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Author Topic: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po  (Read 17881 times)
timfire
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« Reply #15 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."
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Sean
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« Reply #16 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.
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Maarzan
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« Reply #17 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.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 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
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Marhault
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« Reply #19 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.  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!
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #20 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
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #21 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.
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Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #22 on: April 28, 2004, 02:43:10 PM »

Hello everyone!

let me recommend the Mechanical Dream 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.
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Regards,
Christoph
neelk
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« Reply #23 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).
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Neel Krishnaswami
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #24 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.
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talysman
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« Reply #25 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.
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        John Laviolette
        (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
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        M. J. Young
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        « Reply #26 on: April 28, 2004, 10:22:34 PM »

        I'm going to quickly reference the articles of Charles Franklin in various issues of http://welcome.to/cggzine/">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
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        Mike Holmes
        Acts of Evil Playtesters
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        « Reply #27 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
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        Sydney Freedberg
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        « Reply #28 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
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        Andrew Martin
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        « Reply #29 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.
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        Andrew Martin
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