There Are No Generic Black Belts
Written by Mark E. Smith
The TOP SECRET/S.I. game offers a world of choices to the novice agent. Does he need a handgun? There are pages of pistols to choose from. Does she want a new set of wheels? Everything from an Aston Martin to a Yugo can be had, although options like air conditioning, tinted glass, and machine guns are extra. Fighting styles? Well, you have boxing, wrestling, and Oriental martial arts.
But what if your agent is a French ballerina with a background in savate, or an Indonesian trained in pentjak-silat? “Oriental martial arts” doesn’t cover these possibilities. Even if your agent is trained in a fighting style from the Far East, doesn’t he deserve to know which style he’s using?
Imagine how these lines would sound in your campaign:
Lance: “Go ahead and get the car, Maggie. I’ll take care of these guys”.
Maggie: “But Lance, there are three of them and only one of you”.
Lance: “Don’t worry about me. I’m a second-degree black belt in an Oriental martial art. Now go”.
Clearly, this is not the stuff of which great dialog is made. Another problem is raised by the method used by an established character who wishes to gain these fighting skills.
Suppose Maggie decides that she’s tired of waiting for Lance to rescue her. So she spends three Fame & Fortune points and, come time for the next adventure, she’s ready to tangle with the best of them.
What did she do, check out a couple of karate books from the library over the weekend? Not only does this method clash with reality, but it also cheats both player and Administrator out of the fun of role-playing the climb from bumbling beginner to trained fighter with the possibility of specializing in one style. To avoid these problems, consider the following suggestions:
1. Allow established players to choose a style of fighting and gain zero level one F&F point at a time.
2. Let each player explore the possible martial-arts styles and choose one that fits his character’s background.
Let us assume that Maggie wishes to study goju-ryu. She invests one F&F point and now may use this style of fighting at ¼ MOV (after all, she is only a beginner). She now must play at least one adventure before raising her skill level. At this level, she is probably more of a danger to herself than to anyone else, but a kindly Administrator may present her with a chance to try her new skill–on a locked door that must be opened quickly, for instance, or on a generic purse snatcher. It would be easier to just pull a gun and start blasting away, but not nearly as much fun.
Adventure over, Maggie may now invest another point, raising her skill to ½ MOV. Surviving the next assignment, she may invest her third point for goju-ryu at her full MOV value, as described in the Player’s Guide. For the sake of categorizing her level of skill, let us assume that zero level is equal to a red or brown belt (the level just below black). This means that she is familiar with the basic forms and movements of her chosen style. Her fighting is good, but she is a long way from being an expert.
At level one, the character is considered a first-degree black belt, able to fight well and perform all basic techniques and some advanced ones. But contrary to popular opinion, he is not considered an expert in his art. Rather, he is regarded as an advanced student.
At second and third levels, the agent is trained in all basic techniques and many advanced ones. He may be able to teach his art at this point, but the title “expert” still does not apply.
A fourth-level agent is almost certainly able to teach his martial-arts style and may, in fact, instruct other player characters. In this context, he may be able to give advice to lower-level characters, helping them to fight at ½ skill level even in the heat of battle (see “Getting Advice on Skills” in the Player’s Guide, page 35.)
Only at fifth level can the term “expert” be applied to the agent. Further promotion is not possible, however, unless the agent leaves his organization and devotes his full time to training and teaching his art.
A second advantage of dividing up fighting styles is that agents may study several styles, giving them different skill levels and offering the option of specialization.
Case in point: Bill Klinger has a first degree black belt in judo, but his real love is the Korean art of hapkido, in which he holds a third-degree black belt. While he is able to hold, throw, and choke using judo, he would rather fight with the kicks and strikes of his favored art; he may even decide to specialize in this style, which would give him +10 to all hapkido techniques and special abilities at the cost of -20 when he uses his other styles. This is a decision that he must weigh carefully.
Another decision the player must make is whether or not to create a martial-artist character. The point cost is high and the present return is low. The Player’s Guide states that each additional skill level gives the PC +5 to the appropriate attribute score, which gives the PC a motive to gain levels. For example, a player who wishes his character to have a third-level pistol skill invests 12 points. Now his character can fire any pistol at +15 and his skill level.
But let’s look at the cost of a martial-artist character. Between basic melee, four levels of Oriental martial arts, and three special techniques (two to six points apiece), the cost comes to 30 points, far over the cost of the pistol skill. Clearly, the player who chooses to create a martial-artist character deserves more for his points. For this reason, I recommend that the martial-arts PC be allowed to:
1. Gain +5 per skill level, as per the Player’s Guide.
2. Gain a damage bonus of one point per skill level (believe me, being kicked by a brown belt is not the same as being kicked by a fifth-degree black belt).
3. Be able to use spinning and flying kicks for additional damage should their chosen styles utilize such techniques.
4. Gain the advantages of ki, as detailed below.
Spinning kicks are used by several styles of martial arts, notably tae kwan do and hapkido. These kicks are delivered with either a half or full spin of the body. Spinning kicks can be performed from any position and are very powerful the force of the kick is combined with the force of the spin. In game terms , this amounts to an additional 1-4 points of damage. Unfortunately, spinning kicks are also slow, and the agent must take his eyes off his opponent, if only for an instant.
