Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (Combat)

Getting back to our Frozen Land mash-up of Heart of Ice and the Fabled Lands, the sole conversion issue we’ll consider in this post is …..

3. Combat. Given that it is a diceless, non-random system, combat in Heart of Ice is handled fairly simply. Tubb (2010) summarizes the combat system as follows below:

After walking down the dark alley for about a minute, you are attacked by two thugs armed with knives. If you have Close Combat, turn to #. If you have Agility, turn to #. If you have Shooting and a barysal gun with at least one charge remaining, turn to #. If you have none of these, turn to #.

If you had no applicable skills, you might lose 5 Life Points. If you had Close Combat or Agility, you might suffer 2 Life Points worth of injury, and if you had a charged barysal gun you might get away completely unscathed. As such, the system combines not only missile and melee combat, but also evasive techniques, including persuasive powers if you have the Cunning skill.

By contrast, the combat system for Fabled Lands involves the following steps:

- Roll two dice and add your COMBAT score.
- If you roll higher than the enemy’s Defence (COMBAT plus Rank plus armour bonus) score, you have hit.
- The amount you score above the enemy’s Defence is the number of Stamina points he loses.
- When the Stamina of either combatant reaches zero, they have died (Morris & Thomson, 1995, p. 6).

Interestingly, there is no missile combat system for Fabled Lands, but there are occasions when people shoot arrows and similar missiles at you. These tend to hit automatically, and do one die roll, less your armour bonus, in Stamina points damage (Morris & Thomson, 1995, paragraph 726).

For devising a combat system for Frozen Lands, I’d propose a distinction between melee combat and missile combat, as follows:

a) Melee Combat. This remains exactly the same as the Fabled Lands system. The only real difference lies in the choices of weapons and armour, and their respective COMBAT and Defence bonuses. These items include:

Frozen Lands Weapons Chart
Unarmed (no COMBAT bonus)
Dagger or Knife (COMBAT +1)
Shortsword or Club (COMBAT +2)
Sword or Axe (COMBAT +3)
Double-handed weapon (COMBAT +4)

        Frozen Lands Armour Chart
        No armour (no Defence bonus)
        Padded Armour (Defence +1)
        Speculum Jacket (Defence +2)
        Anti-Laser Armour (Defence +3)
Plated Armour (Defence +4)

Another omission from Fabled Lands is the lack of any cohesive rules for shields, but as they’re not a part of the futuristic world of the Frozen Lands we don’t have to worry about them either!

b) Missile Combat. At the start of any fight, you are allowed to engage in Missile Combat. This consists of making a COMBAT role at a Difficulty of X, where X is the COMBAT score of your opponent. If you make the Difficulty roll and hit the target, the damage done is equivalent to whatever weapon you were using from the following table:

Frozen Lands Missile Damage Chart
Throwing Dagger, Arrow, or Crossbow Bolt (Roll 1 die, and
        subtract opponent’s armour Defence bonus)
Barysal Gun (Roll 2 dice, and subtract opponent’s armour
        Defence bonus)
Grenade (Roll 3 dice, and subtract opponent’s armour Defence
Mantramuktas Cannon (Roll 4 dice, and subtract opponent’s
        armour Defence bonus)
Stun Grenade (Special)
Stasis Bomb (Special)

The only other issue with Missile Combat is keeping track of ammo, and also including places within to replenish ammo supplies or recharge barysal guns. Prices for these services would also need to be established but that is perhaps a topic for another post.

c) An Example of Frozen Lands Combat. Putting it all together, we get the following:

The Road Warrior, COMBAT 6, Defence 8, Stamina 11, Barysal Gun (5 charges), No hand weapon, Padded Armour (Defence +1).

Thug, COMBAT 5, Defence 6, Stamina 8, Knife (COMBAT +1 – already taken into account), No armour.

1. The Road Warrior shoots first, reducing the number of charges by 1 to 4. They make a COMBAT roll at a Difficulty of 5. They roll 3 plus their combat (6) equals 9. A hit! They roll 7. The Thug has no armour and loses 7 Stamina points. They only have 1 left!

2. The Thug lashes out with their Knife. They roll two dice and score 9. Plus their COMBAT score (5) equals 14, which is 6 more than the Road Warrior’s Defence. This reduces the Road Warrior’s Stamina to 5.

