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Author Topic: The psychology of combat  (Read 17912 times)
Jaif
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« on: May 01, 2002, 06:55:45 AM »

My pet peave for a long time is that no game, anywhere, deals with the psychology of combat.  For example, during WWII a study was done on soldiers in combat: one of the results of this study showed that less than 30% (sometimes a lot less) of soldiers in a firefight actually fired their weapons during a firefight (let alone fired usefully).  In fact, if you read first & second person accounts (or just talk to people), you will find that everyone talks about fear, hesitation, tunnel-vision, and general confusion.

None of which is in any game I know about.  I'm not talking about silly morale rolls, I'm not talking about coolness vs magical fear in Warhammer, I'm talking about real people being so scared of dieing that they fail to act rationally.

Anyway, I've run some duels & mock combats w/RoS.  I like the game, and I even think that, in this vein, they've brought some of the player's fears into the game (e.g. both people picking the white die).  I intend to run the game this weekend pretty much as is, but afterwords I'm probably going to adopt the following options:

1) The "red die" will be an actual WP/Battle roll.  If you fail the roll, you hesitate and defend.  I'll modify the number of dice based on wounds received & number of people nearby, but those specifics will come later.

2) Picking a target during combat isn't simple.  To do so, roll Per/Battle, and the number of successes is the number of "features" you see.  You can accumlate these over many exchanges, and the GM determines which ones you notice first by distance and facing.

An example of the second one. You just finished off the thug that attacked you.  You're a little worried about the book salesman you're guarding, so you tell the GM you're going to look for him.  The GM tells you to roll to see the area.  You roll perception/battle, and get 3 successes, and the GM says that you've oriented yourself, and see 1) the alley the thugs came out of, and 2&3) Your guard buddy fighting a second thug nearby.  Next exchange, you look around for salesman, but get 0 successes and don't see anything new.  The following exchange, you roll again, get 5 more, and finally notice him running down the street with a thug chasing him, along with the fact that your buddy is actually fighting two people.

Will these rules tick players off? Yeah.  Are they real world? I claim they are closer.  In the real world, people fail to notice enemies directly in front of them, fail to pull the trigger and kill people at point blank range, shoot their buddies, and lose all track of what's going (just to name a few examples).

Why am I using the Battle skill? It is my contention that the only way for a person to adapt to battle is to participate in battle, and the Battle skill is the closest thing to this.  Furthermore, there's real world evidence that training can assist a person to adjust to the initial shock of combat, which fits in well with the mechanics of skills in the game.

I'm curious what you think.

-Jeff
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 01, 2002, 07:12:32 AM »

Hi Jeff,

Look, everyone, this is Simulationist Drift. As such, I think it deserves both respect and a very critical review.

Your suggested modifications seem perfectly reasonable to me if your goal of play is enhanced "realism" for its own sake. It introduces hitches, fits, and starts into the process of combat, and that seems to be desirable only to someone with your goals of play. They would not, for instance, work well with my goals at all.

My goal of ROS play, which I contend is consistent with the textual content of the game, is to develop stories based on when a hero is or is not justified in killing people. These stories can vary a lot, from rather callous but fun adventure-larks, to soul-ripping tragedies. But that's what the game is "about," to me. Any and all "realism" of the system exists in service to that goal, and anything (realistic or not) which impedes it is not functional. Deciding to kill someone, or not to do so, is important in my ROS game as a moral choice, not as a moment-to-moment psychological one.

Ultimately, neither of our goals is The One True Way to Play; there is no such thing. As I said, as long as you are clear about what you want from play, and if that rules modification fits it, then go to town with it. However, you might consider that realism for its own sake is not, in and of itself, a fundamental goal of RPG design.

Best,
Ron
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Jaif
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« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2002, 07:42:28 AM »

Ah, but it's not simply for it's own sake.  It will be something that further distinguishes the heros (the players) from the rest of the world.  A bunch of peasants faced by soldiers will simply stand there and be slaughtered (or more likely fumble the attack roll and run) - it'll take the heros to initiate anything.

The heros in my stories are the people who can deal with the fear of battle.

