Combat Flow

If Anime has taught us anything, it is that combat takes place in brief bursts of violence, followed by standing around and talking, followed by another burst of violence, and then more talking, and then more violence, and so on. To capture this dynamic, combat in WitchHammer takes place in "vignettes". Each vignette has a Psych Phase, then a Planning Phase, then a Violence Phase.

In the Psych Phase, each PC and Monster can play a Psych card face down. These cards represent things like insulting or intimidating your opponent, drawing resolve from formative past experiences, or other wise steeling yourself for combat. Once everyone who wants to has played a Psych Card, the cards are revealed and resolved. The Psych Cards do not interact with each other, so you can resolve them in any order you want. You don't have to play a Psych Card. Many Psych Cards are one-shots, but some can be brought back into your deck to play again.

The end of the Psych Phase blends into the start of the Planning Phase. In the Planning Phase, you talk with the other players and decide which cards you will play from your PC's deck of cards. You will play 2 Action Cards face down in front of you, from left to right. Each Action Card represents a specific action that takes around ~5 seconds to execute. These actions are things like swinging a sword, aiming an arrow, casting a spell, or merely catching your breath. These cards are in order; the first card you place will be your first action, and the second card you place will be your second action. The GM will do the same thing and will play Action Cards for his monsters.

Once everyone has played their Action Cards face down, the Violence Phase begins. The first Action Card for each player/monster is flipped over and they are all resolved in Initiative order. After this, the second Action Card for each player/monster is flipped over and again all the Action Cards are resolved. Once the violence is over, characters take Action Cards back into their hands. Most cards can be played repeatedly, and so cards these will return to the player's hand. Some cards can be played only once per Adventure, and these cards are discarded until the next Adventure.

Resolving Basic Combat

In the Violence Phase, everyone reveals their first set of Action Cards and then resolves them. How do? Well, each Action Card has an initiative value, and you add this to the character's base initiative to get the initiative for the complete action. So if an Action Card had an Init of 5 and the PC has Init of 2, their combined Init would by 7. Cards are then resolved from highest to lowest Initiative.

A typical Action card will have a few pieces of information on it, such as an Attack bonus, a Defense bonus, move information, targeting information, etc. For example, a sword swing might give +8 attack and +1 Defense. These bonuses are combined with the similar bonuses from the PC card. In this example, the player has a base +3 attack bonus. So their total attack bonus is 11. Next, calculate the target's defense. To do this, add up the target's defense bonus from its Action and Character, which would be +4 total. Subtract this from the player's attack, giving an attack total of +7. Finally, fate plays a role. To decide how luck and chance effect the attack, roll a D20 and add that to the result. In this case, the roll is 15. So +7 Attack bonus, +15 roll, giving a final attack value of +22. Finally! See if this attack value is over 10. If the value is over 10, the attack is at least a glancing hit and will cause Damage. In this case, the attack value beat the goal by 12 points, meaning the target will take 12 points of Damage. Resolve the Damage and effects, and then move to the next highest initiative card. Once all the Action Cards have been resolved, the first round the Violence Phase is over. Do the same thing for the second round of the Violence Phase, except this time you will be resolving the second card played by each PC and monster. One the Violence Phase is complete and people have taken back their cards, the vignette is over. If there are still combatants, start a new vignette and go back to the Psych Phase and start the process again.

The GM has a slightly more complicated task, as some of the GM's creatures have multiple actions/decks. For example, a monster with many tentacles might be 3 different decks of Action Cards. For these monsters, the GM basically treats them as though they were 3 creatures sitting right on top of each other. Each deck would play 1 Action Card per round of the Combat Vignette, and each Action Card would be resolved independently.

Movement and Targeting

Combat is carried out on a standard grid map. A character's ability to move around on the map is defined by their Action card, which will say how far a character can move and in which direction. For example, "4 spaces towards closest enemy", or "2 spaces away from closest enemy". Movement is strictly mandatory! If the Action Card you picked says that your PC advances 4 spaces towards the nearest enemy, then your PC will advance until they complete the full move, are adjacent to that enemy, or run into an impassible obstacle. Movement is generally performed before attacks are carried out, though a few Action Cards will vary this up.

