Friday, September 25, 2015

Armor, Travel Speed, and Players

For our Lost City game, the players originally were looking at some fairly heavily armored guys - mail, scale, etc. and hefty loadouts of gear.

Once we settled on jungle, they started to peel that back a bit.

Sending them the rules for how the jungle and heat will affect them caused people to roll things back even further, since they had a concrete understanding of what a little less armor and gear would mean. It went from "be light, it'll help" to "be light, because it means I suffer 2 FP less per fight and start 2 FP higher when one happens."

It's worth noting that the axe-and-shield knight, a self-described heavy fighter, will be wearing leather armor (albeit ornate and enchanted.) We may have one guy in mail, he hasn't decided yet, but it might just be a willingness to suck up the pain to ensure he's got extra DR despite the downsides. Or he might revise and get lighter armor.

But it's not their travel speed that they were concerned about. It was the fatigue penalties. The climbing penalties (there will be climbing). How long it takes to get there? That just decides how much food to bring. Twice as long means twice as much food, not a big deal in most cases.

Here is something I have learned as a GM:

You can't get players to trade armor and equipment away for movement if, when they arrive at a combat, it's a heavyweight championship.

Nobody sprints to the heavyweight title fight. Nobody brings a light tank to a heavy tank battle, no matter how much faster the light tank is.

If the fight will always be waiting for them, it behooves them to bring the heaviest and most effective combat loadout possible.

Adventures which depend heavily on movement rate, but which ultimately have a setpiece end (the lost temple, guarded by tireless guardians) or are just a place to explore at your leisure, don't incentivize faster movement. If you have a bunch of hexes to explore and a lost plateau to reach (X1!), does it matter how long it takes?

You can ensure the travel is a grind in some environs - food issues, disease, wandering monsters, etc. That way a shorter travel time and better speed is good. You can make sure being slow in the dungeon means you can't run away and burn through more torches.

But if armor and a heavy loadout are more of an advantage in the combat situations than a downside in a non-combat situations, players will load up. I've found most players will choose "better equipped to fight" over "better equipped to get away." And why not? Winning fights is how you get the loot from the monsters. It's how you clear out the evil temple or send the semi-materialized death god back to his plane. Running is how you leave the problem for later.

Here are some ways I think work to incentivize lighter loadouts and less armor:

- Bonuses for speed. If having extra speed is an advantage, people will seize it. "If we're fast, not only can we sack the Temple of Woe but also get there before the high priest puts the solid gold chalice back in its unopenable box!"

- time limited adventure locations. If you only have X days to loot the area before the army shows up, you will have a real incentive to skimp on heavy stuff. If the chance to adventure literally ends at a certain time (not just becomes harder), then people will take a hard look at lighter loadouts.

- level playing field. If the place you end up with is the middleweight championships or lightweight championships, people will be tempted to overmatch it with heavy armor but will also feel like lighter armor is an option.

- legitimate tradeoffs. If armor gives a lot of benefits and slow movement gives few real downsides (the adventure waits, non-combat problems aren't movement-sensitive, etc.) than people will armor up. GURPS nicely comes with two of these - FP loss from combat and marching is tied to encumbrance, and so is Dodge (which is a legitimate and extremely valuable defense.) D&D5's way of putting DX bonuses only for light armor is a good example of a legitimate tradeoff.

- remove the fear. This is a more general suggestion - don't make being without your armor the worst thing in the world. Make sure it's also a good thing part of the time. No one wants to bet their guy's life on light armor instead of heavy if there is no upside. But if they know that it's not going to be more lethal if they go light, they'll consider going light. If they suspect you're pushing them to remove their armor so you can really let them have it, they will keep it on.

Most of those work pretty well in combination - my Lost City setup is a combination of Level Playing Field (foes aren't hanging out in scale or plate, either), Time Limited Adventure Location (the players have 5 sessions, 6 max, to loot as much as they can, and slow movement means more encounters which means less session time in the city), and legitimate tradeoffs (heavy loaouts and metal armor = more fatigue, and this is potentially costly.)

Some players will still choose heavy armor and heavy loadouts. That's a legitimate choice. They may choose to lose out on some opportunities for loot or to avoid monsters or to flee and bet on the value of armor in combat and their extra equipment being useful. That's fine, too.

There are heavy-handed ways to ensure the characters strip down, like heat traps and magnet traps. Or nagging at the players until they take off their helmets and remove their plate armor. Or you can just tell people it's hard to sleep in armor. But I'm reminded of a book I'd read that said the conquistadors that took out the Incas didn't remove their armor to sleep. I believe it - if you feel like the fight takes X, and that fight can come at any time, you'll drag X to the fight no matter what it costs to get it there. Incentivizing things so going without the usual maximum combat gear is a better way to go. Don't make it a punishment for not doing it, make it - at the very least - a mix of punishment for not doing it and a reward for doing it.

I think I managed that.


  1. I'm not suggesting you do it, but this sounds like a great game for the Action Point rules in The Last Gasp, as well as the longer term fatigue recovery rates. It would very much incentivize the kind of fast-and-light behavior you're looking for.

    1. I'm sure you're right, but you have to admit that's a huge change to the game. It would drive decisions about character generation, combat styles, spellcasting, travel, etc. etc. It's not something I could just throw in and say, "This will encourage lighter loadouts."

      Besides, I don't care if they choose lighter loadouts, I just care that they understand the tradoffs, the costs of their decisions, and have ones they can make. I think they will be much happier with lighter loadouts but it would have been just fine if they wanted to slog it out heavy and pay the prices to do it.

  2. From my experience playing LARPS Fatigue throughout the day is the big barrier to wearing heavy armor and lots of gear. So if you got good mechanics to simulate that then that the way to go.

    Just hope the players don't figure out how to organize a siege style expedition with base camps, supply routes and the lot. As then it doesn't really matter what you give incentives for as if it is properly setup the player will have whatever they need on hand.

    1. The time crunch and need for profit-maximizing means that is a non-issue in my current game. The haven't the time or resources to manage that. If you make that a possible approach, you should expect players will do that. There is a reason people take that approach in reality.

  3. I really like the setup and the hard choices that need to be made--it makes for a good game. Plus. It's *almost* always better to be fast and lightly encumbered, or at least my preference, which is why shirtless savage was SO appealing for Bjorn Felmanson. RIP ='(

    This game setup gives an "excuse" to go light, which is great.

    Now if only we could find heavy leather armor fortified +2 and lightened, along with a shield of warding / +2 deflection... That must be lying around unguarded in the Lost City! ;)

    1. There are dozens of suits just like that laying around!

      You guys are SM-3, right?

  4. I've always loved how the sneak attack in Conan the Barbarian is with no armor and the final battle with full armor.

    I'd love to have that happen for a games mechanics reason

    1. You just have to penalize slowness and stealth mechanically when burdened down. GURPS does this already, but it's very generous - Stealth-15 and heavy encumbrance from plate armor is Stealth-12.

      You also need to ensure that magic can't just handwave away the problems. If you can be magically silenced and sped up, and communicate with magical telepathy while you do this, people will just do that and bring the heavy armor (and why not?) Or at least that there is a cost tradeoff, if you want either to be an option.

      And again, not make it a heavyweight fight if they fail - otherwise there is little incentive to try ("blow these rolls, and it's a battle royale and we'll need full armor, so let's just go in full armor and fight" vs "blow these rolls, and armor still won't be the deciding factor, so let's skip it.")


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...