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Mike's Standard Rant #3: Combat Systems

Started by Mike Holmes, April 30, 2002, 02:12:25 PM

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Mike Holmes

Quote from: BankueiI would have to agree that ROS is about fighting, but the spiritual attributes rules make it about "Why are you fighting?" as much as the fighting itself.
Sure, that's your perspective. My point is that you have to look at that and decide for yourself if that's the focus you want. Again, I'd play it. It doesn't pretend not to be all about combat, and to some extent, why you fight.

QuoteIf you look at D&D, because there is no mechanical advantage given to any alignment, really "Why you're fighting" becomes a moot point in favor of more experience points and leveling up.
Whch is actually an honest focus as well. Not one that particularly interests me. D&D does not often claim to be about anything else than killin for power. Not that I'm aware of.

QuoteI definitely agree about the misplaced design focus of combat, and a great deal of it comes from the fact that death is still seen as the "worst thing" that can happen in any game, when in fact, it is not be able to act in the game that is the worst thing that can happen to a player.
Well, when a game makes Death equal the end of player participation, that is a bad thing to have happen. OTOH, you can often jump right back in with another character. So, in that case death is bad because it ends the player's ability to play what may have been an enjoyable character. My suggestion for most systems is to make it only possible for a character to die when the player wants this to happen. Which is much easier when you don't have special rules telling you that the character must die under certain circumstances. This is only really appropriate for "realistic" games, the proper definition of which few games would readily take.

But this is getting off track. The point is still that there are no reasonable reasons to have a combat system if combat is not the focus of the game in quesiton.

This seems to be a good point to make a further point. Underworld Crime,
Espionage, Space opera (or most any sci-fi), and many others like thse are genres that many people would see as combat focused. Again, I would say that the mere presence of potential violence does not an appopriate focus make. That is, you can make an Underworld Crime game that is focused on combat, but it would be weird. Such a game should probably instead  focus on truth and lies, and loyalties, and the like, or something germane to that genre. Killling in such a game will often be in situations where one side has no chance to fight. The conflicts are about getting people to kill, or bringing oneself to kill, or the like. But not about combat. The same goes for most Espionage. Unless you are doing a Rainbow Seven game, the conflicts of spy stuff is about other stuff entirely. It's not a question of whether or not bond can kill the bad guys, the only queston is how much flair he can do it with (always had problems with that game). And sunce when is sci-fi ever about combat? Combat in a higher-tech world will be quick and deadly in the extreme. The conflicts will revolve around the issues posed by the setting.

These are all assumptions, and certainly a game can inject a combat focus or premise. But I think that such foci are often added to games because of the assumption that there must be a combat system. In other words, the designer says (subconciously, yet intelligently), hmm, we're going to have a combat system, and that will create a combat focus. So we need to adjust the setting and premise of the game to allow for that focus to make sense. Take for instance BattleLords of the 23rd Century. A monument to combat design. With a setting created to wrap around the system and give people a reason to fight, thus ligitamating the focus.

But this doesn't work. The decision to include a focus should be included in the premise selection, and then, and only then, if the game demands a combat system, should it be included. The process by which a combat system ends up in a game should be less like:

1. Decide to make an RPG, and subsequently "realize" that it will automatically have a combat system.
2. Decide on a premise that includes a combat focus so that the inclusion of a combat system will make sense.
3. Create game with combat system.

and more like:

1. Decide to make an RPG Premise about combat and whatever else.
2. Decide to focus on combat to enable the premise.
3. Create game with combat system.

As often or not, the first step premise decision will not dictate a combat focus, and so no combat system should be included. Am I being clear, or belaboring the point?

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Ron Edwards


You're preaching to the choir. Not one respondent has disagreed with you, and most of us have chimed in with enthusiastic support. People have raised a nuance or two and all of them seem to have met with agreement as well.

So, I think you are belaboring the point. You haven't dropped a bomb; you've hoisted a banner that we're all supporting. In a way, you're ... I hate to say it ... ten years too late, at least in terms of raising this issue as a controversy and in terms of who reads these forums.

