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Author Topic: Why Some Folks Dislike Fight!  (Read 10798 times)
Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« on: February 14, 2006, 05:01:24 PM »

...and by "some folks" I of course mean me. <wink>

Over on the Harn Forum I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion about Burning Wheel's "Fight!" mechanics and the experience has prompted me to post some thoughts about why some people don't like combat in BW.  It goes without saying that this is highly speculative, so keep that in mind as you read.

Although I am new to Burning Wheel, I have been roleplaying for a long time (since the late 70s/early 80s when Runequest was in its heyday) so I have a good deal of familiarity with traditional systems. My experience so far with BW  is that for people with a lot of familiarity with traditional combat mechanics, BW can often present a considerable challenge and inspire some rather knee-jerk negative reactions.  Let me explain.

In many traditional roleplaying games (and Runequest and Harnmaster will stand in as representatives of traditional rpgs in this discussion), combat is modeled along the following familiar lines.  Initiative is determined in some way, the winner of initiative gets to declare her actions and then roll to determine the success of the actions, the opponent gets to make a defensive action, the effects of successful actions by the aggressor on the opposing player are determined, then the loser of initiative gets to declare and determine success and on and on it goes.  In short, this is the very familiar idea that the combat round is "an exchange of blows" between two opponents.

The assumption underlying this model is that in every combat exchange---barring extraordinary outcomes such as when the winner of initiative does so much damage to the opponent in a successful strike that it knocks the opponent unconscious and deprives her of her intended response action---all players are entitled to attempt at least one such exchange of blows and that, generally, very little stands in the way of a player making such an attempt in every round.

Indeed, this idea is probably so familiar to most of us that we come to think that it is the natural and inevitable way in which combat *ought* to be conducted and modeled.  It has become such a veritable shibboleth of most rpgs, that many come to think of it as a natural entitlement, the "birthright" of every player and character.

Needless to say, Burning Wheel does not gratify such an assumption as the game is built on a very different understanding of how combat should work and how it should be modeled. 

So if I have any complaints with Burning Wheel Revised it is this. (And Luke I hope you realize that this comes from a person who absolutely adores the game).  I only wish that it came with a disclaimer that was posted prominently at the head of the section on "Fight!" and read something like this:

"If you are a sentient being with any familiarity with roleplaying games, you probably recognize that most games have mechanics for modeling combat.  Burning Wheel is no different.  In many of the games you have played, you probably are familiar with the idea that combat involves "an exchange of blows" between opponents.  In most of these games, each combatant is practically guaranteed to be able to attempt at least one melee attack per combat round.  This notion of combat is perhaps so familiar to you that it hardly even needs stressing.  Its influence is perhaps so strong that you are thinking, "No duh! of course that is the way that combat works and that is the way it ought to work!" Be forewarned: Burning Wheel's "Fight!" mechanics are not built on this assumption.  You are not guaranteed your bare minimal single strike attempt in "Fight!"  You are not guaranteed that you will be able to accomplish any of the actions you intend in a single exchange in "Fight!"  "Fight!" does not care if you think this sucks and it will not tolerate your mealy-mouthed bullshit complaints that it has, as Jacob did to Esau, denied you your birthright.  "Fight!" also strongly advises that before you get indignant and start spouting inanities about how combat in Burning Wheel is "broken" because it does not preserve the fundamental right of every player (namely, the right to attempt at least one aggressive action in a round)...to repeat, "Fight!" that you consider the strong possibility that you are operating under the mistaken assumption that the model of combat with which you are most familiar is the ONLY or even MOST PREFERABLE way of modeling combat.  "Fight!" recommends that you come to grips with the fact that the enshrined notion of the "exchange of blows" is just another model, one that you may have good or bad reasons for preferring but that is a model nonetheless and not some cosmic constant like the speed of light.  Failure to heed the above disclaimer will cause us to impugn your good name and make all manner of jokes about your proclivities for porcine-buggery and such.  Thank you.  We hope you like "Fight!""

