Friday, February 27, 2015

Open Notes - My Open RPG progress in Feb 2015

I've been working on a simple homebrew for years now. Its fairly simple and focuses on fundamentals. I began with definition of an RPG, a glossary of terms related to the hobby, and then instead of going into the rules I realized I had to go into "Running a game". This meant not just the GM, which is a lot of the work, but also the player-side as well. It can go long so I would definitely just word it as "basics", focus on core principles, and tackle more in a later chapter.

 Focusing in a particular set of GMing is the part that is puzzling since I can narrow it down with better ways to express it, but I dont want to come off as this is the only way to GM. That problem that I have a set of mnemonics and ways to juggle and run games, and break down the complexity but my method is not the only one or the best one for you - but the method that is easy for me since I work with certain soft skills that I value in daily life. :P

Anyway part of my current line up of articles is Non-Binary Consequences. I'm working on some tools so that the GM can easily improvise on such (using 2d6 tables of word formulas). How to manage the valleys or low points in pacing (the perfect time for building player buy-in). As well as some dice tools (again 2d6 tables with word formulas) of how GMs can draw out tension. Well I hope I get it all done, the articles are half written with me leaving a ton of the problems to be worked by my subconscious.

So you can imagine how much it has evolved from 2015, my anticipation is that I will have more work and more responsibilities so gaming has to be more portable, Intuitive and more "Ice-breaky". That I can quickly get a regular person, non-ttrpgamer, to try it and play to kill time. So it has to be physically and mnemonically portable, and probably great training for sales lolz. Truly general universal role-playing - in what ever system the audience is inclined to.

EDIT: I'm incorporating this Extra Credit, currently working now on how to implement the ideas and giving examples of such examples. After finishing it, I have to rethink a lot of what I just wrote above and design it around an adventure. I will have a rulebook and the Tuturial Adventure. Tutorial Adventure first, then collect everything as a rule book to follow.

Back to Basics: My Game Itinerary

Why it takes me roughly 4 hours to run a game. Part of the Back to Basics because I've tried to make my style system agnostic and dependent on Active Listening and Consensus Decision Making Skills.

1st hour

Getting everyone story, refresher. I'm not your teacher, I'm a GM. I dont give home work and my games are not meant to keep you or ME busy during the course of the week so we are going to catch up and remember what happened. I'm also getting everyone's tone and mood. See whose there and see what I can work with.

2nd hour

Active Listening at 100% - I should be LISTENING and actively incorporating every new Idea and Action into the Narrative. I absorb everything that is happening and try to make sense of it and see what frightening cliff we are steering into through the "audience" in me.
I am the audience, as much as the players are the audience. I'm watching and enjoying their genius and crazy ideas that they try to pull of, as well as their well thought out RP and strategems. As I am Actively Listening, like any person watching a great show one's mind wanders into the possibilities.
Sometimes shit gets complicated in this hour and I rally my wits to execute and RP through the event or complication.

3rd hour

Did I do enough in the 2nd hour. I remember often looking at the watch "Holy crap we did a lot" and thinking "that was just 2 hours!?". My blind sides are showing. Especially when so much happened in the past two hours I'm struggling to make sure EVERYONE GETS AIR TIME.
Honestly If I remember to take a break and have a snack and drink, my performance is good but most of the time I forget and I'm juggling stuff at the house and technical difficulties. I had to change gears and switch to dad mode to help my kid at the toilet then run back to remember what byzantine intrigue did the players get into.
This is when I try to make sure everyone has a second chance at greatness if I failed to do so in the past two hours. This is me starting the process again of Active Listening 100% but with some considerable mental fatigue.

4th hour 

This is my last chance to make an impression and make things good. Look at notes, think back quickly "who got spot light and is getting some real intrigue and action going?" By now my wits is exhausted and I'm struggling to have enough of a mind to tie everything together in some sense. I really just prepare and I don't have some ending in mind. I search through what has happened and look for the emotional focal point, what would make this a good show? I struggle to make it make sense and

4.5 hour

By now my wife is hinting I have to go and they need to be fed. I have to wrap it up and as always I don't have the wit to make sense of all the things that has happened because I did not PLAN, I just prepared, what plan I had was the fruition of the goals of the NPCs and thats not exactly a plan.

After the Game

I wrap things up. I listen to myself and cringe "white knuckled" through my flaws and mistakes. its humbling and I have to be a bit forgiving. I finally hear what the players are hinting and keep those as notes for the next session and over arching plots and machinations of the NPCs. I write a summary, straight to the point when I have the time. I can't make it nice, I dont have the time, so I present it with all the flaws and the best effort one can make.

Some note that I just woke up, and I'm a slow riser. If I'm lucky I would have had 6 hours of sleep. I've come to depend on the Game Recording very much because it gives me a sense of where I am and what are my weaknesses. There is no ambiguity to my flaws, they are there and painful to see but that pain makes me feel good strangely - a bit more alive and I remember I have power to change and overcome my flaws. My mom watches this so I can imagine her CRINGING when I screw up so the pressure is a bit on and should stay on.