Btw, this will open up the sphere a bit for leadership rolls as well, things like successes in leadership granting people more dice to roll to attack.  In other words, a hero can lead people into battle and prompt them into attacking.

Last, while realism may not be a good goal in and of itself, consistency can be.  An inconsistant story is a poor one to me and my group as well (they obviously have a say in such things).  The idea of a gritty game that doesn't involve basic fears is inconsistant to me, and (like I said) it's been a pet peave of mine for a long time.

-Jeff
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: May 01, 2002, 07:54:26 AM »

Hi Jeff,

Are you suggesting that player-characters would not be making the rolls you described, but that NPCs (or some NPCs) would?

If player-characters are making the rolls you're describing, by definition you are adding the chance of "hitches and false starts" into combat for player-characters. They may be more successful in making those rolls, on the average, than other characters, but that is not relevant to my point. No matter how you slice it, introducing these rules for player-characters means that the players are not addressing Issues, they are instead concerned with the "realism" of the isolated moment.

Therefore, if the heroes in your game are indeed the people who "can deal with the fear of battle," then the best way to make sure that occurs is for them not to be making those rolls at all.

I think that you need to decide whether you want games about people dealing with the basic fears of battle (for a player-character) or games about people who, unlike others, withstand the basic fears of battle. Your post mentions both. They are incompatible.

I suggest that your point about leadership is just as easily handled with existing rules, such that successes in leadership rolls translate straight to combat bonuses for the rank & file.

Again, nothing is wrong or bad with that shift in emphasis, if you or anyone else were to use it. However, as a distinctive change in goal, it's a very significant suggestion and should be considered as such.

I'm willing, by the way, to let the topic drop. If, as you say, it's a pet peeve, as such you may not be inclined to discuss your point, only to defend it. That would automatically remove the topic from my interest. Let me know if you'd like to continue.

Best,
Ron
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #4 on: May 01, 2002, 08:45:24 AM »

This is a pretty cool thread. I like the idea as a pure sim idea (see, I'm getting the lingo), and about 3 or 4 different ways ways to mechanize it (using Jaif's mechanics, using "terrain" mechanics, etc.). It could also be handled through simple drama/narration (the way that the Seneschal describes a fight to his players, and the way that he roleplays the other combatants).

Incidentally, the Battle Skill was made for almost exactly this sort of thing, though I imagined its use only on the battlefied.

Jake
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Jaif
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« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2002, 10:11:17 AM »

Ron,

I've probably let this argument go down the wrong track, so let me try again.

RoS was written in part to fill a void in the gaming.  The game, as intended, approaches the mechanics of fighting in a much more realistic manner than any game I've seen.  I believe this approach not only enhances the gaming side, but the storytelling side as well by making the decision making process more "real", and therefore easier to fit into the story.  "I feinted to his side then stabbed him in the throat." is a more palatable story than "I did 20 points of damage."

However, combat, from everything I've ever read or seen, has as much an emotional side as it does a mechanical one.  I think my stories will be more complete, more real, and therefore more meaningful if I include this side. That's why I want hitches & starts in my game.

Btw, looking back at your original arguments and goals something rings false to me.  If your goal is simply to, as you said, "...develop stories based on when a hero is or is not justified in killing people." then why are you bothering with combat mechanics?  Why not just toss them aside altogether? Let the players kill whomever they want, whenever they want, and stay focussed on their justification for doing so.

-Jeff
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: May 01, 2002, 11:12:23 AM »

Hi Jeff,

I think that I'm doing Jake a disservice by taking such a strong role in this discussion. You arrived as a TROS enthusiast and he has responded positively, and my discussion with you is perhaps making it all a negative experience.

Therefore, as I'd rather you had a good time chattin' with the game author rather than gut-rip with me, I'll put my comments 'way down as a footer. Please simply stop at my closure if you don't want to continue; if you do, get in touch by private email or start a thread about combat mechanics in RPG Theory.

Best,
Ron
****
further comments below










We agree to a large degree regarding the emotional issues as well as the physical ones, when it comes to good role-playing. However, I think you may be missing a central design feature of TROS. The void it seeks to fill is not simply "realistic combat." The void is much different issue altogether. I'll summarize it like this: if you don't use the Spiritual Attributes, your character will die screaming. That is where the emotional issues of play are established in the rules. Jake refers to this as the "natural selection" of the game.

