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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 76 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Is the death spiral the big evil?  (Read 4079 times)

Posts: 2

« on: March 26, 2006, 09:54:45 AM »


I'm new to this forum. At least postingwise.

Iím tinkering on a system that is loosely build around Harlequin Jonesí Hursagmu RPG.

My system uses basically two different mechanics:
Itís uses 2d6+Skill >= Difficulty on unopposed and 2d6+Skill vs. 2d6+Skill on opposed actions. Skills normally range from 1 to 10.
This favours skill slightly more in opposed actions. I like that idea.

Now Iím thinking about the combat system.

A character can take as many actions per combat round as they want. For each action there is a cumulative -2 penalty (maybe only -1) to all actions.
Every combat manoeuvre be it offensive or defensive counts as an action.
Example: If† you plan to defend against two opponents and attack one of them you have to take three actions each at -6.
So every player has to decide how many and what actions his character wants to perform before the combat round begins (I still have to think about how exactly this can work)

The player rolls 2d6 and adds the relevant attack skill

Defensive actions and armor
If the player defends he rolls 2d6 + relevant skill
If the player decides not to defend he can instead use his armor value + 2d6.
Armor has the advantage that it can be used against any number of opponents and doesnít count as an action. The disadvantage of armor is that it gives a penalty to all other combat manoeuvres be they offensive or defensive.

The damage dealt is the degree of success between the attack and the defensive manoeuvre/armor.
Damage is not cumulative. Only the highest single wound that is dealt to one character counts.

Characters get an overall penalty on all rolls depending on how bad they are wounded

So what troubles me a little is the death spiral.

When Iím going the way of non-cumulative damage then I have the feeling that I have to implement a mechanic that makes combat somewhat dangerous.
As far as I can see there are only two possibilities: Either everybody can be killed by a one-hit or the death spiral. Therefore I favour the death spiral.
As a counterweight for it I implemented the distinction between defence and armor (you get no wound penalty on armor)
And itís a fantasy RPG,† means there are healing spells, potions and such.

But the death spiral has such a bad reputation. So basically my question is:
Is a death spiral the big evil or could there be some good reasons for using it.
Any comment on the system is welcomed though.


Posts: 40

« Reply #1 on: March 26, 2006, 10:28:03 AM »

The problem is not so much death spirals as prolonged death spirals. If there's a lengthy period of time when you are basically doomed, but still have to keep rolling, that's not interesting or fun. If the effects of a big hit are such that you get heavily penalized the next round and then go down due to the penalties that make you ineffectual, it's not so bad. (And probably a lot like how real-world combat behaves.)

It depends a lot on what feel you want for combat in your game. Run a bunch of combats with your mechanic, and see if it feels right to you.

(One thing that stands out to me in your proposed mechanic is that armor is really good. The mechanics seriously favor heavily-armored tank characters over lightly-armored skill characters. How much so depends on the relative sizes of armor bonuses vs. skill bonuses. This isn't inherently a bad or good thing, just an observation.)

Posts: 2

« Reply #2 on: March 26, 2006, 11:02:31 AM »

Thanks Julian

I do well understand the problem being bored when rolling without any perspective of success.
But I always have the feeling, that people immediately start to argue with you if you include a death spiral whether it makes sense that it is there or not.
By the way, I started this thread because I read Troys article about death spirals in Socratic Design

The comment about the tank-PCs is right. But I think if the penalty on the other skills is high enough the decision is not that easy made. You pointed that already out.


Posts: 928

Don't Panic!

« Reply #3 on: March 26, 2006, 03:04:41 PM »

  I feel that Death Sprials are a design choice, with specific effects:
Long slow death spiral
Player have time to formulate a plan to recover. If there is a mechanism in the game to recover from the spiral (healing powers for instance)
Adds a capacity for tactical and strategic planning
Discourages risk taking
If no assistance is fortgcoming, can be very un-fun

Quick Death Spiral
Prevents long boring fights with known outcomes
Allows for quick decisive action
Eliminates almost any risk taking
prevents boring conflicts

  It's not a question of good or bad, right or wrong, it is a question of how does it fit with your design goals.

Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo
Shreyas Sampat

Posts: 970

« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2006, 05:46:31 PM »

Hi, Sankido.

What are you using your death spiral for? Some games have very deftly used the death spiral to push you out into alternative means of gaining effectiveness - for instance, as I understand The Riddle of Steel, the combat system is extremely dangerous to characters, to the point that you almost must draw on your Spiritual Attributes to survive a fight.

The point I'm getting at there is that I don't think the cosmetic features of the system matter a whole lot, as long as there's a principled decision about controlling player behavior behind it.

Does that help?


Posts: 6

« Reply #5 on: March 28, 2006, 07:25:10 PM »

Hey Sankido

Welcome to the Forge.

You've outlined a mechanism for damage reducing attack effectiveness. That's a design choice you've made: combat will be dangerous.

But dangerous combat doesn't on its own make a death spiral. If you don't want a death spiral, then build in ways for characters to escape it.

That could mean there's almost always an option to retreat from combat, or enabling† characters to burn some kind of limited resource to boost recovery / reduce damage / get a lucky break or whatever. That limited resource could be access to healing (as you suggest), or spending some kind of points, either general pts applicable to other areas of play (eg 'luck', 'divine favor' etc) or else combat specific (ie† 'vitality' etc) . Or it could be something else, like changes to the character sheet in some way that won't affect combat effectiveness: reducing stats that won't affect the current combat, losing traits, gaining flaws or scars, etc.

If you make these escape measures costly to do, combat will still be dangerous to the character. The danger just won't be limited solely to the blunt instrument of character death.

Also, make sure that players always know when they won't have access to the normal escape methods. Then if they're in situation like that, and they choose to go into combat anyway, you know they really mean it. Let them make the choice.

cheers, charles


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