Combat based on shocks? Looking for more shocks.

edited April 2017 in Game Design Help
Maybe "shock" isn't the best term, but I haven't come up with a better one yet.

My idea is this:

When combat begins, we assess a bunch of stuff, crunch whatever numbers deserve crunching, choose the approach the characters are going in with, and otherwise set up the mechanism which will determine what happens.

Then we ditch the leisurely tactical sim tradition of RPG combat and replace it with more experiential fog of war madness. By the time you know what's happened and are making your next calculated decision, it may be all over. (I'm talking monstrous creature combats and the like here, not honor duels with knightly rules and whatnot.)

I don't want to skip over the decisions you would actually get to make if you were actually there, though. Even if your blood is pounding in your ears and your vision is narrowed and you're going mostly on muscle memory, sometimes there's some sort of "shock" in a fight that kicks you out of your previous approach. When this happens, responses may be unconscious (I'd like a system for that, but not sure yet what it'd be), but sometimes they may also be conscious too.

Right now I'm trying to compile a good list. What are some in-combat events which force or allow you to stop doing what you were doing and maybe do something else?

What I've got so far:
- knocking a foe down
- falling out of melee range
- getting knocked down
- getting pinned
- getting disarmed
- having your charge blunted
- getting pushed back

Any other ideas?

Getting your legs chopped off or lungs punctured will also shake things up, but I dunno if you really choose the responses to those.

Comments

  • What about using specific thresholds of high damage impact or going below specific hitpoints/health levels as triggers?

    I could also imagine consciously raising the stakes or making a sacrifice for a special move or bonus ("serious flesh wound puts me in rage mode...").

    Other than that I guess anything that impairs your mobility (pinned, arm/leg wound, fractures...) or your vision (wounded eyes, blood trickling on eyes, swollen eyes...) would work.

    Personally, I prefer keeping these parameters more abstract, though.

  • edited April 2017
    I think there's some correlation between high-damage impacts and stuff that shocks you out of your combat approach, but there are also some pretty interesting discrepancies. It's possible for me to hack away at someone without realizing that I just had an artery severed which will kill me in a few minutes. Same with my opponent. That imperfect information -- the potential gap between what's obvious and what's important -- is part of what I'm hoping to model. If it works, I think it might help make combat scary in some unique ways! Scary, and also possibly hesitant -- there will be options for trying to emerge from the fray exactly so that one can assess what's happened.

    "Serious flesh wound puts me in rage mode" probably has a place somewhere in here, but I imagine it as a condition going into the fight which then simply gets triggered or doesn't. In addition to decision-offering moments, I'll also have to track events which change things automatically, like stuff that knocks you unconscious.

    Looks like we're on the same page re: mobility and vision! Thanks for the thoughts.
  • I'm not sure if this is the kind of thing you're looking for, but in my game Deadpuncher the combat system doesn't track health itself, instead it uses a system of Risk and Injuries.

    Attacks that land can either do small injuries, which complicate a fighter's capability by making certain kinds of maneuvers or combat choices more difficult, or instead apply Risk, a growing pool of potential harm that isn't yet having an effect.

    Special maneuvers called Finishers allow fighters to convert all the Risk on a target into a much bigger injury, like a broken arm or losing an eye or even killing a foe outright in some circumstances.

    With the different types of Injury, a player may have to adjust their strategy as they can't use kick-based maneuvers anymore, for example, from a broken leg. Or they've got a big pool of Risk that at any moment could convert into a really nasty wound.

    Some maneuvers also deal status effects, which are temporary penalties on the following round like knocking someone down or dazing them, limiting their choices that round on response.

    As far as other shock events you haven't listed, hm...

    - Reinforcements arrive for your opponents
    - You land your ultimate blow and it barely fazes your opponent
    - The death of an ally in the battle
    - being hurled a vast distance
    - A sudden change in weather like hail or a massive windstorm

    Don't know if that's the right kind of items for the space you're thinking in, though.
  • OK.
    I think being poisened is also an interesting one. You're not limited yet but you know things will go terribly bad in the next minutes. This creates a sense of urgency and desperation.
  • Kutulu, a Swedish-language Lovecraftian game that came out two days ago has an interesting solution to the fog of war with combat against unaussprechlige things. Here's an example of play that can emerge from the rules in that game.
    You step between the monoliths. Over the pleasant smell of the meadow blossoming in the dew there's a slight stench of rot and petrol. You hear a sound above.
    Suddenly you're lying down. Doyle, you're holding your right hand over a big, bleeding flesh wound in your left arm. It's so painful that you feel tears down your cheeks, and you can't focus. What do you do?
    The game skipped the battle!!! The byakhee got away and the players don't even know if it even was a byakhee! Talk about fog and memory loss!

    David, I realize this isn't contributing to the thread but it was just something I thought you might find interesting.
  • OK.
    I think being poisened is also an interesting one. You're not limited yet but you know things will go terribly bad in the next minutes. This creates a sense of urgency and desperation.
    Ooh, that's a good one.

