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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Sydney Freedberg on April 27, 2004, 03:16:26 PM



Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 27, 2004, 03:16:26 PM
[Pull pin; count one, two, throw; and...]

Proposition:
Pretty much every RPG fails to capture the true essence of combat, which is terror, confusion, and chaos. This goes double for those highly detailed, "realistic" combat systems that lovingly linger over the difference between light pistols and heavy pistols, between a parry-and-riposte and a parry-and-trap, between being hit in the arm vs. the leg vs. the left butt check, but which never bother to consider the impact on your character's performance of the fact that PEOPLE ARE FRICKIN' TRYING TO KILL HIM and HE'S NOT SURE WHERE THEY ARE. Can the Forge help fix this?

Discussion:
Combat systems are central to most role-playing games, frequently out of tradition and inertia more than anything else (viz Mike's Standard Rant # 3 at http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2024), since the ur-RPG, Dungeons & Dragons, evolved from miniature wargaming. But what bothers me, though, isn't that so many games emphasize combat I'm an avid reader of military history who has covered the Pentagon for six years. What bothers me is that every game I know of gets combat mostly wrong.

Napoleon famously said that in war, the moral (i.e. psychological) is to physical as three to one. The S.L.A. Marshall studies from World War II showed that the vast majority of US infantrymen were too disoriented and frightened to do more than cower or fire wildly. The work of the late Air Force Col. John Boyd showed that the mental ability to Observe the situation, re-Orient oneself, Decide quickly, and then Act (the "OODA loop" theory see www.d-n-i.net) matter far more than the physical qualities of the combatants and their equipment.

But most games fixate on the physical side of combat, especially weapons and armor but also the physical strength and agility of the combatants, and gloss over the importance of "situational awareness" (to use the air combat term) and morale:

1) Being ambushed or otherwise surprised is usually taken as a special case, and "normal" combat is assumed to have both sides fully aware of each other. Character attributes like "Agility" or "Marksmanship" usually matter more than those like "Perception" or "Nose for Ambushes. In fact most combat occurs either because somebody has gotten the drop on somebody else, or both sides have blundered into each other.

2) Initiative systems sort out who goes first and last, but they still generally assume everyone gets to do the same AMOUNT of fighting each turn. In fact, the winner is usually the combatant who can get inside the enemy's cycle and do several things swiftly while the opponent is still struggling to react to the first thing. (There's a fair number of systems that give faster combatants multiple actions, but the one I've seen are fairly awkward).

3) The psychological aspect of combat is better treated, largely because of games that focus on mental states. Ron Edwards's Sorceror has cool rules for overcoming injury through sheer Will. John Tynes's and Greg Stolze's Unknown Armies has rules for a character's fight, flight, or freeze reflex kicking in. Matt Widener's interesting but unwieldly optional rules for Godlike on "Killing Disposition" and "Battle Fatigue" (at http://www.arcdream.com/pdf/optionalrules.pdf) make most thorough attempt I've seen to address the fear/horror side of the equation, but leave out the situational awareness/OODA loop side. In short, all these games take a piece of the puzzle but hardly the whole thing.

In GNS terms, this is obviously a core Simulationist concern, but it's not only Sim. Fear and chaos are great fodder for Narrativist storytelling. The whole movie Unforgiven is built around the Clint Eastwood character's wavering psychological disposition to combat, which the film emphasizes is far more important than the Western cliche of being "quick on the draw"; Full Metal Jacket climaxes with a battle against an unseen sniper. And warriors like fighter pilots are all about situational awareness and cool nerves surely as interesting a Gamist challenge as one based on who has the bigger bullets.

So my question to interested Forge folk (Forgeites? Forgers? I know there's a whole thread on this somewhere) is twofold:

1) Anyone know of an RPG combat system that actually handles both the situational awareness and psychological toughness aspects of combat well?

2) Anyone have an idea how to design one would capture the mental dimension of battle in a way that served either a Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist agenda?

{edited because when I put titles of things in brackets, they disappear for some reason}


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Valamir on April 27, 2004, 03:35:31 PM
The old Palladium Revised Recon had an interesting approach to combat (vietnam era).  Weapons and even "skill" were deemphasised relative to the combat situation.  Rare was the combat situation that was a stand up fight.  Mostly they were Turkey Shoots, either as the giver or as the receiver.  You never wanted to be on the receiving end of a Turkey Shoot.

While it didn't model (that I recall) psychological effects directly, it did incorporate them in the end result.

Basically, IIRC, you had your normal weapons skill.  If you had the advantage in the Turkey Shoot you were modified up to the point were even low skill guys were capping opponents.  If you were at the disadvantage you were modified to the point where even high skill guys couldn't hit jack.  

The negative modifiers for being on the receiving end encapsuled surprise, fear, panic, poor positioning etc.

The system worked on the players too.  The players were about as cautious with their platoon as you would expect a real platoon to be choosing to pull back and avoid contact until a more advantageous contact could be arranged.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 27, 2004, 04:08:30 PM
Cool. Whoodathunk that the author of as radical and influential a game as Universalis would've been versed in old-school Sim combat rules.

(Crap, I've never actually read Universalis. [Goes and buys Universalis]. Okay. Now...)

The "Turkey Shoot" / not-Turkey Shoot mechanic is interesting, but kinda... binary. Was there any opportunity for Gamist funkiness in setting up an ambush situation? Or any provision for particularly skilled ambushees to reorient (Boyd's OODA loop again) and regain control of the tactical situation?


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: lumpley on April 27, 2004, 04:12:45 PM
Welcome to the Forge, Sydney!

I have a non-answer.  It's here (http://www.septemberquestion.org/lumpley/excerpts.html#pupex2).  But, um, if you're the kind of person who doesn't like to read swears, maybe don't click the link.

-Vincent


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Bob McNamee on April 27, 2004, 04:22:59 PM
The old Twilight 2000 PRG had a stat "Coolness Under Fire" that went  a fair way toward simulating the hesitancy and confusion... and the deadly nature of those who keep their cool in such situations.

It was by no means a perfect game however...


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: TonyLB on April 27, 2004, 04:48:51 PM
I crafted a poorly designed, but fun, custom combat system for a cyberpunk game that aimed to replicate a lot of this.

