Guide to Combat

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After Earth features an entirely custom emote-based combat system that permits players to write out their attacks or defensive maneuvers as prose. Because the system is custom it may feel alien at first. As it only uses a handful of commands, however, it tends to be approachable to most.

General Principles

Combat is turn-based. The system is designed so that everybody gets to act once per round, ensuring that the quickest typists won't have an inherent advantage. With that said, rounds reset if they go five minutes without an emote, so it's best to not to leave people waiting too long.

The system is biased toward hitting. Even an attacker who is inferior has a good chance of hitting their target, they just won't hit very hard. Missing someone entirely is unusual; even good fighters get bloodied in a fight. The advantage of numbers is considerable; two inferior fighters are likely to beat a superior fighter if they gang up on him together.

Skills and stats matter. Skills technically matter more than stats, but as stats determine your movement points (MV), your attacking ability (HP impacts this), and your defending ability (the higher your strength and body the higher your attack value, and the higher your body and agility the higher your MV and defense value), they play an important role. As you take more damage you hit less hard, and as your become more exhausted you get hit harder.

Attacks are based on a margin of success. When a character attacks an enemy, their attack value is compared against the victim's defense value. The bigger the margin between them the more severe the hit. Hits range in severity from scratches to crippling blows. The more severe the hit, the more damage it does.

Weapon choice and defensive skill choice are critical to success in combat, as they modify the base attack and defense values. Every weapon is strong against one defensive skill, weak against another, and neutral against the remainder. In turn, every defensive skill is strong against some weapons, weak against others, and neutral versus the remainder. Versatility is therefore an important trait. Testing and mastering these combinations allows your character to be a maximally effective fighter.

Armor soaks a flat amount of damage based on its type. For example, wearing synthweave armor subtracts 10% of all damage taken. Armor has no downside in terms of defense, but will sap your MV while moving between rooms and can be damaged when hit with weapons. Armor can be repaired by engineers.

You need armor on your head, body, arms, hands, legs, and feet to be fully protected, as these are the six locations that can be targeted for attack. All hit locations have the same effects when targeted and have the same difficulty to hit; the only difference is that wounds to the legs can slow the victim's movement.

Every weapon type has its own range (which we'll delve into below) and cannot attack when more than one step too far away outside of its range. Attacking too close for the range of longer-ranged weapons is doable at stiff penalties, while attacking too far away with a close-range weapon simply isn't doable. Movement around the room (traceable with the "map" command) is thus pretty central to combat when fighters are using weapons with mismatched ranges.

Defenses

Defense Penalized Against Bonused Against
Acrobatics Blade, chain Axe, staff
Dodge Staff Knife, chain
Shield Knife, axe Bludgeon, firearm
Deflect Bludgeon, firearm Blade

Commands

Before Combat

  • Wield - Example: wield knife - This equips a weapon for your character's use in combat. Without a weapon equipped, you default to unarmed attacks.
  • Draw/draw dual - These allow you to draw a weapon your character has equipped. Weapons are typically kept sheathed, so draw readies them for use.
  • Combat - This command shows your character’s attack and defense values. We'll go over the combat display in-depth below.
  • Combat defense <skill> - Example: combat defense parry - This allows you switch between your defense skills. You should try to use a defense that's strong against your opponent's weapon.

