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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: trick on January 10, 2010, 02:33:31 PM



Title: Combat molasses
Post by: trick on January 10, 2010, 02:33:31 PM
I've been reading an earlier thread titled Warhammer; Chaos! Order! Molasses! (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=28222.0). It's about the dullness of just going from place to place and trivial conflicts. In the games I've been playing I've been fortunate enough not to have much of a problem with that exactly, but I've noticed that I've had a similar with combat.

It's gotten so bad, that combat has pretty much become that annoying period of boredom that lies between roleplaying. I've had similar experiences with a number of D20 variants, Dark Heresy, WFRP, and Savage Worlds (in order of worst to least worst). Here's examples of what happens in actual play:

  • Players narrate their actions with extreme detail.
  • Players ask questions about the rules or spend time looking them up
  • Players ask "what should I do" to each other, and debate on what the best tactic would be.

Now from my experiences (wrestling and paintball) this ends up producing a completely wrong experience. Combat is quick, there's no time to talk about what's happening or process it; it just happens. In combat, there is a lot of uncertainty. When you're in the thick of things you don't stop to think about consequences, you are motivated purely by what you need to do to stay safe at the moment; you just do the first thing that comes to mind. When you do get a chance to rest, it's because you lost sight of the enemy and now he's moving into position to ambush you. There is very little to no talking in combat, and certainly no debate.

On top of that, the tactics that are available are pretty lame. It's basically just a matter of min-maxing between the various possible attack actions. It's not really possible to execute any sort of effective ambush because as soon as the surprise round is over, everyone magically knows where everyone is. You can be behind full cover and still magically see you enemy.

Anyways, my question is how do you improve the experience. I've thought of some ideas but I'm not sure people would accept them very well (like putting a time limit on rounds and banning speech during combat).


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: contracycle on January 10, 2010, 03:00:58 PM
I have a fairly strict hesitate rule, that, well, has downsides but addresses this particular issue quite well.  A point to a player and ask them what they do; if they don't answer in 3 or 4 seconds, I say "you hesitate" and they lose an action or round or whatever.  After a few applications people get the message that any decision is better than none and are mentally prepared to provide rapid answers.

I have also prevented people talking to each other, but somewhat more generously now I'm inclined to just chivvy them along, tell them they are taking too much time, intervene as it were.  Both of these are sticks that should not be wielded too vigorously, and there is room for contextual judgement, but having them around sets a tone and expectations.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Callan S. on January 10, 2010, 04:44:35 PM
I'm not sure my thread was about that, but never mind.

One thing to consider is that real life combat...is pretty bloody awful. It's not fun.

Yet your, presumably, playing for fun (some particular type of fun - there's many types).

So by being more realistic your either making a literally unpleasant game, or to some extent it's going to be faux realism. It's going to be fake to some extent, to facilitate it being fun in some way.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: trick on January 10, 2010, 06:37:22 PM
Well, real life combat as in war can be pretty awful, but not all combat is. Combat sports (like wrestling) can be a lot of fun. That's were I'm pulling my experience from.

Now as for fighting with swords and guns, your certainly right, there needs to be some sort of fakeness to make it fun. Only a real retard goes into mortal combat just for fun. However, D20 and Warhammer systems aren't highly realistic as-is. Warhammer a lot more so though. It's one of those systems where having your character loose an arm because some dork failed his sneak check is quite a reality.

However, I'm talking about issues that aren't contained in the system itself (or at least not in these systems). They've been relegated to realm of social contract.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: trick on January 10, 2010, 06:44:35 PM
contracycle: Have you had any player-GM conflict with the hesitate rule?


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: contracycle on January 11, 2010, 12:15:33 AM
No significant conflict, no.  But it's one of those things that grew up over time rather being imposed suddenly, and in large part it coincided with the groups interests anyway.  As I said, you need to be merciful and generous when you are being this pushy.  At the very least you'd have to warn them in advance that if they don't hurry up you're going to start considering them to have hesitated, be in conversation, something like that.  At one point we used a three minute egg-timer, and I would let them kibbitz for that long and then start demanding actions from them, ready or not.  The visceral ticking clock and bell sharpened the focus.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: JoyWriter on February 10, 2010, 08:00:44 AM
  • Players narrate their actions with extreme detail.
  • Players ask questions about the rules or spend time looking them up
  • Players ask "what should I do" to each other, and debate on what the best tactic would be.

That thing by itself sounds like it could be fun! Some complex tactical game full of depth, like chess or magic the gathering only more so. But the problem is that although they wish the rules could support that level of tactical depth, they actually can't. Their tactical choices might be sub-par mechanically, despite them fitting their interpretations of the fiction better.

