taking no precautions against being hit yourself, you can increase your chances of hitting your opponent—at additional risk of being hit yourself. Spend 1 Athletics to decrease both your and a chosen opponent’s Hit Threshold by up to 3 points. The minimum Hit Threshold achievable through a reckless attack is 1. Your opponent’s Hit Threshold decreases only against you, but your decrease occurs against all potential opponents. The decreases last until the beginning of your next action, at which point you can renew them by paying another Athletics point.

Confident that his clones will flee if their genetic exemplar is taken down, Nadia fights recklessly against the nufaith crusader Eln Tholar. Piera spends 1 Athletics point and decides on a 2-point decrease. Eln Tholar’s Threshold decreases from 3 to 1, but only against Nadia’s attack. Against the attacks of her crewmate, gunner Maggie Flatt, the exemplar’s Hit Threshold remains 3. However, Eln Tholar’s clones strike at Nadia as if her Hit Threshold is 1.

Viroware Enhancement: Rageaholic’s Delight

Initial Therapy Cost: X

Upkeep: 1

This colorfully named virus awakens the latent aggression of your lizard brain (or lizard-like primordial evolutionary precursor, in the case of non-human species.)  You needn’t spend Athletics to take Reckless Attacks. Instead, you may, once per case, subtract X, the cost you chose to spend when installing the enhancement, to your Hit Threshold, and from the Hit Threshold of a designated opponent (but only against your attacks.) The effect lasts for the duration of a single fight.

If you are a Tavak and use this enhancement in a fight, the Difficulty of any Resist Battle Frenzy tests taken for the rest of the interval increases by X.

Support Moves

Fact Book

If your Athletics rating is 8 or more, you may perform support moves. In a support move, you use your action to execute an Athletics maneuver, which then places one of your comrades in a superior position against an opponent. Describe, in exciting detail, how you intend the action to either improve your comrade’s position, or degrade an opponent’s. If your suggestion seems plausible, the GM clears you to make an Athletics test. Although your GM can adjust Difficulties according to described circumstances, you usually test against a Difficulty of 4. If successful, you allow your comrade to add the difference between your result and difficulty to a Shooting or Scuffling roll against the designated opponent. If the comrade fails to attack that opponent as his next action, the benefit is lost.

On New Peru’s windswept mountains, Nadia finds herself pinned in a narrow crevasse as a gelatinous native organism attempts to melt her face. Maggie, higher up on the cliff face, has dropped her rifle but wants to assist her comrade. Her player, Livia, describes a support move: “I rappel down and kick a loose chunk of rock so that it sinks through the thing’s outer translucence into the brain tissue below!” The GM rules that this is possible and not extra difficult (though dangerous—if Maggie fails, she’ll have to pass a second Athletics test or fall and hurt herself.) Livia adds 3 to her Athletics roll of 6 for a final result of 9. The creature attacks Nadia, reducing her Health from 11 to 5 as the flesh of her skin puckers and fizzes. Now it’s Nadia’s turn to act; she may apply a bonus of 5 (the difference between Maggie’s difficulty and result) to her roll. Piera spends a Scuffling point of her own, for a total bonus of 6, and rolls a 1, for a result of 7. This is just enough for Nadia to overcome the creature’s very high Hit Threshold and deal it the first of two stun attacks needed to down it.


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