Similarly, the enemy that the action targets is defined on the Action Card. For example, "targets nearest enemy", or "targets largest enemy", etc. Note that if an enemy has a higher initiative than you, and moves away from you on their turn, it is possible that they will avoid your attack entirely!

Ranged Combat and Special Attacks

Many attacks are straight forward, where one character swings a sword and uses their full Attack value, and the target character defends with their full Defense value. Other attacks are more complex; for example if the sword was made of fire, the attack would be considered both a melee attack and a fire attack, and the Action Card for it would be marked as both "Melee" and "Fire". In this case, the target can use not only their normal Defense value, but can also add their Fire Defense. If you were attacking a monster made out of fire with your fire sword, the monster would have an extra 10-15 Fire Defense in addition to its normal defense. So that probably won't work too well.

Some attacks aren't melee attacks at all. For example, a peasant shooting a crossbow bolt at you, or a lizard spitting a gout of fire at you, or a swamp monster trying to poison you with a miasmatic fog. For these non-melee attacks, the target can only use half of their normal Defense value (rounded down). This is to reflect the fact that being a combat badass will be helpful for dodging an arrow or a gas, but not quite as helpful as for dodging a punch. If the attack has other Aspects to it you can add your Defense against that aspect. So for the peasant attacking you with a crossbow, you can use half of your Defense value and your full Ranged Defense value to defend against the attack. For the Gout of Fire attack, you could use your half your Defense, and your full Fire Defense and Agility Defense values. And for the swamp poison attack, you could use half your Defense, and your full Con Defense.

Poise, Health, and Damage

In WitchHammer, a character's status is represented by 2 main numbers, Poise and Health.

Poise represents a lot of things; it is a mixture of the character's grit and determination and courage, how much breath they have, whether they have good footing, how tired and hungry and bruised and alert and focused they are. Poise can easily decrease during combat as the character exerts themself and casts spells and is buffeted by impacts and attacks. Poise can also increase easily, as the character takes time to catch their breath, to focus themselves, or overcome fright. Many attacks will only do poise damage. In sci-fi terms, you can think of poise as the character's "Shields". They are the first thing that is damaged, but they are also easily restored. As characters level up, they will frequently gain more Poise to reflect their greater confidence, skill at combat, and cardio training. A farmer might have 15 Poise, a starting WitchHammer might have 30 Poise, and an Ip Man level fighter might have 60 Poise.

Health is just that, the actual physical health of the character. Damage that is done to health (known as "Wounds") represents cuts, broken bones, contusions, blood loss, and other bodily trauma. Wounds are never a good thing, and can take days or weeks to heal. Taking Wounds inflicts an immediate Malus on the character, making all of their actions weaker. Additionally, taking a large number of Wounds at once has a chance of causing a permanent affliction (e.g. losing a nose or a hand). Going back to sci-fi, Health is the "Hull" of the character. If you get your forward nacelle blown off, it will be a long time before you are moving again. Humans typically have 10-15 health, and it is difficult to improve much past this range. Some monsters will have much more health, to reflect the fact that they are multi-ton behemoths.

The way that Damage works is that Damage is first subtracted from Poise. If Poise is reduced to 0, and there is still Damage that has not been used, that remaining damage is then subtracted from Health. If a character reaches 0 Health, they are not able to act, and are basically lying on the ground in a pool of their own blood. (Though they're not quite dead yet.) Running out of Poise in combat is a bad thing, and basically means that a character has had the stuffing knocked of them and is only one hit away from being crippled.

There is one slight wrinkle in the above formula. If a character suffers a powerful hit, some of the damage will penetrate through Poise and go directly to Health. To handle this, look at the "tens" digit of the damage, and that is how much of the damage penetrates directly. So if an attack did 12 damage, 1 of that Damage would go directly to Health before handling anything else. And if a massive attack did 23 Damage, 2 points of Damage would go directly to Health before handling anything else. If an attack does less than 10 points of damage, it does not make use of this rule and damage does not penetrate directly to Health.

Health Loss Malus:

Divide the character's Health pool into 10 even groups. For each group that is taken out by Wounds, the character takes an additional -1 Malus. For example, if a character had 14 health, then their damage sheet would look like this:

Health DotsTotal Malus
OO-1 Malus
OO-2 Malus
OO-3 Malus
OO-4 Malus
O-5 Malus
O-6 Malus
O-7 Malus
O-8 Malus
O-9 Malus
O-10 Malus

If this character was undamaged and then took 10 wounds in a single hit, they would then be at a -6 Malus. If instead they took 5 Wounds, they would be a -2 Malus.

