Considerations for a next gen in cinematic fantasy combat [Includes spoilers for Game of Thrones]

Alexander Kalinowski

RPG designer from hell
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I did take a glance at Runequest/Mythras when designing my own game, in part because I love CoC to bits and pieces. But I quickly realized that it's not what I wanted because it offered too many tactical options for me.
First of all, tactical options and the "going through moves in your head" as well as checking on rules (or combining rules) is one of the prime factors in slowing down combat in my analysis.
Secondly, I am working under the presumption that the characters will do whatever seems the most advantageous to them in a given combat situation. Therefore, aiming at the head, feinting, disarm attempts, etc. are all already baked in in the attack roll - and are only promising when opportunity presents itself anyway... for example, when the enemy is caught off-guard and surprised by the maneuver.
That doesn't mean one approach is better or worse, it just caters to different tastes; it's a different philosophy. But I have no objection whatsoever to the Mythras solution suggested above; it sounds very much viable. And that's what it is all about for me: replicating the cinematic action in feel through mechanics.

And this "matter of taste" thing also goes for PbtA, even though the gulf is wider here: where Mythras (see above) seeks to recreate the combat dynamics through rules, PbtA off-loads the burden to create a cinematic feel to the narration, to a fair degree. This is fine but not for everyone: some of us need cold hard mechanics to backup the narration for it to feel "real". If a combat system does not have appropriate modifiers for shooting at a running target or fighting left-handed, it doesn't truly feel real to some of us, no matter how epic the narration. I can mod probably GTA so that my character looks like Peter Parker's Spiderman but that doesn't make GTA a good Spiderman game. It's painfully obvious that it's just a shell. Yet to other people, this absence of plausible circumstantial modifiers is not a loss and they won't miss that at all; they're probably an impediment to them even. As I said above: all a matter of taste, nothing is inherently better than any other approach. Just different strokes for different folks.

In this thread, however, I am focussed on capturing the action in concrete game rules.
 

Thorfred

Registered User
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One small game that has an interesting way of thinking about the action economy is an older game called Danger Patrol. Only the PCs make rolls. Dice pools where every die is either a success or +1 danger to the character. Every enemy/obstacle/threat that did not take a hit during the turn gets to make a move from a list depending on their threat lvl.

To me the system felt cinematic.
 

Maxen M

Somewhere off to the side
Validated User
And this "matter of taste" thing also goes for PbtA, even though the gulf is wider here: where Mythras (see above) seeks to recreate the combat dynamics through rules, PbtA off-loads the burden to create a cinematic feel to the narration, to a fair degree.
That isn't what people are saying at all, remember I said upthread about how cinematic fight scenes tend to deal in exchanges of actions? This means that a combat exchange can begin with an attack on your character by some npc, possibly as a group, possibly alone, and you decide how you respond. In certain games, this uses group rules, so that enemies can naturally gang up on you, but that is not true of all pbtA games.

But even in those where it is true, like dungeon world, what this means is that if you choose to fight back, you have a single exchange with the group as a whole, being able to respond to their actions, and choosing what you do according to how dangerous their retaliation would be.

Like if you look at the aragorn flght scene, we keep doing cuts, the first shot is wide, following on from him breaking their initial advance with better skills, but he is starting to become surrounded, the second shot is a closeup with enemies obscuring the camera and what exactly is going on, and the third shot is him escaping from being surrounded towards a handy piece of terrain.

In dungeon world, you could handle it as the following:

The uruk hai charge at you, there's a lot of them, what do you do?

I hold my blade up to my face and charge back at them, buying frodo time.

Ok, that sort of sounds like it could be defend or hack and slash, lets go with hack and slash, you can confront the first four or five uruk hai at the front of the push.

I get a 10, I choose to deal damage and not take damage in return.

(some damage rolls)

Ok, that kills a few of them and slows their attack, but they are still advancing, and starting to surround you, what do you do?

I dart back onto the ruins in order to find a choke point from which I can defend myself. (the player already knows there are lots of ruins here, as it's been established when they arrived)

Ok, roll defy danger with dex, to get out out from their encirclement,

I get 7-9, what's the catch?

The catch is that you can find a place where you have an advantage, but are no longer between them and frodo, so they will probably try to get past you.

Ok I take it.
And then the focus would switch to another player character naturally, probably frodo.

At each stage, you are describing the actions of the group of opponents as a whole, whether in the form of a "group mass" or a few specific representatives. This is a low detail version, but you can see how it works to represent the feel of the scene accurately. At each stage, the character faces decision points, and reacts to them as the situation changes. Threat, action, threat, action. You should be able to see a similar pattern in a number of those other fight scenes too.

