Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Still, PbP has a lot to recommend it, especially in terms of the wide availability of players and GMs, and its low-impact requirements for participation. It’s just that the usual, extremely granular combat systems of most RPGs don’t suit it well. They create a continuous series of bottlenecks that are fatal to the momentum of a game.
Even old school D&D, with its very simple back-and-forth style of combat can get bogged down as you wait for players to declare their actions, then wait for the DM to report the results. But D&D’s combat serves an important purpose. It allows combat to be exploration by other means. Is this a monster we can beat? Are we dishing out enough damage to it? Is it dishing out too much damage to us? Does fire harm it more than steel? What about magic?
This is why resolving an entire combat in a single roll is a sub-optimal solution as well. It doesn’t give the players time to react, or a chance to learn anything about their foe.
The compromise between efficiency and interaction would be, I think, three decision points. Chatting about this with Oddysey, she suggested a flow of initiate, adjust, and follow-through for these three decision points (though she didn’t actually use those words). The first decision point is initiating the combat and possibly setting the stakes. The GM responds to the player’s initial actions, leading to the second decision point: press ahead or adjust tactics? The GM lets the players know what happens in either case, and that sets up the final decision point: go for the kill, or cut your losses and pull out.
In this case, I’m thinking efficiency does not necessarily mean brevity. At the table, many small, iterative actions make sense. That sort of thing is death to a PbP game, however. Complexity, both in the actions of the PCs and in the descriptions of the results from the GM, is probably a virtue here. If it takes five minutes to resolve and describe an action, that’s just fine in a PbP when you can find your five minutes at any point of the day. This detail and complexity can also give the players more to work with as they make their choices. Do they screen with their drones and drive a wedge of capital ships into the enemy line? Form their own line of battle and duke it out with heavy graser cannons and torpedoes? Or do they curl into a defensive ball and shield their more vulnerable ships from the assault? A more detailed, tactical view, I think, would work much better in this sort of game than a simple, “I attack the nearest goblin.”
Art by Hippolyte Bellange.