Martial Arts – The Avalanche Style

While I’ve been too busy to post much for a while, there have been several requests for exotic or highly specialized Martial Arts styles. Those are fairly easy to fit into bits of time, so I’ll be posting a few of them. First up, it’s just about the oldest martial arts style of all.

Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies!

Humans throw stones. And while there are other creatures who do that, humans are unique in the real world in doing so with both force and accuracy. For nearly two million years, rocks were a proto-humans ranged weapon of choice. They were denser than sticks, they flew faster, they hit harder, and it didn’t much matter which way they turned in flight. They hurt. With enough throws, or a single really well-aimed or lucky one, thrown rocks could drive off, injure, or kill almost anything a band of hunter-gatherers was likely to encounter in the way of wildlife. Thrown stones brought safety, knocked fruit out of trees, and supplied meat and bone and hide. Later on various geniuses realized that smacking rocks together could make little sparks of fire and put amazingly sharp cutting edges on otherwise unremarkable pieces of stone, while tossing larger rocks from high places could readily do enough damage to seriously injure really large animals – but those were feats of high lithic technology, not the time-tested basics of throwing rocks that had served the Homids and proto-Homids for so long. Still, there are reasons why such advances in rock technology took so long to come into general use. For an example of those reasons, consider…

“Ow! Sharp chips flying! No Bang Rocks! Rocks Good Way They Are! PUT SOMEBODIES EYE OUT! WORSE THAN POINTY STICKS!”

“What you mean, “Make Fire”?!?! Fire BAD!! Burn up camp!!! Burn up US!!!! Throw rocks at demon who want MAKE FIRE AND KILL US ALL!!!!!”

“Hold heavy rock and stand on crumbly edge of cliff? NO! NOT WANT GO SPLAT! GIVE “GENIUS” A PUSH AND SHOW HOW WORKS!!!”

And thus was flint knapping and the controlled use of fire and heights delayed by half a million years.

Now, at least in d20 terms, while Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom (through Perception) all do play a role in throwing rocks, the great keys to accurate throwing are:

1) Picking out a reasonably round, non-crumbly, rock of about the right weight. This may take some practice to learn to do it at a glance, but it’s not that big a trick.

2) Subconsciously working out angles and the resulting trajectories for the actual throw. This is considerably more difficult, but it is doable with some fairly straightforward unconscious computations. Basic ballistics isn’t really THAT complicated. In fact, in humans… it’s blatantly instinctive.

3) Timing your release. This is the really difficult part; natural neurons aren’t particularly precise oscillators, which means that achieving precise timing using them involves averaging the output of a LOT of the things. Potentially, billions of them. THAT is the part of this that requires a big brain. Ergo, this is an Intelligence-based style.

Which gives us…

Avalanche Style (Int):

  • Requirements: Avalanche Style has no special requirements beyond having functional hands and shoulders – although higher attributes are, as always, better. Sadly, due to this lack, it offers no occult techniques. It does, however, apply to both throwing basic rocks and to effects that throw rocks at targets (These include at least some applications of Avalanche Of Devastation, Earthbolt, Hail Of Stone, Hurtling Stone, Launch Item, Magic Stone, Scatterspray, and Stone Call as well as a few psionic abilities and other tricks)
  • Basic Abilities: Attack 4 (If used with something that offers a save instead of an attack check, +1 to Save DC per +2 Attack), Power 4, Strike, Toughness 2, and Synergy (Craft/Stone).
  • Advanced and Master Techniques: Blinding Strike, Mind Like Moon, Rapid Shot (Thrown Rocks), and Quick Draw (Rocks).

How much damage does a thrown rock do? And what is it’s range increment? d20 has answers! In fact, d20 has lots of DIFFERENT answers. ranging from the simple to the absurd. Ergo it’s time to take a look at the real world and see what we find there. After all, people do spend a good deal of time throwing small round objects around so we ought to be able to find something to use as data.

