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Disarming and Ambushing Changes

Out of boredom, I've decided to address a couple main problems I've had dealt with previously in Exalted games I have both run and participated in. Mainly the issues of Disarming and Ambush. Now they seem to be unrelated topics, but I think they are both needed to be talked about due to them having the same issue, they are both such ineffective tactics, barring really good magics, that they are really not worth using at all.

See, the main thing is that both these effects have to deal with not just defense being stronger, but being so strong as to totally overpower any chance of someone ever doing them effectively. This I see as unacceptable for a game where both of these are supposed to be cinematic staples. In fact, it says as much on disarming, then goes on to a system which totally defeats its usefulness.

So then, this is an attempt to try and make the systems actually effective. Some ideas will be presented, and options given, so we'll see how they go. More options are always welcome:)


The first part of these revisions is disarming. Now, the corebook says this about disarming:

Disarming opponents is a staple of heroic fiction.

This implies that they meant for disarming to be, well, useful. However, the actual rules for it doesn't support this statement. Disarming in Exalted is next to useless most of the time. My goal here is to try and find some options in order to fix that.

The Current System

First off, we need to discuss what has to be fixed. So with that, here is the basic disarming rules found in Exalted, on pages 238 and 239:

  • Make a Dexterity + the appropriate combat Ability (Combat Ability from now on) roll at difficulty 3 for a hand-to-hand attack or difficulty 5 for a ranged attack for a character attempting to disarm an opponent. The target may parry or dodge as though it were a normal attack.
  • If the disarming roll is successful, make a reflexive Wits + Combat Ability for the victim of the attack. If the target's player does not get as many successes on the Wits + Ability roll as the attacker had extra successes on the disarming roll, the weapon is torn from his grasp and flung several feet in a direction of the attacker's choice.

There is then discussion on retrieving the weapon and a textbox entitled Disarming and Drama which talks about making disarming harder. We'll get into that in a moment.

The Symptoms

The first problem here is that while it's a standard attack, the person attacking rolls at a higher difficulty then the defender. This I see as fair really. The defender has to worry about loosing her weapon and possibly being left helpless. Simple enough really. Defense still has the edge in that shields help, as the text says nothing against it. And you can both dodge and parry the roll as normal.

The problem with it shows is the second roll. Basically, after already having ot deal with the defender being stronger and a higher difficulty, the defender gets a second roll at full pool against the attack. Success means that she has defended anyway. So in effect, you get a free parry agains the disarm. While this doesn't seem to be much, it often means that there is a very likely chance you are going to not get disarmed barring magics like Weapon-Breaking Technique.

Other things is that nothing affects the Wits roll. The defender really just gets an additional parry no matter what. People say what balances some weapons is their ability to not be disarmed, but the fact is that disarming is such a rare occurence that it almost never happens. This is part of why I have always disliked the Solar weapon-summoning tree, as Retrieve the Fallen weapon is almost never used, and Call the Blade is only limitedly useful.

The difficulty of the roll is also extremely frustrating. First off is the fact that it's already like the guy has a tower shield when trying to fight them. Some weapons, like sai and tiger forks, reduce this difficulty, but I've found that -1 difficulty often doesn't mean much. And some Charms, such as the Mantis Style Charm Grasping Claw Method, merely add dice to the attack roll, barely off-setting the diffculty IMHO.

While I understand the point of the Wits roll, its power really hurts things really fast. So therefore, I think that its something to work on changing.

Suggestion 1 - You already got to defend.

The first idea is to get rid of the Wits roll altogether. The logic behind this is that you already got to defend, you already are dealing with increased difficulties, and you already have to work with the fact that if you succeed, you should be allowed to succeed. However, the issue is this might make disarming really easy comparatively. Some effects, like the Lunar auto-success Charms, might lead to abuse of this against folks who couldn't defend themselves.

This is the simplest suggestion, however. Charms that disarm as a secondary effect would work the same, merely 'cause it's well, a secondary effect. It also makes it easier to deal with. And well, if you see it happen too much, go back to the original rules.

Another version of this is just make the roll involve just Wits or the Combat Ability. While it still might undermine your success, it does mean the victim of this sorta attack has some sort of defense against it.

Suggestion 2 - Better try and protect yourself.

The next suggestion is to make the Wits + Combat Ability roll a standard dice action, not a reflexive one. With Power Combat, one can even use it as a full parry action. But usually, you would of had to have had a pre-split action or a cascading effect going on in order to make the roll if you failed.

This means that while its still hard to disarm someone, they still have to work to keep it in hand. I like this myself because it still gives defense against disarming, but at the same time makes it so that they don't get a nice full pool to deal with. I think that having your weapon fumble should take an action too. It fits with the cinematics, keeps it fair, and feels a bit more real.

