Although most of the rules that players need to know have already been covered, the following section is essential for storytellers, and may do a lot of good to experienced players. They deal with very specific situations and applying them will always depend of the storyteller approval. Think of them as suggestions and feel free to change or ignore them is it suits your story.
It usually takes some time for players to get what the traits in their characters' sheets mean. Because the Shinjudo mechanics are based on small numbers, it is very easy to underestimate one's own potential. So, keep in mind that every single point equals to a fifty chance to succeed in a difficult task. Each of them is therefore precious.
But understanding how the mechanics work sometimes lead players into another pitfall: they might try to turn a role-playing game into a wargame. As one becomes good at manipulating numbers, selecting abilities and so forth, he is tempted to focus on beating a continuing string of ever stronger creatures, which can be fun but is hardly the point of the RPG experience. (Well, the great thing about RPGs is that you can play it however you like it, but the mechanics presented with Shinjudo aren't really designed for hack-and-slash.)
At some point, players are expected to realize that their skill points and abilities are not mainly meant to be used as variables in equations. They represent real characteristics of a real (well, virtual) person. The point of having rank one athletics is not to succeed on checks. It tells us your character is fitter or more muscular than the rest, with more nimble or decisive movements than he would otherwise. When his horse runs, he doesn't fear falling, he can swim, climb ropes and trees, and so on.
But why should these be relevant? Well, because it gives us a glimpse of your character's personality and story. For example, he might have been a naturally athletic kid, who would climb to the roofs in town and trees in the woods, which soon taught him the necessity of stealth or survival skills. Maybe his ability led him to a martial arts school, from which he is now a drop-out. Or maybe it is only one of a set of skills he picked up as a mercenary in his youth, which have rusted now that he prioritizes the sake bottles over adventures.
Whatever collection of skills your character has can tell a multitude of different stories, from which you should select one. And that is actually also true for the situations you face in game. For example, it is conceivable that a beautiful geisha with rank three presence might disrupt a brawl simply by letting down her hair. It is also acceptable that her friend, aware of the ruse, takes advantage of the episode to deliver an unexpected blow to his opponent.
The interesting thing about this situation is that it becomes nonsensical when you try to represent it in term of game mechanics alone. Imagine if a player said that, in her turn, her character would 'use her presence 3 to give her party member a +1 attack modifier'. As you can see, dealing in numbers is a much, much poorer way of gaming.
Transforming numbers into a real character is hard work (but one that is hopefully satisfying), and you shouldn't expect to abandon that work and go back to numbers once the game begins. It is in the narrative that you will find solutions to your character's problems, and only through the narrative that his skills and abilities make any kind of sense. So remember: any number on your sheet is useless, unless you can weave it in the tapestry of the narrative.
Sometimes events must be randomly decided, having nothing to do with the character's skills or previous actions. For example, your character might be pressing forward under a rain of arrows, or maybe he is randomly picking a card from a trickster's deck. Or maybe he must find a girl that resembles the daimio's daughter among the population of a small hamlet.
The first thing to consider is whether the event is really a matter of luck, or if it can be spinned as a matter of skill. In the above examples, if the character can see an dodge the arrows, he could make a reflex check, or he could make a perception or performance check in order to see tells or count cards in the game. If we assume there really is a girl in the hamlet who looks like the daimio's daughter, then it's just a matter of finding her with a streetwise or perception check.
But sometimes, luck is the only ingredient in the mix. There might not be such a girl, there might be no tells and maybe, there are just too many arrows. In these cases, we'll roll a luck check, which tells us not only if a random event happened, but how intense, serious or important it was.
The storyteller must evaluate how probable the event is, grading it from 1 to 10. He then rolls the dice and takes back only those that landed successes, and finally re-roll those. The successes after the second roll tells us if the event happened and how intensively it did.
Each point represents a 25% chance of the event happening on average, and highly grading the check means the event will not only probably happen, but could happen with extraordinary effects. Getting one success means you found a girl that could pass for the princess. Two success means she is identical to the princess and could fool her close friends. With high enough successes, you may even have lucked out and found the princess herself in hiding.
