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Author Topic: A Theoretical Combat System  (Read 4945 times)
lumpley
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« on: April 28, 2004, 02:02:15 PM »

Straight out of Fear & confusion, and bearing in mind that somewhere out in the world there's someone who wants me to write a game called Two Clicks...

Imagine a sci-fi rpg with rotating GM duties and everybody allowed to contribute in substantial ways to setting, designing planets and sentient species and whole bodies of technology all as they go, somewhere between Universalis and Matt's Spacehunter PTA.  Or is Rob Muadib still around?  Like the game he was working on.  Anyhow when it comes to fighting I need some rules that aren't based on any particular weapon technology, because the players create the setting's weapon technologies, not me.

Check it out:

Characters have a Combat Readiness stat.  It includes whatever combat readiness includes: situational awareness, capacity to do violence, personal honor, opportunistic exploitation of circumstances, the works.  It doesn't include specialized training - specialized training is a kind of technology.

Fighting is Stressful.  Stress is measured in three categories: Intensity, Danger and Confusion, each of which will be low, high, or spiking.  Intensity = identifying with your enemies.  Danger = risk to you.  Confusion = volume of information requiring attention.

Baselines for Stress are: if you can identify your targets as people, it's high Intensity.  If you think you might get seriously injured, it's high Danger.  If you have more than one thing to pay attention to, it's high Confusion.

In order to effectively attack your target, you have to beat all three Stress levels with your Combat Readiness.  Beating low Stress is easy, beating high Stress is hard, and you can't beat spiking Stress - it prevents you from attacking.  To "effectively attack" means to deliver Trauma.  Trauma is measured in three categories too: Stress, Impairment, and Injury Potential.

When you deliver Stress Trauma, you simply increase the Stress your enemy's facing, as above.  Open up with a machine gun, for instance, and life is more Stressful for everybody over there.

Impairment Trauma is specifically concrete physical impairment, as you might deliver with a net, tear gas, a tazer, those sick-sticks from Minority Report, refreezinator beams, whatever.  Injuries aren't Impairing in the short term.

And Injury Potential determines whether you hurt them.  An injury consists of Danger spiking, then Confusion spiking due to shock, and sometimes long-term damage (not measured by Impairment but by Traits or something) or fatality.  Probably characters ought to have some kind of a Shock Recovery stat to see how long the Confusion spike lasts.  Some weapons of the future might kill without the Stress, I dunno, hell, some weapons of today might.

So now.  Any kind of combat technology - weapons, armor, specialized training, cybernetics, drugs, whatever the players come up with - has to be described in these terms: how using it changes your Stress threshholds and how it delivers Trauma.

How using it changes your Stress threshholds:
- We all know about the people-shaped targets to practice on: now it's not high Intensity unless you can clearly see your targets' faces.  Further dehumanizing training might mean that it's not high Intensity unless you can identify your targets as nonresisting civilians.  Indirect fire weapons let you rain death down without ever seeing your targets to identify with them.
- Serious body armor makes it so that whatever level of incoming fire isn't high Danger.  Some drugs might make it so that being in danger isn't high Danger, because you don't care.  Weapons with volume of fire or range allow you to attack effectively from safe positions far away, which is low Danger - each particular weapon should stake out some territory in this regard.  Lots of cool possibilities here - what was the name of the armed ambulance service in Shadowrun?  Valkyrie Inc. or something?
- For Confusion, yes, magnifying scopes, low-light scopes, tracer rounds, laser pointers.  But also being in a trained squad means that you don't have to pay attention to as much stuff all by yourself: fighting on the run isn't high Confusion any more, nor is fighting in unfamiliar terrain - but fighting on the run through unfamiliar terrain still is.  If everybody's got those little throat mike things and GPS, that's even better.  A threat ID AI built into your assault armor is better still.

How it delivers Trauma:
- Every weapon should have its own scheme for delivering Trauma.  Those sick-sticks, say, deliver short-term impairment and nothing else.  Covering fire from a machine gun, like I say, changes your enemies' circumstances Stress-wise even if you aren't hitting them.  Flamethrowers deliver Trauma one way, sniper rifles another, deep-space torpedos a third.  It's sci-fi (and furthermore player-created sci-fi), so I don't have to do too much research, but if I were serious I'd ask Mike Holmes for input just to start.

...And there it is.

(Lots still to do, obviously, if I were actually writing this game.  I'd have to design the whole mechanical thing to make it all happen.  What does it mean, for instance, to "beat Stress with your Combat Readiness"?  How does "delivering Trauma" work, dicewise?)

