Epic: Physical Conflict

Now that we’ve covered Dice, Attributes and Skills, we can move on to Physical Conflict, a.k.a. Combat. The Conflict system for Epic is designed to be relatively fast-paced, surprising, and customizable. Playtesting will reveal how smoothly it runs. Overall, I am going for a balance between heroism and realism. I want swords to draw blood, and I want hails of arrows to make the blood run cold, but I don’t want heroes laid out by daggers on a regular basis.

The first thing that happens when a conflict breaks out that the players want to resolve with dice (rather than narration, comparing scores, roleplaying or something else) is that everyone needs to figure out who’s involved. There’s no “initiative” roll in the rules (though you can use one if you wish – read on) so a show of hands as to “ok, who’s in this fight?” or “wait, which of you want to join the argument with the Baron?” will suffice.

The second thing is that everyone writes down their first action somewhere on scrap paper and then, once everyone is finished, everyone reveals their actions in any order they wish. These actions are then resolved in any order, with contested actions going handled together to keep things as clear as possible. (More on what kinds of actions you can declare later too)

The third thing that happens is everyone is made clear on what the results were – are you unconscious? Crying? Retching? Fleeing? Giving chase? Etc. If you’re using markers or minis, move them around to represent the new positions of the various combatants on the battle map. Otherwise, just narrate, then repeat the first step.

Now, of course, we’ll break this down a bit. Here, we’re focusing on physical conflict. Other kinds of conflict might get relegated to a later post, but the basis system is always the same –> [Declare] then [Roll] then [Resolve].


When you declare an “action” in physical conflict, the term is loosely defined on purpose. The intent is for the pace to match the dramatic needs of the situation and the interest at the table. If you want to be precise, an “action” is either movement or about one second of activity – so enough time to get in one good sword swing, slide down a banister, draw a weapon, dive behind cover, etc. If you’re not moving very far, you still have time to swing that sword.

A good rule of thumb if using a hexmap or a D20-style battle map is that for every point in Dexterity you can move one hex or square per action spend moving. Otherwise, assume you can move one or maybe two hexes or squares while doing something else. (Don’t worry, no attacks of opportunity!)

Now, say you’ve declared something that is a terrible idea – it leaves you open to a mortal attack, for example. You can spend a point of Reflex in order to change you action – but you can only spend one point to do so per exchange, so it’ll be hard to exploit this to get the drop on your foes most of the time. This is simply a rule I have because I personally hate to see PCs die for stupid reasons.


For a physical attack, just compare numbers after you roll 4dF. If the attacker wins, she hits! If the defender wins, she isn’t hit! Ties go nowhere – the defender gets marked up but not damaged enough to note.

If the attack is uncontested (from behind, a surprise, but the defender is awake and active), the attacker rolls 4dF + [Weapon Skill] and compares that to the defender’s 4dF + [Dexterity or Perception, whichever is lower] + [Cover]. To make things faster, don’t let defenders roll at all – you’re at the mercy of the aggressor (or, really, the aggressor’s dice). If the attack is against someone who is totally unresisting, and the attacker is skilled and certain in intent, that’s it. The defender is dead, or maimed, or whatever the attacker wants.

If the attack is contested, then the roll is 4dF + [Attacker’s Weapon Skill] versus 4dF + [Defender’s Defense Skill] + [Cover]. Again, for faster resolution, don’t let the defender roll.

If two attacks are simultaneous – i.e., A attacks B and B attacks A, its assumed they’re both going for it and they’re both going to roll their attack as if it was unresisted. Time to spend Reflex or take it on the chin.

If two characters are trying to move in an opposed way – that is, one is fleeing and the other is chasing, or one is trying to maneuver closer to the exit and one is trying to cut her off, then they make a contested roll and the winner gets what they want. The margin of victory should help the GM and the players narrate how things go. Winning by 1 point is a minimal win. If the contest is ongoing, then the winner adds her margin of victory to the next roll (i.e., gaining on someone she’s chasing). When the margin of victory exceeds the Dexterity of the other person, the maneuvering is over (the fleeing character escapes, etc.) In many of these cases, a Skill will also apply – Fitness (Running) for the chase scene, or Acrobatics (Evasion) for the maneuvering, especially in a confined place.