Your suggested addition to the rules does not change that emotional content; it appears, to me, to delay it during play.

Your perceived "inconsistency" is faintly amusing. I suggest reading some more around the Forge, especially the essays, before continuing with that argument.

Meanwhile, here's food for thought. I don't know how familiar you are with games like Hero Wars, Orkworld, Dust Devils, Swashbuckler, or The Dying Earth. All of them also permit much more satisfying narration regarding combat than the games most people are used to. In my experience, these games are far better at producing gritty, intense, ugly, even realistic combats than most traditional combat-detailed RPGs like Rolemaster, RuneQuest, Warhammer, and others which emphasize narration-details, usually through critical-hit tables and complex initiative systems.

The Riddle of Steel, as I've said here and on RPG.net, presents an amazing potential - to put the detailed/linear combat mechanics at the service of story creation about a given hero and his identity. Not only is this my perception of the game, it's explicit in the text and scattered throughout Jake's comments. He just updated the website to reflect this issue, and you ought to check that out.

This is revolutionary. No one has ever combined the linear, detailed, mode of combat design in TROS (which has much in common with the original RuneQuest, only better) with thematic, player-managed mechanics regarding the character's emotional state in a game like this before.* Jake, Rick, and the other people involved in TROS are really going somewhere new.


* Pendragon did something similar, but Pendragon is not about creating a brand-new story through play (its scenarios are very fixed in their content).
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Jaif
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« Reply #7 on: May 01, 2002, 11:47:27 AM »

I won't be posting in the rpg theory area - what I see about the discussions there frankly doesn't interest me.  I do have three points that I want to clear up from you footnote:

1) I understand that using spiritual attributes as the mechanic to drive a character's actions and progressions is important.  I used "written in part" when referring to the combat system for that reason.

2) I have Runequest from AH.  People are represented as a few bags of hitpoints (the head hitpoints, the chest hitpoints, etc.), but it still boils down to points.  Was the earlier edition that different?  I really don't consider Runequest in the same ballpark as Riddle.

3) The idea of using a player's motivation to affect their actions and as the conduit for experience is not new to Riddle.  Marvel (TSR's edition) used Karma in much the same way.  You could spend karma to affect your rolls, increase your stats, or purchase new skills & powers.  You gained Karma by being a superhero: saving lives and defeating villains.  I find Riddle's version improved, in that you aren't straight-jacketed to one system of awards (not bad for Marvel Heros, but bad for other settings), but it's still the same idea.

-Jeff
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Bankuei
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« Reply #8 on: May 01, 2002, 12:17:38 PM »

As an aside, or perhaps back onto the subject of the thread;

One system I recall did actually take into account the idea of clarity during battle, that was Albedo, with its Coolness under Fire rating(which also went up and down based on your character's Self Esteem...lots of cross indexing in that game...).

Under realistic terms, I'd make a difference between awareness in battle and the ability to act.  Many of the more dangerous opponents in a fight aren't necessarily aware of what's going on, but have no hesitation in attacking("the charger").  

This often determines how bad a streetfight will get, because one person may not be psychologically ready to throw a punch, another to slam someone's face into broken glass, and a third to slash a throat.  Certainly trained warriors who intend to kill(the original martial arts, not what is being pushed now), were trained and psychologically prepared for this much better than a peasant.  It's what makes the difference between the standard citizen, a hardened murderer, and a warrior.  

OTOH, being willing to jump in to combat does not make you aware of everyone else around you.  All sparring teaches you about the first(overcoming the hesitancy), but if you've had to spar against multiple opponents, it definitely is a different focus at use.

Bringing this back to ROS and mechanics, I think the initiative mechanic handles it quite well.  I believe only someone ready for combat should be informed that they should get ready to throw down a die, otherwise, a die just gets thrown and if you miss  the chance, you get sucker punched(or gutted).  Most people do not know the clues of body language of when a fight is about to happen, or may not have prepped themselves up for it and so will get one full round of attacks on them.

