Episode 167 – roleplaying in combat

* Fear the Boot is looking for LARPers!  See the forums for details.

* Our struggles with miniature war games.

* Keeping roleplaying alive in combat.

Hosts: Chad, Dan, Pat, Wayne

Comments (14)

Griffin GramOctober 21st, 2009 at 9:33 pm

It was actually Warcraft that was originally made. And FINISHED as a Warhammer game. But GW decided that there wasn’t going to be any money in the whole ‘video game’ thing, so Blizz scrambled around to (barely) change a few (insignificant) things and viola! Warcraft was born.

GW … probably kicked the crap out of themselves a few times about that since then.

As for starcraft, well … they wanted warcraft in space. Warcraft was warhammer, which was already recycled in space … their path was obvious.

Jonathan LandrethOctober 22nd, 2009 at 12:40 am

I disagree, Griffin. While I don’t know the background of GW or Blizz, there is a world (of Warcraft?) difference between Warhammer Fantasy and Warcraft. Warhammer has a much darker tone in its lore. Warcraft is much higher fantasy. A larger difference, to me, is the main threats in both worlds. In my opinion, Warcraft’s big bads come from without, but Warhammer’s greatest threat comes from within.

So, while I don’t know enough to disagree with some of your points, I’ll have to with “Blizz scrambled around to (barely) change a few (insignificant) things and viola! Warcraft was born.”

DanOctober 22nd, 2009 at 4:16 am

Doing a very quick skim of Google, I’m finding…

* GW asked Blizzard to develop a game that was based of Warhammer, walked away for whatever reason, and left Blizzard trying to salvage it into their own IP.

* The whole thing is a complete urban legend. Blizzard may have taken some inspiration from GW, but there’s no relationship or legal tension between the two companies.

…and all stories that could possibly fall between those two extremes. Whatever the truth is, it’s buried just far enough beneath the flotsam and jetsam of the internet that I’m not willing to keep pursuing it at 4:00am. I’ll just reiterate what I said in the show: it’s something I’ve heard from people that keep up with this sort of thing, but I really have no idea if it’s true.

However, this story is floated enough that if someone has a really reliable source to cite, I’d love to know the truth.

Thistledown JohnOctober 22nd, 2009 at 3:50 pm

This episode really had some inspiring little nuggets in it. The idea of a narrative post-combat round summary is something that I’ve never thought to try in all my years of gaming. I will be using this in my next session. Thanks FtB!

HalOctober 23rd, 2009 at 7:03 am

So, I listened to this episode and the previous one back to back, and I’m just baffled by the things that do or don’t break immersion or pace for you guys. “Roll for initiative” pulls you out of your reverie; “roll a strength check” does not. Spending five minutes arguing about whether the bad guy was standing close enough to the door to duck out of it before you shoot him is cohesive with RP in combat; plunking down a battle mat hampers RP. Pretending that bunch of skeleton minis are orc mercenaries ruins your immersion; Chad pretending to be a female elven wizard does not.

(I realize Chad never said anything like that, but the idea amuses me greatly).

I really think this is a preference thing being given justification. I also think, as you talked about in this episode, it depends largely on the group you’re playing with. It’s your choice whether you bring your character’s personality into a combat situation, whether you still take non-combat actions, or it’s just “I move, I attack, 10 damage to the orc and I end my turn.”

On the other hand, shouldn’t much of the role-playing realistically cease during combat? I mean, if you’re caught in a struggle to the death and fighting for your life, whatever drama you have in addition to that is quite naturally going to fall to the wayside.

Oh, and one more thing: I don’t like the idea of people writing their actions on a card, then the GM describes what happens. I think it puts too much on the GM, who already has enough on his plate. This is one of those times when players actually get a chance to play a part in the descriptive aspects of their character and the world; I don’t like the idea of giving that to the GM.

WayneOctober 23rd, 2009 at 8:15 am

[“Roll for initiative” pulls you out of your reverie; “roll a strength check” does not.]

That is a question I have heard before actually. The short answer to it is that a strength check is just a minor quick sidebar while combat is typically a much larger deal. A check takes about two seconds. The two phrases generate vastly different expectations. One thing I was trying to get at on the episode was that if you add enough RP then it could make combat feel more like making quick checks than something completely different. It should feel a little different because a person does think differently when in a life or death situation, but the thought differences tend to not come out in combat.

DanOctober 23rd, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I’ll build off of Wayne’s comments a bit and try to respond to some of your other points.

