KEN'S HOUSE RULES: Countering Counter-Strike?

I've had this little problem for a while with the Counter-Strike mechanism in HarnMaster. (I've really only had it since my superior PC got whacked by an underskilled Gargun who decided to use the counter-strike manuever, but go figure :) )

It essentially goes like this: No matter how skilled a combatant may or may not be, they are completely defenseless to a counter-strike maneuver, no matter how badly skilled their opponent may be. An attacker with a 95 EML attacks a defender with a 60 EML only to have the defender counter-strike. The most likely outcome is that both return a Marginal Success. This results in both the attacker and the defender suffering a strike.

It's true that the Melee Combat Matrix favors the original attacker slightly during a counterstrike, but the mechanism relies soley on the defender's chances of missing. There is no active defense relying on the attackers skill.

My solution is a new attack option


An attacker may elect to suffer a -10 penalty to EML in order to perform a CAUTIOUS ATTACK. This functions exactly as a normal MELEE ATTACK with one difference. If the reduced EML of the attacker EXCEEDS the EML of the defender, then the defender may NOT exercise the COUNTER-STRIKE defense option.

NOTE: In most cases an attacker will not know for certain whether the defender's EML is higher or lower than his own, or by how much. It is entirely possible to suffer the -10 penalty of CAUTIOUS ATTACK and still suffer a COUNTER-STRIKE from an opponent who's EML is high enough to overcome the cautious nature of the attack.

Brimstone's picture

I think you have a good

I think you have a good point. You learn to fear Counterstrike rather quickly. Limiting Counterstrike as an option if a fair path to explore.

The current solution I'm working on resolves by not allowing Counterstrike when a Tactical Advantage is achieved, only Block or Dodge. I've reformulated the matrix to reflect Tactical Advantage tests for both the Attacker and Defender. So if both get a MS result, the Attacker rolls 4d6 against his TRI to see if he gets a ATA.

On the Counterstrike matrix if Attacker Tacticle Advantage comes up, and the Attacker rolls low enough to achieve ATA, then the Defender can't choose Counter-Strike. Because of the limit of one Tacticle Advantage in one round, any additional TA's don't count, so the Defender that started off Counter-Striking and ending up either Blocking or Dodging isn't going to get a DTA. On a matrix result of both testing for TA, if both achieve TA the turn ends.

Also doing things this way improves the Block table. It removes 3 fumble checks and inserts DTA checks. To me a Block resulting in a DTA should be more of a result of the Defenders skill and initiative.

I'm still debating how I want to do Press vs Counterstrike. When I get around to the Horsemen vs footmen matrix, the Horsemen will have better odds of getting ATA.

Marduk23's picture

Another counter-strike limitation

I found that by limiting one "aspect" per round, it cut down on the number of counter-strikes being thrown dramatically.

Meaning, as broadsword has Blunt / Edge / Puncture aspects (Maces/clubs get 2 blunts to be fair) each one can only be used ONCE per round. Tactical Advantages take up these as well... so if you start using counterstrike you very quickly use up all of the available aspects of a weapon and are then limited to using unarmed/etc for TAs.

Of course, I tend to allow as many TA's as we can fit into a round... as long, of course, as there are available aspects to go around. Counterstrike is now considered to be a "last ditch" option, which is where it belongs.

I also allow the higher EML to go first in a Counterstrike, which pretty much takes the wind out of the sails of the less-skilled defender. Their blow only lands if they are still standing when it swings. :-)

cyrion's picture

Moral test

An other idea to limit counterstrikes I used is a sort of a Moral Test.
The idea behind that is that the normal reaction to an attack is a block or a dodge, but if you try to be faster and smarter than your opponent there has to be a little courage.

The test is a Initiative Test.

I give a bonus or a malus if the opponent is a worser or better fighter.

Ken's picture

Countering Counter-Strike

Each of the above houserules has some merit in it's own right I think.

No CS on TA

This makes sense to me. Winning a TA should be particularly advantageous to a combatant, and being the recipient of a Counter-Stike isn't all that advantageous. :) I'll think on implementing this myself some more. My hesitation results from not wanting to overburden the game with more rules than are necessary. However, it doesn't address what I consider the imbalance of a Counter-Strike in the first place. My problem with it derives from the attacker not being able to rely on his own skill to defend against (or prevent) a Counter-Strike. I understand that if you've swung your sword to whack the other guy, than it's more difficult at best to use that sword to defend a simultaneous attack. The issue is, that a skilled swordsman would only attack when he knows he can score a hit BEFORE the defender can retaliate back. An attacker waits until the defender is off balance or out of position to launch an attack.

