17 May 2023

When You Cannot Miss

The more I game the more I appreciate minimalist role-playing games. Simpler rule systems can be learned and taught quickly, are easily internalized, and free us to concentrate on what many of us enjoy most: creative problem-solving and playing roles. Much of this is achieved by reducing certain concepts to abstractions. For example, encumbrance becomes slot management; wealth becomes an attribute; attacks always hit.

Attacks always hit? Yes, in certain minimalist role-playing games and their derivatives, all attacks are successful and one needs only to roll damage (if the damage isn't already a static value). The intention, I believe, is to make combat quicker (a laudable goal if one has played certain ponderous combat systems) and more lethal (to encourage the pursuit of trickery, retreat, or diplomacy). I'm always in favor of quicker combat resolution in a role-playing (as opposed to war-gaming) context, and non-combat options ought to be uppermost in mind for many reasons, but "attacks never miss"? For me, that immediately breaks immersion—in what universe does no one ever miss?—and makes combat less interesting. I see combat as another form of problem-solving (or, in many cases, problem-causing) where creativity ought to be rewarded. I won't bother to extrapolate on the type of society that would exist where anyone can always attack anyone else with unnerring accuracy and no one possesses the instinct or ability to dodge (other than to say it would resemble nothing in reality or fiction), but I would suggest that perhaps a better way to discourage combat (if that is the aim) would be to make it more grounded in reality. Increase the damage potential. Increase the recovery time. Increase the difficulty or reduce the efficacy of medical treatment. Add lingering health problems from injuries. Make attacks more challenging to avoid, but don't make them impossible to avoid. All of these are logical ways to make players think harder about whether to fight without breaking the willing suspension of disbelief.

Any game is anyone's game, but I prefer rules that elicit the response, "That makes sense."

1 comment:

  1. Caveat: I have never played one of these games, so I don't know how it'll feel in practice. But the way I can at least theoretically accept it is with the old definition of HP as not-meat: this rule says that, if an opponent is attacking you and within range, no matter what happens you'll at the very least tire a little, preparing to exert focus & effort to avoid their blow. And when you're down to 1hp, you're so tired, flat-footed, injured that you have no ability left to dodge - you're going to get hit.

    If I squint, this is consistent with my experience with various "simulated combat" sports - it's tiring, and your ability to engage effectively wears down even if you aren't getting physically injured; people who train intensely have a lot more endurance; with actual rest you can recover fairly quickly (modern short rest?!) to full ability.

    But that's all me trying to think up excuses - it'd be a point against verisimilitude of a system for me, and a concession to feeling "gamey". Maybe for skirmish miniatures instead of RPG?