HARP Read Through – Combat

I am going to start with a summary, taken from the rules of the HARP combat sequence…

1 Make an attack roll. This is an open-ended percentile roll.
2 If the initial roll is within the fumble range for the weapon,
the attack stops and you roll on the fumble table. If the initial
roll is within the open-ended range (96-100), you roll
again and add the two rolls together. If the second or any
other subsequent roll is between 96-100, you roll again and
add it to the previous total.
3 Add your character’s OB (Offensive Bonus) to the final
die result.
4 Subtract your foe’s DB (Defensive Bonus) from the adjusted
die total. This is your Total Attack Roll.
5 If the Total Attack Roll is 1 or higher, then you have hit
your foe. Now that you have determined that you have hit,
adjust your Total Attack Roll by adding or subtracting the
size modifier for the weapon that your character is using.
This is your Adjusted Attack Roll.
6 Look up your Adjusted Attack Roll on the proper Critical
Table, as determined by the Attack Type for the weapon
that you are using. This is the damage that you have done
to the foe. All damage is applied immediately.

The first big difference is No Attack Table.

That is slightly disingenuous as ever group of related weapons has its own attack table which combines caps for attack size, mods to differentiate the weapons and weapon specific critical tables. There is an example of one of these below so you can see how it works.

But without an attack table how do we account for armour?


Armour is modelled using a combination of DB bonus and Maneuver penalty. So heavier armours are more protective but more restrictive. Armour can be bought as full suits or accumulated piecemeal. Armour also comes as fitted or unfitted.

When armour is fitted to the character is has a massively reduced maneuver penalty. Unfitted armour is no where as easy to wear. All unfitted armour has double the maneuver penalty of fitted armour including doubling the minimum maneuver penalty. These penalties apply to all skills that have QU or AG as a stat.

I really like that last restriction. It is really simple and clear and should more skills be added in other books it is immediately obvious whether there are penalties or not.

HARP details 12 types of armour and 9 location specific elements and/or two complete sets (either with a shirt/hauberk style or breastplate style). 

I personally find the Armour system to be incredibily easy but also detailed. The only flaw of course is that if the protective value of a suit is a flat DB bonus against all attacks then you cannot differentiate between a blade and a hammer which of course individual attack tables, that we are used to, can reflect.

The biggest flaw in the combat system is the criticals. There are only 19 specific criticals for each weapon. What this means is that the same criticals come around again and again.

Imagine you have 5 orcs using scimitars and the PCs are using a mix of broadswords and longswords. Basically every attack is going to do a critical every time. You could easily dish out 40 criticals (8 combatants over 5 rounds is not unreasonable for a common encounter). Statistically every critical would come round at least twice and two or more more than twice. (40 occurrences of 19 possible outcomes). Combat becomes very samey. The strength of Rolemaster combat is that those ‘special’ criticals are rare enough to be special.

The strength of the system is that the entire combat runs off of one page so there is no page flipping between weapons charts and critical tables so it goes quickly but a cost, in my opinion.

It always seems to me that HARP players hanker after RM combat tables the same way that RM players look at HARP magic is a certain envy. That is not an imagined thing either, there is a replacement HARP combat system under discussion on the forums if you agree to the NDA.

Combat Actions

  • The combat chapter lists 18 common combat actions over and above just hitting ot shooting your oponent. Along with each are the rules need to resolve each. This is far more extensive than any I remember seeing for Rolemaster but I could be mistaken. Either way for these to be in the standard core book is a great inclusion.
  • Blade Slap
  • Charging
  • Disarm Foe
  • Disengage from Melee
  • Dodge
  • Fencing Slash
  • Full Parry
  • Hold at Bay
  • Knockdown
  • Move & Attack
  • Multiple Parry
  • Parry
  • Press & Melee
  • Power Strike
  • Stave Jab
  • Shield Bash
  • Sudden Dodge
  • Weapon Bind

So that is a round up the the combat chapter. HARP is a lighter game than Rolemaster and I think this is one area where that lighter ruleset is most apparent. I don’t think any RM player is going to ditch Arms Law for the HARP combat system despite there being a lot of great stuff here.