    Yeah, that definitely can upend things in a battle.
  • How about "your weapon breaks"?

    Also, anything which changes to battlefield.

    For example, "the floor collapses, and all of you are thrown into the chamber below".

    All in all, I think this is a really interesting direction to go in. It's kind of like the reverse of AW-style moves, which is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

    The main "meat" here, though - and the main challenge - will have to be about what happens in-between these shocks.

    How do we create/narrate/navigate those unmechanized bits, and will they be interesting? Will they make us feel helpless? Will they be easy for the GM (if there is one) to handle narratively?

    What happens if we're having a fight and none of these "shocks" get triggered?

    I think that solid answers to such questions will have to be in place for this to function, and may "make or break" this idea, no matter how cool or functional the whole "shocks" idea ends up being.
  • How about when you make your attack but it whiffs and you lose your balance forwards
  • I'd add Finding an opening, weak spot or other opportunity I mean, that definitely switches my gears when in combat, things suddenly became more clear on a different way. My character may still be in danger but if that thing has the potential to turn the tide of the battle I'll most probably bet life on it.

    Also, I'd leave up to the players the different reactions to these shocks, maybe make these class-related but nevertheless, have players write them at character creation. Like, when wounded, the barbarian enters a rage, but the sorcerer may go nova and the ranger's pet companion could be trained to pull her out of combat. And the more experienced the character, the more varied and specialised reactions to these shocks she may have.

    Also, this somehow looks to me like a system that could actually be turned into one for social situations too. I mean, if you have these triggers and the character have pre-written reactions to these, player can easily select a few triggers for his character that will make him react in certain ways. Well, just a thought.
  • And the more experienced the character, the more varied and specialised reactions to these shocks she may have.
    Years ago, I was putting together a set of rules based on this idea. You'd have some "instinctual reactions", and inexperienced characters might just have a couple (along the lines of "fight or flee"). However, with more experience and training you could other reactions to the list.

    It was intended for sudden, shocking situations. ("A dark figure jumps out of the hedge, and it's about to collide with you! What do you do?") You'd make some kind of Reflexes roll, and that would determine whether you'd get any additional information before making your decision, and if you were limited to your pre-scripted instinctual responses or not.

    I never got to finalize the rules or try them, though. I suspected they would be too cumbersome.

    Dave, perhaps something along these lines would suit your idea, however:

    On a really good roll, you get good detail about what's happening and time to choose your response.

    On a fairly decent roll, you only get one or the other.

  • edited April 2017
    - Reinforcements arrive for your opponents
    - You land your ultimate blow and it barely fazes your opponent
    - The death of an ally in the battle
    - being hurled a vast distance
    - A sudden change in weather like hail or a massive windstorm
    That Deadpuncher combat system sounds very cool and unique! I think tracking unspecified Risk which then later gets resolved into specific injuries is brilliant! That might be an efficient way to do what I need to do as far as handling the accumulation of unknowns and partial unknowns.

    As for shocks:

    Being hurled, absolutely.

    Landing a blow that you thought would finish the fight, so you're prepared to let down a bit, but then it doesn't? Totally.

    Major changes to the surrounding situation, such as allies, enemies, and weather? I'm not sure -- those all seem like things that would register eventually, but many not while rapidly trading attempted death blows? I suspect those all fall in the class of "things you notice once you have a moment to notice stuff". But there might be exceptions:

    Stuff that affects your balance -- that might be immediate. Earthquakes, hurricane winds, the structure you're in/on falling apart...

    Getting hit from behind (when you hadn't planned on that) can cause a pretty dramatic short-circuit to whatever plan you went in with.
    How about when you make your attack but it whiffs and you lose your balance forwards
    Good point, not all dramatic changes in balance and position actually involve getting gored or knocked down -- sometimes it's merely something that sets you up for getting gored or knocked down. :)

    Maybe some characters could be better than others at reacting instinctively to high-risk positions before it's too late...
    How about "your weapon breaks"?

    Also, anything which changes to battlefield.

    For example, "the floor collapses, and all of you are thrown into the chamber below".
    Great call!

    Broken tools, check. Weapon, shield, light source, helmet, big old charm of protection, anything you need in order to fight as intended.

    Displacement, also check. Being hurled, teleports, crashing through stuff, having the room flooded, etc.
    I think being poisoned is also an interesting one.
    Extremely interesting! I imagine many poisoned attacked would pass without notice, and you'd only find out later... but if you're fighting a giant scorpion, and you know exactly what that venomous stinger does, and you take a hit from it, then yeah, that'll probably hit home that you're in a whole new situation!

