[This article originally appeared in the Legends of the Lance newsletter.]
In the SAGA System rules for Dragonlance: Fifth Age, heroes use their Strength to perform actions in melee combat, like hitting their opponents. Characters with high Strength codes are also better trained in the use of melee weapons.
This approach causes difficulties with some hero concepts players may have: What about the wiry swordsman who’s deadly with a blade but not particularly brawny, or the strong hero who can’t hit the broad side of a barn? Additionally, some players may have difficulties equating combat skill with brute strength.
Worse yet, based close combat ability on Strength makes physically powerful monsters in the game nigh-unbeatable, due to the massive differences in Strength between, say, a human and even a small dragon.
One option for handling these concerns is to introduce a new ability to the SAGA System: Fighting (or Prowess, or something similar). Fighting takes the place of Strength and is aligned with the suit of Swords. It measures the hero’s training in melee combat, both armed and unarmed, and the ability to use different weapons effectively. The Fighting ability code works the same as the standard Fifth Age Strength Code; an “A” means the hero is trained with all melee weapons, a “B” is all but very heavy weapons, and so forth. If a hero does not have training in a particular weapon, the hero suffers a one level increase in difficulty when using it.
To make room for Fighting, the Strength and Endurance abilities are collapsed into one ability (called Strength), measuring the hero’s overall muscle and stamina, and aligned with the suit of Helms. It is used for actions involving brute Strength (like breaking down doors and bending bars), as well as all actions Endurance is normally used for.
Fighting is used to make melee attacks, and it is also used to avoid melee attacks, representing the hero’s skill in parrying and blocking. So attacking in melee combat is an average Fighting (Fighting) action, as is avoiding an attack. The Narrator may also wish to allow heroes the option of using Agility to avoid melee attacks, giving nimble heroes a better chance of getting out of the way. If the attack hits, the hero’s Strength still determines damage normally.
Strength is still used as the action ability for close-in unarmed attacks like wrestling, representing the advantage greater Strength provides the attacker.
The Narrator should choose the Fighting score for characters and creatures in the game. Creatures may have Fighting equal to their Physique, or the Narrator may choose to give them a lower fighting score to represent creatures that are physically very strong (high Physique) but not particularly swift or accurate (lower Fighting). This also gives heroes more of a “fighting chance” when going up against larger, more powerful creatures.