Alpha 2 Doc, for Non-Playtesters

Judging by the site logs, there’s some interest in the Infinity Alpha 2 rules revision, beyond just the playtesters.

If you want access to the Alpha doc, send me an email and I’ll send you a copy. Access will be predicated on a deep and solemn promise that you’ll comment and send it back. (Fine, a pinky-swear.)

If you’re interested, drop me a line:

If you’re interested in joining the Alpha Test, indicate that as well.

Infinity: Hand-to-Hand Combat

Let’s talk pool. (For just a second.) Pool is a surprisingly strategic game. On any given shot, you’re not just trying to knock a ball down one of the holes. After sinking a ball, the cue ball has to end up in a position that sets up the next shot. And so on, and so forth, each shot having more than just an immediate purpose. It’s strategic.

Hand-to-hand combat — with swords, truncheons, or bare knuckles — is exactly the same way.

  • Swordfight. Someone attacks with the sword. The target parries, in such a way that the sword is knocked to the side and their next blow is easier to land, because the opponent can’t defend themselves.
  • Boxing. A high attack, over their guard, knocking their head to one side, where it’s less protected, followed by another blow from the opposite side, knocking their head back, “ringing their bell”.
  • Boxing. When attacked by an opponent, the boxer “cages”, putting both hand up in front of their face, allowing their opponent to pound on them, tiring himself out. When they’re tired, the boxer begins striking back.

Strategy. Reactive planning. Attacks based on what your opponent did last, and what you need to do next.

This goes back and forth, at a high rate of speed, with each opponent reacting to the current situation and trying to influence the flow of combat, so their next blow will be more effective. This dynamic holds for all hand-to-hand combats between trained individuals. (Brawls and school-yard fights being untrained combat.)

So, in line with yesterday’s post on making a game that feels real, how do I approach the mechanics such that they mimic this give and take? It takes surprisingly few rules.

The first is a note in the combat section: rolling low Doubles can mean the combatant is tired out, or Fatigued. (“Fatigued” is a condition, listed in the combat chapter.) This mimics the sheer effort necessary to fight a hand-to-hand bout.

The second rule, and key to the whole endeavor, is this:

When you are attacked in hand-to-hand combat, you can chose one of the following three reactions (as a free action).

  • Attack: Attack them as they’re attacking you. You get to make a Combat Challenge, and possibly do damage. (People can kill each other.) This can include either a standard attack (to deal damage) or a special attack (disarm, throw, etc.)
  • Defend: You get to roll for defense (d10, from 0 to 9), decreasing the chance you’ll take damage.
  • Counter: You can attempt a Combat Interaction skill: trick, taunt, intimidate, maneuver, or overbear. Passive Defense applies. (Combat Interaction rules will be posted tomorrow, or see the Playtest doc. Essentially, they apply a penalty to the target’s actions for one round.)

This Reactive Defense mimics the strategy of real combat, in a very compact form. You get attacked, you decide what to do, you carry it out.

You can strike back at them (a real option in a H-t-H bout), defend yourself (representing blocking, dodging, or parrying), or set them up for a devastating attack. Your decision rests on what your opponent is capable of (or what you think him capable of) and what would be best for the match.

Real strategy, real consequences, without a cumbersome, “point for point match” to the real world. (It’s also fully integrated into the game’s mechanics, a huge plus over other mechanics I’d considered.)

This is also very cinematic. Recall The Princess Bride. Inigo Montoya is in a corridor. Soldiers rush him, one by one, each attacking him to bring him down. He parries each attack and strikes the guards, killing them one by one.

In a standard “I attack, you attack” sequence, this is impossible to emulate. With the rule above, it’s easy.

Add in the rules for Initiative, and combat bouts become as strategic in the game as they are in real life.

A Game That Feels Real

An actual fight is hideously complex. Position, momentum, balance, training, weight, muscle mass, technique… all of this and more.

To take it all into account takes an equally hideous set of rules. Rules which slow play down to a crawl.

Something that is fast and visceral becomes slow and cerebral. The more realistic the mechanics of the game, the less the fight evokes the feel of being in a real fight.

Too much realism makes the game unrealistic.

I want mechanics that feel real. When you do something in the game, it should feel like real life without being exactly identical to real life.

A gunfight. Bullets slamming into the cover you are crouching behind, screwing up your courage to dash across open ground while your mates engage in covering fire.

A duel. Thrust and parry, back and forth, a bared blade threatening to bleed you at any moment, desperately protecting yourself while searching for an opening to strike.

A car chase. Riding the engine hard, steering around corner, almost skidding out of control, shifting lanes with wild determination, threading around the other cars in the road, just missing them, gradually closing in on your prey.

The details don’t matter. Matching reality point-for-point is pointless. What matters is the sense of the situation, the feel of the thing.

Why? Because too much reality is bad for the game. It’s unrealistic.

Winning at RPG’s

RPG’s are a game. As a designer and gamemaster you want people to love the experience of play so much, they come back and back and back. As a designer or GM, you win when the players have fun.

How to do that?