I started off of the Feng Shui initiative rolls, which are a fun (if wildly unrealistic) system that lets players spend "time" as a resource in a combat round.  Then I explicitly added in actions like "Figure out where that shooting is coming from" and "Creep away from the last place you shot from" and gave them a time cost.  Not as much as a full attack, but enough to make a difference.

Then I said that until your character spent actions to perceive things, they weren't described in the game world.  So our first combat went something like this:

Quote from: Spirit of the City
GM: Your glass of vodka explodes as a bullet narrowly misses you.
PC:  #%^%!!!  Who's shooting at me?
GM: Are you spending an action to...
PC: NO!  NO!  Hit the deck!
GM:  You're under the table.  Quite a few more shots blow apart the chair you were just sitting in.
PC:  "Quite a few?"  How many... no, NO I don't spend time to assess.  I flip my gun up over the back of the chair, cut loose with a wild burst of autofire and then run in a crouch toward the kitchen and its back way out.  Damn I'm glad I cased the exits before this started!

I was pretty pleased with that aspect of the system, particularly when the PCs turned it around on the bad guys and spent a lot of time casing them from cover, then blasted them mercilessly while laughing hysterically at the thought of how many perception checks their opponents would have to make before they had the faintest idea what was going on.

Oh, and we came very close to two PCs killing each other by accident, because they didn't want to waste time verifying who their "enemy" was.  Which was cool.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Valamir on April 27, 2004, 05:00:57 PM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
Cool. Whoodathunk that the author of as radical and influential a game as Universalis would've been versed in old-school Sim combat rules.


Heh, there was a time when I thought the Wilderness and Dungeoneers Survival Guides were the cat's meow...heck they're still kinda cool to read.

Quote
The "Turkey Shoot" / not-Turkey Shoot mechanic is interesting, but kinda... binary. Was there any opportunity for Gamist funkiness in setting up an ambush situation? Or any provision for particularly skilled ambushees to reorient (Boyd's OODA loop again) and regain control of the tactical situation?


As I recall, Revised Recon was one of those early rules light games.  The book wasn't that thick to start and at least 3/4 of it was filled with weapon description, army organization, and orders of battle, vehicles and the like.

There was a minimum of instruction, the rules assumed you knew how to roleplay (in fact, as I recall, the description of the Radio Operator compared the function to being the party's "wizard" and artillery strikes to casting fireballs.

So there wasn't any real built in "system" per se.  But there were ambush skills and Alertness Skills and Pointmen who were particularly adept at alertness.  There was also land navigation skills and intelligence gathering skills and the like.

The GM was basically left to determine the status of the fight by the interaction of a bunch of freely called for rolls.  The Intelligence guy might interrogate a villager and make a roll to be informed there were VC in the area.  That would trigger the players to go through the whole "10 foot pole, 'I search for traps'" routine ala old school D&D.  Based on exactly where on the map you went and how intelligent the GM judged your tactical deployment, and how successful your alertness rolls are etc. you'd wind up in an encounter and the GM would adjucate what type it was.

From there there were a number of steps: flat footed, moving towards cover, in cover that were more or less programmed in, with the ambushers starting at in-cover and the ambushees starting flat. From there you'd have to extracate yourself from the ambush or turn the tables into a stand up fight.  There weren't specific rules for this, again it was all player declaring actions, making skill checks and GM judgment.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Callan S. on April 27, 2004, 05:40:14 PM
Hi Ralph,

I don't quite get games like that (recon). An analogy might be that its like getting a box of toy soldiers, little rifles, guns, radio, tree's cover etc yet zero instructions and yet the box says 'this is a game'. Like other palladium designs, it seems to hinge on the idea that if you model a bunch of things (and not even model them particularly deeply or in relation to each other), its a game.

I'm drifting, but I dunno if such a system is much to recommend to the original poster. Better to recommend your GM from back then, as he's the one that brought all the models together into a game.



Hi Sydney Freedberg,

Velcome to ze lair of ze forge!

Anyway, what are you aiming for? Lack of knowledge in the player, or in the PC during combat? Personally I think players already percieve the SIS through something of a tube, with limmited peripherals. Further reduction of it could be damaging, as there isn't much more to reduce (to compensate you might need to have rules that increase information known outside of combat...rather than the GM just allowing himself a handwave description of the environment).


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on April 27, 2004, 05:44:00 PM
Quote from: Bob McNamee
The old Twilight 2000 PRG had a stat "Coolness Under Fire" that went  a fair way toward simulating the hesitancy and confusion... and the deadly nature of those who keep their cool in such situations.


When playing WFRP, we used Leadership as a courage under fire sort of stat. I imagine it worked the same as "Coolness" That is, pretty piss poor. It basically boils down to stuff like this:

GM: The greater demon stands before you and bellows
Player: I swing at him with my double damage against demons sword!
GM: OK, but a greater demon is pretty scary. Make a leadership roll.
*dice clatter*
GM: OK, you blew the roll, so you can't act for this round.

It basically boiled down to rolling to see if you miss a turn or not, which IMO does not really capture what Sydney describes. It's more like taking the wargame he also describes and trying to force it to do something it's really not mean to do.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 27, 2004, 06:32:55 PM
Noon has writ:

[Anyway, what are you aiming for? Lack of knowledge in the player, or in the PC during combat? Personally I think players already percieve the SIS through something of a tube, with limmited peripherals. Further reduction of it could be damaging, as there isn't much more to reduce (to compensate you might need to have rules that increase information known outside of combat...rather than the GM just allowing himself a handwave description of the environment).]

Point well taken. I've got a few stray ideas of my own, for My Eventual Game (not ready for prime time or Indie Game Design), which mostly work around rolling over Success/Failure from the Situational Awareness check into bonuses/penalties on subsequent rolls to hit etc. (kinda like Ron Edward's currency principle in Sorceror, albeit more formalized).

That said, I think TonyLB's system, as described in the example of play, produces the kind of effect you'd want -- flailing and scrambling on the part of the players as well as the characters.[/quote]


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Valamir on April 27, 2004, 06:47:56 PM
Quote from: Noon

I don't quite get games like that (recon). An analogy might be that its like getting a box of toy soldiers, little rifles, guns, radio, tree's cover etc yet zero instructions and yet the box says 'this is a game'. Like other palladium designs, it seems to hinge on the idea that if you model a bunch of things (and not even model them particularly deeply or in relation to each other), its a game.


