More Combat Bubbles

A short follow-up to yesterday’s post.

It’s been pointed out to me that the three of the listed goals where the Darkwater combat system falls somewhat short were three suggested by the audience, and not the panelist/speaker. Flexibility (as I said, that’s one I called out), non-deterministic, and penalty for failure.

Also, the way I interpreted asynchronous may not have been the way the panelist/speaker intended. I interpreted it to mean that players could take turns being the active participant in combat, for the purpose of avoiding confusion. But the actual meaning was likely somewhat different- that each player could act independently, and the attacker wasn’t compelled to wait for the defender’s response. In other words, it’s entirely possible for me to walk up to someone, attack them, and immediately walk away. I’m not standing in front of them, waiting for them to calculate some defense score and see if they’re entitled to a counter ability. Combat is essentially a single round, and if someone chooses to retaliate, they’re essentially beginning a new combat. And since many of the abilities (especially two of the standard ones- wound and knockout) result in someone falling unconscious, things are likely to resolve quickly.

I can understand why some LARPers may favor combat that occurs in multiple rounds- it gives people a chance to decide how they want to react. It allows people to run away, or for the tide of battle to change as people decide to join or leave the fight. There’s potential for drama there that gets lost if combat is over in an instant. But I think the trade off is likely worth it, and I still want to try out this system if I ever get a LARP written.

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About Fair Escape

I've been LARPing for years in all different styles, including both boffer and theater. I love classic LARP but I'm always happy to try something new. I have a sort of "gotta catch 'em all" attitude towards experiencing LARPs. I'm currently serve as a board member of NEIL, a member of proposal com for Intercon, the largest all LARP convention in the US, and as en editor for Game Wrap, a publication about the art and craft of LARP. I was also con chair of Festival of the LARPs 2017, and I'm on staff for NELCO, the first all LARP conference in the US. I'm
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One Response to More Combat Bubbles

  1. Kevin Riggle says:

    On non-determinism — one of my points in the talk (which may not have come through so well) was that nondeterminism in the combat system itself isn’t as important to non-determinism in the LARP as a whole as you think it is coming from a tabletop RPG context.

    As a player character in a tabletop, my primary source of risk is the dice. I don’t know what the GM has up his sleeve, but usually she wants me to win, and, regardless, the dice are the primary mechanism for figuring out how much my win or loss is going to cost me.

    As a player character in a LARP, my primary source of risk is that I don’t know what the other players are planning, what their abilities are, and ultimately what they’ll do. As a player, the other players are a far greater threat to me than rolling badly, and in-character fear of the other players motivates (IMO) more interesting roleplaying.

    For example, in a Darkwater LARP, the GMs know that, if Alice tries to wound Bob one-on-one, she’ll always succeed, because her CR is higher, and if Bob tries to wound Alice, he’ll fail, because his CR is lower. But neither Alice nor Bob know this at the beginning of game. They can both make guesses — maybe Bob is a skinny geek kid and Alice is a Secret Service agent, which will give them a pretty good sense of what their relative abilities are — but then again Alice doesn’t know that Bob isn’t secretly a Terminator robot going in.

    It depends on the genre and the context, but even if Alice has seen Bob in combat before, the ability to pull one’s punches means that Alice has no guarantee that she knows Bob’s true combat ability. For all she knows, he threw those fights in order to lull her into a false sense of security.

    The ability to recruit allies also makes a much larger difference. In a tabletop, allies outside the party are rare and mostly thrown in by the GM for story purposes; the GM then turns up the monster difficulty accordingly, and we’re back to the dice being our primary source of risk.

    In a LARP, if (as we know as GMs) Bob can’t ever take Alice one-on-one but can always take her with a friend, then once Bob figures this out, Bob has a lot of incentive to pull his ally Cathy into helping him take down Alice. (Which may or may not be a good idea, depending on whose side Cathy is /actually/ on.) And this means that if a friend of Alice’s happens along when Bob and Cathy are trying to take her down, suddenly the tables are turned again. (In contrast, in a tabletop, the GM would have had to roll the dice to figure out if someone was walking by and heard the scuffling.)

    So basically even with a fundamentally deterministic combat system, there’s enough noise in the environment around it which affects the choices going into it that you get enjoyable risk and effectively non-deterministic story outcomes without the minute-to-minute overhead of rolling dice, and you encourage interesting and (IMO) enjoyable roleplay.

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