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Sanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, SubterfugeSanctum | Strategy, Sorcery, Subterfuge



The Damage Pipeline

Attacks, Attackers, and Damage

Modes of (Physical) Attacks

Categories of Attackers





Types of Damage


The “Apply Damage” Pipeline

The “Takes Damage” Pipeline

Spells that Munge Damage

How could my minion get damaged by a “deals no damage” attacker?

Which spells can benefit from dealing a 0-point hit?

What spell combos can really benefit from dealing a 0-point hit?

What spell combos can benefit from taking damage?

Attacks, Attackers, and Damage

Modes of (Physical) Attacks. There are 2 modes of physical attacks in Sanctum. They determine how quickly you can (re)engage enemy minions in combat, and whether you can force an enemy minion to “pair up” with you in a duel. Combat in Sanctum is presumed to be a strenuous physical activity.

Attack Type

Combat Rounds


hand attack

A hand attack is a close-combat attack using any hand-held weapon, or weapon-like hand.

  • Swordsmen, and most monsters that use natural bodily weapons, have hand attacks.
  • Hand attacks always deal hand damage.

missile attack

A missile attack is a long-range attack using a projectile-launching weapon, such as a bow.

Categories of Attackers. Minions in combat are further categorized according to the (number and) types of attacks they have. Some spells grant extra attacks. Some spells enable a minion to have both hand and missile attacks.

Basher. A minion with only hand attacks is called a basher.

  • Bashers don't attack in combat round 1. They are still rushing into battle.
  • Bashers always “pair up” with enemy bashers in 1-vs-1 duels. Analogy: Gridiron football, offensive line vs. defensive line.
  • Any unpaired bashers (from the side who has more of them) use wise targeting. Analogy: Gridiron football, blitzing linebacker vs. quarterback.
  • If a basher is idle (e.g. its victim already died), it retaliates if possible, else it forfeits all of its remaining attacks that round. It must chase down another victim.
  • Bashers usually have higher armor than non-bashers. They need it!

Shooter. A minion with only missile attacks, or with both hand and missile attacks, is called a shooter.

  • Shooters get an opening volley (missile attack) in combat round 1, but with a small damage penalty.
  • Shooters always use wise targeting. They never “pair up” with anybody. For game balance, we permit shooters to continue to shoot “wisely” even when many bashers are bashing on them!
  • If a shooter is idle, it immediately chooses a new victim. A shooter never forfeits any attacks!

Multi-attacker. A minion with 2 or more attacks per round (regardless of type) is also called a multi-attacker.

  • A multi-attacker is a basher if all of its attacks are hand attacks. Otherwise, it is a shooter (even if it alternates attack types).
  • A multi-attacker always uses random targeting for its 2nd and additional attacks in the same round. This is necessary for game balance.

Non-combatant. A minion with zero attacks per round is a non-combatant.

  • Non-combatants never “pair up” with anybody.
  • Non-combatants are always chosen last by the wise targeting tiebreakers.

Types of Damage. There are 4 types of damage in Sanctum. Some spells give, and some monsters have, resistances to some damage types.

Damage Type


Physical damage types

hand damage

Hand attacks always deal hand damage.

missile damage

Missile attacks always deal missile damage.

Damage modifiers
These can be combined with a physical damage type.

“ignores armor”

This damage does not reduce, and is not reduced by, the opponent's armor.


This damage has the “ignores armor” effect. Also, it is not blocked by any immunities or spells. Example: A spell that protects against missile damage doesn't protect against magical missile damage.

Most spell and monster effects deal magical damage.


The “Apply Damage” Pipeline. This pipeline is used for all spell effects that cause damage, including direct damage and terrain effects outside of combat, and monster abilities, defensive spells, and weapon-like spells in combat. For damage caused by a physical attack in combat, see the Pipeline for One Attack instead.

The game engine calls this pipeline with these parameters:

  • Quantity. The damage quantity is always non-negative; it may be 0.
  • Type. The damage type is usually “magical”, with no other modifiers.
  • Spell: The spell that caused the damage.
  • Wielder: If the spell is a defensive or weapon-like individual spell, then the wielder is the spell's host minion. Note that the wielder is not passed as the attacker; hence, there is nobody to “blame” for any damage caused by this pipeline, and any deaths resulting from it are always “dies” deaths.





Sanity checks

If the victim is already dead, halt.

If the victim is off the board, halt.


Victim takes damage

The victim goes through the “Takes Damage” Pipeline with the damage quantity, “magical” damage type, and no attacker. Since “magical” damage bypasses most events in step D1 and step D3, this usually reduces to step D4 only, and returns either damaged or killed.