Well, most games back then were like that.  They evolved from a culture of dedicated kit bashers.  There is a system there its just not spelled out.  For instance being caught in an ambush nets you a nice big -70%, -80%  penalty represending all of the complex situational and psychological factors of being unprepared.  But the penalty is only to to-hit rolls, not anything else, so when you're in an ambush your shooting effectiveness goes to near nothing, but everything else is at full.  So doing other things like tactics rolls or leadership tests or alertness rolls is your best way out of the situation.   The game doesn't say that...it just leaves you to figure it out by looking at the rules and saying "oh".  This is pretty normal for period war game rules.  Tons and tons of rules which all interrelate, but they leave you to achieve your own epiphany moment in play when you witness how they interrelate.  They don't explain it typically.

I mentioned it primarily because it offered one simple model of complex psychological factors (abstracting them out into a single big...-70%, -80%...penalty for being caught unprepared and all of the chaos and fear that causes) without getting bogged down in tons of details.  The net effect is the same, even if the details of the cause is skipped over.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Jason Lee on April 27, 2004, 09:07:32 PM
At the risk of oversimplifying what you want, you can just use a regular old stat + skill style system and make those elements that you want to be of primary importance the stats.

For example, if ambushed roll Awareness + Combat, if ambushing roll Brutality + Combat, roll Courage + Combat for blah, Decisiveness + Tactics for blah, Cool + Radio for blah, and so on.

You'd also want to make damage hella lethal to transfer some of the terror of the character to caution from the player - basically fail a roll and die.  If this results in something unplayable, then mitigate it with a player control mechanic - something like 'When your character should die you may instead re-write the scene such that another member of the character's squad dies for or because of him - describe how'.  Probably start with NPCs, then take it to group vote when you run out of those.  If you really wanted to shoot for the whole trauma of war thing, you could make each use of this mechanic cause some sort of sanity loss to the character, such that the character will likely either end up dead or crazy (because everyone around him died for/because of him).

Also, if you use simultaneous resolution (resolve each round in a serious of opposed Combat rolls - winner wins, allow for ties where both win and both lose) you can abstract initiative, speed, and getting the enemy on the defensive out into simple description.

If you really wanted, you could probably translate the pain systems of various games directly into fear systems.

Or to be slightly more complicated and chaotic...

You could do the same idea except have the value of the 'stat' rolled for at the beginning of a combat.  Say you start with a regular Storyteller system style dice pool mechanic.  You could have the important psychological factors rated 1 - 10 (ala Willpower), while having the skills run 1 - 5.  At the beginning of the combat roll the appropriate virtue rating rating with situational modifiers, and then use the number of successes generated as the 'stat' for that scene.

Anyway, just some brainstorming from a low crunch perspective.


Title: Re: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss th
Post by: Andrew Martin on April 27, 2004, 09:26:36 PM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
1) Anyone know of an RPG combat system that actually handles both the situational awareness and psychological toughness aspects of combat well?

2) Anyone have an idea how to design one would capture the mental dimension of battle in a way that served either a Gamist, Narrativist, or Simulationist agenda?


My RPG combat system "S" is a simulationist game, which tries to simulate movie combat and eastern martial arts (the Boyd loop is present in these situations as well as in WW2 air combat).

In "S", ambush situations cause mental confusion in the ambushed characters by forcing the ambushee player into declaring and trying to execute actions without knowledge of the opponent player's actions (whose ambusher characters are allowed to interupt the ambushed characters), so leading to illogical and stupid actions from the ambushed characters.

In my research for "S", I found that training and experience (and training based on that experience) was the cure to psychological problems in combat, which equated to high skills being able to do more and faster, which simulated the "Boyd Loop"; being able to do more and faster in embedded inside the skill rules and multiple action rules.


Title: Re: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss th
Post by: neelk on April 28, 2004, 07:09:17 AM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg

The S.L.A. Marshall studies from World War II showed that the vast majority of US infantrymen were too disoriented and frightened to do more than cower or fire wildly.


I thought the current consensus among historians was that Marshall had forged much of the data in Men Against Fire.

=============

Personally, I wouldn't find any game system that mandated panic in crisis situations very realistic. (I'd have no problem with it as a genre-creation mechanic, though.) In general, people behave extremely calmly and rationally during crisis situations -- for example, most black box recordings of pilots in crashing planes show them systematically trying one thing after another to fix the problem, right until the moment the plane hits the ground and they die. Most mistakes simply arise from the fact that in crises people have to make decisions quickly, without time to reflect or analyze their perceptions, rather than because they panic, gibber or otherwise lose the ability to act rationally. It's only after the fight, when it's safe to do so, that people go to pieces (if they do at all).

You can get this effect by taking an ordinary rpg combat system, and adding a time limit (say, five seconds) to how long a player has to make a decision. If they don't, then you skip the PC that turn. Then errors should arise from the fact that the players don't have time to fully analyze what's going on. It would also make combats play out much more quickly, which is good. :-)


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 28, 2004, 07:29:48 AM
I've heard some of the criticism of the Marshall studies too, but frankly never gone into it in depth -- your recommendation as to what to read on that would be welcome.

And I agree, I don't like RPG systems that address psychological issues by forcing player characters to act one way or t'other (Edwards has a stern injunction against the GM saying "you feel [emotion]" in the rules for Sorceror). So maybe the best bet is to try to encourage the same kind of often-erroneous snap judgments on the part of the PLAYERS as would be realistically on the part of the CHARACTERS. Some combination of real-world time pressure and limited information? Hmmmm.....


Title: Re: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss th
Post by: timfire on April 28, 2004, 07:39:37 AM
Quote from: neelk
Personally, I wouldn't find any game system that mandated panic in crisis situations very realistic. (I'd have no problem with it as a genre-creation mechanic, though.) In general, people behave extremely calmly and rationally during crisis situations -- for example, most black box recordings of pilots in crashing planes show them systematically trying one thing after another to fix the problem, right until the moment the plane hits the ground and they die.

You stole the my point! ;) I also thought I would add that if you want to create a game that mandated fear and confusion, that's cool, go for it. But you asked if "all combat systems missed the po[int]?" No, I don't think they do. The "reality" of combat is doing to differ according to genre. In a typical fantasy dungeon crawl, a samurai epic, a western, etc., the heroes are going to be expected to combat competent. Mandating fear would go against the genre expectations for those types of games.

