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Vampire's new "three-round combat" rule

Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
The new Vampire RPG reportedly has a rule for often limiting combat to three rounds. That rule sure feels like something my buddy Ken Hite would have written, and I have been toying with a similar idea myself. I've played out plenty of long combats where the last rounds were a grind (hello, 4E), and I like cutting to the chase. In 13th Age, we use the "escalation die" to make combats end faster, but Vampire's 3-round rule is an even stronger solution to combats that go too long. Do you have experience with this new rule in Vampire, and if so how does it play?
 

5ekyu

Explorer
The V5 rule is really a bit more guideline and samples of ways to end a conflict after three rounds.

First, it outright says if everybody is having fun with the round by round, keep going.

Thrn it suggests basically a sort of "hostage setup."

After three rounds, players and the GM csn choose s number of "resolution options" like making concessions etc. But this is fine under the "hostage threat of " only one more roll" so if no concessions or other conclusions are reached, one final die roll will decide the event with the odds heavily influenced by the current "score " of the first three falls. So if you are behind two-to-one or three-to-one, you really want to find a way to avoid that "one roll" if you are tied, do you want a 50-50 roll with severe consequences?

There are good ideas, meaningful rules etc and it is spread across their basic and advanced but it is useful.

Mostly the key is to allow a few rounds of strutting your stuff and being smart or ttickery, but then cash-out that to wrap things up.
 
Not able to answer the question, but do want to address the issue.

I would draw a sharp distinction between combats where the fiction is changing every round and those that are simple damage races with the fiction being basically unchanged each round.

Imagine a circumstance where you limited all action scenes in movies to 18 seconds, and if they lasted longer than 18 seconds you cut away from them to the conclusion. I think that's how an arbitrary limit on rounds would feel to me.

Now granted, I think there are many movies where combats go on and on without really adding to narrative, and simply exist for reasons of spectacle and frequently those bore me. But on the other hand, consider truly great cinematic combats like the climatic battle in Return of the Jedi where the protagonists are simultaneously fighting on three fronts and each of those three fronts has a narrative arc which throws action toward the other. That battle goes on for I'd guess 30 minutes of screen time and while the Ewoks beating up the Storm Troopers might be cheesy, it's not boring.

One thing that table top games tend not to do well is spectacle (or Sensation) so tabletop combat tends to be inherently less visceral than cinema while simultaneously taking longer to resolve. So while such combats can bore, in my experience they do not bore if during the combat the fiction is continually evolving in interesting ways.

I'm not hugely familiar with 4e combats, but from reputation they started to drag when the players ran out of options, were clearly in control of the battle, the fiction was no longer evolving, and yet several rounds of combat stretched out before the participants just to whittle down the hit points in a damage race the protagonists were obviously going to win.

I've had similar experiences in 1e with battles against large numbers of mooks, or in 3e against large numbers of low level undead, where it was clear that the foes couldn't significantly threaten the PCs and the combat devolved to the chore of whittling away the foes.

So for me, the question is not "Has the fight gone 3 rounds?", but rather, "Is the fight more resembling good cinema, or is it more resembling two 7 year olds playing the card game "War"?"

Trying to imagine a game were "combat is always over in 3 rounds", I can only imagine doing this if the game abandoned any attempt to simulate the events of combat, and instead staged combat as a sort of play in three acts where dice just provided guidance for the narration. Have you ever run combat in Amber Diceless roleplaying, for example? I could imagine a three Act rule applying to Amber Diceless. I have a hard time imagining it applying to any game which simulates a series of events.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
I don't like this rule. I'm a firm believer that it's not over until it's over, and that you need to actually play it out in order to determine what happens. The outcome of combat is too important to resolve through narration. Even if you know that you're going to win, it's still important to the narrative to determine the details, because nothing that happens in a combat scenario is trivial. If someone keeps fighting until their last breath, then that's a different story from someone running away; and if they do turn to run, whether you let them go says a lot about your character, compared to shooting them in the back or chasing them down.