Prep Before the Next Game

This is what I mostly do, I prep by learning more of the history and imagining the relationships going on. Since I document the game's recording in a summarize what the PC/Players are doing and the consequences, I consider what are the forces they will be going against (By forces its not just people but mindsets, culture, and logistics). I try to write them all, but too often I can't read my notes because I'm too busy juggling. I'm trying to have the skill to execute a good piece of drama and have an aftermath that will allow me some room to look back into my notes. Currently having problems writing notes down while the game is ongoing.   

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

How to GM Abstract Combat Part 3 - Initiative, Combat for the Non-Combat GM

Part 2 can be found here. This is Back to Basics.

Initiative is a simple matter, it is for the Player (not the PC), to act or re-act. The matter of GMing Combat for non-combat GMs or GMs who may have different values for combat as their players brings us back to being a Good Listener and having the presence of mind to act and respond to the players actions and add dramatic context.

Who Goes First (Initiative)!

In order to have Initiative, in real combat, one cannot wait for all the information to be in. One moves with an incomplete idea of what is happening. Most players are not really comfortable doing this (I'm not comfortable doing this!), they want to be informed, so when they ask for information - they've spent their turn observing and getting an idea what is happening. NPCs work with the same instructions, the GM typically has an objective to the NPCs and thats what he uses.

This may be upsetting to some, but consider those who jump in with barely a clue and how little they go on (and I've been sent into many scouting missions where I really have no clue what I'm doing). Typically when we know there is no other allies in the area and we "Shoot" before we even think, that gives us the fastest reaction time to a sitaution and it has been the source of both survival and friendly fire in Judgement and Decision Making Studies. This can even happen in Melee!
  1. Action vs Asking - Action - Players declaring Actions go first. Asking - Players asking Questions go after all players who just Act. "I attack the Leader!" may be considered asking if the GM calls that the leader is not easily apparent.
              Ranged Attacks vs Melee Attacks - Depending on the amount of movement in the Battlefield, Ranged Attacks may be resolved before Melee Attacks. 
  2. By Specificity - The most specific "Attacking the Red Plumed Legionaire", "Striking the Weapon Hand of my nearest Attacker..." go before more general statements. Ideally the statement is easily apparent facts, like if there is a Plume on the Helmet vs a Value judgement like "The most expensive helmet", "Fanciest Sword", etc...
            The trick to this is making observations before the character gets into combat, requiring the Player to pay attention, then Applying the observations on combat.
            Assumptions! - making assumptions is ok, and in this style the GM should encourage this since its speeds up play and lets the Players really add to the scene. Let the Assumptions just modify the Roll, to keep the pace moving. Poorly informed Assumptions can be a hindrance, while those right-on are a bonus.
            Conditions! Conditions are like Assumptions, "I attack the apparent leader, or who is the greatest Threat" will slide down in the turns. Resolve those with the least or no conditions first. 
  3. By Simplicity - The Simplest action, is not necessary the simplest statement. "I attack the Leader" requires knowledge of who is the leader unless it is self evident, this may slow down the character if the GM calls that a character needs time to observe. If its as simple as "Attacking the nearest Opponent", this would trump the "Attack the Leader".  The player may need to carefully word his ideas before the next cycle to make sure he gets the better initiative. 
  4. By Coordination - Coordinating with Another PC or NPC is typically the last. Sometimes just matching with this faster moving NPC or PC will mean its only in the Next Cycle of turns will the PC get to match and Coordinate with the other Character.  
The next part will go into Details.

Handing Interruptions

To keep it simple, consider interruptions as a Change in the Order of Initiative. Given how much faster an Action has to be in order to Interrupt another Character (PC/NPC), the GM may just call for a penalty to the roll.

The Fighter, Interrupting the Wizard, would have a penalty to the Action he plans to use. The more timing sensitive, the bigger the penalty. The consequences is that more skilled characters will try to Interrupt other Character by being able to accept penalties to their skill. This penalty should scale against the Skill of the Character they are Interrupting complicated by how many conditions and assumptions the Character is making to perform this action. 

Interrupting a Wizard, where the PC needs to know which character is the Wizard, move close enough to affect that NPC, and Time the Attack will have a lot of penalties. Greater Penalties if the Wizard is more skilled than the Fighter. 

Any Change in order is more penalties. The GM can just yes BUT. 

GMing Combat for the Non-Combat GM

Not everyone is a Combat GM, and some GMs dont emphasize it as much as others and every GM has a different source of enjoyment from combat. I have changed a lot in this regard, I've moved away from Map to Narrative, from Complete Information to Asymmetric and I will have some discomfort playing in games which want Symmetric and Perfect information in combat. Still, we do this to have fun. That people have different values and I can adapt and get into the mindset that is fun for the group, and not just myself.

What a Non-Combat GM has to keep in mind with combat is the Audience. I would love the focus to be chaos, economies of Attention, classical combat rules of thumb, or decision making and problem solving but when we have fun we must pay attention to the players and pace them in the details and the value they place in a given Combat scene. Put it simply - We ask them to fill the scene with their character actions.

This is asking the play what his character is doing, and interpreting it with a generous amount of essential assumptions they would have factored in if they knew - and to narrate the action with these assumptions. So I ask my play what he is doing, and fill in details that highlight aspects of the character in the situation when I respond to him. Its basically Yes-And/But, I listen carefully and work with what they say, new information is worked in as the world and NPCs respond to the character's actions.

The same virtues that speeds up play, Good Faith and letting the PC factor assumptions that would be plain to them. Don't let details or challenges overwhelmed the Player and PCs, IF their characters are warriors they are performing at their strength. If there are meddling details, introduce it one at a time, dont throw a whole lot of problems per turn - it just demolishes the momentum of the Players narrative. So in reiteration, make it easy for them to respond but challenge them with one more detail that makes the situation challenging or dramatic.

Examples: stuff you may add as the turns of the combat progresses

  1. Perceptive members of the party notice movements in the Periphery, maybe someone is circling, using the opportunity to escape, a trap is being set. Give a hint, if the Player does not get it check his stats if a more direct simple explanation would be reward his character's ability, the players caution, initiative or forethought into the situation. It doesnt have to be even stats that give you reason, it could be motivation - the character's irrationalities or disadvantages. 
  2. Ask the players where they allocate their attention. Its as simple as filling details where their attention is placed. If they are looking for the boss, they see the boss and you describe him. Those who watch the rear notice those who try to flank or sneak up on the group. Those supporting and aiding their allies, grant them better chances of success (and my house rule is that all those who aid, suffer the consequences along with those they aid) and have the consequences of such to suffer and gain. 
  3. Character who are social, dramatic, or non-combatant will notice non-combat opportunities - Threats to be emphasized, or made with every successful turn, Incentives to talk for their enemies, words of succor for their allies, or thinking through context of the Violence. Consider it a challenge as a GM to note that Violence has context and that if the player finds and manipulates that context he would have put his non-violent character to good use. 
  4. Other than attention, be  mindful of the PCs objectives and "buttons". Push those buttons - Honorable characters are implored, those with Duties have the consequences of failure hanging over their heads, those who are paid have costs they are willing to pay and unwilling to pay, those who fight with no thought to it have things they have taken for granted because of the violence. 
  5. Strategic Goals - if you read a lot of sun zi you will note that violence is not all there is, and that there are moves and actions that Check an opponent with minimum effort and risk. Make it up, or Make it complicated.  

For the Combat GM, and you are a student of Conflict and Violence then the Game is your own reward and its intellectual and physical pursuit your own nourishment. I dont need telling from me when are already fans of the subject and continue to study and explore it. All these things will seem natural, but of course we have to consider the Non-Combat or Violence people who play and accommodate their satisfaction. They should have as much fun, and  we listen and are open to how this can happen.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sins of the Crusades Notes on Army Organization

Sadly its really hard to research Komnenian Armies. This is because of the haphazard situation and the constant conflicts unlike Justinian/Belisarius and Maurice's time as well as titles being a tool of manipulation (an arbitrary manner to move people up or down the pecking order). Then there is the adoption of Western organization, which is simpler and more useful given the constraints of the time. To make it easier and more intuitive I will limit the terms used with those that are more modern and easier to follow.

This is also from my experience in fighting in groups, and how challenging it is to coordinate as well as some management science insight. I've noticed the Military Fiefs determine how things are organized because these are the simplest ways of disseminating resources.

This is meant to make it easier to understand military organization. For the non-military characters in the game, this is to understand the logistics - that a soldier = a household, typically with a tenant farmer attached (I was not able to assemble these into a proper thesis but reading up on Byzantine Economics by Kenneth Harl is where I got this). That their leaders have greater and greater households awarded to them, and it is up to their virtues or vices how these resources are spent. As you can imagine, the higher up the chain, the more they need specialists and administrators and how limited they are in recruiting skilled talent, or how fortunate they are to have any skilled administrators.

Military Terms

Komnenian Army
Byzantine Army

  • A Squad is 10 men, with one of them leading them called a Sergeant (Dekarch).
  • We will use Companies (Pentekons and Hekatons), lead by a Captain (aka Pentatonarch or Hekatonarch), to call a group (of typically 5) Squads. So this is typically 50 men average mode (100 an uncommon number and a mark of a upward climbing military career).
  • We will use Bandon, lead by a Commander (aka Companions or Komes) to call a group of Companies (typically 3 to 10). 200-1000 men.  
  • We will use Army (Tagma), lead by a General (Strategos), to call a group of Bandons (2 to 10). Generals and their Armies vary greatly and posturing makes it hard for us to tell how many is an army. Which is not a bad thing because that is part of the game, the confusion sowed by the differences in organization.   

In the mindset of the time grouping focused on having more maneuverable units which needed competent leaders as well as awarding Households to compensate and support the soldiers. So the Army had a tendency to break up into small subunits of Companies in order to make it easier to coordinate and maneuver. A fairly experienced captain can organize up to 50 men within the parameters and expectations of the time. So most grouping is having as many Captains as possible. Captains get a large household, while his sergeants and soldiers get a household with tenants. Gaining men and resources is up to the ingenuity and aggressive manner of the Captain and his posse.

When a captain is sufficiently skilled and experienced his men grow to 100, and he moves up to be a Commander when he can organized more as he promotes within his Company his own sergeants. Commanders aka Counts, who are typically given estates of a fifty to hundred households, organizes their assets in Companies, while his whole strength is called a “Bandon” or “Band”.

A General, typically gets a vacated or recaptured Fief or Provincial Estate worth hundreds of households. If held and maintained, the succeeding generations become Dynasts themselves. Wealthier generals have been in the military for generations and have a much larger army, they stylize themselves as Dukes (Doukas) or Princeps or what ever title the Emperor will give them. the Appearance of strength and power is important so they tend to look for titles and estates to gain. You will notice that the Byzantine/Roman Imperial bureaucracy allows for this, rewarding titles, and to make it easier for the players and myself I'll simplify this with small notes on how many titles or households or soldiers instead of remembering or researching every single title.

Households and Soldiers

Note that Soldier = Household is a very typical formula for thousands of years. Also note that the more mobile, or farther from the household the soldier operates, the need for multiple households per soldier to support him. The longer the operation the more households is needed. Its from my chinese studies that about 10 households per soldier was about the cost of the border operations of various Dynasties in China. You think in households because you think in how to make it ongoing. Sun Zi had a formula for it in ounces of silver and Chinese miles, the romans I'm sure had such rules of thumb but it wasnt as widely adopted and evolved as the Chinese.  

A household is the soldier's household, and plus that of its tenants. This is a fluid number and not necessarily 1+1. The soldier can have slaves, and they provide the labor or tenants farmers who have migrated or have been captured.

Friday, February 20, 2015

GM Seminar at Makati B&B Jan 25 2015

+Marc P. Reyes organized the GM Seminar Jan 2015.  This was held at Makati B&B aka the Gaming Library in International Language Institute in legaspi village.

Pix from Jose Roxas
The speakers were +Marc P. Reyes , mysefl, +Tobie Abad w/ +Rocky Sunico (Tagsessions), and +Jay Steven Anyong.

The other videos will be linked to their respective speaker's blogs or platforms.

+Marc P. Reyes Mastering DnD 5e

My Take of Online Table Top RPGs

+Tobie Abad's The Beautiful Lie

+Jay Steven Anyong 's All the Small Things

That was a very busy week end. 

My presentation was to Try out Online Table Top Roleplaying, and what are the Pros and Cons I've experienced in my couple of years of running them and playing them.

The event was very active, and met a lot of GMs I've never met and some old faces of a particular generation of Gamers. You can call them the younger brothers of many of the first Gamers in the country, on average 10 years younger than the generation of Gamers who first picked up the GM screen. As in the cycle of life, our seniors are all busy with family and work, and we are those who still not to busy because of such. (expecting a great amount of fall out from such causes).

Still the community is energetic and still try to get books even when there are many barriers for them to access such. This group is just the Tip of the iceberg since Metro Manila Logistics makes us Insular and many more such communities exist around the various Friendly Local Gaming Stores that have popped up.

This is a labor of love and you can see from the devotion and resources expended by these Gamers. Some of whom traveled 30+ km or what would be 2 hours drive away. The venue was full and many more wanted to join. So much more that the event created the momentum of pushing for another such event bridging DnD Philippines and trying to accommodate as much of the community as logistically possible. A stellar effort to all those who made it possible, and hope a stronger and closer community can be created despite how difficult it is to meet in the Philippines (the traffic situation is so bad, almost 9/10 people sacrifice 2+ hours per day in commuting)

This Feb 22, Sunday, in Makati B&B there will be another GM Seminar:
(by +Marc P. Reyes)
1. Using Filipino History, Culture and Myth in your RPG GamesThree designers of Filipino themed tabletop RPGs, will discuss how you could insert Filipino folklore, culture and myth into your game world, or how to look up information for these in your game!Discussion Facilitators: BJ Recio, Marc Pozon Reyes, Fabs Fabon
Start time: 12:00nnEnd time: 12:45pm 

2. Duty, Love and HonorHow to run the Legend of the Five Rings RPG to the fullest by using the social dynamics of Rokugan. Don't know what this is? Think you know what this game is about? Prepare to be surprised!Discussion Facilitator: Jay Steven Uy Anyong
Start time: 1:00pmEnd Time: 1:45PM
Intermission/break: 2:00pm-3:00pm 
3. Encounter Design in Fantasy Roleplaying GamesAn edition neutral panel on how to design combat encounters in any flavor of D&D and games similarly constructed.Discussion Facilitator: Lawrence Augustine R. Mingoa
Start Time: 3:00pmEnd Time: 3:45pm 

4. Narrative Control: What it is and how to share itTobie Abad explores the story aspect of tabletop roleplaying games and how the story is narrated by both the players and the GM together.Discussion Facilitator: Tobie Abad
Start Time: 4:00pmEnd Time: 4:45pm 

5. GM Help PanelA panel of GMs, including everyone who talked in the previous GM seminar, will offer their advice on YOUR problems as a GM. Problem players, game balance, player recruitment, rules questions etc, ask and a panel of veteran GMs will try to answer your question!GM Help Panelists: Marc Reyes, Tobie Abad, Justin Aquino,  Laurence Augustine R. Mingoa, BJ Recio, Jay Anyong
Start Time: 5:00pmEnd Time: 6:00pm 
The group is more active in Facebook in "Philippine Tabletop RPGs" Group. A community growing strong thanks to improving economic conditions in the Philippines despite massive barriers to travel, trade and access to books. 

A Call for better definition of Skills, and more

If you agree with these assertions, then I want to point you towards Agency and Skills. Particularly how people feel a greater sense of Agency when they acquire skills, and that we can define and develop a set of skills through RPGame.

One things I loved about GURPS is that their research brought them to use some real world skills. Of course, they use the term depends and is not always drawn from the real world. Still it hits some key terms on various soft skills in the discussions of the forums and in the source books. (ex. using Fortunetelling when the definition is more like Cold Reading)

If you've seen me GM then you'll notice I focus a lot on Soft Skills, particularly using the correct definition and expounding the concepts for skills. If you look at how I approach Administration, Merchant, Diplomacy, etc... (and many other skills) I go well beyond the GURPS definition and use the real world definition and scope of these skills. As a student of management and cognition, you'll notice I try to use the correct concepts when it comes to biz dealings, and draw from that for many of my explanations. This, in my guessing, should help people better understand the real world practices I draw from.

I didnt realize how important it was to me, or how to verbally communicate how important it was until this video from Extra Credit - it gave me a sense of AGENCY. If we can define the real world skills we accumulate and try then the sense of control we have over our lives become more tangible, more real.

I try most of the time to go by Conventional Definitions, and to cite sources where I get these definitions since many skills have different meaning per industry, profession, and cultural business background. So its easier to "match assumptions" and "definition of terms".

So in the system I'm working on in the side, Ill try to keep using the same real world convention for certain soft skills (while putting the particular discipline I draw from in one of notes). When we use such terms, more techniques and nuances tend to be available for the PC's creativity to master and manipulate.

I realize, not a lot of people game this way but most people feel the need to  have verbal tools to express the skillset they want to communicate to research, or expect from others. So I hope this helps in seeing how important such a verbal tool can be and how it can make teaching and learning easier through a greater sense of agency.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Back to Basics - Empathy as the Goal

This is related to my post on the thesis that GMing is very much like Active Listening. Related to my Back to Basics line of articles.

I've been following Extra Credit Lately, and this piece speaks to me. Particularly as a GM or as someone who wants to Immerse in a Historical Setting.

Thesis: Evoking Empathy for the complexity of the situation and the character's internal conflicts is a mark of a Good Role-Playing Experience.

Can I use this Thesis to judge or measure a Scene? Isn't this a great tool to measure how RP-meaty or substantive a game and scenario can be?

What this thesis is leading me to is differentiating Game Decisions and Empathic Decisions (talked about in the Extra Credit Video above). That when we role-play a scene, I do not just simply look at Goals and Objectives, I look at factors that confuse and obscure objectivity and influence the decision making in a powerful way. It leads to the idea that "Can I judge a scene on how Heavily Empathic Factors weigh in on the decisions of the Character?" The farther from Objectivity, and the closer of having Irrational Motive govern the Characters. I can't exactly throw rationality out the door, but It i not anymore the most discernible element in a decision's factors.

Which  leads me to ask - Does this Game System allow for these messy empathic factors from influencing the decision making in the game? I can go on to say, that when I design my own GM-tools or RPG system, the easier it is for me to muddy a decision for a player the better the ROLE-PLAYING aspect of a system. I realize by this Metric or Standard, some systems grant the GM and Players more tools? 

Its the opposite of real life where we struggle for Objectivity, in an RPG we struggle for STRONGER EMPATHY of the character's circumstance. This is to exercise our empathy so that when we do struggle for objectivity, we have looked at the problem with other perspectives in consideration. 

How do I reward Empathic Decisions? 

Since these are suboptimal strategies, more often these kinds of decisions get the character killed and ends the stories. How do I rewards Empathic Decisions, while keeping the story going long enough to extract maximum drama and catharsis?

To get to the Point: I don't have a real answer. What answer I have deals with altering how we deal with Success or Failure in the Game system. I've altered my method of adjudication in my games, I do not explicitly say the penalty to the roll, I just ask the players to Roll. I do have some penalties in mind BUT what matters is the degree of success and WHAT the players/PCs further do in the situation. Basically - dont make it about ending in failure, that the story keeps going while the PCs are still alive even when they have a serious set back.

So, as a GM, try not to let it end with a roll. The Roll just summarizes the circumstance, but ultimately its the number, quality of strategies employed by the PC/Player and the Empathic Content that determines the consequences. This method of going about rolls allows for Non-Binary Success or Failure approach. It's the opportunity for the GM to make Un-intended or ambiguous consequences. --- the Story Goes on, but the Tone has Changed. This requires self infliction of the "Framing Effect".

The next problem is: How does the GM think of Ambigous Consequences, that the Actions of the PCs move the story forward and that the movement forward can be Success and Failure or something in between or mixed. Lets leave that for another post.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sins of the Crusades - Season 02, Episode 06 - Betreyal

Thanks +Wilton Heath+Dan Mungham+Thunder Clonch , and +Il Pella for playing.

  • The team was planning an attack, the problems and challenges were plenty
    • the closest target was Nicomedia (Izmit), assailable by sea and land
    • it was a small prize, and vulnerable to Nicea. A wealthier city that can easily send reinforcements. 
    • they had enough ships to move only 5000 troops. That would be 
      • 300 Large boats
      • 15 Merchant ships
    • Some knew of the Sakarya River, able to take them close to Nicea or Nicomedia depending on the weather. By estimations, they were sure it could bring them to Nicea. 
    • The Need for a Sea Port (after they deal with the Genoans)
  • Tertius spent the past two months working on his men and their discipline. 
    • Familiarization on Norman Warfare
    • Gains Teamwork Perk for his men and himself. 
    • Nightfighting Technique (H) 4cp, he negates -3 worth of penalties associated with night time combat and coordination. He's conditioned his men, 500, to fight and operate at night.  
  • Olek sets up a kitchen for the Army, and uses it to cover for his cooking of flammable grease. He constructs a heavy scorpion able to lob the concoction a good 700 yards. 
    • He proceeds to cultivate his own circle of thralls, using old and intuitive techniques of indoctrination (brain washing). He grows and feeds the beast, and these creatures come to know him as their master - enabling their twisted nature. 
    • He instructs Tertius Men, in how to safely handle and use the incendiary grease. 
  • Xeno, Empress Maria, and Cato approach the Genoans
    • They were able to make introductions, and Cato befriends Micheal of the Agostino family who later introduces them to Nikolas, the Patriarch of the family. In exchange for the ships, the Genoans want a way to move their goods without Imperial duties by way of a friendly port to make their way West. Cato arranges something with young Constantine and the Agostine Family. 
    • They learn that the Genoas facilitate some trade for Doux Theodor Garbas, in the black sea. Xeno uses the opportunity to arrange the a way to meet the "imprisoned" general.They hint on an agreement with the Doux is possible, especially if they can acquire his son. 
  • Xeno, Tertius, and Theodore.
    • Xeno continues his investigation on who betrayed them and caused his capture. He learns of Theodores role and that of Nikophero Milesenos. That Milisenos was making deals with the Turks, was something the Emperor knew well but who tipped off Tzarchas to take Symryna was something else. Something the emperor was not aware of, to lose such a valuable port and so many ship builders. The Taronites is a new suspect, as the Bureaucrats they possess the means to leak the attack and some influence over the emperors own Intelligence agents. 
  • In the last days Cato is trying to read bohemon and see where he is in circle of trust. Given how important the next days will be he is high in his lords esteem more so when he spends the time to reassure his Lord (managing expectations). 
  • Rumors circulate of the streets becoming less safe and more of the homeless disappearing. Even criminals take care to do their business in the streets when words of how so many have disappeared lately. 
  • In the night they leave Olek's agents poisons one of the guest palaces and takes Gregory Garbas with them. 
  • When the army finally mobilizes, it was unexpected and by the time word arrives to the emperor, the city is in confusion. The army makes it way quickly to Nicomedia, aided by Genoans and Garbas ships. They arrive in the Seljuq city and quickly move their ships to the walls and begin scaling them. Such an unexpected attack took the city by surprise and many of the defenders were slaughtered inside the walls. 
    • They sacked the city, and moved quickly to gather the nobles. The city's Amir was not inclined to surrender. Cato' was very convincing, and Olek's fire caused confusion and betrayal. By the Dawn the city was taken, and Bohemmond has left Constantinople with his land force.  
  • Everyone got the usual rewards 2cp for themselves, and 3cp for others. 
  • Hiatus till March 13/14 2015 because of a ton of Social Obligations and Prep for a War Campaign. Which means making armies, re-familiarizing with Mass Combat Rules, and Digging up the Seljuq Generals and the Intrigues they had. 
where Nicomedia (Izmit) was relative to Constantinople (Istanbul)
where Nicomedia (Izmit) and Nicea (beside the Lake) 

 Where Nicea was compared to Doryleaum (Eskisiher)

Where Doryleaum was compared to Ankara and Konya

Friday, February 13, 2015

How to GM Abstract Combat Part 2 - Economies of Attention

This is Part 2 of How to GM Abstract Combat. Here is part 1. Back to Basics.

Economies of Attention is as simple as it sounds. People can only give so much attention to one or a few things at a time. The underlying concept not only carries into combat but also in Long Actions or Activities that transpire in weeks or months.

This is about combat, so lets talk about one of the basic priorities.  I realize that they are perfect in asking the players how they "Proceed" in a situation.

  • Guard - Guard takes some effort and attention, it also signals threat. Alert can also be used, but guard implies you've taken a combat stance or readied your weapon. The more specific the PC declares they guard "against" the faster they react to it. Ambiguous threats lowers reaction time when on guard. 
    • Overwatch. A kind of Guard, basically its watching over someone. Its similar to simply observing. Done correctly you lower the guard for yourself, and focus on guarding the ally. The reason you can afford to lower your guard for yourself is because you are in a safer spot. 
  • Speed - It is assumed you go as fast as possible, unless other things are being prioritized or multi-tasked. When you add "Guard" or "Stealth" to your multitasking you move slower. You can say speed is the last priority or the first priority. In combat speed is defense by seizing opportunity, not just being a hard target. When the PC has momentum of fast movement, they are in a better position to maneuver.
  • Stealth - ...or discretion. One of the potential other priorities in a situation. it Also means communicating silently and gestures. 
  • Observation. Purely observing and taking in the situation. 
  • Concentrated Action - performing a task that needs concentration or removing your attention from all the dangers you would look out for to get something done.

When engaged with opponents:

  • Defense - The difference of defense vs guard is that guard is assumed automatically when you're already "engaged" with an opponent. When someone says "go on Defense" it means prioritizing risk minimizing strategies and various evasive strategies. 
  • Aggressive Attack - Attack is implied in combat situation, people will attack when they have the opportunity to. When you want to attack at every opportunity or increase the effort in creating an opportunity to attack. You'll hear me say "I need an aggressive attack against A"

System Notes:

Its up to the GM how these apply. The bonuses should reflect the economies of attention and effort, multi-tasking rules as well as rules that deal with extra time and concentration, or hastily performing an action.
I simplified the GURPS combat rules under this, since there are equivalencies. In other game systems, I just look at their multitasking penalties or if they have rules for such, if not, I improvise such rules but many other game systems work in this "abstract time frame".


Multi-Tasking can be Very Hard to Not So difficult. It really depends how complicated the two actions can be and if the game system has such.
Cumulative Penalties is one way to go about it, where for every additional action gives a Static value Penalty. Ex. for every additional multi-tasking there is a -3 penalty with two actions, -6 with 3 actions, and -9 with 4. Check with the system what is a Hard or Difficult task.
Compounding Penalties is another way to go about it. It starts with some penalty, like -3, and doubles every time there is an added multi-tasking action.  -3 with two actions, -6 with 3 actions, -12 for 4. I would recommended harsher penalties (compounding) and a high starting penalty. In GURPS "HARD" is a -4, so multi-tasking brings down both skills by -4. Check with the system what is a Hard or Difficult task.

The Character can tell time by activities. It cannot economize in currencies of seconds (like GURPS). Time is all screwed up in combat but things will always take their time. The most the brain can measure is the task they are doing - if they are very well practiced, then one can figure out how much time passes from experience. So go by action or activities turn to turn. Its simpler and more satisfying for the players, coincidentally it is more realistic.

Too Late, too Slow. The success roll, is not just rolling to see if you perform an action well, but if you perform it well in time.

Advocating Abstract Narrative Combat

  1. Its easier, not much prep. 
  2. Its Information Imperfect, the PCs have to take initiative and work with blind assumptions or take the time to Analyze and lose initiative. 
  3. It practices more precise and effective communication, Dependency on the map, vs learning to communicate better. It's GMing fundamentals (if you're into that garbage). 
  4. Any Game System, even no game system. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How to GM Abstract Combat Part 1 - Think in Opportunities

Playing a game like Airsoft requires me to have some mnemonic tools to help improve and to compensate for the the severe lack of combat instinct. Which is not bad, because I think my strength is Intrapersonal awareness to better describe what is going on in my head and probably whats going on in the heads of others. These lessons serve as a way to better model and describe combat so as to highlight and encourage the intrapersonal cues that help people navigate through such confusing and difficult situations.