Like always, luck checks must be carefully interpreted in the narrative. Also, we really recommend against luck checks above 6 dice. If something is that probable, it doesn't really need a check, does it?
In most Shinjudo chronicles, martial arts are bound to have an important role, and incorporating some additional elements of it might greatly improve the player's experience. One such addition is the reach of a character's strikes, which is crucial in martial arts, especially when dealing with lethal weapons: miscalculating reach means you'll die. Period.
Simply put, there is an optimal distance your character must keep from an adversary, which depends on the weapon he wields. For simplicity, we usually assign numbers to these distances, so the reach of his fists is 0, a dagger or small sword reaches 1, a regular sword reaches 2, a long sword of short staff reaches 3, a spear reaches 4 and a particularly long polearm, such as a naginata, reaches 5.
These numbers are flexible and must take into consideration aspects of the narrative. For example, a staff may be used in closer quarters as long as the user forfeits the wide movements necessary for building momentum, and a spear in close quarters would have to forfeit its piercing head. Blades, on the other hand, are typically much easier to fight with in closer range (as the blade remains dangerous), and can usually be used as having 1 or 2 less points of reach, if needed.
The hard rule is as follows: when characters wield weapons with different reach, the one with the longer weapon is in an advantageous position. His opponent must move inside the range threatened by the character in order to attack him and, in doing so, he gets a -1 modifier to both attack and defense. And there is more: if he has the initiative, he will have to redo the initiative check every round (until he finally fails and looses the initiative advantage).
Of course, if he does actually succeed in approaching his opponent (he successfully lands a hit, for example), then the tables are turned. If the characters are closer than the reach of the longer weapon, then whoever wields it gets the -1 attack and defense modifier, and must redo initiative checks.
There is a workaround, though. A character may try to adjust his position without attacking to opponent himself (usually by attacking his weapon instead or moving acrobatically). In terms of mechanics, he forfeits attacking and instead rolls an opposed weapon skill check. If he succeeds, he can drag the fight to the reach suitable to him. Using this maneuver does not incur in negative modifiers for that turn.
Please note that combat reach has a significant impact on the game world, as it creates an unstable hierarchy of weapons (and maybe even of martial disciplines). A small sword is a much more dangerous weapon than a knife, and a katana outperforms both. A spear might have a greater reach and power than a sword, but it is more ineffective in close quarters, as it loses both momentum and the head. In fact, swords (which can vary from sizes 1 to 4) are usually seen as so superior to other weapons that their use is restricted to the warring class, to the nobility and to soldiers with special dispensations.
Players are experts in the art of surprising storytellers. They are bound to find inventive (and sometimes frustrating) solutions to the obstacles engineered for them. When their originality is applied within combat, though, this can become a headache for storytellers.
That's why we prepared rules for a few of the most common tricks players pull during combat. They are all suggestions, and storytellers are encouraged to adapt them to suit their groups.
Advantageous attack. If the target of an attack is in a disadvantageous position, the attacker gets a +1 attack modifier. That happens if the attack comes from the sides or from the back, for example.
Advantageous defense. Many circumstances give you a defense modifier (usually a +1 bonus). Being on a higher ground in a melee fight, for example, qualifies you for the bonus, as does squatting during ranged combat.
Charge attack. Charging consists on moving forward at maximum speed and dealing a full attack (+1 bonus to attack and -1 penalty to defense). Usually a charging character allows his target to act before he does, even if he won the initiative check. Charging also allows the player to build momentum with their weapons, by swinging an axe or mace, for example.
Damage types. Damage should be described as often as possible, instead of just taken as ticks on the character sheet. Having “the hand slashed by a flying arrow” is much cooler than “taking 2 points of damage”, and can lead to later consequences in the story (such as fighting left handed for a week). In order to interpret damage, it is useful to distinguish between some basic types of damage.