But I haven't seen it in play, and I haven't even seen the full text of the rules, so I'll suspend judgment for now. It looks terrible, but maybe it's not so bad in practice.
 

Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
Thanks, everyone. I was curious as to how they could fit a three-round rule of thumb into a pretty standard 90s-era system. I'm a big fan of faster battles, and I'm happy to see other game designers trying out various approaches toward that goal.
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
While not quite the same as the three round combat, in Sentinels Comics RPG (which is based on Fate Accelerated, I think), combat is timed. There are only so many rounds until the combat is over, regardless of who has the upper hand. What happens when the last round is over depends on how close to winning the heroes were.
 

MGibster

Explorer
As 5ekyu points out, the three round rule is more of a guideline for conflict resolution rather than an absolute. Not only is it designed to prevent conflicts from growing too tedious in length, it's designed to give players and DMs some narrative control over the outcome to make things interesting. This isn't something you're likely to use during the climatic event of a chapter.

In most RPGs, at least in my experience, combat tends to be an all or nothing proposition. Either my side wins and we kill everyone or their side wins and we're facing a total party kill situation. And most people, even vampires, aren't driven to fight to the death every time they throw down. In Vampire, the players and DM discuss the outcome of the fight opening a lot of possibilities more interesting than just killing someone.

One plus is that nobody need necessarily worry about their characters dying if the PCs lose the fight. This works for my Vampire games because typically the Prince is the only one with the right to kill someone. Yeah, even in self-defense the Prince can come down hard on someone who kills another vampire. Who says unlife is fair? (Though this might not work for non-Camarilla games.)
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
Imagine a circumstance where you limited all action scenes in movies to 18 seconds, and if they lasted longer than 18 seconds you cut away from them to the conclusion. I think that's how an arbitrary limit on rounds would feel to me.
Let me reframe this, going away from D&D's 6-second turns.

Imagine a movie where non-climatic battles topped at three minutes of screen time for actual fight sequences, where if it had not been conclusively resolved by a win/loss it was resolved by a plot twist, escape, or other bit of storytelling.

Put like that, it sounds downright common, not arbitrary. Sure, some movies just about fighting might spend more time (and so can you - continue if everyone is having fun was part of it), but from a pacing perspective any scene in a movie will be used to tell it's part and then advance to the next scene, not linger into what in an RPG would be a grind.
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
In most RPGs, at least in my experience, combat tends to be an all or nothing proposition. Either my side wins and we kill everyone or their side wins and we're facing a total party kill situation.
You get there in the next part of your response I quoted, but I do have a problem with this from both the PCs side and the enemy's side. In addition to always fighting to the death being downright stupid, it makes me think of "always X" alignment races. 1. How does an Always Chaotic Evil race even survive? This is taken to it's natural, and ridiculous, conclusion with the Tannar'ri (cooler name than demon anyway), 2. Even the newborn who has new experience with anything yet is Chaotic Evil? Um . . . how?

And most people, even vampires, aren't driven to fight to the death every time they throw down.
Indeed, the PCs or their enemies may need their opponents alive (or undead) for some reason. This could be a combination player/GM problem. I have seen a few cases here where players will not have their character run from a fight they are losing either because they don't think they'll make it, dislike the running away rules, or of course the GM is a jerk and will close off the escape route whether by monster or combat convenient obstacle. Most people don't want to die (or die the True Death), and some systems even encourage not engaging in combat if it's not necessary.
 

Jonathan Tweet

Explorer
In early D&D, there was a lot of fleeing from monsters. Also, if you're playing in a dungeon, there's no narrative reason for you to defeat any particular enemy, so it was OK not to win. As the game has become more forgiving and more structured (eg, with reasons for your fights), running away has lost its appeal, and now player characters are set up to win most battles. If an approach like the three-round battle allows characters to lose more fights, that seems like a good addition.

In the new Over the Edge, the GM is coached to set up conflicts where the PCs can lose and the story keeps going, which is an intentional shift from how D&D works these days.
 

