Fight without scripting

Here’s my very rough attempt at Fight without scripting. Playtest reports are below - hopefully more to follow.


In this version of Fight, participants no longer script their actions ahead of time. The overall sequence of play remains the same - Fights are broken down into Exchanges, each containing three Volleys.

From Volley to Volley, participants take turns attacking and defending. At least one character in the engagement must attack each Volley; the target may choose to take a defensive action. Any players not attacking or defending that Volley may take a non-offensive action of 1-2 Reflexes such as Assess, Draw Weapon, etc.

Characters still use their Reflexes to take actions but do not have to spread them evenly over an Exchange. It’s possible to use up all your Reflexes in one Volley, leaving none for the remainder of the Exchange.

All characters act independently. There is no requirement to group together for scripting. They may still swap Helping dice if needed.

After three Volleys, the Exchange is not quite over; any remaining Reflexes may be spent on one final, non-offensive action.

At the start of the second and subsequent Exchanges, characters Vie for Position, Disengage etc. as normal. The attacker for the first Volley is whoever was defending in the third Volley of the previous Exchange. Play continues until a winner is determined as in normal Fight.

The beginning of the Fight

After the players have decided to use these Fight rules, they work out which characters are engaging one another. Those characters then roll Positioning tests to see who has advantage, as in regular Fight.

Separate from positioning advantage is the question of who ‘takes’ the first Volley. In D&D, we’d say they have Initiative, but to avoid introducing new terms I say ‘your/our Volley’ or ‘their/the enemy’s Volley’.

Whoever takes the first Volley can often be worked out without rolling. Whoever has Surprise will also take the first Volley. One side of an engagement may allow the other to take the Volley, for tactical purposes - they may find an advantage in defending first.

If both sides want to take first Volley, it goes to whoever won the positioning test.

If neither side will take the Volley, they’re dancing around each other. Ask yourselves if you really want to Fight just yet - can this conflict be sorted out through roleplay, Duel of Wits or Bloody Versus? Just how badly do you want to win this fight, what Beliefs are at stake?

One side of an engagement takes the Volley even if only one of their characters is willing to Strike first.
Joe the Barbarian ignores his companions’ pleas and charges at the orcs, sword swinging. The adventurers now have the Volley whether they want it or not! The rest of the party now must decide if they will back him up or decline to attack this Volley. Words will be said over the campfire this evening, if they survive…

Volleys: hesitation

At the beginning of each Volley, any characters who are hesitating may reduce their hesitation by one point. If the Volley is theirs, they reduce it by two. Anyone who hesitates may not take an action this Volley - even in defense. If all characters on one side of an engagement are hesitating, they automatically cede that Volley to the other side and only reduce hesitation by one. When all of your party is hesitating, it’s really bad news!

(As in the second playtest report below, a character may use Social Action: Command at the beginning of a Volley to reduce allies’ hesitation - they may then attack as normal.)

Volleys: attacking

Whoever has the Volley can now attack. One or more characters may attack, provided they didn’t hesitate. Attackers may choose one of the following: Strike, Great Strike, Beat, Disarm, Charge/Tackle, Lock, Push, Throw Character, Snapshot, Fire Gun/Crossbow, Release Bow, Throw Weapon.

Feint is no longer an option in this version of Fight.

Offensive spells may be used to attack but must cost a maxiumum of two Reflexes. If a spell takes longer, the magic-user must have started preparing it in previous Volleys, or have it readied.

All of these attacks may take one or two Reflexes. Regardless of the Reflexes spent, on their Volley characters may attack only once.

Volleys: defending

Once attacks are declared, the targets may choose whether to defend. Defense actions they may take are: Avoid, Block, Counterstrike, Change Stance: Defensive (counts as a Block), Block & Strike (requires Shield Training), Lock & Strike (special ability).

Certain attacks may be defended against by performing the same or similar attack in response: Lock can be defended with Lock, etc. Which attacks these are should be clear but if unsure, look for versus tests - a Strike can’t be answered with a Strike.

(Note in the second playtest below this restriction was not in use; I have tried a few times with and without.)

If the attacking character uses two actions, the defense is assumed to take place on the second action. A Great Strike cannot be interrupted by the defender Counterstriking first (better Avoid instead).