Well, you get the idea.  I suppose I am just burned that a good number of otherwise intelligent people can't see that the "exchange of blows" model is just a model, nothing more or less.  I suppose I am also just spouting steam about the tendency of many of the above mentioned intelligent people to bandy about words like "broken" when what they really mean is, "I don't like BW because combat doesn't adhere to my more or less unexamined assumptions about how combat *ought* to work."  To which I can only say, "Yeah, well tough shit.  Don't play the game and don't insist that every game operate in exactly the same way and with exactly the same assumptions."

Okay, that's enough spleen for one evening.

Cheers,

Eric
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Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2006, 05:14:42 PM »

Oh yeah, to be inserted in between the Jacob and Esau sentence and the one that follows:  (damn, I hate that editing has been turned off)

"Fight does not make any promises that any scripted intentions will become actualities in combat.  It also never promised you a rose garden."

Eric
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Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2006, 06:49:21 AM »

Hi, Eric!

I understand your point, BW's combat is really different than the classical standards. Ok. But I would say it is different in a similar way as most games discussed in The Forge are different from the classical RPGs. Do you think reasonable to include a disclaimer at the beginning of every game, like PtA, MlwM, Sorcerer, etc.? Well, Sorcerer was written long ago, in a more chilly age, and I would say its text includes many bits of advise for gamers used to classical RPGs ;-)

First of all, take my words with a pinch of salt. I have not yet play-tested BW's positioning+fight+everything mechanics, and I would even say I also don't like it "enough" for my own reasons. But I'm sure it produces much more interesting, narrative and even realistic combat dynamics than the exchange of blows.

Let me use a simile. It is not fair to complain because you are used to play the typical old strategy video war-games, where each player has a turn with stopped-time to think and move every unit on a hex-grid, and then you discover Warcraft II, where everything moves in real time. Of course it is a little difficult to get used to it; in your first tries, if you are not clever and quick-thinking you will get no chance even to get prepared for your foes attack. But I cannot imagine the Warcraft designers begging your pardon for the new feature to those used to the old stopped-time turn-based war-games.

Ok, don't pay too much attention to my jokes. Seriously, I would suggest you to burn half-dozen fighting characters and play some spare fights to learn how to exploit it. Until you get a clear idea of the opposing effect of the combinations of different maneuvers and stances you will not enjoy a BW's fight. The learning curve is high, but I think it may compensate a lot.

Cheers,
Arturo

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Luke
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« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2006, 07:10:24 AM »

Eric, I hope you don't mind me saying that your post makes me smile.

-Luke
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Lance D. Allen
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Posts: 1962


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« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2006, 10:13:14 AM »

I don't often chime in here, but I'm currently playing in a Burning Wheel game (which is creating some smashingly good player and character dynamic changes.. For probably the first time since I was a beginning gamer playing with veterans, I'm not central to the driving plotline.) and this is a topic near and dear to me, so to speak, I'll break habit somewhat.

My reasons for disliking burning wheel combat are not the above. As a matter of fact, from what I've seen of it so far, I mostly like it. I'm totally cool with declaring an action, and suddenly realizing it was the wrong one (unless, like our first foray into the social combat mechanics, it was the wrong one because I didn't know better, having not had a chance to read the rules on the various social maneuvers and their interactions..) and getting nailed for it. The single breaking point in the combat mechanics I've got is the three rounds in advance scripting.

My reasons for disliking this are based on my actual combat experience. I've fought for three years now in the SCA, I've taken some level of martial arts, and served for 8 years in the military. The only thing I've seen where you "pre-script" your actions in advance like this is beginner level martial arts, which only works if your partner is working with you, rather than against you. Frankly, anyone who plans out their moves three moves in advance is going to die really quickly in the clash unless they're really, really good at predicting their enemy's choices.

Do I think the combat system is broken? Not at all. I simply don't like this one aspect. It's a matter of preference, and overall, what Burning Wheel experience I've had has been positive.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Bankuei
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« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2006, 10:36:07 AM »

Quote
The single breaking point in the combat mechanics I've got is the three rounds in advance scripting.

Realistic in terms of how you think during fighting?  Not really.  But if you look at the sort of chaos it causes in a fight, where people collide into each other, stumble, or have breaks between clashes, it tends to reproduce that chaos rather well.  Sometimes you screw up and leave yourself wide open.  Sometimes the guy jumps in and doesn't expect you to just grab him and toss him.

