Another review came out from another staff reviewer at RPGNow. Slightly annoying that he says I'm not trying to make combat realistic, since I was (everything in there is right out of HEMA and a few other historical martial arts systems) it's just that I was also trying not to make it complex, but, given what he meant, in an indirect way it's a compliment. http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_r ... s_id=19154
A fight in a d20 game is, at its heart, something of a bore. I don’t mean a combat encounter per se, but an actual melee battle between characters. Notwithstanding a couple of basic combat maneuvers (e.g. trip, disarm, etc.) and whatever feats the characters have, all they’re really doing is standing there and bashing each other until one falls over. There’s really nothing else to do but keep rolling your to-hit and, if successful, damage; it’s basically about attrition as much as anything else. It’s this problem of boring combat that the Codex Martialis looks to fix.
To be clear, the book isn’t trying to create a more realistic version of combat. Rather, it’s drawn inspiration from actual fighting to present new options and tactics to make combat more vibrant. In doing so, however, the basic rules for combat in the d20 System must be torn down to some degree, so that other options can be introduced. Perhaps the greatest change here is that of the Martial Pool. A Martial Pool is a small collection of d20’s (never more than four) that can be allocated for different things in each combat round. Do you want to make four attacks? Use one d20 for each. Do you want to make two attacks and have each stand a greater chance of hitting? Use 2d20 for each attack, dropping the lowest die roll in each case. Do you want to focus more on defense? You can use your d20’s for Active Defense (where you make a roll to defend) or even with your saving throws. It’s a great idea that unto itself adds a lot of options to even basic combat.
Of course, that’s only scratching the surface. In its opening pages, the book introduces concepts regarding how each weapon grants different bonuses to types of attack (attack types are redefined as Reach and Speed), as well as Weapon Defense. Weapons also have a Primary attack type, among other attack types they can do (a dagger can slash or pierce, but only the latter is the primary type, so only attacks of that type can score critical hits). There’s also rules on Counterattacking, the ranges at which combat occurs, Active or Passive Defense, and quite a bit more. After this is a series of feats that take advantage of these new rules, and several appendices covering things like spellcasting in battle, how animals fight, and tables with the revised statistics for weapons.
All of the above leads me to my major complaint about Codex Martialis: it feels fairly complicated. The important thing to take away from the previous sentence here is that the book FEELS complicated; it’s actually not that complicated once you get used to it. However, a lot of groups probably won’t get that far, because the series of new and revised combat options, statistics, and maneuvers are presented one right after another, and are fairly intimidating in doing so. There’s no examples given anywhere in the book to help walk you through what’s presented, nor is there any kind of quick- or –easy-reference charts or diagrams (save for the weapon statistics themselves in the appendix) to break down all the new maneuvers and ideas. All of this means that by the time the new rules are presented, they feel overbearing and scary. Luckily, most of them are modular (particularly the part with the Martial Pool, which is my favorite aspect of the book), but the above is still the book’s major weakness.
In terms of presentation, the Codex Martialis does fairly well for itself. The book is fairly unassuming in its presentation, with fairly few illustrations in its pages. What illustrations it does have though are fairly stark black and white pieces that use a heavy amount of grey shading, and almost feel like charcoal sketches in many instances. Most of the pages borders are very thin, save for one rather ostentatious color border that appears every few pages. The book also periodically has excerpts from historical writings regarding combat to open and close various sections, which make for a nice touch (though the font is a tad ornate). There are, however, no bookmarks, which is an oversight in a book this long.The Codex Martialis is a book that completely succeeds in its goals of making d20 combat into a more dynamic, tactical exercise. The plethora of new rules and structures presented in how it reworks d20 combat are excellent
, and their modular nature allows you to (most of the time) freely pick and choose what you want to adopt and not adopt. However, that’s only if you can make yourself wade through the rather hefty presentation and really absorb what’s presented here. The trick is not to be scared off after the initial read-through, and carefully go over what’s presented. It may take some work, particularly to get your entire group to adopt whatever rules you pick out (since added complexity is the trade-off for greater options), but if ordinary d20 combat is boring and no longer fun, this book is the answer.