1879: Actual Play: Spellcasting in Combat

Continuing the Actual Play series, in this post we look at how spellcasting fits into the 1879 combat system, and how having a spellcaster in the party shifts the dynamic during a fight.

When we last left our intrepid explorers, Sam Ridley, owner and pilot of Sweet William, and his compatriot Bethelie Lepercq, had delivered the Zener tubes to Anatole Le Comte de Deschardin, who while not a Weird Scientist himself is a generous patron to the Ordnung Galvanische, despite their being a lot of despicable Prussians, as the returns for his investments are magnificent. Let not nationalist spirit get in the way of earning a sou, after all. Dietrick Schuller of the aforementioned Galvanics joined them at the cafe for the handover, to verify that the contents of the case were in fact Zener tubes and not just glass with a quick swab of phosphorescent paint to make it glow. Sam and Bethelie, neither one being mages, wouldn’t know the difference. All parties having pronounced themselves satisfied, Dietrick with the tubes, Anatole with Sam and Bethelie’s performance, Sam and Bethelie with their compensation, and everyone with the brioche and the cafe au lait, the four exited the building to go their separate ways.

Only to be accosted by Herr von Schmertz, who isn’t going to give up, not that easily, and not until he’s taken revenge for the notch in his left ear Bethelie put there with a parting shot at their last meeting. He’s positioned two gunmen with rifles to either end of the block, one on a fire escape and the other in the window of a hastily rented room at a hotel that’s in the custom of renting rooms for short times without reservations. With him are five toughs, four humans and a troll, all with cudgels, as Otto would really like to avoid damaging either the Zener tubes or their case this time. Otto himself has worn his best ballistic silk coat, and brought a brace of revolvers, one of which is in his hand when he addresses the party.

“Herr Ridley, I believe the phrase in your country is, stand and deliver!”

Initiative is rolled and combat rounds begin.

Tough #1, moving on 18 (oh my!), closes the distance to Sam and takes a whack at him. The GM makes a Melee Weapons Test using the tough’s Melee Weapons Step of 12 against Sam’s Physical Defense of 9, with a result of 7. Sam felt the breeze from that one.

Dietrick goes next, on 13. He pulls hard on the surrounding mana, channels it, and casts a Faraday’s Bulwark, putting up a crackling web of electricity between himself and Otto’s forces. His Spellcasting (8) Test, using a total Step of 13, scores a 15, giving him an extra success to roll to the Effect Test. Using his Spellcasting Rank of 4 and his WIL Step of 9, plus 1 Step for the extra success, he rolls up on one of the d12s for a total of 25 for the Barrier Rating. He takes 5 Strain for this, as the Bulwark has a special effect that will allow it to fire back. An indelicate trace of perspiration crosses his brow at the effort.

On 12, Sniper #1, on the fire escape, her attention pulled by the sudden blaze of lightning, lets off a round at what she now identifies as the Most Dangerous Player on the Field. She makes a Firearms Test, and rolls a 9, which does not beat the Physical Defense of Dietrick’s Bulwark, which is equal to his Spellcasting Step (13). The bullet disintegrates in a spray of harmless sparks. As the shot did not beat the Bulwark’s Physical Defense, it does not trigger the special effect.

On 10, Toughs 2 and 3 lunge forward, one going for Sam, the other for Anatole. Tough 2 makes a Melee Weapons (9) Test with a Step of 10, and gets an 11, beating Sam’s Physical Defense. Sam attempts to Avoid Blow, and gets a 12, twisting out of the way at the last possible second. He takes a point of Strain for this, but better that than a cudgel to the face. Tough 3 makes a similar Test against Anatole’s Physical Defense of 8, and rolls a 6, missing Le Comte. Fortune so far favours our heroes, but it won’t last and they know it.

