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Author Topic: Question about Initiative in Scattershot?  (Read 1370 times)
RobMuadib
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« on: April 23, 2002, 12:16:19 PM »

Fang

Hey, I remember reading a post of yours talking about how you did away with the traditional initiative system, and went with a declarative start plus around the table action. I can see how this can be useful, but how did you balance super-speed(The Flash)/super-naturally fast(Garret Jax)/wired(any Cybersamurai/Solo guy) characters. Does their one "Act" allow them to accomplish a flurry of super-speedy actions or what, so that they effectively get to accomplish more actions on their turn. Also, do you allow for any kind of interuption or opportunity actions? Also, how do you handle "Active" defenses such as a Dodge, or Parry and such in regards to actions.

Just curious, as I am working on my combat system right now and am wondering how you handled this. (Yes, my combat system is heavily simulationist, meant to provide a mini-game for stand-alone combat, at least the Tactical rules are.)

Thanks

Rob
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Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games
kwisatzhaderach@wildmusegames.com --   
"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)
Le Joueur
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2002, 03:09:44 PM »

Allow me to compartmentalize your question for a moment.

Quote from: RobMuadib
I remember reading a post of yours talking about how you did away with the traditional initiative system, and went with a declarative start plus around the table action.

Would that be this one or this one?  I am rather fond of the work I've done here.  A lot of it came from observing the flamewars on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/rpg-create regarding extant initiative systems (and getting burned with a few innocent questions).

I found out that 'old fashioned' initiative rolls did several things at once (and that 'crusty old gamers' liked not having to deal with all the detail it thus replaced).  First, and what was most important in my mind, was what happened between when at least one combatant decided that 'coming to blows' was inescapable and when the first said blow lands.  (A lot of juicy narrative is lost when the gamemaster says, "roll for initiative.")  Second has to do with systems where initiative rolls occur every round (talk about upping your handling time).  (These begin to show their intent when players are allowed to modify them; my thought was that the modifier was more important than the roll itself!)  Third has to do with all the systems that 'stack' combatants based on some arbitrary 'speed' quality.  (Systems with cyber-knights with wired reflexes ending the battle before it begins never made sense to me if the aggressor 'has the drop on them.')

The first component of Scattershot involved in the whole process is the 'depths of play.'  I mean initiative, from a practical sense, is really about changing over to however the game system handles combat, isn't it?  In Scattershot all moments of 'change' are supposed to be fairly noticeable or explicit.  (I have seen nothing more disruptive to gaming than such a switch being missed by someone.)  When the moment occurs, in-game, that a character concludes only combat can result (like the desperado spoiling for a fight), their player (gamemaster or otherwise) calls for the 'change' in whatever way is appropriate for their group.  Play switches to Mechanical play and their character gets the first turn.  What about super-speedy characters?  I'll explain the thinking for that in a moment.

What follows this 'change' is a number of things, many of which aren't about attacking or defending (as far as I know only ambushes begin with attacks).  In the case of something like the Wanted Killer entering the bar with Our Heroes, Mechanical play begins the moment they walk in because what they want is a fight (and everybody knows it, remember how the rest of the patrons scatter?).  A lot of dialogue, posturing, and attempts to get an 'opportune shot' take place.  Chase scenes usually start out as Mechanical play even though sometimes none of it is for the sake of injury.

The second part of Scattershot that 'takes over' for the initiative rolls is the Combat Advantage material.  My favorite example is that scene from Errol Flynn's Robin Hood; he and the Sheriff of Nottingham are on the stairs.  The Sheriff is obviously the better swordsman, as Robin yields foot after foot to him.  Is this because the Sheriff consistently wins the initiative roll?  Naw, it's because he has the advantage of skill over Robin (who spent all his points on archery, the fool).  The Sheriff is pretty much in charge and Robin is doing everything he can to offset the Sheriff's advantage (taking the highroad, giving ground, fighting defensively, you've probably seen the movie).

The third part that plays pretty heavily in this interchange is how Scattershot parses out combat in general; each round (that's once around the 'table') each character gets a turn (these are 'natural speed' characters, more on speed-demons later).  During that turn they are allowed to perform two actions (plus however many 'free actions' - like talking - allowed by the specific application of the game).  This is where it gets a little complicated.  An action can be either Invoked (meaning it's a simple 'I swing at him' kinda action) or Involved (this is where Scattershot has those 'flurries of action' you so commonly see, like unloading your pistol into a target).  Further, even before their turn, a character may Forfeit one or both of those actions to perform reactive or defensive actions instead; what this means is that you can wind up with no actions during your character's turn.

That's how Scattershot begins to mirror all those games where a specific 'initiative order' has to be followed.  Likewise, it also allows us to model a few things I haven't seem in many places.  For example, the riposte; you can't riposte until someone attacks you right?  The parry-riposte is an Involved action in Scattershot that may be used defensively by anyone trained in its practice; it also only counts as one action.

So now we 'capture' most of the parts of 'initiative' available in most systems that use initiative die rolls.  How do we handle super-speed (after all Scattershot began as an exercise to combine a GURPS-like magic system with a Champions-like superpower game)?

