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Lost In The Wood

Leonard & Ann Marie Wilson

Further Thoughts On the Resolution Bonus Chart

It was brought to my attention after my last post that the defensive fight maneuver was changed in fifth-edition Pendragon. It now longer allows a normal damage roll on a critical success, so the maneuver has been reduced to use as a delaying tactic. I only checked to make sure that the maneuver still existed in fifth-edition, and that it still granted a +10 bonus. I didn't stop to comb the maneuver for other changes in wording.

The +5 bonus for a knight fighting "unburdened" remains fully in effect in fifth edition.

I never did put the "fight defensively" tactic to much use in actual play, though. I just picked it out here as a quick way to underscore how above-20 modifiers can stack up, and what happens when they do.

The real point I wanted to make is that criticals are game changers. One critical hit from a typical 5d6 attack is generally going to deliver a major wound. One critical hit from a 6d6 attack (a reasonably common number of damage dice) will quite often strike an unwounded knight dead on the spot if he can't get his shield in its way. One critical hit from a 7d6 attack (e.g.: a typical saxon knight with an axe) will quite often strike an unwounded knight dead on the spot even if he _can_ get his shield in its way. A really big Saxon paragon of Wotanic virtue wielding a great axe is going to roll 10d6 on a normal hit, and he'll reduce any man he strikes with a critical hit into a bloody memory.

Critical hits are not terribly rare to begin with. No matter what skill-level opponent your PCs are facing, you can multiply the number of their opponents by the average number of rounds their opponents stand and fight. If the result is 20 or higher, it's reasonable to anticipate at least one critical landed against a player knight. So in just four rounds of combat with five player knights slugging it out with an equal number of axe-armed Saxon knights, you've got really good odds of a player knight falling dead from a single blow.

If those same saxon knights all had an axe skill of 21, the odds would go up from "really good" to "fairly certain". You might even be looking at a player knight falling dead from a single blow every other round or so. Against an elite unit of skill-23 Saxon knights, don't be at all surprised if you see one of those player knights fall dead from a single blow in a single round of combat.

There's only one true defense against all those criticals, and that's rolling criticals yourself -- preferably while holding a weapon that won't shatter when it parries someone else's critical. That makes rolling criticals as often as you can the key to long-term survival. And because this key to survival is no less the key to offensive power, as a player I found indulging in it to be addictive. I made a real nuisance of myself by piling on all the bonuses I could find toward achieving that end, until I hit on this house-rule to keep the essence of the mechanic intact while defanging its extreme application as impenetrable armor.

Your players may not react the same way I did. I'm a remarkably obsessive sort, in addition to being acutely aware of math and probabilities. But if you do find bonus-escalation is becoming a problem in your Pendragon campaign, I hope my experience will help you resolve that.

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