Hits and Solid Hits

If an attack does at least 1 point of damage it is considered a hit. Many effects are only applied on hit, for instance a poison claw might only deliver its poison if the claw's attack hits. A Solid Hit is a special type of hit; it means that the attack did at least 10 points of Damage. Some effects only trigger on a Solid Hit. The most common effect is extra Damage on a Solid Hit, e.g. with an attack like a HayMaker that has a low base Attack value, but which does extra damage if it actually lands.

Critical Success and Fumble

When you make a D20 roll, it is possible to get a critical success or a critical fumble. Use the following adjustments.
20 Add 10 to result. Crit! If this is an attack, it will cause 1 bonus Wound to its target. This is regardless of whatever else happens.
19 Add 5 to result. Smashing success.
2 Subtract 5 from result. Half Fumble.
1 Subtract 10 from result. Fumble.


If a PC is hit by an attack, and the attack causes 5 or more Wounds, there is a risk that the PC has suffered a permanent injury. Roll on the affliction chart to see how bad it is! To do so, add the number of wounds to a D20 roll, and then check the following chart:
1No effect
2No effect
3No effect
4No effect
5No effect
6No effect
7No effect
8No effect
9No effect
10No effect
11Eye Scar
12Cheek Scar
13Scalp Scar
14Badly Broken Nose
15Lost some teeth
16Lip Scar
17Giant chest scar
18Giant back scar
19Lost a finger tip
20Nose Tip missing
21Ear half cut off
22Broken leg
23Broken forearm
24Large strip of skin ripped off, will heal back all funny looking. Get to decide where!
25Punctured Lung. Wheezy
26Lost an Ear
27Lost a Nose
28Lost a Foot
29Lost a Hand
30Lost an Eye

Misc Combat Rules

Each time a character is attacked in a round, their defense is reduced by 1.
If you are attacking from behind a character (e.g. back 3 spaces), gain +5 attack.
Flanking: If you have two attackers adjacent to a target, and the attackers are on different sides of the creature, then they have flanking advantage. They can both add +4 to their attack rolls.


Techniques will often reference the ranges at which they work, which are:
Close Range Adjacent, e.g. in neighboring space
Short Range 5 or less spaces away
Medium Range 10 or less spaces away
Long Range 20 or less spaces away

Resolving Effects

Some effects are ongoing and occur over time. For example, a bleed effect might inflict 1 wound per round for 4 rounds. Ongoing effects like this should resolve at the start of the affected character's turn. So in the Bleed example, the PC would take 1 wound, and then begin their turn as normal. Take another example, say that a monster stuns a PC for 1 turn. If in the Round the PC went first, and then the monster applied the stun, the stun hasn't taken effect yet and will take effect in the next Round when the PC gets their turn.

Bonus and Malus

When a character is hurt or impaired, they will have a Malus. A Malus is usually subtracted from *all* contests that the player is a part of. So a -2 Malus would apply to your attack, your defense, your Init, your perception, your bluff, etc. Malus' can add up, and they can quickly turn a powerful hero into a useless wretch. They are the game's way of modeling the fact that you don't fight very well after being stabbed a few times. Malus' are also a way to keep PCs from dying. They create a distance between "being ineffective in combat" and "being dead". This encourages monsters to not focus down injured characters to the point of death, and instead to focus their attentions on more healthy and threatening characters.

Healing and Death

When a character falls to 0 Health or below, they are on deaths door. They might still be conscious and able to gasp out a few words, but they are lying in a pool of their own blood and not able to stand up, move, or use their limbs. They are in this state until combat ends. At that time, the PC makes an Picnic Con Save, and subtracts their current Health from the roll. So if the PC was at -11 health at the end of combat, the total difficulty of the roll would be 1 + 11 = 12. Not very good odds. If the PC makes the save, they are placed at 0 HP and can recover as normal from there. By default, PCs heal at 2 health per day. If the PC does nothing but rest in a comfortable environment they can heal 3 HP per day.