And specifically, dungeon world enables cinematic fights because of it's embrace of fighting without injury to the player characters; fighting a lot of enemies just increases the damage you'd take if you fail, not the difficulty of fighting them, vs other pbta games that make damage a part of the cost of engaging in certain kinds of combat at all, allowing you only to mitigate it rather than stop it entirely.
 

Alexander Kalinowski

RPG designer from hell
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That isn't what people are saying at all, remember I said upthread about how cinematic fight scenes tend to deal in exchanges of actions?
Actually, and this is a preview of a sort of part 2 of threads on cinematic combat, the model of alternating actions is flawed when it comes to emulating cinematic action in 5 second rounds. DISCLAIMER: Everything said depends on turn-length, of course. The analysis changes drastically between 1 second rounds and 15 second rounds. For the following, I am assuming 5 second turns.

This means that a combat exchange can begin with an attack on your character by some npc, possibly as a group, possibly alone, and you decide how you respond.
Typically, you respond by trying to stay alive until you spot an opportunity to regain initiative and turn the tables on your attackers. That may be 2 rounds down the line. You got to not get killed in the meantime.

Like if you look at the aragorn flght scene, we keep doing cuts, the first shot is wide, following on from him breaking their initial advance with better skills, but he is starting to become surrounded, the second shot is a closeup with enemies obscuring the camera and what exactly is going on, and the third shot is him escaping from being surrounded towards a handy piece of terrain.
Well, it had to be done this way or else it would have become apparent how implausible the situation is. The orcs could have easily surrounded him from all sides, blocking off his escape route. Would Aragorn have survived that if all surrounding orcs could have attacked him each round, like you can in most traditional fantasy RPGs? Probably not.

In dungeon world, you could handle it as the following:
Note how each "turn" encompasses way more than 5 seconds. Also note how the Aragorn player in your example apaprently does not have assess if it's foolhardy to confront such a number of orcs that way. Note how the Aragorn player does not have assess if his character is powerful enough to break through the encirclement and into the ruins. None of it is inherently bad but probably not everyone's cup of tea.

At each stage, the character faces decision points, and reacts to them as the situation changes.
Well, the question is if it's the right decision points, as mentioned above. PbtA is at an abstraction level that not everyone is comfortable with.
 

Maxen M

Somewhere off to the side
Validated User
Actually, and this is a preview of a sort of part 2 of threads on cinematic combat, the model of alternating actions is flawed when it comes to emulating cinematic action in 5 second rounds. DISCLAIMER: Everything said depends on turn-length, of course. The analysis changes drastically between 1 second rounds and 15 second rounds. For the following, I am assuming 5 second turns.
Well then, there's not much for me to say I think.

I've given an example of a game that runs cinematically because it doesn't rely on rounds, but builds exchanges of actions into the core of it's mechanics. As it doesn't have rounds, introducing criticism relating to rounds doesn't have any relevance.

Like, it also doesn't have a card based mechanic, so if you base your analysis on flaws of probabilities of cards, that wouldn't make much sense either.

And typically? In what context? Are you now making the realism arguments you suggested we discount earlier?
 

Alexander Kalinowski

RPG designer from hell
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This thread is about replicating a specific aspect of observable cinematic combat through rules. And, to be fair, I posted an elaborate DISCLAIMER in the OP.

Nothing in Dungeon World's rules prevents a group of PCs from attacking a Wight Bear enemy round-robin style, if the GM chooses so spontaneously. An appropriate trad game-style mechanic , on the other hand, could stipulate: "Yes, you get to attack this time - while you, Bobby, got to wait till next turn." It's not subject to GM discretion and GM narration. Instead, the rules and the dice set constraints - which require at least house ruling to circumvent (and that change is then on a lasting basis). Nothing wrong with either approach per se but it caters to different tastes.

'Typically' is in the context of observable choreographed movie/TV fights.
 

Maxen M

Somewhere off to the side
Validated User
You did create a disclaimer, and I said that these things were examples of rules choices that made the kind of combat you were talking about possible.

I am not getting an impression that you understand how the combat system in dungeon world works unfortunately. Maybe I can do the wight bear example later.
 

effkat

Registered User
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Nothing in Dungeon World's rules prevents a group of PCs from attacking a Wight Bear enemy round-robin style, if the GM chooses so spontaneously.
What in ANY game prevents that, if the GM chooses so? Unless you have Sword & Sorcery (the boardgame) type AI that tells the GM exactly what the Wight Bear does in each situation, the GM can spontaneously choose for it to do nothing, just like in DW.
 

jerepp

Registered User
Validated User
This thread is about replicating a specific aspect of observable cinematic combat through rules. And, to be fair, I posted an elaborate DISCLAIMER in the OP.