But what do you think, combat system people?  Especially Sydney?

-Vincent
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Jason Lee
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« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2004, 09:09:02 PM »

I'm not Sydney, but I love the idea of machine gun bursts as sort of 'confusion damage' - you really could take that all sorts of fun places.  Distraction 'attacks' that up confusion for a round (ya know, that thing where they throw a rock somewhere else, and plans that involve a diversion).
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2004, 10:37:33 PM »

A guy called Kyle wrote something on guns at RPG.net ( http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?s=&threadid=51118 )

Ignore the stuff about swords. The point is that they create more fear than actual damage.

In the thread I actually suggested that the idea of a gun doing damage is interchangable in terms of what sort of damage that gun does. So instead of a gun doing X amount of HP (or whatever wound system you use), it can do X amount of fear damage. Fear or confusion damage, the principle is that you can evevate the combat system to a psychological level in roughly the same way its done physically.

Indeed, I think it'd be interesting to have a system which doesn't cover armour, penetration or anything in any real detail. All it covers is the psychology. I mean, its nice to know how many times a bullet tumbled around in someone. But really, whether they live or die is often based more on will power (well, in terms of not dieing from shock or going unconcious forever before medic care can be applied).
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2004, 08:33:36 AM »

I think it's totally a matter of getting rid of combat systems. Bug surprise, right?

Combat systems tell us that there's this rigorous set of steps that we can do to simulate the events of combat. The problem being that combat can include, as everyone is realizing, all sorts of parameters. So why not just have a conflict system, and allow any sort of attack to do any sort of damage that makes sense given the description.

Like HeroQuest and games like it do. By making all contests work the same mechanically, you can do all of this and anything else your brain can imagine. So if I want to win a contest to control a subject by "covering" him with my gun, I simply make an intimidation die roll against his determination or something, and add a bonus for the gun. The resulting "wound" would mechanically be interpreted as the target being "Intimidated -10%" or something, which would influence further contests as appropriate.

Make the game more realistic by making it less complicated.

Mike
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simon_hibbs
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2004, 08:47:41 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Make the game more realistic by making it less complicated.


And also-

By stating what contests you can have in such a specific and therefore restrictive way, what you're actualy doing is saying what contests you can't have in the game.

You can still do what you want by having a general purpose conflict resolution system, but use the character generation rules to influence what abilities the characters have. This automaticaly states what factors are going to be important in the game, because the players are going to play in such a way as to take advantage of their characetr's abilities, but doesn't restrict them as to how those abilities can be used. Trust your GMs and players.


Simon Hibbs
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Simon Hibbs
ethan_greer
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« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2004, 10:04:54 AM »

For a combat system designed in response to the Fear & Confusion thread, I think you nailed it. I think it would fit best in a heavilly geeked out, rules-thick, Sim S.F. game like you describe.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2004, 03:11:06 PM »

Okay, the baby's not crying, my wife's out of the house, dinner's halfway ready, and I finally have a moment of clarity to say something actually insightful (err, I think) about Comrade Lumpley's sketch of a system, besides, "gee that's cool" (which it is).

I think you've identified the key factors of Stress (aversion to killing, fear of danger, confusion due to information overload) and types of "damage" (essentially psychological/disorientation damage, short-term physical damage, and lasting physical damage). I like it.

I also like the attempt to describe the world purely in terms of effects rather than in terms of the processes that produce those effects. Hard-core Sim tends to get bogged down endlessly in process (okay, now I calculate his cover... and my bore fouling... and the prevailing wind... and ... and...and...), which means each system has to be elaborately tailored for a specific setting and approach. Looking simply at effects ("I scare him; I hurt him; don't matter how" offers you the greater flexibility you're shooting for here, and which I think makes for more fun games.

Small quibble: The approach here sometimes seems bass-ackward because the thought-problem you've set yourself is weapons design rather than character design, and I think the crucial variables you've (correctly) identified are mostly about people.

Medium quibble: This idea takes the classic RPG rule-writing shortcut of "here are the crucial factors; let's make each one a stat." This has the advantage of clarity, but it can get inelegant in play, and it tends to create a game where each rules subsystem is geared to a specific activity, instead of a Grand Unified Mechanic. Here I'm siding (surprisingly?) with Mike and coming out in favor of conflict-resolution mechanics. The Holy Grail is to come up with a Grand Unified Mechanic that uses the same rules, albeit with different modifiers, to handle a high school kid's getting too flustered to ask his date to dance AND that kid getting drafted into Vietnam and being too flustered to shoot back.