Unlike attacks and non-offensive actions, there is no limit to the number of defense actions a character can take during a Volley. As long as they have Reflexes to answer every attack, a skilled fighter can ward off many foes.

Even if a character does not have great Reflexes, they may still survive by scripting an Avoid. Remember, Avoids can be used against multiple attacks - Let It Ride is in effect.

Optional rule (ie. requires more playtesting): Avoid successes carry between Volleys, not just within one, until the character takes a different action. This will help nimble characters evade groups of opponents. Some situations may be better resolved by switching to the Chase rules.

Volleys: counterattacking

For defensive actions that include a counterattack - Block & Strike, Counterstrike - resolve the Block portion of the defense first, then treat the Strike as a separate roll that may be defended. The attacker may spend a Reflex to Block or Avoid this counterattack. Attackers may not choose any other form of defense (otherwise they could Counterstrike and the Volley would get very messy).

Whether they’re an attacker or defender, there’s no limit to the number of times a character can defend. As long as they’re attacked and they have Reflexes remaining, they can defend.

What’s the point of allowing counterattacks if the attacker can always defend? It forces the attacker to use up their Reflexes. A knight with Shield Training and high Reflexes can use the Block & Strike defense repeatedly to tie up a large number of poorly trained attackers. Rather than flail at him with swords, the attackers will need to switch tactics to overwhelm him using Charges, Pushes and Locks. This is a situation where a character might want to cede the first Volley to the other side, even if they have the advantage.

Volleys: non-offensive actions

Once attacks and defenses have been sorted out, any other characters who have not yet acted this Volley may take a non-offensive (ie. not attack or defense actions). They might use the Volley to ready a weapon, aim, take a physical action, prepare a spell, etc. Actions may take at most two actions (ie. two off of Reflexes), otherwise the character will have to use multiple Volleys to complete it.

These actions can almost always be conducted simultaneously. Sometimes you’ll get competing actions that aren’t attacks, and you can use a versus test.
While Robard and Ssisz scuffle, Fidhean and Brechtanz both use a Physical Action to grab at The Sword. They must roll a versus Agility test to see who wins.

Spending Reflexes

Unless they’re defending, characters may not take more than one action per Volley, the action costing 1-2 Reflexes. Attacking characters may not Strike and then Assess in one Volley (two Reflexes) but they may Great Strike (two Reflexes). Characters who decline to attack (or it isn’t their Volley) may Aim (one Reflex) or Draw Weapon (two Reflexes) but they can’t Assess and Aim (two Reflexes).

Meanwhile, in the same Volley a defending character could theoretically Block, Avoid, Block, Counterstrike (four Reflexes). It would be poor tactics but it is allowed in this version of Fight.

Characters may decline to take an action during a Volley, saving Reflexes for later in the Exchange. Actions in subsequent Volleys may still only use a maximum of two Reflexes regardless of how many they have remaining - excepting the end of the Exchange (see below).

Once every character in an engagement has attacked, defended, hesitated, performed a non-offensive action or declined to act, the Volley is over and the next Volley begins. If this was the third Volley, we move on to the end of the Exchange.

New Volley

When a new Volley begins, the attacking side switches. Defenders now attack and vice versa. This will feel similar to D&D where combatants alternate Initiative.

Regardless of whose Volley it is, advantage does not change. Attackers may still have a disadvantage obstacle to overcome (remember that defensive actions never have an obstacle due to disadvantage). Participants still Vie for Position at the top of each Exchange but the result does not affect which side has the Volley (Initiative).

At its simplest, Fights between two equally matched opponents will alternate between Volleys. (Exchange One: I take advantage, then attack, defend, attack; in Exchange Two we vie for position, I again have advantage but now will defend, attack, defend.) In practise, one side may have the Volley two or more Volleys in a row. The other side may be hesitating, or have ceded the Volley by declining to attack.

Before ceding the Volley, players should consider how this will play out in future Volleys or Exchanges; what happens if they lose the Vie for Position test next Exchange and the other side takes first Volley? Again, if both sides are declining to take the Volley, consider halting the Fight for some roleplaying, Duel of Wits, licking of wounds, etc.