Slashing damage, as those caused by swords and axes, will do major damage to the flesh, and maybe even amputations. Armors are particularly good at resisting them, though, especially armors made of metal.
Piercing damage, as those caused by arrows and spears, will do severe damage if they hit major organs - and very likely cause death -, but will do significantly less damage if they hit the flesh. The precision of piercing damage makes it ideal for precision strikes, and its penetrating power makes it very effective against armor.
Bludgeoning damage, as those caused by fists and hammers, will usually be less severe, unless they break bones or bursts organs. In the first case, the character will be in severe pain and probably incapacitated, and in the second, he will probably die. Bludgeoning damage can also bend and break weapons, and are very effective when targeting the opponent's head, most likely leaving him stunned and helpless.
Nonlethal damage is any damage, either slashed, pierced of bludgeoned, that is small enough not to leave lasting effects. It might be a scratch, a prickle or a smack. Bludgeoning weapons, especially non-armed strikes, will cause nonlethal damage more often as they tend not to penetrate the skin. The storyteller may ask players to mark nonlethal damage differently in the character sheet, as to allow them to heal faster.
Fatigue. Many actions performed by a character may fatigue him, especially when activating abilities. Fatigue is usually represented by spending ki. The storyteller, at his discretion, may (and should) demand the spending of ki in other situations of extraneous activity.
A character that walks or runs too much carrying heavy equipment, for example, could be penalized with fatigue, as one who faces extreme hot or cold weathers. Battles that last long enough should also force fatigue onto characters, especially those heavily armed and with small athletics rank.
Full attack. A character can usually increase his attack by compromising his defense – either in a burst of fury of by disciplined choice. He gets a +1 modifier to attack and -1 modifier to defense.
Full defense. A character may raise his defense simply by focusing on it, while forfeiting attacks or any other complex action. He gets a +1 modifier to defense, as he becomes particularly evasive. Characters in full defense will move backwards and sideways in combat, which may be seen as dishonorable, particularly against lesser opponents.
Mounted combat. Being on horseback gives some advantages that are hard to translate to numbers. The horse can carry heavy equipment without fatigue, he can trample enemies and remove a wounded horseman from battle. A horsemen is considered as having advantageous defense (+1 bonus) against melee attacks from aggressors on foot. On the downside, it is quite hard to get such a bonus against ranged attacks. Mounted combat is an ancient and revered art in Shinjudo, and one can buy mounted combat abilities to use it to devastating effect.
Multiple enemies. When battling multiple enemies, a character will almost always be flanked, which gives an advantageous attack bonus to all opponents, except those directly in front of him (+1 attack bonus). Unfortunately, attacking an opponent means opening one's own defense, so the character will have to choose, every turn, to either attack or defend at -1 penalty. It is extremely important to take into consideration the exact position of the flankers when deciding which modifiers apply.
Precision attacks. Sometimes it is not enough to hit a target, but you must also hit at an specific spot. Maybe you need to put your arrow through his eyes, the one point without armor, maybe you need to impale a supernatural creature by the heart, or maybe you need to hit the crow sitting on the princess' shoulder.
The first thing about precision attacks is that they'll always offer an advantageous defense (+1 modifier) to the target, since the attacker forgoes hitting him while waiting for the right opportunity. Also, the storyteller may decide that, at some turns, the attack is simply impossible (the iron clad samurai has turned his back to you, for example).
When the opportunity to attack presents itself, the storyteller will evaluate the difficulty of the task. Hitting a leg, for example, will need two successes instead of one, the head should need three successes and the eye, four successes.
In case you do not succeed, but got at least one success, nothing bad will occur (you won't hit the princess head instead of the crow, for example), and the storyteller may decide it even counted as a normal hit, especially in a melee fight. Getting no successes in a specific attack may, however, have dire consequences.
If you do succeed, the effects of the attack are generally better dealt with by interpreting the situation, not the numbers. An arrow through the eye is almost certainly an instant kill. The supernatural creature may be paralyzed after being staked, even if the damage done to him was insignificant. Hitting the arm of an opponent with a katana may sever it, leaving an eternal handicap.
Ranged attacks. Many weapons allow the character to attack from a distance, giving him an enormous advantage against a target who cannot counterattack. But keep in mind that ranged attacks may be much more difficult to hit. If your target is moving, for example, he automatically gains an advantageous defense modifier (+1 to his defense).
You also get an attack penalty according to the distance to the target. Each ranged weapon has a range parameter that stipulates how far it would be considered trivial to hit the target. Each increment on that distance should result in added penalty.
In practical terms, before you fire, the storyteller will assign you a penalty that takes into account the weapon used, the distance, wind, weather, obfuscation and any other relevant situations. This penalty usually goes from 0 to -4, beyond which effectively hitting anything would be very unlikely.
Another aspect to consider about ranged attacks is that hitting an adversary engaged in battle is considered a precision attack that requires two successes – and that might hit the wrong guy if you get no successes at all. Sometimes that is not the case, though – the target may comparatively very big, or maybe you get a very clean shot –, but likewise the difficulty may sometimes be even higher.
Finally, ranged attacks are very commonly employed without specific targets. Against an approaching army, for example, archers might let their arrows fly freely, hitting whoever it finds. If the character can see the incoming arrow, and has time and room, he may make a reflex check to dodge it. But he can't do it if he can't see the arrow, if there are too many arrows and nowhere to run, or against firearms (well, most everybody can't).
On the other hand, the archers' skill is irrelevant in these situations – it is just a matter of luck. In such cases, we use the luck check as an attack roll. If just a handful of arrows is being shot, each player is attacked with one die. If there are enough arrows to turn day into night, then use six dice in the luck check. We suggest testing for only one arrow per tun, but that is entirely at the storyteller's discretion.
Re-rolling initiative. Some actions may force characters to re-roll initiative checks. In fact, anything that temporarily breaks the fight apart causes this effect, like falling debris or a small landslide. That means a character can force a new initiative check simply by falling back – he forfeits his attack and must in turn, not be hit. He can do it in full defense.
Sneak attacks. A sneak attack implies the character getting close enough to the target without being detected, then launching a surprise (and usually precision) attack. As such, sneak attacks don't need specific rules – they rely on stealth checks (opposed by the target's perception) to approach and on weapon checks to attack. Also, keep in mind that there are stealth abilities that greatly enhance this sort of attack.
Surprise attack. When the character doesn't expect to be attacked, he simply doesn't get a defensive reflex check, and so the attacker's successes translate directly into damage. On the other hand, if the target does see the attack coming, but can't react well enough, he gets a defense penalty instead.
Two weapon wielding. Sometimes a character will try to perform multiple attacks on a single turn, such as pushing an opponent after striking him, or when wielding two weapons. To handle this kind of battles, keep in mind the following:
- a character will incur a -1 modifier on all the attacks, for each extra attack he makes (so if he strikes thrice in a round, he does it at a -2 penalty on all three attacks);
- if the extra attacks are made with the same weapon as the first one, they carry an additional -1 penalty (so if the character wanted to hit two times with the sword and then kick the opponent, the first sword attack has a -2 penalty, the second attack has a -3 penalty, and the kick has a -2 penalty).
- the attacks may have different targets.
When a character wields a secondary weapon, he may forgo attacking with it, instead using it for defense. In such cases, it acts as a buckler, providing a +1 modifier against melee attacks. It is not acceptable to use one's own arms and legs as a secondary weapon for this purpose, obviously.
Also, keep in mind most people's left arm are weaker and clumsier than the right arm (or vice-versa), meaning they must wield a lighter weapon in their off-hand to use it effectively. Also, many weapons, like the katana, have weaker statistics when wielded with one hand only.
Stacking Merits and Abilities
As a rule, in Shinjudo the effects of every merit an ability stack. So the strong merit will add +2 to your melee damage, as will the powerful attacks ability – raising the damage modifier to a devastating total of +4. On the other hand, you cannot acquire twice the same merits or abilities – so you can't get your damage to +6 by acquiring powerful attacks again.
