The trouble with Initiative..

Monday, 29. November 2010

Looking at Christan’s post over at Destination Unknown, I have some mixed feelings about initiative systems in general. A lot of them are cumbersome and generally a pain to work with. It’s another layer of complexity that slows down the action… depending on how its handled that is. There is some added obscurity in that the first acting person isn’t necessarily first… depending on the circumstances.

As the title was saying, the trouble with initiative is that at least in melee combat – the person who is “first” is often the loser. The trick is to get someone to mentally commit to an action, then respond to it. There is a large variety of methods of accomplishing this, but unless the defender really is “flat footed” so to say, its often to their great advantage to go second. Make them miss, then kill them. Of course, this only applies with melee weapons.. if there are ranged weapons such as guns that are brought into play then the first person to connect wins. There is no choice but to beat them and control the weapon or take evasive action until you can bring your own weapons to bear (Incidentally, 4-10 feet is about the worst possible distance you can be in that instance, but thats another conversation entirely.)

Any case, the point is that the person who shouldn’t be “first” per say isn’t always at an advantage.. which is where at least somewhat of the random factor in initiative comes from. So what factors are there to consider?

1) The mental willingness to commit acts of violence – #1 the largest single factor in combat. It is one thing to hit someone with a fist, it is another large step to attack them with something that is obviously lethal. If the mental resolve isn’t there, this person loses. Period.
2) Physical preparation for combat – If your hands aren’t up you’re probably going to get sucker punched. Likewise for the person balancing oddly on one foot or in other strange positions. There is a weight shift necessary to respond and it works in strange fashions.
3) The characters speed in question – How fast can the character respond.. both mentally and physically. This places a pretty respectable effect on how bit that reactionary gap is.
4) Weapon type & Distance – What weapons are being brought to bear, and how far away is your target? Woe to the person who is within the reactionary gap of the weapon in question.
5) Luck – Not to be discounted. Training only hedges your bet to survive a fight – sadly it has diminishing returns as well.
6) Superseded action – An interrupted combat plan has a tendency to slow people down considerably further as they have to rethink what they’re doing.

I would rate speed based on the above, with a healthy dose of luck and an order change in between rounds based on interruptions, if I were to normalize away from regular systems dice throws.


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Nothing Else Matters – Thematic Music

Saturday, 27. November 2010

Nothing Else Matters
Metallica Cover

Back from an age of Metallica music that I enjoyed. Its interesting to see what a clean translation can be made into nearly pure classical from metal or related genres. I wonder if classical would’ve retained it popularity had it worked into a similar style earlier?  Probably not, but it would’ve been neat for sure.

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Play by Email – PBEM

Friday, 26. November 2010

I had looked at this a while ago in methods of playing, but due to popular request we’ll look at play by email games (PBEM) once again.  The biggest advantage to this setup by far is that your players only need to have access to email.  Location and time are irrelevant, although timely replies are highly useful in keeping a game going.  One of my readers Don had mentioned a method I missed as well in the previous post skimming over gaming methods, so I’ll add that into the this as well.

There are a couple methods generally worth looking at for running PBEM games.  How centralized of control do you want.. are you going to have one specific storyteller or not?  How quickly do you want play to progress and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Centralized Control – This is the method that I have usually used and involves one person taking the role of a storyteller and the others the standard roles of the players.  The storyteller is the officiating member of the game and official play proceeds through him.  Private conversations can happen inbetween players however the storyteller is typically copied on in game actions.  The pace is set by how fast the storyteller writes and of course how quickly the members can get their responses in.

Free Play – Something I hadn’t considered.. (but should have!)  There is typically no officiating members here, this is typically more in line to something that is played on a forum.  All official members are copied with the exception of private convesations, in which case only the players involve see.  All of the players are responsible for writing and storytelling. This game can move at a much quicker pace, however it has a small cost.  Replying too quickly or too slowly can cause some problems with people not getting their actions in before the game continues.

PBEM games obviously have some major advantages worth looking at.. here are a few of them.

Email access is only required – Self explanatory, there is no location to meet up at. This makes games very flexible.
No specific time required – No specific meet up time is required.
Replies can be well crafted and worded – Good for shy players, responses can be thought about in depth, this also makes role playing much easier.
Rulebooks aren’t specifically needed – Typically only one person needs to know how to run the game and needs the books, although more are useful in a free play style.

