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.)
(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.
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.
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.
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!