Handle dying

If the result of step G2 is killed, the victim goes through the Minion Death Pipeline. The victim will either cancel this dying, or be buried.

The “Takes Damage” Pipeline. This pipeline is called from two higher pipelines, the “Apply Damage” Pipeline and the Pipeline for One Attack. It is called with these parameters:

  • Quantity. The damage quantity is always non-negative; it may be 0. A 0-point hit can still be significant by triggering other effects.
  • Type. All combinations of damage types are possible.
  • Attacker: The attacker to “blame” for the damage, if any. If specified, then any death caused by this damage will be a “kills” death (which triggers all anti-attacker responses); otherwise, it will be a “dies” death. All attacks in combat specify the attacker; all spell damage never specifies an attacker.





“Before armor”

All “before checking armor” effects happen. The victim is permitted to increase the damage it receives, even if the attacker has a “deals no damage” effect! Note: Most spells with this phrase explicitly ignore “magical” damage.

If there is an attacker, all “is hit by” or “is hit in combat” effects happen.

If the damage “ignores armor” or is “magical”, skip to D3.


Armor soak

The remaining damage and this minion's remaining current armor reduce each other, 1 point for 1 point, until either quantity reaches 0. (This is called soaking off.)

If the damage is reduced to 0, halt with result = bounced.

Otherwise, this minion's current armor must have been reduced to 0. Proceed to D3.


“After armor”

Remaining damage is capped to this minion's current hit points. (If the damage was higher, it is lowered to be equal.)

All “after checking armor” effects happen. Note: Most spells with this phrase explicitly ignore “magical” damage.

If this cancels the damage, halt with result = bounced.

If this minion died, halt with result = killed.


Apply damage

This minion's current hit points are reduced by the remaining amount of damage.

If this minion is still alive and still has positive hit points, halt with result = damaged.

Otherwise, halt with result = killed.

Note: The minion is technically “still alive”, even with zero hit points!

Spells that Munge Damage

How could my minion get damaged by a “deals no damage” attacker? Briefly, the victim himself can always “volunteer” to receive more damage than the attacker gave him. That sidesteps the restriction on the attacker. An alert player will exploit spells that “volunteer” the opponents' minions in this way!

Example: Diomesia and two Satyr archers, with Despond on their group, fight a group of 3 Shadow swordsmen who have initiative. Diomesia and her comrades still receive 1 damage per Shadow attack (not 2). Fortunately, with their archer wise targeting, and Diomesia's level 2, the Satyrs overwhelm the Shadows, and win, taking 4, 0, and 6 damage, respectively. But why did they take damage at all?

  • The Shadow swordsmen “deal no damage”, as stated in Diomesia's text. Indeed, for this entire combat, the Shadows' minion tiles do show them at 0 hand damage for every swing!
  • In step A2 of the Pipeline for One Attack, each Shadow sets its damage quantity to 0.
  • In step A3, we jump into the “Takes Damage” Pipeline, with damage type = hand and quantity = 0.
    • In step D1, all “before checking armor” effects happen.
    • Despond's text has a match for this phrase! The game engine cheks that the attacker is a Shadow. It applies the text effect, which increases the “damage received” quantity by +1. From here on, the damage quantity = 1!
    • Since neither Diomesia nor her archers have any armor, they eventually take the 1 damage. You can conclude that they took a total of 10 hits, which explains their 10 total damage. Diomesia's basher pair-up behavior and level ducking was just enough of a distraction for her comrades to win the fight!

This example generalizes to any other “deals no damage” effect vs. any “before checking armor” effect that adjusts the incoming damage quantity.

Which spells can benefit from dealing a 0-point hit? First, let's consider the most common case. An “unassisted” (non-magical) 0-point hit in combat will simply bounce off armor in step D2, and return a bounced result to step A3 of the Pipeline for One Attack (which see). That will fall through to step A7, which halts. Hence, you could exploit the effects that are guaranteed to happen before then.

  • Step D1: “before checking armor”. Almost all of these are defensive spells that help the victim. Two that do help the attacker instead are Despond and Treacherous Armor.
  • Step D1: “is hit by” / “is hit by”. These also usually help the victim.
  • Step A4: “when ... hits” / “hits give”. Here, the attacker has some decent options: Gorgon's Head (if you can get one), Shattering Blow, Shield of Vela, Thermites, Arhwazna (from Yeoman) vs. a Keeper.