Apart from the attackers and defenders switching, the second and third Volleys in an Exchange proceed the same as the first. By the third Volley, some characters may have used up all their Reflexes on defensive actions; they will now Stand & Drool. Try to avoid this!

End of Exchange

When the third Volley has finished, the Exchange is not quite over. All characters now have the chance to take one last, non-offensive action. Unlike non-offensive actions taken during the Volleys, this action may use up any number of Reflexes the character has remaining.

This rule will be particularly useful to archers, crossbowmen and spellcasters: if they hang back in a fight, decline to spend their Reflexes during the Volleys and wait for the end of the Exchange, they’ll be able to reload their crossbow or bow, prepare a spell etc. Provided they aren’t attacked, they can easily spend all their Reflexes at once.

If this doesn’t seem right to you? Don’t let them! Attack the sorcerer first, use the positioning rules to chase them down and force them to use up their actions in defense. This is just sensible play, whether in D&D or Burning Wheel.

Regardless of the number of Reflexes spent, each character may only perform one action at the end of the Exchange. If you have three Reflexes left but really need to perform a particular physical action, the remaining Reflex is lost. Plan your actions better next time!

One spell counts as one action. A sorcerer can’t cast multiple spells at the end of the exchange. Similarly, Draw Weapon is one action per weapon. A fighter can’t spend four Reflexes to draw their dual scimitars.


I have tested these rules solo for several Fights and written up a couple of reports to illustrate how they work. I haven’t yet playtested with actual players - if I can swing it I will update the thread.

How does changing the complete system help someone learn it?

Example One: Simple 1v1

Brechtanz and Ssisz have lost the elf and the human, along with The Sword, somewhere in the catacombs. Dejected, Brechtanz has no choice but to let the rat-man lead him to the surface.

The pair reach a small chamber with no exit bar a small tunnel set about shoulder height on the opposite wall.

Ssisz indicates the hole. “There. Just a short crawl, my little friend, and you’ll find sunlight, and freedom…

The dwarf peers up at the dank void. He can see no light, and can smell only decay.

“What are ye tryin’ to pull, ye mangy cur…” he says as he turns, but the rat is nearly on him, snarling…

The players roll Stealthy versus Observation, both Beginner’s Luck. Brechtanz wins, 3 to 1. He’s not surprised (who would be, really?) but he is still in big trouble.

Since the dwarf has no easy exit to run to, and the rat knows the caverns far better than he, he realises he must Fight. Both are using swords so neither has positioning advantage. We could roll the Die of Fate to determine who takes the first Volley, but in this case the dwarf lets the rat attack first. “Come and get me then, ye hairy bastard…”

Exchange One, First Volley - Ssisz’ Volley

No roll for positioning - equal weapon length

Surprise roll failed so neither side is hesitating

Ssisz has a sword in one hand and shield in the other, so can’t Great Strike, but he’s pretty sure his Sword skill is superior so attacks with a simple Strike.

Brechtanz can now choose his defensive action. He’s decided to play a defensive game to start, and wait for the rat to make a mistake - that’s why he ceded the first Volley. He Changes Stance: Defensive, which also counts as a Block.

Ssisz rolls his Sword 4D, Brechtanz rolls Sword 3D (+2D for defensive stance). Brechtanz wins 3 to 1! The two extra successes give the rat-man a +1 Ob penalty to his next action.

Both characters having acted, the first Volley has ended. Brechtanz takes the second Volley.

Second Volley - Brechtanz’ Volley

With an inferior Reflexes, weapon and weapon skill, Brechtanz knows he must take advantage of every little opening. He also knows if he takes the offensive he can’t use Strike or Great Strike because he’s still in Defensive Stance.

He decides to Charge the rat, knock it down and get rid of its Speed advantage. He rolls his Power 4D +1D. His stance is now Neutral.
Ssisz’ best chance to defend is his Speed of 6D.
They roll, and each gets 4 successes. But because of the +1 Ob from the last Volley, Ssisz is staggered and suffers a +1 Ob to the next round also.

Third Volley - Ssisz’ Volley

Thanks to the successful charge, Brechtanz now has the advantage at Hands fighting distance. If Ssisz continues to use his superior Sword skill at Long range he’ll be at +2Ob to attack - plus the +1Ob he already has.

