Fatigue as a “Cost” For Reactive Defense

Reactive Defense is when you are attacked, and spend your Action defending yourself. For dodge (against firearms, melee weapons, and unarmed combat), this is a Hot Dice (0-9), added to your dodge. For melee weapons and unarmed combat, you can Strike (making an attack at the same time as the person attacking you), Defend (same as dodge), or Counter (using a Combat Interaction skill).

This is an integral part of combat, and should always be available (unless the target is surprised or helpless). But I’ve run into difficulties with pricing additional Actions.

But if a Reactive Defense costs Fatigue, then it’s balanced: there is a cost to using the Ability, a cost that actively moves you towards being defeated.

How to balance it? If an enemy does up to 4 Fatigue on an attack, and more in Wounds, the Defense-Offense-Counter option needs to be slightly better than that, otherwise there’s no reason to take it. But it can’t be so cheap as to be an “all the time” choice. “Worth it, but not all the time” is a hard point to find.

Right now, I’m thinking of using 3 Fatigue per Reactive Defense check. I could be talked into 1 Fatigue, but I’d like to playtest first.

(Also, I’m keeping Winston’s suggestion, re: multi-actions in mind. 1 or 3 Fatigue per each additional Action could be a good general mechanic.)

Combat as a Struggle

The fun in a combat is in the striving: fighting hard for a victory, having to use tactics and teamwork to overcome the bad guys. A quick, one-hit victory is no fun for anyone.

Yesterday’s post, I believe, made some needed changes. But it won’t get me all the way there. So, let’s take one more step.

As I’ve looked at the game, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need some sort of Fatigue rules, for many reasons. Pushes, non-lethal damage, Supers combat, hand-to-hand tactics, even spellcasting: all use (or should use) a Fatigue mechanic.

Fatigue can also be used to add that sense of striving to a fight.

First, the rule: Fatigue is accumulated much like Damage. There is no cap, no “unconsciousness” from fatigue. There is, however, a penalty to Challenges.

Fatigue Penalty
0-4 0
5-9 -1
10-14 -3
15-19 -6
each +5 an additional -3

When one takes Fatigue — from casting a spell, Pushing your running or lifting, or a hit in combat — it accumulates, and sooner or later your performance begins to suffer. You are less able to concentrate on arcane minutia, your stamina begins to flag, and you are less able to wield your sword.

At some point, the penalties will simply overwhelm your abilities, and further struggle becomes pointless.

Non-Lethal weapons do Fatigue damage only. 10 Result = 10 Fatigue.

Lethal attacks deal a mix of Fatigue and Wounds. The first 4 Result is taken as Fatigue, any above that as Wounds:

  • 3 Result = 3 Fatigue.
  • 6 Result = 4 Fatigue, 2 Wounds.
  • 10 Result = 4 Fatigue, 6 Wounds.

And so forth. So, what does this do?

Your opponent barely hits. You take Fatigue.

You hit your opponent. He takes Fatigue.

And again. He begins to slow.

As he slows, he becomes less effective on attack, less effective on defense. He can no longer avoid your blows. You do more Wounds, more Fatigue. His defenses crumble, and you emerge victorious.

This mechanic allows combat to last a little longer, without having the “nyah-nyah, you missed!” of full-on Hero Points. Each hit (1 Result or higher) does something. It moves you closer to victory, without immediately ending the battle.

I think this will allow for some more struggle and tactics in the combats, without adding “whiff” results. This is the rule I’m taking to the next playtest.

Modified Combat Mechanics

So, here’s the combat rules for the next playtest. The changes are not as drastic as I was considering, quite modest in fact, but I think they’ll do the job.

Combat Challenges: Attack + Bonus. (Attack = Skill + Weapon Damage.)

This is compared to Defense. (Defense = Skill + Toughness.)

The Result is read as Wounds. The current number of Wounds is read on the following chart:

1-9: No Effects.
10-14: -1 on Challenges, Faltering. (Faltering means you take 1 Wound each Action.)
15-19: -3 on Challenges, Dying. (Dying means you take 1 Wound a Round. You also take another Wound each Action.)
20: Dead.

You can spend a point of Resolve on Defense or Attack. This adds +3 to your Total, +5 if you have an applicable Distinction. Spending Resolve on Attack means you do 3 (or 5) more Wounds on that Attack; spending it on Defense means you take 3 (or 5) less Wounds.

(This is the “buying off” Damage. You can spend this point of Resolve whenever the GM determines. A harsh GM might require you to spend before you roll. An kinder GM might allow you to spend when you know how much Damage you will take.)

Taken together, these rules will allow fights to last a little longer, and make it less imperative to buy off all Damage (as the penalties kick in at 10, not 5).

These are the rules I’ll be taking into the next playtest.

(There are also additional rules on Stun (or Fatigue). I’ll probably discuss those tomorrow.)

