Other Rules Systems
This chapter is kind of a catch-all chapter for rules not presented elsewhere. In it you’ll find rules for combat, furycraft, ritual magic, creating items, and a number of other areas. Each is covered more-or-less in turn, each in its own section below. Some of the particular rules will inevitably cross from one area into another – ritual magic is often used in combat, as is furycraft, and both may be used to create items, and so on – so cross-references are included to make things easier, but I’ll avoid repeating myself to keep the text as short as possible. I’ve found that concision is a virtue when it comes to rules, and I’ll try to hold to that principle now.
Conflict, often physical combat, is going to inevitably be part of your character’s story. That’s a good thing, though! Conflict is dynamic and interesting, it is a chance for your character to be innovative and heroic, and hopefully the way it works in Alera Nova means it is really fun for you. It’s inevitably kind of complicated, though, so this section is to cover that complexity in a clear, concise manner so that you can get down to the good stuff. The first few sections focus on physical combat, with the last few focusing on other kinds of conflicts.
Physical Conflict: Combat
Exchanges and Turns
Real combat takes time, and happens in a chaotic and complex way that’s more or less impossible to faithfully represent in a tabletop RPG. That being said, there are ways to fairly represent how combat plays out in the narrative form of the Codex Alera. That’s what this system aims for: narrative faithfulness, and fairness. It doesn’t try to be realistic.
Combat in Alera Nova is broken down into two basic units – the exchange, and the turn. An exchange is about 6-12 seconds of time, usually, and in that time every character involved in the combat gets to act. A Turn is the time in which that character acts, during a given Exchange. Usually, five to ten Exchanges make up a combat – sometimes more, sometimes less. That means that the typical combat takes between 1 and 2 minutes of normal time, but because it takes time to adjudicate actions and consequences a combat can take much longer than that to resolve.
Sometimes, because of a power or some other circumstance, a character gets to take “extra” turns. Usually the Storyteller or the power itself specifies when these occur, and if they happen instead of or in addition to a character’s normal turn. Watch out for them, because through their judicious application a character can quickly take the upper hand in combat by simply being able to do more than his/her opponent.
People don’t take an encyclopedia into every fight with them. The full accumulated knowledge and skills that a person possesses are, in fact, very rarely accessible to them in the heat of the moment. After the fact, a person may think to themselves “oh I totally should have done [x]!” and that, combined with the need to simplify what can be an endlessly complicated system of stacking modifiers, means that not everything that a character can do is available to them at all times.
To represent that and simplify the system, therefore, a character is limited to only about a dozen actions at a time. Nine of those are the basic actions that are available to everyone all the time, while the other three are special, modified actions that come to them from their education and training. Some characters can expand this somewhat, but most are limited to only those dozen choices in any given turn. These last three actions need to be ‘built’ out of the modifiers available to a character, designed to suit a given situation and chosen according to the tactical needs and goals of the character at that time. This process might take a little time. It is handled at the start of combat while the GM is composing notes and arranging things, however, so hopefully there is minimal downtime overall. Also, a player is fully within their rights to write down options when not even playing or while the spotlight is on someone else, in order to reduce even further the downtime they might experience. The process works like this:
- 1. Select which of the six basic actions, or another special action available to you (such as Channeling or Heal) that you wish to modify.
- 2. Of the list of modifiers available to you for that action, list those you actually want to add to that action.
- 3. Add up the costs associated with those modifiers and write it down. Then, add 1 Energy to that cost for every 2 modifiers, rounding down. This, along with the cost of the modifiers is the base cost of that special action.
- 4. Write down all of the conditions associated with those modifiers – “must use a thrown weapon” “must be armed,” “must be Adjacent to the target,” etc. You must meet these conditions to use the associated modifiers, and if you fail to meet two or more of these conditions then you cannot use that action at all. If there are mutually-exclusive conditions, such as “must be armed” and “must be unarmed,” then you can’t have both of the associated modifiers on that action.
Like in most games, Alera Nova uses an initiative system to determine whose turn occurs at what point within the exchange. Unlike many games, though, this system has been pared down as much as possible so that hopefully figuring out who goes when doesn’t take longer than a minute or two at the start of combat, with a few temporary alterations during combat itself. After all, combat itself is supposed to only take a minute or two!