He does have enlarged incisors, and a Brawling skill of 2D. He can also Shield Bash, which as a Short weapon would only give him a +1 Ob penalty for disadvantage. He shouldn’t Lock or Push though - the dwarf would simply respond with a Lock/Push of his own and he has a high Power.

Ssisz makes the best of a bad situation and goes for the face with his Enlarged Incisors. Now he’s at Hands length and doesn’t have the positioning disadvantage Ob. He Strikes, rolling his Brawling 2D with Ob +1.

Brechtanz hadn’t anticipated the roden would have Brawling. Now if he tries to defend with anything other than his fists, he’ll lose advantage - and he has no close combat skill! He takes a risk, hoping his armour will protect him: rather than defend, he’ll attack with a Lock. try to pin the rat down.

The Strike gets resolved first before Brechtanz can respond with his Lock. Brawling 2D vs. Ob 2. Just one success - the Srike fails.

Brechtanz’ Lock can now go ahead, but regardless of the fact he already took an action this turn, Ssisz can opt to defend. Counterattacks are out; he can only Block or Avoid. Avoid is the better option for his Speed.

Power 4D vs. Speed 6D: 2 successes vs. 4 - Ssisz scrambles out of the dwarf’s hand.

At the end of Volley 3, The dwarf has the advantage, and forced the rat-man to spend one more Reflex (three spent versus four - each character has one left).

Now at the end of the exchange, the characters may choose to take one last non-combat action. Knowing the next Volley will be his, Brechtanz tries an Assess to find some advantage in the cavern they’re in but with only one success gets nothing useful. Ssisz would have liked to Intimidate at the end of the exchange but avoiding the Lock left him without enough Reflexes. Instead, he follows Brechtanz’ lead by Assessing the cavern - with his Tunnel Vision trait he’s able to reduce the penalty for low light and is successful - he’ll get an advantage die for positioning next exchange.

Exchange Two, Fourth Volley - Brechtanz’ Volley

Both characters vie for position at the top of the exchange. Since he has higher Speed, Ssisz decides to switch back to sword length (long) despite it giving Brechtanz +2D advantage to the positioning test.

Ssisz Speed 6D +1D longest stride vs. Brechtanz Speed 4D +2D positioning advantage. 4 vs. 4 successes - a tie. Brechtanz retains advantage at Hands distance.

Brechtanz attacks by Charging once more. “I’ll make ye stand still, ye slippery scoundrel!”

Ssisz defends by Avoiding. 4D Power +1D vs. 6D Speed. 3 vs 4 successes - Brechtanz fails! He loses advantage, and his next action…

Fifth Volley - Ssisz’ Volley

Ssisz now has advantage, at sword length. He Strikes. As the dwarf was caught off balance, he can provide no defense. Sword 4D vs 1Ob - four successes!

Well, my brave companion… sadly, our game may be over soon…

Ssisz spends the three extra successes upgrading his hit to a Mark (B6 sword damage) and shifting hit location to the head. Brechtanz rolls his 3D head armour - and fails! He even rolls two 1’s, and loses a point off of it.

With a Light wound to the head, Brechtanz makes a Steel test: Steel 5D -1D for wound vs. 5 hesitation; 2 successes. He’ll hesitate for three actions - more than are left in the exchange.

He opts to Run Screaming. Dropping his sword, he disappears into the darkness.

Ssisz watches the dwarf go. “Run, run, my friend, as fast as those short legs will take you. I will find some of my fellows, so they can join the fun…

Why can’t you choose to Strike in response to a Strike? Why must you choose a defensive Maneuver?

BW is about chaos like real fights are. I’m affraid the fight will take forever to get over…

I’ve tried both with and without this option and I’m not sure which is best yet. For the time being I’ve left it out until I am able to playtest with real people.

This is also my biggest concern. It hasn’t been too bad so far but for fights between two equally skilled opponents - especially in armour - it is possible they’ll bash away at each other for many volleys until someone gets lucky and makes the other hesitate, then it’s all over. The example above ended quickly because the dwarf failed an easy armour save - it could have dragged on longer. If I had taken Artha into account it would have.

