Friday, March 6, 2020

Downtime Activities: Martial Training

In war as in peace, practice makes perfect. There is the ordinary matter of staying in form through sword play with a dueling partner or fencing dummy, or through sweaty knife work alone in a darkened barn, or shooting a bow on a range or at pigeons in flight. To remain at the height of ones combat powers, one must practice. Then there is serious martial training, which is not a matter of keeping ones skills sharp, but rather about learning secrets of the crafts of war from masters of the art. This post provides rules for such practice and mastery of techniques . It is another entry in my growing system of downtime actions--you can see the other entries here. The idea is that during each downtime session you can perform one such action. Here are some ways to spend that precious action on the arts of war.

Keeping in Form

Anyone may spend a downtime practicing at arms, either alone, or with a suitable partner. The player must choose a weapon type (sword, knife, longbow, etc) with which their character practices. Only weapons open to their class may be selected. They roll 2d6, adding their level if a fighter (or fighter sub-class). On a 7+ the player may choose one: all rolls with that weapon type are +1 to hit or all rolls with that weapon type are +1 to damage until the next downtime. On a 6- there is no benefit. Note that snake eyes is always a failure, regardless of the bonuses received.

Mastering Martial Techniques

But one may also work over time to learn more sophisticated fighting styles. These are special abilities that, having mastered them, one may use freely in combat. Modern editions of D&D have developed baroque feat trees to model such things in the name of customizing and building a character. While there's probably a lot that could be extracted from those serious efforts for retro-gaming play, for B/X or AD&D lite, with its simpler combat rules and lack of skill trees, the general approach feels wrong. But luckily the OSR has produced many house rules presenting options for combat. My idea here is to simply make these house rules into learnable skills that provide combat tricks and options.

In order to attempt to master a martial techniques, one must first find a teacher who knows the relevant art and is willing to instruct you. The DM may require you to pay a fee, or to develop a relationship with the individual. PCs can always teach other PCs, but this counts as their downtime action. For each such martial technique, there is a tracker to show progress towards mastery. For each downtime action spent attempting to move a step forward on the tracker, the player rolls 2d6, adding their level if they are a fighter. On a 7+ they move forward a step. On a 6- there is no benefit. Note that snake eyes is always a failure, regardless of the bonus received.

Each of the martial techniques listed below requires 3 successes to master. You could introduce less effective techniques available for fewer ticks, or more effective techniques for more ticks. If you include more effective techniques, my advice would be to treat acquiring them as major campaign goals, on a par with having a splendid artifacts crafted. They should be secret arts known only to a few masters, who must be sought after in game, and who will likely only teach their art to fighters who prove themselves worthy. Once again, this is delightful opportunity for worldbuilding as you place the masters of secret martial techniques in your sandbox. (I may try my hand at some of these in a later post.)

Martial Techniques 

(3 Step Tracks Each)

Shields Will Be Splintered (Originally from this amazing post by trollysmith!)
If you take melee damage when using a shield, you may opt to negate the damage at the cost of splintering (destroying) your shield. You may only employ this ability once per session.

Wall of Strokes
Each round, you may forgo attacking, focusing solely on warding off your enemy's blows with a wall of deft strokes.  Your AC improves by 4 for the round. The use of this power must be declared before you roll initiative.

Due Caution
Each round you may opt to fight cautiously, giving greater care to your defense. For the duration of this round, your AC improves by 2 but you receive a -2 penalty to hit. The use of this power must be declared before you roll initiative.

Wild Abandon
Each round you may opt to fight with wild abandon, ignoring your screaming sense of danger to press the attack without concern for safety. For the duration of this round, worsen your AC by 4, but receive a +2 to hit. The use of this power must be declared before you roll initiative.

You are trained in the arts of dynamic fighting in the most dashing Hollywood style. If you are lightly armored (studded leather, leather, or padded armor), or unarmored, improve your AC by 1 as you swing from chandeliers and roll under tables like Jack Sparrow. Fighting classes (fighters, paladins, and rangers) may complete this track twice for a total AC bonus of up to 2.