During Combat

  • Attack/throw/fire/shoot <target> <hitloc> <emote> - Example: attack Phil head jabs her knife toward /Phil's temple. - This is how you actually attempt a lethal attack upon another person. Attack uses unarmed or melee weapons; throw works for throwing weapons; shoot works for firearms.
  • Safe <target> <hitloc> <emote> - The same as the above, but for non-lethal attacks. Typically used during spars or training sessions.
  • Dual/safedual are identical to attack and safe, but they attack with your offhand weapon.
  • Defend <emote> - Example: defend falls back to catch her breath. - This takes a turn to bolster your defense values. As you fight, your MV is used up and you take penalties to your defense for the hits you've taken. Taking a turn to defend resets these penalties, allowing you to raise your defense back up to its maximum level. Any turn you're defending is a turn you can't attack.
  • Flee <direction> <emote> - Example: flee south turns tail and runs! - To escape a fight, use flee. Note you can only flee toward an open exit, not through a closed door. The higher your agility, the higher the chance of successful flight. Fleeing is more difficult when you're fighting multiple enemies.
  • Disengage <emote> - Example: disengage steps back from the fight. This allows you to signal to your opponent that your character is stepping out of the fight – all combatants in the fight must disengage to actually end combat.
  • Charge <person> <new range> <emote> - Example: charge Anomaly close runs in close to /Anomaly! - This allows you to change your range to an opponent. Charge works for getting closer and adding distance. The ranges are close, medium-close, medium, medium-far, and extended. We'll talk more about range later.
  • Protect <person> <emote> - Example: protect niamh steps in between /Niamh and her opponent. - Protect allows you to step in and take blows aimed at someone else. The attack will be resolved as if it was aimed at you, instead of them.

The "Combat" Command

The combat command allows you to keep track of your character's status during a fight. Some information, such as your HP and MV, can be found in your prompt or score. The information in combat is for combat-specific information. When you type combat outside of a fight, for example, you will see something like this:

   SubHP : Perfect
   Attack : Peerless
   Defense: Mighty (parry)
   Weapon : Wicked mace
   Armor : None

SubHP is your subdual HP, or "safe" HP. This is the damage you take from safe attacks. It never gives you more than very mild wounds that heal without treatment and it doesn't touch your regular HP. When you get down to 0 subHP, you'll be knocked out of a spar and unable to continue.

Attack is your attack value with the weapon you currently have equipped, taking your HP and skill into account. This is what will be compared against your target's defense value to see how hard you hit them. It ranges from Pathetic to Peerless.

Defense is the value you have with the defense skill you currently have set, taking your MV and skill into account. This is what is compared against the attack value of someone attacking you to determine how hard you're hit. Like attack, it ranges from Pathetic to Peerless.

Weapon is the weapon you're using. The adjective after the weapon's type refers to its quality, and hence its damage. If you're unarmed, the damage depends only on skill.

Armor is what kind of armor you're wearing, synthweave, exoshell, or mesh in type, and synthweave, plasteel, or flexiron in material.

During combat, the combat display updates to include more fields:

   SubHP : Scratched
   Target : Garmven (unarmed, dodge, Range: 1)
   Acted : None
   Waiting: Garmven (medium-close), Tomoki
   Attack : Mighty
   Defense: Average (deflect)
   Weapon : Substandard knife (range: 1)
   Armor : None

Target indicates who are you fighting, what weapon they're using, what defense they're using, and their range from you.

Acted lists who has already acted this turn. In the above example, the turn has just changed and neither fighter has attacked yet.

Waiting indicates who hasn't acted this turn. In this case, it's both fighters.

Weapon adds a range notation which indicates about how close or far you are from your weapon's ideal range. If it's at 0 you're at ideal range. 1 is a step too far for ideal range, -1 a step too close, so on.

Range

Range limits which weapons can be used in which fights. In most ROM derivative games a "room" is a single unit of space, while distances inside a room are abstracted. All rooms in AE contain meaningful space within them; the locations of players within a room can be seen by typing map. The range command can be used to translate this visible distance into ranges. If Niamh wanted to see how far away she is from Montrovant, she would do the following:

   range montrovant
   They are approximately 3 paces away.
   She is medium-far (3) for combat purposes.

The possible ranges and the weapons that occupy them are:

  • Close (0 paces away) – PCs occupy the same square on map; knife, improvised, unarmed
  • Medium-close (1 pace away) – axe and bludgeon
  • Medium (2 paces away) – blade
  • Medium-far (3 paces away) – staff
  • Far (4 paces away) – chain
  • Extended (5 or more paces away) – firearms

Melee weapons can be used one range further than their normal range without penalty. The only exception to this rule is chain, which cannot be used at extended range. All weapons can be used closer than their normal range, but will be penalized more heavily the further they are from their desired range.

