This element of risk is a big part of what makes the game fun. Role-playing games are not equivalent to just sitting around telling a story collaboratively together; it's also a game, after all. The brief momentary anxiety of wondering if the roll is going to come up high enough for you to have succeeded creates dramatic tension and excitement. Don't fall into the trap of personalizing failures. The game should be fun whether or not your character succeeds or fails in what he's trying to do. In fact, in many cases, failures can be much more entertaining than successes.
There is room for some creativity here, though. The example above of climbing a cliff could be a totally different check depending on how you approach it. Mike's character Ottvar would probably just have at it and haul himself up by brute strength (a STR + Athletics check) whereas Folduin Krislar, an elf expert chasing down magical lore might rather prefer to carefully study the cliff face and plan out a detailed route, examining every potential hand and foothold before starting, and maybe his GM will allow him to roll a more advantageous MND + Athletics check because of his approach.
Combat. Combat is the ultimate challenge in most role-playing games. As such, the rules for it are more involved than the rules for other task resolution scenarios, which typically involve making a check of your stat modifier plus your skill bonus plus a d20 roll, which must meet or beat a target number (DC) to succeed. However, combat does follow a similar pattern. At its heart, a character makes a To Hit roll that is similar to a check, against a target number (AC) and if you meet or beat it, you have hit and may roll damage, which your target must then take. The To Hit roll is usually a STR + character level + any class modifier + the result of a d20 roll. When using a light weapon you may use your DEX instead of your STR if you choose. When making an attack with a ranged weapon (instead of a close-combat, melee weapon) you must use your DEX instead of your STR. If using some kind of magical attack, you use instead your Magic To Hit which is modified by your MND.
Combatants take turns in initiative order. The only exception to this is when one group attacks another that is for whatever reason unaware of them (or at least their hostile intentions;) in this case, the group that is surprising the other group gets a free round of attacks before determining initiative order at all. You determine initiative order by rolling a d20 and adding the DEX to that roll for all combatants. The highest result goes first, and then the second highest, and then the third, etc. until all combatants have had a chance to take a turn. With any ties, the opponent with the highest DEX should go first. This entire cycle of every opponent taking a turn is called a combat round. In theory, a round lasts a several seconds, and the actions you take during the round are somewhat abstracted (i.e., making an attack roll does not mean one swing of the sword. It includes abstracted back and forth of blows for a few seconds, feinting and trying to find a way past the opponent’s guard). On his turn, your opponent may also attempt to attack you. He will make a check with his To Hit score against your Armor Class (AC). Your AC is determined by adding 10 + your DEX + your armor bonus + half of your level (rounded down). If, for example, you were playing a 3rd level Outdoorsman, who can use (and owns) medium armor, and had a DEX bonus of +2, your AC would be 10 + 2 (your DEX bonus) + 4 (the armor bonus for wearing medium armor) + 1 (your character level divided by two and rounded down) for a total of 17—a respectable AC that will protect you from the attacks of many opponents.
While there is no technical limit to what you can do in a combat round, keep in mind that it's only a few seconds long. Your GM may rule that certain combatants are far enough away that you can't reach them in a single round, or that if you're attempting too many things, that you won't be able to do them all and you'll have to cut some back. Rather than specify that you can have one or two (or whatever) actions per round and get into defining what kinds of actions you can do, we'll leave this up to GM interpretation. In many combats, if the group are all standing relatively close, it is assumed that they can move around within the combat area and still attack the foe of their choice. If opponents are specifically trying to protect another combatant (like several fighters blocking access to a sorcerer, for example) then you may have to either sneak past, or fight past any such obstacles. Other obstacles, such as terrain, bushes, fruit carts, etc. that may infringe upon your freedom of movement are similarly up to the GM to adjudicate. He may require using the task resolution system by making checks to do certain things that you attempt, and if the combat area is complex, he may make a quick sketch of it so you can see where things are.
Sorcerers may wish to cast spells in combat, since that is often their best weapon. Targeting an opponent with a spell works exactly like targeting one with any other kind of attack, although the stat used is not DEX nor STR but MND. However, many spells do not require a targeted attack to be cast—this only applies for spells in which a To Hit roll is required.
Combat continues until all of the combatants on a given "side" are defeated (0 hit points or less), or they have managed to flee the combat, or one side gives up and surrenders. Position in combat is also abstracted, and there is no combat grid, or tactical positioning supported by the rules. The GM should describe the scene, including answering any questions, such that questions of positioning or tactics are clear to all participants (i.e., if you can't reach an opponent in melee because he's behind a wall of protectors, that should be apparent from positioning, so you don't attempt to attack that person with a melee weapon.) Players are also similarly encouraged to find solutions more interesting than "I attack it with my sword." Because the solutions can be anything from, "I swing in to engage the baron on a hanging chandelier," to "I splash a bucket of oil across the floor and set it alight with my torch," it is impossible and in fact undesirable to give too much prescriptive guidance on how to handle these types of situations. GM's are encouraged to use the task resolution system to determine the effects of such actions—pick the appropriate stat modifier, pick the appropriate skill bonus, and tell the player to make a check. Make a judgment call on the effects of a success or failure, either one.