At its most basic, everyone in a combat scene acts in descending order according to their Initiative trait – that is, the character with the highest Initiative goes first, and the character with the lowest Initiative goes last. If a PC and NPC have the same Initiative trait, the player declares when they want to go (first or last) and rolls 1d6. On a success (a roll of 4-6), he goes when he wants. On a failure, he doesn’t. When two player characters tie, they decide amongst themselves who goes when or how it is determined. If all else fails, flip a coin.
The main exception to this is Alpha actions. Those are actions that are taken at the very beginning of an exchange or of combat itself, that by their very nature must precede all other actions. Alpha actions are resolved first, before all other actions. Alpha actions include:
- Surprising an enemy or being surprised by an enemy. When this happens, the character taking the surprise action also gets their regular action for that exchange.
- Initiating combat. Whoever “starts the fight” gets an alpha action on the first exchange of combat. If the other party isn’t surprised, though, then they take this action instead of their regular action
- Magically-swift attacks. Certain Aircrafting techniques allow a character to take alpha actions, even during exchanges in the middle of combat. Those techniques state whether the action is instead of or in addition to their normal action for that turn.
Certain other magical and non-magical techniques also give bonuses to Initiative or extra or alpha actions. These are usually temporary, but in all cases the power itself says how it works.
Speeding up combat
In order to make combat go faster, it might be useful to have players who have already decided what they want to do pre-roll for any challenges that require it, and then merely state how many successes they got when their turn comes around. This requires a certain amount of trust, so may not be appropriate for everyone, but hopefully the bulk of people you’re playing with are people you trust to make imaginary rolls fairly and not cheat. In any case, if you decide to use this system you need to tell your group at the outset if there will be any difficulties higher than 3 and what those are so that they know to count successes thusly.
It might also speed up combat to have index cards for each participant in a combat, with basic information written on them (such as NPC Attack/Defense values, Initiative, and so on). Arrange them in descending order according to Initiative, so that you need only flip through the pile of cards in order to keep combat running smoothly forward.
Actions in a turn
A character may take a single Normal action on their turn. This Action is often simply called their Action. In addition to this they may also take some other, minor action each turn, called a Quick (or sometimes a Minor) action. Often, Movement or Defense is a Quick action, and many Interactions are also Quick actions. A character is normally limited to only one Quick and one Normal Action each turn, unless they have powers that allow them to take more. However, a character can “trade in” their Normal Action for two Quick actions, if they need to do several small things rather than one large one. Finally, a character may take any number of Automatic actions each turn, which are actions that do not consume that character’s concentration or may be done at the same time as other actions. Automatic actions include things like talking and using certain Furycraft powers. Most may only be done once each per turn, however. The exceptions to this rule are noted in the description of that particular action. Also, some Automatic actions are exclusive to one another – that is, one cannot use Aircrafting and Earthcrafting for free in the same turn. When that is the case, it is also described for that particular action. Use your discretion, however, and understand that the point of the game is to tell a good story not game the system for every potential benefit.
Movement and Positioning
Where you are determines, to a very great extent, what you can do on your turn. Being in range for a particular action means you can do it, not being in range means you can’t. In addition, some positions work better for others for some actions. There are a few basic positions that have an effect like this, and they are listed below.
Range and Area of Effect
Rather than use a grid system or some other, more visual representation of distance, Alera Nova uses an imaginative system of ranges and equivalent areas of effect. From most to least immediate, these ranges and areas of effect are:
- Engaged / Adjacent: Next to and in melee range of one another. Up to five characters can all be Adjacent to or Engaged with one another, so if an Area of Effect specifies Adjacent characters then it can affect no more than five characters. Similarly, no more than four characters can attack the same character, unless using weapons whose range or reach is greater than Engaged/Adjacent.
- Close / Short: Within a space that can be traversed by five or six steps (a single, normal Move action). Many more characters can potentially be packed into this area, but generally effects with this Area affect no more than ten other characters. GMs might make an exception for tightly-packed formations, crowded city streets, or other scenarios in that vein.
