As far as I can tell, in Riddle of Steel the only consequence of your choice of target zone is that the locations in the zone may have armor, and the effect of the damage if you succeed. Damage effects of attacks to the head seem to be the most cruel and effective, yet so far as I can tell the only issue with always targeting a foe's head is that the foe may be wearing a helmet.

And, even then, a foe's helmet tends to have the same Armor Value as the rest of the locations (or even a lower value when penalties are taken into account).

Have I missed something? It doesn't seem very realistic that two skilled fighters are always trying to crush or puncture each other's heads. It seems to make combat awfully predictable.

  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: "[T]he only consequence of your target zone for an attack [to the head] is the armor and the effect of the damage." To confirm I'm understanding this correctly: It appears either the game assesses no penalties for making attacks against a foe's head or there are no downsides for an attacker that always makes attacks against a foe's head or both? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 15:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ From what I understand it's both \$\endgroup\$
    – Masclins
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ I edited this a little. I hope that's okay. I was confused by the use of the word consequences in the original and did some reorganizing while I was making that clear. Feel free to rollback or edit further. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 16:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan It was talking about the consequence of the choice of target Zone. It mostly made sense. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie (Is consequence a game term? If so, that's cool, but if not, now this sounds like — without going into overcomplicated gymnastics about the word consequence — attacking someone's head gives the foe head armor. Consider starting the question with the second sentence.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 20:20

1 Answer 1


TRoS combat is about not being hit

Let's back up a few steps to deal with some mistaken assumptions that are leading you astray. Then we'll see why aiming for the head is a great idea, except when it's not.

Armour makes you easier to be hit

Paradoxically, armour can be the cause of being hit. Yes, it can decrease the severity when hit, but you'd rather not get hit at all, right?

In TRoS (and real life), wearing armour slows you down and fatigues you faster.

A good pot helm is AV 5. Good over-all protection from a chain suit is less, only AV 4. But the helm will give you a −1 CP penalty, and the chain suit will give you −2 CP. Together, that's −3 CP — three fewer dice that this opponent has for defensive maneuvers to prevent you from hitting them.

Fatigue is a lethal killer. If fatigue rules are used, you are on a shorter clock when wearing armour than wearing little or no armour. In combination with initial CP penalties, armour starts looking a lot less of an obvious choice.

For example, someone with a decent Sword and Shield Combat Pool of 10, with an average Endurance (EN) of 4, loses 1 CP every four rounds (8 exchanges) when wearing that kit above (on top of the −3 CP to begin with just for wearing it). Against an equally-matched CP 10, EN 4 opponent, that means that after taking or receiving a mere 8 swings, they'll have a CP of only 6. On top of that, they may already be on the defensive and unable to safely attack, since they started with a lower pool (CP 7 vs. CP 10) and have had to fight more conservatively.

Meanwhile, their equally matched EN 4, CP 10 opponent wearing only a pot helm is enjoying a Combat Pool with 9 dice in it for a further 4 rounds before their first 1 CP lost to fatigue. Who wants to bet that the armoured guy will get hit first?

Getting hit at all probably means you've already lost

TRoS combat is not about insta-kills, it's about degrading your opponent's ability to continue fighting faster than they can degrade yours. Fatigue, shock, pain, and blood loss are your offensive tools, not insta-kills. Insta-kills are the gravy, not the meat and potatoes.

Yes, a shot to the head is devastating — but you're probably just as dead if you're gently sliced across the arm and you've gone into shock (4 dice), are bleeding (2 EN rolls per Round), and fighting through agony (5−WP pain dice), because you likely can't defend yourself effectively enough next Exchange (obviously they were good enough to hit you when you had your full CP!) and you're about to be finished off. Or captured! Capture happens, since so many non-lethal injuries can so severely make you vulnerable to “surrender or die!” ultimatums.

Continuing our example, the less-armoured guy above suddenly gets tagged with a lucky slice, suffering a Moderate wound to their arm. Suddenly that 9 CP pool is down to 5 CP (and possibly less or even empty, if they have already attacked or defended and used some CP already), and next Round their CP refreshes to 9 CP − Pain. That means Armoured Guy can go fully defensive and let Less-Armoured Guy bleed out (2 EN checks to decrease Health each Round), or can press the advantage and try force LA Guy to put all CP into defense to try to stay alive.

The contrary situation is even worse: that CP 7 Amoured Guy is already more likely to be hit by the CP 9 Less-Armoured Guy. If LA Guy tags AG first for even a light hit through that armour (more likely too, due to having a few more dice), suddenly it's CP 9 against maybe CP 3 or worse, and AG is as good as already dead (or captured).

Armour is only insurance

Armour can turn a bad, bad hit into a “I'm not dead yet” hit. Even then, you might still be dead and just not know it yet, because of the aforementioned dynamics around being injured at all.

