Monday, December 21, 2009

AC Combat: Social, Mass, Styles

Continuing the discussion of AC Combat

Other Combat (Basic, Optional)
Since the basic system for combat in Action Cards is abstract, it can be adapted over to other forms of conflict easily. The question becomes one of scope, stakes and consequences.

Social Combat
Normally social conflict can be resolved with a simple contest, player-GM interaction and/or negotiation. However if a campaign focuses on court situations, influence, reputation and honor, the GM may want to allow players who have taken the 'diplomat' or 'courtier' role more depth to their actions. Debates, rumor mongering, accusations and crowd manipulation can be handled in this way. Generally Social Combat works on a different scale of time from standard combat and probably shouldn't be mixed.

The scope of such conflicts depends on the situation: it may be to force someone to accede to a player's will; to level an accusation against someone in public and have it stick; or to sway a group over to a cause. The GM should clearly determine the objective, method and form of the combat. Then the actual battling can be done with contested Social pulls, with the usual edges, descriptions and abilities being used to modify them. In this case the damage and wounds suffered by the opponent can take several forms, but with the usual six point scale. Wounds can represent a shift in position with regard to the audience, a loss of self-confidence, depletion of allies or support and the like. A victory might restore some of that damage, but their ought to be consequences. In other words, until work has been done to repair (i.e. heal) those losses, the character may suffer penalties. Temporary loss of abilities (like Contacts or Wealth) might come from that. The player might also suffer shaken confidence which can be handled in other ways: limits on drama point spending or the inability to move past personal “Lose Big” cards for a time.

Characters on either side may withdraw, leaving them with the wounds they have taken. In this case the advantage goes to the least wounded side. If a player is 'killed' in such a combat, the GM can apply fairly severe penalties: permanent loss of abilities, removal of NPCs or Allies, social sanction, and the like. Death can even be permanent retirement or removal, with the character having had their reputation completely destroyed or their confidence completely shattered. If the character represents a group or institution, some of those consequences may wash over to there, resulting in additional losses.

Magical Combat
In combat, Magic can be used to create standard effects: directed spells, barriers, compels, and the like. As an option, and depending on the campaign frame, if players engage other mages in direct magical conflict then the stakes might shift. In this case players who suffer damage might lose meta-abilities like the use of particular schools. This can represent them overtaxing their reserves in the struggle. The same thing can be applied to Psionic or Super-Powered combat where powers come into direct conflict. They might lose other kinds of abilities, such as social or knowledge-based one, if they find their psyche shattered. The GM should consider whether to track damage separately for these forms or have it stack with physical damage. The former creates some balance problems, while the latter increases the risk.

Mass Combat
Typically in a mass combat, players will represent leaders or significant members within an armor force. A “unit” can be represented as an NPC with qualities in the following four areas:
*Attack: The standard combat strike and defense
*Maneuver: Marching, changing formation, doubling speed
*Morale: Resisting the stress of combat
*Expertise: Ability to follow orders, to perform combat specialist tasks (like sappers), and to react to unusual situations.

Units are rated as Trained, Skilled, Masterful, or Boss. Units also have abilities and possibly global edges as with any NPC. They will also have a variable number of wounds. When a unit takes an action the GM pulls for both sides and tells the players the results. In a combat round leader players can attempt to make pulls to aid their unit to be more effective or even to grant them a repull for failures. The GM can also break out of the mass combat sequence to resolve individual duels and other dramatic moments.

STYLES (Basic, Optional)
Action Cards encourages and, in some cases, requires players to describe their character's actions. The style optional rules give the players some additional tools to help them with action descriptions. Basically styles are groups of associated elements for certain kinds of actions. When a player works one of those elements into their action description they can gain a bonus. Styles help differentiate between characters-- some players (and GMs) have a secret (or not so secret) love for complicated class, fighting, and maneuver systems. This system works to provide the chrome of those mechanics without the work.