One Aspect per Round

This is intriguing in it's own right. I see how it increases the value of weapons with multiple aspects, and how it might discourage some counter-striking, but again, it doesn't address the actual problem I have with Counter-Strike. I'm also not sure that it's a realistic restriction (even though it looks like a fun and interesting one). Why should I be able to cut with a sword, and then bash with it, but not be able to bash twice with a club?

Moral Test

This one makes sense to me. In general I think a Counter-Strike SHOULD require a moral (or Will) test. It's another dice roll however, and I like to minimize those in combat if I can, so I'm reluctant to enforce this.

My rule is primarily designed to give PCs an option to defend THEMSELVES from Counter-Strikes (which of course are going to be mostly coming from GM controlled NPCs) by relying on their own skill. Being more cautious, the PC passes up some possible opportunities to strike during their turn and this is reflected by the -10 penalty to EML. However, it's not a given that the PC is skilled enough to correctly ascertain his opponent's ability to Counter-Strike. If the opponent's EML is greater than the (now reduced) EML of the attacker, the attacker has misjudged his opponent's ability and MAY be subject to the Counter-Strike that he was trying to avoid in the first place.

Marduk23's picture

rethinking counterstrike

Ken, the more I think about your idea to impose a -10 EML penalty to Counter-strikes, the more I like it. -10 isn't much (barely noticeable actually), but I bet it'd be enough to make players pause before automatically announcing this particular defense. This would require a 'sizing up' of the opponent first, which is (in itself!) pretty damn realistic.

As a small defense of my earlier idea (;-P), I ~do~ give maces/clubs/etc *2* blunt aspects for purposes of TAs... just to make it fair. Another side-benefit of the can't-use-the-same-aspect-twice-in-a-round rule is that dual wielding a bit more common. The more aspects, the more TAs that can be taken advantage of. (besides, I like dual wielding... stupid reckless? Absolutely! But *so* flamboyant! :-)

Ken's picture

rethinking counterIstrike

Hi Marduk

I think you may have misread/misunderstood what I'm suggesting.

The defender (the person counterstriking) does not engender a -10 EML penalty. The original ATTACKER suffers the penalty if he or she chooses to make a CAUTIOUS ATTACK. A CAUTIOUS ATTACK is the same as any other attack except that if the attackers EML (after the -10 penalty) is equal to or higher than the defenders, the defender may not declare a counterstrike.

Balesir's picture

Once Per Aspect Per Round

Hi, Ken,

You wrote:
One Aspect per Round

This is intriguing in it's own right. I see how it increases the value of weapons with multiple aspects, and how it might discourage some counter-striking, but again, it doesn't address the actual problem I have with Counter-Strike. I'm also not sure that it's a realistic restriction (even though it looks like a fun and interesting one). Why should I be able to cut with a sword, and then bash with it, but not be able to bash twice with a club?

I agree that this is not 'classically' realistic in the cause-and-effect sense, but it *is* realistic in terms of the result it generates. One thing that struck me when first seeing the sword and polaxe fights at the Royal Armouries was how the combatants use every aspect of their weapon. Which they use depends which is suitably placed to exploit an opening as it presents itself, so you might say that a 'correct' model would be to roll before each strike which aspect may be used for it. That seems way too much rolling for me, though, and just saying 'each aspect once per round' has much the same practical effect without the die rolling.

Marduk23's picture

Ken, I hereby stand

Ken, I hereby stand corrected... I had misread your post (although upon rereading I'm unsure of how that happened).
I still like the idea of imposing a -10 EML penalty to Counterstrike itself though. ;-P
If a person is going to throw themselves onto an oncoming weapon in an attempt to smite the attacker before the strike falls, he'd better damn well be skilled. The -10 EML would tend to force that issue.
The CAUTIOUS ATTACK option makes a lot of sense, but it adds yet another option into the mix (although doesn't add more die-rolls... which is a good thing!).

Aha! An idea just struck.
You *could* just state that a defender must have an EML higher than the attacker (10 points higher if you'd like, to emulate your original idea) in order to initiate a Counterstrike. It does the same job, but doesn't add extra die or choices to an already information-rich (<-- Politically Correct, methinks) combat sequence.
Just a thought that may work for you.
It does give away the attacker's weapon skill (for those GM's who are secretive about those things), but one would find out the same information with the CAUTIOUS ATTACK scenario as well.

Ken's picture

giving away the ML

Marduk wrote: "but one would find out the same information with the CAUTIOUS ATTACK scenario as well."

Not really. If the attacker's EML IS higher than the defenders, then there will be no counter-strike. All the attacker knows is that the defender didn't counter-strike. He doesn't know if it was because the defender simply chose not to, or could not even if he wanted to. If the defender DOES counter-strike, then the attacker knows that his opponent is too skilled for him to fight safely, and he's just going to have to take risks. In either case, I think it's a reasonable outcome.