My feeling at this stage is that for such situations I would go to Bloody Versus - why not skip to the roll that fails? - or stick with normal Fight. But really, the characters should not be in equal fights in the first place - if they’re smart they’ll bring a friend, set up an ambush. My intention with this hack is to allow fights with many combatants, without resorting to grouped scripting or GM fiat; future playtesting will focus on that.

I’ve been there also: when two fighters in plates are in front of each other… Realy, it can last very long. But first of all, swords are cool but, they might not be the best weapons against heavy armor. Second, when those conditions arise, it is the time for the player’s to be creative in the script. That’s why the assess is made for. Find a weak spot in the armor, throw your opponent on the ground, interactif with the scenery…

Example Two: 5 vs. Monster

Five adventurers are on a forest trail somewhere near the village of Hochen. They’re tracking a ferocious beast - a huge bear that has left a trail of destruction behind it.

They’re hoping to get the advantage in a Range & Cover. Gunther is mounted for maneuvrability and his crossbow is loaded and ready. Fureard, Cerebirn and Daniel have their ranged weapons ready also. Brin has a protection spell sustained - Touch Not This…

They’re acting pretty smart so the GM doesn’t pull any punches. The bear hunts them in turn - Stealthy vs. Observation (Beginner’s Luck) - and wins. The party are Surprised and must make Steel checks. Even with the advantage of being in a group they all fail with hesitations of 2-3.

Exchange One, First Volley - Bear’s Volley

The GM declares that the bear will attack the biggest target first - the horse and rider. Gunther sensibly opts to Run Screaming. The others will Stand and Drool.

(If Gunther hadn’t run, the horse itself might have - I couldn’t find stats for Gunther’s Riding Horse so I handwaved it using the horse in the Monster Burner, which is probably what I would’ve done in a real session.)

The positioning test for the first Exchange is between Gunther and the bear, with Gunther disengaging. Bear’s Speed 6D vs. horse’s Speed 4D - no stride advantage due to the confined forest trail. The bear wins 4 to 1 and takes advantage.

The bear Charges the horse - Power 8D + 1D vs. horse’s Speed 4D - wins 5 to 4. The horse is staggered, and the GM rules Gunther has to pass a Riding test. Riding 4D vs. Ob 2 - one success - he’s thrown to the ground. For damage, the GM goes a little easier and lets Gunther fall into the softer underbrush - horse’s Power 7D - 3D = 4D. No successes - Gunther is prone but unharmed.

Second Volley - Bear’s Volley

With the party still hesitating, the bear takes the second Volley also. It Locks Gunther with its massive bulk, Power 8D + 1D, and with five successes incapacitates him.

Third Volley - Party’s Volley

The party starts to come to their senses and act to save their friend.

Cerebirn had his bow previously nocked, so he only spends two Reflexes to ready it for firing.

Brin had lost her prepared spell due to hesitation, so could ready it again. Instead she takes a chance, rolling Command with Beginner’s Luck. Since she lost her spell, she has her full Will of 5D back. The obstacle is 2, for Fureard and Daniel’s remaining hesitation, doubled to 4 - she rolls 5 successes! Fureard and Daniel are back in action.

(Brin’s Command is against the letter of the rules as written above - this hack is a work in progress and if an action makes sense, I’ll allow it and work it into the rules later).

Fureard fires his crossbow. Skill 3D vs. Ob 2 - misses with only one success.

Daniel throws a javelin. 4D vs. Ob 2 - 4 successes! He adds +2 to the Die of Fate, rolls a natural 6 anyway, scoring a Superb hit of 9.

The bear now has a nice Light wound at -1D. It rolls Steel 7D - 1D vs. hesitation 3 and passes. The low hesitation is due to one of its traits - see Hochen scenario.

The bear has not yet acted this turn. It was only attacked at range and couldn’t defend. For this playtest I was allowing defenders to attack instead of defend (see response to question above) and so the bear grabs Gunther’s head in it’s mighty jaws and bites down - hard!

Bear’s Savage Mauling 5D + 1D (victim prone) vs. Ob 1 (victim incapacitated). Wins 3 vs. 1. Gunther chooses torso for damage - bear spends successes to shift to his head.

Gunther rolls his head armour 5D vs Ob 1 + 3 VA, and miraculously passes.