As mentioned earlier, charge can be used to get to a new range both in and out of combat using the charge <person> <new range> <emote> syntax. The success of a charge depends on the amount of distance charged and the charger's defensive skill. Charges will always move the charger at least one range in the desired direction, even if they don't succeed at moving the full distance; when this happens, the charge will state that it was interrupted.

Ranged Combat

Ranged combat can be used to more easily function at a wide array of different ranges. AE has two basic two forms of ranged combat: firearms and throwing.

Firearm

The Firearm skill uses guns which must be loaded with ammunition to function. Every shot uses the shoot command, which works identically to attack in terms of syntax (shoot <person> <hitloc> <emote>). Firearms work best at the extended, far, medium-far, and medium ranges. At medium-close it takes a penalty, and at close it cannot function.

Using shoot deducts a bullet from the firearm. Reloading an empty gun takes a full combat turn. Casings can be retrieved and repurposed by those with the skill to do so.

Firearm users take a penalty to all defensive actions.

Throwing

Throwing can be used with small axes or knives, or with any other item your character is able to throw. The ability to throw an item is based off your character's strength, his distance to his target, and the size/weight of the object. The damage done with an improvised throwing weapon depends on the character's improvised skill and the item's size/weight.

To throw an item, wield it and use throw <target> <hitloc> <emote>' or throwdual <target> <hitloc> <emote> to use a thrown weapon from your off hand. In most cases, a thrown weapon will end up on the ground next to the target after an attack, but it is possible for highly skilled targets to catch it (thus keeping it in their inventory and avoiding taking damage).

If a character is wearing a bandolier-type object loaded with other throwing ammunition, it will be automatically re-drawn into the hand that threw the initial attack.

Practicing throwing can be done with a target and the toss command: toss <target's keyword> <emote> will launch a thrown weapon drawn in the main hand and display a numerical score to allow for competitive practice shooting. Target throwing will not break thrown weapons.

Like unarmed, throwing is neutral against all defenses.

Fighting NPCs

There are simplifications when fighting NPCs:

  • In player vs. NPC fights range is irrelevant. NPCs can attack and be attacked at any range.
  • NPC defenses are always neutral against player attacks.

Etiquette

Every game has rules and cultural standards around how to be a good player, and AE is no different. Now that you know how to fight in a coded sense, let's talk about how to fight in a roleplay sense.

There is a strong social norm on AE to observe turn order in combat. To some extent the combat system enforces this, as you can only attack once per round. It is possible, however, to attack last in and a round and first in the next round. This allows for an advantage, as taking prior damage will worsen your opponent's ability to hit you back. While this doesn't violate policy, it's not considered appropriate by most players and is behavior best avoided.

In tense scenes, give everyone a chance to attack. Adrenaline often takes over when we're in tense, player-versus-player scenarios. It's tempting to try and avoid combat by running away before your enemies have a chance to attack you, or otherwise skipping proper turn order to initiate something coded. It's best to ensure that you always give everyone a fair chance to react to your actions, even when a character's life is on the line.

Avoid closed emotes in combat. This is a rule across the game as a whole, but it is particularly applicable to combat. Don't emote that you punched somebody else in the face so hard they cried; this robs your RP partner of their own chance to determine their PC's reaction, and also won't make a lot of sense if you miss them.

Be reactive. It enriches roleplay when people allow their characters to be human. Taking hard blows should hurt. Bleed, groan, whimper and whine – feel free to play up your character's reaction to taking damage. It adds to the drama of a good combat scene, and you'll probably find that you get a lot more character development out of roleplaying weakness as well as strength.

Don't rush too much; it's about the RP. It's easy to give in to the temptation of hammering out your combat pose as fast as possible, especially in a group combat scene. You get better RP, though, out of taking your time to craft an attack that really represents your character's style and state of mind in the situation. Five-minute turn timers do provide some limits on creativity, but sometimes it's worth taking at least four of those minutes for a finely-written pose.

