Monday, February 16, 2009

What I Want from Combat: as a Gamemaster

Better today-- the cold has decided to pause, unsure if it is done or merely gathering up for another round.

Here are some first thoughts on what I want from a combat as a GM. Some of these are mechanics based, some narrative based, and some player/GM interaction based. I'm sure I'll hit more soon, but 23 to start will do. Once I get a full range done, I'll compare this to my player-perspective list and see where they meet and/or disagree.

1. I want the players to enjoy their experience in the combat. They should come away feeling satisfied, even if they lost. They should feel that the combat was either logical or necessary to the plot or that, while it was tangential, it was exciting and cool.

2. Every player should have something to do in the combat. They should be able to do something beyond say “I attack” each round. On the other hand, if that's what they're comfortable with then they should be able to do that.

3. The combat should move fast, with the mechanical aspect not squeezing out the time I have for narrative. A simple combat shouldn't take more than an hour-- a more complex scene more than two hours.

4. The system should be flexible enough that I can fudge and flex things without the system breaking down or those changes being absolutely apparent to the players.

5. That also means I should be able to cheat-- for or against the players-- in order to enhance the narrative. That cheating shouldn't be too obvious.

6. I shouldn't need to use a GM screen-- a can use one if I want, but I shouldn't have to in order to manage the combat system.

7. I shouldn't have to work up every detail of abilities in order to be able to manage a combat. I should be able to run from sketches-- attack/defense values, soak, hit points, some basic powers or attacks.

8. I should be able to put Mooks (as a concept) on the table and have them work with the system-- not just speed bumps but with some risk if not managed by the player.

9. I should be able to cause some damage to the players-- to create a sense of risk. That damage doesn't have to be just KO'ing them-- the system should allow easily for other effects (stun, knockdown, disabled limbs, etc).

10. It should be relatively difficult for me to one-shot the PCs, but it should be feasible in rare instances.

11. The system should discourage Glass Ninjas (can't hit them but they drop when hit) or...I don't know what you'd call them...Iron Butterflies (high soak, but can't do much of anything else).

12. Neither I nor the players should have to go back to the rulebook more than once or twice per fight. There are exceptions for special actions or maneuvers.

13. Players should accept my rulings in play, and if there's a problem, be willing to negotiate those rulings after the session.

14. Players should not bitch about how hard a fight is, especially if they're winning. Not sure how the GM manages this.

15. If I put terrain out on the table (either through description or through miniatures) the system should allow and encourage the players to use that. If they don't make a difference in play, then it is the same as if you had a blank map.

16. Called shots should be effective, but not necessarily easy. If a player takes a risk in making that shot, they should be prepared to miss.

17. Players should gain a benefit from working together-- I'm not sure if the reverse is true-- should the GM be able to penalize for not working together?

18. Initiative should be rolled at the start of the fight and stay in that order. If a player wants to change their place in the initiative, they should have some mechanism to do so.

19. Mages (or those with other funky powers) should be willing to trade off a little straight combat effectiveness for their increased flexibility.

20. Sometimes the story demands that bad guys get away-- players should be willing to accept this every once in a while. The GM ought to make this logical and not abuse this privilege. The GM should be able to offer a benefit or compensation in these circumstances.

21. The system shouldn't require extra maintenance-- special charts or dials or dice types-- that get in the way.

22. There shouldn't be an obvious mechanic or path to victory in all situations. On the other hand, having multiple attack types requiring multiple defense forms can be a pain. The system should have one pool for tracking damage. The example of the worst offender in this case would be DC Heroes. Each of the three attack forms (Physical, Magical, and Mental) had separate pools. This meant that two people dishing out two different attack forms had to both take someone down to zero. It also meant that a person who could take one form of damage, would likely be KO'd by another. So bad guys either had to be resistant to all three or have some people just wiped the table with them. Weaknesses in bad guys are fine, but not to that extreme.

23. Players should be able to track their own abilities easily.