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But is it REALLY conflict resolution?

Started by Tor Erickson, March 07, 2003, 10:15:14 PM

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Tor Erickson

Hi Y'all,

Don't the rules for combat in Sorcerer favor task over conflict resolution?  I mean, for everything else in the game you make just a couple of rolls to resolve an entire conflict, but when the guns start blazing it becomes much more granular (mostly because of how damage works, it seems: ie, you can take lots of hits, but also because you might make several rolls that have no effect; when all attacks are successfully defended against, for example).

I started to wonder about this two sessions into Spartan Sorcerer when Borsca the Spartan ambassador to Crete is set upon by a group of Persians disguised as Cretan soldiers.  For the first time in Sorcerer I felt like the dice were bogging things down and hampering the story.  The fight lasted for several rounds and basically played out in a "you swing at him he swings at you" kind of way until Borsca was beaten into submission.

The role-playing bonuses from the combat section seem to favor this as well:  it seems like "I whack his head while he's looking over that way!" could be a synonym for the dreaded task (as opposed to conflict) declaration "I swing at him."

I'm sure this sounds garbled, but it arises from a very real problem we were experiencing: namely, the combat was taking too long and there was no way out provided in the rules.

Does any of that make sense?


Ron Edwards

Hi Tor,

Yeah, it can be a concern. Here's the theory - that fights are won mainly by amping up the tactics, especially by ganging up on someone and making announcements that help one another no matter which one ends up going first.

Doing that will change everything - you'll have opponents taking eight or nine temporary penalties, which is usually enough to permit either (a) finishing the fight by switching to an interactive roll ("Give up!") or (b) a killing blow that'll really kill.

Another way to deal with it is to embed certain non-damage outcomes into combat announcements - stuff like the guy getting knocked down or in a particular direction. That way you can have stuff happen that might make a difference, but doesn't have to be calculated in terms of damage.

More radically, ditch damage - just have the rolls tell the story based on degrees of success and be done with it. That's for people who don't mind lots of Drama socked in there.


P.S. (editing in)
Here are some older threads to check out too. Obviously, you know the game well enough to breeze over the basic questions and answers, but a lot of the secondary points seem relevant to your question.

FitM and bonus dice for role-playing
Last (?) combat question
Sorcerer combat

Tor Erickson

Good points, though it seems like you can run into problems when you're fighting lots of minor opponents.  I mean, sure you can gang up or get lots of bonuses on one and really jack him, but he's still got a bunch of buddies who make finishing the combat in one fell swoop pretty difficult.

Additionally, there are so many dice getting thrown around in a big combat (sometimes over 20 every round), that I realized I was starting to deliberately avoid them.  I'd be curious to know how you end up handling this in actual play: do you really roll dice for every thug in the mob?

One thought I had was to treat all of the opponents as one entity; maybe with +1 die per extra thug.  That way I'm only rolling once for the bad guys and it would open up the path for taking them out in one round (with bonuses and whatnot).



Sure, there's nothing in the rules that explicitly prevent using floor-wipe thugs as simple bonus dice to the main bad-guy opposition. So, just as in those Jackie Chan and similar martial arts flicks, you get: the hero confronted by a the main bad dude and a dozen standard evil henchmen(tm).

The hero almost always wipes the floor with the evil henchmen, and the bad dude almost always gets away to gloat and plot revenge. If you're going for a cinematic action-flick-type feel, or looking to play a game where you mop the floor with hordes of grunts, this is the way to go.

Also, I'm concerned with the idea that the fights should be "skippable" because of the number of dice being rolled. This seems a little odd to me: shouldn't the fights themselves matter? In the grand scheme of the story?

That is, it sounds like some of these fights aren't interesting except as "oh, my guy's in danger!" So, I'm saying to make sure all the fights are immediately and directly important to the Kicker/story itself, rather than just being "my guy in danger."

Watch a movie, even an action flick, and keep a notebook handy to record how many times the protagonist actually puts the smack down during the movie. I did this a few times, and you'd be surprised at how little fighting there actually is even in most action movies.

Compare this to your standard RPG experience ala D&D, where combats are a dime-a-dozen and the main focus of play for many, many sessions.

Example: the recent film "Daredevil" had a number of fight scenes. One (the bar) was to showcase the protagonist's abilities. The next (the thug) was to showcase the protagonist's inner struggle (am I a hero?). Another was his attempt to protect his girlfriend and her father, leading to his framing. Another was the Daredevil against his girlfriend -- how could he stop her from killing him in revenge, and keep his secret? Finally, we had him against the main thug, and finally him against the main bad dude who killed his father.

In all cases, the outcomes of the fights mattered on a very relevant personal/relationship-map level, rather than simply fights for the sake of survival or fighting or doing right.

Forgive me if I'm unclear with any of the above, I'm just coming down from a week-long PHP learning/coding spree involving around two or three hours of sleep a night for the duration. So if you need to, ask and I'll clarify.
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

I think Raven's on it, Tor. If the fights don't matter, then they're laborious.

Also, and this is why Sorcerer isn't a so-called universal system, the game really isn't built for mopping up thugs. The core aesthetic comes from Hong Kong John Woo movies like A Better Tomorrow - violence is grubby, gasping, and painful, usually ending up with either both sides too exhausted and battered to continue, or with one person maimed or dead.

I've noticed that many role-players really don't know what to do with the idea that a fight can end with the combatants unwilling to continue, despite not being irrevocably maimed or dead.

One last thought: in the real sword-and-sorcery literature, the main characters rarely mop up thugs. Fights are desperate and dangerous even against a single opponent, in most cases. Yes, even for Conan. If you line up all the Howard fight scenes and read them, then line up all the Carter/deCamp ones and read those, it's clear that both the hero and the overall violence/event aesthetic are not the same things in the two sets.


Tor Erickson

Hey fellas,

Points well taken:  except... this.  The fight arose directly from Borsca's kicker.  The "thugs" were Persians, who the player had specified as the enemy for his character.  In addition, the fight was supposed to establish a connection between the Persians and the Cretans (remember, the Persians were wearing Cretan armor), a plotworthy event.  (well, the fight was also intended to showcase and introduce some of the nuances of the system, like carrying bonus dice over, and to elaborate on some of the rules I had introduced for this particular game: ie, just prior to the fight, Borsca sacrificed a bull to Ares to gain bonuses in the melee).  

Given all that, the fight still felt laborious because there were too many NPCs involved (2 with Borsca, and 6 Persians).  It was difficult to keep track of everybody with that many different dice being rolled for that many people.  That's what started to make me wary about combat with lots of people.  

Again, in retrospect, a number of rules alterations occurred to me that could have alleviated the problem (namely, rolling once for the mob).  But this was where my question about actual play styles arose from: Ron partially answered it with his comments about the game not being intended for mass combat, but I'd be curious to know how this issue gets dealt with by others.