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

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. 
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