Personally, if we wanted actual mechanics for this, I'd be tempted treat all the factors more or less the same mechanically, as various flavors of modifer to some master combat effectieness stat, and just let all the different negative modifiers stack up into one whopping penalty rather than try to have separate rolls against each. I think this is what Brother Callan is suggesting. Then again, that might get dangerously "vanilla" (are we still allowed to say "vanilla"?).

Big quibble: I'm not sure that this sketch addresses a crucial point which was raised in the original Fear & Confusion thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10977), which is how to produce the proper state of mind in the PLAYERS, as opposing to simulating it in the characters. The Dark Lord Edward's post in the original thread, recommending TROS, Sorceror, and Burning Wheel, hit this nail on the head, as did TonyLB's "spending actions to perceive the situation" system. We want to do something that gives players a (fun, not terrifying!) sense of scrambling around madly in the chaos of combat.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2004, 05:05:41 PM »

Come to think of it....

Comrade Lumpley's system distinguishes Stress, Impairment, and Injury -- what I'd categorize as psychological/mental damage, immediate physical damage, and lasting physical damage. But surely we should make the same distinction between immediate psychological effects (I'm stunned) and lasting ones (I have post-traumatic stress disorder) as we do between immediate physical effects (I'm down, winded, and hurting) and lasting ones (my arm's broken and may never heal right).
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Andrew Norris
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2004, 05:50:13 PM »

I wandered into a discussion about guns the other day (the usual talk about what caliber weapon is enough for a "takedown", yadda yadda) and one of the links I found fascinated me.

This reportedly comes from an FBI report called "Handgun Wounding Factors and Effectiveness":

Psychological factors are probably the most important relative to achieving rapid incapacitation from a gunshot wound to the torso. Awareness of the injury (often delayed by the suppression of pain); fear of injury, death, blood, or pain; intimidation by the weapon or the act of being shot; preconceived notions of what people do when they are shot; or the simple desire to quit can all lead to rapid incapacitation even from minor wounds. However, psychological factors are also the primary cause of incapacitation failures.

In other words, even if a round hits, the immediate damage (in terms of ending the fight) is much more psychological than physical. It reminds me of FATE or HeroQuest, in which a lasting penalty resulting from combat could be as easily defined as a mental injury (say, reduced confidence, or a fear of future combat) as it could a physical one.

Here's the article:http://www.firearmstactical.com/hwfe.htm
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John Harper
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« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2004, 02:37:19 PM »

Since I'm the one that asked Vincent to write the Vietnam combat/horror game (Two Clicks) I guess I should chime in, if only to say: Hot damn! That's the stuff!

This is *exactly* why I was thinking of Vincent when I was blue-sky dreaming about a Vietnam game. To make it playable, I think the states might need to be expanded just a tad and there should be a good way to represent long-term effects of combat exposure. Some kind of way to track which way you go: The 1,000 yard stare, the chickenshit coward, the trigger-happy killer. Or maybe you just deal with it and come out relatively okay. I'd be tempted to make these effects totally random rather than trait or resource based. You never know how you'll respond until the bullets start flying.

A combat system like this is zooming in on a mechanic that's in every tabletop wargame: Morale. Units fight and die on their Morale checks, usually. This system assumes that the morale of the soliders is the key to how well they behave in combat and then gives some tools to track the change in morale state for each soldier, moment to moment, based on what they do and what happens to them.

At the Advanced Squad Leader level, a unit comes under artillery fire and has to pass a morale check to keep advancing. All very sterlizied and abstract. At the zoomed-in level, Jerry has to deal with spiking Stress as he sees his buddy Carl vaporized by a direct hit only 20 feet away. It's at that level that we as players can identify, empathize, and care about the imaginary people we're portraying.

If the goal is to make a combat system that is no only "realistic" but also *matters* on some emotional/personal level to the people playing it, this is a step in the right direction.
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Christopher Weeks
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« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2004, 02:48:06 AM »

Wow.  I think Vincent's idea makes a great skeleton for a game with an enjoyable multi-dimensional combat module -- it almost feels board-gameish or something (which I don't mean as a slight).

The problem that I see with playing a Vietnam game* is that the PCs are either fated to survive which kind of removes the player stress that I think would be enjoyable or are likely to bite it pretty randomly.  Either way I'm not sure what the point of it is.

*Assuming you mean a bush-hunt -- A game about activists helping the peaceful Vietnamese peasants survive the war between China and the US that was being waged on their land without losing their humanity wouldn't have that problem.

Chris
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