(I’d thought there was a rule for reducing armour when Locked or prone - couldn’t find it, so stuck with normal roll vs. VA)

End of Exchange One

The bear has one Reflex left - it Changes Stance to Aggressive, hoping to maul at least one party member before superior numbers win out.

Cerebirn Aims for one Reflex - +1D to his shot.

Brin - spends last Reflex to begin her protection spell once more.

Exchange Two, Fourth Volley - Bear’s Volley

Vie for Positioning, Bear Speed 6D + 1D stride + 1D positioning vs. new target of Fureard Speed 3D. The bear wins, but only just!

The bear lets go of Gunther’s head and charges at Fureard. Power 8D -3D wound +1D advantage + 1D charge bonus vs. Fureard’s Avoid - Speed 3D.
The bear wins, 5 to one. Fureard is down. Three party members left…

Having not been attacked this volley, the three cannot defend, and so can’t counterattack as the bear did in the previous volley (again, these rules still in flux).

Brin completes her protection spell for 2 Reflexes.
Cerebirn Aims again for another +1D advantage.
Daniel readies another javelin for 2 Reflexes.

Fifth Volley - Party’s Volley

Daniel throws his javelin. Javelin 4D vs. Ob 2 - 3 successes. Another Superb 9 hit - a second Light wound.

The bear rolls Steel 7D - 2D vs. hesitation 3 - Two successes, one hesitation.

Cerebirn lets his arrow fly. Bow 4D + 2D aiming vs. Ob 1 - 4 successes. Die of Fate is at +3 so it’s another Superb hit, a third Light wound.

Steel 7D - 3D vs. hesitation 3 - One success, two hesitation.

At this point the bear is at -3D to stats and hesitating. It Runs Screaming.

The party staggers to their feet and blink at one another. They are shaken and Gunther’s lost his horse, but miraculously they’re unharmed. They begin the slow walk to Hochen to tell their tale.

Sounds confusing and thoroughly entertaining.

Another Option: “Action Sequences”
We add the three possible action slots from each of the three exchanges in one volley to get a total of nine possible action sequences per volley. Now we just predetermine what sequences you act on by Reflex Ability Score
B1 goes on sequence 5
B2 goes on sequences 3 & 7
B3 goes on sequences 3, 6, & 9
B4 goes on 2, 4, 6, & 8
B5 goes on 1, 3, 5, 7, & 9
B6 goes on 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, & 8
This gives you more of an initiative kind of feel.

A player with B4 always beats B3. I leave it to the reader to discover why. To be fair, the character with slower reflexes has a hard time in standard Burning Wheel, but this is brutal.

Larkin Starr: thanks, looks like an interesting take. I haven’t playtested my hack since posting this thread but if I get around to it again I’ll look at yours as well.

I am planning a BWG one-shot for new players soon but will be running rules as written, ie. scripted combat. However writing this hack has helped me understand how to run Fights better, so I don’t think it was a wasted effort.

cathexis: You might have to spell out what you’re getting at. If anything I think my hack is easier on characters with lower reflexes, as the B4’s fourth action will usually be expended on non-combat actions. In default Fight, a B4 reflex character can script a volley as [xxx,Strike | xxx | xxx], and the B3 character will never be able to block or avoid that Strike. That’s the way I’ve always read the rules.

The reason that someone with B4 beats B3 all the time is because the person with B3 rarely (if ever) is able to line up a defensive roll. While it’s true that the second action is undefended, that isn’t a case with (say) B5 vs. B4 in normal BW because both sides are gambling that their VXA2 will go through undefended and/or get lucky.

In your rules (again, more-so with B5 vs. B4 than B4 vs. B3), the person with B4 scripts [ Strike | Strike | xxx | xxx ] and assuming their first hit lands they might be able to completely sew things up with a single unblockable hit. Since the volleys don’t line up, it’s reducing the effectiveness of defensive actions across the board, and seriously boosts the power of offensive maneuvers in order to take advantage of anything that reduces the opponents reflexes.

It’s also the reason why G Reflexes are so incredibly brutal.

NOTE: I’m not trying to say “don’t try to hack Fight to remove scripting” I’m pointing out some places where things may become unbalanced or where some issues will crop up that you might not have thought about.