Anyway, to reiterate, if you want to include fear, that's cool, but other games haven't "missed the point."


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sean on April 28, 2004, 07:56:16 AM
Fear mechanics can help with this. Burning Wheel has a 'Steel' stat that goes a little way in this direction, dictating how long you hesitate in surprise before you can actually act, as well as (IIRC, the game's upstairs) some fear rules that remind me vaguely of WFRP but which seem better in application (though I haven't tested them myself).

One expedient I've considered is just having everyone declare their actions blind at the beginning of each combat round. That is, Intent declaration is blind - no talking, no nothing. Then you have some kind of mechanics for adjudicating the guy running into the line of fire, or two people doing the same thing, etc. as normal. But blindness in intent declaration might support the confusion of (some) real combat. And, come to think of it, Burning Wheel's scripting system seems to support this as well.

I don't think Luke has any gun rules yet. But blind combat scripting as in BW might work really, really well for a Sim firefight system, with lots of mistakes, friendly fire disasters, choking up with fear and hesitation, and so forth.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Maarzan on April 28, 2004, 08:08:06 AM
I think one should also point out that many RPG play in times where the violence level was considerable higher than in the parts of the world these games get played now.
Those unfortunate people have probably some experience being in combat, even if only fleeing from attack.
And even non violent death was so common that I have read someone relating it to the lesser value people put on a single death then.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 28, 2004, 08:46:04 AM
Hello,

I suggest really diving into the experiential side of three rules-sets: Burning Wheel, The Riddle of Steel, and Sorcerer.

They all differ from one another, but they all share a few key features:

1. Players commit their characters to a certain kind of action (e.g. offense vs. defense proportions, as well as specific intentions) all at once. The in-game implication is that everyone starts moving more-or-less simultaneously.

2. There's no full revision of one's intended action during the action itself. Aborting an action is possible, but not a full shift from "I'm shooting at the woman with the eyepatch" to "I'm leaping up the scaffold to grab the ceramic pig." Or even switching targets for an attack - nope, once you're under way with your announcement, you're under way.

3. Who actually gets to whom first is a bit up for grabs, and gets altered from "unit" ("round," etc) to unit based on the results of the last unit. "Initiative" as construed in most RPGs (whether fixed or random) doesn't apply in these games.

4. The consequences of screwed-up timing are not fully correctable; the character might be able to salvage a better defensive motion at the drop of a hat by sacrificing an intended action, but that's it. It is very possible to try to aid a comrade only to see one's attempt get there too late.

In all three games, the net effect is a group frenzy for the characters and a set of quick decisions for the players which are nonetheless conducted in a non-confusing, non-bullying way. All three have a way of, as one person described it, conveying the sensation of gripping a live wire. You really don't know how things will turn out, but your character is in motion (not frozen while you wait for your turn) and you must decide - now! - whether to keep shooting, or to stop and duck.

The sensation during play is literally undescribable to people who are very experienced with more common RPG designs. Jake Norwood likes to call it "real-time combat," but I like to think of it as

Other games to check out for their interesting and successful approaches to the same issues include Swashbuckler (Jolly Roger Games), Dust Devils, The Dying Earth, HeroQuest, and Starchildren.

Best,
Ron


Title: Re: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss th
Post by: Marhault on April 28, 2004, 11:13:08 AM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
Napoleon famously said that in war, the moral (i.e. psychological) is to physical as three to one.
See Unsung (http://ivanhoeunbound.com/unsung.html).  I know it's not really related to the "chaos and fear" end of things (at least, not the way that's being discussed) but it's definitely worth a look.

Tony:  Any chance you've got notes available on that system?  It sounds like a Hell of a lot of fun!


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 28, 2004, 02:08:08 PM
I agree totally that most combat systems are very skewed from anything like reality. Now, that might not be a bad thing. Basically, they are what they are, and some are fun. I posit that reality often has very little to do with what people are looking for in a RPG.

For example, in the GDW house system that came out of their wargames, and stuff like the aforementioned Twilight: 2000, characters had an initiative rating of from one to five. Most civilians had one, and maaaaybe two. But this was essentially how many times one could attack during a given period of time. So a stone cold killer would get five attacks to the civilian's every one. This was very realistic, IMO; combat really is like that. Even if Marshall isn't completely correct (not to mention Napoleon), it's quite clear that mental state of mind is really important to actual combat.

But everyone hates the GDW house system. Because combat becomes soley an examination of who has more experience in combat previously. Which just isn't interesting. Realistic, but dead boring. The point is that this consideration has nothing to do with the premise of a game like Dark Conspiracy (for which it was the system).

The essential problem is that people first assume that combat has to be detailed (hence the rant) in some special way. And then once they assume that, the assumptions are all manner of odd things like realism for fantasy games, or detail in combat for games about Planetary Ecology.

But I'm not ranting here against realism. Just the idea that there's some "right" way to do it for every game that deals with detailed simulations of all of the elements. That might be right for some games (Pheonix Force), but it's almost certainly wrong for most other games.

What ends up explored in a combat system, or any subsystem should pertain to the focus of the game in question. That's a vague statement, but it's a completely ignored principle in most cases.

You're wondering what is best for your game in terms of combat? What's the game about?

Note that I, as the other author of Universalis, come from about as wargamey a background as you can imagine. I still play Star Fleet Battles occasionally, and all sorts of other immensely crunchy games of the sort. Nothing wrong with all of that.

But that aesthetic just doesn't work as the backbone of all RPGs. Shouldn't even be in most (though that's exactly the case).

Mike


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 28, 2004, 02:19:55 PM
Mike ranted:

"I'm not ranting here against realism. Just the idea that there's some 'right' way to do it for every game that deals with detailed simulations of all of the elements."

And I'd respond:

Absolutely. You'd need a very different treatment of fear & confusion to serve a hard-core Sim agenda vs. a Narrativist one vs. a Gamist one. And I have no objection to games that gleefully ignore any kind of realism in favor of Late Night Action Movie-style ass whuppin' (see, Comrade Lumpley? I can swear! Really!).

But (everyone saw my "but" coming, right?) I think the whole Fear & Confusion angle, besides being more realistic, also provides opportunities for gaming fun in all three creative agendas. (Err, though I'm still not convinced Simulationism exists in the same way Gamism and Narrativism do. Sorry, Ron.) A hero who ust struggle to overcome fear & confusion would be at least as interesting as one who can ignore them because they ain't in the rules.