Next time it is Spells and Magic!

3 Replies to “HARP Read Through – Combat”

  1. The book Martial Law expands the Critical Tables to include criticals by location, and changes Acid from being External Poison to having its own critical table. Regardless of which set or mix thereof, you use of criticals, the mechanics aren’t going to change, and you can change the text to add variety to the same critical.

    “It always seems to me that HARP players hanker after RM combat tables the same way that RM players look at HARP magic is a certain envy. That is not an imagined thing either, there is a replacement HARP combat system under discussion on the forums if you agree to the NDA.”

    I’ve seen some HARP players want a more RM-like combat system on the ICE forums. That said, I’d be interested in seeing statistics regarding how frequent this request is. The replacement system does indicate that a non-zero amount of people want a different system, but it doesn’t tell us what percentage that is.

    A friend discussed with me that RMU no longer has dead spell levels, mostly, which I feel is a good change for that system. Still I prefer spells as skills to ranks in spell casting equaling the “level” spell you can cast.

    1. OK, so “It always seems” may have been an exaggeration. Yes RMU has a spell at every level and the list is learned spell by spell and you can cast above your level. The further above your level you go the riskier it gets but it is certainly viable to overcast normally.

      I do not own Martial Law so I cannot say what those critical tables look like. If they are expanded then that would be a good and welcome thing.

  2. Harper’s Bazaar for the 2004 revision of HARP also had at least two other combat systems. There was Hack & Slash, which was a fair bit deadlier than standard HARP combat, had more varied critical results (and more crit tables for poison, celestial, mystical etc attack types) and also included hit locations. This was also available as a separate PDF.

    There was also a Damage Dice (originally posted to the ICE forums by the author of the Martial Law book).

    I used to use Hack & Slash in my games, but now I prefer the speed and simplicity of Damage Dice.

    I like Damage Dice a lot. If an attack’s total roll (d100 OE + OB + other bonuses – DB – other penalties) is > 0, dividing it by 20 (round up, so of minimum 1) gives the number of damage dice to roll. Size of dice is determined by size of the attack (tiny=d6, small=d8, medium=d10, large=d12, and huge=d20). The number of damage dice and the amount of damage inflicted also determines stun rounds, bleeding, maneuver penalties. Bleeding is also affected by the type of weapon (doubled for Puncture, halved for for Martial Arts)

    You can make the system more deadly (divide by 10 instead of 20) or less lethal (divide by 40).

    This also solves the repetitive nature of critical result descriptions by not having any 🙂

    Most importantly, it avoids the quadratic complexity of multiple tables for different weapons, replacing them all with a simple formula easy to calculate at the table, and easily implemented in a spreadsheet or other program.

    I have my own version of damage dice which is mostly the same as this, but also adds more variety for weapon types (slashes do more bleeding, and crush weapons do more stuns for example) , adds the concepts of vulnerability, resistance, and immunity to certain forms of attack (e.g. fire elementals are immune to fire, vulnerable to water). I also have rules for handling Sniping, Ambush, Dirty Fighting and other HARP skills/abilities that effect critical results.

    My version of DD has an option for using average damage rather than rolling the actual dice – not as much fun as rolling a big handful of dice but faster, and with a guaranteed, predictable result. There’s a table with avg damage (and stuns, bleeds, penalties) pre-calculated.

    BTW, it’s not hard to use Arms Law with HARP. How HARP handles armour has to be changed to match RM, but after that the attack and crit tables work as is. Personally, I always thought it was nice that it was possible but the extra complexity wasn’t worth it. RM’s tables get repetitive too.

    I’ve been a huge fan of ICE & RM since the early 80s when I first bought Arms Law/Claw Law, and Spell Law but I wouldn’t play or run RM now. Far too much trouble. HARP gives a very similar experience with a lot less hassle, and HARP’s scalable magic is far superior to RM’s spell lists (IMO spell lists are just a primitive implementation of scalable spells with lots of duplicates – Fire Bolt I, Fire Bolt III, Fire Bolt V, etc).

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