Black Depths, pt. 2: Conditions and Knockouts

With these rules, I’m modeling 3 different types of damage effects: Wounds, Fatigue, and Non-Lethal damage. When you’re hurt (such as a cut across your midsection), tired (going without sleep for 48 hours), or reeling from a solid blow to the head, you can’t function as effectively. This is represented by penalties to Challenges.

Rather than including an ad-hoc penalty with each damage effect, I decided to create a single Condition that reflects the target being impaired.

Impaired: The character has a -3 bonus modifier to all actions. (This can represent being drunk or tired, as an example.)

Simple and straightforward, and it allowed me to trim off some of the excess from the Wounds and Fatigue rules, simplifying them. (Which was important, as I was making things more complex overall, see pt. 5.)

I also included some caveats:

• Characters can spend 1 point of Resolve to ignore this penalty for about an hour.

• First aid can treat an Impaired condition, allowing them to ignore the penalty.

This is pretty straightforward, and matches both Resolve and First Aid.

More Fatigue or a harder Knockout punch worsens this condition. Instead of being just Impaired, you become Incapacitated.

Incapacitated: The character is conscious, but can make only move or make Simple Actions. (This can represent being stunned, exhausted, and so forth.)

• While Incapacitated, characters can spend 1 point of Resolve to act as if they are Impaired. They can even spend 2 points of Resolve, and act without the Impaired penalty. 

• First aid can treat an Incapacitated condition, allowing them to act as if Impaired.

Again, very straightforward. A couple of wrinkles:

If you’re Impaired, and receive another Impaired Condition, you become Incapacitated. If you’re Impaired, and receive an Incapacitated, you go Unconscious.

If you’re Incapacitated, and receive another Impaired or Incapacitated, you become Unconscious.

Thus, if you’re Impaired from Fatigue, and someone clocks you upside the head with a Knockout punch, you become Incapacitated or Unconscious. Which leads us to Non-Lethal Attacks.

Non-Lethal Attacks model boxing punches, the ubiquitous “conk them on the head” moments in movies, and (among other things) knockout gas and darts.

A Knockout attack is a Combat Challenge that deals Non-Lethal Damage. The Success Rating of the Challenge determines how severe the effects of the attack were:

Knockout Attack
1 SR 2 Fatigue
2 SR Impaired
3 SR Incapacitated
4 SR Unconscious

The “Impaired” Condition also figures in Fatigue and Wounds. I’ll discuss those next post.

Plumbing the Black Depths of Game Mechanics

I’ve been fiddling around with various mechanics related to Wounds, Fatigue, and Non-Lethal (or Knockout) attacks. I’ve finally managed to put together mechanics that fit my design criteria, that are real-world plausible and that interact with each other in some interesting ways.

I’d like it if they were simpler, but every simplification I can think of removes some critical feature. After a few days of thinking and rethinking (and pounding my head against a brick wall, mentally), I’ve decided to post the mechanics, and take it from there.

The concepts behind the mechanics.:

  • Wounds. Weapons cause damage, measured as Wounds. These represent physical injuries. The pain and damage of an injury impairs the person’s ability to function. Enough Wounds, and you begin to bleed to death.
  • Fatigue. Fatigue represents stress, strain, tiredness, and other factors that cause physical exhaustion. The more endurance you have, the better you can withstand Fatigue. Physical exertion (such as running or swinging a sword) causes Fatigue, as does extremes of heat and cold. In some settings, so can casting a spell. Fatigue impedes people’s abilities and can even lead to death.
  • Non-Lethal/Knockout. Not all attacks kill. Non-lethal attacks can stun a target, sometimes severely, or render them unconscious. Boxers often score knockouts, as an example.

These three things are not the same. However, they are all based on the same game mechanics.

I’ll expand on those next post.

A Tiny Little Tidbit

Insomnia is beating me about the head, so a very short post is all I can produce.

Community is back. This is not awesome. That is all.

(Fine, I’ll expand. The first five episodes of this shorter season have felt off-kilter, for some reason. I haven’t really enjoyed any of them.)

(After the disastrous Chang Dynasty episodes that closed Season 3, I was hoping for something better. Dan Harmon’s dismissal doesn’t seem to have helped the show at all.)

(If it weren’t for NBC’s flagging ratings, Community would probably be canceled. As it is, it might see Season 5, but there is 0% chance of “six seasons and a movie”.)