If you're referring to two different warriors trying to overcome fear(conscripts or first battle?) then you might want to start looking at WP/battle rolls, but I think it goes against the spirit of the game.  Unless you really want to play fresh conscripts, as opposed to seasoned warriors, it wouldn't necessarily fit with most character concepts.  Most fighters that are dangerous have no hesitancy in combat, no psychological walls about gouging, biting, stabbing, or slamming heads into concrete, and if they're trained, they've become very efficient at doing just that.

Chris
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Jaif
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« Reply #9 on: May 01, 2002, 03:01:08 PM »

First of all, let's not discuss the truly violent personalities and so on, and leave such exceptions to be handled by the gifts/flaws system.

Second, while I appreciate the idea that people in combat initially are hesitant about stabbing/shooting/hurting someone else, that's not all of it.  The other side of combat is confusion and mortal danger.  It's one thing for a player to look down and say I'll attack that person there; it's another fo a character to actually ignore what's going on around him and do it.  When your aggresive action can be someone else's opening, or when you're not sure this is the best moment to attack because you think another's coming in just a second, you hesitate.  That's just two examples, but there are plenty of others in literature (non-fiction).

The point to my ideas is to get away just a bit from the look-down, wargamer-like version of combat, and move towards one where people get scared, misinterpret what's happening, don't know everything happening around them even when it's "obvious", and so on.

Also note this: a willpower/battle roll, for any fighter character, is going to be pretty easy.  It will only be a factor if you start subtracting dice for wounds (I'm thinking highest wound severity), being in a melee (people at range have an advantage), facing something monstrous (you want me to stab *that*!), and so on.  That's when your veterans will start to show themselves.

Note that last part: it's really what I'm going for.  There's a difference between the young, strong, confidant duellist and the old, battle-worn veteran, and it's not proficiency.  The duellist 1-on-1 should kick the vet's ass.  However, when the caravan's attacked at suppertime, the duellist will have a hard time figuring out what's going on, and will waste time fighting just one guy as he tries to make sense of the sights and sounds around him.  The vet, on the other hand, will see what's going on, take advantage of flank attacks (cheap shots!), press home his attacks quickly and efficiently, and generally make his presence felt.

-Jeff

P.S. As funny as it sounds, I'm not all that real-world with these rules.  In the real world, people who live in danger for long periods of time gradually become insane.  I'm not going to go there.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 01, 2002, 03:37:33 PM »

Hi Jeff,

Kinda funny. I get the idea we might be able to have a good conversation with one another if we started a new one ...

Anyway, your three points. I'm offering them just in the interest of clarity and not in an attempt to argue with you.

"I understand that using spiritual attributes as the mechanic to drive a character's actions and progressions is important. I used "written in part" when referring to the combat system for that reason. "

If we agree on that topic, then we have to set aside your earlier statement that realistic combat is the goal (filling the void) of the game. I'm willing to say we agree.

"I have Runequest from AH. People are represented as a few bags of hitpoints (the head hitpoints, the chest hitpoints, etc.), but it still boils down to points. Was the earlier edition that different? I really don't consider Runequest in the same ballpark as Riddle."

The two games are similar (especially the early version of RQ) because:

1) The combat systems are both derived from practitioners of simulated medieval combat (back in the early 70s, SCA was somewhat more like ARMA is today and less like some horrible nightmare of misfit-ism). Both combat systems involve some tricky timing and a lot of quick attack-defense; each game included notably high chances for maiming characters quickly. RQ was nicknamed "Limbquest" due to the frequency of combat amputations and the need to get healed using major magic, very often.

They are not identical systems. TROS "flows" in a way that RQ never did, and it incorporates player choices better into its sequence.

2) Early RuneQuest in particular was rooted very strongly in the idea of gaining "Rune Lord" status, in which one's identity was allied tightly to one's chosen "cult" (more accurately, "sect"). This inevitably placed one in a kind of tricky dance between one's judgment calls as a human and one's responsibility as a kind of holy warrior. In other words, early RuneQuest, specifically unlike the Avalon Hill RQ, was oriented more explicitly toward developing the personal hero-tale. (Early character creation and improvement was also very different between the two games, and that ties into the hero-orientation of the early-RPG as well.)