Presumably you'd want a system tweakable so that you could set the player characters at various levels of suspectibility to fear & confusion, all the way from "panicky civilian" to "ordinary grunt" to "hardened commando" to "legendary hero." If you want Action Movie style heroes, uncap the top of your attributes range and let them have such high stats for, say, "Sense Ambush" and "Stay Cool under Fire" that they just ignore fear & confusion altogether -- while lesser characters like mooks and bystanders can still get paralyzed by all the chaos. Which seems like a more interesting way to set heroes apart than by just giving them a bazillion hit points the D&D way.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Christoph Boeckle on April 28, 2004, 02:43:10 PM
Hello everyone!

let me recommend the Mechanical Dream (http://www.steamlogic.com/version_a/index.htm) combat system, which is based around a combat pool (basically the total amount of dice usable in one round (even movement costs combat pool "points").
Fear for example reduces your combat pool. Maybe a bit simple...

I liked the idea to charge actions such as "finding out who's shooting at me" with a delay for future actions.
It's probably a lot of work (at least in the beginning) to keep track of such things though.


Title: Re: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss th
Post by: neelk on April 28, 2004, 02:45:24 PM
Quote from: timfire
Quote from: neelk
Personally, I wouldn't find any game system that mandated panic in crisis situations very realistic. (I'd have no problem with it as a genre-creation mechanic, though.) In general, people behave extremely calmly and rationally during crisis situations -- for example, most black box recordings of pilots in crashing planes show them systematically trying one thing after another to fix the problem, right until the moment the plane hits the ground and they die.


You stole the my point! ;) I also thought I would add that if you want to create a game that mandated fear and confusion, that's cool, go for it. But you asked if "all combat systems missed the po[int]?" No, I don't think they do. The "reality" of combat is doing to differ according to genre. In a typical fantasy dungeon crawl, a samurai epic, a western, etc., the heroes are going to be expected to combat competent. Mandating fear would go against the genre expectations for those types of games.


Actually, for Westerns and chambara samurai epics, I'd suggest that cool-under-fire mechanics could work very well. In both of these settings, it's assumed that a single sword stroke or gun shot can kill even the most skilled warrior stone dead. That's why stories of the gunslinger or samurai mythologize speed and awareness -- an ordinary bandit simply can't get the drop on Lady Snowblood, because she just has too much zanshin. But if he did (poison! treachery!) then the hero or heroine bleeds just as easily as anyone else.  One way to get this effect of "guns/swords are deadly, but protagonists just keep on living anyway" is to use some kind of cool-under-fire mechanic to let a warrior protagonist strike three times before his opponents have realized that there's even a combat situation in progress. IIRC, the Cyberpunk 2020 game had a character class (the solo, I think) whose claim to combat fame was simply that they were pretty much always were able to shoot first in a gunfight. This also has the nice effect that showdowns between two samurai or cowboys are very tense, and over very fast.

Another way of doing this is the way HeroQuest does it -- in it, the tide of battle isn't measured using hit points or injuries, but mostly rather by the ebb and flow of Action Points. When one side runs out, the fight is over, and how much of an injury occurs depends on the margin of victory -- so none of the description made during a fight can explicitly describe an injury (with one or two exceptions).


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 28, 2004, 04:17:10 PM
Neelk hath writ:

"the Cyberpunk 2020 game had a character class (the solo, I think) whose claim to combat fame was simply that they were pretty much always were able to shoot first in a gunfight."

Yeah, CP2020's "Friday Night Firefight" system makes a pretty good stab at capturing gritty, dangerous, scary combat, but ultimately things like ambushes feel kinda tacked on to what seems a fairly traditional roll-initiative, roll-to-hit, roll-damage system.


Neelk hath also writ:
"....Another way of doing this is the way HeroQuest does it -- in it, the tide of battle isn't measured using hit points or injuries, but mostly rather by the ebb and flow of Action Points. When one side runs out, the fight is over, and how much of an injury occurs depends on the margin of victory -- so none of the description made during a fight can explicitly describe an injury...."

I've heard about that, but never understood how it could work in practice without being hopelessly vague / weirdly retroactive ("Gee, I guess that was my arm falling off ten minutes ago"). Presumably there are plenty of HQ players on this site who can enlighten us?


BTW, could someone zap me a personal message explaining how to put quotes in those neat grey box things? I have the html savvy of a drunken wildebeest.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: talysman on April 28, 2004, 06:10:07 PM
hey, Sidney, here's a little something I whipped up on the fly as the possible framework for a combat system that meets your criteria. it may not be what you want, but I figured I'd do it as an exercise, for a couple reasons:

  • I wanted to show that "realism", at least in terms of being realistic about the fear and confusion of combat, does not always mean "detailed". this is a pretty lite mechanic I'm about to describe.
  • it's sort of a mini-application of that "state machine" concept Zak was talking about, although I'm not going to use it here in exactly the same way.
  • someone may actually find this interesting.
  • [/list:u]

    you asked for a system that would represent fear and confusion, with effectiveness in combat mainly being a matter of how well the combatant can keep his or her cool ... so let's start out with three stats named Fear, Confusion, and Cool.

    there are a couple states we are looking for as possibilities in any "Sidney-style" combat:

  • character keeps cool;
  • character is afraid;
  • character is confused;
  • character is afraid *and* confused.
  • [/list:u]

    these are states during the first phase of each round of combat; in the second phase, though, we need to decide on damage states. for this very abstract system, let's stick to three states: OK, Injured, Dead.

    what I'd do here is compare Fear, Confusion, and Cool in phase 1, to determine the effects of the character's action:

  • if Cool is the highest of the three, the character keeps cool and causes damage to whichever opponent is chosen;
  • if Cool is higher than Fear but less than Confusion, the character is confused -- if attacking, add Confusion to total damage and divide it evenly among all other combatants; if fleeing, subtract Confusion from total movement;
  • if Cool is higher than Confusion but less than Fear, the character is afraid -- if attacking, subtract Fear from damage; if fleeing, add Fear to total movement;
  • if Cool is the lowest of the three, the character is both afraid and confused... there are two substates:
[list=1]
  • Confusion is higher: treat as confused, above, but add Fear to total movement if fleeing;
  • Fear is higher: treat as afraid, above, but add Confusion to total damage if attacking.
  • [/list:u]
    all attacks when both afraid and confused are divided among all other participants in the combat.
    [/list:o]

    movement and damage would be based on equipment rather than stats. in phase 1, players begin by stating their intentions (attacking character X, fleeing the field, waiting.) die rolls are made in order of highest Cool to lowest Cool. each player, on his or her turn, rolls 1d20 and either adds it as a bonus to Cool, subtracts it from Fear or Confusion (but not both,) or premanently reduces accumulated injury by that amount. skills would allow you to add a single d6 roll to a specific kind of action, in a similar manner. once these die roll modifications are made, the three scores are compared as above, and the results applied. the players narrate events that fit the results.

    after all players have made their rolls, phase 2 begins: any character with accumulated injuries above a certain amount dies. characters with high injuries can lower the score by "spending" 1 Cool point to lower injury by 1 point, or shifting 1 point from injury to either Fear or Confusion, increasing it.

    and then the next round begins, proceeding as before.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: M. J. Young on April 28, 2004, 10:22:34 PM
I'm going to quickly reference the articles of Charles Franklin in various issues of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, in particular his piece on The Fog of War (I think that's the title), although his piece on Hitting The Where It Hurts is also informative.

Franklin (a pen name) is a retired marine with combat experience and extensive familiarity with the studies. He does a good job of taking military research, explaining what it means in real combat situations, and then finding a way to emulate it in a role playing game.

I think the article on confusion in battle probably would be helpful in this.

--M. J. Young


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 29, 2004, 06:21:03 AM
Quote
But (everyone saw my "but" coming, right?) I think the whole Fear & Confusion angle, besides being more realistic, also provides opportunities for gaming fun in all three creative agendas.
I totally agree. Don't get me wrong, when I say "what the game is about" I'm talking more than just CA. That's important, but a Sim game about vietnam is going to have to be different from a Sim game about HK action. Yeah, I think that fear (and confusion, and whatever else) can be employed well in each, but in different ways. For instance in the Vietnam game, I'd make fear the norm for PCs. In the HK game, fear would be for mooks, and the PCs would be protagonists largely because they were immune to the fear. As has been suggested, more or less.

That's my point overall. Without knowing exactly what the vision for the game is, what's going to be best for the game is impossible to say. Yeah, I think fear has been underused in general as a factor in combat systems in the past, and it would make a good addition to most systems. But how it would make a good addition is going to be customized like everything else.

Mike


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 29, 2004, 04:24:40 PM
Talysman's "state engine" is intriguing. Needs more crunchy goodness to satisfy a tactics buff like me, but as a core of a system, potentially very potent.

As to Mike's point about fear being underused in games: Remember, not just fear but confusion, confusion, confusion (neelk's post argued persuasively that people often aren't overwhelmd by fear until they get to a safe place to panic, but that it's often confusion & time pressure that causes them to make fatally bad decisions).

And the more I think about it, the more I think the solution is something along TonyLB's lines -- limiting the PLAYER'S knowledge of the situation to force them to make crappy decisions for their characters.

Really, the ONLY power a GM actually has is the power to describe the in-game reality (which only exists as an infrastructure of words supporting a more-or-less-shared imaginative space). I've come to believe that game mechanics should recognize this fact and consciously adjust how much and what type of information the player is given.

BTW: Cool concept by Comrade Lumpley on this very topic in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10993


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Andrew Martin on April 29, 2004, 09:30:15 PM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
And the more I think about it, the more I think the solution is something along TonyLB's lines -- limiting the PLAYER'S knowledge of the situation to force them to make crappy decisions for their characters.

Really, the ONLY power a GM actually has is the power to describe the in-game reality (which only exists as an infrastructure of words supporting a more-or-less-shared imaginative space). I've come to believe that game mechanics should recognize this fact and consciously adjust how much and what type of information the player is given.


I totally agree. I've found this works very well in my experience with several dozen games based on my RPG combat system.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on April 30, 2004, 05:21:02 AM
Quote from: Andrew Martin
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
And the more I think about it, the more I think the solution is something along TonyLB's lines -- limiting the PLAYER'S knowledge of the situation to force them to make crappy decisions for their characters.

Really, the ONLY power a GM actually has is the power to describe the in-game reality (which only exists as an infrastructure of words supporting a more-or-less-shared imaginative space). I've come to believe that game mechanics should recognize this fact and consciously adjust how much and what type of information the player is given.


I totally agree. I've found this works very well in my experience with several dozen games based on my RPG combat system.


That's good to hear. Obvious question then is, What kind of mechanic do you use to do this (besides "GM discretion")?


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Walt Freitag on April 30, 2004, 06:56:06 AM
Most of the ideas here are based on the general technique of portraying the effects of fear or confusion on the character's decision-making by causing fear or confusion in the player's decision-making, by such means as limiting information to what the character can perceive, requiring fast decisions in realtime, and simultaneous commitment to a future course of action.

These are perfectly fine, but not the only general approach. While vetoing the player's intentions due to a fear check ("you run away instead") is not very satisfactory, a version with increased player involvement should work just fine.

For instance: In open discussion, each player describes four plausible actions for their character, numbered 1 to 4. Number 1 is what the character would regard as the optimally effective action (which may or may not in fact be optimally effective, depending on the character's knowledge and outlook). For instance: "Stop firing and concentrate on identifying the source of the crossfire." Number 2 is a less than optimal, but still effective, action: "Empty my clip in the general direction the crossfire seems to be coming from." Number 3 is an ineffective action: "Put my face in the dirt and pray." Number 4 is a counterproductive action: "Run for better cover." There must be consensus that the actions are as described in terms of their effectiveness as perceived, upon hypothetical unstressed reflection, by the characters. (For instance, in some situations running for better cover might be effective, but all agree that it's a stupid idea under the current circumstances.)

Then, depending on the mechanical determination of the effects of fear and confusion, each player either rolls a d4 to determine which action the character takes (maximum fear and confusion), makes a modified roll such as d4 - x or xd4 taking the lowest (moderate fear and confusion), or makes a free choice of which option (the character is able to think clearly this time).

