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.
The combat mechanics of Terra Nova Alera are based on rolling dice, and in the broad strokes look like combat in most other RPGs. Some of the particulars are very different, however, and you should read the sections below before playing in order to understand that.
Battles and Exchanges
Real combat takes time, and happens in a chaotic and complex way that’s 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 battle, and the exchange. An exchange is about 6-12 seconds of time, usually, and in that time every character involved in the combat gets to act. A battle is the whole span of time in which the combat takes place. Usually, five to ten Exchanges make up a battle – 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” actions. Even more often, circumstances allow a character to React to something outside of the normal order of things. 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.
The Kinds of Stuff you can do
There are three categories of activity that characters do in Terra Nova Alera, called Actions, Shifts and Reactions. Actions and Shifts occur in the normal order or turns that it laid out below. Reactions occur outside of that order, in response to the changing conditions of the Battle. Actions are broadly defined as “stuff that directly affects other characters.” Shifts are broadly defined as stuff that does not directly affect other characters.” Reactions fall completely outside of that dichotomy, as they occur outside of the normal order of turns. When as Skill describes the specific thing it lets a character do, it will say whether that thing is an Action, Shift or Reaction.
Selecting Actions, Shifts and Reactions
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, a character is limited to only about a dozen actions at a time. Six of those are the basic actions that are available to everyone all the time, while the other three to six are special actions that are available to them from their education and training. These last actions need to be chosen according to the tactical needs and goals of the character at that time.
Action order and Initiative
Like in most games, Alera Nova uses an initiative system to determine whose turn occurs at what point within the exchange. Unlike many games, this system has been pared down as much as possible so that hopefully figuring out who goes when doesn’t take a noticeable amount of time, and is as intuitive as possible. It works like this:
At the beginning of every Exchange, determine which character has Initiative. This character acts first, taking an Action and a Shift. The character they target with their Action then acts, taking an Action and a Shift. Then the character that character targets with their Action goes, and so on. If a given character has already taken an Action then they instead pass their turn to some other member of their team. If a character targets more than one other character with their Action, then count up the number of characters on each team that Action affects. The team most often affected – or the opposing team, in the case of a tie – selects among those affected one character to act in response. If one team still has members who haven’t acted at the end of an exchange, they all act together at the end in whichever order they prefer.
Initiative is normally given to the player character who has the highest Reflexes score. If two characters are tied, then they select among them who gets Initiative. If an NPC has the “Fast” tag, then they contest that character for Initiative. The player of that character rolls 1d6 at the start of every Exchange, and if they roll a hit then Initiative goes to them. If not, then it doesn’t. If several NPCs have the Fast tag only one contest is required, though if the NPCs get Initiative that Exchange then the GM can select among them who has Initiative.
On the opening Exchange of the battle, Initiative works in a slightly different way. Simply put, whomever starts the fight has Initiative. If the characters are being ambushed but detect that prior to the trap being sprung, then determine Initiative normally.
Reactions and bonus Actions
Sometimes, a character is able to act outside of the normal order of an Exchange. The most common way this happens is through Reactions. These let a character respond to a specific condition in a specific way – say, attack a flanked enemy when that enemy attacks the ally with whom they flank that enemy, but does not attack them. These are not Actions, and so they do not change the order in which characters act in an Exchange. They are also only available as long as it is the turn of the character to whom the Reaction is a response to – meaning, in the above example, that once the flanked enemy has finished their turn the character can no longer React to their attack. After an trigger has resolved itself a character has a grace period of five or ten seconds in which to call out that they are Reacting to that trigger, however, absent all other factors.
Rarely, a power will let a character take Bonus Actions (and/of Shift), the number of which is generally decided upon at the start of an Exchange. This allows the character to take an Action when the character would normally take their Action (meaning after they are acted upon) even if they have already taken an Action, up to the limit of the number of Bonus Actions they have. If they still have Bonus Actions left after everyone else has taken their Action, then they take the remainder at the end of the exchange.
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 than others for some Actions. Shifts (and some Actions) let you change your position. Finally, and often most importantly, Reactions are often triggered by a character’s position relative to the target of a given Reaction. There are a few basic positions that have an effect like this, and they are listed below.
Normal Range and Area of Effect Descriptions
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 three characters can all be Adjacent to or Engaged with one another (meaning everyone is adjacent to everyone else), so if an Area of Effect specifies Adjacent characters then it can affect no more than three characters. Similarly, no more than five characters can attack the same character (meaning they are all Adjacent to that character, but not necessarily to each other), 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 (the space that can be covered in one Shift of movement). 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 (the space that can be covered in one Shift+Action of movement). 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 most effects that affect this area target no more than twenty characters.
- 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 while being Nearby or closer, they are Invisible to that character. If an Action or Reaction specifies Line of Sight is required to be affected then even if an NPC meets the other range and area of effect requirements, they are not targeted by it.
- 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 Actions allow this within limits.
When two characters are positioned Adjacent to but on opposite sides of an enemy, they are Flanking. If three characters are Adjacent to an enemy but spaced more-or-less equidistant around that enemy, they are also Flanking that enemy. Flanking is often a trigger for Reactions. As well, Flanking an enemy grants a +1 bonus to the dice pool of Actions made against that enemy.
Advantage & Disadvantage
When a character is in a position of superiority or strength for a given Action, he has Advantage. Conversely, when he is in in a position of weakness or inferiority for that Action, he has Disadvantage. Advantage
Both Advantage and Disadvantage come in a range of values from Slight to Extreme, granting equivalent bonuses or penalties therein. A slight dis/advantage gives a /-2 dice pool adjustment. A significant one gives a /
4 dice pool adjustment. An extreme one gives a +/ 5 dice pool adjustment. If a character has both Advantages and Disadvantages on the same roll, they cancel each other out to the appropriate extent.
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.