This post is intended both to help newcomers to All for One: Regime Diabolique get into the game more smoothly by discussing elements of the combat systems which can raise questions, and offer some ideas for transitioning from other game systems to Ubiquity. This post will look at physical and social combat. Subsequent posts will look at the use of Style Points, and will delve into the role of secret societies and underground groups the game’s darkly supernatural alternate history.
When I started using Ubiquity regularly in its home setting, Hollow Earth Expedition, what attracted me was its speed. I could not believe how quickly large and interesting combats could be resolved. Even the first large combat I ran, with two PCs and 14 NPCs, was done in less than 30 minutes – and that over MSN Messenger with some stops to recheck some attack options.
Later, that same speed – particularly by the time we had worked our way to All for One, began to throw me a bit. I started to wonder if I was missing steps, and things like that. Part of that was the public and noisy location in which we were playing, but part of it was definitely a lifetime of ingrained habit. I got over it by making an order of play and reciting it to myself with each round. Now, games I used to love seem dreadfully slow. Ubiquity gives you the information you need to make a ruling, then gets out of your way.
One Roll for Resolution
The first thing to truly grasp intellectually and deep down in your gristle, is that the game only requires one opposed roll to define a round of combat between a PC and one or more opponents. That cuts a lot of time away from the mechanics of combat. In Ubiquity itself, one Attacker and Defender make opposed rolls and the amount the Attacker rolls over the Defender determines the damage done. That really is all there is to the heart of things. One initiative roll is made at the start of combat, and other than the application of modifiers, there is not much else to know. The attack pool is the character’s potential for inflicting damage. The defense pool is the character’s capacity for resisting damage. The sources of attack and defense are purely narrative in nature and will give the GM and players a way to frame the results of the roll in a way that is internally consistent and enjoyable. As with other aspects of the game, we are to focus on what the character does to achieve the effect, not on what the player does to resolve the effect. The opposed roll is over in an eye-blink. Speed in decision-making, and colorful descriptions are the key. The fun part is describing how the blade of the enemy was smoothly parried and compelled to pin his shoe to the floor~
Successes rolled by the Attacker that beat those rolled by the Defender are applied as Damage to the Defender’s Health track on a 1 for 1 basis. When Wounds take the Health score below 0, a Will check must be made to remain conscious and if consciousness is retained, a negative modifier for each Wound below 0 is applied to all actions. (p108)
When reduced to 0 Health (or lower, if conscious) the character can no longer perform an Attack Action + Defensive Actions + a Movement Action. They are limited to one, or to pushing themselves at a cost of further injury. It is very important to remember this both for realism, and for genre considerations. It is okay for characters to be defeated and fall unconscious, or be defeated and need to surrender. These games harken back to a better time.
There are a variety of effects when damage is inflicted which work well with abstract or miniatures based combat. To ensure the fun and consistent use of these effects it is advised that the GM keep a list of the characters’ traits in a handy place as this is the hardest part of combat.
When damaged, characters can be Stunned (beating the derived trait: Stun), Knocked back (beating Strength), Knocked Down (Beating 2xStrength), or Knocked Out (beating 2xStun). Writing these attribute values down with the effects in an easy to access place and having your players do so also is the fastest way to track and remember them.
Taking the Average
Ubiquity’s method of further speeding up the resolution of actions is to Take the Average. Simply explained, half of a character’s die pool is the number of successes the player can expect on that roll. If your Fencing rating is 6 then the average number of successes you can expect is 3. Taking the Average is not recommended for players in combat as it can drain the drama from the scene. It certainly does for me. Without the element of chance, the result of any conflict can simply be determined with basic math. In the pursuit of one’s job that works well. In a life and death struggle? Dull. That said, there are places where it is good to Take the Average both for speed and for mood.
Taking the Average on the GM’s side of the screen can help divorce the GM from attachment to NPC performance, and help them present more consistent threats without needing to fiddle with outcomes. It allows the GM to eyeball the needed difficulty of a challenge quickly, and let it play out with little to no paperwork or stat tracking. At the early stages of the encounter the GM can Take the Average for all enemy attacks and defenses, then as things heat up, can opt to roll to add extra zest.
Taking the Average on the player side of the screen is good to help reinforce who and what the character is. Professional skills, and other core competencies all feel that much more effective when you realize that you can Take the Average.