MGibster

Explorer
1. How does an Always Chaotic Evil race even survive? This is taken to it's natural, and ridiculous, conclusion with the Tannar'ri (cooler name than demon anyway), 2. Even the newborn who has new experience with anything yet is Chaotic Evil? Um . . . how?
When it comes to fantasy games I usually worry more about what makes a good game rather than what makes for a cohesive world. I don't worry about whether the economy, alignment, or even magic might realistically change society I worry about what would make for a good adventure. But coming up with a cohesive world is certainly a valid approach to world building. I just tend to borrow a page from Mystery Science Theater 3000:

If you're wondering how he eats and breaths and other science facts/
La, la, la/
Just repeat to yourself it's just a show and I should really just relax"
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
The MST3K Mantra may have worked when I was a teenager, but now, as an adult, if the world is not consistent it pulls me out of my suspension of disbelief. OK, fine, I can agree, that somehow, all across the multiverse, they use the same four metals for currency. When all those planets have the same exchange rate, my brain breaks. Though really, this is more of an argument against character alignment as a multiversal absolute than anything else.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
You get there in the next part of your response I quoted, but I do have a problem with this from both the PCs side and the enemy's side. In addition to always fighting to the death being downright stupid, it makes me think of "always X" alignment races. 1. How does an Always Chaotic Evil race even survive? This is taken to it's natural, and ridiculous, conclusion with the Tannar'ri (cooler name than demon anyway), 2. Even the newborn who has new experience with anything yet is Chaotic Evil? Um . . . how?



Indeed, the PCs or their enemies may need their opponents alive (or undead) for some reason. This could be a combination player/GM problem. I have seen a few cases here where players will not have their character run from a fight they are losing either because they don't think they'll make it, dislike the running away rules, or of course the GM is a jerk and will close off the escape route whether by monster or combat convenient obstacle. Most people don't want to die (or die the True Death), and some systems even encourage not engaging in combat if it's not necessary.
I agree that the all or nothing can be a sign of Player/gm playstyles - or perhaps more appropriately, thst it can be **undone** by a different set of player/gm playstyles.

In fact, i was almost ready to post much the same.

Then i thought.

I wondered or pondered "in how many published hostile encounters is it staged as fight or die as opposed to ones where surrender, escape and so forth as options once fighting begins?"

My history says kill = most and the others equals few **except** when its a specific part of the theme and setting - like supers or vampire.

So, laying a good chunk of the credit on the RPGs works for more than a few of them.

But, it can certainly be undone or avoided by players and gms who add those considerstiins more strongly to their games.
 
Let me reframe this, going away from D&D's 6-second turns...
Oh, I don't think the length of the turn really matters. We can stick to Vampire if you prefer. The point is that Vampire is set up to run combat as a series of events. One thing happens after the other. If anything, it's more granular and less abstract than D&D running it in an intuitive fashion, because it has a very GURPS like attack, active defense, passive defense, apply damage sort of procedure.

Again, I can see systems where this might work - Amber Diceless is one I've already mentioned. If you want to run a combat in a system where the combat outcome revolves around narrative currency, and the participants work together to narrate the combat, then a 'three act' rule for a combat might be fine - opening, rising action, climax. Two skilled players could probably produce something like the duel from "Princess Bride" under these conditions.

In practice, I don't find most movie combats - especially modern movie combats in this era after movies like The Phantom Menace or The Bourne Ultimatum - to be particularly tightly paced. Most to me are a boring drag, and I really don't want many action movies any more because of it. What you more often see is fighting not as means of telling a narrative, but rather as a means of spectacle - showing off special effects, showing off fight choreography, etc. You watch many modern movies for the same reasons you watch a Jackie Chan movie - the stylized lengthy combat scenes are the meat of the movie.

But fundamentally, you've "reframed" this by attacking my movie metaphor and other details, yet I don't see you really threatening my central point - which is that a combat in an RPG continues to be exciting so long as the fiction continues to meaningfully evolve. That is to say, during the fight, is something interesting still happening? Is the fight tense, exciting, fun to imagine, producing dramatic moments, or shining moments of awesome? Is the fight moving across terrain? Is the fight producing new goals and twists? Are new things happening from round to round, and new complications being introduced? If you do that successfully, the fight won't be a grind, regardless of whether it took 3 rounds, 6 rounds, or 12. The trick, or problem depending on how you look at it, is that this is much harder to do in a player's imagination than it is to do in cinema.

If you have an encounter that is going to go 3 rounds, and then already be a grind, then there is definitely something wrong with your encounter design that arbitrarily ending the battle won't fix. Perhaps if you wanted a plot twist, escape, or other bit of storytelling, you should have designed possibilities like that into the encounter in the first place, rather than going, "Gee... three rounds have gone by... this is a drag. Perhaps I ought to invent on the fly some away the fiction has meaningfully evolved." So in a very real way, when you say, "Keep the fiction evolving" you are agreeing with me. I totally would agree that, for example, a fight that potentially evolves into a chase sequence is a well designed encounter, or that a fight that potentially evolves into a social encounter is well designed, or a fight that starts out with one tactical problem (stop gaurds from sounding alarm) but can evolve into another one is well designed. What I don't agree with is using railroading techniques like arbitrarily cutting off the action (a "handwave") is a satisfactory way to get there if you are running some sort of process simulation combat.

Fights get grindy when you have uninteresting terrain, uninteresting goals, and uninteresting foes that do the same basic thing round after round, and winning is a matter of simply eroding hit points without making any real choices.
 

MGibster

Explorer
Indeed, the PCs or their enemies may need their opponents alive (or undead) for some reason. This could be a combination player/GM problem. I have seen a few cases here where players will not have their character run from a fight they are losing either because they don't think they'll make it, dislike the running away rules, or of course the GM is a jerk and will close off the escape route whether by monster or combat convenient obstacle. Most people don't want to die (or die the True Death), and some systems even encourage not engaging in combat if it's not necessary.
I think it's mostly about player/DM expectations. For many players, the worst think you can do to their characters is take away their autonomy. Death is preferable. I remember reading a Cyberpunk 2020 book (I forget which one) where it gives an narrative example of game play. It involved the PC starting out his day by getting roughed up by some goons reminding him that he owed someone money. I remember thinking there was no way that scenario would work with any of my players because their characters would escalate and either the goons or the PC would be lying in the gutter bleeding to death when it was all over.
 

MGibster

Explorer
If you do that successfully, the fight won't be a grind, regardless of whether it took 3 rounds, 6 rounds, or 12. The trick, or problem depending on how you look at it, is that this is much harder to do in a player's imagination than it is to do in cinema.
For a game like D&D a ten round fight can take an awful lot of time in real life. If the DM spend 120 seconds on his turn and the other players each take 60 seconds on theirs then a ten round fight will last 80 minutes of real time. (I don't think giving players 60 seconds to figure out what they want to do during their turn, roll their dice, and figure out the outcome is unreasonable.) There are plenty of people who could spend hours just fighting one encounter in D&D and have a great time and more power to them. After about thirty minutes I keep hoping combat comes to an end.

If you have an encounter that is going to go 3 rounds, and then already be a grind, then there is definitely something wrong with your encounter design that arbitrarily ending the battle won't fix. Perhaps if you wanted a plot twist, escape, or other bit of storytelling, you should have designed possibilities like that into the encounter in the first place, rather than going, "Gee... three rounds have gone by... this is a drag.
Vampire 5E said:
We strongly recommend ending conflicts after roughly three turns, unless everyone is still having fun. Too much dice rolling slows down the drama and becomes harder and harder to describe creatively.
Maybe you're just really good at designing encounters but after a while I find they can get tedious. As you said, it's much harder to keep things interesting in the player's imagination than it is for the cinema.