The disadvantages have these effects:
Using a spin kick has a -10 modifier to the attack roll (with the exception of those arts that specialize in these kicks). Upon throwing such a kick, no other movements, either offensive or defensive, may be used, and the initiative for the following turn is lost.
Flying kicks are the most impressive tools in the martial artist’s arsenal. The sight of a karateka sailing through the air toward his opponent usually causes the opponent to either freeze or run backward to escape the attack (neither response is effective).
Unfortunately, should the agent miss his intended target, he has little control of just where he lands. The Administrator should calculate the movement value and see how far past the target the agent flies. Stairways, walls, and office furniture all make interesting collision possibilities. On the positive side, flying kicks are very powerful (add 1-6 points to damage) and look great. To use the flying kick, one must have the special technique Leap. A flying spinning kick can gain damage bonuses for spinning (1-4) and for flying (1-6), but the player would also have to add both penalties as well (-20 for the leap and -20 for the spinning kick).
Ki (or chi) means breath or “spirit” and is used in most martial arts as well as in everyday life. Reach down and pick up a heavy box. The first thing you do is grunt as you lift it–you have just used ki. But ki, as used by the martial artist, does much more than that. With ki, more power is obtained for attacks, damage from an opponent’s attack is reduced, unusual actions are attempted and achieved, and opponents are startled into immobility.
The last is covered under the Surprise Action special technique in the Player’s Guide, page 79.
Other uses of ki can be put into game terms. A karate practitioner (karateka) usually yells (kiaps) when he attacks. This concentrates his force, both mentally and physically, on the object being struck.
Also, a karateka who is about to be hit can kiap. This tightens his muscles and reduces the damage from the attack (need proof? Poke your finger into your stomach. Now grunt and try it. Feel the difference?) Some martial-arts styles perform breathing exercises that allow this effect to last for minutes rather than seconds.
In TOP SECRET/S.I. games, the game effects of a kiap are as follows:
1. Any character with martial-arts ability may kiap during any attack This adds one point of damage to a successful attack.
2. Any character with martial-arts ability may kiap as part of his defense movement.
The intention to yell must be announced before the opponent’s attack roll is made. If the attack is successful, two points of bruise damage are removed from the total damage taken. If the attack fails, the character merely makes a lot of noise. This brings us to another point about the kiap:
It is loud. Treat it as a gunshot in terms of attracting unwanted attention.
3. A character with martial-arts training may focus his ki in an attempt to achieve an unusual physical action, such as kicking out the window of a sinking car or breaking a pair of handcuffs. Using ki in this manner gains a 1-5 bonus per skill level, added to whatever roll is being attempting (the bonus is decided by the Administrator). For example, kicking out the window of a sinking car would be at +5 bonus per level, while breaking handcuffs would probably be at a + 1 per level–an excellent time to invest a luck point.
4. Any character with martial-arts training may attempt to drive off an attacker by using a kiap in conjunction with an attack. Should the attack fail, the opponent must make a WIL check or flee (see the Administrator’s Guide, page 27, “Thug Tactics”). Should the attack succeed in either killing or stunning one opponent, any remaining opponents must make ¼ WIL checks. Note: This may be used only on the first attack of an encounter, and it is effective against only those using Thug Tactics. Against more motivated foes, this technique singles out the PC agent as someone to be dealt with quickly and at a distance.
Now, let’s look at several fighting styles, Oriental and otherwise, and at the accompanying special techniques and advantages they offer.
Originally known as kali, arnis is the martial art of the Philippines. Techniques are performed empty-handed or using a stick or blade. An akan (male black-belt holder; a female of this rank is known as a dayang) can use a stick, cane, knife, and kicking and striking techniques in any combination. Agents choosing arnis as a fighting style get both knife fighting and ax/club/blackjack skills at no cost. Also, because the art stresses alertness to the point of learning not to blink for extended periods of time, PCs gain a +5 bonus to their checks to avoid surprise. Finally, it is a maxim in arnis that “the hands of an opponent are like the fangs of a snake: break them and he cannot harm you!’ Thus, attacks to areas 6 and 7 are at +10.
Attack/Defend, Drop, Instant Defence, Multiple Attack, Multiple Defence, Stun, Surprise Action, Vital Areas.
The national (though unofficial) gymnastic art of Brazil, capoeira was developed in the 16th century by slaves who converted a ceremonial dance into a form of combat. Unusual techniques include standing on the hands while fighting with the feet (this stems from the slaves’ need to defend themselves while in chains). Capoeira makes great use of the Surprise Action technique. Between the spinning kicks and the bizarre attacks, an opponent may not even know that he is in danger until it’s too late. For game purposes, the Surprise Action technique starts at -10 rather than -20.
Instant Defence, Instant Stand, Knock Down, Multiple Defence, Multiple Attacks, Stun, Surprise Action.