Granted, the player has to track the number of successes that Taking the Average will allow. Sometimes, to really get an accomplished showing, you have to invest yourself in the action. We will come back to this with Style Points, but for now Taking the Average is one of the ways in which Ubiquity allows players of All for One to model the emotional and physical commitment of the character. Does he deal with a challenge contemptuously as it is beneath him? Take the Average. Is he pushing himself? Roll it. Is he desperate to succeed? Spend Style Points to reveal the character’s real capabilities.
When the Defender is being challenged by multiple opponents, their pool is reduced by 2 for each attacker beyond the first, and each engagement is rolled in sequence. This is fast, as it is still 1 roll per combatant that determines hit and damage both, but All for One can get even faster. Ubiquity at its heart is a Pulp Adventure system where two-fisted heroes face waves of thugs.
Optional rules, found in Richelieu’s Guide to Serious Situations, exist for truly emulating the sorts of engagements we have come to expect from the swashbuckling genre. Often, heroes face two or three opponents not in succession or in a swarming mass, but as a coordinated attack. With these rules in hand, the AfO GM can instead run combats using a variation of the teamwork rules and pit the opponents versus the PC using one pool. This use of Ubiquity and the addition of Group Extended actions to the approaches of the games allows for extremely fast and engaging resolution of tense scenes for all characters, and prevents the scene from becoming a slog through attackers in sequence. When done in the spirit of the game, the actions of the opponents will be described in detail, as the die pool is built, giving the player lots of room to get creative with their response.
More than a few people are confused by Chance Dice. On the surface they are simple and present a useful option for tense situations. In practice not many people seem to use them. In a nutshell, uses of chance dice are really for low pools with low difficulties. While they might contribute something to a large pool from time to time, really what they allow is a chance for a character beset by lack of training or heavy modifiers to succeed in true pulp style. It is important to remember that every pair of Chance Dice raises the Difficulty by 1. An Easy task (1 success required) becomes an Average task (2 successes required) when two Chance Dice are added to the pool.
If the Difficulty is already high, the use of Chance Dice is unlikely to be helpful. In that case, rethinking and coming at a problem by a different method is probably of greater use to the characters.
All for One offers many suggestions for positive and negative modifiers to rolls, but these suggestions are by no means exhaustive. The GM must make decisions and listen to what the players are trying to do. Often it can seem like there are more sources for positive than negative modifiers and in some situations that will be true – especially with clever players. As long as each modifier is selected from an in-game action and description and not merely selected from a chart or a list of previous rulings, go with it. It is a game about heroes after all.
However, there are negative modifiers. Characters can get the crap kicked out of them, and in fact the source material is full of the heroes’ screw-ups, near-fatal woundings, and cruel defeats at the hands of their enemies. To achieve this does not mean becoming the Ogre under the Modifier Bridge meeting every plus with a minus. To achieve a fast, engaging balance of positive and negative influences on rolls simply means listening and developing a shared sense of what is happening in the scene as a group. The players will naturally seek out modifiers in their favor, but many of these will be applied to the villains as well – cancelling them out for ease of rolling. The ones that are not found to favor both fighters are kept and described with relish. While the players are seeking advantage for their characters, you can seek advantage for the villains.
While all of this is going on, it is important to remember that there is a cap of 10 bonus dice from any source, not including the base modifiers provided by equipment that can be added to any roll. Modifiers might arise from the environment, the presence of human, animal, or magical aid, and the aforementioned help of equipment. All modifiers not stemming from equipment are pooled together and those in excess of + or – 10 dice are ignored. To this pool of 10 or less dice, the equipment modifier (such as the +2 from your rapier) will be added. Without the presence of magic designed to supernaturally enhance the character, this limit should not be encountered that often. That said, knowing that the cap is there can help keep the quest for modifiers in check.
Heroes and the not-so-heroic
It is important to establish up front that although there is a distinct difference in character ability compared to “normal folks” that this does not mean that the game is built around that idea. Coming as the rules do from a Pulp Action core, and having been tweaked to reflect the swashbuckling genre, it is no surprise that there are rules to handle mooks. As a part of pulp and swashbuckling games this type of rule is essential for speed and genre emulation. The hero must be able to face down oceans of lesser warriors before making their way to the more serious threats. Lesser people than they would be discouraged, turned aside, forced to retreat, or beaten. They soldier on.
