Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Escape Clause

Yesterday, Carl wrote for this post,

"The effect of the stun rules is not unlike the effect of the Shaken rules in Savage Worlds.  So much so that - if I decided to use the stun rules - I would probably adapt the rules from Savage Worlds for getting rid of the effect: In savage worlds successful attacks often leave you 'shaken' - unable to act. On your turn you can attempt to get rid of the effect. If you succeed, you can move but not attack; If you succeed exceptionally you can also attack."

And that's fine.  I had said I adapted my stun rules from someone else and they're certainly not 'mine' in any sense.  I presume someone else is adapting them and naturally that adaptation is going to be different.

I only want to use the above to highlight a completely different point, one that is not directly related to combat.  It is a trait that is not specific to role-players, but it is specific to a certain type of person and a lot of those people gravitate towards gaming - presumably because gaming is a good fit for them.

These are people who cannot abide an absolute.

The rule simply has to have an 'out.'  No matter what the rule is, if it threatens my character's life, I want another saving throw, I want something I can do to mitigate the effect, I want absolutely to be raised if something goes wrong, even if my body is totally lost or buried under a mountain.  I want an escape clause!

Naturally, the escape clause inevitably has its own absolutes.  And that is the problem.  Because, as we all know, eventually the escape clause needs an escape clause, for the original rule with the escape clause is still too damn final.  It's too unpleasant.  It means that sooner or later, I'm going to have to just suck it up and accept that I've lost.

That is . . . unacceptable.

The reader should know me well enough to know that I don't believe that.  I am a big fan of absolutes, of failures, of inevitable deaths and of players sucking it up because their character just dropped that big item in the primordial soup.  Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad.  What a tragedy.

While I'm trying not to sound like an old man and his lawn, I must explain that this peculiar habit of avoiding absolutes pops up everywhere in our culture - from calling in sick when you're not sick, to casual Fridays because five days a week are too many to dress for work, to "you're a winner" ribbons handed out to little children who lose on Sport's Day.  Life is simply too unfair for any of us to endure it day in and day out without an option, without a guarantee that we'll be allowed to break the rules on this one day because having to obey the rules all the time is such a drag.

I can't say I'm immune.  I break the rules too, since most of the time it's possible to break the rules and get away with it.  Yet I'm sober enough to recognize that breaking the rules is not a praiseworthy act; it's doesn't get the job done, it doesn't keep the hounds at bay, it doesn't pay the rent and in the long run, too much breaking of rules will drive us into decadence, degradation and ultimately leave us moribund.  The turnstyle marked 'rule-breaking' is the one that gets us on the train to Hedonism. 

Then again, if you don't know yet what's wrong with that place, I suppose you must still be young.  You'll see.

So here I am being all tyrannical again.  Obey the rules, quit whining, get the hell off my lawn.  Right?

No, not quite.  I wrote perhaps one time too many about the importance of changing rules and adjusting your role-playing game to make it a better experience, to talk to the players about what to change and to accept that change is a good thing even though precedent and continuity are important.  Rules are fluid, they are part of the game's structure and the thing about structure: there is always room for improvement.

What amuses me - and I mean that word, amuses, in a completely non-sarcastic way, for I do not believe it does any individual any harm - is that this escape clause is applied so often to such mediocre details.  Such as the example above, where even the loss of one combat round is unacceptable without there still being a chance that it won't be lost.

That is where we can see how endemic the problem is.  We can see, clearly, where something was changed during game-testing, because someone complained.  "You mean I'm 'shaken' for the whole round?  No matter what?"

"Oh, okay, we can fix that."

Well, players certainly gripe.  They certainly do.  And it is hard to look them in the eye and tell them that what they wanted at the store isn't available, or that yes, the sword breaks, or that no, the crystal ball doesn't reveal anything at all.  No, seriously, nothing.  Really.  No, not even that.

Well, hell, it has to tell us something.  It's a crystal ball, for f's sake!

Nope.  Not a damn thing.  So move on.


Oddbit said...

I'm just amused because some of us DO have our own escape clause for being stunned.

That said, if you can't really lose, then that steals something from winning doesn't it? Doesn't it also cheapen it a LOT for the losers?

Alexis Smolensk said...

I admitted I wasn't immune!

Funny thing is, Lukas will dive in only until his one-off escape clause for being stunned is spent.

Oddbit said...

Is it the one off is spent or is it that the cause of the one off usually puts me one hit away from 0hp? There tends to be a correlation between low HP and stunning.

I do remember forgetting my un-stun during at least one important fight and still giving it a go.

That said, of course I take a few more bold actions when I have a few defenses and tricks up my sleeve. If I never use those tricks I might as well never have had them.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Of course. I only mention it to point out that there's still a limit I won't cross.

Oddbit said...

Also, coming from someone who does play savage worlds...

Their stun is worse. By far, it is much, much worse.

I'll take losing a guaranteed turn over losing 3 turns in a row because I failed to roll high enough to get out of shaken.

Carl Torvik said...

At the risk of being accused of arguing with the host, I would like to add two other comments.