RPG’s are most compelling when you have (a) characters who (b) have goals, who (c) face obstacles to achieving those goals and (d) eventually overcome them and succeed.

Buy-in to the character. Buy-in to the goal. Buy-in to being determined in the face of setbacks. Vividly experiencing the world (at times). Immersion in the character (at times).

But the most important part is buy-in to the goal and overcoming challenges. The first makes the game compelling, the second makes it memorable.

Compelling play. Memorable victories. That’s how you “win” RPG’s.

And compelling play comes from many different things. Vivd depictions of the world. Mechanics that are fun to play with. Challenges that are novel, not “another damn orc.” Worlds that are intriguing and which offer mysteries.

Make the in-game play exciting, so they are motivated to participate. Make the victory sweet, so they will remember how much fun they had and want to do it again.

That’s an awesome RPG.

Infinity aspires to aid GM’s in doing that.

Postscript: What Can We Do?

[pt. 21]

Roleplaying doesn’t need a revolution.

This hobby is 40 years old. That’s plenty of time for hundreds of thousands of fans to come and go, fans which include players, GM’s, and designers.

They’ve designed games, built and run campaigns, rolled dice and snarfed snacks, and had a wonderful time. That’s what this hobby is about.

Just fun.

This hobby doesn’t need self-important pretentious assholes telling everyone else how to Do Things Right. It doesn’t need auteurs. It just needs you.

You run games. Play games. Design games.

And in those 40 years, for whatever part of that time you’ve been involved, you’ve learned some things. Learned how to play, how to GM, or how to design a game.

You’ve learned some techniques that work very well.

“Understanding RPG’s” should be, at its heart, an archive of the collective wisdom of the fans of this funky, fractious, geeky medium.

Other things can certainly aid. A history of the medium. Practical analysis and description of how RPG’s function. Techniques used in other mediums, that we can borrow.

Gather them. Organize them. Publicize them.

If not in one central, definitive book, then on your blogs, in forum posts, on Facebook and Google+.

The main resource is you.

“Understanding RPG’s.” By gamers. For gamers.

Who else really understands RPG’s?

What Was The Point?

[pt. 20]

Nearly the end of a very long series of posts, and I should answer one simple question:

What was the point of it all?

It’s simple: people don’t understand RPG’s. This is demonstrated by the very existence of the GNS, but that could be written off as the work of a single, bizarre individual (and those drawn to his ideas) were it not for the simple damning fact that GNS came to dominate RPG design this last decade.

More, it continues to influence how people design games. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying, Third Edition uses a lot of GNS concepts, as does the close-to-release Star Wars game. The 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu (still in production) bids fair to do the same (at least it seems so, according to statements made by the designers).

The fact that so many fell for the GNS, and continue to do so, astounds me, and convinces me that we simply do not understand this thing called roleplaying. Not in a precise, technical manner.

We’re operating off a stew of unexamined assumptions, accreted over the years. This works fine, for gamemastering and playing. But game design, it seems, needs more.

We’re geeks. We hunger for novelty. It’s our defining feature. The real world isn’t enough for us, we demand worlds from imagination. And when they grow stale, we remix them, add to or subtract from them, stir them up.

We go from Lord of the Rings to Dungeons & Dragons to Shadowrun to… on and on, so long as we can. The new delights us.

But the new is often foolish and faddish. And Narrativist mechanics in RPG’s are foolish and faddish.

GNS has failed in the court of public opinion. But designers are still in thrall to the lure of the new.

Am I saying that all game designers are bad? Of course not. But too many pursue the simming fad, even otherwise decent designers.

We don’t need a revolution.

We need designers who want to make RPG’s and not simgames. Simming and roleplaying are not the same, and the better designers understand RPG’s, the clearer that will become.

We need game designers with a grounded education in the fundamentals of RPG design. We need designers who actually understand RPG’s.

Hence the question: Where is “Understanding RPG’s”?

The Virtues of Incident-Based Adventures

[pt. 19]

What are the virtues of this approach? Besides a practical basis to structure free-form adventures, it also inculcates GM’s and players with specific attitudes. The GM learns to approach every situation assuming the players can do anything, and that letting them do so is right.

The players learn they can try anything (within the limits of the game’s mechanics and the setting itself). They have a tremendous sense of freedom. The consequences of missing a clue, or allowing an event to happen, make the game world seem more real, more like a place where cause-and-effect take place. Their choices have real consequences.

Writers and module designers are encouraged to think in terms of specific, evocative details. The clothes a band of thugs are wearing, the weapons they use, the language they speak: all of these are potential clues, and knowing an incident needs clues leads the writer towards putting specific and meaningful details in the description of the incident.

The real world has layers upon layers of meaning. My personal writing style tends towards short paragraphs. That tells experienced editors that I developed my writing skills while writing for newspapers. My writing style is evidence of my past.

Similarly, the clues a writer embeds in an incident arise from the nature of that incident, the participants, and the world itself. Because they reflect the facts of the world and the scenario, they are reliable leads to follow to discover the truth. They make the game world come alive and make it seem real.