Sounds like for them to be happy without spoiling your suspension of disbelief, the combat should be harder! Yes I know that's the exact opposite way from what you intended, but the choice is always whether to get rid of a crappy element, scoot past/it remove it etc, or turn it into something good. If these players are actually enjoying this narration and tactic-ing rather than just being obligated by some feeling of completeness, then shutting that down will just shut down some of their fun.

As for the talking, I conceptualise it weirdly; lots of paintball tactics that me and my friends have done involve talking before the game about how paintball compares to other stuff, and then when actually in the match, doing just enough breathless talking to trigger off that stuff, so in a way we're actually saying loads, but it's all packed into our relationships and previous common knowledge.

Course, while doing this, I start trying to sniper and constantly miss, someone cheats and runs round despite being hit, one of my friends does the exact opposite of what he said he'd do, and some little kid who got put on our team friendly-fires someone but then takes out like 6 people from the other team, so we can't really complain, and someone spends the whole match very slowly crawling forward through a muddy stream.
So it's not much like real combat ..... or is it?

So you could use contracycle's method, and assume lots of pre/post-fight talk about fighting, or just interpret the conversation a little more loosely. Just think about it like cinematic slowmo of both the fighting and the little cues.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Hereward The Wake on February 10, 2010, 02:31:59 PM
I actually think that combat is fun.... or at least, leaves you hyped, adrenaline and other chemicals in your system, the buzz, the sense of being alive etc etc. can be adictive. ALso if one is dealing with a psuedo historical setting, warrior cutltures instill in their members ways to make for waht most people to be exceptional and tress full, horrifc etc, normal and something that they can function in. The warrior mind set is something that one can see in operation, with modern special forces, samurai, medieval knights etc. They may not enjoy it, but it was/is their job so they have to at least function, which means it has to at least bearable, if not then you wouldn't do it.

Back on topic.
I also think that combat tebds to bog, down people plan and discuss what they shoudl do in the moment, which to me is juts wrong. You may talk and plan before, and debrief after, but in the moment you should be on the clock, time is life, so I enforce time limits, whether in Role play or wargames, take to long to tell me what you are doing then the action has moved on and some one else is doing stuff. Contras 3-4 seconds is a long time, if they aren't telling me soemthing straight way i move on, of they start waffleing trying to buy time, or just bcause they are under pressure, I move on. It can catch people flat footed when they aren't used to it, but they learn, if not soon then after their first guy goes down then they start thinking fast and adjusting quick. This all ties in with accounts a research I have come across, a lot of people in combat don't actually do much! Obviously layers want to be the exception, but I am a beliver that the player makes charecter DO, the stats just give you an idea of how close they come to what the players wants them to do they come.
Once you start playing like this it is more fun and adictive of itself. though you really do then need a set of mechanics that you can turn around quickly too, otherwise it starts to make a joke of it.
Added bonuses I have seen is that things start to happen that don't in normal combat sessions but you read about in real accounts of combat, people don't see things that are rtight in front of them, they forget where friendlies are or where the bad guys are. People do silly things, they don't have time to come up with a complex plan in the middle of a fight, so things go belly up and the side that does best is the one that can adapt to the screw ups fastest.
Its great fun
Best
JW


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Meramec on February 10, 2010, 05:59:59 PM
It's interesting to me that you seem to want a fast-paced feverish vibe to combat and yet choose a game system which resolves battles using tactical tabletop miniatures.  I guess I don't see these two working well together.

I think the act of moving miniatures on the board and counting squares, etc., necessarily slows things down.  If you want it to be fast, then run combat by saying "OK guys, roll your attack dice!  Their AC is 21, tell me if you hit!"  Then assign damage as you see fit to the enemies and move on.  Everyone rolling at one time, even you for the enemies.  If they want to do something special like drink a potion or shield bash then they can discuss that with you instead of rolling their attack.  As long as they don't all do that at once combat should go quickly.

Deeply satisfying tactical play is great.  Intense and breathless combat is great.  I just don't see the two mixing.  To have tactical play means you have to sit and think about the tactics (which you point out aren't even well supported in the system.)

So, I guess where I always start when feeling that a game is not providing me with the experience I want, is to isolate what it is that I want and analyze where the game is lacking.  This is why I went back to white box D&D after playing WOTC's version.  I just couldn't handle cycling through initiative order and counting squares anymore. 

Good luck finding a solution you and your fellow players can get excited about!