This is a deliberately extreme example, going as far in the direction of "unimmersed (dispassionate) author stance" as the realtime technique ("Suddenly three bullets buzz past your ears ZIP! ZIP! ZIP! making three pockmarks in the sandbags RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU QUICK SOLDIER YOU HAVE FIVE SECONDS WHAT DO YOU DO??") goes in the direction of immersed actor stance. In any play mode there's potential value either way.

While allowing the audience to share in the fear and confusion of the protagonist's viewpoint in the Normandy landing scene in Saving Private Ryan was certainly powerful, it's not uncommon for prose novelists to explore for several paragraphs why and how a protagonist's choice is affected by fear and confusion, and that can also be very powerful. It all depends on what you're trying to express.

- Walt


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Andrew Martin on April 30, 2004, 03:26:16 PM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
Quote from: Andrew Martin
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
And the more I think about it, the more I think the solution is something along TonyLB's lines -- limiting the PLAYER'S knowledge of the situation to force them to make crappy decisions for their characters.

Really, the ONLY power a GM actually has is the power to describe the in-game reality (which only exists as an infrastructure of words supporting a more-or-less-shared imaginative space). I've come to believe that game mechanics should recognize this fact and consciously adjust how much and what type of information the player is given.


I totally agree. I've found this works very well in my experience with several dozen games based on my RPG combat system.


That's good to hear. Obvious question then is, What kind of mechanic do you use to do this (besides "GM discretion")?


Here's how with the most likely situation to produce this: PC White runs into an ambush set by PC Black. In my rules, the Ambushee has automatically lost the initiative and so must declare and try to execute their actions without knowledge of the opponent's actions or intentions. This action will usually be something like: "walk forward". Choosing other actions like running across the clearing, dodging, recon by fire, etcetera, merely alert the Ambusher that the ambush has been detected, and so the Ambusher player can declare that the Ambusher characters are at another location (hidden movement rules which are like shrodinger's cat :) ).

Now the action is declared, Black's player can choose to either proceed with the ambush knowing exactly what White is doing, or can choose to do nothing for now. Doing nothing is pretty obvious, so let's assume that Black's player decided to have Black shoot at White. Because it's an ambush, White can't bring any defensive skills to bear, except for White's walking movement. In this system it's Black Shooting skill versus White's Speed. The player's roll dice and either White is missed (unlikely, but possible), is injured or incapacitated. Note that the combat system doesn't determine the death of character until another conscious PC can tend to the incapacitated character or can finish off the incapacitated character unquestionably (eg multiple bullets to the head at close range or liberal use of a blade).

Assuming White is either missed or injured, then White's movement action occurs and White now reaches the end of the movement, still standing. Now a new round occurs. White is still ambushed, and White's player has to declare action without knowledge of the Black's actions or even position. Remember that White is still in the open. So White's declared action could be something like: "run to the nearest cover!". If the ambusher characters have been doing a good job of their ambush, this perceived and obvious cover won't actually be cover, but will be a trap, containing probably a AP mine, claymore or mantrap.

Basically, if White's player persists in reacting to the ambush, the prepared ambush will eventually incapacitate White, by forcing stupid moves when considered from outside the ambush situation but which seem reasonable when in the ambush situation. The way for White to escape and defeat the ambush is to know and execute military tactics for escaping an ambush, which is to immediately retreat behind smoke screen, and then to circle around the ambush and assault it from the flank or rear.

Similarly for other combat situations, the looser of the initiative must declare the character's actions, and try to execute them while the winner of the initiative gets to interupt at the worst possible time and do their actions, this then results in stupid and illogical reactions.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Vaxalon1 on May 01, 2004, 09:48:09 PM
I'm going to pipe in here with something that's probably NOT welcomed, but it's the thought that counts...

Maybe people don't WANT to portray realistic combat in their games.

They want CINEMATIC combat.  How often are people ambushed in movies?  When they are, how often does the ambush turn into  a stand-up fight?

Turkey shoots are boring when you're the ambusher, frustrating when you're the ambushee, and there's very little drama in it for EITHER side.

Gamists don't like it because it's not "fair".... "My character can see the enemy, why can't he shoot at them?  Who's PLAYING this character, me or the rules?"

Narrativists don't like it because there's no drama in it.  "Hm, well, okay, my character dies when he dives into a foxhole that had a mine in it.  That sucks.  Can we play Amber now?"

So this discussion, as I see it, is for the simulationists.

I have to say that I've never really understood the sim crowd.  I mean, if simulation is what you want, you'll get a MUCH better simulation out of a FPS computer game, or paintball, or any of a whole range of activities that are MUCH more like the "real thing" than sitting around a table rolling dice.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 02, 2004, 08:02:56 AM
Quote from: Vaxalon1
Maybe people don't WANT to portray realistic combat in their games....this discussion, as I see it, is for the simulationists.


Sure, "You fail your perception roll, dive onto a landmine, and die" is more than a tad deprotagonizing. Although if you want a realistic Narrativist game about modern warfare -- say, a campaign based on the Vietnam book "The Things They Carried" -- then "How do I make life meaningful when it could end meaninglessly at any moment?" would be a pretty powerful, if grim, Premise. So even the extreme case of confusion ruling combat (i.e. "whoops, I'm dead") isn't necessarily of interest only to pure Sim masochists; nor is realism incompatible with Narrativism.

In fact, my whole reason for starting this discussion was my frustration with complex, slow-playing Sim and Sim/Gamist combat systems that ignore the human dimension of fear, terror, confusion, and chaos, with all the Narrativist roleplaying potential that provides. Ron Edward's "Sorceror" is a narrativist game all about Humanity, and it has an explicit mechanism that can take away your character's humanity by a roll of the dice in certain situations; a narrativist game about courage could, by analogy, legitimately make your character terrified by a roll of the dice -- it simply would have to then give you, the player, a CHOICE about what to do.

And if you do want cinematic, heroic combat -- as most Gamists would, I think -- then there's a simple solution even with the bounds of realism. Every war has its medal-winners (Audie Murphy killing 200+ Germans in WWII) and its elite troops (Army Rangers & Delta Force fighting off thousands of Somali militia in Mogadishu). Even S.L.A. Marshall's controversial and somewhat discredited studies from World War II about how many grunts cowered or fired wildly talked about a minority of "natural fighters" who could consistently keep their cool, read the tactical situation, and act effectively. You want heroism in a realistic system? Then play the real heroes. Yeah, they might go down like bricks from an unlucky shot, but they can accomplish feats you wouldn't believe if you read about them in a work of fiction.