There are of course, some disadvantages worth considering before you setup a game as well…

Potentially slow play – If everyone can only reply once a day, you are looking at very paced game play. Good for drawing out those dramatic moments however.
Missed replies if you’re typing too quickly – Free play games mostly have this problem, if players are responding at mismatched speeds.
Lack of combative control – Generally you can dictate a general strategy, but fine control of your character in fights is typically out of your hand.
It’s still not face to face – One of the real charms of gaming is the social interaction involved with it. This is playing, but misses all the banter, gags and good food that can come with tabletop play.
Character creation can be slow – Often you’ll need some help in this, and this is often the longest process. Slow email replies only drags this down further.

Overall PBEM is a good setup when you’re separatedgeographically or by time. You get to play on your time and can make some nice detailed responses, despite the game going somewhat slower.  Dramatic pauses and cliffhangers really stick, as players have to wait until a response comes around for them.  It’s not quite tabletop play, but it beats no role playing by a long shot!

What experiences have you had with PBEM games?

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, 25. November 2010

Our annual harvest festival is now upon us and I hope that everyone is out getting some good food, drink and spending some quality time with family or friends. If you are far away for whatever reason, hopefully your travels return your safely in a timely fashion. Those really lucky among us may actually be gaming as well – if you are, Salud!

I am of course, nauseated at the over commercialization for all of these holidays and can see how people get depressed at having to listen to rubbish 3 months prior to the actual holiday. If you’re braving black friday tomorrow, good luck! I will be out enjoying other activities other than shopping.

Anyone else have anything going other than shopping?

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Busy and Assorted Martial Arts

Wednesday, 24. November 2010

These last 2 weeks have been an absolute terror as far as random work, travel and regular work on Tuesday and Thursday.  As I’d have to leave you completely hanging however.. here is something from a friend of mine, Don Alley who has just started writing for the examiners Detroit edition. He’s got a very nice article on self improvement, so go check it out.

In addition, here is a few forms we put together for a recent tournament. This is something we don’t normally do, but decided to anyways just for a little more exposure. They’re still very “martial” forms, so not quite as flashy as you might expect with jumping and spinning…

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Simple room improvements

Monday, 22. November 2010

Looking over at a post from The Red Box Blog and it got me thinking on the line of room improvements for gaming.  Needless to say this useful since we don’t always get to play in the most ideal places for a variety of reasons. Since we at Pen and the Sword think that Role Playing – Entertaining is a lot of fun, however a lousy play space can quickly sap the energy and dampen the mood. So, we’re getting into a little bit of home improvement this time around.

Dismal lighting is great.. if you want it for setting a mood. Otherwise it’s terrible, it makes rooms generally unattractive, saps energy out of you and makes it difficult to work on any sort of projects that actually require decent light. Fortunately, track and recessed lighting make it a pretty simple fix. Both are easily direct-able from a gaming table to a piece of art, most are dimmable and simple to turn on and off. Thanks to modern LED technology, they are also quite small, sip power and throw of a minimal amount of heat. There is some technical skill needed with the install, but it’s not something that couldn’t be relatively easily developed. Worst case scenario, hire an electrician for the install or to do the final wiring if you’re not confident with it. Other stand alone lamps can fill the bill as well, although I prefer to have the additional floor space when possible.
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Mystical Adventures 1 & 2 – Thematic Music

Friday, 19. November 2010

Mystical Adventures
Part 1 & 2
Jean Luc Ponty

Ponty has always struck me as an interesting musician for sure, simply because there isn’t a tremendous amount of use of violins out there in more contemporary music. No vocals in this one, as with most of what I list.. there are actually 5 parts to the entire Mystical Adventures Suite.

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Controlling the Center

Thursday, 18. November 2010

One of the more universal concepts within martial arts is the control of the center of the engagement.  This makes natural sense as when the opponent is within range, so are you.  If not immediately, you are within a step of being potentially in trouble.  As the shortest path between 2 points is a straight line, controlling the center of an engagement becomes paramount.  As with nearly everything however, we have to apply the rule of threes to this.  Controlling your center as well as controlling the center of the opponent equally important.

As for controlling the center of an engagement… there are 2 ways this can be accomplished; directly and indirectly.  The direct method is to have something in between you and your opponent be it an arm or a weapon.   This prevents your opponents from simply closing without consequences and allows you the opportunity to check and parry.  It also allows you to have a simple method of attacking as well through thrusting and striking.  The indirect method is perhaps more interesting, command of  the center is simply “implied” rather than having it physically controlled.  This is accomplished by having a weapon ready to strike or otherwise being able to punish your opponent for attempting to take it.  Indirect control is particularly useful in the case of blunt weaponry where you don’t necessarily want it grabbed and taken away from you.

Controlling your center is important for a large variety of reasons.  The first of which is that it gives you a consistant set Ma-ai for percussion as well as allowing you to be rooted when you do so.  Secondly, a good center will allow you to maintain a good neutral posture which has no tells in your movement… very important or an opponent will exploit these.  Lastly, maintaining that center makes it much more difficult to throw you or otherwise use controlling techniques.