- Nearby / Medium: Within a space that can be traversed by ten or twenty steps (a single, normal turn spent only running). Most melee combats take place within an Area that is no larger than this. Thirty, fifty or more characters might fit within this area, but even so most effects that have this area affect no more than twenty characters, unless those characters are packed especially tightly.
- Far Away / Line of Sight: Outside of the distance that can easily be traversed in a turn by normal means. Archers and other characters who have access to ranged weaponry might be able to attack at this distance, but it becomes increasingly difficult as the range gets longer and longer. The GM should specify how many turns it will take to close to Medium distance with a character should they be at this distance, and assess ranged attack penalties appropriately based on the particular conditions (wind, rain, light, etc) of the area.
- Invisible / Outside Line of Sight: When a target is outside of a character’s line of sight, but is otherwise Nearby or closer, they are Invisible to that character.
- Elsewhere: When a target is both Invisible and Far Away, they are Elsewhere. Targets who are Elsewhere cannot normally be targeted by a character, though some powers allow this within limits.
When two allies team up against a target, and are positioned on opposite sides of that target or complementary to one another, they are Flanking. When they do so, the target’s Defense is reduced by 1 so long as both allies continue attacking that target. Additional allies flanking the same character does not normally increase this. When a PC is Flanked by NPCs who are attacking him, all Defense Actions against those NPCs are made at a -2 penalty.
Advantage & Disadvantage
When a character is in a position of superiority or strength, or has some particular advantage, he has Advantage. Although a character may benefit from as many Advantages as are appropriate at a time, the storyteller may limit this at his discretion. Each Advantage grants the character +1 dice to his check on the relevant roll.
The opposite side of the coin, being in a position of weakness or inferiority, is a Disadvantage. Each Disadvantage causes the player to subtract -1 dice from the relevant roll. These may also cancel out Advantages, if both are present.
Being prone is a bit complicated. Sometimes it is an advantage, sometimes a Disadvantage, depending on the roll being made. The Storyteller decides the details, but in general it is a Disadvantage to be prone in melee or close range, but an Advantage at longer ranges.
Designing Non-Player Characters
Non-player characters (NPCs) are designed differently from other characters in Alera Nova. Instead of being designed to have a whole array of options and attributes at their disposal, they are designed with only those things that they need in mind in order to speed play along as much as possible. In order to do that, they only have six static values: Attack, Defense, Damage, Initiative, Health and Movement. These are static because they never roll for anything – the PC rolls to defend against their Attack; the PC rolls to attack against their Defense, and so on. In addition to their static values, NPCs also have special, Limited attacks. These are special powers that they have, which they can use a defined number of times per encounter. The powers each have their own Attack or Defense value, their own Damage value, and have a Limit that defines how often they can be used during a given encounter.
The Attributes are designed as follows -
NPCs have a static Attack value according to how good they are at making physical or mental attacks against opponents. This attribute is normally written as a number with a parenthetical value, where the main value is their physical attack and the parenthetical is their ability to persuade or make other mental attacks against other characters. For a decent guide on setting these numbers, imagine that 1 point of Attack is equivalent to between 2 and 2.5 points of an equivalent Attribute or Skill. So, in order to be a equivalent to characters whose average Attribute+Swordfighting+Equipment roll is 6d6, NPCs need an Attack of 2 or 3. If this value exceeds about 2/3 of a PC’s defending roll, the NPC is almost assured to hit and do damage – if that’s not intended, the storyteller should adjust accordingly. If no parenthetical is listed, assume that the number is equal to their physical Attack value.
When a PC fails to defend against an NPC’s attack, the Damage trait determines what happens. It can sometimes be parenthetical if the NPC does different things with a physical or mental attack, or even non-numerical if the NPC doesn’t just or just doesn’t do Energy or Health damage with its Attack. For instance, an NPC might force the PC to move one square in a particular direction for every success on its attack, or it might do 2 points of Damage and penalize his Initiative by 1 per ‘success’ for 1 round. This has a great effect in determining how ‘dangerous’ an NPC is, and Storytellers should design this with that in mind. A Damage of 1 is fairly light; 2 is normal; 3 is heavy; 4 is very heavy and so on. This Attribute, unlike the others, is basically equivalent to weapon damage. Don’t be afraid to use things like forced movement and non-standard Damage types, as these can make a fight much more interesting, especially if the different attacks of the enemies synergize to some dangerous effect.