For our purposes, a good throwing rock is comparable to a baseball – a commonly thrown item on which there are all kinds of statistics available. They’re nice and round, you get about three to the pound, and professionals quite commonly throw them the sixty feet from the pitchers mound to the batter with considerable accuracy. With a good deal less accuracy they are fairly often thrown up to three hundred feet. Ergo, they have a range increment of about thirty feet. a maximum effective range of 5 range increments, and can be thrown up to twice that far (albeit with no real chance of hitting what you aim at unless it moves to attempt to catch it). A well-chosen throwing rock is tennis ball sized or a bit smaller because it’s denser than a baseball – but that doesn’t matter a lot. So:

Well-Chosen Thrown Rock: 1d2+Str Mod, 30′ Range Increment, Crit 19-20/x2. Weight 1/3 Lb, Special/every human is considered to be proficient with thrown rocks. (Fortunately for would-be rock throwers, taking “Strike” upgrades the base damage to an easier-to-roll 1d4).

Rocks are really pretty lousy weapons by later standards, but they do have the advantage of being free if you pick them up yourself. Adventurers who actually want to throw rocks (there are probably a few out there) will doubtless prefer to give a kid a couple of coppers to gather up a bag full (the standard 50) rather than wasting their own time on the project.

“Come on… this is basic stuff! It’s not like you need to be a rock(et) scientist!”

Now, if someone wants to build a character around this instead of picking a more effective weapon to build a martial art around, it will probably be through something like the Hurling Hands spell:

Swift Hurling:

Transmutation, L1 Bard, Sorcerer/Wizard, Components: V, S, M (the missile or missiles to be launched), Casting Time: One standard action, Range: Touch, Target: Special, Duration: Instantaneous, Saving Throw: None, Spell Resistance: No

Swift Hurling will launch up to three arrows, bolts or sling stones as if fired from an appropriate weapon or hurl up to three items such as daggers, shuriken, rocks, flasks of holy water, or bottles of alchemical preparations, as if the caster had thrown them. Outside of the fact that the missiles need not be drawn and no mundane launcher (bow, crossbow, etc), is required, this is a normal attack – an attack check is required, range modifiers apply, and relevant Feats, attribute bonuses, and similar effects all apply normally. Where more than one possible mundane launcher or mode applies, such as a longbow or composite longbow, the choice is up to the caster. All shots are made at the user’s full BAB, they need not be launched at the same target, and the user may opt to either roll once for all the shots against a single target or for each independently.

I suspect that this sort of thing still won’t make for a terribly effective character in the long run, but it can certainly be reasonably effective early on – which, come to think of it, is a fair summary of the overall history of rock throwing. Humans may have outgrown it now – but it was a very useful talent to have back in the beginning.

6 Responses

  1. “For our purposes, a good throwing rock is comparable to a baseball – a commonly thrown item on which there are all kinds of statistics available. They’re nice and round, you get about three to the pound, and professionals quite commonly throw them the sixty feet from the pitchers mound to the batter with considerable accuracy. With a good deal less accuracy they are fairly often thrown up to three hundred feet. Ergo, they have a range increment of about thirty feet and a maximum range of ten range increments, as usual.”

    That seems a bit awkward when you remember that thrown weapons (as opposed to those fired from some sort of launcher) can only be used at up to five range increments. While I’d normally say that being able to be used at up to ten is a special property of a particular weapon, that doesn’t seem quite right with your basic thrown rock.

    That said, it’s nice to have you posting again!

    • I was thinking five increments over which you can inflict damage, ten (“with considerably less accuracy”) for the maximum – but I obviously left part of the idea out again. I shall have to fix that bit; thank you for pointing out the need to do so!

  2. I mean, in your article about guns in D&D, you said that after a while the base qualities of any reasonable weapon stop mattering, and I’m inclined to agree with you then instead of now. Someone using the Imbuement path abilities and some of the tricks you had for the level 6 longbowman would be almost as deadly as someone using a normal gun or bow, though there’s no real reason to use them above other weapons.
    It’d be cool to see a ‘fully fleshed out’ martial art, with a list of built techniques, stunts, and standard special abilities.
    I enjoy seeing you posting again as well!

    • That’s very true – and you can hype throwing rocks up to that level in Eclipse I suppose. It’s just easier, and leaves more points available to buy other stuff with, if you start with something like a bow, gun, atatl, or similar purpose-built (“reasonable”) weapon to begin with. After all, humans did switch to using bows and spears and things when those were available.

    • And there we go; correction inserted!

  3. […] Martial Arts are often useful: Dungeon Crasher Style, Wrath Of Souls Style, Avalanche Style, Silver Forge Kung Fu, and Dragonslayer styles make good […]

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