Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tempo and Initiative

I've been throwing around some basic tabletop RPG rule ideas in different settings and with different parameters, and I'm starting to settle on an approach.

I'm really enchanted by the idea of each person choosing who goes next in the initiative lineup. IE, everyone gets one turn per round, but whoever is going now gets to choose who goes next from those that haven't yet gone.

I think this is one of the most brilliant mechanics to come up this century. However, to make it interesting, you need to make turn order matter in a more complex way than "earlier is better".

I've tried a few ways to do this, but I think the ideal method is to have a shared value that can be pumped. Lemme 'splain.

In this game, there is a concept of "battle tempo". Each battle's tempo ranges from 1 to 5, as marked by chits in the center of the table. At tempo 1, most of the combatants are at moderate ranges and combat is marked by deliberate and measured attacks. At tempo 5, the combatants are embroiled in a frenzied, zero-range melee.

Every player's actions are separated into those that raise tempo, those that lower tempo, and those that require a specific tempo. The classes are all close-combat classes, but they accomplish these things in very different ways.

For example, at tempo 5, a rogue's extreme short-range speed makes their melee attacks brutal and their defenses quite good. At tempo 1, rogues use maneuvering, stealth, and thrown weapons/pistols. But rogues need to be careful in the middle tempos, because they aren't close enough to get inside the enemy's range and aren't far enough away to have room to maneuver.

On the other hand, consider a knight. She doesn't have any additional passive defenses - she doesn't take less damage or have more health. But she has a number of active defenses. For example, she can "press" with her shield, closing range and forcing an enemy to target her at a significant disadvantage. This is a good way to raise the tempo (by closing) without actually using an attack.

This means that the knight might act at tempo 4 with a press, drawing the attention of a ghoul and raising the tempo to 5. Then the knight might pass the turn on to the rogue - since it's at tempo 5, the rogue attacks the distracted ghoul (or another enemy) with perfect speed and high defense.

On the other hand, if it's at tempo 3, the knight might do the same, but pass the turn to the ghoul. The ghoul, forced to target her, attacks and does little. This increases the tempo to 5, and the ghoul is forced to pass their turn to the rogue, since there are no other people left this round.

I think this has a lot of potential, especially in the world I've designed for it. Most enemies fall into one of two categories in my world: ghosts (which reduce tempo when they act) and ghouls (which increase tempo when they act). Since you can rely on the enemy to move tempo in a specific direction (and have specific abilities at specific tempos), you can actually pass turns to them with the knowledge that they will give you your turn back at a higher or lower tempo, useful for your plans...


Ellipsis said...

I like the tempo idea, and it seems more broadly that what you need for turn order to matter is some shared resource. In D&D virtually all resources (spells/day, HP, etc.) are personal resources and so the only place where dynamic tactical decisions happen is in movement on the board itself. By contrast, Puzzle Quest has players take turns playing Bejeweled, and this makes turn order incredibly important, because if you set up a 4-of-a-kind with your turn, your opponent gets to use it (unless you can extend your turn somehow). You can also subvert personal resources into shared resources (for instance, by taking control of an opponent's summoned creature, or just by mimicking an opponent's turn).

It's possible to go overboard, I imagine, and make the ultimate result of your actions so unpredictable that players are frightened to do anything creative on their turns, but I don't think I've ever seen this happen. In my experience, the more resources are shared or subvertible, the more dynamic tactical choices seem to be come, and this seems like it would be particularly important if you want to play around with initiative order.

Craig Perko said...

Yeah, I'm a fan of making initiative tactics - it makes the players have to think like a team.

Keto said...

I feel this is good for a single player controlling a party, but feel you have to be running a pretty specific variety of RPG for this to jive well with the 'sense of the individual' in most games.

I personally cannot think of any game I have run where the party wasn't very individualistic. I am aware it is abstracted, but I am pretty sure all of my playerbases would be upset by the limitations this presents.

I suppose this is why I tend to go for more simulationist system though, my players pretty much demand that you can interpret whatever odd behavior they have with as much or as little group cohesion as possible.

Random_Phobosis said...

The danger of tight teamwork system in cooperative games is that the most experienced player can make all the decisions.
Even though this isn't good sport, the fact is teamwork sometimes is just sub-optimal, so the group reacts to this by delegating all the thinking to one guy.

One of the way to combat this is imperfect information for each player, but this goes against whole planning thing.

The other thing I don't like is that fixed abilities could make the game stale, giving way to mmorpg-like "rotations" and all that. If your knight has a good attack at tempo 3, which changes tempo to 4, and your rogue has a good attack at tempo 4, which switches tempo back to 3, why would you use anything else?
My guess you either have to layer another system on this or randomize the abilities (deckbuilding, yay!).

Craig Perko said...

Hold on, are you two dismissing this theoretical game for the same flaws all the other games on the market have?

Maybe it's that you think this tempo thing is the only rule... look, let me sum up D&D in the same way:

In D&D, each player takes a turn deciding whether to perform a basic attack or whether to spend a limited advanced technique. The advanced techniques are split mostly between buffs, debuffs, and super attacks, but each class generally specializes in one kind.

You can say the same stuff about that description of D&D. I mean, how many times has the "leader" in a D&D gang said "OK, cleric, cast bless on the warrior so he can hit the monster..."

Random_Phobosis said...

No way, I've just mentioned the problems I bump against most often :}

I suppose the difference between your concept and D&D is that in D&D there are usually pretty broad groups of abilities, and (in my experience) everyone chooses his actions mostly by himself.
In your game, exact sequence of particular abilities matters much more, so maybe I'd prefer to see this in "one player controls whole party" tactics or crpgs. Still, pretty cool, and much cooler than most crpgs/jrpgs offer.

Craig Perko said...

You could build it out so that it's a one-player thing, but I can also easily see it being multiplayer.

A lot of actions will be constrained by how you want tempo to go and who you want to go next, but that's not to say the actions will be deeply limited.

Think of it this way: in D&D, you have an array of limited-use abilities that define who you are.

In this game, you have an array of tempo-affecting abilities that define who you are.

Instead of choosing whether a situation is worth spending a limited technique on, you would choose which category of technique you want to use. And, of course, you have to take the situation into account, just like when choosing whether to use a 3rd-level fireball or a 1st-level magic arrow.

Keto said...

I think of D%D as a more simulationist game. The problems I have aren't about gameplay, but about situational interpretation.

Lets take D&D: It grants a system for interpreting actions and what order they will occur in. It responds pretty well to players having different opinions of what should happen.

In this system, players with differing opinions on what should occur are 'dragged in' to the Tempo. Dissent is overpowered by core mechanics, and has no effective outlet.

This can be overcome, but it is sufficiently difficult that I really cannot think of how. The game is still interesting, but I view the inability for players to have differing situations outside of the group as a shortcoming that matters alot in the types of games I run.

Ellipsis said...

If the biggest problem is the homogenizing effect of cooperation, you could totally undo that by giving the players some reason not to share all their information with each other. For instance, in addition to simply winning the encounter, each character gets bonus class exp for meeting some condition, like attacking on an unusual tempo, or being the one to deliver a killing blow (or never delivering a killing blow). Some of these conditions will contradict each other, or at least encourage some players to violate otherwise-optimal-tactics, and the conversations go from "You need to do x..." to "I need to get to Tempo 4, anyone want to help me with that?"

Craig Perko said...

It's interesting to play with the idea of how much teamwork you aim for with your incentives. Hm!