Pugilist Talent and Knockdown Quality

Rules as written, the Pugilist talent allows the character to add the Knockdown Quality to all Melee attacks.

One of my players uses a whip and delights in using it to knock giants, demons, and other big nemesis creatures to the ground (and also Grappling them). He’s perfectly content to have me burn Doom to avoid these effects (my players hate when the Doom pool gets too big) or to have the monster knocked down; it’s all good from his point of view.

I have two questions:

Question 1: is there a creature Quality that makes them difficult/impossible to suffer the effects of Knockdown? There isn’t a size Quality for monsters other than Monstrous Creature, and that has nothing to do with being knocked down or grappled. Presumably, a mammoth, for example, would sneer at these effects just because of its sheer size. (Enraged from the pain of the lash? Sure. Knocked down to the ground from being hit by a normal weapon of any type [presuming it didn’t kill the mammoth]? Maybe not so much.)

Question 2: Did the designers intend Pugilist to apply to all Melee attacks as written? Or just bare-hand attacks as the name of the Talent implies? (A pugilist is a boxer.)

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Good point! - You can even “knockdown” creatures with the Incorporeal (x) quality. So they are something of ghostly, non-physical, but NOT immune to Knockdown attacks.

Maybe some quality like “Inured to Pain” which prevents a creature from becoming Staggered or Dazed, could work here. - But as of the books - core and source books - I haven’t seen such abilities.

You could even knockdown a massive Forest Dragon by using your fists or a toothpick as a weapon and the Pugilist Talent.

I concur, there should be some type of creature (mostly massive ones, but incorporeal ones, too), that simply cannot be knocked down. Like a “Inured to Knockdown” quality.

I actually like the “knockdown with a whip” idea… imagine he’s actually entangling a leg and tripping them instead. It may not mean actually having them fall to the ground either, simply that they have to recover their feet/footing/balance with the same penalties and effects as someone who was actually knocked prone or supine. Keep in mind the system is kind of abstract.

That said, there comes a point where a human, even Conan Himself, knocking down/ tripping/ whatever certain creatures is simply beyond reasonable.

I would also think you’d have to physically be able to touch the creature affected, so if a normal melee attack doesn’t affect an incorporeal being, one with Knockdown wouldn’t either.

My own table rule with this is that I restricted this to Unarmed Strikes only, basing it off of Star Trek Adventures in which unarmed attacks have the Knockdown effect. I couple this with immunity to knockdown being granted to creatures with the Incorporeal, Inured to Pain, or Monstrous Creature special ability. That said, let loose with Pugilist how you wish and makes sense for your table.

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But a normal melee attack does affect an Incorporeal creature just fine - Incorporeal only gives a very high Armor Soak (and allows for passing through solid objects), but it does not hinder taking damage by normal weapons altogether.
So you can still knockdown a ghost. Send him to the floor. Smash his ectoplasma or whatever.

Then having the Knockdown effect should be fine. What actually happens may be different, maybe the ghost gets disoriented or dispersed and has to take a moment to re-coalesce, but the in-game effect being the same as being knocked down is fine.

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I would point to the Grappler talent under the Melee tree, which specifically denotes that an unarmed strike is needed to make use of the ability; since this language is not present in Pugilist I see no reason for such a ruling. How do you handle maces? They have knockdown, and that is presumed to work when the weapon hits isn’t it? A character with this talent is able to apply their Strong Back and their Might to put that kind of force behind a sword, or an axe, or even a dagger, which doesn’t seem like any kind of a stretch in Conan’s world.

Compare this ability to a grappling weapon. A boar spear grapples on every effect, so why wouldn’t the authors intend these attacks to work the same way? Compared to Staggering, which costs the target theirs Standard and all Reactions, or Ensnaring, which requires a skill test from the target and has the potential to waste multiple enemy turns, being knocked prone is a very minor condition. It costs a Minor and requires no skill test. A prone individual can still take actions and Reactions. The bonus attackers get in melee is offset by the penalty to ranged, though I acknowledge the detriment outweighs the advantage. My character with this talent only occasionally gets the opportunity to follow up and attack a knocked down target before their turn rolls around and they get back up, which does not, unless I’m reading it wrong, elicit a Retaliate reaction. If your group is ruling that it does, then yes, it can get pretty silly. But again, this is no more problematic with a character using this talent, than with a character wielding a mace or staff.

A character with this talent has spent 1,200 XP (before Focus discount) for the ability to give every weapon the same effect as a mace in addition to its other effects, one of the least powerful effects in the game.

As for your characters knocking down rhinos and elephants, and especially ghosts, yes that is silly. I’d support a GM ruling that just doesn’t work. Of course, Doom is there to give the GM license to make various rulings without need to justify. If, however, a player could spin a convincing narrative to justify why his character is able to punch a mammoth off its feet, I’d be inclined to reward the creativity!


Hmmm. Nicely thought out reasoning. Going to have to take some time to consider your argument, but initially I am inclined to keep my Knockdown immunity for creatures with the Monstrous, Incorporeal, and/or Inured to Pain special abilities, but rescind the Pugilist talent being only for unarmed attacks.