As I said in another post here in this forum, if Jake Norwood had time-travelled back to The Chaosium in the mid-70s, I think he would have found willing and enthusiastic listeners to his ideas about the role of Spiritual Attributes.  

"The idea of using a player's motivation to affect their actions and as the conduit for experience is not new to Riddle."

You are correct regarding RPGs in general. I will spare you a lengthy history of these mechanics. However, such mechanics have been rare to vanishing in fantasy RPGs, most of which have either been retreads of D&D, retreads of RuneQuest, retreads of Rolemaster, or combinations.

Anyway, I hope that this post places us in a pretty decent space of understanding what one another is saying. I think you are definitely saying something worthwhile about the stress, confusion, and other factors of fighting that tend to get lost in most RPGs. We may disagree about how such things may best be applied in TROS, but that's not any reason to be in a state of personal animosity.

In hopes of pax,
Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #11 on: May 01, 2002, 05:34:23 PM »

Quote from: Jaif
The other side of combat is confusion and mortal danger.  It's one thing for a player to look down and say I'll attack that person there; it's another for a character to actually ignore what's going on around him and do it.

The point to my ideas is to get away just a bit from the look-down, wargamer-like version of combat, and move towards one where people get scared, misinterpret what's happening, don't know everything happening around them even when it's "obvious", and so on.

Also note this: a willpower/battle roll, for any fighter character, is going to be pretty easy.  It will only be a factor if you start subtracting dice for wounds (I'm thinking highest wound severity), being in a melee (people at range have an advantage), facing something monstrous (you want me to stab *that*!), and so on.

I'm not comprehending what you're saying.  First I hear you say you want the side of combat with people scared, confusion, and mortal danger.  Twice you speak badly of the 'look-down' detached-player kind of gaming.  Then you suggest an additional die roll (and more mathematics, I think).

Pardon me, but doesn't adding more die rolls and mathematics further detach the player from the 'scared, confusing, and dangerous' side of combat?  Looking down to see what roll is necessary, make the roll and then calculate the results (above as much mechanical interplay that already takes place) could only serve to more separate the player from that action.

You might be arguing that it will make the character act more 'realistically╣', but taken to the extreme, there is little point for the player to come to the table.  The more 'realism╣' you introduce by adding more mechanical interference, the less involved the player is in the combat and more in just the rules.  Ultimately, couldn't we just leave the battle up to a computer simulation which makes all the 'realistic╣' choices?  Heck, let's do all the calculations in advance and simply print tables in the back of the book; look up your character type, index the situation, and roll the die, battle's over.

There seems to be high opinions about Riddle of Steel all the way around.  Why tip the balance of something so well done towards 'realism╣?'  My explicit question: what are you trying to fix?  The longer version is: what goal is served by adding more rules?  With a more rules-heavy version, is the game better?  Does it do what you say you want or only what you think it will do?

What's wrong with it now?

Fang Langford

╣ Let's just say that the degree and quality of realism as emulated by role-playing game combat is highly subjective and there's no definitive opinion over what is 'more real,' only person bias.
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Jaif
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« Reply #12 on: May 01, 2002, 06:03:52 PM »

A few things:

1) There is already a point in RoS combat where people choose a red vs white die and reveal their choice.  I'm slipping in a few dice for the red one, so I'm not adding an extra step there.  I'm actually very conscious about adding steps to combat; as a computer programmer, I'm aware what happens when you add a line of code to a loop.

2) I don't worry about calculations much.  In part, I know that's an artifact of myself and my group: none of us have any problem with math-heavy games.  We played aftermath, powers & perils, and lots of record-keeping wargames.

3) You asked "what's wrong with it now?" and "what are you trying to fix?".  I believe I made that point explicit above, but in summary I'm trying to model psychological effects in combat in addition to mechanical ones.  This isn't a right & wrong issue; it's just after reading stories from people in combat and seeing lines like "...I was so scared, I didn't do anything for what felt like hours..." or "...I suddenly found myself staring at the enemy right in front of me; he had been there the whole time, it just hadn't registered." that I want to see some of that in the stories I tell. (Btw, I made up those lines, but you see things like that all the time in first-person accounts of combat.)