Marduk23's picture

round and round ;-)

I think we're actually saying the same thing, but keep going 'round in circles. :-)

I was talking about the *other* direction of info. (Defender knowing Attacker's skill)

In any case, this thread has started a good discussion on combat mechanics in my circle, which is always a good thing. Too many of my group is content to let me tweak the rules (and complain later! :-P) w/o giving much input beforehand. Hopefully what comes out of this particular quagmire has some longevity to it.

Brimstone's picture

Anyone know what font is

Anyone know what font is being used for the trample symbol on the combat charts?

Turin's picture


Another idea I've used for counterstrike is to allow the attacker to make that same cautious attack at -10. But is an MS/MS is generated, it's a block or no effect.

The other thing is a shield never factors into a simultaneous strike. I've mentioned a like mcuh about the TROS system - and it allows and attacker on a simultaneous strike to assign some dice to block and some to attack if they have a shield or two weapons.

While this is tough to factor in, I do like giving a shield user a +10 or similar bonus in a counterstrike - though as this increases EML, and increased EML means a better chance of striking, maybe allow someone with a shield to do a cautious attack without the -10?

macgorgor's picture

Combat Matrix fonts

Zapf Dingbats would be the font you're looking for, Brimstone.

Brimstone's picture

Ok, thanks for that

Ok, thanks for that information Macgorgor. I've revised the Mounted tables.

Tusslefoot's picture

Counter strike

I believe that the original intent of counter strike could be related to riposte, a sharp swift retort after parrying an opponents lunge. Now I know that relates to fencing but it is considerably difficult to do so one needs to be well skilled in the weapon use to do such. Now it would imply that not just anyone can counter strike an attack but only a skilled fighter. Just like as u get better results/options with magic then perhaps if counterstrike is limited to fighters with skill over ML 81+ or whatever you deem as fair in your game would help with your concern.

Yes, I know Ken that it does not answer your original concern and it is entirely possible that the skilled fighter is attacked by say 3 unskilled/less skilled opponents and if the use of counter strike is not restricted then that fighter could technically counter strike all 3 and injure then all and they could do nothing but hope for a low damaging roll etc.

So what to do?
I suggest implement a skill level requirement to use counterstrike and consequently if a figher is highly skilled then perhaps a block or parry chance against the counterstrike. Also restrict the type of weapons that can infact counterstrike, a heavy claymore in the hands of a average strength fighter would be hard to use in a "sharp swift retort".

The other options also have merit, especially that counterstrike can not be used in a ATA or DTA but in the end there will always be someone that will like to use the system to their benefit. If game balance is maintained then all should be good :-)


Niall 1
Niall 1's picture


Sierra Vista/Ft. Huachuca, AZ USA

The 'riposte' out dates fencing ... it is the calculated attempt to block, parry or side step an attack so that you can counter attack while the opponent is 'off balance' (meaning not in a good defensive posture). He should certainly get some opportunity to defend himself, but at a disadvantage from his normal ability. This is not beginners sword play, but nothing says a Gargun can't do it without being a great swordsman. It is harder to defend with a heavier weapon, so if you are extended with a two handed sword, and miss .. your block/parry chance is not good. With a small axe/hatchet you may well be able to knock the blade away. In the late Middle Ages/ early Renaissance saw a move back toward a lighter Broadsword (ie one handed sword with 30-36" blade) that allowed a quicker blade.
That is not really appropriate to most of the Harn World.
My suggestion is penalize the ex-attacker some 20-25% plus an additional modifier for a heavy or clumsy weapon to block the counter strike.

Turin's picture

An idea I had for a variant

An idea I had for a variant of the cautious strike is you still have the -10, but if you get an MS/MS, it's no longer a simultaneous strike but a block or no effect.

While a -10 to get a block result may not seem that great, it's good for the lightly armoured type not wanting to face a counter.

The fundamental problem I have with counterstrike as you seem to have is that the attacker is assumed to have no ability to defend himself.

Another thought is when a cautious counterstrike is declared, the cautious one can add a +10 or similar to reflect the shield if he has one. I guess another thought along this line is a cautious counterstrike, -10 to the strike but a MS/MS is a block.

I still like the CS/CS being a strike with both of these to relfect that even if cautious, a simultaneous strike is a possibility.

"It is harder to defend with a heavier weapon, so if you are extended with a two handed sword, and miss .. your block/parry chance is not good. With a small axe/hatchet you may well be able to knock the blade away."

This Niall I would say is more a DTA on the strike attempt. I like the idea of penalizing any defender of a TA with a -10 or so, so it falls a bit in line.

One thing though about a heavier 2H weapon - it's heavier, sure. But you have 2 hands to recover it with, not 1. Try swinging a baseball bat with one hand, stopping thing swing and recovering to an on-guard stance. Then try it with two hands. The two hands give you a lot more leverage.

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