That is to say, you're not wrong. You're dead-on correct. There's just no basis for discussing the issue as a controversy. We might discuss it in, say, historical terms, or perhaps in terms of how to communicate it effectively to other people.

There may be other points or corollary issues besides what you've raised already, but I suggest they be taken to their own threads. I can't see much reason for this one to continue.




I find your rant, Mike, somewhat strange. I think Ron hit the nail on the head when he wrote: "You're preaching to the choir. Not one respondent has disagreed with you, and most of us have chimed in with enthusiastic support. People have raised a nuance or two and all of them seem to have met with agreement as well."

Ironically, at the same time, somone who objected to your point of view posted his response on another forum, where his ideas are supported and unopposed. So we have two people "preaching to their choir".

I think this post should appear where there is some level of resistance to such "radical" thoughts. It will require actual debate, mind you. If you don't feel like being a crusader then don't do it, but then the whole rant is pointless.

With respect,

Joe Llama

Le Joueur

Quote from: joe_llamaIronically, at the same time, somone who objected to your point of view posted his response on another forum, where his ideas are supported and unopposed. So we have two people "preaching to their choir".
I took a moment and read through that thread, it in no way objects to Mike's point.  The initiator asked what was wrong with combat-oriented games.  Mike says 'nothing.'  Mike's point is that not every game must have a combat system, not that games with combat systems are bad (unless they aren't about combat).

A few posters spoke of personal preferences for 'balanced' games, meaning they like games that had combat 'in them.'  This seemed more a statement on games with broader focus (another subthread talked about this), and not condemnation of games that, by not being about combat, did not need combat systems.

All in all, it seemed like it supported Mike's point pretty well, just from the 'I like combat' point of view.  I would go so far as to say that these people were simply saying that they weren't interested in games that didn't focus on combat, the one's Mike says don't need the systems, not that all role-playing games needed combat systems.

Fang Langford (who's seeing concensus all around)
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!


Sorry, my bad.

Fang, thanks for the comment. I guess everyone's ok then :)

With respect,

Joe Llama

Mike Holmes

That's what I thought. As I said, I realize it's not a new idea. Still, it felt it bore reiterating at this point.

Again, I really only posted this to have a place to refer to it for the most part, and in case someone did want to discuss it as opposed to just jumping on the bandwagon (I thought that it might stir more controversy than it did). Better that these responses end up here than in the post which I linked to this one. But the point is made so far, so we can desist here unless someone want's to take up the opposing viewpoint.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.


I'd put some combat rules in a game about photographers in wheelchairs because the only Spectacular wheelchair phography I know of was from Rear Window which I couldn't see pulling off without violence.

If I rolegaming wasn't mediation then perhaps it could approach subjects that aren't Spectacular.  Instead we have genres that are inspired by pop cultures.  And the pop cultures we deal with are usually violent.  Hell, Howard's End features some rich guys with no accountability crushing a lower middle class man under a bookcase.
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joshua neff


The question isn't whether or not to have combat in RPGs (although the point has been made, both on the Forge & elsewhere, that fight scenes in RPGs are not definitively necessary as part of the medium--not only is it possible to have RPGs with no physical fights, it's been done, numerous times). It's whether it's necessary to have specialized, focused mechanics just for combat, irregardless of what the game is about. What Mike is calling for (& many of us, myself included, are agreeing with him here) is that an RPG should only have specialized rules for combat if combat is the focus (or an important focus) of the game. For example, when I've run Mage, fight scenes have rarely, if ever, occured. When they have, specialized mechanics just for the fight scene weren't needed, because the focus of Mage isn't brawling & gunfights. In Story Engine, fight scenes are handled in exactly the same way as a courtroom debate, a seduction in a bar, & a search through the musty stacks of a library. Because fights aren't the focus of the game, & you could just as easily have a game in which there were no fights at all.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes