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



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