Controlling your opponents center has a number of good applications as well… most of which are listed above however I’ll reiterate them for emphasis.  An off centered opponent is far easier to throw, control or sweep.  Good application of technique will off center them rather easily.  Their movement will also be considerably more predictable, as moving to the off centered sides is far slower as a weight lowering and then shift is necessary to accomplish the task.  In the case that they are forward, their techniques will lack speed, power or the proper distance to do the damage that’s required of them.  There is a number of ways to achieve this;  successfully attacking either of the legs is one of the simpler ones.. as properly applied control will take them out of the fight immediately.

Control of all of these can be accomplished through training proper technique diligently.  That same technique is applicable across all systems, so it is important to get it right and into muscle memory so it can be easily applied.

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House Rules = Cars Continued

Monday, 15. November 2010

Continuing along with my question last week, there were a some very good answers regarding them.  Rujikol had a very pertinent comment regarding house rules.. as to what really breaks systems fast.  In this case, I especially play attention to the first sentence…

“What I try to avoid changing:
Basic combat mechanics; how to attack, defend, etc. Creating a dependent tree of exceptions can quickly break a game.
Basic damage mechanics; hit points, critical wounds, effects thereof.
Skill resolutions; messing with this makes it very odd. I find that one can trim a resolution system, by discarding what situations a test might be required in, without the same problems as expanding those situations.
Silos: if there are silos, like class/profession, don’t intrude into other silos. Undermining a silos specialty will make it collapse and remove its niche. Have to say that I avoid games with silos.”

Tearing into the core system and monkeying around with the base defining rule sets can quickly cause problems unless you are prepared to do a lot of play testing.  If you give yourself the opportunity to be undermined, you will and it will happen in very dramatic and sometimes quick fashion.  Which creates another issue of what exploitations you’re letting players get away with.. another issue in itself.

I disagree with the statement on Silos… with the exception being that you are playing a game that relies on that as basically its total existence.  MMO’s make fine examples of this, simply because the underused classes simply aren’t played because numbers are the sum totality of the game.  Some encroachment into what other classes do is necessary for redundancy as long as there is that crossover exists universally.  In that particular case classes might have the same method of getting the same job done… a thief picks the lock, a warrior kicks the door in and the mage can do either depending on what set of spells they have memorized.  The difference is just a matter of efficiency in how they accomplish a given task and how much energy and noise it takes to do it.

Hit points can be tweaked… but its usually into a wounds based system and then it’s a significant amount of work particularly if you incorporate any sort of death spirals into the combat.  I’m not entirely sure critical have a tremendous effect on the game unless you’re doing some sort of permanent wounding.   Typically its just an ego boost, as the damage increases they pull off are usually that of a second or 3rd swing. (Granted, in any of the OSR style games that can be devastating.)

Another sacred cow that I can think of would be essentially class power mechanics.  Your warriors typically amount to what the baseline is, and everything falls behind them.  Their overarching efficiency in combat is checked against the other classes and their skills are somewhat tuned from there.   Or Visa Versa; Skills, Number and frequency of spells  and other abilities are typically balanced against this in a combat based game.  Frames are a lot of work to modify!

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Why Game?

Friday, 12. November 2010

“When looking at hobbies it is obvious that some produce more tangible results than others.  After all, many produce beautiful showpieces and show an evolution of ones  character throughout them.  Gaming of course, usually has no such tangible results..  This can lead one to ask the question; why games?

The defining feature of a hobby perhaps is that is something one enjoys doing as a labor of love.  Were it profitable after all, it would be called a business would it not?  We can therefore set aside profit as a primary motivator for hobbies in general.

The true value lies in other places..  providing entertainment as well as  developing associated skills.  In getting our entertainment we might do so passively as in watching a movie or television, allowing ourselves to be entertained.  Then again, we might do so actively as in playing a game and build ourselves in the process.

Of all gaming, one of the defining features is that requires its players to be mentally active.  Depending on the game, either the next set of moves is being played out in ones head.. response times and judgement is being considered or the gears of the brain are truly turning as an engine in creativity in a role playing game.  In all cases the players are actively involved and building skills that can be later applied either directly or indirectly.

Next time you have the opportunity to entertain yourself, what will it be?  Passive entertainment through a movie or something that can be used to further oneself.. a game?”

Busy week here, this is a little piece I wrote for an application to the Examiner.  They apparently would like me to write… for video games..  but I suppose there is enough crossover there to make that a worthwhile project.

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