What spell combos can really benefit from dealing a 0-point hit? Study both pipelines again, and consider a 0-point hit that “ignores armor”. In step D1, you skip to D3! In step D4, your victim probably shrugs off 0 damage. But D4 shall return a result of damaged – even if the victim is still at full health! So you also get these effects:

  • Step D3: “after checking armor”. Most spells with this phrase are defensive, and won't help you. You want to avoid (fighting against minions who have) the spells that say “receives no damage”, since these will return a result of bounced from step D3, which spoils your fun. You really want to avoid your victim's Retribution!
  • Step A5: “when ... damages”. This effect is the payoff for your deck-building efforts! Dire Portent vs. an Elf, Dragon Slayer / Eagle Spirit vs. a monster, Flail of Sa'rul, Iron Shillelagh, Karillian Arrows, Soul Eater, Touch of Death. Of course, you could also achieve these benefits by actually damaging the victim for 1 point or more. But as we've seen, sometimes an attacker doesn't have that luxury.
  • Combine with an “ignores armor” spell: Deva's Quiver, Dwarven Arrows (from Master Fletcher), Spirit Sword, Thermites vs. Gargoyles. Or, a “magical damage” spell: Yeoman.

After getting some healing, Diomesia and 7 Satyr archers return to the wild woods, where they encounter Khobai + Spirit Sword + Touch of Death. He has enough hit points stockpiled to survive all their archery. With each attack, he hits for 0 damage past armor, which triggers his Touch of Death, and kills one Satyr. He slaughters them all in 8 rounds!

What spell combos can benefit from taking damage? Here's a combo of unsurpassed puissance (and a mana cost to match it). If you can pull this off in a ranked game, you deserve it! Let's build this combo on a swordsman named Fred.

  • Ogi's Armor + Treacherous Armor + Deflection (in any sequence) + Unholy Aura (after Deflection).
    • Fred gets +3 armor from Ogi's Armor, so he has A:4.
    • Fred fights alone against 8 enemy recruits who have 7 hit points each, and no enchantments.
    • Abe, a recruit in the enemy group, hits Fred for quantity = 2 damage. Suppose Fred is already out of armor for this round.
    • Step D1: Fred's Treacherous Armor responds “before checking armor”. It finds Fred's max armor of 4, and adds twice that to the incoming damage, per its text. Now quantity = 2 + (4 • 2) = 10! Normally, this would be very bad news for Fred ...
    • Step D3: Fred's Deflection responds “after checking armor”. It sees quantity = 10, and redirects 10 magical damage back to Abe, per its text. Abe is killed (by Fred)!
    • Step D3: Fred's Unholy Aura responds “after checking armor”. It sees that Abe is a recruit without enchantments. It applies its “receives no damage” effect, which cancels the damage!

(Almost) every enemy recruit blows himself up just by hitting Fred! Fred could have a “no longer attacks” effect, and he would still win! Fred himself was always safe, because of his Unholy Aura.

In general, the first enemy attacker per round would take only 6 rebounding damage – because in step D2, Fred's armor would soak off half of his own Treacherous damage, which reduces the damage that Deflection bounces back to the attacker. How's that for irony – Fred's armor reduced the damage that the attacker took! After that, Fred would be out of armor for the rest of the round (and loving it).

Let's pump Fred's armor a little more, to the point where even the first enemy attacker dies. We behold an even more astonishing development:

  • Let Fred be (of all things) a Bard, so he starts with A:3. With the Ogi's Armor, Fred has A:6!
  • The first enemy recruit must have 7 HP or less. The rest of them must have 14 HP or less.
  • The enemy recruits may have any individual and group enchantments! Fred's combo still works!

Now, even if the first enemy recruit's attack is a missile attack in combat round 1 at -1 damage, it will do 1 damage, and bounce back as 1 + 6 = 7 damage to that enemy, which exactly kills him. Every remaining recruit will see the unpenalized and unsoaked damage of 2 + (6 • 2) = 14 damage, which kills each of them as they attack.

  • In step D3, as Fred's Deflection is in the process of killing off the attacker ...
    • In step E3 of the Minion Death pipeline, as each enemy recruit is buried, it has all individual spells dispelled, and it leaves the enemy group (which means it loses all of its group spells, too).
  • In step D3, when Fred's Unholy Aura checks the enemy recruit, it sees a dead recruit who is already buried in the enemy player's graveyard. Dead minions have no enchantments! So it cancels the damage even though the enemy recruit was alive and enchanted at the moment it made its attack! That's the subtle beauty of a pipeline.

Fred, a Bard with no attacks, could wade through a field of enemy recruit groups of 8, right up to the enemy Sanctum, and eventually win the game by himself! Having Fred survive monsters and instant-death spells is up to you.

v2.20.00 Last updated 2009/03/27




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