Three combat modes were included in the final release of the game: real-time, turn-based, and a faster version of turn-based. Arcanum's combat design has received some levels of criticism, with reviews usually stating that it is poorly balanced and frantic. The player's combat capabilities are in large part governed by the character's combat skills and weapons. Attacking is performed automatically by clicking on a hostile NPC provided that they are in range of the attack.
Combat skills that the player character can choose from include melee weapons (with an optional back stabbing skill for stealth-oriented players), thrown weapons, archery, firearms, and a large variety of certain damage-inflicting spells from some schools of magic. Deciding whether or not to use violence in some parts of the game sometimes carries consequences for the player's party and its followers. Some AI-controlled followers the player has in the party will find their character's conduct morally objectionable, causing the player to lose reputation with some of the followers who may leave or even attack the player.
When a magical or tech item is used by someone on a target, it has a chance to simply fail to operate due to magic/tech interaction.
If a mage tries to use a tech item on another mage, the chance of failure is equal to the magical aptitude of the targeted mage. If a mage uses a magical item on someone with technological aptitude, the chance of failure is based on the two people’s aptitudes. The higher the mage’s aptitude,the lower the chance of failure. The higher the tech’s aptitude, the higher the chance of failure. The following table lists a few sample chances of failure.
|Chance of Failure (%)||9||19||25||19||9||0||6||55||81||90|
This chance of failure is independent of the chance of skill failure. So a mage using a gun may fail because of this chance, or he may fail to hit because he has a low Firearms skill. This is why mages should stay away from guns, and techies from magical items.
In turn-based mode, the number of action points per turn is equal your speed stat. Speed is primarily affected by your dexterity score adjusted by your current level of encumbrance. Other effects such as haste spells/potions can increase this, as well as items such Enchanted War Boots.
Attacking with a weapon consumes action points based on its weapon speed. This is different for each weapon and can be increased with apprentice training in the relevant skill. The list below shows how many action points an attack will use based on the weapon speed:
|Weapon Speed||Action Points|
In combat, a critical miss is a failed attack that causes certain penalties to the attacker, such as damage, scarring, stunning, and so on. It can sometimes occur while missing, and at other times when the defender rolls a successful Dodge expertise check that causes the dodged attack to become a critical miss for the attacker (this happens at a rate of 10% for Dodge Apprentices, 50% for Experts, and 100% for Masters).
It seems that it is only possible to have a proper "critical miss" with unarmed attacks, melee weapons, and firearms. Bows, throwing weapons, and throwing items — such as grenades or any other item that is manually thrown — seem to be unaffected by this mechanic. However, bows and throwing weapons will sometimes fail to launch a projectile, and this may be the result of an invisible critical failure. If that is the case, and such "invisible critical failures" cannot have further effects such as stunning, these weapons might be optimal for early stages of the game on Hard difficulty, as critical failures can be quite fatal to the player character. Getting a somewhat common infinite stun as the result of a critical failure in Turn-Based mode means death even if fighting chickens and rabbits, unless one has a competent companion, and regular stuns in Real Time mode can have similar results. Remember that spells can neither critically hit nor critically fail.
To minimize the amount of critical misses you get, take measures to increase your chance to hit: increase the skill associated with the weapon you're using, raise the light level around your target (pull it towards light, fight during daytime, use Illuminate, use Lanterns, etc.), make sure your Strength is high enough to wield your weapon without penalties, and so on. Another thing worth considering is choosing a slow weapon with high damage rather than a fast weapon with low damage. Less attacks mean less chances for a critical failure to occur, but the same could be said for critical hits. Critical failures that end up dealing damage to you will also deal more damage this way.
By holding down one of these buttons while attacking, you can perform a called shot: an attack with a lesser chance to hit, but a greater chance of causing a critical hit and thus doing additional damage or causing various penalties to the enemy (e.g. a crippled arm, a crippled leg, unconsciousness). Remember that some enemies do not have some body parts. Check the bestiary for such data.
, (comma) - head shots . (period) - arm shots / (forward slash) - leg shots