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Author Topic: A systems discussion: the sword and the axe  (Read 3793 times)
Knight
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« on: December 31, 2001, 07:43:00 AM »

One thing I'm not really comfortable with about the GNS model is it's application to game systems. So, this is an example of how three hypothetical systems of a medieval history game catogorise weaponry. I'm interested in how you view my use of the model. It'll probably also be interesting to see how many times I misspell the word "medieval".


Example one: Simulationist

In this system, swords and axes both do 1d6 damage. From the baseline of real-world detail, there isn't any difference between the damage done at the level of resolution used in the game. Additionaly, due to their unbalanced weighting, axes cause a penalty to their user's initiative. Swords are basically a superior weapon in every regard, apart from their cost. However, the difference here is slight enough that it's only really likely to matter in situations like equipping an entire army. This means that in-game situations involving these weapons will generally appear similar to those that occured in actual medieval history.  

Example two: Gamist

In this system, swords do 1d6 damage and axes do 1d8.  Axes cause an identical penalty to the user's initiative as in the simulationist system. There is a meaningful tactical choice between them for players seeking to maximise their character's combat effectiveness - which fits best with the character's other skills and abilities. Game balance exists, in that this choice is not particularly easy to make.

Example three: Narrativist

In this system, both swords and axes do 1d6 damage. All their other attributes are also identical. The choice of which a character uses is based on the player's conception of the character's style and image: put simply, which looks cooler?

 
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lumpley
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2001, 08:15:00 AM »

Ooh!  Ooh!

Look at http://www.septemberquestion.org/lumpley/guns.html">this!  It's my answer to precisely your problem, except it's about guns instead of swords.

(While it's just a list, it should be a nobrainer to apply it to your system of choice.  'Ideal For' gets an extra die, or +2 to the roll, or whatever, and so on.)

Anyway, not only does it allow the narrativist to make meaningful decisions about what heat to pack, it's better sim too!  (In my opinion, that is, but it's a strong opinion, so you'll have to work to dissuade me.)

-lumpley Vincent
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Knight
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2001, 08:34:00 AM »

It's kind of similar to the guns list in Killing Puppies For Satan (edit: quite probably because you wrote Killing Puppies For Satan), isn't it? Interesting, but not really what I was looking for. My problem is more to do with an incomplete understanding of how the GNS is used to catogorise systems.

it's better sim too!

In what way?

[ This Message was edited by: Knight on 2001-12-31 11:48 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2001, 08:36:00 AM »

Hi Knight,

My concern is that you are painting with too broad a brush. The sub-sets of each mode of play are extremely varied, and I'd be more willing to discuss this kind of breakdown by Premise - for example, if we're talking about Narrativism, does the emotion/issue arise primarily from Character or Setting? Then we could discuss stuff about the sword/axe according to the answer. Or, if we're talking about Gamism, are we talking about randomized starting points and highly strategic in-game actions, or the reverse?

So instead of three categories to compare, I'm seeing at least ten or twelve, spread across the three major modes.

Best,
Ron
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Knight
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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2001, 08:54:00 AM »

My concern is that you are painting with too broad a brush.

Yes, I see. I was trying to keep things as simple by assuming the most "vanilla" settings of the various styles.


if we're talking about Narrativism, does the emotion/issue arise primarily from Character or Setting?


How would the example differ in those two situations?

Or, if we're talking about Gamism, are we talking about randomized starting points and highly strategic in-game actions, or the reverse?

Again, how would that effect the mechanics in question? I'd like this put as simply as possible.

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Logan
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2001, 09:32:00 AM »

..
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: December 31, 2001, 09:43:00 AM »

I dunno about GNS-based descriptions of guns but ... we've been analyzing our web-logs and the thing that most new-comers look at before the download the whole frigging game (several HUGE files) is our expanded fire-arms list.

The *sad* thing is that the *expanded* fire-arms list was done by a very knowledgeable fan--it isn't even ours. And it does have all kinds of stats like Accuracy +3. Go figure. Judging from our logs several people actually have the file *bookmarked.* (sigh).

Anyway, while Ron is right about not knowing what premise you're going for in Narrativist play, I agree with your GS-ideas.  Our weapons list was designed to make there be a reason to use each hand-weapon and realism (outside of a basic sense) was ignored. That's gamist.

