The Different Ways Martial Arts Can be Incorporated into a Campaign
“Wax on, wax off”
(Mister Miagii, Karate Kid)
Almost every campaign contains some degree of combat. Some GMs think that combat should be the main part of a scenario, the reason for playing, while other consider it a nuisance that must be lived with. But in any event, there were almost always be some individuals in the campaign that are simply better in it than others. Individuals that study the ways of combat not only as a necessity for survival, but as a means of personal growth. As a form of art. A martial art.
This article discusses how martial arts can be incorporated into various campaigns, and how they can be represented using HERO System mechanics.
The Mundane Campaign
Mundane Campaigns are very realistic-style campaigns, usually with characters as competent normals (50 base points + 50 from disadvantages), commonly set in the present or near future. These kind of games usually revolve around roleplaying, diplomacy and wits rather than combat. Most realistic modern espionage, diplomacy and horror games are built this way.
With so little points, it is ill-advised that characters even buy marital arts. Most characters in this campaign will probably merely have weapon familiarities, and the top fighters of the world might buy a skill level or two.
The Heroic Campaign
In Heroic Campaigns the characters are heroes, people that although still mortals, are by far more skilled and able than normal people. This is also reflected by their point make-up (usually 75 base points + 75 points from disadvantages). Most classic fantasy and space opera campaigns are built this way.
In these campaigns, true marital arts experts are still rare, but much less than in a mundane campaign. Most people will merely have a weapons familiarities, and the more able fighters will have combat skill levels. Only those who truly devote a huge portion of their time (and points) to studying the finer art of combat will actually buy martial arts. Damage classes are still rare, and many GMs even prohibit them at this power level.
The Cinematic Campaign
In a Cinematic Campaign, the amazing abilities of a few select individuals are emphasized as the basis for their characters. The abilities they exhibit are usually not supernatural, but are nonetheless amazing, far beyond what other people, even trained fighters, could do. These characters are still usually made up as heroic characters (75 base points + 75 points from disadvantages, but high powered, 100 base points + 100 points from disadvantages, are definitely not unheard of), but a greater portion on these points is devoted to their martial arts skills. Most western martial-arts films movies are good examples of this type of campaign.
These sort of campaigns usually have a heavier emphasis on fighting than other campaigns. Most characters will have at least some minimal combat abilities (such as weapon familiarities), and combat skill levels and martial arts are quite common, as are skills such as Acrobatics, Analyze, Breakfall, Defense Maneuver, Fast Draw and Rapid Attack and talents such as Ambidexterity, Combat Luck, Combat Sense, Danger Sense and Lightening Reflexes. But for the true martial arts masters, this will usually not be enough. To fully simulate the cinematic martial artist, some low-leveled powers should be used. Here are some examples:
+4d6 HA, damage shield (+½), hand to hand attack (-½), requires a to-hit roll (-½). This ability simulates the way martial artists in movies (and in real life, for that case) often intercept punches, and immediately strike back with an attack of their own.
Active Cost: 30
Real Cost: 15
Fit of Fists
+4d6 HA, area of effect - 2" non-selective radius (+¾), ½ END cost (+¼), hand to hand attack (-½). This ability simulates the way some movie martial artists can break out into a fit and knock anyone standing too close to them senseless. A more powerful version of this maneuver could incorporate the autofire advantage. Characters who are more careful in combat will buy the area effect as a selective one, for an additional +½ advantage.
Active Cost: 40
Real Cost: 27
+3" Leaping, accurate, ½ END cost (+¼). This ability represents the almost inhuman leaps, jumps and summersaults martial artists tend to do on movies. It works well with the skills Acrobatics and Breakfall.
Active Cost: 10
Real Cost: 10
Missile Deflection vs. Any Ranged Attack. This ability simulates martial artists in the movies to dodge anything that is thrown at them, be it arrows, knives, bullets or even the kitchen sink. For a +¼ advantage, the martial artist would also be able to protect comrades standing next to him by shoving them out of harms way, or, for the drama fans, catching arrows aimed at them at mid-flight.
