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(TFT) Random thoughts on rpg combat systems.
In Rod Edwards "Sorcerer" role playing game,
he talks about the aim of a role playing game's
rules. His game (which I think of 'role-playing on
steroids') is specifically designed to encourage
story telling. It has a VERY minimal combat system.
TFT goes another path, it is first of all a
game. When I was a young whipper snapper of a GM, I
wanted more realism. I used all of SJ's optional
rules. After TFT died, I started making much more
complicated and more realistic rules. The problem
was, that they were too complicated to remember, so
as time went by, I started toning them down. I
added parrying rules to try to beef up people
defending. They worked ok, but slowed down play.
(More rolls, and more misses. It all adds up.)
I slowly started coming around to Howard
Thompson's point of view that SJ made TFT bigger,
but not better. (I have not got all they way
round yet... ;)
I think that Dragons of the Underearth would
have been more successful if he had ADDED material
to TFT. I mean, the people like me who owned every
thing TFT (except Master of the Amulets) bought
DotU and said, "I spent $12.00 for WHAT?" (Or what
ever it cost.) The only new thing was costs for
multi-die exploding gems.
HT planned to target TFT at a younger crowd
but this just alienated those of us who loved TFT
as it was. If HT had produced TFT supplements with
the depth we had come to expect, AND made a TFT
lite which he marketed to another, younger crowed,
then I think Metagaming would not have imploded the
way it did after SJ left.
The major realism thing that bugs me about
TFT is the length of combats. Consider, when an
army has taken 10% casualties, (that is seriously
wounded or killed) their moral is typically so
shaky that they may break at any time. Ancient
battles lasted all day sometimes.
Yet in TFT, you have two groups run at each
other and start hacking, you hit the 10% casualties
in about 15 seconds.
(If anyone would like to talk about the
length of actual ancient battles I would be very
interested in that thread.)
Dave Seagraves uses a system where you may
always parry a blow by rolling two dice more than
the attacker's to hit roll. Thus it makes sense
to attack with 4 or 5 dice (if you have the DX)
because this makes your blows hard to parry.
I had rules like this (see Inept Adept #1, I
think) but his method is simpler.
Dave's system successfully slows down combats
but it reminds me of GURPS. Most of the time
combat boil down to:
1) Players fight NPC's.
2) Players win.
An old Space Gamer had an article with RPG
definitions that said something like:
Player Character - A set of numbers used to kill
other sets of numbers.
Non-Player Character - A set of numbers used to
be killed by PC numbers (and very occasionally to
kill player character numbers).
Combat System - A set of rules designed to
dramatically delay the killing of NPC numbers.
I thought that these definitions had just
enough truth in them to hurt.
The thing about the TFT combat system is it
is fun. A number of people have commented on this
saying that they enjoyed TFT combats for their own
sake. I know I do. (For an example see:
The curator of the museum (he did not post
his name where I could find it) ended his review of
TFT with, "I'd play Melee and Wizard again at the drop
of a hat.")
The thing is that after you have mastered the
rules of a fun combat system, you are always tempted
to elaborate them just a little more. Thus optional
aimed shots rules, pinning rules, mounted combat
rules, etc. This is great for those who know the
basic rules, but it just adds more complexity to the
learning curve for new players.
I think that HT wanted a minimal combat system
so people could get to the story telling. However
his 'TFT Lite' did little to support the storytelling
and it lost some of the tactical richness of TFT.
In a previous post I wrote:
> The thing is, any combat rules for a fantasy
>game are unrealistic. What we should strive for
>(not necessarily in this order) are:
>- Tactically interesting
Playable means that the game is fun. TFT's
combat has that now, and any 'improvements' had
better tread very carefully around this point.
Fast is self explanatory. We all strive (I
assume) to put more story telling in our games.
Having a combat system where we can kill the NPC's
and get on with it, has a certain theoretical
Tactically Interesting folds into Playable.
I think I should have wrote, 'Dramatically
Interesting' instead. My dying in TFT rules
(Inept Adept #4) were so similar to Ty's rules:
that I never bothered to post them online.
It is not dramatically interesting to just
have corpses about. In the new rules, you can have
conscious but mortally wounded people gasping out
last words, giving blood stained treasure maps,
This is so dramatically important, that I am
willing to put up with some complexity where in
other places I've gone the GURPS route of more and
more realistic rules, only to revert back to the
less realistic TFT rules after a while of play -
I've taken a very long time to come to my
actual point which is on the current thread on
It might be more realistic to say that an
archer with a heavy bow can only fire once every
3 turns, but this has a big impact of playability.
People want to DO something each turn, and who
enjoys the record keeping of '2nd turn loading'
It might be more realistic to say that a
long bow has 5 points of piercing damage.
However I think that TFT combat has not, &
should not try for realism. We are not playing
GURPS after all. Before I would seriously
consider rules like these, I would ask, "Do they
dramatically add anything to the game?" If the
answer is no, then I wonder if they are needed.
I wouldn't mind allowing a long bow do more
damage, but I think that it should then require a
greater ST. (A 15 ST for an English long bow that
does 3d-1 would not bother me.)
This keeps the rules simple and answers the
problem of plate stopping most of a long bow shot.
I have been trained as a programmer, and
one good design rule of thumb is make your
programs data intensive rather than code intensive.
This means that put as much complexity into the
data, while keeping the basic rules simple. Just
upping the ST and damage for long bows does this
(and arguably is more realistic than a long bow
that requires a ST 11 to use when a standard
human is ST 10).
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