May 2012



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A Glimpse of Combat

Our preview of the rules of the Far West Adventure Game continues, this time with a look at the combat system. When you’re doing a game of furious kung fu and blazing sixguns, combat is a critical component of the system, and it was the one part of the rules where we felt it most important to bring across the “feel” of wuxia action.

To talk about combat, though, we need to give you a brief rundown of the core system: a d20 roll, plus modifiers, versus a Difficulty (either static or an opposed roll). The most commonly-encountered die rolls in Far West are Stunts, Saves, and Bouts.


The usual modifier affecting a die roll is the character’s ability bonus. There are also situational modifiers based on the particular circumstances (determined by the Narrator). A character’s rank also bestows a bonus (+2 for Novice, +4 Initiate, +6 for Master and +8 for Legend). In addition, a character can add their rank bonus multiple times, if they have an appropriate Area of Knowledge, or have tagged an appropriate Aspect.

Example: An Initiate hero riding a horse would make a die roll based on their Dexterity ability bonus, +4 for their rank. If the same character had “riding” as an AOK, they’d add another +4. If the same character also had an Aspect called “born in the saddle”, they’d get another +4 if they brought it into play. You can see that somebody so specialized is starting from a position of great advantage just from the bonuses, even before a die is rolled.


In Far West, virtually everything you do is a stunt. You must roll a stunt check whenever the outcome for the action you’re taking is uncertain. Routine actions do not require a roll.

Stunt checks are rolled with the appropriate ability bonus, as well as any situational modifiers, and can be modified by Stunt Dice connected with that ability. Stunt Dice are bonus dice gained through Edges (for example “Catlike Reflexes” gives stunt dice to Dexterity stunts) and range from d4 to d12. You can attempt stunts for which you have no stunt die; you just don’t get any additional bonus for them.

A stunt check takes into account your training (stunt die bonus, AOK bonus, applicable Aspect bonus), natural aptitude (ability modifier, applicable Aspect bonus), and luck (the die roll). In most circumstances, you’re either trying to match or exceed a Difficulty Class (DC) determined by the Narrator, or looking to beat all opposing stunt check results (called an “opposed roll”). Opposed stunt checks are best used for “one-shot” circumstances, where the end result is simple. If the situation is one where there will be a great deal of back-and-forth between the participants (a debate, for example, or a race, or a drinking contest, etc.), it is better to use a Bout (see below).


Saves are, essentially, reactive stunts — rolls made to avoid when something is happening to you, or being directed at you. Any attribute can have a save associated with it: for example, leaping clear of an explosion would be a Dex save; resisting the effects of poison would be a Con save, etc. As with stunts, if the situation is one where there will be a drawn-out exchange between participants, it is better to use a Bout.


Combat in Far West is handled through a set of die rolls collectively referred to as a Bout. Bouts come in two varieties, contested and uncontested.

Contested Bouts
Contested bouts can only be undertaken by ranked characters with available Spirit. The only exception to this is a special circumstance when multiple unranked characters act together in unison (referred to as a Gang), in which case they are treated as if they were a ranked character (this allows contested bouts between a single hero and large group of attackers, for example).

In a contested bout, two (or more) characters will vie back and forth, performing one outrageous action after another in attempt to best the opponent. These scenes feature a great deal of action and reaction: the flurry of strikes and blocks until a telling blow gets through, for example.

The object of a contested bout is to reduce your opponent’s key ability pool to zero, in order to deliver the result you seek. You provide a context and a goal for the bout, and the Narrator decides the key ability (and thus the ability pool and related stunt) used — for example a shootout would be Dex-based, a drinking contest Con-based, a debate would be Cha-based, etc.

Both parties alternate rolling a stunt check on their respective turn in a sequence, with the contest’s initiator having the first roll. Anyone can choose not to roll stunt die for himself if wishes, perhaps saving the option for something else if suspecting trickery. The DC for the stunt is the opponent’s key ability pool.

The “damage” on a successful stunt check is equal to your key ability bonus + stunt bonus, with a minimum 1 point of damage. The target subtracts the amount from their key ability pool. Yes, you’re essentially “attacking” the opponent’s ability pool, though such “bout damage” is neither permanent nor temporary, but just a means to keep track of how closely one is to winning or losing. It does not actually affect anything or reduce the stunt DC “to hit.” The ability pool refreshes when the bout is over (although some particularly nasty kung fu styles can change that — making your targets ability pool refresh at a slower rate).

If the ability pool drops it to zero, a character is unable to continue and loses the contest. Otherwise, repeat the process (representing the back-and-forth between the participants) until there’s a winner.

With the Narrator’s consent, you can use another key ability in place of the original at any point of a contest. This reflects adopting a clever ploy or improvising on the fly. For example, if you’re obviously the lightweight in a drinking contest, you might want to use deception to just pretend you’re drinking–which turns your roll into a Charisma stunt instead of Constitution stunt, which can tilt the odds to your favor (providing you have a better stunt die in Charisma). Or, you might want to slip a little something into the opponent’s cup to expedite his passing out, in which case you’ll be rolling a Dexterity stunt. A shootout using Dex might not be to your advantage, so you choose to rush into close combat with your kung fu, if you have better stunt die in Strength.

