Cinematic Martial Arts

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by Bill Logan

In a Frontier where characters are often in danger, a quick pistol of some kind is usually the best line of defense. However, some systems forbid the carrying of such weaponry. On these more civilized worlds, of course, the criminals have little trouble getting the guns. So what’s a law-abiding character to do for self defense?


Mundane Martial Arts

Martial Arts are not well represented in the Star Frontiers game. It’s a single skill, representing three subskills that are little more than slight rules tweaks.

Normally, a character taking levels in Martial Arts can add his skill level to his punching score when dealing damage. He can take two attacks per turn. He can add 10% per skill level to his chance to hit... and gets a slight bonus to his chance to get an automatic knock out. If this is sufficient for your campaign, that’s great. Many campaigns won’t focus on the more discrete capabilities of the unarmed combatant. Some Referees won’t permit the cinematic effects that any discussion of Martial Arts in Science Fiction seems to conjure up.

Cinematic Martial Arts

PREREQUISITES: A Cinematic Martial Artist must have a Logic score of at least 50 and a Dexterity score of at least 60. Since this level of devotion is a lifestyle as much as a hobby, he must have a Military Primary Skill Area (PSA).

Skill LevelAttacks Per TurnInitiative ModifierUnarmed Damage#Cinematic Maneuvers
1 2 IM+1 1d10+PS+1 1
2 2 IM+2 1d10+PS+2 2
3 2 IM+3 1d10+PS+3 3
4 3 IM+4 1d10+PS+4 4
5 3 IM+5 1d10+PS+5 5
6 4 IM+6 1d10+PS+6 6
Maneuvers (each costs 5 experience points)
Blind Fighting
Deadly Attack
Fleet of Foot
Improved Landing
Insanely Cool Moves
Instant Defense
Instant Stand
Move By
Multiple Attacks
Multiple Defense
Paired Weapons
Power Attacks
Power Defense
Reverse Hold
Roll With The Impact
Surprise Action
Take Down
Weapon Form
Skill LevelSample Title Skill Level Cost
1 Initiate 3
2 Novice 6
3 Adept 9
4 Expert 12
5 Master 15
6 Grand Master 18

Special Experience Point Rule: When purchasing a skill level, the “Skill Level Cost” column shows the cost for purchasing the actual skill level. The purchase of the Cinematic Maneuver costs an additional 5xp.

But Science Fiction is rife with depictions of the more elaborate Martial Artist. Movies such as The Matrix, Pitch Black, Babylon 5, just about anything with Jet Li, Star Wars, even Star Trek – all make use of more exotic forms of combat.

The Cinematic Martial Arts system is proposed here is optional. It doesn’t replace the original skill. Instead, it adds a totally new skill called Cinematic Martial Arts. Check with your Referee regarding use of this system. It expands on and provides more options for a character dedicated to a discipline of self-defense... or a very capable offense. It makes such characters a little more able to kick butt – but balances it all by costing the character experience points that he could have used to make himself equally deadly with the use of other weapons.

A Name

Any Martial Arts system that the Referee and players create using these guidelines should be given a name and a reason for existing. A brief history of the art is necessary to tie it in to the Frontier, along with an understanding of the manner in which it’s passed on to others. The school or mentor that a character learns from is a part of his life, his core essence, and cannot be abstracted or go unmentioned. Players who take these skills for their characters are making a commitment that their art will have a place in the setting.

Of course, this is only a suggestion. If the Referee wants a Frontier where skills of this nature are commonplace, then he can ignore the need to give the fighting style such depth.


Not just anyone can become a Martial Artist. It takes a certain amount of discipline and physical prowess to become anything more than the Martial Artist described in the Alpha Dawn rules. Therefore, obtaining Cinematic Martial Arts requires the following: LOG 50, DEX 60, and a Military PSA.

The Cinematic Martial Arts skill

Unlike the mundane Martial Arts skill (which has no prerequisite), characters who take levels in the Cinematic Martial Arts skill enjoy several benefits. They have access to Cinematic Maneuvers (explained hereafter) and receive bonuses to hit, initiative, damage, number of attacks per turn, and can opt to perform a defensive action (called an “Unarmed Parry”) at the expense of an attack. Finally, a character that has this skill can possess one or more Cinematic Maneuvers. These five subskills are summarized below:

Strike First – the physical and mental development of the Cinematic Martial Artist allows him to have a greater chance of gaining first strike in any combat turn. He is permitted to add his skill level to his Initiative Modifier.