What I don't agree with is using railroading techniques like arbitrarily cutting off the action (a "handwave") is a satisfactory way to get there if you are running some sort of process simulation combat.
I think we have different ideas of what railroading is. In the context of an RPG, I think of railroading as forcing the PCs to perform certain actions. The three round rule isn't an absolute as the players can continue the encounter as they like. And even if it ends after three rounds if the players are victorious they've achieved whatever goal they set out to achieve.

Fights get grindy when you have uninteresting terrain, uninteresting goals, and uninteresting foes that do the same basic thing round after round, and winning is a matter of simply eroding hit points without making any real choices.
They get grindy if you spend a lot of time on them too.
 

ninjayeti

Villager
It strikes me that there is a lot of daylight between "end fights before they get tedious" and "end fights after 3 rounds." Plenty of fights are fun and interesting 10+ rounds in; conversely, if there is no real challenge even running 3 rounds of combat may be 3 rounds too many.

Rather than an arbitrary 3 round limit I would just encourage and empower GMs to end fights once there is a clear victor. Either have the bad guys run/surrender (give the PCs the same options if they are outmatched) or just hand wave the inevitable. Plenty of GMs do this already needing special mechanics. Every fight is different and every group's tolerance for combat is different so I'd say this is something better handled with GM discretion than with a rule.

I'd also suggest that groups looking for less combat would be better served with fewer, more meaningful fights, rather than just having the same number of fights caped at three rounds.
 
For a game like D&D a ten round fight can take an awful lot of time in real life. If the DM spend 120 seconds on his turn and the other players each take 60 seconds on theirs then a ten round fight will last 80 minutes of real time.
Oh, I'm aware. The longest single fight in the history of my D&D took 28 hours or so to resolve. I have no idea how many rounds were involved, but it did involve 50,000 combatants. Even abstracted to a mass combat system, it was an extremely complex encounter. It also is one of the real highlights of my gaming career, and the people that were involved still remember it fondly. It was tense, exciting, and the combat evolved in a ton of surprising ways.

(I don't think giving players 60 seconds to figure out what they want to do during their turn, roll their dice, and figure out the outcome is unreasonable.) There are plenty of people who could spend hours just fighting one encounter in D&D and have a great time and more power to them. After about thirty minutes I keep hoping combat comes to an end.
That entirely depends on the combat. I've certainly run combats where everyone was thinking, "Let's just get this over with." I consider that a failing by me as the GM.

As you said, it's much harder to keep things interesting in the player's imagination than it is for the cinema.
Absolutely, which is why you have to take the trouble to stage any fight that is going to go more than a few rounds with great care, starting with picking a foe for the combat which will present a novel challenge to the players and then creating an evocative setting with hopefully some interesting terrain. I don't always succeed in that, and in particular I tend to let my own desire for realism get in the way of a truly interesting encounter quite a bit. The correct approach to this is probably design an interesting encounter, and then rationalize the setting to create believability, rather than creating a realistic setting and then put an encounter in it just because you need an encounter. (Not that every realistic setting is uninteresting, but its better to be unrealistic than uninteresting.)

I think we have different ideas of what railroading is.
Probably not. I just have very precise ideas about what railroading is and how you do it and why you do it. To follow along, you might want to read this essay first: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?298368-Techniques-for-Railroading

In the context of an RPG, I think of railroading as forcing the PCs to perform certain actions.
Well, yes, but there are different degrees of subtly in that. Railroading are acts that take agency from players and transfer it to the GM, and there are a variety of techniques for doing that as I outlined. There are even narrow conditions where I think that a GM is justified in railroading for a variety of reasons in order trade a short term unavoidable lack of agency (meaning that PC's presently don't actually have much agency to lose) in order to grant them more long term agency. Much as a sympathize with players that fit your claim, "For many players, the worst think you can do to their characters is take away their autonomy. Death is preferable.", because really if players don't have agency then you are wasting their time, the truth is that no player actually has autonomy, because the vast majority of games require a GM in the roles of secret keeper, narrator and antagonist - without which the player has no meaningful choices anyway.