-Marco

PS: Something else came out of the examination of our weblogs: our webmaster says that if *anyone* out there is running Microsoft's IIS and isn't fully up-to-date on patches they're gonna be wailed with worms. Seriously--the internet is teeming with them. We run apache so we're fairly safe (they're all looking for Microsoft exploits)--but it's pretty disgusting.
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Knight
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« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2001, 10:08:00 AM »

The weapons are about equal. Initiative may or may not suffer by weapon type depending on the size and strength of the wielder. The real differentiator will be skill of the wielder and kindness of the dice.

So you prefer the tactical aspect to appear in a different area. Do you see the basic reasoning behind the mechanics - presenting the PC with a tactical choice - as being gamist, though? How would weapons be characterised in a hypothetical ideal gamist system?

Also, the player might have that "something extra" to ensure victory.

What do you mean by this?

The actual outcome is indicated by the die roll and determined by what the player or GM want to happen, what they think would happen in that situation given the capabilities of the combatants

So the mechanics are being used as a structural support, and the attempt of the players to create a satisfactory story is aided by the fact that there is no difference between the weapons in play?

For the Narrativist and Character Sim example, the mechanics are greatly simplified because the Narrativist wants to have room for crafting story

Whoa, whoa, I thought an essential part of the definition of the GNS was that all points found mechanics to be equally important.
 
Finally, there is the issue of who won medieval battles and why. Good weapons and armor often helped, but the discipline of the troops, their tactics, their use of terrain, and relative numbers all played a part in determining who won a battle. This aspect of war-fighting isn't usually a big part of rpgs, so I'm not sure how it impacts on your argument.

AFAIK, the most common form of simulationism is that which attempts to simulate the real world, and that was what I was talking about in my example. Data on the consequences of real-life medieval battles is useful in that the intention of the rules system is to produce results that are similar to that which would occur if the situation actually happened.

Of course, a certain amount of versimillitude is neccessary in both gamist and narrativist games.  It's the point of having a setting at all.  A gamist plays a roleplaying game for their tactical kicks because the identification with their character makes their success or failure have more importance. That identification is impared if the setting in which the character exists does not hold water. For the narrativist, the story that results must not seem to be too contrived or artificial.        

 

 

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lumpley
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« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2001, 10:23:00 AM »

Um.  I don't think there is a gun list in puppies -- well, maybe a very short one, in a paragraph somewhere, listing like four guns or so.  But yes, that'd be why.

Better sim because its ratio of quality of sim to accesibility and time required is wicked high.  Other sims may be more accurate (and require a less Narrativist-friendly outlook), but a. at that level it's a horse race anyway and b. good grief, then you're playing Millenium's End and you have to set aside a whole session for each firefight.  Better sim in terms of return on investment, is what I mean.

But whatever, I think I misunderstood your question.  Looks like Ron and Marco and Logan got it.  I'll try to keep up as best I can.

-lumpley Vincent

[ This Message was edited by: lumpley on 2001-12-31 14:05 ]
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Logan
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« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2001, 10:46:00 AM »

...
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Knight
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« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2001, 11:29:00 AM »

Marco:
Anyway, while Ron is right about not knowing what premise you're going for in Narrativist play,

Could someone give me an example of how two different premises would be aided by two different ways of describing weapons?


lumpley:
Um. I don't think there is a gun list in puppies

Oh, come on, you can't have forgotten about it. It was one of the funniest bits.


Logan:
Tactical choices aren't just Gamist.

To express myself more clearly:
               
               Gamism -> Tactical choices

Tactical choices don't imply gamism, but gamism implys tactical choices. A gamist system places more importance on tactical choices than "realism" in specific areas - in my example combat. These specific areas are hard to define in a satisfactory way.  

It is. It's my experience that the bulk of Narrativist mechanics are centered on defining player author/director power and providing examples of how overall gameplay is supposed to work, not necessarily on special-case mechanics.

Yes - there is no differentation between the weapons in the mechanics because it's handled elsewhere. If a character believes swords to be better than axes then that's part of the plot and is dealt with by the mechanics that govern plot. It is not the system's place to specifically define the differences between the two, as doing so would remove a potential point of interest.  

Your last point: I agree, but it's I wanted to note the difference between two armies fighting a battle on an open field and two small squads fighting in a forest or through the alleys of a town - and how those events are handled in an rpg.

Sorry if I misunderstood. In my initial post, I was trying to show that although there are real-world situations where there is a tactical choice to be made between swords and axes, these are in a situation that is typically not that important in rpgs, like you said.  
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #11 on: December 31, 2001, 11:36:00 AM »

Well put Logan. Whereyabeen? Haven't seen you here of late.