This art was developed in the 1930s in Japan, when “hard” and “soft” styles were combined to create a new fighting style. Goju-ryu uses low stances and a circular line of force in combination with all standard strikes and kicks. Goju-ryu uses both flying and spinning kicks, although hand attacks are preferred. Training includes concentration and breathing exercises that give the user the same damage reduction advantage as ki, but the effects last as long as the character maintains his concentration.
Attack/Defend, Blindfighting, Drop, Instant Defence, Knock Down, Stun, Surprise Action, Vital Areas.
This is a Korean art that combines the throwing and holding tactics of jujitsu with the kicking and striking techniques of karate. Students are trained to avoid an initial attack and counter where most effective. Advanced students train with cane fighting as well. Hapkido uses holding and throwing techniques as effectively as does jujitsu, and spinning and flying kicks are also used. PCs choosing hapkido gain the staff/spear skill for use with the cane only.
Attack/Defend, Blind-fighting, Hold, Instant Defence, Multiple Attack, Multiple Defence, Stun, Surprise Action, Throw, Vital Areas.
This combat form originated in Okinawa. Fancy techniques, high kicks, and wasted motion have all been eliminated to produce a fast, hard-hitting, no-nonsense fighting style. Agents using ishinryu gain a +10 bonus on all kicks thrown at body areas 3, 8, and 9; this reflects the practical low-kick approach of this style.
Attack/Defend, Drop, Hold, Instant Defence, Knock Down, Multiple Attacks, Multiple Defence, Surprise Action, Vital Areas.
The traditional martial art a of Japan, jujitsu employs kicking, striking, kneeing throwing, choking, joint locking, holding, and tying, as well as the use of certain weapons. The name means “art of suppleness and gentleness”. Jujitsu kicks are generally low (any kicks above the waist are at -20 to hit), but jujitsu’s greatest effect is in using holding and throwing techniques to do wounding damage to an opponent.
Blindfighting, Drop, Hold, Instant Stand, Stun, Throw, Multiple Attacks, Vital Areas.
This is the Okinawan art of using the staff (bo), short sword (sai), sickle (kama), handle (tonfa), and flail (nunchaka). Kobu-jutsu should be taken only as a second form of fighting, as its movements are based on empty-handed movements that it is assumed the student has already learned. Ratings for the weapons of kobu-jutsu are listed in the Top Secret/S.I. accessory The G4 File, with the exception of the kama (which does 1d6 points of bruise damage).
Developed from the ancient Greek fighting style of pankration, mu-tau uses low kicks, boxing techniques, holds, and jointbreaks. Mu-tau philosophy advocates free expression, allowing the students to select the aspects of the style most suited to them. As a result, any of the special techniques may apply, depending on the student’s choices. Mu-tau practitioners gain +10 on all kicks to areas 8 and 9, and gain the ability to use the hold special technique as does jujitsu.
Pentjak silat is a group name for the fighting arts of Indonesia (over 150 styles exist). Head, hands, feet, fingers, and hips are used in this style, much as in karate, but many blade weapons are also employed. Pentjak silat practitioners gain both knife and staff skills. In addition, they also gain the use of the rante, a chain weapon with a sharp, gearlike end.
Blindfighting, Instant Defence, Multiple Attack, Multiple Defence, Stun, Vital Areas.
Created over 200 years ago by French sailors who had visited the Orient, savate has constantly upgraded itself so that it is now a popular and effective sport and self-defence system. Savate uses both high and low kicks, boxing-style hand strikes, and the cane as a weapon. Savate uses the Multiple Attack special technique by half (-10 for the first attack, -15 for the second, etc.) These abilities are rounded out with the addition of spinning kicks and staff skills (using the cane only).
Attack/Defend, Blindfighting, Knock Down, Multiple Attack, Multiple Defence, Vital Areas.
This Korean-based art, once almost unknown, is now the most popular fighting style in the world. Although the spectacular flying and spinning kicks are the art’s claim to fame, it also uses numerous hand-attack techniques. It should be noted that after the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, the chances are excellent that this art will become an Olympic sport. Tae kwan do makes great use of kicking techniques, which are introduced early in training. For this reason, all kicking attacks are at +10 and there is no penalty for spinning kicks.
Attack/Defend, Instant Defence, Knock Down, Leap, Multiple Attacks, Multiple Defence, Stun, Surprise Action, Vital Areas.
Thai Boxing (Muay Thai)
This is the national fighting art of Thailand. Students work out daily, and all matches are full contact, so this art should appeal to those agents with the Toughness advantage (and the tougher the better). For every level a character gains in this art, he also gains a level of Toughness. However, should the PC break training for more than two weeks, he loses these points at a rate of one per week. Points lost may be regained at the same rate when training resumes. In Thai boxing, both the hands and feet are used, and every place is considered above the belt! (Fortunately, practitioners no longer glue ground glass to their hand wraps.)
Attack/Defend, Instant Defence, Instant Stand, Knock Down, Multiple Attacks, Multiple Defence, Stun, Vital Areas.
If one of your players is interested in a style not mentioned in this article, let him research the art and work out an agreement with you. Then maybe Maggie can go off and rescue Lance for a change.