Decision Timer

The GM carries the awesome power of the Decision Timer. When the GM has finished playing their cards face down, they can then place the 15 second Decision Timer out on the table. This timer lets the players know that their window to make decisions is closing. Once the timer runs out, the turn is over. Anyone who has not yet played their cards is considered to take the "Gasp" action, regaining some focus but otherwise not acting during the round.

The goal of the timer is to keep the Planning Phase moving along briskly, and avoid over-analysis that slows the game down for everyone at the table.


Equipment is rather simple for PCs. Each PC can carry 1 weapon, 1 armor set, and 5 misc pieces of equipment (e.g. oils, traps, powders, mirrors, cages, extra swords, etc.). During combat, the character is can use all of these items without worrying about changing equipment, putting away weapons, drawing new weapons, etc. There are not any magic swords, and the stat bonuses from weapons are built into the Techniques that use the weapon. Armor provides defensive bonuses, usually at the cost of move speed, initiative, or skill checks.


Occasionally a character will have to make a save against a negative effect. To try and save, roll a D20. Add any bonuses from Techniques and Traits, and subtract any Malus from damage or other sources. Then check to see if you beat the required number.

Save Difficulties
Picnic 1
Easy 5
Medium 10
Hard 15
Extremely Hard 20

Types of Save:
Con Save Against poisons and various other types of bodily injury or recovery
Agility Save When reflexes are required to avoid an ill effect. Usually against ranged abilities
Fear Save Against fear/terror causing effects or situations
Will Save Against mental or mind control abilities
Fire Save Against Fire abilities
Ice Save Against Ice abilities

WitchHammer Skills

Even a beginning WitchHammers is formidable and has a baseline level of competence. They have experience with life, with combat, with hunting, with travel, and with investigation. For that reason, all the player characters are assumed to be competent at all basic skills. This includes things like swimming, horse back riding, bargaining, tracking, wilderness survival, stealth, first aid, etc. They might not be experts, but they have at least a decent shot at all these things. If a PC tries to perform a tough task (e.g. swim this swift river, track this man through dense underbrush), the default difficulty is to roll a 10 or better on a D20. The GM can modify this roll if the task is particularly difficult. Swimming a raging torrent might have a target roll of 15, or tracking a man over long miles of stony ground might be a 16. A skill check can have a difficulty of 20 or higher, if it is a task that even a competent person could only achieve through immense, dumb luck. E.g. tracking a target with a 3 day lead over shifting sands, or perceiving some slight change in a forest glade made by the breathe of an immobile and invisible creature.

PCs can be customized with Traits, which give them bonuses to different skills or contests. These Traits represent the PC being an expert or an old hand at one particular skill or endeavor. The Traits give the PC +2, +4, etc. to any skill rolls made using that skill.
Skills Intimidation blah Tracking blah

Intimidation blah
Insight blah
Tracking blah
Perception blah
Stealth blah

Table talk

The recommendation is that players should be allowed to table talk freely during combat. As a GM you should try to place time pressure on them during combat in order to increase the excitement, and this should naturally limit table talk from getting too detailed or technical and keep it more in the vein of actual monster combat.

Funny Voices

The key to all acting is funny voices and accents. Each player should have an accent that they use when talking in their PC's voice. This is the second fundamental truth of RPGing. ROTH voice guide

Character Advancement in general

The WitchHammer profession involves a great deal of on-the-job-training. There is no way to fully train for the experience of hunting and killing a monster, one must actually do it. However, having done it and survived, a WitchHammer gains experience and becomes better at the hunt.

This improvement is reflected in several different ways.

1) Attribute Point: these allow you to increase to your character's basic stats such as attack, defense, or initiative. This represents the character just getting better at fighting through practice and experience. They have more years of training, more experience in life and death situations, and more readiness to kill absolutely everyone in the room at any time.
2) School Point: these allow you learn a new School of Combat or learn the next level of one of your current Schools. This will make new Techniques available. To do this generally requires months or years of time, and should be done in between hunts. Alternatively, you can trade in one School Point for 5 Technique Points.
3) Technique Point: The WitchHammer learns a new combat Technique from one of the schools available to them. They can then use this Technique in combat.
4) Trait Point: A WitchHammer's non-combat skills and abilities are referred to as Traits. By completing hunts successfully and with flair, WitchHammers will gain new Trait points to make their character cooler and more useful out of combat.