Anyhow, I think that Knight's examples were fine. I don't think that he was saying that his ideas were the only way to do each type of design, or even the best. Just examples of how one system might vary from another as far as catering to a GNS style that were intended as a short test of his understanding. And as such I think that we can confirm to him that he's got the general jist of it.

We could go on forever with what makes for the best Gamist or Sim or Narr design. This will likely get into the realm of personal predelictions, anyhow. I think it should suffice to say that there are multitudinous ways to handle the situation in each case, and some are likely better than others.

Mike
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2001, 11:50:00 AM »

Hey Knight,

Let's see if I can clarify some of the diversity within Narrativism regarding design.

Character-based Premise - conceivably, one might want outcomes to be determined very much as an expression of the character's personal style, ideology, and general outlook on life. Thus I think one possibility would be something like the Dying Earth mechanic of having one's Attack be defined as personal Style (Ferocious, Cunning, or four others), and similarly with Defense (Misdirection, Surefooted, Dodge, and three others). Any given Defense style trumps (has an advantage over) any given Attack style, and vice versa - but otherwise, the mechanics of hitting one another are exactly the same. They happen to be based on a resource mechanic, but that's not really the point.

What's especially relevant to the point is that in DE, swords and axes do get factored into the situation, but only as expressions of a given style. Only Ferocious attackers get a bonus from using an axe; only Cunning attackers get a bonus from using an improvised weapon.

Setting-based Premise - here, let's take ... oh, something like Swashbuckler, which has a lot to do with a specific set of cinematic conventions in combat. Here, everyone gets to build a set of tactical maneuvers as a fencing style, and combat is essentially a big match-and-pair comparison, with quick dice rolls to settle things fast.

In Swashbuckler, weapon "type" is totally irrelevant, as a sword is a sword is a sword, in the movies of the source material. It is the maneuver + roll which will hit you, unmodified by such things as weapon type; furthermore, it is the maneuver which determines the extent of the damage (a lunge is deadlier than a jab). [Granted, Swashbuckler doesn't go into much detail about non-sword weapons, but I'd be perfectly happy to treat an axe as a sword given certain maneuvers being chosen, like shoulder-block and one-handed and two-handed hacking and slashing. After all, one just "assumes," in this game, that you are using a sword adequately designed for the maneuvers you favor.]

My argument is that these somewhat different brands of Narrativism emphasize different aspects of the "listed elements" (setting, character, situation, color, etc) to prioritize how damage is done. Thus the principles for the mechanics of injuring another person differ between them, and thus the role of "sword vs. axe" will differ as well.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2001, 11:57:00 AM »

Hey Knight,

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that there is really no "combat" in the most unabashedly Narrativist games. There are murders. There are assassinations. There are mercy killings, and maimings, and executions, and dismemberings. And in the context of such, weapon selection is more about the thematic needs and emotional intensity the player wants for the specific act of interpersonal violence. From the Narrativist standpoint, all weapons wound and all weapons kill. If I've determined that my character is going to attempt a killing or a wounding, and I want it to be personal and sweaty, then I choose a knife, or a drywall saw. If I want it to be impersonal, then I snap off a few shots from my handgun from ten or fifteen yards away. If I want it to be excessive, then I use an AK-47 on full auto. If I want it to be stylish, I use a sword. All of this is presuming that I think I can meaningfully author a stylish (or whatever) violent interaction for the character in question. It's not a given. I may not think the character has it in him, whether from a lack of expertise with swordplay, a lack of confidence, or whatever. Narrativist use of weapons is an outgrowth of the character within the context of the conflict, and a recognition that NPC's have meaning within that conflict beyond being just obstacles.

Paul
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Marco
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« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2001, 12:30:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-12-31 14:29, Knight wrote:
Marco:
Anyway, while Ron is right about not knowing what premise you're going for in Narrativist play,

Could someone give me an example of how two different premises would be aided by two different ways of describing weapons?



Hmm ... a game where the relation between the characters fighting determines damage.

Game 1: the more the characters love each other the less damage the weapons do (this facilitates conflict between lovers for the Premise).

Game 2: The more the characters hate each other the less damage weapons do (this leads to drawn-out battle scenes between a character and his nemesis while allowing the character to dispose of mooks who he doesn't care about).

Take care,
-Marco
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