Further, there is only so much that armour can do for you. It's an insurance policy against “hits that would have been a little bad”. (And ironically, putting on armour in the morning might mean you've already killed yourself, what with it being bad for your Combat Pool, as we've seen.)

A pot helm of AV 5 can turn a sword strike from “Skull is shattered. Character is unconscious and may not recover” into nothing, but the difference between no damage and “Real, real messy. Instant death” is only a range of 6 successes, and armour AVs are in the 2–6 range, so your margin of error is really narrow and AV only shifts the result across that narrow window. In other words, armour is only likely to help, because a sufficiently high number of successes is still going to maim you enough, even with armour in the way, to likely mean you overall lose the fight.

And that's talking swords. If they're swinging a club or mace at your head, even one success is likely Game Over since even 1 success past the AV has devastating effects on your CP.

This is making it sound like swinging for the head is really great though, isn't it? But here's the real takeaway: armour for any location is only just kind of effective, and sometimes it actually makes things worse for you. So likely your opponent isn't wearing armour of equal AV everywhere — likely, their head is the highest AV location you could choose, and you'd be more likely to hit an arm or calf instead.

Remember how combat is all about hitting at all, rather than insta-kills? Those bare arms are going to be tempting targets, because even one or two light slices (Damage 1) can decrease their fighting ability enough to be the turning point that wins you the fight.

So which is better? Armoured head (for lucky devastation) or unarmoured arms (for attrition)? That's a tactical choice now.

TRoS is about tactics choices, not bigger numbers

A skilled player with good tactics and who can accurate evaluate the strengths and vulnerabilities of their opponent (where are they armoured? how is my fighting style, weapon, and known maneuvers against theirs? do they favour risky offense or conservative defense, and can I exploit that? how should I divide my CP across Exchanges and defense/offense? can I taunt them into suboptimal decisions? should I dodge or block or feint? how dangerous is their weapon and their tactics against my strengths and vulnerabilities? should I alpha strike?) will often beat an opponent with strictly superior numbers on the character sheet.

Your opponent won't be fully armoured unless it's good tactics for them. If it's good tactics to penalise their CP that much you should be worried and looking out for how they offset that disadvantage, instead of whacking away at their head. Yes, in that case their head is probably the best target, but while you're doing that, they're might be anticipating it and planning something that rock-paper-scissors exploits your straightforward attack.

If it's not good tactics to be fully armoured, then the head is still a great choice, but it's no longer the obvious choice. A slice at Zone IV might be better if they have a pot helm, because it has a chance of passing under their helm and cutting their neck, or hitting their upper chest (where there are some solid damage outcomes). If their legs are vulnerable, you can severely hamper their fighting ability with margins of success that, if they hit a helmeted head, would be no damage at all.

In general, it's better to try to hit someone at all, anywhere for 1 or 2 damage than to try to get past armour to get the juicy damage effects of heads or torsos.


Don't get hit.

In general, wear the minimum amount of armour you can get away with, and expect your opponents to do the same. But mostly don't get hit in the first place.

Try to tag the other person, even if it's a little cut, so that they fail to not get hit.

Don't expect your average opponent to be fully armoured, and fear the confidence (and wealth) of the one that is.

Put armour you can afford (in price and CP penalties) where you can't afford to get tagged, but only because it might save you from a nasty hit someday or will encourage your opponents to stay away from that hit location.

Most importantly, don't get in fights where your Spiritual Attributes aren't giving you major CP boosts. TRoS isn't about skirmishing with every rude person you meet, because the odds over time are stacked against you and that's how you die. TRoS is about fighting and dying only for what you believe in, so get into fights where your Spiritual Attributes both demand that you do, and will tip the odds in your favour so that you can do things you couldn't otherwise and are more likely to win — and even if you lose (and you might still), you will have died a glorious death fighting for True Love or whatever your SAs are.

  • \$\begingroup\$ This combat system is very interesting. From some light research it appears they never made an updated version, which is a shame if it is true. I would love to try this system out with my table. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 19:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreedyRadish - both Blade of the Iron Throne and Band of Bastards are evolutions of TRoS. Blade is finished and Band is still in development, but there's a lot of game there. \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gomad Thanks for the recs! I will check those out. (pro tip: do not Google Band of Bastards without specifying RPG. Many of the results are NSFW) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 19:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Albert Mostly, yes. Is that surprising? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 15, 2016 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Albert Given two unarmoured fighters, why do you find that unrealistic? In a fistfight, people punch each other primarily in the head. If I recall correctly, the archaeological evidence shows that a very high percentage of kills in medieval battles were delivered to the head. Notice too that the helmet is alway the first—and sometimes only—piece of armour added to any foot soldier. :) What experience or intuition says that an unarmoured head wouldn't be the favourite target? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 16, 2016 at 14:39

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