Hindering Circumstances And Martial Arts

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Obviously, not every fight takes place when the character is at his best on clear, level ground. This section offers some guidelines on determining the effects of various hindering circumstances.

In many cases, the effects of hindering circumstances can be eliminated if the character makes a roll for a particular Skill. Such rolls must be made each Phase; if the character fails the roll he will be subjected to whatever penalties are involved for that Phase.


Most martial arts styles are not designed for use while the fighter is wearing armor—armor often impedes a fighter's ability to move and to see, which robs a martial artist of many of the benefits of his fighting style. If a character is forced to use his martial arts in armor, he will not only suffer the standard DCV penalty for wearing armor (see the HERO System Rulesbook and Fantasy Hero for more information), he will suffer a -1 to -3 penalty to OCV. The extent of this penalty will depend upon the amount and type of armor, and the character's fighting style (some styles, such as Wrestling, would adapt more easily to armor than others). For example, full plate armor would impose a -3 to just about any style, whereas a chain mail shirt might only impose a -1 to -2 on most styles.

To eliminate this OCV penalty, characters need only buy a 1-point Element for their martial arts style, "Use Art in Armor." To eliminate the DCV penalties characters can buy levels with DCV.

Styles which the GM rules are specially intended to be used by armored fighters (Kenjutsu, for instance) do not require their practitioners to purchase this Element; it is a "default" Element of that style.


Some characters in martial arts comic books and movies display proficiency with fighting in or around certain types of objects. An example would be a character who can use his martial arts to fight effectively while riding or sitting on a bicycle—the bicycle becomes not only a "fighting platform" for the character, but he can use it as a weapon in crude ways (such as by "popping a wheelie" and shoving the front wheel against his opponent or bringing it down on his toes). Other objects of this sort might include automobiles, chairs, skateboards and the like.

Ordinarily, if a character wants to attempt this sort of stunt, he will suffer penalties to OCV and DCV of -1 to -2 and will also suffer penalties for cluttered or cramped circumstances (see below), as appropriate. However, characters may buy a 1-point Weapon Element and eliminate these penalties—Use Art on Bicycle, Use Art in Automobile, and so forth. If the character actually wants to use the object as a weapon

(so that he can use his martial art maneuvers with it), he should buy a second Weapon Element for that— Use Art with Bicycle, for example.

Sometimes common objects can substitute for martial weapons, in a pinch. Of course, such a substitute isn't as good as the real thing. For instance, a martial artist might be forced to use a mop as a quarterstaff, but because it's unbalanced he might take a -1 OCV penalty, and the mop handle probably has a much lower DEF and BODY than a real quarterstaff. The GM should assign OCV penalties from -0 to -2, if necessary, and adjust the DEF and BODY as needed.


Fighting while climbing something can be extraordinarily difficult and dangerous. The exact penalties involved depend upon what the character is climbing, and how he is doing it. For example, climbing a ladder simply imposes a -1 DCV on the character. Climbing a mountain or a wall barehanded (without any equipment or safety gear) reduces the character to V DCV and subtracts 2 DC from all of his attacks. There may also be OCV penalties depending upon the nature of the attack and the circumstances.

Characters can eliminate these penalties by making a Climbing roll. If the roll is failed, the penalties still apply; if the roll is badly failed, the character will probably fall as well.

Cluttered And Cramped Areas

Unlike the open floor of a dojo, some areas— rooms filled with furniture, junkyards, rocky mountainsides, stairways, tiny phone booths, hallways and the like—are either so cluttered or so cramped that fighting in them is difficult. Depending upon the exact nature of the area in question, the fighters should suffer at least -2 DCV and -1 OCV. The penalties can be even greater, at the GM's discretion. Furthermore, based on the type of area, certain types of maneuvers (such as Flying Kicks, maneuvers with the FMove helpful element and various kinds of kicks and sweeps) may not be possible at all; the type of weapons one can use is also affected (see below for details).

Characters can eliminate most of these penalties by making an Acrobatics roll. Some penalties (such as maneuvers and weapons that can be used) may not be subject to elimination in this way.

Optional Acrobatic Movement

Crowded hexes can subtract from normal ground movement. Large numbers of people or fixed objects may slow a character's progress (-1 to -4 inches of ground movement, as determined by the GM) to force through packed areas. Acrobatics Skill may be used to avoid this penalty by traveling over, under or through the impasse. Subtract the ground movement penalty from the Acrobatics Skill Roll. A successful Acrobatics Roll allows the character to pass the crowded hex as with normal movement. A failed roll caused the character to fall in that hex, and a half move must be used to stand. Treat each crowded hex as a separate roll but subtract one from the Acrobatics Roll for each hex after the first.

