Techniques

A cinematic technique doesn't have to make sense. All that matters is that it's true to the spirit of the game and - if taken from a fictional source - its origins. Legend and cinema are full of "super-techniques" that give bonuses in every category, the only cost being a huge default penalty . . . which is of no concern to the master, whose prodigious skill can easily absorb a mere -15 or -20. A few guidelines for GMs who wish to temper their cinematic campaigns with game balance:

• Damage: No matter how deadly a technique is reputed to be, the GM should limit its damage bonus to +2 (or +1 per die, if better). Weapon Masters already get a damage bonus, while unarmed fighters can learn Pressure Secrets. These simulate the devastating "secret techniques" of cinematic masters far better than do massive technique-based damage bonuses.

• Extra Movement: In settings with a chambara or wuxia sensibility, there should be many techniques that let warriors buy off the -4 for Move and Attack. To truly simulate these genres, most techniques should have a Move and Attack variant! An attack that gets extra movement from jumping, tumbling, vaulting, etc., has an additional -1 - or -2 if it allows full-fledged acrobatics (see Flying Attack, p. 107, and Acrobatic Attack, p. 1007).

• Hit Location: Contrary to the rules for Targeted Attacks (p. 68), the GM may wish to allow warriors to eliminate hit location penalties completely by buying cinematic techniques. This is deadly - imagine a swordsman who can completely remove the -9 to hit the eyes or the -10 for chinks in armor on the skull - but it is in keeping with much of martial-arts fiction.

• Opponent's Defenses: Bonuses to the target's defenses against offensive techniques can go as high as +4 in cinematic games. Use this for exotic "finishing moves" that only work against opponents who are already defeated and unable to defend. On the other side of the coin are mythical techniques (either offensive or defensive) that can supposedly defeat the strongest defense. These might give an opponent up to -4 to his Block, Dodge, and/or Parry.

• Own Attack Roll: Elaborate defensive techniques might give +4 or more to hit one's foe after parrying his attack at a proportionally huge penalty. This is an excellent choice for the cinematic barbarian, whose parry is often little more than a powerful, cleaving blow designed to knock aside his opponent's weapon and lead directly into an attack.

• Own Defenses: A cinematic warrior might get up to +4 to one of his defenses for an elaborate offensive technique that involves attacking from some secret guard position . . . or up to -4 to all of his defenses when making a desperate lunge or mighty swing that's designed to avoid retaliation by killing the target. He might receive between +4 and -4 to other defenses when using a similarly extreme defensive technique.

• Special Benefits: Almost anything is possible! Offensive techniques that make it possible to buy off Move and Attack penalties are particularly common. These often toss in an extra -1 to get rid of the skill limit of 9 and a further -1 to eliminate the restriction against retreating afterward.

Defensive techniques can enjoy similarly extreme benefits. A classic example is defense against attacks from behind without having Peripheral Vision or 360° Vision. This benefit gives a basic default of -1, plus the usual -2 for the awkward angle. A technique like this might require Danger Sense or Precognition to use at all.

• Special Drawbacks: There are at least two schools of thought on this matter. Some techniques seem to pay for their effectiveness by being risky. They offer many benefits alongside frightening drawbacks that keep their default penalties relatively modest. Even a beginner can try these moves . . . but any failure is disastrous!

Other techniques have no special down side - except, of course, for a huge default penalty. This puts them out of the reach of beginners. Once perfected, though, they're very reliable and very deadly.

The GM decides which model to use. He might use the same one for every technique he designs, vary his approach from style to style, or let the chips fall where they may.

The GM should be more lenient about which combat penalties a cinematic technique can remove, too. The only hard-and-fast rule is that no technique should make it possible to buy off the penalties for Rapid Strike or multiple parries (reducing these penalties is the territory of Trained by a Master and Weapon Master, which are far more expensive than any technique); those for distraction, stunning, the momentary shock from injury, etc. (nobody spends enough time in any of these states to get good at fighting that way); and those for darkness or invisibility (but see Blind Fighting, p. B180).

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