Making Decisions Under Pressure 2

+Christian Blouin made an interesting comment on Google+ in response to my Shoot/No-Shoot post.

He said:

I was toying with the idea of asking players what would be their next action before resolving the current one. Cancelling their decision on the following turn would impose a “Do Nothing”. Maybe a tactics check could allow to avoid the Do nothing. I think that this may minimize the fine tuning, and favour players who can anticipate the battlefield more.

This is interesting. I wrote up a reply, then decided to make an entire post about it. Then Windows ate my reply. Sigh.

Here’s the thing:

This is really interesting, but as +Peter V. Dell’Orto would say, it really needs to be tried in play.

I can see a few issues that leap out:

  • Once you set your first two actions, really is all you’re doing is choosing your next action on your turn, then resolving the one you chose last round. 
  • Is the GM going to choose in advance for all his NPCs? How will he keep track of this?
I can see a few really neat benefits to this, though. There is real uncertainty on a real battlefield. You don’t know, really, where your foes will be, what they’ll be doing, with perfect fidelity. This means you have to guess. Will they Move? Attack? Defensive Attack? If you’re shooting ranged weapons, there may be some uncertainty about the range, and therefore the penalties. You won’t know if they’ll be in hot combat with a friend, or hiding behind a rock.
I was pondering a combat example. Let’s say I’m playing Cadmus, my Warrior Saint from +Nathan Joy‘s DF game. 
We’re attacked by a bunch of henchmen. Say six or eight. There are four of us PCs. As per usual, we scatter to the winds to fight. While we might assume that in a turn or two, we’ll be fighting two foes each, we have no idea. We have to start by deciding several seconds ahead, what we’ll be doing. 
Cadmus will assume these guys come to him, and so his first second’s choice is Wait (triggered by foe coming into range, where he’ll do an attack), and then assuming he’ll be facing one or two more, perhaps he’ll  . . . well, what will he do? 
Do we have to really get specific? Or just choose a maneuver class? I could say “He’ll Attack” next round, and then when it’s my turn, choose that I’ll Rapid Strike so I can engage multiple foes. Or, do I have to guess in advance that I’ll be using Rapid Strike?  Let’s assume that I have to choose more precisely.
Cadmus will assume that he’ll be attacked by 2-3 people, basically assuming that our foes will split evenly. So his two maneuver choices are Wait(Attack), then Attack(Rapid Strike). 
Rats. These are Evil Cultists. They hate Warrior Saints. One each go for my three companions, five for me. Cadmus swats the first one down with his Wait, but he’s still about to be dogpiled by four more. When his next turn comes, he chooses Defensive Attack as his posture for his FOLLOWING round, and honestly, would prefer Defensive Attack for the current round too. But his chosen maneuver, which he must execute, is Attack (Rapid Strike). 
So, he can do that . . . OR he can take a penalty to all his skills this turn and change his mind. Maybe he uses the rules for Pop-up attacks or something, changing the mind counts as an extra action (like a mental Ready maneuver). Maybe it’s another -2 (like pop-ups or opportunity fire) to -6 (like Rapid Strike). 
I can see that the uncertainty about the situation – choosing your FOLLOWING move rather than your current one, could be really fun.
Or it could suck. 
Not sure.
Were I playing with my Action Point concept from The Last Gasp, it would be interesting to have changing your mind cost you AP, either in addition to or in lieu of, a skill penalty.
Anyway, enough for now. Christian’s thought was intriguing – but definitely would need a playtest!

18 thoughts on “Making Decisions Under Pressure 2

  1. What I hear you telling me is that you want to be dogpiled by more evil cultists. Can do!

    I like handling it through AP loss.

    Honestly, I think it'd be really cool to rejigger DF so mages all work via threshold magic, priests all use divine favor, AP are used in combat, and then you avoid the AP/FP/regular spell casting recovery issues.

    1. Who is this? First I thought you were Mark – is this Staver's player (presuming you're incognito for a reason)?

      Mainly, I was intrigued by Christian's suggestion of choosing the maneuver that comes next. It dovetailed nicely with Peter's irritation (though that's strong) with "take-backs" and the perfect awareness PCs get through the fact that they're staring at a map. Deciding you're going to loose an arrow at Joe Cultist NEXT turn (or the turn after) means that things may have changed by the time that action comes up, and there's a real cost to it.