However, it is important to note that mooks don’t die when downed. The rules can reflect whatever the GM needs to rule to make the scene flow and make sense, but what they do not do is turn heroes into supermen, bounding blade and bullet off their chests. As the heroes and the villains test each other, the mooks lack the intestinal fortitude to carry on. They allow themselves to accept being beaten. From time to time that might mean their death, but generally it represents incapacitation from pain, entanglements, embarrassment, fear, or whathaveyou. As the GM describe their surrender, their pain, their reconsidering of their options, their shock, and so on. If the hero wants to kill downed mooks, make them have to fight through the whole natural combat sequence. Alternately, you could have them pay for it in actions, and if appropriate in reputation as well. You might want to dock them future Style Points, or charge them current Style if their decision to kill defeated mooks goes against the grain of pulp in your campaign. The rules are there to make the heroic, heroic and to bring about the rushing speed of the genre. They are not there to cater to adolescent domination fantasies.
Total Attack/Multiple Attacks/Total Defense
Many have had trouble with this section of the rules, perhaps because of a paragraph which entered print as one, but was intended to be two.
Total Attack allows the character to sacrifice defense for greater offensive capability. It grants a +2 to the Attack Pool while reducing the Defense Pool to the Passive Defense Rating. That’s it. This is the Standard Total Attack.
Between the description of Total Attack and Total Defense are the rules for making multiple attacks in one turn. These are related to the Total Attack as they also cause the Defense Pool to drop to only the Passive Defense, but are not “Standard” Total Attacks. In All for One there are two types of Total Attack which allow multiple attack actions: Florentine, and Flurry. The former is for the use of two weapons on one or two targets. The second is for a single weapon on a single target.
The opposite, Total Defense, is usually understood without confusion: If you make no attack so as to bolster your defense, you gain +4 to your Defense Pool.
There are a plethora of Talents which affect combat. It will take time to remember them all, particularly those which can be increased to higher levels by spending Style Points. Do whatever you need to do to learn the Talents present in your campaign and run them consistently. If any are confusing, seek advice on the Exile Games or Triple Ace Games forums. In play, I have a list of active Talents in the group and refer to it at the start of combat. My players also check each other to make sure that nothing is forgotten. With this sort of teamwork, we quickly started remembering what each Talent did, and who had it.
One important tip I have is to remember that Ubiquity is about defining what the character can do, rather than limiting what they can do. There are tough choices to be made when building a character, but the lists of abilities do not actively try to force players to choose specific combinations to ‘be safe.’
In particular Talents such as those that cause a replacement of one Attribute for another can be misunderstood, such as Calculated Attack, Bold Defense, or Focused Attack. When in use, they apply as the Base Attribute for all rolls related to a particular skill. When purchased, the player selects one combat skill for the Talent to affect. It causes the Base Attribute to be replaced by Intelligence (Calculated XX), Charisma (Bold XX), Dexterity (Finesse XX) or Willpower (Focused XX) for all uses of that combat skill.
If a character possesses a Talent like Bold Attack, remember that the intent of the Talent is to allow the character to use their Charisma score instead of the Base Attribute normally required for the physical attack they designated when they took it. In most cases that will be Strength. If in the use of that combat skill you find a reference to a Base Attribute, remember to use Charisma instead.
Rulings vs Rules
As with the magic system, the mood of All for One, and the Ubiquity Roleplaying System, lend themselves to fast resolution. For those coming to the game for swashbuckling, heroic action it will be the combat section which first reveals this. Fast is often conflated with easy, but from time to time things about Ubiquity can confuse people used to other play styles or heavier systems once they really get into the game. As has been mentioned in previous installments of this series, the system itself really seems to be crafted to help the GM adjudicate what happens, not define what can and cannot happen. A Ubiquity GM with a background in rules-heavy games will need to come to terms with making decisions based on what the dice and the story tell them is going on, and making those decisions represent a vibrant world around the players. For some, this will mean taking back responsibility for how the game runs from systems where it has been enshrined in the rules. In combat, these decisions tend to mean more, and have farther reaching effects than any other aspect of play. As a result, it is good to be confident that what seems simple on the surface is actually supported by logic and a strong sense of fair play.
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