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Hereward The Wake on February 11, 2010, 02:21:03 PM
minis don't have to slow things down but too much counting can, whether thats squares, dice, mods etc. you need a set of mechanics that support faster more fluid play.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: JoyWriter on February 12, 2010, 06:29:55 AM
minis don't have to slow things down

Could you give an example? I can't picture how to avoid taking a while setting up the map for the miniatures; it takes me ages to make a good map, which is one of the things that stalled our old shadowrun game.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Hereward The Wake on February 12, 2010, 10:15:28 AM
I'd set up the rough layout as I described it to the players, it doesn't need to be hyper detailed or realistic as such, it is just giving a rough visual referance as to where the action takes place and rough spatial relations of where people and major objects are. This isn't something that works with precise measurements of distance or numnerous modifiers and complex calculations when rolling dice. when arrows are flying, swords biting or bullets and grenades exploding it is chaotic. The detail and the tactics should take place before hand when the plan, if their is one, is devised to that when the s**t hits the fan, that when the GM points at you you you don't go "errrr well I think......." instead you know what you are going to do, how you are going to do it, you telll the GM and it works or not based on quick rolls etc. as in real Life KISS applies here, Keep It Short and Simple for plans and mechanics then let the action take care of the rest.

Best
 


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: JoyWriter on February 12, 2010, 01:03:06 PM
Ok so the mini's are working like monopoly pieces then (acting as memorable position markers so you can quickly tell where people are)?

I can understand that, part of what slows me down is my architect/level designer tendencies, and trying to work out the scale of the various distances and bottlenecks choke points etc, (while still being spatially appropriate to wherever it's supposed to be) with the scale of the mini's translating that into physical distances in the actual drawing.

If you take exact measuring out of it, then yeah I can see what you mean, it does get a lot easier. Thinking back I have done something similar, (sketch an outline and people enter/defend general spaces as if they were flowchart points, with the mini's moving to represent changes), but it got really static, and the motion of the characters became quite irrelevent.
Now that was in D&D3.5, which is pretty damned static anyway, but I've never done that and had complex cover shifting+manoeuvring and the sort of ebb and flow that are supported in miniature games. Do you have anything like that in your gaming experience? And if so what kind of things did you do to pull it off?

Weirdly, I've had complex and dynamic flow stuff where we used no miniatures at all, but nothing between that and fully scaled maps!


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Locke on February 26, 2010, 10:22:24 PM
1. tell them to get to the point, but thank them for their enthusiasm
2. tell them if they don't have the attack ready in a reasonable amount of time they have to make a basic attack or none at all.  encourage them to READ THE RULES
3.  tell them they are CHEATING called metagaming and that it takes time actions and resources to plan attacks that must be done before combat.  every player thinks for themselves, and that the GM will let them know if the character has more knowledge then the player and that another course of action might be better taken that the character knows but the player doesn't.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Jeff B on March 05, 2010, 11:18:05 PM

I agree with Meramec:  By adding tactical detail, you might accomplish exactly the opposite of what you want.  Play may become mired in players taking a long time considering their options, and additional time to resolve subtle maneuvers.

Furthermore, simply having a long list of options for what may be done is not enough to ensure diversity in the action itself.  Unless the GM engineers dozens of different situations for characters to be in, dozens of distinctly different opponents that suggest different tactics be used, there will tend to be a single best-move option that will cause the others to be ignored.  Even the addition of something such as a shield-bash raises questions:  How often should I shield-bash my opponent?  Always?  Only if they're smaller than me?  Only if they're larger than me?  What tactical intelligence do I have (or need to have) to guide my decision?

The best game experience may indeed come not from highly detailed mechanics but rather from the rapid resolution of combat where every player felt they played an active role got to see their characters dishing out damage, period.  It's entirely a matter of what your game is supposed to be about, in your own mind.  There is an economy of time:  The more your game is about Thing A, the less it is about Thing B.  So if tactical detail is a priority, that's fine.  But the additional time invested means the game will be less about others things, such as dialogue and plot, because the total time available to play is limited.

So, that said, here's a sort of answer to your actual question -- something I've been toying with for some time:  Let's go back to the shield bash.  There is more than one way to administer a special move like that bash.  The common way, as was discussed here, is that the player opts to use the special tactic and therefore generates a different combat result if he succeeds (that is, knocking the opponent down, rather than inflicting a normal weapon hit).  This creates the burden of creating situations where the bash is meaningful and a logical and better alternative than a regular attack.

Imagine instead that by taking the shield bash skill/maneuver/talent, the player has added one more possible outcome to combat that didn't exist before.  Each time a melee round occurs, the player makes a normal attack roll.  In addition to the chance of a normal weapon hit, there is now the chance of a shield bash occurring.  It must be a bonus, not a replacement of the normal result.  It either happens along with a normal hit, or else it happens when the character would otherwise have missed. 

For the sake of example, let's say that if the number required to hit the opponent is exceeded by a margin of two, then a regular hit PLUS a shield bash occurs, and the opponent may be knocked down or stunned.  In this way, the variety of results grows but there is virtually no increase in complexity of play.  If the character has several special maneuvers, perhaps he indicates which one the character will employ if the opportunity presents itself (i.e., if he gets the correct margin of success), or perhaps the specific tactic is randomized somehow.  There are many possibilities of determining precisely what happens.  The important thing is, it benefits the character and does not burden play, since it is a random result rather than a decision-making process.  My two cents' worth.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: Daniel B on March 07, 2010, 03:23:50 PM
@ no one in particular

Come to think of it, the nature of a roleplaying game really runs counter to that essence of person-to-person combat, don't you think?

In an RPG, you must depend on the GM and other players to tell things "as they really are", and by the same token, you must trust the other players to believe you when you make statements. Without this trust, you can't really construct an SIS. "Haha players, TPK. I lied when I said there was no dragon sleeping on top of the treasure hoard."

This requirement to trust and be truthworthy hinders capturing the feeling of person-to-person combat because it disallows players from seeking and taking advantage of all the tiny little opportunities that open up. For example, you might get lucky in real, physical simulated combat by, say, ducking left to dodge the enemy's swing and then finding yourself facing his now-exposed left flank. In a game, either the player specifically requests that his PC set this up, or the GM offers "you've ducked the swing and your PC is now in a better position to hit the enemy." In either case, it must be "artificially" added to the SIS; it does not emerge "naturally".

What I'd really love to see is a system that has simple and streamlined rules, but which has lots of leeway for some serious emergent complexity.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: FetusCommander on March 08, 2010, 10:26:38 AM
This requirement to trust and be truthworthy hinders capturing the feeling of person-to-person combat because it disallows players from seeking and taking advantage of all the tiny little opportunities that open up. For example, you might get lucky in real, physical simulated combat by, say, ducking left to dodge the enemy's swing and then finding yourself facing his now-exposed left flank. In a game, either the player specifically requests that his PC set this up, or the GM offers "you've ducked the swing and your PC is now in a better position to hit the enemy." In either case, it must be "artificially" added to the SIS; it does not emerge "naturally".

What I'd really love to see is a system that has simple and streamlined rules, but which has lots of leeway for some serious emergent complexity.

That's a good point tbh, and I'd like a system like that too

A system where it's possible to "do something wrong" that mechanically exposes you, but where that "something" isn't tied to the book research that trick is talking about. 

That said, I don't find the other two of those combat phases that uninteresting, only when they bog as someone mentioned.  I think the things that frustrate me most about combat are 1) lack of real stakes in the combat (i.e. you're fighting 20 kobolds and know you'll win, but you've got to fight them), and 2) that glaze that happens when its not your turn and nothing is affecting you directly. 

Time limits can actually help with both of those if done right.  A GM from my group once used a system that relied on people to dictate actions within a certain time frame, then the situation was debated by the group, and ruled on.  That definitely made paying attention a lot easier, and elevated the fear of "real" consequences a bit.

Overall, i think some metagame tactics discussions are important for the fun, as long as they don't become rules disputes, looking up rules, or delay the game indefinitely.


Title: Re: Combat molasses
Post by: trick on March 31, 2010, 11:54:49 PM
In an RPG, you must depend on the GM and other players to tell things "as they really are", and by the same token, you must trust the other players to believe you when you make statements. Without this trust, you can't really construct an SIS. "Haha players, TPK. I lied when I said there was no dragon sleeping on top of the treasure hoard."

I think this is a significant part of the problem. The thing is that combat "as it really is" is chaotic, and can often go easily one way or the other. Of course if the GM tries to enforce this to the PCs' detriment, their players get unhappy. I think the solution for this is to use mechanics that are inherently chaotic. One idea (inspired by Black Cadillac's Death Die) would be to get wound counters or something during a combat scene, but the actual result of wound damage be calculated after a combat scene. The result is that nobody knows how much your character is hurt till after the scene is over. Another possibility is to allow players to reroll dice a certain number of times, but for every time they do it, the GM gets a free dice to roll at his choosing. If the GM collects a big enough pill of dice, that could be really bad news.