Quote from: RobMuadib
I can see how this can be useful, but how did you balance super-speed (The Flash)/supernaturally fast (Garret Jax)/wired (any Cybersamurai/Solo guy) characters.

These are actually really different characters in terms of super speed, so I'll have to take them separately.

The Flash, of DC Comics, isn't really superfast as far as my thinking goes.  Ever see him recreate a display in a grocery store?  Consume a box of cereal (with milk!)?  Or any of the other cute tricks?  To me that screams of 'altered time rate,' not speed.  (We'll have to forgive the inconsistencies of how the character has been written over the decades.)  In Scattershot when someone takes the power of Altered Time Rate, they simply get to act more often; their actions are normal except the results are in slow motion to them.

This power is potentially the only exception we make to the 'around the table rule,' but for fairly good reason we think.  At twice normal speed, the character 'goes again' right before the gamemaster; at higher rates we leave it up to the group to settle on what they're comfortable with (with a few suggestions; divide the group by the 'speed factor' and let the speedster 'sit' in those places or start doubling and trebling up on the two places listed before - normal and before-gamemaster).  This may sound unbalanced, but in practice there really isn't any way to keep from having that feeling; it's inherent in the power (and we think it should be).

Quote from: RobMuadib
Does their one "Act" allow them to accomplish a flurry of super-speedy actions or what, so that they effectively get to accomplish more actions on their turn.

I haven't played Final Fantasy as far back as III, so I'll assume it's a little like what we see from Goku in Dragonball Z.  You get a split second glimpse of the character and then they 'disappear,' looking for all the world like teleportation.  In that case, it's a matter of supernatural 'flurries.'  Goku appears for an instant for his human-scale intellect to 'get his bearing' on his target and then he launches into an attack 'flurry,' a trained Involved sequence of action that in Scattershot counts as a single action even though it contains an inhuman number of moves.  (Did I mention that powers aren't the only thing that can be taken at superhuman levels?  Goku has a martial art skill at an unrealistic level.)  Any other way of handling superhuman speed makes combat with the character not something worth actually parsing out on a turn-to-turn basis (as far as we can tell).  It'd be all over too quickly.

Then there's Shadowrun's (or any other cyberpunk game I can think of) street samurai.  (Wouldn't they actually be ronin?)  Combat starts and they get several actions before another character's jaw can even drop open.  The problem with that relates to how we look at the Flash.  If you're operating at an altered time rate, everything else moves in slow motion.  People talk in indistinguishable slurs, objects take for ever to fall to the ground (milk pours into your glass at microgravity speed), who can live like that all the time?  I thought so.  That means Flash and the street samurai are consigned to the same rate of speed as the rest of us.  If someone pulls a gun behind them (initiating Mechanical play), there's precious little they can do until they perceive it and can react (on their turn).  Until then it's normal speed for them (when they do get their turn, look out).

Admittedly this would break down in combats with more than a handful or two of characters, but Scattershot limits turn-by-turn Mechanical play to groups of characters less than twice the number of people playing.  If you have more than a handful of players, it's suggested that 'grand combats' are avoided or more referees are employed (creating simultaneous action sequences, but that's more for live-action role-play anyway).  When this limit is exceeded, Scattershot kicks things up a 'level of scope,' usually to squad-level tactical play where groups of characters are treated as units, but that goes into Scattershot's 'scaling' mechanics and that wasn't what the question was about.

Quote from: RobMuadib
Also, do you allow for any kind of interruption or opportunity actions?

At this time, we haven't seen any purpose in offering mechanics to intercept another character's action outside of what's possible for characters who've withheld an action.  (Or in Forfeiting an action for defense; that's where Capt. America throws his shield to deflect the blow aimed at an innocent bystander.  I mean, what is defense except the interruption of someone else's attack?)  Opportunity and saved actions require 'activation criteria' stated at the point of preparation.  (And a saved action is expended instead of the usual Forfeited, losing it the same way.)  The detail of this criteria depends on requirements of the genre expectation and play style.  ('Playing the Joueur' usually requires a fair amount of detail here.)

Quote from: RobMuadib
Also, how do you handle "Active" defenses such as a Dodge, or Parry and such in regards to actions?

As I explained, dodge, parry, block and et cetera are maneuvers available to specific skills and may be forfeited to (and this is what gives Scattershot that 'taking turns in initiative order' feel because of how combat advantage plays out once combat gets going in earnest).  Highly skilled martial artists do more than just block and attack, as far as I've seen it usually leads into a healthy flurry of responsive actions.  We try to capture that in the more detailed martial arts listings.

Quote from: RobMuadib
Just curious, as I am working on my combat system right now and am wondering how you handled this. (Yes, my combat system is heavily Simulationist, meant to provide a mini-game for stand-alone combat, at least the Tactical rules are.)

I don't know if you're using that term correctly, so I'll assume that you're making a system that is heavily verisimilar.  In that case, our goals are very similar (pun intended); Scattershot's combat grew largely from a collectible card game we wrote that may be used in place of the normal combat system in modular fashion.  The genesis for that came from observing no round-by-round personal combat collectible card games and single-frame advancing lightsabre duels.

I hope this explains things a little better and I look forward to clarifying anything else you have questions on.

Fang Langford
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