    Not sure whether that's best handled as a shock or as a trigger for a contingency plan. After all, if the response is based on knowledge of the poison, then the character would be wise to have an "if I get stung" action cued up.
    Over the pleasant smell of the meadow blossoming in the dew there's a slight stench of rot and petrol. You hear a sound above.
    Suddenly you're lying down. Doyle, you're holding your right hand over a big, bleeding flesh wound in your left arm.
    Cool! I do think that should be one possible outcome of the system I'm pursuing. Not a common one... but when there is an epic mismatch, the way it gets resolved could look a lot like that. Or perhaps even, when there is no mismatch, just crazy luck (e.g. min roll for me + max roll for my opponent)!
    Finding an opening, weak spot or other opportunity
    I'm not sure what it takes for such a thing to register once the exchange of lethal blows is already in progress -- seems to me more like the sort of thing you notice during a lull. If something just absolutely screams out at you as an opportunity, though, then yes, agreed! I guess anything sufficiently surprising counts. "My opponent's standing in against my sword but shrieking from my silver parrying dagger?!" That might shock one out of the sword-first plan.


  • The main "meat" here, though - and the main challenge - will have to be about what happens in-between these shocks.

    How do we create/narrate/navigate those unmechanized bits, and will they be interesting? Will they make us feel helpless? Will they be easy for the GM (if there is one) to handle narratively?

    What happens if we're having a fight and none of these "shocks" get triggered?

    I think that solid answers to such questions will have to be in place for this to function, and may "make or break" this idea, no matter how cool or functional the whole "shocks" idea ends up being.
    Yeah I decided to post about the easy part first. :)

    My vague thought is that in between shocks the only narration will be the most immediate visceral thing, like, "Rrragh kill kill kill!" or "Whoa, agh, oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" and we'll iterate that until either a shock occurs or someone chooses to grab a breath and assess the situation. The details matter, though, and I'll get into those later.
  • Also, I'd leave up to the players the different reactions to these shocks, maybe make these class-related but nevertheless, have players write them at character creation. Like, when wounded, the barbarian enters a rage, but the sorcerer may go nova and the ranger's pet companion could be trained to pull her out of combat. And the more experienced the character, the more varied and specialised reactions to these shocks she may have.
    Years ago, I was putting together a set of rules based on this idea. You'd have some "instinctual reactions", and inexperienced characters might just have a couple (along the lines of "fight or flee"). However, with more experience and training you could other reactions to the list.
    Cool! We're all thinking along very similar lines here. I was thinking of something similar to this, but with anticipation as an additional factor. Before the life-or-death situation begins, the characters are generally primed in some direction. More toward fight? More toward flight? Maybe even having a specific plan? My intent was to factor that into reactions too.
    On a really good roll, you get good detail about what's happening and time to choose your response.

    On a fairly decent roll, you only get one or the other.
    I like that distillation of the relevant considerations! Very efficient. Not sure if this is a part I want to leave up to dice luck, though. It'll depend on what the core decisions are. "Good detail or controlled response?" is a super interesting decision but I'm not sure if it suits the experiential focus I'm pursuing.
    Also, this somehow looks to me like a system that could actually be turned into one for social situations too. I mean, if you have these triggers and the character have pre-written reactions to these, player can easily select a few triggers for his character that will make him react in certain ways.
    For normal interactions, I'm not really seeing it. For life-and-death bluffs under time pressure, though, totally! (Or maybe even for lie detection and involuntary body language cues, if one wanted to make a system that cared about such things. I don't think I do, though.)
  • Exhaustion hasn't been mentioned, I think? I mean momentary exhaustion that may leave you gasping for breath with lungs burning after a 100-meter dash or similar - the long-term kind probably doesn't come into most combats.

    In general I am in favour of this approach, it aligns with the way I've viewed these things myself in my recent periods. The tactical still-life paradigm feels comparatively unrealistic, with most of its justification lying in the wargame precepts of the tradition. Bring on the chaos and desperation, I say :D
  • edited April 2017
    I also hope this will relate to your hypothetical "face down cards" damage system we talked about. For those not in the know, it's not unlike Dogs fallout, where you have a sense of how bad it might be, but you don't actually find out until after the fight is over (or something else changes, I suppose, in this paradigm).

    Those seem like a natural match.
  • Paul, if you could find the thread here on S-G about that, I would be greatly in your debt! I did a search for my name and Mendel's (@wyrmwood -- I know he participated), but no luck. This thread might have been a continuation of that one if I'd found it! No idea what the title was, though.
  • Sorry, Dave! All I remember was an in-person conversation with you. It was a ruleset you were working on for Delve, if that helps.
  • It might be fruitful to consult some of the fumble tables available for more tactical simulation RPGs. Likewise, looking at the morale table of a standard miniatures wargame would have a lot of these kinds of "shocks" because those are the things that make units rout.

    One that comes to mind: accidentally hitting/shooting a friend.
  • edited April 2017
    So cool that you're finding your way to the less mechanics/more quick arguments exchange combat you've been searching, I can almost feel it's there!
  • Dave, you inspired me to do something vaguely tangentially related to that, as well. Next time we chat, I'll share with you! Otherwise I will eventually post it once it's coherent on paper.
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