Fatigue as Currency in Battle

So, we have established that Fatigue can be used to buy a Reactive Defense. At the suggestion of Winstoninabox, I’ve also (provisionally) decided that it can buy an extra Action.

There is one more thing that is apt: Fatigue as extra effort. For each point of Fatigue expended on a Hand-to-Hand attack, the attacker gains a +1 bonus to their Combat Challenge.

These options (and the associated cost) are summarized on this table:

Action Fatigue Cost
Reactive Defense 3
Extra Action 5
Extra Effort 1 per +1

These options add a layer of tactics to battle: you choose what to spend your Fatigue on, and doing so gains you an advantage (but moves you closer to defeat.)

Hand-to-Hand combat thus becomes a trial of endurance and skill, not just character skill but player skill. Knowing when to use what option is a critical ability.

(Though this suggests that, possibly, the Endurance Attribute should have a part to play in Fatigue. I’ll put that on the burner.)

Red Dawn, 90210

Red Dawn

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: yes, the original Red Dawn could be interpreted as a “paranoid, right-wing power-fantasy”. Its lurid depiction of a Soviet invasion of America, circa 1984, is a cult classic that celebrates a bunch of teenagers fighting the Russian and Cuban occupation forces. (The Russins, in all, being brutal and faceless, the Cuban Colonel being humanized by his longing for a distant home and his beautiful wife.)

No, there was no chance the Russians would invade, in 1984 or any other time. That was, however, the premise of the movie. Not because that John Milius (the screenwriter and director) wanted to sound an alarm bell, but because he found the tales of Afghani youths fighting Soviet occupation to be fascinating, and wanted to tell that tale. Hollywood being what it is, he had to set it in America.

So, the premise is unrealistic, but that’s the Bullshit Tax for this movie. If you don’t buy it, don’t ride.

But no matter how unrealistic 1984’s Red Dawn was, 2012’s leaves it in the dust. In this movie, it isn’t the Russians who invade, it’s the North Koreans. And no, that makes no sense. Even with the most potent handwavium in the universe, there’s no way they could build an EMP device that could simply take out the entire US power grid, then invade and take the West Coast.

Makes. No. Sense. Makes the unbelievable 1984 edition look plausible in comparison.

Politics-adjacent ranting aside, this movie had several other major flaws. It’s just too goddamn pretty.

Maybe that’s the price of having a large budget: everything is smooth and professional, pretty but soulless. Even the dirt on the teen warriors’ faces looks like it was gently applied with unicorn kisses and kind words.

This is a war movie, it should feel dirty, and ugly, and gritty. Instead, it looks fake and feels fake, and as a result we just don’t connect with the material.

[Ob. gaming reference: Copies-of-a-copy rarely work. If you want a gritty, gripping martial arts setting, go to the source. Get into the muck of original documents, not other RPG manuals. This is one of the chief reasons that Fantasy Heartbreakers end up breaking your heart.]

If you set aside the silly premise, there are some real emotions that could be explored, even in a script as shallow as this. Loss, grief, defiance, hatred, revenge. These are touchstones of drama, going back to the Greeks. They can move the audience.

There’s a great moment in the original, where one of the two brothers is shot, and dying, and the other is carrying him out of the fight. The Cuban Colonel, who’s been their main antagonist throughout the movie, catches the pair and has the chance to kill them. He sees the grief and suffering on the faces of the surviving brother, and lets them go. He’s tired of the war, tired of fighting an endless guerrilla struggle in the mountains of Colorado. So he lets them go.

That one moment of humanity is more moving and insightful than the entirety of the 2012 remake. (Revamp, reboot, re-whatever.) This movie avoids even the barest hint of introspection — What would it be like to have your hometown invaded, overrun, and to see your father shot before you? — and focuses on ephemeral light-weight drama and romance. Instead of being about a brutal guerrilla war on our own soil, it’s about dating, girls, and high school.

It’s the kind of movie you’d get if the drama club of West Beverly High School adapted Red Dawn for their school play, and the resulting script landed on the desk of a not-particularly-intelligent Hollywood producer. It’s slick, shallow, and vapid. (Even the Australian version (Amazon link) is better.)

The original is far superior, silly premise and all.

Buy now at Amazon.
Intrigued? Buy the original Red Dawn now at Amazon.com.

Game Designers, Don’t Do This

(Talking video games, mind, not RPG’s.)

I hate this: Video game designers go to great lengths and expense to make fancy game engines, with pixel shaders and HDR lighting and dozens of other features, all to make games that look great on a 42″ HDTV flatscreen. Some are just strikingly beautiful, real works of art. Then, in a move of baffling stupidity, they include something — a spell, a piece of gear, a targeting mode — that makes their exquisite graphics look like ass.

In Oblivion, it was the nighteye spell. Suddenly, everything is blue. All the cool scenery, creatures, all the color… and we see it in blue-and-white. Cheers, guys. Great choice.

Resident Evil 6: the wayfinder prompt. Click the button to see where the game wants you to go, and the entire screen goes gray-and-white. For no good reason. You’re not under a spell, or looking through a scope. Just gray. Looks terrible.

In (the otherwise pretty neat) Resident Evil 4, it was the special infrared scope you had to use on the Regenerators. It was especially irritating in this game, because Regenerators were genuinely freaky. The way they moved, their implacable forward motion, the instant kill when they got to you… they were unnerving. This is a horror game. It’s supposed to be unnerving.

So the designers take this genuinely unnerving monster, and in the most critical moments, when it’s getting closest to eating your goddamn face off, they turn it into this:

Infrared Scope
Scary, isn’t it?

A child’s finger-painting. A red, blue, yellow, and green blob. Ooohhh. Scary.

I can accept it in modern war games, like Modern Warfare (and its clones). Night vision goggles are supposed to look green. But why the hell does that have to be the case in Oblivion? Makes no sense.

The only games that do this right are Halo: ODST and Halo: Reach. There, the night vision was just the faintest green shimmer over the regular colors, and enemies had colored silhouettes. The whole effect looked really cool, not just blue-and-white, green-and-white, or gray-and-white. It worked.

Most of the time, it doesn’t. So seriously, video game designers, don’t do this. You spent the money on visuals supposed to knock our socks off, why do the one thing guaranteed to turn all that scenery porn into… well, a child’s finger-painting.

It’s just stupid, ‘kay?

[Obligatory gaming reference: Don’t put really cool stuff in your game rules or setting, then accidentally or intentionally eviscerate them. Good ideas are rare, good implementations are rarer. Don’t screw up yours, especially on purpose.]

Buy now at Amazon.
Like what you read? Buy Resident Evil 4 now at Amazon.com.

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.