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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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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Sounds & Noise in RPG’s

Monday, 20. September 2010

I got to spend some time out in the woods this weekend away from everything. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually got to do this, so it brought back a few details that I already knew but were quite important for gaming in wilderness environments. This can be taken and used to an extent in cities as well, but you really don’t understand how much ambient background noise there is until you get away from it.

For starters, sound travels a long way. Small actions such as leaves being crunched or sticks breaking are essentially a horn for anything approaching. Even quieter sounds such as a bird flapping its wings can be heard from a fair distance in some cases. Without a little bit of noise discipline, you won’t see anything that doesn’t want to be heard. Likewise it’s fairly easy to track via sound in a quiet environment… you’re far more likely to hear something long before you see it, particularly since most critters blend into the background. In describing things in most cases sounds from far off are likely to be heard or the scents.

In addition do that, unnatural sounds travel even further and are very recognizable. Noisy metal such as clips, hasps and other adornments can easily be heard from across a field if its truly quiet out. Likewise for those of us who prefer modern fabrics… most of them are extremely noisy if rubbed against each other. On top of that, the sound doesn’t fit in at all (likewise with the metal.) It’s very easy to write off the occasional stick breaking or brush moving because there is a lot of life out there. Anyone that’s not prepared to attempt to be silent is going to make a lot of noise simply because they’re not used to it.

Just a little bit of background noise mutes quieter sounds immediately. As soon as the wind starts blowing a little it becomes an entirely different ballgame. All of the movement of the trees and grasses become a dull roar, in addition to the wind further scattering the sound. This is still considerably quieter than a city might be, but it’s enough to break your long distance hearing entirely. This can be used for characters sneaking easily, but can also be a major problem for those who are used to hearing their opponents.

Lastly, there is a lot out there that makes noise. Birds, insects, rodents and all are a lot noisier than you might think. Sounds of movement in trees and brush is really sporadic, and as long as your noises are limited to bursts resumed by silence it’s pretty easy to pass off as something that’s supposed to be there. This means sneaking up on anything (say a campfire to see whats going on.) takes a lot longer than you might think. Any movement has to be slow and deliberate, and try to avoid any major give aways that something is out there.

So, there is my RPG application from my little trip. Hopefully this is something useful to think about in any sort of quiet area versus the standard background noise that most of us think is “quiet” (but isn’t) in cities.

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Environment as Opposition

Friday, 23. July 2010

Typically when gaming there are 3 types of opposition that are rather commonly encountered. The first and most generic type is random hostile opponents that want something from the characters; typically money, murder or a combination of the both of them. The second type is plot line villains. These for whatever reason have grudges against the players and will go long ways to see them suffer and defeated they may or may not be working as background elements although they tend to last longer as the latter. Finally there is the simple antagonists. These fellows aren’t really villains per say but have differing objectives or want the players objective first in the case of say, theft. 

The fourth which is used far less commonly is the environment itself.   If anything the typical approach is to use a wide variety of traps to slow characters down while they’re trying to accomplish their goal.  This is rather limiting in itself however, as the entire area around the characters may be hostile or lethal within a short order.  This allows potentially weaker threats to be very dangerous by proper application.

For instance; setting fire to a building is a simple action nearly anyone can do.  In most cases flames are quite dangerous to normal characters (or if not, it’s not too difficult to find something that is.) and their goal will be to evacuate.  This could be potentially simple or in the case of a larger building quite hazardous.  In addition to smoke inhalation and heat slowing them down, they’ll be facing limited to no visibility as well as an unstable structure that could potentially (read that as will) collapse if they’re not quick about moving. The entire hazardous environment should be well played with lots of tension and make it something the players definitely do not want a repeat experience of.

The burning building is a fine example but can be easily expanded to any number of hazardous locales.  Swamps and marshes with their soft bottoms work well, as do freezing, electrified, poisoned, low oxygen environments and so forth. These are rather simple to work with as they are clearly dangerous.  The idea is to make it dangerous enough to add significant pressure on its own, without needing additional hostile enemies.

Even areas that aren’t immediately hazardous can be dangerous to the ill prepared.  Any sort of long distance travel through the wilderness can be a trek.  Food is not as easily gathered as it is typically imagined.  Lack of water can kill in a period of days, and while some areas are flooded with it, some are very rare.  Loss of supplies is a good way of adding pressure without attacking the characters directly.

When was the last time, and/or how have you used similar situations?

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Building a good gaming environment

Friday, 25. June 2010

Almost anyone that’s gamed before has done it in some less than ideal conditions. Cramped rooms, poor (or no) environmental control, bad seating, no table space, inability to see the storyteller, constant distractions, no drinks or food, the list goes on.  While some of these are unable to be dealt with, the majority of them can with a little bit of ingenuity on the hosts part. Granted, they’re not “all” the hosts duty, and one might recommend they enlist their players to assist.  After all everyone is in this together to have a good time correct?

These first 3 are something everyone should be able to deal with in some fashion or another. They also have some of the largest contributions, so I would recommend prioritizing them if possible.

Interruptions / Distractions: A major concern in my humble opinion. Find a place with some privacy. Breaking up the game flow kills any established feeling or tension that might be developing. This is especially important with new gamers who might feel silly or out of place acting without outside influences watching. If Fido or Kittens can’t stay off the table or be silent, they need to go somewhere as well. As with theater or cinema cell phones need to be put on silent or vibrate.

Food and Refreshments: As the entire purpose of gaming is to stay entertained and have some fun, this takes a 2nd. Mountain Dew and Cheetos come to mind for a lot of people, but one might recommend going beyond that. Some selection of beverages and food helps out a lot. Preparation ahead of time is useful, as is delivery in the case one is unable to do such. As these 2 are typically portable, this is definitely not entirely the hosts job. Good players will coordinate and chip in here.

Storyteller and Player Visibility: As the vast majority of communication happens non verbally, don’t count this out. It’s important to be able to see the storyteller, as well as seeing the other players. This definitely enhances the drama and mood within the game, it allows good acting of nonverbal queues, such as as lying or nervousness. With good role players, it’s also a good method of communicating in a sneaky fashion.

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