Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prolonged Combat

Today is going to be a quick post. Partially as I'm writing it when I should be going to sleep, but the day was busy enough I didn't get a chance to earlier. Anyhow, you ever notice just how short a round is? Most games now adays it is about 6 seconds of time. Some games go as low as 3. Now, think about in a modern setting and movies. "We need back up" "It's 3 minutes out". That's pretty common, and ridiculously quick. You'll then get a few more shots of some firing, and then helicopters bringing the cavalry in to save the day (or be too late, but that is an earlier post). Take a moment to think about that, then read on.

So, three minutes. That's not that long right? I mean, hell, I've barely wrote anything on here and it has already been almost 3 minutes. How much can happen right? Well think about it. At six second rounds, you have 10 rounds per minute. So 3 minutes for the cavalry to arrive is...30 rounds of combat. I don't know about you, but around my table it is rare for a fight to last even 6 rounds, let alone 30. Combat is vicious, fast, and mean. Almost every RPG seems to be conveying that, especially with how long your average fight lasts. Yet, almost no RPG is as fast and mean as real life can be, and like I mentioned, 3 minutes is quick for back up to arrive in real world standards.

Looking at it further, you also have the ammo issues that would come up. Especially with all the missing and rampant autofire that doesn't actually hit anyone. Things just go so much faster in the RPG it seems than ever in the real world. Yet, the RPG may only be allowing one trigger pull per six seconds. I've fired a gun, one pull every six seconds isn't hard, and I'm barely trained at all. I can only imagine how easy 1 trigger pull every 6 seconds is for my super special forces PC, how about you?

So where does all that time go? Where does all the extra ammo come from? Honestly. It comes from what would be, in an RPG, a do nothing round. Times where a person spends a full 6-12 seconds hiding behind their cover, reloading their gun, checking for a target, checking the situation, wondering if they can bolt, and any number of other things. For the opposition, it is much the same, combined with the fact that, y'know, they're being killed by those people. They don't want to go out there if they don't have to. In fact, first group to leave cover is probably going to get shot.

So that is the problem, but what is the solution? Honestly, sitting there saying "I stay behind my cover and peek out" is kind of boring. If the system is like Dark Heresy, maybe you could set up overwatch, but if the enemies aren't coming out, that is also boring. So now you have this long fight, totally dramatic too, but being ruined as people pass the rounds hiding behind cover doing nothing. It is the same phenomenon that makes a game of Madden have final scores in the hundreds, while real football doesn't. It's just a game, so why not go for it? Why not try the ballsy move. Nothing is really riding on this right? And you came to have fun, so go for it.

As a GM, the solution to this, I feel, is to move things onto a slower time scale. If the players are pushing to survive until back up shows up, slow down the round timer. Instead of 6 seconds, maybe it is 1 minute, or 6 minutes. Account for other things as well, time spent ducking and waiting for shots. Time spent reloading. Perhaps just assign miniscule and small amounts of wounds, and deduct ammo for the extra time. But speed up the game, account for the time difference, and keep things going. At these new, one minute rounds. Now they just need to survive 3 rounds instead of 30. That also means more bad guys will be around, but also that less stuff will happen in those minutes.

Slowing the timer down opens up the narrative options as well. Play with it, have fun with it. Give a few actions, or allow for some much bigger plans. With a 1 minute round, suddenly the plan to flank and go from the side isn't suicide, because it can be set up in one round instead of the 8 rounds it would have taken before. 8 rounds of doing nthing but being shot at that is.

So, give it a shot. Play with it, and have fun. Let me know how it goes, or if you've done it in the past how it went.

P.S. apologies for this being weird or discombobulated. It is late, and I am tired. That is not much of an excuse, but all I have right now :)


  1. In instances where my players are needing to 'wait for backup', I've found that the conditions are usually pretty extreme (otherwise, they wouldn't need the backup). The few times this has happened, I've been able to stretch out the time by having the bad guys attack in 'waves'. Like you said, there are situations where people do not want to be the first to stick their head out, or they'll get shot. Thus, it isn't too hard to figure that it may take a while for a group of people to organize and attack. And when the first attack 'wave' is beaten back, it will take time for the second to organize, etc. Thus, you can stretch time out AND allow for moments of roleplay as the players have a moment to breathe, bind wounds, reload and lament their current position. Also, this gives you the chance to help build tension by ramping up the opposition, having each wave be stronger than the last. It's worked for me, anyway, and without altering the 3-5 second rounds I typically use.

  2. Another way to do it, and an interesting way as well. It seems like you'd almost have to have them boxed in in that situation, or at least a time where they had to pick their place to make a stand. Is that right? or am I reading this wrong?

  3. Nope. That's right. They would either have to be 'cornered' by the enemy, or have the enemy cornered for this to work. Or else they'd have to be guarding some specific position (or person) who is unable to move for a set length of time (i.e. they're guarding the computer hacker who is getting information out of a restricted data-bank- holding off the guards trying to retake the room, etc.).