Wednesday, January 6, 2010

To Hesitate, To Die

Since it's late at night and I can't seem to sleep, I might just as well tell about a house rule I have no intention of implementing.  I think it could truly warp the nature of combat, while the ramifications would be truly interesting ... but it would also be an enormous hassle.

Surely the gentle reader has noticed that, in cases where combat is about to occur in real life, the combatants do not rush into violence in the manner of D&D characters.  Rather, they tend to hesitate and make feints, closing to combat not immediately, but after several failed attempts.

Remembering that a round in my world is 6 seconds, equivalent to the normally designated segment, I think the following rule could be incorporated.  Suppose that in addition to ability, we interject a quality of 'bravery' into the proceedings - that being, the resolve on the part of the character that combat is necessary and must be entered into, in spite of the potential threat.  I call it a thinking process, and therefore I suggest that the ability stat of wisdom be the crucial element here - to wit, that before a player can enter combat, a wisdom check must be accomplished and succeeded at.

Not merely an ordinary wisdom check, I think, but a wisdom check done at -4, or even -6, depending on how hard you want to make it for combat to actually occur.  What a positive boon it would be to clerics!  What a mess it would make of a party closing to combat, with one or two persons actually succeeding while the rest tried helplessly, round after round, to overcome their animal terror and successfully enter the fray!  For fighters and thieves who ordinarily throw their worst stat into wisdom, what cowards they would be.  If it wasn't for the sheer pain in the assedness of it, I would try this.

After all, if we measure most of their opponents by their intelligences (and not imposing the subtracting modifier - expect no fairness!), orcs remain fair combatants, goblins and kobalds turn to fearful entrants, and elves fearless killers.  What a remarkable difference it would make to a great many creatures, since genius and extraordinary intelligence creatures could potentially butcher a whole party while they stubbornly blew their roles, standing in stock fear as their comrades were leisurely cut down.

I'm beginning to convince myself to try this.


The Acrobatic Flea said...

I think you'd have to allow fighters (at least) to add their Level to the die roll or you'd never get any combat ;)

JimLotFP said...

Is there a link between stupidity and being quicker to violence? My gut feeling is that a wisdom check needs to be failed before getting serious about killing someone or risking getting killed yourself.

Kind of like drunks are more prone to violence... I don't think they're making too many wisdom checks there, but rather failing them.

Alexis said...

Pretty flippant logic there, Jim.

People do sometimes fight from a stance of belief and resolve. Not every conflict is the result of drunkedness and genetic defect.

However, I fully expected that predictable position. Sad comment on society - that no battle can occur from a desire to do good.

Do you feel you need to dig down and find your stupidity when a spider needs crushing?

JimLotFP said...

>>People do sometimes fight from a stance of belief and resolve.

But I still think it's those with strong beliefs and no brains that would be quicker to violence.

"Fighter who uses Wisdom as a dump stat and is quick to charge into fights" sounds right to me.

Or training. I've heard that helps too. In which case fighters shouldn't have much of a problem anyway.

Chgowiz said...

Isn't this sort of covered with the space between combats and morale checks? In my mind, this reads like you're adding a morale check to players, or a save vs. fear/paralyzation. Some monsters induce fear, like dragons or Cthulu-like creatures. Having the players do a save for some situations makes sense. I think in the case where there was a level of comfort (PCs outnumber the opponents, or are clearly superior in skill or have some advantage) the save wouldn't be needed.

It would make backgrounds or class somewhat important in that save as well - military training can and does take out that hesitation in a person, as does hunting to a certain degree.

It's an interesting thought. I can see it's realism/simulation in some circumstances.

Zzarchov said...

I'd point out that with proper training, such thought processes don't happen. Now for civilians that is a very good simulation of overcoming base animal fears.

Soldiers, Police officers would have no problem due to reflexive training. Even a civilian would have no problem with the first shot (its easy to shoot an unaware target, or hit them with something when you don't think they will be paying attention), that is the role of a hunter.

Anonymous said...

For what its worth, Alexis, I'm both intrigued by your initial idea and second the notion put forth above re: reflexive training. I'd be willing to go offline to share some personal expereinces and objective studies to back it up, but the latter you could probably find yourself with a simple web search and the former are hardly necessary unless you're curious. You know how to reach me.

I wouldn't just allow fighters to add their level as per the above suggestion, though, but all characters... if you buy into the premise at all, adventurers should develop that reflex after repeatedly exposing themselves to danger and surviving. Perhaps the penalties you suggested would just be less sever for fighters.

Of course, in opening this can of worms up I start to ponder things like PTSD, etc...

Chgowiz said...

Of course, in opening this can of worms up I start to ponder things like PTSD, etc...

That's what the players suffer, not the characters.

Ryan said...

I don't think Jim's logic is flippant, particularly the bit about drunkenness. I have had friends in the past who where law enforcement officials, and many of their stories lead me to believe that a number of senseless brawls can be chalked up to alcohol consumption. (I'm not sure if there is a rule stating alcohol lowers your Wisdom, but it certainly make sense to me.)

There are too many exceptions I can think of to make a Wisdom check the best way to go about that. What about ogres? I don't see them as cowardly. What about animals? Undead? I like the bit about cowardly kobolds and stone cold elves, but now unless I'm running 3.5, I have to assign a Wisdom score to every monster to be battled.

If you want to do something like this, what about a Morale score for the player characters? It could be based on class, perhaps, and modified by whatever you want. (Wisdom, perhaps the Law-Chaos axis of their alignment, race, etc.)

Alexis said...

Wisdom makes for a single, universal measure for every class. Using wisdom incorporates an ability stat which generally goes unconsidered, particularly in respect to the combat potential of the player.