On 9, Bethelie and Otto move at the same time. As Bethelie is a player character, she automatically wins the tie. Throwing caution and all care for innocent bystanders to the wind, Bethelie tosses a shrapnel grenade at the troll, then drops to her knees behind the flimsy tables the cafe has out front, hoping they might absorb a bit of the shrapnel. Her Throwing Weapons Skill, being learnt as a Free Skill, hasn’t had the effort put into it her Core and Optional Skills have, and so only has a Rank of 2, adding to her DEX Step of 8. She rolls up, though, and with a 23, is able to use the three extra successes to make the throw a Called Shot and put the grenade right up against the troll’s instep. It explodes, doing Step 18 to the troll, and dropping off four steps per yard. The troll takes 12 points armor piercing (shrapnel grenades ignore physical armor), which beats her Wound Threshold of 11. Normally, this wouldn’t require a Knockdown Test, but the GM allows for one as it makes given the Called Shot to the foot. The GM rolls a 4 when the troll needed a 6, and the troll goes down. Otto is only two yards away from the troll, and takes Step 10 damage, not armor piercing as he’s not right up against the explosion. The GM rolls an 8 and Otto’s armor takes 6 of that, so Otto’s only got 2 points of damage to deal with thus far. Tough 4 was also two yards from the troll, and gets a separate Damage Test, with a result of 7. Being also properly attired for the evening, he only takes 1 point of damage, not really enough to even notice in the heat of battle. The windows of the hotel are blown in, and the kaboom will certainly bring the gendarmerie at a dead run.

Otto wants to be gone with the Zener tubes before that happens. He makes a quick Perception Test, and the GM rolls a 9, so Otto spots that Anatole is currently carrying the box. “Get the Frenchman!” he orders, and snaps off a shot at Anatole. His Firearms Test scores a 15, beating Anatole’s Physical Defense of 8 by 7, and thus rolling an extra success to the Damage Test. This stages it up from Step 6 to Step 9, and Anatole is hit for 12 points of damage. His fine silk ballistic coat takes half of that, and the resulting 6 is below his Wound Threshold, but he’s terrifically unhappy about the hole in his expensive coat and the fact that he’s now leaking bodily fluids.

We’re down to 7. Sniper 2, being a clever lad, observes where his boss has directed his own fire, and follows suit. His Firearms (8) Test scores a 13. Poor Anatole, what was it we just said about luck? The snipers are using bolt-action rifles, with a base damage of 9 and a staging of 4. Anatole is hit for another 12, with similar results. He hasn’t been Wounded yet, but his health is in serious peril nonetheless.

On 6, Sam pulls a knife and tries to stab Tough 2, but with a 7 on his Melee Weapons Test, only manages to return the breeze to its owner. The troll staggers to her feet, favoring the right considerably, and gives Otto a dubious look. “You didn’t say they’d be carrying explosives,” she complains in a dockside accent.

On 4, Tough 4 attempts to use her Acrobatic Strike Skill to vault the cafe furniture and drop in on Bethelie from above. Her Test comes up ones on both dice. She utterly misjudges her leap, and crashes down atop the next table over, smashing it and landing in a heap amid the wreckage. That’s going to take her the next round just to get clear.

Finally, on 2, Anatole at last can do something about his predicament. He is a nobleman, not a fighter, and he’s been shot twice already. He withdraws into the cafe, with the Zener tubes, and demands that the proprietor send a runner out the back for the gendarmerie and a doctor. He would also appreciate a pair of handkerchiefs to staunch the bleeding, and a large brandy if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.

We come round again to initiative, and the start of the second round.

On 17, Tough 3 pursues Anatole into the cafe, only to be met by the proprietor’s son, who fought in the Franco-Prussian War, and seized his saber from under the bar when the first shot was fired. Their pas de deux results in no damage for either, but it does keep the tough engaged for the moment.

On 16, Tough 1 takes another swing at Sam, with a Melee Weapons Test result of 10. Sam tries to Avoid again, but only rolls a 4. He’s hit, for 7 points, of which his jacket takes 6, so together with the Strain for the Avoid Blow attempt, Sam only takes 2 points of damage.