Active Cost: 20
Real Cost: 20
Missile Reflection vs. Non-Gunpowder Projectiles. This ability simulates martial artist to use their hands to protected themselves from thrown projectiles, hitting them out of their way or catching them, and then usually throwing them back at the attacker.
Active Cost: 30
Real Cost: 30
Lack of Weakness, -10 to roll. This ability represents an incredible defensive technique, making it impossible for an opponent to find any weak spots it’ll be easier to hit.
Active Cost: 10
Real Cost: 10
+4d6 HA, autofire (+½), ½ END cost (+¼), all attacks at the same target (-¼). This ability simulates the ability some martial artists in movies have to pour punches on to opponents, without giving them a chance to recover or to even understand what hit them.
Active Cost: 21
Real Cost: 17
Some other talents that could be useful for portraying such amazing combatants – Combat Sense, Defense Maneuver, low-leveled Danger Sense (but see also The Mythical Campaign), Fast Draw, Find Weakness
The Mythical Campaign
In the Mythical Campaign, martial artists really do demonstrate powers beyond the reach of mere mortals. In such a campaign, all the legends, tales and myths about martial arts are true. Such campaigns will usually focus on one martial art only (the common cinematic ones being Ninjitsu, Karate and Kung-Fu, but any martial art with a deep spiritual side such as Aikido or Tai-Chi would do just fine) or on the struggle between two opposed martial arts (such as the classic Chinese Kung-Fu vs. Japanese Karate conflict from Bruce Lee’s movies) or opposing factions of the same martial art (Shito-ryu vs. Shotokan Karate, for example).
Such campaigns come in two main flavors – oriental fantasy campaigns, and superheroic campaigns. In the former, characters will be built with 75 base points + 75 more from disadvantages (or alternatively, 100 base points + 100 points from disadvantages in more mythic campaigns), which is a bit tight, but definitely possible, as anyone who ever played a wizard in a fantasy campaign would tell you. In the latter they could be built from 100 points + an additional 150 from disadvantages, and would probably need each and every one of those points to stand their ground against the super-powered opponents the GM will throw their way.
In such a campaign, martial arts become more than a fighting style, they become almost a form of magic. Virtually any power described in legend is possible, although most of them tend to have some form of physical manifestation. Here are a few examples:
character's ED and PD are resistant. Some martial arts teach the conditioning of the body, so it can absorb and ignore attacks. Variants of this power could be bought as Armor or even as Damage Reduction, depending on the campaign. This power is applicable for martial arts like Mui-Tai and certain styles of Karate which emphasize physical conditioning.
Active Cost: varies
Real Cost: varies
Danger Sense, as a sense, in and out of combat, immediate vicinity, only vs. intentional attacks (-1). Some more defensive martial arts (such as Aikido or Tai Chi) claim that people who train in them learn to sense the harmony of the universe, and thus to avoid attacks, which are essentially disharmonious. Note that this form of danger sense relies on the attackers intent to do harm, and thus would not warn the character about a collapsing ceiling, for example.
Active Cost: 27
Real Cost: 14
4d6 RKA, delayed effect (+¼), ½ END cost (+¼), no range (-½). This horrible power is part of the myths surrounding ninjas, or the art of Kuji-Kiri (the nine cuts) to be more exact. It is said that a ninja could hit someone in a special stress point without that man even feeling it. Nothing will happen to him immediately, but he could die a few days later, seemingly for no cause. The GM should be very careful when (or if) he allows characters to buy such powers.
Active Cost: 90
Real Cost: 60
Walking on Water
8" Flight, only across a surface (-¼), must move in a straight line and can't stop in the middle (-½). Legend has it that some ninja could run so fast that they could run across water. This power simulates that.
Active Cost: 16
Real Cost: 9