      An alternate, and perhaps better, way of blending this is to give bonuses for choosing your actions in advance, rather than penalties for changing your mind. That gives an incentive, but not a requirement to do it. So if you choose a sequence of two actions, maybe your first is at no penalty, your second gets a +2, your third gets +4, etc. So if you string five seconds worth of stuff together, you're at a thundering bonus on second 5. But if the situation changes by then, you lose them.

      Dunno. But the core concept adds just enough "hmmm" to the decisions that it might lift some of the raw calculation from the table.

      You'd need a list of what things you can choose in the moment (offhand, I'd say Deceptive Attack and hit location are not things you have to choose in advance), and which must be specified ahead of time.

    2. Working on it, (Got the Saint, the Warrior Saint and the Mystic Knight in print, Druids should simply require a new list of prayers and a modified Divine Favor, same as Shamans) though I don't agree that Threshold Magic should be used, at least not as it stands. The problem with GURPS Magic is that it operated on a two resource basis, actions and energy. Actions are very limited in combat, not limited at all outside of it. Under the default rules, that's the same for energy – Threshold Magic severely limits the total amount of energy available in exchange of allowing the character to have greater instantaneous access to energy. IME, spellcasters in DF feel useless in combat (the best thing they can do is usually buff BEFORE combat), and (maybe) plot-destroying outside of it (I say maybe because the usual result is to make the spells simply not work when they destroy the plot, meaning that the player ends up feeling useless).

      I do have some ideas for finishing to excise GURPS Magic from DF: Wizards should use RPM, with the charm slots acting as Vancian spell slots that make sense, Bards, either full Powers based, or maybe once RPM comes out I'll figure something to use it with them too. Elementalists ought to use the Chinese Elemental Powers rules once they come out, or similar powers based approach. Necromancers ad demonologists are tricky. They don't really get much mileage out of GURPS Magic, but it fills a lot of situational roles appropriate for their themes.

    3. I use Threshold Magic for Wizards in my DF campaign, with a couple of modifications. Every five points of Threshold tapped gives a +1 to a roll by any NPC with Magery to perceive that the character is a magic user. Threshold Magic is illegal in the kingdom, so Wizards have a reason to maintain creepy towers out in the wilderness. It makes Wizards a bit more capable, but a bit vulnerable, too.
      I use Dungeon Saints for Clerics and Holy Warriors. I would love to use something similar for Shamans and perhaps Druids. I currently plan to use a sort of limited scope RPM for Druids, but I have been lucky enough to be able to wait for the RPM supplement and Chinese Elemental Powers before actually featuring them in play. I may change my mind on their nuts and bolts.
      Maybe Shamans should use a similar mechanism to Divine Favor, but built as alternate abilities to Ally, rather than Patron, or perhaps Contact.

  2. Jason, I think that I will be trying this on my next session this coming Friday (sadly, not tonight, sniff). I did playtest it a bit in a previous campaign with a small number of players.

    There are issues with this though, and I just threw it as a quick comment initially. Here are more not-yet-formed ideas along these lines.

    I think that the spirit of the mechanics is that as a GM, you want to know what is the higher level goal of a character, and assume that by default this character will be doing more of the same on the following turn. Let's forget about the 1 second delay, and try it like that: NPC A really wants to defeat character B using standard attack moves. The per-second choices will come down to approach the foe and attack until the goal is achieved. Changing goal, say, rescue a friend in trouble over there could require a change of goal, and would possibly cost some delay. Likewise, you don't ask your player every second what they want to do, but simply what they want to achieve and how. For as long as they don't change their mind, whether it is on what or how to do it, you just keep on going without a penalty.

    I think that this may address my issue with having to ask everyone every second what they want to do, and discuss options, and summarize the situation, and bring a level of thought over each second which may not be warranted. I ascribe that it would speed up combat as well by cutting down on the net number of decisions made, and favor players that can anticipate best what is going to happen in the short term.

    Without a playtest, these are just thoughts. I will think about it some more before next week.

    1. Agree about the need for a playtest, but I'd really avoid changing the GURPS turn scale. When you deviate from that, you break the time scale on which the game was built, and I can't anticipate the emergent behavior that would come up.

  3. Making people choose their next action before their current action is resolved makes Bruce Lee cry.

    Realistically, people do anticipate – but the apex of skill is immediate reaction, not anticipation. This would force everyone to anticipate.