Well, not usually anyway. The storyteller might allow you to do so if two criteria are met: it must make the game more enjoyable (crashing the system by amassing huge bonuses doesn't) and it should be reasonable within the scenario.
But what is reasonable? Usually, if the stacking merits come from different sources, it is a reasonable request. For example, if the character belongs to the Bear clan and was raised under the Great Tree, he will likely get the strong merit due to this heritage. He could then buy normally a second strong merit, meaning he worked hard to become particularly strong (as anyone can). He could also suffer a curse to enhance his physical prowess, and even wear a magical sash that enhances his strength even more. This would allow him to hold the strong merit a whooping four times.
It is harder to justify redundant abilities this way, though. It is very unlikely that a character will relearn something in a different way, and be able to use both distinct techniques simultaneously. It could happen if he trained in two very distinct dojo with different but compatible arts, for example. But this would be very, very unlikely.
When redundant merits are allowed, it is usually required that the second (and third, and fourth...) ones are reduced in power. This is because merits just can't expand to infinity. If a character has the noble merit, for example, he could acquire it redundantly to become of royal, instead of noble, blood. It will have some perks, but to most people a noble is a noble is a noble. A peasant wouldn't be able to pay him even more respect (or taxes) if he was already giving all he's got.
The above rule is also true of abilities – in fact, especially so. Similar techniques will never be fully complementary, so learning a new punching technique might give you some new insight, but the basic principles remain the same. A second powerful attacks ability might give you just +1 damage bonus, for example, and a third might give just a +1 bonus when wielding swords.
How good is my skill rank?
Sometimes it is hard to know exactly what your character can do. Let us try to exemplify a bit the different skill ranks.
With zero rank in a skill, a character is just average. If he has zero craft, for example, he can make simple knots, crude artifacts in wood and leather, or help a more experienced artisan, like anyone else could.
Rank one means he has developed the trait to at least an amateur level. Maybe he is the son of a carpenter or studied under a blacksmith in his youth, or maybe be spends a lot of time in the wilds and has to set traps and make wooden shelters.
Rank two is that of a professional. He most likely had formal training or years of experience, and can make a living out of that skill - he could be a carpenter or blacksmith by trade, for example, but would still be an average professional.
Rank three means a character is an accomplished professional that went through rigorous training and has years of experience. He is the best carpenter in the nearby villages and would probably attract apprentices, being able to charge more for the additional quality.
Ranks four to six belong to masters. Characters with this level of skill would be famous and attract many followers, and their goods would be coveted by courtesans. As the character approaches the sixth rank, he is close to superhuman feats.
Only immortals could reach skills as those of the seventh rank or higher – at least, that's what the common folk belief. In fact, such skills are rare even among gods and spirits, and any human that attain them would also reach everlasting fame. Items crafted by this level of skill, for example, would be magical in nature, capable of wonders that defy imagination.
Understanding a character's level might be more difficult if it relies on multiple skills. For example, a warrior would need the reflex skill, as well as a couple of martial skills and discipline, while a barbarian wouldn't need discipline, but survival and athletics instead.
You can still evaluate a player's general capability by the highest relevant skill, but keeping in mind that other skills shouldn't lag too much behind. If the reflex skill of a soldier is more than a couple of ranks behind his weapon skill, he will be seen as severely lacking in technique – or even as reckless or suicidal – even though he is a talented swordsman.
If most of your combat skills have zero rank, you fight as baker, shoemaker or the peasant next door. If most of them are rank one, you're as good as a cadet or militiaman. If most of them are around two, you fight as a soldier or bodyguard. A samurai warrior is expected to have at least a couple of skills at rank three, and a master of martial arts at rank four. The founders of martial disciplines and military orders usually have at least one skill at rank five and a couple more at rank four, and the legendary 'immortal' warriors are expected to reach rank 6 in one or more skills. Warriors with skill ranks beyond that would easily wipe out entire armies, and are the stuff of legend.