Falling And Flying

Every now and then characters may be placed in a situation where they have to fight during a long fall. The parachuting sequence from the James Bond movie Moonraker is probably the classic example of this sort of thing—two falling characters fighting over a single parachute.

Characters who are falling are severely restricted in their use of martial arts. Attacks that require them to use their legs—just about all kinds of kicks and sweeps, for example—are difficult or impossible to perform, as are most throws and dodges. Punches or hand attacks are allowed, and grappling and choking are the easiest of all (and often the most logical choice, too). There is no way to eliminate these penalties.

In some situations characters should also be aware of the possibility of doing Knockback, which is something they will often want to avoid—ifyour opponent has the only parachute, you want to stick close to him and take it from him, not knock him away from you.

Parachuting characters often use the reverse of these rules—punching and grappling attacks are not really possible, but some kicks are. The GM should determine what maneuvers are usable based on the situation.

Refer to "Zero-Gravity And Martial Arts," below, for information about fighting in situations where there is no gravity at all.

Footing/Slippery Ground

Fighting on ground which is muddy, icy or otherwise slippery is difficult at best. Characters in this situation suffer -1 DCV and -1 DC from all attacks. The GM may impose additional penalties on some attacks, such as kicks. A Breakfall roll is enough to eliminate these penalties. Some styles, such as Pentjak-Silat, specifically train fighters to fight on slippery ground.


Sometimes fights end up with two characters struggling on the ground, rather than standing up trading blows. Unfortunately, many martial arts styles do not teach maneuvers for groundfighting (though they may teach a "grounded" fighter to dodge attacks from an upright attacker by using Acrobatics, (refer to "Acrobatics" in Chapter Two for more information).

Groundfighting has several effects on the use of martial arts. First, it restricts the maneuvers that can be used. Obviously most kicks can no longer be used, and all maneuvers which damage a character by causing him to fall are useless; characters will be limited to punches, grappling and similar maneuvers. Second, characters who are not trained in groundfighting are at -2 OCV and V DCV. These CV penalties can be eliminated vis-a-vis the opponent if the character makes a PS: Groundfighting roll (at the GM's option, a special Element, "Use Art while Prone," could be used in place of this Skill). The V DCV penalty normally applied to prone characters who are targeted by non-prone characters still applies even if that roll is made.


Even if a character practices Drunken Style Kung Fu, fighting while intoxicated is still very difficult. "Intoxication" can be the result of excessive drinking, drug use or other unusual conditions (such as an alien character who breathes methane and becomes "drunk" when breathing Earth's oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere).

Characters who fight while intoxicated are at -2 OCV and -2 DCV. These penalties cannot be eliminated.


Sometimes martial artists are forced to fight while riding a horse or some other mount. This is of course more common in fantasy campaigns, but can occur in other settings as well. If the mount is unruly and bucks, the character will be at -3 OCV while fighting. This penalty can be eliminated if the character makes a Riding roll. Also, certain maneuvers may not be used while mounted, or may suffer penalties; the GM should decide this based on the maneuver description and the player's description of how the maneuver is performed.


If a character is so unfortunate as to find himself trying to fight on a tightrope, he is at -2 DCV and all attacks are at -2 DC. Of course, some maneuvers (such as kicks) are not practical in such a situation, and their use may impose additional penalties. All of these penalties can be eliminated if the character makes an Acrobatics roll.

Rules for tightropes can be used when characters have to fight on other narrow objects—a small ledge on a building, the top of a jungle gym, a tree limb and so forth. Depending upon how wide the object is, the penalty may be reduced and/or the character may get a bonus to his Acrobatics roll.


Characters who fight underwater are at -2 DCV and -2 DC. These penalties can be eliminated if the character makes a PS: SCUBA Operations roll (whether or not the character is currently using SCUBA equipment).

Characters who are standing in knee-deep water are at -2 DCV (and also suffer slippery ground penalties if the ground is not firm). This penalty can be eliminated if the character makes a Breakfall roll. Knee-deep or higher water may make some maneuvers (such as kicks, sweeps, and throws) difficult or impossible.


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