Finally, I do see that I stepped into it on these boards.  When I posted, I only knew about the Riddle board.  Looking at remainder of the forum, I now see many of the "combat bad, touchy-feely good" posts, so I guess this thread is rather out of place.

-Jeff

P.S. Don't take that last part too seriously - I'm trying to draw a picture, not belittle other people's opinions.  If it offends you, call me a combat-monkey with no sense of drama. :-)
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Bankuei
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« Reply #13 on: May 01, 2002, 07:27:08 PM »

Quote
However, when the caravan's attacked at suppertime, the duellist will have a hard time figuring out what's going on, and will waste time fighting just one guy as he tries to make sense of the sights and sounds around him. The vet, on the other hand, will see what's going on, take advantage of flank attacks (cheap shots!), press home his attacks quickly and efficiently, and generally make his presence felt.



Ok, so you're aiming more at the level of awareness rather than the psychological aggressiveness factor. I can certainly understand that.  Perhaps another option may be to have players either 1) sacrifice a round(take a couple of seconds) and choose a direction to look at, or 2) sacrifice CP to do so.  These are also good alternatives you may wish to look into, or perhaps Per/Battle as your roll.  

Actually, I'm an action fan myself, it's just that I'd like to see exciting fights along the lines of a swashbuckling Indiana Jones plus Jackie Chan on a hyper Tsui-Hark/John Woo thing :)  As opposed to the trading back and forth of hitpoints dropping :P

Chris
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #14 on: May 02, 2002, 02:09:51 AM »

Okay, I suppose, seeing as how I am one of the Forge's resident RoS freaks, I ought to finally weigh in on this one..

I am taking Jaif's additional mechanics as an option that he is choosing to incorporate, and is posting here as a suggestion for like-minded people. Others here being very debate oriented, seem to be taking this as an opening to discuss the merits of this as an addition to the rules. In the end, however, I think Jaif will still use his ideas, and most of the people here will not. Jake, as probably the most neutral of all posters in this thread, might give them a try, to see how they effect things, and if he likes them, may add them as an optional rule.

As for me, I rather like them. I've experienced simulated combat conditions (I wasn't gonna die for real, but I still didn't want to die for fake, either) and I agree that confusion and even fear (fear of KP for 3 days is as real, if not as serious, as fear of dying) can seriously affect a battle. I will probably give them a try when I run the game, though I will not use them for situations outside of battles- whether it be a full-scale war, or just a surprise skirmish as bandits attack a caravan- such as duels or sparring.

Allow me now to make sure I fully understand your suggestions..

1) When you roll initiative, you will have one white die in one hand, and red dice equal in number to your WP in the other. If you choose to drop red, the resulting roll will be based on your battle skill. A single success means you can attack as normal, a failure means that you hesitate, (and will have to make the Reflex -vs- TN 7 as per Table 4.1 to even defend at all) and can only defend for the first Exchange of Blows.
[Comment: No extra rolls, unless you fail, thereby constituting a hesitation]

2) If you are out of direct combat, but still a participant in a battle,  to pick a new target, you must roll Per -vs- Battle to notice what is going on around you. Once you have succeeded, and you have noticed an enemy combatant, you may engage them. Question, however... If an opponent approaches you directly from the front, do you have to roll to notice him? Contrary to your belief, a combatant *will* notice what is directly in front of him, he just may not notice it until it *is* directly in front of him. Side and back is fair game though. Also, the size of the battle ought to effect exactly how much a character will see per success. A huge battle you'll only notice immediate combatants, whereas a bandit raid, each success should garner better impressions of the action.

3) Okay, so there wasn't a 3 among your points.. But with Battle being rolled considerably more often, it's likely to raise at a considerably higher rate. I submit the idea, if using these optional rules, that each battle would count as a single use of the Battle Skill. Or (this one's for Jake) is it supposed to work like that, where Battle would rise immensely faster in these circumstances?
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