Strike Hard – the Cinematic Martial Artist trains to increase the power of his blows. Even without the use of his Cinematic Maneuvers, he can increase the damage he causes with any successful strike. His base damage is 1d10 per strike, and he may add his skill level to the damage he causes. For example: Uricho is a level 4 Cinematic Martial Artist with a Punching Score of +3. When she punches, she causes 1d10+7 damage.

Strike Often – the discipline and experience gained through sparring and practicing forms allows a Cinematic Martial Artist to strike more often per turn. He may perform two attacks at first skill level, and gains an additional attack at skill level 4 and a fourth attack per turn at skill level 6.

Self Defense – a character who is using Cinematic Martial Arts can perform a special type of attack, called an Unarmed Parry. He uses his body to dodge or block an incoming attack. He can do this at the expense of one or more of his normal attacks (thus, if he has two attacks per turn, he could do one attack and one unarmed parry, two attacks, or two unarmed parries). To successfully perform an unarmed parry, simply make a normal attack roll. If successful, you can ignore an attack just made against you. You MUST declare the use of the unarmed parry at the beginning of the turn, such as “I will do one attack and one parry.”

Cinematic Maneuvers – There are several special maneuvers described in the following section. A player may select one Cinematic Maneuver for each skill level he possesses in Cinematic Martial Arts. A special maneuver may be made instead of a normal attack. Each of the special maneuvers has its own rules which govern its use. For example, a level 4 Cinematic Martial Artist can have 4 Cinematic Maneuvers.

Cinematic Maneuvers

  • Blind fighting: This is the ability to fight (and perform other vision-related tasks) in total darkness. The character receives no penalty when fighting in the dark, as long as he is still able to hear his opponent. Once purchased, this maneuver is always in effect (it doesn’t count as an attack)
  • Deadly Attack: If a character possesses this maneuver and uses it on an opponent, it will cause 2d10 damage instead of 1d10, plus the normal bonuses of PS plus skill level.
  • Drop: This attack causes victims to open one hand and drop something they are holding. If successful, the attacker names which hand is opened. If the attack succeeds quite well, the Referee may decree that both hands were opened and released. Anything held in a hand that has been opened by this attack is dropped.
  • Fleet of Foot: The character’s body is so well developed physically that he may add his skill level to his running movement rate (in meters). He can do this automatically, without sacrificing an attack or defense. Once purchased, this ability is always in effect.
  • Hold: Any character can put another character into a hold, but characters who know this technique get the added advantage of doing damage to the held enemy, if they choose. In most respects, this technique uses the same system for holds as described in the combat rules, but if the holding player chooses, he or she can cause damage to the opponent. The same skill check which puts the opponent in the hold also does normal hand-to-hand damage. On subsequent turns, the damage may be continued until the victim breaks free of the hold.
  • Improved Landing: The character may subtract his skill level from the distance he has fallen or has been hurled, in meters, before taking damage. This does not count as an attack, it is considered always in effect once the character possesses this maneuver. Of course, an unconscious character doesn’t receive the benefit of this maneuver.
  • Insanely Cool Moves: The character uses up one of his attacks in order to perform acts of such an impressive nature that anyone who witnessed it (successful or otherwise) and lives to tell the tale will talk of what they just witnessed. This maneuver is foolish to use against a truly equal opponent – but against someone you’re truly superior to – why not look cool while giving him a beating?
  • Instant Defense: Characters with this ability are harder to surprise than others – they get to add 10 times their skill level to any Intuition check for determining surprise. This maneuver is considered always in effect. It doesn’t count as an action.
  • Instant Stand: Characters who are knocked to the ground, or are lying prone, can stand and move or attack without penalty as a single action. Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect and its use doesn’t count as an attack.
  • Leap: Characters who know this technique can leap into the air (a distance equal to half the tens digit of the character's Dexterity score, in meters), and cover twice that distance horizontally. This can be part of a move or part of an attack. Thus, a character with a 65 Dexterity can leap 3 meters straight up, and 6 meters horizontally. Use of this ability does count as an attack.
  • Move By: The character can perform a full move action (covering a distance equal to the character‘s “Running” movement rate) and attack during it, without placing himself in jeopardy. He doesn't move into his opponent, he moves past him. The attack itself will carry no penalty.
  • Multiple Attacks: Characters who take this special maneuver get an extra attack per turn that may not be used for an unarmed parry. No player may select this maneuver more than once for his character. Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect.
  • Multiple Defense: Characters who have this maneuver get one additional attack per turn that may only be used for an unarmed parry. No player may select this maneuver more than once for his character. Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect.
  • Paired Weapons: The character has studied the use of two weapons in an exotic form of combat where the two weapons act as an extension of his own body. When using these two melee weapons (and only while using both of the specified weapons) he ignores the penalties associated with using two weapons and using a weapon in his secondary hand. For example: a character might have learned the maneuver “paired knife fighting” – when fighting with a knife in both hands, he gets no multiple weapon/off-hand penalties. If he had a sword in one hand and a knife in the other, normal penalties would apply Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect.
  • Power Attack: The character can increase his damage by decreasing his accuracy. For each penalty of 10% he accepts, he can increase his damage he causes by +2 if that attack succeeds.
  • Power Defense: The character has practiced well enough with unarmed combat techniques against armed opponents that he is able to perform unarmed parries against clubs, maces, staves, even swords and knives, as effectively and with the use of the exact same rules as he uses against unarmed attacks. Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect.
  • Reverse Hold: If a character with this maneuver is held (either in the conventional manner or with the Hold Cinematic Maneuver) he may make a simple attack roll and reverse the hold, placing his opponent in a hold similar to the one in which he was just held. The opponent may make a Reaction Speed avoidance roll to avoid the reversal.
  • Roll with the Impact: The character decides it's okay to take a blow from an opponent "Go ahead, hit me with your best shot!" The attack roll is performed as normal, but the character will subtract his level from the damage caused. For example: a level 6 Cinematic Martial Artist with this maneuver just simply ignores up to 6 points of damage from fists and feet. Against normal opponents, he’s virtually immune to punches. Against other Cinematic Martial Artists, however, he’ll still take damage just a bit fewer points of it. Note that this defense only works against unarmed attacks... unless the character also possesses Power Defense, above. Once selected, this maneuver is always in effect. Use of it does not count as an attack.
  • Stun: Characters using this technique can take their victims out of the action almost immediately. A successful attack roll does no normal damage but causes the victim to make a Stamina avoidance roll. Failure of the roll dazes the victim - he loses one action (on this turn if he hasn't already acted; on the next if he has). If the victim succeeds in his roll, the attack was pretty useless. However, if the opponent fails the avoidance roll by with a roll of 96-00, he’s unconscious for d100 turns.
  • Surprise Action: Characters with this technique can act so quickly or make such a distracting noise (or both) that all foes within 2 meters are taken by surprise, even in the middle of a fight! The character uses this maneuver in place of a normal attack. All enemies within melee range must make Intuition avoidance rolls or lose one action (the next action that should have been available to the victim in normal combat order).
  • Take Down: Successful use of this technique knocks opponents to the ground directly in front of your character instead of causing normal damage. The victim may make a Reaction Speed avoidance roll in order to avoid the effects of the take down.
  • Throw: A character must have a victim in a hold before using this technique. A successful attack check allows the character with this technique to throw the held character up to 2 meters in any direction. Unless the victim falls onto something soft, he or she suffers normal unarmed combat damage and ends the turn lying prone.
  • Weapon Form: the character’s style of Martial Arts includes native use of a certain melee weapon (that must be specified). Whenever a character uses this weapon, he may receive all the normal benefits of fighting unarmed (can use “unarmed parries,” Cinematic Maneuvers, and take advantage of his Initiative Modifier bonus, damage bonus(es), and number of attacks. This maneuver is considered always in effect. Players may select this Cinematic Maneuver multiple times, each time adding another melee weapon to his list of Weapon Forms.