And if you want truly cinematic battle, realism be damned, then I'd suggest (as I did in an earlier post) that you just take any maximum limit off your attributes, so that players can build characters who have more-than-human abilities in "Cool under Fire" and "Sense Sniper" and "I'm Not Dead Yet."


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Vaxalon1 on May 02, 2004, 08:15:54 AM
Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
You want heroism in a realistic system? Then play the real heroes. Yeah, they might go down like bricks from an unlucky shot, but they can accomplish feats you wouldn't believe if you read about them in a work of fiction.


Then you have the other side of the coin, where the PC's just mow down the terrified enemy... which also doesn't appeal to the gamist, because there's no challenge.  And if neither side is subject to the "shock and awe rules" then why have them?

On the Narrativist side... I'm still not convinced.  I can see the premise of making life meaningful in a setting where life is nasty, brutal, and short, and it makes sense in a literary format, but I really can't imagine a game where that would be fun... and I count myself a narrativist.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: lumpley on May 02, 2004, 08:26:39 AM
Vaxalon, welcome to the Forge!  What's your name?  I'm Vincent.

You might consider starting a new thread up in the GNS forum - Combat Concerns in G vs N vs S, maybe?

-Vincent


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 02, 2004, 08:27:08 AM
Quote from: Vaxalon1
...if neither side is subject to the "shock and awe rules" then why have them?.


Well, in a heroic game, the heroes would be largely immune to Fear & Confusion but the mooks wouldn't -- which explains nicely why Stormtroopers can never hit Han, Luke, & Leia, or why when 100 ninjas attack Bruce Lee, they fight him one at a time.

Quote from: Vaxalon1
On the Narrativist side... I'm still not convinced.  I can see the premise of making life meaningful in a setting where life is nasty, brutal, and short, and it makes sense in a literary format, but I really can't imagine a game where that would be fun... and I count myself a narrativist.


Hey, I'm not sure I'd want to play a "The Things They Carried" RPG either: It'd be pretty depressing. My taste runs more towards the heroic myself -- but heroic as in madly scrambling to overcome fear & confusion and mostly succceeding, not heroic as in not having to cope with fear & confusion at all. I'm mainly arguing that this is an important issue for any game, be it G, N, or S, that tries to address combat, and pretty much all of 'em do. To each his own as to how you solve the Fear & Confusion problem -- or ignore it.

{edit: cross-posted with the excellent Comrade Lumpley, I believe. And I happily endorse his idea of a daughter thread -- the more threads "my" thread spawns, the more my ego swells! [cue maniacal laughter, lightning]}


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Andrew Martin on May 02, 2004, 08:16:42 PM
Quote from: Vaxalon1
Maybe people don't WANT to portray realistic combat in their games.

They want CINEMATIC combat.


I agree. That's the big reason I stopped working on my combat system - it turned into a skirmish wargame. :) In play, we had the most fun when each player controlled a group of characters: an adventuring band or pack of monsters, on the tabletop, striving to beat the other players to a goal and defeat the forces of the other players. For roleplaying, where players each take on only one character, the rules have grown more complex than my ability to write them clearly and describe them to my fellow players, so I'm now looking at cinematic rules, like Bayn's Wushu.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Itse on May 10, 2004, 05:41:29 AM
Just a notion.

I haven't really found a need for panic rules, but as I played with the idea, I came up with something like this:

1) each PC rolls for Panic in life-or-death situation. Most characters fail this. (This is realistic).

2) In Panic, a characters capability to act is very limited, basicly to what ever they have been trained to do (or what they for some other reason think to be "the normal thing to do") in a similar situation. Based on my reading, this is realistic. Yes, people get scared, but no, they don't usually start running around and scream. Instead, they tend to go more or less on "autopilot".

Basicly, a character in Panic can only do The Most Obvious Things for her chararacter (these could be listed or judged by player/GM discretion). For example in a fight, they can either attack the closest (or most threatening or some other intuitive criteria) enemy, stand and just defend themselves, run for cover or try to figure things out (try to overcome Panic).

Of course, highly trained/experienced characters have much more options than those that don't. A peasant in Panic might not even have the option to attack a soldier, since that's just Something Peasants Don't Do. A demolition expert in Panic is still quite capable of disarming a bomb. A pilot can still fly a plane. A squad leader in Panic can still give out basic orders.

3) Any option a character has can be shared by giving orders. So if Jack figures out that "if we close the gate, no more enemies will be coming", but he can't get there himself, he can shout this to Jim, who now has the option to try and close the gate, even if he is in Panic and wouldn't have figured this out by himself. (Of course, the orders don't always have to be given in the fight. If the characters are there because they are supposed to close the gate in the sight of trouble, it's reasonable to assume that they can remember this even in Panic. Several levels of Panic could be implemented to complicate this, but you get the idea.)

This would bring out leadership. A well trained or experienced character would add greatly to a groups effectiveness, a highly trained group would be even more effective, but a group without any of those qualities would propably suffer for it, even if they don't become totally useless (which is often considered "not fun" in a game).

So to sum it up, characters would mostly be limited to the most basic actions, if they don't stop to figure things out (which is not usually possible) or if they are not told what to do by someone. I think this would pretty closely emulate what being in a fight would be like.


Title: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po
Post by: Sydney Freedberg on May 10, 2004, 07:50:30 AM
Quote from: Itse
Just a notion.....a character in Panic can only do The Most Obvious Things for her chararacter (these could be listed or judged by player/GM discretion).....Of course, highly trained/experienced characters have much more options than those that don't.....Any option a character has can be shared by giving orders....A well trained or experienced character would add greatly to a groups effectiveness, a highly trained group would be even more effective, but a group without any of those qualities would propably suffer for it....


This is a very interesting idea. The most obvious mechanic would be to define each character as having several abilities he/she is good enough to use even when Panicked -- almost even a D&D-style class system -- but I think there's probably a more elegant way of implementing this. One thing I'd been thinking of was blanket penalties to any non-obvious actions: e.g. you failed your Panic roll by three, now you have -3 to do anything but run and wet yourself -- but you can still TRY (I like systems that don't simply forbid players from having their characters do things).

And I love the idea about leadership mattering. I've been struggling with how to implement that in My Eventual Game, myself.