Reviewing the Game Reviewer

About two weeks ago, I swore off politics (again), for the same reason an alcoholic swears off brewskis. No political blogs, no articles, no news. No politics for me, ever.

(Well, except for like one weekly column from a really funny guy. But that’s it, I swear.)

Since then, my stress has decreased and my average happiness has increased. Ahhh, relaxation.

See, I find politics intensely stressful, which is why I hate Political Tourette’s. Unfortunately for me, Political Tourette’s is ubiquitous. I can’t browse an RPG board or read a blog post without running headfirst into some ignorant fool’s irrelevant political interjection.

(“Ignorant fool” meaning “anyone who disagrees with my politics”. See why I quit?)

I’d like to steer clear of these kinds of outbursts (and have in many cases), but several of my favorite bloggers, columnists, and reviewers are (in addition to their excellent commentary) inveterate poli-Tourette’s enthusiasts.

Today’s example of a reviewer afflicted with a bad case of poli-Tourette’s (and, given the amount of profanity in his videos, quite possibly the real thing as well), is Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee Croshaw, an Australian-by-way-of-Britain videogame reviewer for The Escapist, a video-game centric website.

Were I discussing “Zero Punctuation” as a whole, I’d bang on about the intriguing minimalist visual aesthetic of the videos, Croshaw’s genuinely witty sense of humor, and the sheer enjoyment that can be had from watching him deliver the smackdown. (Which he does regularly.) But I’m discussing political Tourette’s. so lets skip all that.

Yahtzee hates first person shooters, particularly Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and its clones. Hates them, so far as I can tell, for entirely political reasons. He thinks FPS games are “gung-ho, nationalist, realistic, modern war, everyone behold my spunking deathcock shooter…” In other words, they offend him politically.

“Patriotism is for twats,” he’s proclaimed, and the least little bit of patriotism guarantees a game a bad review. Conversely, he gave the first Modern Warfare a good review, based solely on the absence of patriotism: “What I like about Call of Duty 4 is that there’s less of the smarmy, black-and-white, ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee’ jingoism that turns me off most war games.”

In other words, the game matched his politics. Virtually his entire review (transcript here, video here) revolved around political matters.

In contrast, he despised Modern Warfare 2 for being insufficiently anti-American, despite the main villain being <spoiler alert!> an American general who kicks off World War 3 and the invasion of the US East Coast just to prove that Congress needs to spend more money on the military. (I don’t know if this plot was stolen from Die Hard 4, or if Die Hard 4 stole this plot from Call of Duty.) <end spoiler> (Highlight to see the transparent text.)

Are there FPS that Yahtzee does like? Sure, games like Spec Ops: The Line. (Based on Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now, which tells you everything you need to know.)

Despite worrying about the game beforehand — “I was all geared up for another […] spunking deathcock shooter” — the game instead delivered “rogue American soldiers queuing up for [my] bullets”. Yup, it’s a quality game because the story has you shooting American soldiers in the face.

To Yahtzee, the only good first person shooter is a politically appropriate first person shooter.

Look, I’m not saying people can’t criticize the politics of popular culture. But when your primary approach to criticism (or sole reason for enjoying or disliking nearly everything) revolves around whether or not it flatters your political views, it’s either time to find another job, or swear off the politics.

One could accuse me of hypocrisy: “You just don’t like Yahtzee because his politics disagree with yours.” Two problems: A) I like Zero Punctuation and B) I get just as annoyed when people I agree with (there are a few) insert irrelevant political ejaculations in the middle of things I’m trying to enjoy. (Err… “interjections”, I mean.)

It isn’t the species of politics that irritates, its the infestation of politics into everything under the sun. For frag’s sake, can’t I enjoy a nice half hour of comedy without being berated about how evil <political party A> is or how stupid and insipid <politician B> is?

When you insert politics into articles about computers, blog posts about steampunk, or webcomics (all actual examples I’ve encountered before), what you’re saying is “Hey, half my audience? You can fuck right off, because I don’t want your money.” For anyone with aspirations to commercial success, that’s a suicidally stupid position to take.

Life is wild and interesting, and politics is an ugly business. It’s about as appealing and necessary as septic tank maintenance.

That is, you absolutely need people who deal with feces and feces disposal, but it’s not for bystanders and you always have to deal with a lot of shit. Amateurs who obsess over septic tanks in their spare time, and insert septic tank related interjections in the middle of everything they write and create, are a little weird, and need a new hobby.