I think the hardest part is that folks try to consider the rules literally in the sense that their character actually "programs" and then acts, when really it's a pacing mechanism.

Chris
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Lamorak33
Member

Posts: 183


« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2006, 10:43:03 AM »

Listen, I have nothing to contribute other than one of my favourite quotes of all times is one I nicked off my mate for my personal game,

Bad Guy to Hero: 'Your death is imminent in three moves, are you prepared to die?'

I now realise that the bad guy is straight out of BW! Classic! lol

Regards
Rob
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2006, 11:42:23 AM »

My reasons for disliking this are based on my actual combat experience. I've fought for three years now in the SCA, I've taken some level of martial arts, and served for 8 years in the military. The only thing I've seen where you "pre-script" your actions in advance like this is beginner level martial arts, which only works if your partner is working with you, rather than against you. Frankly, anyone who plans out their moves three moves in advance is going to die really quickly in the clash unless they're really, really good at predicting their enemy's choices.

That's an interesting point, but actually I'm going to disagree.

Not that I think that in a real fight you preplan your moves...but rather I don't think that BW is really modeling that you do.  Whenever you design a model, there are two basic approaches you can take...you can model for cause, or you can model for effect.  If you model for cause you try to make the inputs to your model match as closely as you can the real inputs from reality with the assumption that if the inputs (cause) match, the output (effect) should be close.

Problem is there are generally infinitely more variables in reality than can be reasonably accounted for in a model (especially in a game model where playability is desired).  Therefor it is often the case that the output of a Design for Cause model gives wildly unrealistic results even though the inputs seem pretty reasonable.

In a Design for Effect model, on the other hand, the goal is to get the output of the model to resemble the output of reality.  HOW you get there is largely (not entirely, but largely) immaterial.  The chief advantage of a Design for Effect model is that you can get very reasonable output with a very slim model.

How does that apply to BW?  Well, while its true that you don't preplan your moves in advance in a fight it is also true that the move you choose to do now has a great effect on the move you are able to do next.  Your range of possible follow-up moves is a limited sub-set of the range of moves you know (Swashbuckler! made this the central feature of their combat system).

Rather than have a dozen different kinds of attacks, each with their own subset of possible follow-ups, in BW you script your moves.  It can be assumed then that the attack you scripted in move one is one that permits move 2 and 3 as part of its follow-up.  Choose a different move 2 and 3 and you can assume that you used a different attack in move one that permitted those moves as part of a follow-up without actually needing rules for a bunch of different attack and follow-up combinations.

Now granted this isn't exactly the way a real fight sequence develops (Design for Cause), but when you tack on the ability to abort a planned move I think the net result winds up being very much a reasonable portrayal of the end result (Design for Effect).  The move you chose to launch now will limit the move you can follow up with.  If you launch an attack that isn't easy to recover from defensively you are making a decision that has risk.  In BW you make that decision by not plotting a defense into your script.  Again not exactly the same input...but pretty reasonable on the output.

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Lance D. Allen
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Posts: 1962


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« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2006, 12:37:01 PM »

See Ralph, I can follow with that, and I can see that it's there.

But what I don't see is how 3 volleys of pre-scripting is necessary to cause that effect.

I'm totally cool with pre-scripting one volley and seeing how it turns out. If I scripted a feint, expecting them to defend and they instead attack and my feint basically just goes away and I'm boned, I'm okay with that. What I'm less okay with is the fact that, in addition to the penalty for getting nailed which can be pretty nasty, I'm going to have an additional penalty if I want to change my subsequent actions because the results of the first volley negated my later choices.

I mean, sure.. It's going to happen that you're not going to always get what you want. Sometimes your intent is going to go out the window, and you're not going to get a chance to do anything. What I see as unrealistic from the side of me that cares about that, and overly harsh from the side that cares about that, is that any failure to guess the correct action is going to reduce your later chances of doing something in the combat, which already stand under the same chance of negation as the first.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2006, 12:42:38 PM »

Ach, crap. Meant to append this to the previous post.