I would present either of these options for further groups really. While not always needed, I think its a way to go myself.


The next thing to talk about is Ambush. While it seems like it is a powerful ability in this game, and indeed, for beings without supernatural abilities, it is very deadly. But in a game where the ninja, heshashen, or other simaller sneaky S.O.B. should work, I think that it falls a bit flat when dealing iwth supernaturals.

The Current System

To start with, here's the standard system for ambush, as found in Exalted, page 238:

  • Make a contested roll between the person being ambushed (the target) and the ambusher. The target rols Perception + Awareness, while the ambusher rolls Dexterity + Stealth. If the defender spots the ambusher (equals or exceeds her successes), then he may act normally.
  • If a character is successfully ambushed, make a reflexive Wits + Awareness roll. If he fails, then he may not act the first round of combat. If he succeeds, he may dodge, parry, or use reflexive Charms. And if he rolls atleast 3 successes, he acts normally.

The Symptoms

Once again, I find the issue here is the fact that there is a whole new reflexive roll, only this time, it is difficulty 1. What this means that no matter how good you ambuhsed a target, they only need to roll one success to defend, or use Charms to defend themselves. So if you get 8 more successes then them, you can still loose if they roll a ten and something else.

Personal Solution

I don't find this very acceptable myself. The Wits + Awareness roll, while having its place in the system, is just too easy IMHO to be fair. As such, the following is how I'd run it:

  • Make a contested Perception + Awareness versus Dexterity + Stealth roll, as noted above.
  • If the target fails to gain more successes then the ambusher, then she is ambushed. Only effects that say they are usable in a surprise attack can be used, much like how clinch Charms specifically say they work in a clinch.
  • If the target equals or exceeds the ambusher's successes, she may defend normally, activate reflexive Charms and other powers. However, she may not tack any offensive or movement actions until the next round of combat.
  • If the target gains as many or more successes then the ambusher's Permanant Essence, he has succefully avoided being ambushed entirely and may act normally.

This system, I think, has two main advantages. It cuts out an extra roll, which is always good. It also makes it so the results are directly based ont he successes in the rolls. Since there are dice-adders for both Awareness and Stealth, I think this is just the most logical way to handle it. It also gives more power to Charms that have special properties for ambushes, such as Flow Like Blood or Serenity in Blood.

There are possible variations to this as well. One can make the required number of extra successes a fixed number like 3 or 5, or base it on the ambusher's Stealth ability, rather then his Permanant Essence.

The one I actually am thinking of using is adding the defender's Essence in bonus dice to the Perception + Awareness roll. This simulates the effect of Essence to Dodge rolls in Exalted Power Combat, as well as give the defender a bit of an equal to the fact that to act normally, they must beat their attacker's own Essence.

And stuff. I guess that's it on these two things. Damn it took me a while to get to this.


Have you considered upping the difficulty of the reflexive wits roll as a third solution? My idea is as follows:\\

  • After either failing the defense or choosing not to defend against the disarming attack, the target of the disarm rolls Wits+Combat skill against a difficulty equal to the combat skill of the attacker (Specialities in disarming may or may not apply... need to decide) and then must get equal or more successes on this roll than the total net successes (after defense) which the attacker scored on the disarm attack.

Obviously, this makes that roll much, much harder... against a good disarmer, almost impossible for a mortal or unskilled fighter. However, to balance it a bit, it would probably be fine to say that if the target has an action spare (any action) they may use it to lower the difficulty (by their own combat skill i would imagine, min 1). They still lose the action, so this would in essence be an 'abort to anti-disarm parry' attempt. Splitting etc would work as normal, so the total effect is a combination of methods 1 and 2 above.\\ Just my opinions and ideas, so feel free to reformat/present them differently, if you think this should be a completely separate suggestion\\

-- Darloth

For some reason the second idea feels complex to me; like I would have a hard time exsplaining it to my players, but I like it so I will try and then report if it is dificult

-- HeWhoSpeaksOfDarkness

For disarming I roll Dexterity + combat ability against a difficulty of the opponent's Melee rating. A well-trained fighter thus instinctively instintively holds her weapon more securely than a beginner, just as it should be, but if she wants to defend actively against a disarm she has to do so with an action. I find this system works quite well for me. Similarly, I use the Stealth rating as the extra successes required for ambush rolls. High Essence in either disarming or ambushing is very likely to help in other ways, and it makes no sense that a mortal master swordsman or ninja would do as badly as a complete beginner in these situations. Resplendence

I've been thinking for a while of allowing effects that reduce dice pools or raise difficulty for Awareness rolls modifying the Wits + Awareness roll normally, making the Night anima power useful (!) and invisibility excellent for ambushing people. This essentially makes magically-powered ambushes much scarier, and ninja attacks remain just as hopeless. ~ WaiyaddoNoDan