Attribute Points

Attribute points can be spent to increase your character's base stats. The costs are as follows:
Attack 4 points
Defense 3 points
Max Poise 2 points
Initiative 1 points
Damage on Solid Hit 1 points
Con Defense 1 points
Agility Defense 1 points
Will Defense 1 points
Fear Defense 1 points
Intimidate Skill 2 points
Hunting Skill 2 points
Perception Skill 2 points
Stealth Skill 2 points

Technique Point

Technique Points are fairly simple; each one just lets you pick a new ability or passive from the Combat Schools your PC has available. The passives you pick, plus your Attributes, will give your character their base stats (e.g. +2 Attack, +3 Defense, +1 Init, +2 Fear Defense, +3 Stealth Skill etc.). The attacks and defenses you pick will give you the combat cards that you have available to play during combat. Note that all PCs have all the Techniques from the General Combat School available to them. So every PC can use basic attack, defend, charge, run, etc. Actions.

Schools of Combat

For a player character, their combat abilities are primarily defined by which schools of combat they have trained in. A school of combat is similar to a class in other RPGs, but somewhat smaller and more granular. A school of combat represents a pool of Techniques that the character can learn. A school will typically have a few levels, e.g. Raging Bull School Level 1, Raging Bull School Level 2, and Raging Bull School Level 3. Each additional level in the school makes new Techniques available, with the higher levels of a school tending to have wilder and more varied and moderately stronger powers.

Note that Techniques within a school have to be learned separately; learning the school just makes the Techniques available to learn. Note also that while a character can learn multiple schools, not all schools are compatible. Learning a school is a major commitment, often not just in time but also in psychology. The GM and common sense should be your arbiters as to which schools are compatible.

Character Creation

To create a new character, you get the following points to spend:
- 15 Attribute points
- 1 School point
- 7 Technique points
- 2 Trait points

That's it! Spend these points as you like to define your WitchHammer's starting abilities. Oh. And give your character a name and a back story or something.

Adventure Rewards

Hunting a monster (not necessarily successfully, but an effort was made): 1 Technique Point
Hunting and Defeating a Monster, or otherwise doing a good job in the scenario: 1 Trait Point
Defeating a Witch: 3 Attribute Points, 2 Technique Points, 1 School Point

Character Achievements (Grant daily use cards)

Blooded kill 1 creature/10/100
Battle Tested take at least 1 wound in battle 1/10/100 times
Unkillable be reduced to 5 HP or below 1/3/10x
Lucky score 2 critical hits in a row 2 hits/3 hits/4 hits/5 hits
Revenge kill a Monster that has killed a PC 1/2/5/10
Hells Heart kill a monster while you are a -10 Malus or more

Hunting, Injury, and PC Death

The life of a WitchHammer is extremely dangerous. WitchHammers hunt down and fight murderous, powerful, and mysterious supernatural creatures. A WitchHammer should not expect battles to be easy, and should not expect to win every battle. While WitchHammers are courageous, they must also know when to retreat and salvage what they can. In game terms, retreating from an unbeatable or extremely dangerous foe should not be thought of as a defeat. It is not a victory, but it is not a failure. In these cases, the surviving WitchHammers still get a Technique point at the end of the adventure to reflect what they have learned. It is better to lose a village to a monster than to lose the village and the WitchHammers to a monster.

The players should expect that their characters will eventually face extreme injury or death. This is OK! The PCs should live boldly and bravely, and if they die they should tell a good story while doing so. The game system is setup so that death should not be too painful for the player. All PCs are within a moderate band of effectiveness, e.g. a starting character and a high level character are both approximately as dangerous in combat. The high level character has advantages, but not so much so that they completely outclass or can dismiss the starting character.

So when you rejoin the campaign with a new WitchHammer, you should still be able to contribute to the group. Additionally, WitchHammers that survive will level up quickly, and you should return to your old power level quickly. Do not be sad that when your PC dies, but be happy that you got to spend time with them. Similarly, all the best fictional characters have eye scars or hook arms or peg legs. So do not be saddened if your freshly minted WitchHammer ends up scarred and battle-bloodied. FAQ:
If a character's cards have not been resolved yet, do they still get the defense bonus and other bonuses on their cards?