It’s one of those challenges. While all the books come with the details of your antagonists laid out, you still feel the need to wonder whether those numbers apply all the time. Does that value on the paper (or screen) represent the steady state? In the case of a score like Defense, what happens if you swap out Ability X or change their armour? Did that treasure-hunter just run off with a sack filled with treasures – does that mean they’ve just made themselves more vulnerable now that they’re carrying a dozen more pieces of kit?
I wouldn’t presuppose to be supplying anything of infinite value in bringing together all the various values and considerations that make up the calculation of the Defense value of an opponent. For the better part (assuming you haven’t got an early copy of the Core Book without errata considered) all the basic creatures you will throw at the player characters will have their Defense calculated and noted correctly.
For those that want to check for themselves or feel the need to tweak and adjust, what follows is a fairly accurate and complete listing of Defense and the way the mechanics modify it.
Base Defense =
Attribute [default: Quick] – Armor impeding value
- Balanced Quality: modify +1
- Encumbrance: modify -1 per each extra item carried above Strong value
- Mantle Dance (n): modify +1*
- Robust (n/I): modify -2
- Robust (a/II): modify -3
- Robust (m/III): modify -4
- Spirit Walk (a): roll [Resolute -Damage] instead of Defense
- Staff Fighting (n): modify +1, with standard quarterstaff
- Staff Fighting (n): modify +2, with rune staff
- Twin Attack (n): modify +1 (if weapon in each hand)
- Shield (standard): modify +1
- Shield Fighter (n): base shield modifier +1
Armor impeding value…
- Cumbersome Quality light armor: impeding value = -3
- Cumbersome Quality medium armor: impeding value = -4
- Cumbersome Quality heavy armor: impeding value = -5
- Flexible Quality medium armor: impeding value = -1
- Flexible Quality heavy armor: impeding value = -2
- Impeding Quality light armor: impeding value = -2
- Impeding Quality medium armor: impeding value = -3
- Impeding Quality heavy armor: impeding value = -4
- Man-at-Arms (a): impeding value = 0
- Berserker (n): Attribute [any] = 5
- Dancing Weapons (n): Attribute [Resolute]
- Sixth Sense (a): Attribute [Vigilant]
- Tactician (a): Attribute [Cunning]
- Agile Combat (a): second chance against Free Attacks provoked by withdrawal
- Knife Play (m): second chance to overcome enemies Defense in melee
- Illusory Correction (a): each round, if successful Resolute check
- Shapeshift (a): each round while in “escaping” form
- Perfect Defense: for one (1) Experience, parry or dodge a single attack that would otherwise have hit (once/turn)
- Full Defense: forfeit option to attack at all this turn to have a second chance to pass all Defense tests
- Full Offense: second chance to fail all Defense tests this turn to have a second chance to pass all melee attacks
- Perfect Defense roll (optional): Free Attack against enemy
- Fumbled Defense roll (optional): Enemy inflicts +3 damage
- Re-roll for one (1) Experience: Recommendation is No (see CB Optional Rules, p179)
- Re-roll for one (1) permanent Corruption: Yes (see CB Optional Rules, p179)
- Mantle Dance: You might have noted an asterisk against this one. If you haven’t watched Season 3 of CW’s Supergirl, you can’t really appreciate the combat potential of the Mantle Dance. The balletic act of twisting, snapping and extending the mantle or cloak comes into its own, especially toward the end of the series, where more than one of the characters uses the technique very effectively.
- Experience: As a GM, you might consider giving your antagonists their own Experience excess. It might seem a little odd, but if you think about it, why wouldn’t they have the same benefits in hand as the player characters. With a small number of experience – maybe 5 points at most – an antagonist has the option to execute a Perfect Defense or, if you feel inclined and have house ruled it as such, re-roll a failed Defense. There’s also the possibility that they have come Prepared for the occasion, which makes perfect sense if the player characters have been making a lot of fuss and noise in progressing toward the climatic encounter (see Experience Points)
- Corruption: And while you’re considering the possibility of giving a non-player character experience, why not trickle on the permanent Corruption? Many antagonists would see this as a viable and natural way to extend and expand their survival by opening themselves up to the dark side! If the player characters have the option (from CB Optional Rules, page 179), why can’t an antagonist take on more permanent Corruption to re-roll? In both this and the previous case, you will want to keep this option mainly to your core villain and their direct hench-folk (not the minions), but think of the glorious conclusion to the game where the villain throws it all in to best the characters and – in the last breath – spends the Corruption point to make a re-roll that pushes them over the edge into Abomination territory.
- Maneuvers: Another powerful option that you, as GM, shouldn’t leave to the player characters alone. While you should absolutely consider the many considerations laid out by Master Xaras in the Ordo Magica article on Keeping My Bad Guys Alive, the key should always be to turn the player character advantage on its head by ensuring that you never sell the baddies short.
- Environment: Often considered more as a facet of the story than the combat that arises within it, the use of maps – or a more detailed mechanical representation of surroundings and hazards – can make the difference when it comes to Defense. Herein lies the possible use of more standardised difficulty modifiers or even the possibility of redefining combat advantage. Maybe the wise and dexterous villain will consider the situation in this article’s image a good one, after all they can’t be flanked by the attackers! If you don’t use a map, consider something like the Aspect feature in Fate Core. Set the environment down in note form, cards or sticky notes placed in the middle of the table. The environment can block, obstruct, distract, constrain, or even launch an attack itself, like an out-of-control fire or vats of acid lying around abandoned in a derelict. Some facets of an environment might allow the player to make a test to avoid a penalty to their Defense or attack; other parts, like the hazards, could inflict immediate harm if ignored or perhaps might even present a viable alternative for the antagonist. If the villain can puncture an immobile and verdigris-weakened vat a tide of acid might be a valuable ally…
- Big BIG Bad: As GM, never feel the need to balance an encounter to match the experience and abilities of the player characters – what’s the challenge in doing that. You should definitely read Balanced Combat Resistance as a baseline, but don’t stop there. The adventures presented in the The Throne of Thorns campaign so far have had guidance on the numbers to throw at the characters – but that should be key in your mind… it’s guidance. Read around the encounter. If the battle should make the characters scared, scare them with an insurmountable foe; slaughter and defeat should feel certain from the outset and if any player stands their ground, remind them that combat is sometimes the last option rather than the first.
…a blightling came sidling, filth forged in flesh, cruelty carved in bone, a decoction of the World Serpent’s marrow. The blight beast ogled me hungrily and in its burning eyes I saw the death of all.