3. Having used the Barysal Gun at the start of the combat, the Road Warrior now attacks with his bare hands. He rolls two dice and gets 5. Adding his COMBAT score he gets 11, which is 6 more than the Thug’s Defence. The Thug only has 1 Stamina point left though, and succumbs to his wounds…

Thoughts? To me it seems fairly lethal, but then combat in Heart of Ice is quite a vicious affair. The rules could probably do with some tweaking however.


Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: Cities of Gold and Glory. London: Macmillan.

Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to http://rpggeek.com/thread/568777/heart-of-ice-a-solo-gamebook-adventure-in-post-a


  1. One of the things that I like about Fabled Lands combat system is that it's super simple. When you start putting in variable-damage weapons and stuff, then you lose that simplicity.

    I think it would be easier to just have separate close combats and ranged combats. Like, if your Road Warrior got jumped in an alley than he'd have to fight the mugger in the normal way. But if he came under fire in the frozen Sahara, then he would fight in the same manner, but in addition he would expending charges from a Barysal gun for each shot taken. And if he'd been unfortunate enough to come under fire when he did not have a firearm himself, than he'd be forced to run away.

    Alternatively, you could just assign shots a specific difficulty ("Your attackers are crouched behind a snowbank some fifty yards away. Make a SHOOTING roll at Difficulty 11.") just like it was a Survival roll or whatever.

    Incidently, I think that you can justify giving a separate close combat and shooting ability, because the skills are different enough. There's no reason that there have to be exactly six abilities...

  2. Some interesting thoughts there! I agree with you totally about simplicity (and that's why I've stuck to 6 skills!). I do like your idea for separate close combats and ranged combats, though it would make the overall process a little more tricky, as you'd have to count barysal gun charges for both you and your opponent.

    The Difficulty role for shooting is also good. I suspect in the end it would just be a matter of considering every combat you came across, and I don't think it's a combat-heavy world, and seeing which rules best apply.

    Realistically, you'd just keep on shooting til you downed your opponent or ran out of ammo. My example, in retrospect, of the Road Warrior firing off one round, and then trying punch a (wounded) Thug armed with a knife seems very foolish! :-)

    Thanks very much for the valuable feedback!



  3. Some nice ideas, but having the difficulty of succesfully shooting your opponent be equal to his COMBAT score would surely make things far too easy? Also something could be very dangerous in melee, but still an easy target. A wooly mammoth would have a very high COMBAT, but would hardly be a difficult target to shoot.

  4. That's two good points right there, Kieran, and I like the [setting appropriate] wooly mammoth example! :-)

    I'm reluctant to split COMBAT into two further scores as I want to keep things simple. Swainson's COMBAT difficulty roll is looking like a better option.

    If I did this, I'd have to differentiate between weapons as to which provided melee bonuses (e.g. Shortsword (Melee COMBAT +1)), and which provided missile bonuses (e.g. Mantramuktas Cannon (Missile COMBAT+4)), which is leading me back perilously close to splitting the COMBAT ability.

    Hmmm...more thought required! :-)



  5. Why so complicated, and folding the skills?
    I think it would be far, far easier to use the skills from Hearth of Ice as a base. Give them 2 to each. Then add 3 to four of them, just like in Heart of Ice, to represent your favoured skills.
    Bingo, you have a Favoured-lands flavoured Heart of Ice. Probably keep the weapons bonuses, and shields become just another defensive tool, like armour. The only difference is, they add more, but you don't get this defence against surprise attacks from the back.
    This way, you also get to use your Agility as the basis target number for shooting. It's harder to hit an acrobat, but far from impossible.

  6. These are great ideas for an RPG, but I'm interested in Heart of Ice as a non-linear Fabled Lands-style wandering gamebook. Therefore, compressing the skills into six abilities is easier to write gamebook outcomes for, than if I had to deal with 12 skills and the outcomes of their tests.



  7. I've played gamebooks with more than 12 abilities, and I actually think some gamebooks systems can be used for rules-lite RPG games. Don't see a reason not to go the other direction and use what would work for an RPG in a gamebook. But of course, if it would be harder for you to write, use whatever you like! After all, it would be you doing the work.

  8. More abilities just means more choices and more outcomes, which is more writing. In a non-linear book seriessuch as the Fabled Lands, which already have a tendency to 'sprawl', it just becomes a lot of work. Hence the lean towards simplicity.