Advanced Strategies

  • Study combat. Nothing is as useful as knowledge - knowing how the defenses and weapon choices interplay, knowing which weapons and defenses are common on grid, knowing which armor makes sense to use and when it doesn't are all useful things to pursue.
  • Use the combat command frequently both in and out of combat. Knowing your opponent's defense will help you plan your strategy, and some players will be canny enough to change defense mid-fight as they see you change your style too. Additionally, as your character takes damage and deals it, your attack and defense values will change. Know what your base, full-HP and full-MV values are; if your defense drops too low, it's worth using a round to defend and bring it back up.
  • Keep your MV high outside of combat. You never know when you'll get in a fight. Having even 50 MV missing is enough to put you at a serious disadvantage. If you intend to wear armor, either carry a lot of food or (ideally) buy a hoverbike or vehicle to maintain high MV.
  • Know when to defend and when to attack. Knowing when your defense is "too low" is highly variable across situations. If your opponent is missing you or swinging wildly, there's nothing to be gained from upping your defense value; they're already barely hitting you at all. If the fight is very close, you may want to play more aggressive, since almost every attack does end in some form of hit. That said, if the fight looks to be lengthy and your opponent is hitting you solidly, you'll probably want to incorporate defensive actions into your plan.
  • Try to be the person who starts the fight. This is particularly true in player vs. player fighting, where range matters. Many fights are reasonably short at 3-6 rounds – the person who attacks first has an advantage both in terms of doing damage first, and in terms of getting to choose the range of the fight. The more unusual the range of your weapon is, the more important the initiative is. If you're using a weapon best at far ranges and you get attacked at close, you may not even be able to get to your ideal range before you're too hurt to win the fight.
  • Prioritize versatility, especially in defense. A fighter who doesn't have the best stats but has the defenses to weaken any weapon they're fighting against will have a huge advantage. It's easier to change defenses than weapons, so focusing your versatility in that direction makes a lot of sense.
  • Don't bring a knife to a gun fight. Firearms are powerful modern weapons, and there is realistically little to do when shot at but try and get out of the way.
  • In large multi-person fights, use protect. Whenever multiple people are fighting a very tough enemy, strategically planning protects so that no one goes unconscious but everyone shares the damage can keep a lot more hits in the game.
  • Bring a friend, and use them strategically. Having numbers on your side is perhaps the single easiest way to win a fight. The game's best fighter is likely to lose to two fairly practiced but not expert fighters, and will definitely lose to three. AE includes what are called iterative penalties. The more attacks someone has already taken in a round, the lower their defense will be. Someone who might miss if they were the first attack in a round may well hit, and hit strongly, as the third attack in the round.
  • Gang up on your opponents. If you've got multiple people fighting multiple people, you want to try and take a single individual out as quickly as possible. The ideal strategy for multiple on multiple fights is to target the weakest link of the other team and wipe them out as fast as possible, then move on to the next weakest standing enemy. This is the quickest way to reduce the damage your team is taking. Never engage multiple enemy members at the same time if you can help it – it just splits your strength.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which stats do I need to prioritize combat in chargen? - Strength, body, and agility are the most important stats for fighters. Stats have maximum ratings between 60-100 that are covertly rolled at the time of creation. The order of your stats in chargen determines their eventual maximums – if you come out of character generation with strength as your highest stat, strength will have the highest maximum. Between equal stats, it rolls randomly. Even characters who don't specialize in these stats can be great fighters, since skill matters more, but those stats will be particularly helpful in combat. For the long term, if you want your character to be fully focused on combat, taking them as your highest three stats (in whatever order works for you) will pay off.
  • Which skills should I take in chargen? - It's recommended that serious fighting characters have at least two weapon skills and at least two defensive skills. Which two doesn't matter since they're all fairly well-balanced, but certain weapons are weaker or stronger against certain defensive skills. Having at least two of each allows a character to have a fallback if they're facing someone whose choice of weapon/defensive skill is a bad match against theirs.

Credits

The combat guide was originally written by Takta on the The Inquisition: Legacy with help from Karston, Tuan, Sikod, and Azarial. It was revised by Niamh for typos and accuracy some time later, and eventually updated into the above for After Earth.