If a character, NPC or monster attempts to flee a combat, their opponent may let them, or may choose to give chase. To break away from combat and initiate a chase, first the one running away must beat an opposed Athletics + DEX check. If the one running away does not beat the result of the check of the one who is trying to prevent him from running away, he is not able to break away from the combat cleanly and whomever he's directly engaged with automatically gets to make a free attack against him. If he succeeds, then he runs away and the pursuer may choose to give chase. If he does, then both opponents make opposed Athletics + DEX checks to adjudicate the chase results. Terrain or other hazards may present a situational modifier to the check of one or more of the opponents. For example, if the character running away attempts to knock a pile of barrels into the path of his pursuer, that may create up to a -3 or -4 modifier to the opposed chase roll of his pursuer.
After five rounds of chasing, each combatant must make an additional Athletics + STR check (DC 15) or become fatigued from all that running. A fatigued character can still make opposed chase rolls, but will suffer a -5 penalty to the roll. If the character is successful on the check, he may continue the chase as normal, but will still have to roll to avoid becoming fatigued every round thereafter. Once a character is fatigued, he will remain fatigued for the remainder of the chase. If the chase ends in combat, a fatigued character will suffer a -2 to all To Hit and Damage rolls as well. The fatigued condition ends when the "action scene" is over and the character has a chance to catch his breath. Other modifiers can apply as well, determined by the GM. For example, if one character manages to mount a willing horse or other mount, he will gain a significant bonus (+10 normally) to his opposed check.
The chase is over when either the character fleeing manages to get away, or the character pursuing catches up to his opponent and the chase scene becomes, again, a combat scene between the two of them. Normally this will happen when one of the participants in a chase scene "wins" the opposed check by a difference of 10 or more. If the character fleeing beats the pursuer by more than 10, then he usually manages to break away and escape—unless this result make no sense, for example a chase on a wide open plain. If the pursuer, on the other hand, wins, then he has caught up to the one fleeing and the chase becomes a combat, following all of the rules of combat detailed above.
There are a few exceptions to this. If the environment allows, the one being chased might manage to duck into an alley, or into a barrel, or otherwise hide and lose his pursuer by making a Subterfuge + DEX check vs the pursuer's Subterfuge + MND check. Again; use the Skill + stat task resolution system, interpreting the stated actions by assigning which stat and skill best apply to resolve any other attempted actions. Apply any bonuses or penalties that the situation and environment may suggest. It is not meant that the rules be comprehensive in how to do this, as GM ruling and interpretation is the final arbiter in terms of how to resolve tasks.
Mike's character Ottvar is alone. The group is negotiating a tense deal with a local crime lord, and because Ottvar is not well-liked by the crime lord's gang, he’s been sent to inspect the local horse trader's merchandise in the meantime. While examining the horses, Ottvar is attacked by a mugger allied with the crime lord! The mugger attempts to approach Ottvar without his intentions being known. The GM calls for Mike to make a MND + Subterfuge check against the mugger's own DEX + Subterfuge check to sneak up on him. Because of the press of people in the market, the GM gives the mugger a +5 bonus. His total is 23; Ottvar only rolls a 15 to counter it. Because Ottvar is going to be unaware of his approach, the mugger makes a free attack on Ottvar with a vicious dagger thrust to kick off the fun. Ottvar is suddenly aware of his hostile intent when three inches of steel sinks into his side. The GM tells Mike that Ottvar takes 4 points of damage. His eyes widening, he spins and draws his sword. The two combatants now roll initiative (DEX + d20) and Ottvar has the higher total. He gets to go first in the combat, and decides that with a yell of fury, he's going to show that mugger who's boss. The mugger is simply wearing street clothes, while Ottvar has a mail shirt, and the mugger's dagger looks like a poor comparison to Ottvar's heavy pattern-welded sword. Sure enough, Mike rolls a 13. He adds to this his To Hit bonus with the sword, which is +6, for a total of 19. This is more than enough to hit the thief's AC of 13, so Mike gets to roll damage—1d8+5 for Ottvar because he is using a medium weapon, has a high STR modifier and the Fighter class bonus to damage. Mike cheers as his d8 comes up with a 6—he's done 11 points of damage to an NPC that only has 12 hit points!