Developing Cinematic Martial Arts

Whether you selected this skill as one of your starting level-1 skills or purchased it later, these guidelines should be followed.

This skill is a Military PSA skill and so uses the standard progression for military skills (3 experience points for level 1, 6 experience points for level 2, etc.). Since this skill cannot be purchased by characters who are not members of the Military PSA, it makes no sense to even mention the double-cost values as shown in the Alpha Dawn game.

The special Cinematic Maneuvers are a little more powerful than a standard skill level, however. Each skill level, a player may select one Cinematic Maneuver for his character. It costs 5 experience points to learn a maneuver. The selection of this maneuver is open – there are no prerequisites or restrictions. The maneuver need not be purchased immediately upon gaining the new level; if desired, no maneuvers need be purchased at all. Some players may wish to buy their skill all the way up to level 6, then buy all six of their maneuvers. That’s their choice. Heck – some Players and Referees may be quite happy with the benefits provided by the skill level itself and opt not to use the Cinematic Maneuvers in their campaigns at all.

Author’s Note: Note that some people may wonder why the skill levels cost the same as the traditional Martial Arts skill. This skill is superior to that skill. The cost being the same is for two reasons: 1) in the Alpha Dawn game, all Military PSA skills cost the same, and I didn’t want to deviate from that standardization. 2) the added benefits are balanced not with experience point costs but with the fact that the skill has the ability score prerequisites and represents a level of achievement that truly talented people can gain even with identical training to those who fail to excel to the same level of achievement.