On 14, Dietrick again pulls hard on the ambient mana, and casts a Rust KAV of the Entropy spell against the fire escape. This time he takes 7 points of Strain, as the KAV costs more to extend the range of the Base Spell from touch to line of sight. That’s one short of a Wound. Dietrick can’t keep that sort of thing going all night. A bloom of rust appears, and spreads like wildfire. Before the sniper can react, there’s a screech of metal giving way, and the fire escape peels off the building, collapsing to the street below. The sniper takes Falling Damage of Step 20, armor piercing, resulting in 16 points of damage and a Wound. She’s going to be the current round and the next untangling herself from the wreckage and getting back into the fight.

On 13, sniper 2 realizes there’s a more urgent problem than the disappearing Aristocrat, and fires at Dietrick. He rolls a 14 on his Firearms Test, which beats the Physical Defense of the Bulwark, and rolls an 11 on his Damage Test, reducing its Barrier Rating from 25 to 14. The Bulwark reacts to this by lobbing a lightning bolt back at the sniper, going against the sniper’s Mystic Defense of 8. The Bulwark uses Dietrick’s Spellcasting Step and rolls an 8, which hits, and then makes an Effect Test using Dietrick’s Rank+WIL, getting a roll-up on the d10 for 14 points. The sniper has no Mystic armor beyond his natural WIL bonus, and so takes 11 points and a Wound. He will be at -3 Steps to all DEX-based actions for the next 3 rounds due to the electric shock. Serves him right for firing at an electrical construct.

Otto moves on 12, and has realized that, while he brought extra firepower to the party, so did the opposition, and they seem to have brought rather more. In addition, he can hear the whistles of the gendarmes in the distance. “Forget them! Get the Frenchman in the cafe, take the box and go out the back!” he orders, and charges across the street. Getting past the street furniture, the toughs, Sam, Bethelie, Dietrick, and the angry Bulwark, and into the cafe takes all of his Combat Movement, and so once he arrives, he will have to wait until next round to attempt his plan.

On 11, Tough 4 attempts to find her dignity somewhere in the wreckage of the table.

On 10, Sam drops his knife, grabs a chair, and swings it at Tough 1. This is an Improvised Weapon. Sam takes -2 Steps on his Melee Weapons Test. He rolls an 8, however, which hits. The GM rules that since this is a cheap seat the cafe has put out on the sidewalk, it only adds 4 Steps to Sam’s STR for the Damage, about the same as a Quarterstaff. Sam gets an 8 on the Damage Test, the tough’s armor soaks 6, and the tough takes 2 points. Sam tosses aside the now-smashed chair and reconsiders his options. At this rate, they could be at it a while.

On 9, not being exactly the sporting type, Bethelie stands up from cover and shoots Tough 2 in the back of the head at melee range. She takes the Called Shot penalty, and still manages to get an 8 on her Firearms Test, which equals the tough’s Physical Defense. There’s no point in rolling the damage. Tough 2 goes down in a spray of blood and brains. Sam protests at the spatter. “That’s not exactly cricket, dear!” Bethelie shrugs, and replies, “C’est la guerre.”

Finally, on 5, the troll, having already been on the receiving end of a grenade, and now seeing a compatriot die messily in what was supposed to be an intimidation brawl, decides that she is not being paid enough either to continue or to be on the scene when the gendarmes arrive. She makes a quiet withdrawal.

Our heroes have turned the tide of the battle, but they still have quite a few problems. Otto has Anatole at gunpoint. There’s still three toughs upright and fighting. There’s a body at Bethelie’s feet and a smoking gun in her hand. The hotel across the street has considerable blast damage. The gendarmerie are one round away. How will these complications all resolve? Will an explanation be permitted, or will the gendarmes just arrest everyone and let the magistrate sort it out? Will the proprietor hit Otto with that champagne bottle he’s about to throw? Will Anatole’s manservant be able to get the bloodstains out of his shirt?

Tune in two weeks hence, for the next thrilling installment of Actual Play!

Tally Ho!