Back to Basics Series, which began with Active Listening GMing

Think in Opportunities

The number of attacks one make is the wrong "mental paradigm" or model to think of combat. Its better to think of multiple opponents as "tasks to Juggle". I ended up realizing this when a player recently asked me about it, and to find out I stopped thinking in this way. Then realized its a dangerous mental model to think in this way, if the person is in a real fight... because thats How I thought about it when I tried to fight two weapons in Kali.

GURPS and DnD work in such models. Many Game systems work in such a model - except the Narrative Generation of RPGs. As a simulationist, I want to encourage a kind of thinking that would be easier to transfer in a real world situation - that the game helps me grow. So I try to look at games and look for the Cognitive Frameworks (Applying Cognitive Biases as a way to Frame) and see if there is anything of note.
Disclaimer: Basically what I'm going to talk about here can be applied in any game system. You end up boiling the whole thing down to an "opposed" roll where the GM makes an authoritative judgement on the validity of your strategy based on his "omniscient" knowledge of all the factors to add the modifiers. There is no "SYSTEM" to over-rule the GM here. The player must trust the GM in levels some games has not needed (games where the rules matter more than the GM's authority, that there is room for argument).
Looking back into multiple attacks or "strikes" or even the funny change of what the definition of "attack" I am now in a different place where these have other meanings. An attack is simply seizing an opportunity, while a more skilled warrior can create more opportunities - these opportunities cant really be measured. Each circumstance is a kind of opportunity that is hard to "number". Being in a position to mow down 10 assailants, is not 10 attacks, it may not exactly be one (as we've experienced in Insurgency). "Strikes" or "pull of a trigger" are just minor details to what one is trying trying accomplish.
Where details come in. The only time those details matter is when I and a team mate do evaluations for what would be our training. What habits or near-involuntary actions we should be reflexively doing in a given situation. If you think about it - this is when you spend Character Points, and characters spending time to improve themselves are better equipped to do so when they are reflective of their activities and self, or when there are others who can evaluate their actions and give them advice and 3rd person perspective.  
Think of it as an "executive decision" to choose a strategy. There is an economy or finite amount of attention resource to allocate. Framing it as "opportunities" you need to create is also a very useful mnemonic in this narrative.

Ask "Opportunities I need to create?"

"I have to weaken his guard, enough to let my blade pass"
"I have to get around his armor"
"I need to dominate/distract the overwatcher, before I take out the point."
"I need to suppress the threat area for my guys to maneuver into safety or flanking"
"I need to thin out the crowd so I can take them out at a time"
"I need to keep them in a running battle"
"I need to delay this defender, while I take out this attacker"

The best use of detail is in training, and in "informing context". If the character only has one trick, there are consequences to that.

What this also means is - narrative is more accurate in simulating real combat than to break it down to strikes or seconds (my issue with GURPS). That in combat some of us tend to think in "strategies".

Narration in Steps

If you want to get all Technical About it
Step 0 Order of Initiative or Turns. IME the virtues are called Situation Awareness, which is a mix of Tactics, Conditioning, and Perception. I tend to use Soldier or Tactics with Perception for this. Still I tend to allow for other "Intelligence" to matter. 
Step 1 Resolve their action by the order of Turns from the slowest to the fastest while allowing the fastest to Interrupt. Once a character Interrupts that becomes their turn. 
Step 2 Each Player describes their actions in a Narrative fashion - use "what strategies" will the character employ or "what opportunities the character is trying to create" as a mnemonic.  
Step 2.1 The GM will inform the player based on their awareness and their combat abilities, unless the Player is, himself, aware and would need little context. If the GM is using the "yes-&/but" style this goes much faster. - GMing Philosophies diverge: GMs that reward "rule of cool" or "tactical competence" or dramatic.
if players are still having problems, ask them what they prioritize. It all boils down to prioritize in combat or any situation (applicable to social combat). What are the player's goals or trying to achieve cuts through a lot of the communication barriers and time. The details can follow.
Typically when players have a problem - active listening should kick in as quickly as possible. Starting to what the player is having trouble understanding. If a GM spells each detail out it takes time, we adapt some of the details to each others expectations is much faster and cooperative.  

Step 3 Resolve each with an Opposed/Contest Roll, adding modifiers to how much harder or easier will the character succeed given the details of their capabilities and complexities of the situation. Simple check if the character has an advantage over the other in the details like their ability to feint, maneuver, observe, etc...

Other Topics in the Future.
Process of Narrating Combat
Tactical vs Non-Tactical Mismatching