In addition to attacking, NPCs also defend against being attacked. When they do this, they use their Defense value. As with Attack, this is normally represented as a number followed by a parenthetical, where the main number is a physical Defense value and the parenthetical value is a mental Defense value. Also as with attack, 1 point in Defense is about as effective as 2 or 2.5 points in an equivalent check made by PCs, so if a PC’s Quickness+Acrobatics (dodge) check is 8d6, then an equivalent value for an NPC is between 3 and 4. Since this directly opposes a PC’s attack action, Storytellers should monitor this and make sure that an NPC’s Defense doesn’t exceed 2/3 of the number of dice a PC uses to attack with, unless that NPC is meant to be nearly unassailable or unbeatable. If no parenthetical is listed, assume that the number is equal to their physical Defense value.
Initiative is essentially the same as it is for PCs; it defines when an NPC acts in the action order. The value is also the same as it is for PCs, since they also have a static value for Initiative. Try to make NPC initiatives fall within the range of PC initiatives when possible, so that combat feels more dynamic and interesting.
Health works much as it does for PCs. NPCs can take as many Wounds as they have Health, but since they do not have an Energy pool they start combat with more Wounds than PCs do. Some may have fewer (especially mooks), but some may have significantly more (as many as 5x more for some bosses).
Finally, NPCs have access to certain special moves called Limited attacks. These moves go a long way to making up for an NPC not having access to most Skills or Magic, because they work much like those powers. Instead of being tied to an Energy or Refresh value, however, Limited powers are simpler than that. They can only be used a certain number of times per combat encounter, equal to their Limit. They might be attacks or defensive powers, so might have either an Attack or Defense (but likely not both), and perhaps a Damage value as well. These attacks are typically about twice to three times as effective as an NPC’s normal attack, but can be more or less effective than that depending on how often they can be used. More uses means they must be less effective per use, while less uses is the opposite.
Making items: The Forge and the Fury
Certain Skills allow you to make special items that are especially well constructed and/or imbued with certain magic powers so that they have additional powers or are simply more effective at doing what they normally do. These are called enhanced items. Their powers are covered in greater detail in other chapters of this text.
Making an enhanced item is a significant investment of time and energy. To represent this, items have an experience cost in addition to any monetary cost that might go along with them, which must be monitored to make them as well as to own them. This cost is usually between 1 and 3 experience points. In order to create an item a character must earn that many experience points while making it, in stories directly connected to acquiring the items and techniques to make it. Once it has been made, in order to own it a character must spend that same number of experience points on the item in order to fully acquaint and attune himself to the item and gain full advantage from its powers. The storyteller has some leeway with this, especially with items meant to be temporary from the outset or whose ownership was transferred because of theft or that were only borrowed for a few minutes, hours or days. When an item that experience has been spent on is destroyed or permanently given away, that experience spent on that item is refunded in full.
Earning and spending Experience Points
Experience points are what you are used to in other games – they represent growth and learning, and are used to make your character more powerful. Characters grow in specific ways, though, and to represent that you can only spend experience points on certain things. The things you can learn are those Skills available to you through your Class and Profession, and those abilities of racial magic (like Furycraft or Canim Ritual or Chala) that you have available to you.
Skills always cost 1 experience point to learn. Many skills have more than one level, though – in that case, each level is learned as though it were a separate skill. That means that although it costs 1 experience point to learn Swordfighting, it still costs a total of 6 experience points to learn it 6 times, and thus master it completely.
Experience points are earned at the end of stories and chronicles. Normally, characters gain 1 experience point at the end of a story of normal scope or narrative significance, 2 experience points for stories that have a special impact on the world or the character, and an additional 1-2 experience points if that story represents the capstone to a longer chronicle.