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Nocturnal Ruminations: Combat, Part I

09 Jan

It wasn’t truly until the later Middle Ages (save the Crusade’s most major battles) that combat became a focus on a multitude of troops versus another multitude of troops.  Aside Hellenistic/Classical Europe, war was fought on much smaller scales at a number of points.  A single man, according to reports, once held a bridge for ten minutes in combat.  New evidence shows that Norse trained their women to fight along side their men in colonization tasks.  Monks wielded staves; damn near everyone knew how to use a bow!  In other words, the Roman/French or English Calvary battles were rare indeed when taken in the scope of human existence and warfare.  Agincourt wouldn’t have been won if not for the British peasantry and their skill with the long bow.

Small scale combat is a reactive thing, strikes meant to wound or confound an opponent against defenses and mobility.  It’s a matter of the user’s weapon in both form and function, their style and techniques, and the tactics they attempt.  Further, when added to a fantastic setting where fighting things like colossal sized dragons, siege warfare, and other massive creatures and baddies, small scale combat gets thrown out the window.  What this in essence means is that combat revolves around, first, against the things people can stand toe to toe against and fight.  A human, fully armoured, can stand tall against a wolf, another human, or hell even an ogre without much trouble or difference between the three!

When the dragon gets involved, it should take more than just running forward and swinging at its feet.  Obviously tales of old included legends of great victories against these wondrous evils: Beowulf killing the dragon and dying in the process, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, St. George slew a dragon too!  If you look at the narratives of these stories, then you will find that a combination of luck, skill, preparation, and divine intervention aided the hero upon their way.  So, what’s a person to do when the design systems intended to adjudicate combat?  It’s readily apparent that games like D&D 2nd and 3rd edition (though you could involve the environment), any of the video game RPGs (don’t remind me about JRPGs and god killing), and even to an extent White Wolf all decided this: “the narrative’s most important and the players will put their own descriptions in there.”

If you look at all the above three, and substitute modern action based RPGs for old school turn based video game RPGs, this is a good decision in their contexts.  It creates a touch of cognitive dissonance in the player at times (from what I’ve heard from friends and fellow players), but it depends on the scope of what the designer is asking. In comparison, games like God of War, Grand Theft Auto, Mage (to an extent), &c focus on allowing the player to choose when, how, and where they are going to fight.  Now, obviously, for the most part this is possible in tabletops at all time.  That’s an advantage of the genre!

So, now after doing the lit review (albeit truncated and definitely not complete), where does that leave the thought process for Cultura.  In this game, combat is developed around the idea of small scale combat between small units of players versus small units of enemies (like most RPGs) with its balance clearly focused on humanoid-sized combats (e.g.: small creatures to large creatures are not really different at all).  Creatures that are smaller or larger yet are not balanced for the humanoid sized characters (see Russian or other eastern European literature for fighting brownies, faeries, &c; it’s very humorous) or just look at modern Sci-Fi/Fantasy for dragon battles in which the main characters have to prepare their environment in which to fight the dragon.  That’s what I want: where the players have to adapt and overcome the obstacles before them.

Next time more on the mechanics of Combat.

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