    1. Without necessarily disagreeing with you, Bruce would be able to do anything he wants, because:

      * If anticipation is the default, and reaction costs fitness points (the action point suggestion), Bruce was awesomely fit.

      * If as above, but reaction/improvisation has a skill penalty, well, Bruce was awesomely skilled

      At high levels, you'd be able to eat the penalties for being able to evaluate and act "in the moment."

      The other way to go, which was included in my response to "Unknown" above, is to assume that the GURPS-standard way of doing things is default, and you get a bonus for planning your moves out in advance. If things go to plan, yay, bonus. If not, well, nothing's different. This gives rather than takes away.

      The thing I like – at least in theory – about this is that there's an uncertainty about the fight that it engenders that can't really be brought to bear when the player (not the character) has near-total information about the surrounding combat environment.

    2. I prefer to default to "you're doing it right" – that's why there are the low-skill fighter options in Martial Arts. You penalize the low-skill guys, not everyone except high skill guys.

      What you could do is give a bonus/penalty for declared actions. Decide now, and get a +1; but if you have to change your action it's -2. Or something like that. So you have an incentive to declare ahead, but it's not a freebie, it's a risk, just like all anticipation.

      Plus that way it works without having to use AP.

    3. The +1/-2 split mirrors opportunity fire, limits the applicability, and is a nice bolt-on option. It would also be interesting to turn the tables a bit, where you can somehow get inside the other guy's head, figure out what they're going to do, and get a bonus to defend.

      The intriguing thing about the "decide for next round" thing for me, and why I'm really interested in Christian's playtest, is that I'd bet that in most cases, declaring an extra round in advance won't change much. But it will wrap just a tad more uncertainty around things, and maybe (maybe, maybe not) drive interesting emergent behavior.

      On the additional downside, it would pretty much make PvP fights challenging to resolve. Write down your move(s) and turn over your card when it comes up kinda stuff. That might be even more annoying over Chat/Hangout gaming.

  4. I've always liked systems that separate action declaration from action resolution.

    The order of decision goes in reverse order of speed, with the slowest individual declaring what he'll do first, and those faster to react getting to react to those decisions. Then, the faster characters get to resolve their actions first, perhaps derailing the slower characters, forcing them to either abandon their turn into a Do Nothing, or as I've seen referenced, taking a -2 for changing their action.

    1. I always hated systems that did that.

      Their first issue is that they create a hard "turn" barrier. I very much prefer if after the first turn, it does not matter who was first, everyone simply acts in sequence.

      The second issue has to deal with initiative becoming a godstat, since by having better initiative than your foes, you impose significant penalties on them (You can easily make it so they have to change their action every turn, so they take a penalty every turn).

    2. Do you have a suggestion for a way to, without introducing a god-stat, deal with something akin to simultaneity of actions? Or are you arguing that, at the one-second per turn level, there's no need?

    3. My first thought here would be to introduce the element of randomness to turn order,so that high basic speed means you are MORE LIKELY to have primacy of place in the turn order, but not ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN.

      So instead of Speed = DX+HT / 4, meaning speed 5 is "normal," you don't divide by 4, so Speed 20 is normal. Then you can roll 2d6 or something and add it on the start of combat time, producing some sort of initiative number from 22-32, and your Speed 7 guys would have a Speed number of 30-40. +1 Speed from stats is a big deal (40-80 points)so you want to mostly always go first, but not guaranteed.

      Anyway, tweak to taste (or not at all), but my first though on avoiding a God-stat is to avoid perfectly deterministic systems.

    4. I personally have no issues with that part of GURPS combat. people are reacting to one another, so I don't believe that forcing them to decide on what to do without knowing what the opponent is doing would work. At best, I would follow Doug's advice and give a bonus is you declared what you're going to do beforehand.

      Personally, I find that GURPS has a superior combat system. Not 100% realistic, but it makes concessions for playability that work very well.

      With regards to Doug's issue, I say that one way would be to ask the players to write down, in very simple terms, what their characters would do reflexively, both in melee and in ranged combat, and give them a time limit (2 mins) to declare their action. For example, "I swing with my sword as an Attack". If the player doesn't state their action in time, they do their predetermined action. If that action can't be done, then they Do Nothing

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