Fight Like an Argive
If you have a spear readied, you may throw it and charge into melee combat in the same round.

Choose a missile weapon type, e.g. bows, slings, throwing weapons, etc. Spend one round taking aim with your chosen missile weapon at a visible target. On the next round receive +4 to hit. You may take this technique multiple times for different classes of missile weapons.

Eagle Eye
Choose a missile weapon type: bows, slings, or thrown weapons, etc.. Increase short, medium, and long-range ranges of your chosen missile weapon type by 10 feet. You may take this technique multiple times for different classes of missile weapons.

If you have ideas for more martial techniques, please post them in the comments below--or better yet, on your own blog!


  1. Here's a bunch of simple feats I made for fighters a while ago that you could probably use for this

  2. Training in one technique or style may put an adventure at odds with one more warriors who chosen a different approach to training. Rivalry may spill into bloodshed, duels, or death.

    1. Love it. Especially for more advanced styles. Like in martial arts movies, learning them could put one in opposition to those who train with the opposing master.

  3. Love the idea of training to learn Martial techniques rather than them being tied to leveling. It gives the warrior something to do for downtime and makes them feel more apart of the world in a realistic way.

  4. This is great!! To heck with feats man, I can't get with that stuff. Much rather learn a special fighting-style from an old dude on top of a mountain.

    Electing to attack last in a round provides the swordsmaster with a +1 to AC (during the round)and +2 to damage for each attack against them that misses (max 2 attacks) during the round. The technique can be honed as many times as desired, with each training session adding two attacks to the total. Doing so requires hiring ever larger numbers of trained sparring partners and cost rapidly increases unless one runs a renowned school of arms.

    2. ARGUMENT OF KINGS or MAZE OF CUTS (Two mutually antagonistic schools/traditions)
    The swordsmaster anticipates and strikes normal missiles directed at them from the front, deflecting up to 2 normal missile attacks per round. While using this technique one can only move at a slow pace and cannot attack.

    Additional training in the technique can improve the number of missiles deflected by +2 per training up to a maximum of 10.

    A mystical technique, whose secretive practitioners claim that it's success depends on aligning the weapon with the "true astrology of the instant stars". Whatever its basis UPEND CREATION allows a blunt weapon wielder to forgo a round of action to set up an attack that when successful inflicts 2 points of damage per HD of the opponent instead of normal damage.

    It can be learned only once, but only after enduring and paying for 4 training sessions of utterly useless mystical nonsense.

    A dagger technique taught in unsavory dueling schools for the most jaded nobility and by certain kinds of criminal syndicators who thrive on fear. Hits using this technique inflict only one point of damage each, along with excruciating, debilitating pain (only on enemies with natural physiognomy and that can feel pain).

    The first "flower" reduces movement by half and all future attacks by -1. Additional strikes will reduce attack by another point. These effects end when the injury is staunched and bandaged.

    Up to three levels of expertise can be obtained, with each level granting an additional 1 point penalty to hit per strike. Any swordsmaster displaying this technique or bragging of its knowledge is likely to earn the disdain of other martial practitioners and a reputation as a pervert and sadist.

  6. Dance of the Duelist: Firstly, a preferred martial weapon must be selected (dagger, longsword, shortsword, spear, axe etc.). When fighting an enemy who is using the same weapon type, the practitioner may add +1 to hit and +1 to AC when fighting that opponent. This training may be taken up to twice for each weapon type, for a bonus of +2/+2.

    Any nobleman worth his salt will have been trained by a duelist in his formative years. Of course, this fad began some time ago as a way to gain the upper hand during bouts of damaged honor, but now so many nobleman are duelists it is nearly suicide not to be trained as one. Many families will go to great lengths to find, bribe, kidnap or imprison exotic weapons masters in order to give themselves an edge.