I'm leaving for Estrella War (the aforementioned SCA stuff) this afternoon, so I won't be around to continue this conversation, and I expect it may be dead when I return. I will certainly read it, and if anyone makes any good points, I'll consider them fairly. I don't really want to turn this into a debate, and I'm certainly not saying Burning Wheel sucks. I enjoy the game, there are just some aspects I dislike. I simply wanted to provide an alternate reason why people may dislike the Fight! rules, other than the frankly one-sided reasons put forth by Eric. It's not that I don't understand the rules, and certainly not that I'm married to some concept of combat from years of other games. I just don't like it because I feel it's unrealistic (which is important to me) and a little too harsh to be particularly fun due to one single aspect.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2006, 03:00:27 PM »


I agree with Ralph. That's exactly my feeling. But also I think that 3 volleys in advance may create a lot of uncertainty. And frustration when you discover your moves are wrong planned from the first volley. In a system where there are so many choices and combinations it is an added complication for the player. That's mainly what I didn't like in my first reading.
I surely need to playtest it to really know. I want to do what I said to Eric. Just give it a real full try before deciding.

But what do you think about that uncertainty? Do you like that level of it?
Moreover, is it part of the game interest? Does it try to simulate real combat chaos?

Arturo
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2006, 04:01:53 PM »

Keeping in mind that the above is only my own interpretation and may be completely disavowed by Luke...isn't some of the concern of the randomness of plotting 3 moves alleviated by the ability to abort maneuvers?  And doesn't the penalty for aborting maneuvers decrease with character skill? or am I misremembering that?
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rafial
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« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2006, 04:11:51 PM »

Quote
isn't some of the concern of the randomness of plotting 3 moves alleviated by the ability to abort maneuvers?

I certainly think so.

Quote
And doesn't the penalty for aborting maneuvers decrease with character skill? or am I misremembering that?

Misremembering.  The penalty is always one action lost from a future volley for each action changed.  However if you have 6 actions, it hurt less to change one than if you only have 3, so high Reflexes *can* help.  As they should :)
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Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2006, 06:02:52 PM »

Hey Arturo,

Were you under the impression that *I* don't like Burning Wheel's "Fight!" mechanics?!?  If so, I'll have to be sure to dial my irony meter down in the future.

I freaking love "Fight!"  I was just bitching about the people who can't seem to grasp that *perhaps* one reason they express initial dislike for or opposition to BW is that they have been brainwashed into believing that any combat system that departs from that hoary old chestnut called "the exchange of blows" must be "broken."

My recent experience over at the Harn Forum has convinced me that there are at least some people out there who can respond to lots of the other cool stuff in BW, but when it comes to combat its "Whoah there Tex!  You mean my guy might not actually be guaranteed to get in a strike if I fuck up the scripting?!?"

I agree that lots of other Forge games have broken the traditional mold by making everything that a player declares only Intent and by putting Fortune in the Middle to determine what actually happens.  Sorcerer was of course one of the first Forge games to do this, but remember all the go-arounds that Ron had with Jesse over some of these issues?  There is a classic thread on this that I would dig up if I weren't so lazy, but the jist of it was about the fact that in Sorcerer you can make all the declarations you want that your character A is going to do X before B does Y, but then the dice speak and they might tell you that B does Y first and that fucks up A's intended action entirely.

I'm preaching to the choir, here.  BW accomplishes the same thing in a very different way through scripting out volleys and resolving the positioning tests first (which in many cases can completely bollocks-up someone else's intended action).   I LOVE that about the system.  I think it is a good thing.  What irks me is that there are intelligent folks out there who insist on thinking that any system that permits such a thing must be "broken."

What are we to do with these cretins?!?  <smile>

Eric
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Eric J-D
Member

Posts: 187


« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2006, 06:56:04 PM »

Aargh!  I forgot to add this last point:

As I said, my only beef with the game is that I wish Luke had included some such disclaimer in the revised version of the rules in the hope that it might make the aforementioned offenders *hesitate* before they started making assinine complaints that the game is "broken."

I'll have nothing bad said about "Fight!" in my presence.  "Fight!" is all that and a bag of chips.

Cheers,

Eric
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