Broken Promises

Here’s the pattern: I do a playtest, I notice some weaknesses, I get some ideas for fixes later that day, I make a promise to post them. The next day, my solutions look worse and worse, and I end up posting nothing. Then I take four months to fundamentally redesign a critical piece of the game.

So far, I’m 2 for 3 after the second playtest.

So, the problem: Combat lasts too quickly. Opponents can (not will, but can) go down in one shot. Consequently, if this happens when the fight is equal, the fight is quickly over: tipping the scales ends the fight.

The thing is, the potential for one-shot kills (or eliminations) are a feature. They’re what makes the fight realistic and visceral. They have to be there.

But fights are too short, and most of my solutions (I’ve come up with 3 or 4) revolved around altering this aspect of combat. Which in retrospect seems like a really bad idea.

Hence, another realization: people dying in one or two shots are (in the context of a cinematic game) mooks. They’re the “crunch all you want” nobodies. That’s what they should be.

Cinematic heroes should be different. They (and they alone) should have more “hit points”. They should last longer in a fight.

So, after thinking through some solutions, I’m going back to an original design idea: buying off damage. Spend 1 point of Resolve, and you buy off 3 (or 5, or Resolve Rating) Wounds.

Simple. Easy. Lets leads (those with high Resolve) last longer in a fight, makes the fights last a little longer.

So, there’s a rule fix posted. Which (in contrast to the title of this post) means I kept my promise this time.

Cool.

Second Playtest, First Impressions

We just completed the second playtest of the ∞ Infinity Gaming System. Thanks to our three testers: Thomas, Bryan, and John.

These are some first impressions, based on the playtest.

1.) Distinctions are fun. A Distinction is a colorful phrase describing something your character does well. This is the first time they’ve been used in a playtest, and the players came up with some doozys.

Bryan came up with: “Think fast!”  — My character is good at using objects to distract opponents during combat.

John came up with: “Don’t Throw Your Life Away.” — Garet’s fast-talked more than one bounty into giving up peacefully.

They allow players to individualize their characters. Players can pick what they want to be good at and the way they want to be good at it. You can choose to be good at charming people who are angry at you, members of the opposite sex, policemen, whatever. They’re free-form advantages.

2.) Combat is fast and brutal. The combat playthrough lasted 2 rounds before the bad guys were beaten. The first playtest lasted four rounds, with 3 times as many combatants.

We ran the same scenario twice. In the first, the players talked their way out of combat, driving off the bad guys with Interaction skills and talking. No blood was spilt. Quite impressive, as I was expecting violence. Had this been an actual game, I would have given bonus XP for it. Very satisfying and fun, all the way round.

The second playthrough was violence only (by design). Due to the length, it was less satisfying. Combat runs too fast.

The first playthrough felt like a struggle. Not an extended, brutal slog, but something the players had to work towards. The second had a little of that, but much less. It was much less enjoyable, because the players didn’t have time to develop or deploy tactics.

Combat needs to be longer. I’m going to think of ways to do this.

Why is combat so fast?

Well, as John pointed out, combat skills and Combat Interaction skills are rock-papers-scissors. Due to the low skill points and slower progression (when compared to Infinity’s immediate predecessor), no one character will be good at everything. Because skill affects Attack and Defense, all characters have weaknesses.

(Which is why the math was misleading. It presented a situation where each attacker had one and only one Attack score. Multiple skills weren’t part of the equation.)

This is a good thing. Compare it to D&D, where a character gains BAB in anything they have Proficiency in (including missile weapons, thrown weapons, melee weapons, hand-to-hand combat), and armor protects against everything. Buy the best armor, and you’re a tank. Infinity works very differently, and to its credit, I think.

But design (to this point) has assumed that combat will run long. And it won’t, right now. I’m going to have to make some changes to stretch it out.

5-8 rounds is long enough for players to make plans and carry them out. It’s long enough for a struggle over Initiative to play out. It’s long enough for the vagaries of the dice to be muted, and smart play to come to the fore (and be rewarded).

Short combat favors chance. Long combats tend towards the mean (more rolls), and favor intelligent tactics.

I have to address this.

3.) My current playtest procedures hamper full feedback. I’ve been running playtests like a GM — hiding my rolls, Success Ratings, and the enemy’s penalties. When discussing Combat Interactions tonight, I realized this opacity is great for a campaign, but bad for a playtest. To judge whether the mechanics are working, Alpha Testers need information on the results of their actions.

Accordingly, from now on, all rolling and penalties will be done in the open. Hopefully, this will help the testers understand the mechanics more thoroughly.

I’ll have some information about the rules changes arising from this playtest tomorrow.

There are some more observations, but I’ll save those for tomorrow.

(I’ll be uploading the transcript to the playtest group as soon as I get it into shape.)