First - I am actually a big fan of absolutes in real life (and to a slightly lesser degree in gaming). But that isn't really the point.

Second - to offer a different perspective on why I like the idea of a randomly-determined escape clause: I like the effect of random events on game play. I like not necessarily knowing what is going to happen from round to round and I find "You are stunned and have no way to get out of it" to be flat and boring while "You are stunned and, Hey - lets roll some dice and see what happens," to be more interesting.

Why else do we roll dice at all. One could create a game with no randomness at all - the ultimate absolute game: Just plug the defensive and offensive values into a formula and determine who wins. But that isn't fun and for the same reason I find that this extra bit of randomness sounds more fun.

But obviously YMMV.


Alexis Smolensk said...

Lest we forget, Carl,

The die that made the hit, and the die that caused the damage, along with the dice that determined the hit points, the dice that determined what the enemy would be, the dice that determined how many enemy there would be, as well as the die that determined that this enemy would attack this player in this round when all the previous rolls determined how many hit points the player has at this moment . . . are all RANDOM.

Heaping one more random result on top of that doesn't make it "more interesting" - it just makes it "more."

I feel the game has plenty. The issue isn't more dice and more randomness; it is better DMing!

Carl Torvik said...

Perhaps. Since I see my weaknesses as a DM as lying elsewhere I don't think the presence or absence of this bit of extra randomness will make or break me as a DM (If only someone would write a book about How to Run games...). And some of that randomness isn't - for example you discuss that against 1 die creatures almost all hits either kill or stun - not to mention the arguments against truly random creature hps.

And of course I haven't seen the effect of this stun rule in play with or without the escape clause (while I have seen the effect of the SW shaken rules and how that escape roll works in play).

And, fwiw, since I see the PCs as likely to stun more often than they are stunned - the escape clause will tend to work against them at least as often as it works for them. I don't see my statement as a plea to coddle the players, to protect them from consequences, so much as believing that combat is a fluid and unpredictable affair and that few tactics should result in instant win conditions - either by or against the PCs. Until your enemy is dead, it should remain a potential threat - and if you know it won't have an action next round - is it still a threat? Yes - this is a rejection of an absolute - but not the absolute you refer to above.

Mechanically, it all comes down to frequency. And you can get to the same likelihood of being denied an action either way - for example if 1/4 of all hits stun and you have no escape clause you would have a 1/4 chance per hit of being denied an action while if 1/2 of all hits stun and you have a 50/50 escape clause you again have a 1/4 chance of being stunned (and I suspect that the odds of a PC stunning a creature is often going to be closer to 1/3 or 1/2 than to 1/4).

The difference being the exchange of certainty for uncertainty and the belief that the player feels more involved (whether or not that has intrinsic value) at the cost/benefit of more complexity/randomness. On the other hand, the simplicity of 'no escape clause' does have its appeal.

Regardless - it is an interesting idea and one that I may use/ adapt. I am especially intrigued by how it interacts with high hp creatures, the types of creatures that can end up being a grind, and with critical hits (if one uses a critical hit rule) as most critical hits will be a stun (and all can be declared a stun by fiat). If I find time, maybe I'll do some number crunching with higher HP and higher damage figures.

Regardless - as I recall, your examples all dealt with weapon damage. How do you see a rule like this interacting with spells? Does fireball stun the survivors? What about Magic Missile? Or is this limited to physical blows?


Alexis Smolensk said...


I count damage as damage, regardless of the source.

With multiple attack creatures, I did have to implement an adjusted rule, one that you should be aware of. 1/4 in all truth only denies 1 attack. A leveled fighter, for example, with 2 attacks per round, would only lose one of those attacks if 1/4 damage was done against him. To lose both attacks, 1/3 of total damage would need to be done.

1/2 is necessary to stop 3 attacks, 2/3 to stop 4 attacks, 3/4 to stop 5 attacks and so on. It is easy to see how a dragon, with claw, claw, bite, tail and buffeting is a particularly deadly foe. The same is true for creatures like a chimera, a roper or anything else with multiple attacks.

Maxwell Joslyn said...

Hey, I was tooling around in the archives and found this post.

Alexis, I want to ask for clarification on this statement:

"A leveled fighter, for example, with 2 attacks per round, would only lose one of those attacks if 1/4 damage was done against him. To lose both attacks, 1/3 of total damage would need to be done. 1/2 is necessary to stop 3 attacks, 2/3 to stop 4 attacks, 3/4 to stop 5 attacks and so on."

I thought that dealing 1/4 of current HP in one hit stuns the recipient of the hit so that they can take no action. I interpret these sentences here to mean that combatants with multiple attacks are allowed to take their extra attacks EVEN WHILE STUNNED, unless the additional HP thresholds of 1/3, 1/2, etc. are reached by the stunning hit.

Am I right? If not, what's up?

Alexis Smolensk said...

You have interpreted correction, Maxwell . . . except that I'm saying it is harder to 'stun' creatures that have these extra attacks. So, they don't get extra attacks "even while stunned," it is that they are PARTLY stunned.

It is therefore much, much harder to put a dragon back on its haunches than a creature with the same number of hit points but only one attack!