Nothing in Dungeon World's rules prevents a group of PCs from attacking a Wight Bear enemy round-robin style, if the GM chooses so spontaneously. An appropriate trad game-style mechanic , on the other hand, could stipulate: "Yes, you get to attack this time - while you, Bobby, got to wait till next turn." It's not subject to GM discretion and GM narration. Instead, the rules and the dice set constraints - which require at least house ruling to circumvent (and that change is then on a lasting basis). Nothing wrong with either approach per se but it caters to different tastes.

'Typically' is in the context of observable choreographed movie/TV fights.
Well actually... because what happens happens in Dungeon World is because of the character's actions and the Bear does not get an independent turn if it is a whole party attacking a Bear the situation is pretty much exactly what you describe the party surrounding the Bear and beating on it - IF you are thinking in terms of people going in rounds - but resolution wise each PC rolls their attack and takes their consequences independently so if they all roll misses or partial successes then each of them will take damage or some other consequence. It is as if the Bear got as many turns as there are members of the party. Similarly if the enemy outnumber the party the player's only take consequences when they ignore a threat or roll a miss or partial success when responding to a threat, so if outnumbered the party only gets 'attacked' as much as they can attack and enemies are grouped - now the magnitude of those consequences might scale somewhat by how badly they are outnumbered but no side gets overwhelmed in the action economy in the system.

Edit: in fact the scaling can happen both ways at the same time... if you have the party's Fighter holding off a group of 5 goblins that are trying to get through the doorway while the rest of the party is dealing with a single ogre in the room. When the Fighter gets a turn he will do his action and the entire effect of what all 5 of those goblins do is bundled into his roll. Meanwhile back in the room when the Thief attacks the ogre he rolls and depending on the roll the ogre will do something back to him, but also when the Cleric attacks the ogre might also be able to do something to them as well. This is very much what you see in cinematic action sequences.
 
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Alexander Kalinowski

RPG designer from hell
Validated User
What in ANY game prevents that, if the GM chooses so? Unless you have Sword & Sorcery (the boardgame) type AI that tells the GM exactly what the Wight Bear does in each situation, the GM can spontaneously choose for it to do nothing, just like in DW.
I was arguing in this thread, backed by evidence, that to make combats more like choreographed movie combats, probably not every member of an outnumbering force should be able to attack in every (~5 second) round. (Note that this is not a very severe restriction the way it is phrased.) So rulesets (or narrations!) that aim to be cinematic should probably account for that.

Well actually... because what happens happens in Dungeon World is because of the character's actions and the Bear does not get an independent turn if it is a whole party attacking a Bear the situation is pretty much exactly what you describe the party surrounding the Bear and beating on it - IF you are thinking in terms of people going in rounds - but resolution wise each PC rolls their attack and takes their consequences independently so if they all roll misses or partial successes then each of them will take damage or some other consequence. It is as if the Bear got as many turns as there are members of the party. Similarly if the enemy outnumber the party the player's only take consequences when they ignore a threat or roll a miss or partial success when responding to a threat, so if outnumbered the party only gets 'attacked' as much as they can attack and enemies are grouped - now the magnitude of those consequences might scale somewhat by how badly they are outnumbered but no side gets overwhelmed in the action economy in the system.

Edit: in fact the scaling can happen both ways at the same time... if you have the party's Fighter holding off a group of 5 goblins that are trying to get through the doorway while the rest of the party is dealing with a single ogre in the room. When the Fighter gets a turn he will do his action and the entire effect of what all 5 of those goblins do is bundled into his roll. Meanwhile back in the room when the Thief attacks the ogre he rolls and depending on the roll the ogre will do something back to him, but also when the Cleric attacks the ogre might also be able to do something to them as well. This is very much what you see in cinematic action sequences.
PbtA probably does not simulate ~5 second turns (for the record, in games that have 10 or 15 second turns probably every surrounding character shoulöd be able to attack), so my argument does not apply to its rule-side... but it still does to the narration-side. If, as a GM, you want to give your narrations in PbtA a properly cinematic feel, narrate how a PC that attacks a surrounded foe often hesitates for a few seconds before he finds an opening. Or have the outnumbered enemy move so that his allies seem to block the path (whether any of that should have a mechanical effect in PbtA is a different question; probably not).


This is very much what you see in cinematic action sequences.
Ah, I don't see that. I don't think PbtA was created with that in mind, so I wouldn't expect it to closely comply with movie standards either. PbtA creates dramatic stories by stringing together ("snowballing") story-building blocks called Moves. Making these Moves follow choreographed combat in detail is probably not a design consideration.
In movie combat the outnumbered character sometimes can evade all enemies but one. Sometimes he get attacked by all at once. I don't think it's important for the PbtA mechanics to capture that much detail with accuracy; I think it's largely a part of cinematic interpretation and narration of the dice instead in PbtA.

Which, I can't stress this often enough, is a matter of taste and not of one approach being inherently better.
 
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