While the most obvious use of the Styles option is for Combat Styles, they can be developed for any kind of grouping of techniques or abilities with a thematic. They could be developed for particular kinds of social roles; professions- like thieves or spies; magic or even for scientific, scholarly or investigative. Thiefly Styles can give players a number of options to help refine and focus their character particular subterfuge forte. Diplomatic styles could allow players to modify social actions and could also be used for social duels and contests of popularity.

Combat Styles can give the feel of a world with a highly developed set of martial styles. Each style has four elements which are thematically related. When a player learns a style they learn all of the keywords. Generally styles can used with weapon, but the GM may create some for specific forms or types- for example, gunplay exclusive. When creating a set of styles, elements should not be repeated between the different styles. While some of the elements might practically be the same, having different terms players have to work in avoids the problem or doubling up and forces creativity. Some of the fun of creating a style lies in coming up with obscure or different words that push the players to explore the possibilities.

A style will look like this:

Revolution of the World
Elements: Flourishing, Appraising, Decoy, Unerring
A true swashbuckling style said to have been created by weapon masters disillusioned with local governments and corruption. They retired into the jungles of a particularly forbidding island, designing a style which would go against all forms and also be a tool of revolution. Many years later, rumors began to appear of bandits and pirates using a new style to attack fat merchants and corrupt officials. It is said that the students of this style are taught in secret and indoctrinated with new social ideas, most of which are anti-monarchical and generally anarchist.

Style elements range from the fairly concrete (Disarm, Feint, Climb, Bluff) to the more descriptive (Evasive, Cautious, Gain Favor, Gossip) to the quite abstract (Extricate, Compensate, Fear, Precision). A player must work the element (in some form) into the description of their action to get a bonus. Just stating the element should never be enough. Elements should be considered generally. Someone with the Extricate keyword might provide an argument about how that refers to “extricating” a weapon from someone’s grip. They might later make an argument that the extricating elements makes it easier for them to escape from melee without being struck. On the other hand, GMs should be ready to say no if a player seems to be applying a element so broadly that it affects every situation.

Once a player has described their action using an element, the GM has to interpret the effect. Combat Style elements generally do one of two things:
-Provide a bump for the action: the attack pull, damage, defense or related test.
-Help offset the complications for an action.

The former uses the element to boost the general action-- adding a dramatic flavor to their description. The latter is about offsetting the difficulties the GM sets when trying to do something more effective or involved with the action. For example, the Decoy element mentioned above could be used to help offset penalties for trying to distract with an attack. Unerring might be used to offset the complications of poor footing or bad lighting.

Elements stack with the effects of edges on cards. Generally players should reasonably be able to apply up to two elements to any action: with the second one requiring a move involved description. GMs should feel free not to give benefits for elements if the player keeps falling back to the same description of effects.

A Note on Styles (A GM Topic)
Styles work to give flavor and encourage interaction. They aren't a way to get really crunchy combat out of this system. For example, I don't think a Wushu game would necessarily work using these rules. Where combat and combat mechanics form a core part of the genre, I think another system might be better. So things like a Zombie Invasion, Martial Arts, Superheroes and Modern Warfare lend themselves less readily to this unless they are made very cinematic rather than crunchy.

None of these styles are 'balanced' in the classic sense. Clearly players can see that some have more easily applied or obvious terms. However if your players are hunting through the lists for things like that then this system might not be right for the.

Six Swordplay Styles

Crantylean Houseguard
Elements: Head Butt, Extend Parry, All-Out, Cloakplay
This style was developed in Crantyle and came out of the experience of generations of Houseguards fighting in the multigenerational wars. It has a practical component, dedicated to protecting one’s wards or patron. This style is popular in the East, especially among bodyguards.

Swan’s Wing
Elements: Riposte, Precise, Sacrifice, Sweeping
Developed by a Houseguard of House Forge, he created the style after two decades of serving as a mercenary in various campaigns across the continent. He called it the Swan’s Wing Style, claiming that he based his sense of the motions upon a group of swans he used to observe upon his estate. This style is still relatively new, but is becoming popular because of its novelty.