That said, I find myself getting stuck on the use of the Pugilist, as the word specifically references being a professional boxer/one who fights their fists. Silly on my part, then again I have the same issue with the use of the word Rage for the Barbarian ability found in 3E (and later versions) of D&D.


Thank you all for your replies.

I especially liked pjatwater’s take on it – if the player can spin a reasonable explanation for the Knockdown (or other Quality) to work despite it seeming on the face impossible, then allow it. That mammoth wouldn’t be able to be tripped with a whip in the normal course of events, but if Kaf (the PC with the whip-happy approach to combat) narrated that he lashed the whip across its path, maybe he could. (Note that in this case, I probably wouldn’t let him do any damage with the whip attack itself, but the mammoth might go down. And if I spent Doom to avoid the Knockdown, I’d probably also rule the whip snapped.

But my example proves the point of narrative over rules as written, and now I need to figure out how to implement that in a way that the player (who spent ~900 XP for that talent, given Focus discount) doesn’t feel cheated.

Incorporeal: I’d rule here that if an attack doesn’t penetrate the special “incorporeal” armor, then it can’t trigger effects like Knockdown, Grappled, etc. You didn’t actually touch them and your weapon/arm/whatever passed straight through them. But that’s just how I envision Incorporeal to work, of course.

Dytrrnikl’s also given me food for thought. If Pugilist was instead called Trip Master (or some better name than I could come up with :wink: ), would I even be asking? I may, indeed, have gotten hung up on the name.

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I think it’s better not to get stuck on the name, and just read the text. A marksman is a skilled shooter with a gun or rifle, yet we all seem to understand the Marksman talent works with all types of ranged weapons. The writers just picked a name they thought would be flavorful–they love their flavor. As with most of the flavorful details in this book, it’s intended it give us creative options, not to box us in (pun intended).

To that point, there are numerous ways players can flavor their characters with the Puglist talent. Maybe he just hits really hard with the axe, using its percussive force to maximum effect; maybe he follows up a sword slash with a mailed fist, like we see medieval martial artists do in treatises; I like to describe my Khitan character using judo-like tactics, using clever misdirection and waiting for enemies to works themselves off balance and taking advantage. Keep in mind time is nebulous in combat; a single Melee test may not necessarily be a single stroke from a weapon, but an entire routine or exchange of clashing blows.(After all, how many shots does a character using Volley launch in the same period of time?)

On the issue of tripping ghosts, I was initially against it, but after reading some of the comments I see myself being able to justify it in all kinds of ways. Since perception can affect reality in the spirit world, maybe knocking down a ghost works if the ghost believes it has been knocked down?

Follwing up on the name, I guess my reading of it was that the character has the skills of a pugilist. Does that mean he throws the broadsword out the window and attacks every enemy with only his fists? Of course not, that would be madness! I think he incorporates the special skills of a boxer into his armed routine in some way, left to the player to envision. If he’s worked out how to punch enemies off their feet, he likely can apply that level of fitness and training into other attacks.

Imagine Bruce Willis’s character in Pulp Fiction, wielding a baseball bat. That’s a pugilist.


I thought of this discussion while reading the Immense creature quality, on page 74 of Conan the Pirate.

“For every point of this quality, the being:
… Increases the Difficulty of any attempts at moving it by two steps, such as with the Knockdown Quality…”

The phrasing is odd, since the Knockdown Quality does not use a skill test, but procures on an effect roll of the damage dice. Maybe the Immense Quality should increase the number of Effects needed to move it by 2, so with Immense 1, you would need to roll 3 effects to knock it down?

This led me to also consider the Monstrous Creature Quality. This Quality says nothing about improving a being’s resistance to Knockdown, but maybe it out to? Assuming my proposed ruling on knocking down Immense creatures is accepted, I’d propose that a Monstrous Creature should require a minimum of 2 Effects for Knockdown to work on it.

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That sounds like a reasonable way to model the greater resilience and mass of monstrous creatures.
But how about the buying-off of Knockdown?
Usually, you have to pay (for NPCs) or generate (for PCs) 1 Doom per rolled Effect on the damage dice.
If a monstrous creature only suffers Knockdown at 2 Effects, how much Doom needs to be spend to buy that off?
What about 3 Effects, the minimum of 2 plus 1 additional?

I’d suggest that Monstrous ability raises not only the treshold after which Knockdown is applied, but the increment for buying it off, too.
So a Monstrous creature gets hit with a weapon with the Knockdown quality.
1 Effect rolled - no Knockdown, no buy-off necessary.
2 Effects rolled - Knockdown, buy off with 1 Doom.
3 Effects rolled - Knockdown, buy off with 1 Doom.
4 Effects rolled - Knockdown, buy off with 2 Doom.
5 Effects rolled - Knockdown, buy off with 2 Doom.
6 Effects rolled - Knockdown, buy off with 3 Doom.
and so on.

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I actually forgot Knockdown had that provision. I would have suggested almost the same thing you have.

I think I’d write it this way:

Immense: For every point of this quality, the being reduces the Doom cost to ignore Knockdown effects by 2 points, to a minimum of zero.

Monstrous Creature: the creature reduces the Doom cost to ignore Knockdown effects by 1 point, to a minimum of zero.

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