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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 69 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Fear & confusion - do all RPG combat systems miss the po  (Read 9951 times)
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #30 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")?
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #31 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
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
Andrew Martin
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« Reply #32 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.
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Andrew Martin
Vaxalon1
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« Reply #33 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.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #34 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."
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Vaxalon1
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« Reply #35 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.
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lumpley
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« Reply #36 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
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #37 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]}
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Andrew Martin
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Posts: 785


« Reply #38 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.
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Andrew Martin
Itse
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« Reply #39 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.
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- Risto Ravela
          I'm mean but I mean well.
Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #40 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.
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