You can also choose to roll your stunt versus multiple opponents, the same opponent more than once, or any combination thereof. There are limits to how many stunts you can perform per turn, based on your rank (and modified by some Edges), and this choice also makes success more difficult – but makes the results of that success potentially devastating.

The winner of the contest determines how the contest ends: Direct delivery of real damage, knocking the target unconscious, humiliation of the target, gaining some benefit for yourself, or other effects. The Narrator should use the accrued stunt bonuses as a general guideline as to what the winner can and cannot do. In general, the higher the final bonus the more likely the desired result is achieved — the accrued stunt bonuses also modify damage delivered, making long bouts particularly dangerous.

Much more detail on contested bouts can be found in Chapter IX: Furious Action.

Uncontested Bouts
An uncontested bout is any bout that involves an unranked character, or a ranked character who is unable (or chooses not ) to participate in a contested bout. It is simply a direct stunt versus a target, as an opposed roll, with the result applied directly. Most often, this is used to represent straightforward combat: an attacker rolls a Dexterity stunt to shoot a target (for example), who rolls a Dexterity stunt to avoid being shot, and if the attack succeeds, damage is delivered.


Far West uses a series of damage conditions, running from fairly minor to serious and life threatening. The damage conditions (in increasing order of severity) are: bruised, hurt, dazed, wounded, staggered, disabled, unconscious, and dying.

Damage is determined by a Constitution save: a roll of the die plus the hero’s Constitution bonus and appropriate modifiers against a Difficulty of 15, modified by the source of the damage: with more damaging attacks more difficult to save against.

The result of the roll determines the damage condition: a successful save means no damage, a failure is a bruised or hurt result, failure by 5 or more a dazed or wounded result, failure by 10 or more a staggered or disabled result, and failure by 15 or more an unconscious or dying result. Variation in failure results depend on whether the attack was non-lethal or lethal in nature.

Example: Two characters have been fighting in a rickety barn, destroying it as they do so. Each hold up a section of the building while fending off blows and simultaneously trying to bring down the structure on their opponent (making it a Strength bout). When the bout resolves, the winner decides to inflict damage on the loser by having the collapsing building fall on top of him. The winner’s martial arts damage is 2D8 and his final total stunt bonus was +14. He rolls a 7, so the loser rolls a Constitution save against a DC of 21. The loser rolls a 16 — failing by 5. The loser is caught in the collapsed barn, wounded.

So there’s a quick overview of how combat works in Far West, via bouts. In play, we found that this system really brought across the rapid-fire strike-block-strike-block-grab-flip-strike-block-WHAM! as found in wuxia films, and traditional Spaghetti Western shootouts were emulated perfectly by a Wits bout (staredown), leading to a single gunshot, loaded up with a massive amount of accrued stunt bonus, from the winner of the bout. We’re quite happy with the results.

Next time, we’ll take a look at some more setting material, with sample entries from the Far West Lexicon.
If you like what you’re seeing here, and you missed the Kickstarter for the game, the general-release Retail Edition of the Far West Adventure Game up for pre-order here at our store. The game ships in August.


  1. Kairam says:

    I think the damage save roll is one of the worst ideas for combat when combined with a random damage roll. It slows combat down a lot. Usually the fact that the attacker has to roll for damage already brings in a random touch to combat; the save roll just adds another step that slows things down. Following your idea that different types of attack does a different amount of damage for different targets and the speed needed in this kind of game, I believe that the best solution would be to make the value of the damage fixed (the DC for the damage roll) and just make the defender roll the save. Like making the 2d8 from your exemple a fixed value of 9. The defender will always roll a save against this specific attack from this attacker against a DC of 23. The results follow your rule: success no dmg, failure bruised or hurt, etc. But then this takes the dice away from the active character…

    I suggest this while thinking about the time needed to determine the outcome of a round of combat when two or more of the combatants involved have multiple (different) attacks per round.


    • Andre C. says:

      I dunno about that. I mean, having played games like Palladium and Cortex system, there’s usually some kind of defense roll after an attack, and even with rolled damage after a successful hit, it doesn’t slow the game down that much.

      Once you get used to the math, it all happens fairly quickly, and the harder part is deciding what strategy to use in the fight. I think experienced gamers will have no problem with this system.

      I mean, there are a few faster ways to do it, but most of them are a lot less crunchy (I’m thinking Dogs in the Vineyard or Houses of the Blooded) and don’t provide the same feel as a well designed traditional system (despite being very good games in their own right).

      So, in sum, I think it’ll be okay. Have faith–wait until you’ve had a chance to play before trying to alter the rules.


    • Chris Bedford says:

      I got the impression that weapons will have a static Difficulty number rather than a random damage roll. Making it one roll for damage, but just that the one taking the damage rolls instead of the attacker.

      If so, that’s kind of interesting since once you land the punch or fire the bullet, damage is determined by how much trauma the target can take?

      Headshot? Raise the damage Difficulty.

      If this is the case, I am really interested!

  2. Jeff says:

    Only one question so far- What if the target of the shooting attack doesn’t know it’s coming? Does the target get a miracle dodge for a bullet he doesn’t know is coming? Or do snipers rule the battlefield?

  3. […] effectively a Wits Bout (or sometimes Wits versus Dexterity – nerves versus reflexes — see A Glimpse of Combat for more info) and certainly an Aspect like “Killer Eyes” would work okay for this; however, […]

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