Rolling for initiative itself is not a jarring event. Our point was what the phrase, “roll initiative,” has come to represent: we’re about to stop RP and begin a completely different sort of game that may go on for a long period of time. Like Wayne said, making a Strength check takes a matter of seconds. Going into battle may stop the flow of the game the precedes and follows combat for minutes or even hours.

Spending five minutes arguing about whether the bad guy was standing close enough to the door to duck out of it before you shoot him is cohesive with RP in combat; plunking down a battle mat hampers RP.

I gotta call strawman on that one. ;) I don’t think we said or supported anything like that. Arguing around the table about where someone is standing is meta-game content, not RP of any kind. Stopping the game to bicker about details like that is immersion breaking at best, and I try to avoid it either through clear descriptions or — as I advocated last episode — using minis to show the layout of the field.

Chad pretending to be a female elven wizard

Around here, we call that a party!

I really think this is a preference thing being given justification. I also think, as you talked about in this episode, it depends largely on the group you’re playing with. It’s your choice whether you bring your character’s personality into a combat situation, whether you still take non-combat actions, or it’s just “I move, I attack, 10 damage to the orc and I end my turn.”

I agree with every word in that quote except, “justification.” It’s a preference thing being explored. “Here’s why we prefer combat a certain way, and if you want to go that route, here’s some tips for making that work.”

I agree 100% with everything else in there. It absolutely depends on the group, the players, the sort of game you prefer, and the choices you make every second you’re around the table. We’re pretty unabashed about having ways we like to play — though even those preferences vary from host to host. But I can separate my opinion from some misplaced idea of right/wrong regarding RPGs. The only way you lose in an RPG is by not having fun.

On the other hand, shouldn’t much of the role-playing realistically cease during combat? I mean, if you’re caught in a struggle to the death and fighting for your life, whatever drama you have in addition to that is quite naturally going to fall to the wayside.

Cease? No. Change? Yes.

I’ve not been in many life-or-death situations, but I have been in at least two I can recall. I did not stop being me simply because a weapon entered play. Sure, the adrenaline kicks in, and I wasn’t exactly making gleeful comments to my rivals in the adventuring party or prattling on about my life drama. But I’m still a human being making choices according to my personality and values, and when it was all over, I had to deal with the repercussions (both good and bad) of the choices I had made. That’s why we talked about subjects like fear, courage, and dealing with the moral gravity of the situation.

Though, once again, all of this depends on the type of game you’re running. If you want to keep a body count game going with Gimli or sexual tension between Brad and Angelina while the blood flows, that may be appropriate in a certain type of game.

Oh, and one more thing: I don’t like the idea of people writing their actions on a card, then the GM describes what happens. I think it puts too much on the GM, who already has enough on his plate. This is one of those times when players actually get a chance to play a part in the descriptive aspects of their character and the world; I don’t like the idea of giving that to the GM.

A very valid point, and after kicking it around during the show, I agree. I think it may work for some GMs, provided they’re quick thinkers and/or have smaller groups. But for the average GM, this is probably not a good idea for the exact reasons you gave. It was just something I tossed out for discussion.

Thanks for both listening and commenting, Hal! I really appreciate it. I’d also like to close this post out by asking for your take on combat in an RPG. How does your group do it? And what tips do you have for making it work? I’d love to hear other perspectives on this.

HalOctober 23rd, 2009 at 3:48 pm

Hey, I hope my post didn’t come off as belligerent or anything; that wasn’t the intention, and I’m not one of those, “My way of gaming is right, you people and your ‘preferences’ are just wrong” people. I think I approach this way differently from you guys because I’m pretty new to gaming. I started playing 3rd edition D&D two years ago. You guys (or most of you, anyways) have been playing various games since you were teenagers. When you talk about what “Roll for initiative” has come to represent for you, well, I just don’t have the history of gaming (good, bad, or ugly) to look back on.

My group plays 4E D&D. I actually met my group on the forums, I just like blog-posting better, since I don’t have to read 10 pages of responses to get caught up. So, we have that “Roll for initiative” portion, and 4E is very tactical, so there’s a a lot of room for the type of criticism you guys talked about on the two shows (“You got wargame in my RPG!” “You got RPG in my wargame!”).