The mugger groans in pain and regret and turns and runs! He gets a 16 on his Athletics + DEX check to break away from combat, which Ottvar is not able to match with a paltry 7 on his part, so the combat has now become a chase. The high-dexterity thief is able again to beat Ottvar’s chase roll in the first round; but only by 4. He has managed to keep his distance, but not lose him. The thief turns into a small street, and although he knows Ottvar will be right behind him, he thinks maybe he has an opportunity to lose him by hiding behind a stack of barrels. He makes a DEX + Subterfuge roll to hide. When Ottvar comes around the corner, Mike makes his own MND + Subterfuge rolls, and beats the GM’s roll. Ottvar sees the thief and hurls his throwing ax at him. He now rolls a Ranged To Hit: he gets a middling roll of 12 and adds his DEX modifier (0) and his Fighter bonus (+1) for a total of 13; exactly the thief's AC, and therefore just barely a hit. Rolling a 1d6+5 damage roll will automatically, even with a minimum roll, be enough to finish off the thief's 1 remaining hit point and take him below zero, so the throwing ax kills the thief and ends the combat.Other Hazards. While entering into combat with deadly weapons is clearly a hazardous endeavor to those involved, adventurers may encounter a number of other situations on a semi-regular basis that may be perilous to their health. By design, this m20 system gives GMs tools with which to make rulings as he best sees fit, but here's a few examples:
- Falling: A character takes 1d6 damage per 10 feet fallen. This can be reduced to half damage with an Athletics + DEX check with a DC equal to the height fallen in feet.
- Spikes: Add +1 point to falling damage per 10 feet fallen, max +10.
- Poison: Make a character level + STR check to avoid damage or for half, depending on poison. A DC of 15 is a standard poison, while a more potent one may 20, 25, or even more. The effect of the poison varies with poison type. Most do either regular damage (i.e., they attack your hit points as if it was a successful attack) or they attack one of your stat scores. A mild poison that leaves you feeling sick and woozy might do 1d4 STR damage, for instance, while a much more dangerous poison might do 3d8 points of damage.
- Disease: Diseases operate the same as poisons, except that they are not one-time attacks. Every day that the character is not healed of the disease, he must make the same character level + STR check or take whatever damage the disease causes. If he beats the disease DC by 10 or more, the disease is cured. GM's may adjust that band depending on the virulence of the disease; i.e., a minor illness might only need be beat by 5. However, if the disease really is that mild, maybe you should think about not exposing the characters to it? Disease might be well and good in a Medieval simulation game, but this is meant to be an action/adventure game.
- Extreme Heat & Cold: If not wearing suitable protection, make a character level + STR check once every 10 minutes of exposure to extreme temperature (DC 15, +1 per previous check), taking 1d6 damage on each failed save. This applies to weather—if you are hit by a fireball, for instance, you will burn no matter what.
Most healing, however, refers to the recovery of hit points after having lost them in a combat or other type of action scene. When not in combat or other stressful environment, a character can attempt more deliberate medical treatment, or surgical treatment. The character attempting to heal another one makes a MND + Knowledge check (DC 20) and if successful, heals 1d6 + 5 hit points instantly. NOTE: This can only be done once. You can't perform back to back treatment and expect to be restored to full hit points. It can be done again if the character takes new damage, but otherwise, any remaining missing hit points must be recovered naturally. Natural healing is accomplished by bed rest. While undergoing a full night's rest, characters recover hit points at a rate of their level x 2 every night. If they cannot take the time to completely heal naturally, they can still regain hit points every night, but must operate at less than full hit points during the day until they are able to recover all of their hit points via multiple nights' rest.
In reality, nobody likes to sit around recovering from an injury in what is supposed to be an action-packed and exciting game (my biggest pet peeve with the novel and movie of Ivanhoe is that he's lying around hurt for at least half the book, maybe more), so borrowing a convention from action movies everywhere, characters heal much more quickly and thoroughly than in real life, so as to avoid excessive down time.
Although it may not need to be said, I'll do it anyway; if you roll higher than your hit point total on a medical treatment, you still don't go up above that. Your hit points is your hit points, until you gain more by advancing in character level. Recovering lost hit points will restore you to your hit point total, but will not raise you above your maximum.
Level Advancement. Characters normally start at 1st level, but they may not at the GM's discretion, and in any case, one hopes that characters who survive their adventures get better at having them after a time. One of the fun things about playing an ongoing game is improving your character, which because of legacy and tradition is done through levels. Gaining a level, or leveling up happens at the GM's discretion, based on the pace that he wants the game to have. Personally, I prefer a pace that starts out relatively fast but slows down; i.e. moving from 1st to 2nd level takes 4-5 sessions, but advancing to the next level takes 6-7 sessions, and to third level may take 9-10 sessions, etc.
Each level adds the following to a character:
- The maximum hit points of the character increases by 2.
- +1 to all To Hit rolls.
- +1 to all Skill modifiers. In addition, if the level divides by three (i.e. level 3, 6, 9) add 1 point to STR, DEX or MND.
- Don’t forget, if you play a Fighter, you gain +1 to their attack and damage rolls at levels 4 and 8.
- Experts gain new Affinities at 3rd, 6th and 9th level.
- For every even level that you gain, you gain a point of AC.
Although it's normally presumed that all characters in an adventuring party are the same level, there are times when this will not be true, such as in the event of character death and replacement, or when a new player joins the group, etc. Although some GMs prefer to start new characters at the same level as existing characters in the group, others do not. If you have characters at different level, be sure and note their level in your notes (you probably want to know certain details about the characters anyway) and you may wish to track their advancement separately, to have the lower level characters advance more quickly and gradually catch up to the rest of the group.