Generally, when one person involved says what Skill they’re using to do what they want, the skill to oppose this should become clear. If no Skill applies, just use an Attribute -3.

For all other situations, make contested rolls, or have the player roll against a difficulty number set by the GM.


Conditions describe how a character is doing during a physical conflict. For example, a character could be sickened, or prone, or flying through the air, etc. Rather than have the tedious list of conditions that is in the back of the D&D DM’s Guide, the GM and players are encouraged to negotiate bonuses and penalties that would apply in the situation. Its easier to give only bonuses – so, for example, attacking a prone opponent could grant a +2 bonus on your attack roll. (What matters is the distance between the numbers being compared, not what the numbers are)

Wounds are a little more specific. There are six general varieties of Wounds (and a few effects):
0-1: Minor (scratches, cuts, bad bruises, livid welts) -1 Appeal until covered or healed
2-3: Moderate (cuts, serious bruises, jammed fingers) -1 everything
4-5: Serious (gashes, cracked bones, broken fingers or toes, punctures) -2 everything, lose 1 Vigor
6-7: Dire (deep punctures, severed blood vessels, hemhorraging, broken bones) -3 everything, lose 1 Vigor per minute
8-9: Crippling (shattered bones, severed limbs, punctures all the way through) -4 everything, lose 1 vigor per Endurance in turns (or seconds)
10+ Mortal (you are going to die without immediate intervention) no actions, lose 1 Vigor per round or second

Each Wound is treated as its own unique snowflake of pain and suffering. So those penalties stack with each other – three Moderate Wounds give you a -3 to everything. Vigor loss is not cumulative, however – you just keep track of Vigor loss from the worst Wound. When you’re out of Vigor, you slump to the ground, utterly spent, and fall unconscious.

As you can see, things get bad quickly. Here’s how you get Wounds, then we’ll talk more about how to avoid them.

When you are hit during a physical conflict, the attacker notes their margin of success. You then make a contested roll during the Resolution phase – the attacker rolls 4dF + [Margin of Victory] + [Strength] + [Weapon Damage] and the defender rolls 4dF + [Endurance] + [Armor]. The defender’s number is subtracted from the attacker’s number. If the result is positive, you’ve got yourself a Wound. If not, you’ve shrugged it off and you move on.

Some Variations

Some people like rolling for initiative and then going around the table in order, declaring their actions each in turn. (Actually, I do too, I just like this better) If this is what you’re after, go for it! Roll 4dF + [Reflex] and the highest initiative result goes first and so on. Ties go to the higher base Reflex. If those are tied…work it out cleverly.

If you really like a Burning Wheel-style system where you declare multiple actions ahead of time, go for it. As always, you spend Reflex to change actions after they’re declared. Then you go down the list, Rolling and then Resolving action 1, action 2, and so on.

You can always keep the defender from rolling to speed things along. For an ever faster option, you can get rid of the dice altogether. The dice are there to add an element of fun and surprise to what’s going on, but the numbers are all there from the start. Drop the dice and Epic still works just fine.

Using Vigor and Clarity

Vigor can be spent once per turn to add +1 to any muscle-powered roll, such as damage, or swinging a heavy weapon, or wrestling, etc. If two people spend Vigor at the same time, the one with the highest current Vigor wins and gets the +1 and the other one just wasted another precious Vigor…

Clarity can be spent to concentrate when there are distractions – which is always the case during a battle. It enables you to temporarily do things like fine manipulation or recall details during a fight. Say you’re fleeing a mob, and come to an alleyway, and can’t remember which doorway leads to the back entrance to your hideout. If you spend a Clarity, you focus and recall the tidbit in the nick of time. If you don’t, you might still be there panicking and yanking on doors when the mob turns the corner…

Magic, Weapons and Armor, Tactics, Large-Scale Battles, Etc.

All to be covered in future posts.

2 thoughts on “Epic: Physical Conflict

  1. One thing that BW inspired me to do was to stick with having one conflict resolution system that is applied in different ways to different kinds of conflicts. I like the Fight!/Maneuvering/Duel of Wits, but they are all different enough to be confusing


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