The three round rule isn't an absolute as the players can continue the encounter as they like. And even if it ends after three rounds if the players are victorious they've achieved whatever goal they set out to achieve.
Sure but combat tends to end when one side obtains their goals regardless of the system, and if the three round rule is really applied that flexibly then it becomes simply a restatement of Rule Zero (which incidentally is itself often a form of railroading). I don't need a system to validate that as GM I can break the rules. Breaking rules is easy. Having a set of rules that don't need to be broken regularly is both difficult and desirable.

They get grindy if you spend a lot of time on them too.
Combat is practically its own aesthetic of play. There are plenty of people who find mindless action in the movies dull and uninteresting as well, and some people have very little tolerance for drama that is essentially about whom can beat up whom. And in my experience, almost everyone prefers even in the movies for combat to have some important stakes so that they are emotionally invested in the outcome, even if they enjoy combat mostly as spectacle. The same is also true of running an RPG. There are some players for whom the tactical skirmish wargame combat generator is the reason to play an RPG, and they are perfectly happy doing nothing but moving from one tactical problem to the next stepping up to the challenge. Others have almost no tolerance for combat and do not enjoy it as a thing in and of itself. For them, it matters only what you are fighting for, combat is mostly interesting as a sort of dramatic social encounter, and the details of the fight in terms of weapons and terrain are really unimportant.

But, regardless, the same key factor suits both players - the fictional reality must continue to evolve if the fight is to be really interesting. The worst sort of 'combat' is two parties toe to toe slugging it out in a damage race where each side takes the exact same action "I attack" each round, and it devolves down to a lengthy series of dice rolls that is no more role playing than figuring out how many armies you lose when your 58 armies in Brazil attack 32 armies in North Africa.
 

uzirath

Explorer
It strikes me that there is a lot of daylight between "end fights before they get tedious" and "end fights after 3 rounds." Plenty of fights are fun and interesting 10+ rounds in; conversely, if there is no real challenge even running 3 rounds of combat may be 3 rounds too many.

Rather than an arbitrary 3 round limit I would just encourage and empower GMs to end fights once there is a clear victor.
This was a big step for me in my evolution as a GM. In my current games, using GURPS (or variants like DFRPG), I run combats straight about 70% of the time. The other 30%, I cut them off early because the outcome has become clear. Sure, with critical successes and failures, there might be some surprises, but if there's no real drama at stake, I narrate the finish and move on. This has tightened up the session pacing so that we get more done in less time, which works better for busy adults. I adjust this based on the mood of the table and the preferences of my players.

While reading this thread, I've been thinking about taking this informal system a step further. A large combat could be broken into scenes that focus on key moments of tactical interest. For example, a battle at the gates of a fortified dungeon could start with a scene about the PCs trying to break down the doors (or trick their way in or whatever). Proceed with a bit of melee in the entryway. Then zoom forward to the arrival or reinforcements or the shaman spellcasters from the barracks. Proceed with more gritty fighting. Then zoom to the mop-up phase when the last survivors try to make a break for it or beg for their lives. With a bit of practice, and feedback from the players, I could see this working rather well.

I know that I'm not inventing anything new here, but I sometimes find myself caught between liking both the fluid pacing of narrative systems and the gritty second-by-second combat tactics of GURPS. I'm experimenting with ways to retain the latter while benefiting from elements of the former.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
Rather than an arbitrary 3 round limit I would just encourage and empower GMs to end fights once there is a clear victor. Either have the bad guys run/surrender (give the PCs the same options if they are outmatched) or just hand wave the inevitable.
Even if the over-all outcome is clear, the final state is not inevitable. You may know that the PCs are going to win, but a win where they slay their opponents is a far different win than one where somebody gets away, or a win where one of the PCs is severely wounded; and you owe it to the players to play that out fairly.
 

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