I really think part of keeping the role-playing flowing is dependent on both the GM and the players. For the players, it’s remembering that your characters are still characters and not just a mini with an attack roll, a d8 damage die, and a move speed. We shout encouragement to each other, coordinate attacks (In-character, of course), warn them of impending danger, suggest things they can do, etc. Sometimes it’s okay to do things, too, that are true to the character but not “optimal” for finishing combat. Of course, descriptive statements about your actions go a long way towards this as well.

For GMs, it’s about setting up combat scenarios for your players where RP is possible. Using the Final Fantasy metaphor, it’s really difficult to RP a random encounter when you’re walking between cities. “Oh look, some bandits. They want to fight you to the death.” A good GM will mix combat into the storyline so that it’s meaningful, so that players have an interest in the outcome besides survival, so that players will be motivated/inspired to do something with their turn besides swing a sword or throw a fireball. And, especially, a good GM will make room for players to “waste” their turn like that so that it doesn’t kill everyone. (Say, the cleric wants to spend his turns trying to “save” the bad guys rather than killing them. Don’t punish that if you don’t have to.)

I realize that’s probably a high standard to achieve, but I like what combat brings to a game. I’d rather play with a GM and players who try to work at that level, whether they succeed or not, than play a game of “pass the story stick” any day.

I hope that makes sense. And don’t take me as too harsh a critic. Except Chad. I’m a harsh critic of Chad ;-)

DanOctober 23rd, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Hey, I hope my post didn’t come off as belligerent or anything

Not at all! Disagreeing with us or marking up our commentary is not the same as being a jerk. I didn’t take your comments that way at all, and it’s also why I was careful to put at least one emoticon in my reply.

As for your method, I like the emphasis on perspective: the players and GM both have to maintain an awareness that the minis on the map (or whatever) are the exact same people that were there before and will still be there after. They’re more than just dice rolls and movement rates.

It’s also really cool to hear that you met your gaming group on the forums! That’s the sort of legacy I want this show to leave behind: more people having more fun.

DragonhelmOctober 24th, 2009 at 10:27 am

For me, having everyone describe what they’re doing before the round doesn’t quite work. The big reason is that things change quickly in combat. For example, let’s say both Dan and Chad are going to attack the kobold. Fine, okay, but what happens when Dan kills the kobold on his initiative and Chad no longer has his target? Or what happens if a new bad guy appears between their initiatives? In either case, you would have to adjust.

Combat is a fluid thing. So it’s kind of like what they say about any sort of military campaign. You can have your plans, but once you enter battle, everything changes.

DragonhelmOctober 24th, 2009 at 10:31 am

Thistledown – I’ve tried the narrative post-round summaries in my live-action games, and they have a great effect.

I also try to describe combat in terms other than hits and misses (You sank my battleship!). For example, I recently described a miss as the bad guy parrying the attack of the knight in the party. I went on to describe the madness in his face, the fresh blood from his recent kill on the sword.

JimOctober 25th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

Dragonhelm – Our group does this a lot during our Shadowrun games. I’m a big fan of using narrative summaries to describe the outcome of tests, though we typically do it throughout the round. The point is that it gives the players and GM more opportunities to give an action sequence some more of that life-or-death energy that is often missing from “OK, I hit and he takes five damage.”

TomOctober 25th, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Another great episode. That said, I really hope Chris is back soon. The show loses some balance and chemistry without a strong voice to contrast with Chad and Dan, no offense to Pat or Wayne.

On the topic at hand, I’m not really sure what can be done. I actually sympathize with Chad’s point. Resorting to violence tends to be done very quickly and without much thought in almost every game I’ve witnessed, probably thanks to it’s high fantasy roots. Combat also does seem to be a bit of a mini game within the role-playing (or depending on the system, vice versa).

I could definitely imagine a game where combat is treated much like a strength roll or skill check. One or two rolls and you either win or lose, period. Though they could be described dramatically of course. In such a game I would think it important to really stress violence as a LAST resort, and to emphasize the negative ramifications of committing such violence (especially habitually). All the time saved on Hollywood/Hong Kong cinematic style combat scenes could be spent on progressing the story, social interactions, and role playing…

You know, that actually sounds kind of cool! Maybe Chad’s onto something here.

itamarOctober 26th, 2009 at 7:35 am

Two quick notes:
1) You guys completely ignored the D&D miniatures game. How so? Its definite plus is the pre-painted minis! For that matter, I heard no reference to Battletech minis. This is shocking!
2) I’d be happy to be in on the Gaming Overseas show, if you’re interested.

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