Which is why I swore off politics. I was never a practitioner of political Tourette’s (except maybe once, and it turned into a massive flamewar). But politics decreased my quality of life greatly, and it was time to stop worrying about political feces, and start focusing on things I can change.

Doing so has decreased my depression and increased my net joy. The only thing that could make me happier is if all the poli-Tourette’s sufferers did likewise.

A Quick Little Post About Things I Like

Ages ago I learned that, as a geek and nerd, I find things fascinating that most people just don’t. These esoteric enthusiasms bound geeks together (and, alright, tore us apart).

Being a geek, pre-Internet, was kind of like belonging to the world’s most pathetic and isolated secret society.

Holy Scripture? Check! (2001, Star Trek, Akira, and more.)

Esoteric knowledge? Check! (The Three Laws of Robotics are?)

Secret catchphrases? Check! (“Beam me up!” “I am your father.” “Knowing is half the battle.”)

Yeah, being a geek is almost like being in a cult, a cult bonded together by the scorn and disdain of the mundanes.

‘Course now I’m older, I’ve found that many things I like are despised by other geeks and nerds. Some examples:

Castle. Love me some Rick Castle. Goes double for Kate Beckett. (Wow!)

The Big Bang Theory. Funny, despite the presence of Sheldon.

Nashville. You read that right.

Smash. “Hatewatching” or not, I enjoyed the first season, and (so far) the second.

How I Met Your Mother. It’s Legen—wait for it—dary.

Once Upon a Time. Disney characters in the real world. The metaphysics of magic in the series is fascinating, and worth a small post all by itself.

Grimm. Not perfect, but still fun.

Revolution. Killer pilot, good series.

These are some things I like, even if other geeks don’t.

(Translation? Suck it, nerds!)

Designers, Players, and Ignored Rules

Games come alive in play. Designers can write anything they like in rulebooks, but it’s GM’s and players who actually implement it, who actually play the game, and who actually decide what the game is.

Designers have little control over how the game is actually played.

There’s the example of Gary Gygax, designer of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. He made a lot of rules, rules he pretty much followed, but many of which were ignored by the player base. The real game, as it existed “in the wild” differed from the Platonic ideal (as it existed in Gygax’s gaming sessions and Gygax’s mind as the designer).

Use evinces utility. If people use a rule, it’s because it’s useful. (Or how they implement it is useful.) If they don’t use a rule, the rule isn’t useful. (Or they don’t understand the rule, because the designer didn’t describe it clearly.) Players and GM’s determine whether a rule is used, and hence what the game is actually like in play.

This means game designers cannot predict or dictate the game’s gestalt. The gestalt of the game is how it operates as a whole. The feel, or the mood and experience of playing the game emerges from its gestalt. The gestalt of Call of Cthulhu is different than Savage Worlds, which is different than Shadowrun or AD&D. More, the gestalt of any given game varies from group to group.

The label “Old School Renaissance” is all about the gestalt of the game. “Yes, playing Adventurer, Conqueror, King is strongly reminiscent of how we played OD&D/AD&D/RC back in the day.”

OSR games are knowingly designed to produce a gestalt which resembles that of vintage editions of D&D. The designers have some influence, but cannot absolutely dictate, what their game’s gestalt is.

Here’s the upshot: Game designers are at the mercy of GM’s and players. They determine how your game is going to be played.

This is a good thing. You shouldn’t try to dictate to players and GM’s. To the contrary, you should try to understand what people find valuable and fun about your game (or RPG’s as a whole), and enhance those aspects.

Rules falls by the wayside. This is inevitable. Rather than raging against it, accept it and use it. Find out which rules are disused, determine why, and either get rid of the rule (streamlining your game) or alter it so it’s useful.

As a game designer, you are not the master. You are the servant. Suck it up, accept your role in the universe, and help your players and GM’s. Do it well enough, and you might actually be able to make a living at this.

A Simple Point About RPG’s

RPG’s are a Protean medium: anything you can imagine is possible. (Limited only by setting and game mechanics.)

Gamemasters often want their RPG’s to be as thrilling as movies or books, so they create a story: a sequence of events.

These rarely, rarely work. Players usually feel railroaded.

Instead of a sequence of events players must play through, GM’s should create opposition and obstacles, than allow the players to overcome them as they see fit.

Players make their own choices, forging their own stories.

The element of (near) total choice is unique to RPG’s, and by structuring adventures this way, gamemasters can best take advantage of the Protean nature of the medium.