The disagreements I see seem to promote a policy that the characters should be able to ignore anything that binds them from acting as willfully as the player likes. I would stress that the player's desire for greater combat ability is limited by the character's strength, the player's actual personality is limited by the character's charisma - why shouldn't the player's fearlessness be curtailed by the player's wisdom? Or does it rankle when we consider that mental prowess be harnessed by stats?

I should also like to point out that the stat I am proposing is wisdom, not intelligence. The opposite of wise is not stupidity, but inexperience. Arguments for severe, rigourous training seem perfectly well founded - if you wish your character to have had this training, assign your character a high wisdom. Otherwise, please understand that the character would be judged to be unsure of his or her self, and therefore cautious. Yes, no doubt, drunkedness and stupidity would be justifications for imprudence - but where are the modifiers for combat and dexterity that should apply to such blundering?

At any rate, I said I had no intention of incorporating the rule. If I did incorporate it, I would judge most of the protests (this does not refer to every comment above) as the sort of thing ALWAYS heard from players ANY TIME their precious combat abilities are threatened. In other words, of no matter at all. Everyone would be penalized according to the same principle. So sad, too bad if your wisdom sucks. Guess you better think your way around it.

Anonymous said...

As a current player in your online campaign, I can't help but feel you've got me in mind specifically when bemoaning the self-serving logic of player rationalizations. There's plenty of first-hand expereince amongst us all that would support your assumption, I know, and I fear of protesting overmuch, but here goes... I'm honestly intrigued by the notion and only thinking it out. The kind of learned but reflexive response to danger we're talking about, that is... the ability through previous repition of specific action to attenuate or direct the fight/ flight response, would seem to me something that should be less static then a Wisdom score... so why not relate it somehow to level, a more dynamic trait than an ability score? Also, one that increases with time and experience. In any event, I'm a cleric in the Bavarian campaign so if you did decide to implement it as-is, I'd be in a better position under your proposal than mine. :)

Alexis said...

I've given the level modifier some thought, and I think there's a reasonable justification for it. I think I would apply it differently, however - along the lines of magical resistance. That is, modify the wisdom check for every hit die of the creature differing from that of the player. Thus, a 1st level fighting an orc would need roll under their wisdom with no modifiers, but would suffer a -7 modifier if attacking a hill giant. Meanwhile, a 10th level fighter's roll would be modified by +9 if fighting an orc, but by -8 if fighting an 18HD oliphant.

Always remember, laws of permeatation would give the player a far greater chance of entering combat after multiple rounds - if not the first, then probably the second, or even more likely the third and so on ... and once in, in for the duration. I don't suggest the wisdom check would be made all through the combat - once the bloodlust was on the character, there'd be no need to check again.

Ryan said...

Yes, no doubt, drunkedness and stupidity would be justifications for imprudence - but where are the modifiers for combat and dexterity that should apply to such blundering?

I think there are penalties to both, and to Charisma and Intelligence as well. Well, that is, there are penalties for drunkenness... not so much for stupidity.

I do understand what you're trying to do (even if you're not going to implement it.) Players often have their characters dive into combat unless a monster specifically causes some sort of fear. My players do not hesitate to march their characters into battle against anything, and it has cost them. (I believe we've had something like five character deaths and the loss of a henchman in the last few months.) They are beginning to show a bit more discretion.

A bit of useless trivia: In Das Schwarze Auge, initiative was determined by a character's Courage attribute, with the most courageous acting before their more cowardly companions.

Anonymous said...

Alexis: I think you're vectoring in on a workable mechanic there whether you ultimately intend to us it or not. Things could get messy indeed. Especially if you add in the extra attacks/ damage for larger creatures in the most recent post.

Ryan: On your last point, of course! While D&D lacks a courage attribute, you're implying some relationship between courage and initiative, yes? D&D has at times associated it (initiative) with Dexterity, but that's not really correct is it? If two gunslingers were to actually meet on Main Street at high noon it wouldn't be the fastest hands that won the day, but the coolest head. Working something within that roll could save yourself the extra rolling and provide some of what Alexis is going for.

James V said...

I think that making a check before being able to get into a fight is a neat idea, but I also think that choosing wisdom to embody that attribute is tough, because the rule as-is would exclude the foolish or impulsive as easily capable of engaging in violence, when the opposite is arguably true.

Maybe the bonus to the roll needs to be be shaped like a horseshoe?

Those with a low WIS, who normally have a penalty to their rolls have a bonus: they just don't think that far ahead to consider the consequences.

Those with a high WIS get to keep their bonus as usual: Their fear and hesitation is tempered by discipline.

I would also agree that fighting types would need some kind of bonus as well. Violence is their vocation after all.

It feels like a reasonable simulation to me that people with ordinary discipline and/or not trained to fight would be the types least likely to jump into a fight without hesitation.

Anonymous said...

Clovis/ Jim... So is every situation where violence occurs a result of either drunkeness or stupidity... or lack of experience (as in the opposite of great experience and wisdom)? Are the armed forces and civil authorities therefore filled with drunken mouth-breathers? Is that how you guys really envision the adventurers in your game? The success of a straight wisdom check might not be the answer for you, but I think failing one blows you further off-course.

Zzarchov said...

I'd actually say that even the drunk and stupid don't engage in adventurer violence.

When was the last time you saw a drunk pick a fist fight with a tiger? Punch someone they thought they could take, sure.

Even when they do pick a fight, is it immediate or with alot of talk and bravado to steady their nerves first? 10 minutes of trash talk is 10 minutes of failed wisdom saves.

Henré said...

I'm liking this idea, and I just might adopt it for my 3.5 game(s), but as a Will save against fear instead of a straight Wisdom check (this way, class and experience, as well as general Wisdom, would all have an influence). The DC would obviously depend on the danger represented by the situation - in other words, the encounter level.