The Golden Fleche
Elements: Disarming, Gliding, Fancy Reflexes, Quick
The merchants of Merdain have one of the oldest established schools of “modern” swordsmanship upon the continent. Early on. Merdain exported their knowledge in the form of instructors. Many of these went on to form the basis of many schools including Atlantae and Miremal. Although Merdain style has changed much since its early days, many nobles turn their noses up at it, considering it a dated and archaic art.

Elements: Rolling, Close In, Evasive, Lunging
This is an example of the typical arts taught among sailors and pirates, at least those who either have a good instructor among their number or can afford to pay a discreet one.

High King Elf Styles
Elements: Leaping, Pin-point, Hang On, Trickery
The High King Elves have a number of styles, all built around a central form. This style represents that of House Wyvern, House Aperkitas and House Sea Drake and is the one most commonly found outside of the borders of Shaddai.

Tooth and Nail
Elements: Last Ditch, Mercurial, Keep Away, Acrobatic
In recent years, a set of instructors from the Wild Lands have begun teaching a rugged style which supplements straightforward sword-fighting with rough up-close attacks. It is especially popular among non-humans in the region.

Thievery Styles Examples
(Designed by Steve Sigety with modifications)
Elements: Light Step, Escape, Leap, Twist
The Acrobat uses his or her superior balance and athletic prowess to assist in larcenous activities. Money can also be made as an entertainer, or the Acrobat can provide a distraction so other can use their skills (the Pickpocket, for example).

Elements: Anonymity, Fear, Poison, Surprise
The Assassin is trained to kill and uses these skills for a fee. Most often, this must be accomplished quietly, without warning, and without a trace of the killer or any connection back to the contractor.

Box Man
Elements: Patient, Anticipate, Precise, Tools of the Trade
The Box Man is an master of cracking safes and chests. His or her skills run more to the technical side of the Arts.

Elements: Teamwork, Dupe, Sense Weakness, Bluff
The Extortionist is an expert in demanding a one-time payment from an individual or group with the implication of a future threat. This may either be violence to someone's person or business, or the disruption of an important occasion such as a festival or party. In a typical scheme, one person makes the contact and the threat. The second, the "bagman" of the pair, collects the payment at an agreed-upon time and place. This is obviously the most dangerous position of the team.

Elements: Cunning, Infiltrate, Observant, Deceive
The Spy deals in a valuable currency -- information. This could be as an infrequent informant or as a long-term deep-cover agent. The majority of Spies work for one particular organization because of the difficulties of reputation and loyalty in hiring freelance operatives.

Elements: Persuasive, Beguile, Trickery, Nerves of Steel
The Swindler is a confidence man, using charisma and wits to separate gullible people from their money. The con is as different as the individual Swindler -- fixed games of chance, selling fake healing oils, or intricate political schemes against the nobility. The Swindler may not have a fixed territory of operation as a quick escape is sometimes necessary.


  1. Your rules on social combat reminded me of the memetic engineering rules in GURPS Transhuman Space. For instance, a group of players preparing to assassinate a police chief could spend a few weeks creating the appearance of high level corruption in the department. They could root out real corrupt cops and feed the evidence to journalists. They could trick the chief into having dinner at the same restaurant as a local mob chieftan and take photos. They could do research previous local scandals and create new theories tying in the police chief. After the police department cracks down on local mobsters to dispel the rumors, the PCs kill the police chief and make it look like a mob hit.

    At various levels, this could use your rules. Making friends with a suspicious newspaper hack, countering defensive spin from the police department, getting a local politician to blame his problems on corrupt investigators, etc.

  2. Absolutely-- I think some games need to give the kinds of dramatic space to social actions that other games give to combat and magic. I like games that give players the tools to come up with alternate plans and executre them. Having this kind of toolbox makes diplomat characters useful and interesting. Plus it allows the GM to play things at another level-- with the complex politics of an unknown situation. When players around with these kinds of things that ought to reveal things and provide clues about the dynamics and personalities involved. If I ever return to doing another samurai game, I'd like to have a strong set of options for handling reputation, court intrigue, and status.

  3. In my current GURPS game, one player likes to write odes to our own valor. I'll transcribe multiple copies of her lyrics and we'll sing them around the table.

    The GM, being a good sport, has made us regionally renowned.