Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I found a great post on one of my favourite topics:  How to deal with what characters are holding in their hands in RPGs.  The post talks at length about the history of this particular issue but is light on solutions.  That is expected largely because this is one of the most tricky areas of RPG design I have come across.  In particular it is extremely difficult to balance the need for three things:  Cinematic flexibility, simplicity of rules, and preventing twinking.

I have often seen situations come up where players want to do things like fire a longbow one round, next round attack with two swords, then fire the longbow again.  I would ask "So, where exactly did that longbow go in the middle round?"  and they would answer "I stash it on my back."  Somehow the idea of a two meter long bow that is strung magically hovering above the character's back, cemented in place by nothing but hopes and poor bookkeeping never ceases to amaze me.  While these players weren't trying to break the rules or do something unfair they certainly were willing to think of the character like a hero in a first person shooter who carries around twelve different assault rifles, eleven of which are simply invisible at any given time.  For these players I really want the rules to be simple.

Then there are the twinks who use move actions to swap in a shield after they attack, get the benefit of the shield for the round, then use their move action next round to stow it and draw their weapon so they can make a regular attack.  It is a thoroughly ridiculous sort of thing because you can't even imagine a combatant doing this in a movie - nobody regularly swaps a shield in and out like this except to try to game the system.  When these players are on the field you need rules that prevent twinking in this way.  Most systems rely on the GM saying "Oh, you are doing *that* again?  Fine, the ogre hits you for 97 damage.  Make a new character, and try for one that isn't a pissant."  I could simply go with that system of abuse prevention but I would really rather the rules accomplish it on their own.

Thing is, there are players out there who really do want to sheathe their dagger, swing across the room on a chandelier, draw the dagger again, and stab the baddie in the back.  This is the sort of thing that is fun, makes for great stories, and isn't abusive.  I really want a system that lets people do this sort of thing because the mechanical "I hit for 12" bit of combat isn't nearly as entertaining or memorable as a chandelier swing.  That cinematic flexibility is great.

I haven't found a lot of good solutions to maximize all of these things though.  In Heroes By Trade at the moment people can rearrange their weapons with a Move so the shield swapping shenanigans described above are possible but costly.  Constantly swapping from a bow to a sword is feasible but you can't do it on the run - which I think is a fair tradeoff.  I tried a lot of systems to try to allow more cinematic moves and quash twinking but in the end I really just swung towards simplicity.  I have a nice out in terms of cinematic combat though in that players have Fate Points they can spend to do outrageous things and break the rules if they want to so they have only their own spendthift natures to blame if they aren't able to swing from a chandelier at the perfect moment.

1 comment:

  1. Great article, fortunately I haven't experience the 'twink' type players who want to constantly swap between bows and swords to abuse the system.
    I like how 5e has loosened the strict definitions on things like drawing a sword.
    Groups I game with accept a certain degree of 'realism' in that once the crossbow is fired, it's often just time to drop it in order to draw one's sword and get into the thick of it. (then hopefully remember to pick it up after)