Thursday, November 5, 2015

Mapless Combat & Retreat

One big problem we routinely have running fast, mapless combat is that people want the benefits of the map even without the map. This happens to such a degree that my players have been known to draw a map and put their minis on it (or draw themselves on the map) and use that even if I am not. You can see how that's a problem - we're literally not on the same page, and thus we get the downsides of a map and tactical combat (costs a lot of time) with none of the upsides (we all agree the fight appears a particular way.)

I think there are three big concerns with mapless combat:

- it's hard to picture your position relative to the other combatants.

- no one wants to be flanked.

- everyone wants to ensure they can Retreat.

It often feels like the third is the main concern.

Here are three ways to deal with this.

No One Can Retreat - Simple. No one can Retreat. It's not in Combat Lite (p. B324-328) so it doesn't apply.

Pros: Simple, easy. Speeds up combat because there are more hits.

Cons: Characters who depend on Retreat to live (or Retreat-like moves like Acrobatic Dodge) feel penalized.

Roll to Retreat! - Any time you want to Retreat, make an IQ or Tactics roll. If you make it, you can Retreat. If not, you can't.

DF characters with Born War Leader can use Tactics to roll for someone else, if they spend a turn coaching them (use the same rules as rolling Leadership in DF2).

(You can just make this a flat chance roll for everyone - 1 in 6 for tight quarters, up to 5 in 6 for wide open fights)

Pros: You can't always Retreat, but smarter and more tactically adept can routinely assure they can maneuver around.

Cons: More rolling. Not likely to satisfy players who want to Retreat because they will feel their guy should be able to ensure Retreating room. Uncertainty might make players treat it as "No One Can Retreat" since they can't rely on it.

Everyone Can Retreat - Like it says - everyone can always Retreat, unless the fight takes place in circumstances that make this impossible.

Pros: Will definitely satisfy players who like Retreat. Increases the survivability of characters because they routine get a +1 or +3 to apply to their defenses.

Cons: Fights will be longer, because there will be less hits. Mapped combats will be more lethal, because you go from "everyone Retreats" to "some people Retreat sometimes."

It's worth noting these apply to everyone - PCs, NPCs, friends and foes alike. The "Everyone Can Retreat" version, for example, means Dodge-heavy foes get a +3 to defend. So for all it sounds like the best option for PCs, it's also the one that'll hurt the PCs the most. It takes a -3 Deceptive Attack to negate a +3 to Dodge, so the last option is a disguised -6 to hit in return for you getting a +1 to +3 to defend . . .

I may use one of these, if it means faster mapless combats and less reluctance to accept less detailed combats.


  1. Without any extensive analysis, I think #2 might be best, with #1 next. Longer combats = no bueno. I guess minis tend to cause longer combats, but somehow the lack of minis made it more confusing last time (perhaps due to a dependency on minis!). The major benefit of minis is no confusion on positioning, which in general makes it faster. But I agree that combats (minis or no minis) should be faster. In fairness, since we're talking about 1 second rounds, deliberating for a few minutes over the best choice is perhaps not terribly realistic. Maybe a goal would be to try and have everyone's combat decisions made in 10 seconds or less (not necessarily enforced by a timer or anything). Of course, quick decisions lead to forgetting important concepts during combat (RETREAT Bjorn!) but that's kind of what combat's all about, no? And perhaps avoiding combat is an important focus also. Getting back to the point: I think #2 is best.

    1. People absolutely take too much time on their turn. Even mapped fights could go much faster if people were chomping at the bit to make their move, not waiting to decide.

      The idea with mapless combat is that:

      - we don't spend time putting the map down
      - we don't spend time on "perfect hex" problems
      - combat is essentially faster-and-looser
      - relative position doesn't matter so much

      You have to accept that without the map you cannot optimize your hex position, your position relative to all friends and foes, and spellcasting distance. You just have to take the penalties as they are, and go with it, and accept that fast-and-loose means that you lose some tactical advantages but don't have to worry about lots of tactical problems in return. You go from moving your piece on the map to "Who can I attack?" and "How far away is my friend for spell range penalty purposes?" and not much more.

    2. Yeah, I agree. I think the best thing to do is think of a primary and secondary option during someone else's turn, and then you're good to go when your turn comes up. Sometimes something happens to screw it up, but most of the time it should be easy. In fairness, the guys I run don't have a host of overly complex options--Magic sometimes does and makes it tougher. In theory mapless/Theater of the Mind combat should be easier since that was the default for so many early gaming years (at least for me).

    3. Yeah shot my bow SO FAST. I'm not sure what else I can do but I am open to suggestions.

    4. Ha! I would need a Vryce/Gerry or Dryst/Angus level of attendance to feel comfortable with that.

  2. I like mapped combat, but we need to speed things up.
    Retreat seems better in unmapped combat, where you can just call it or require a Tactics roll, with maps everyone spends too much time looking for "the perfect hex" where you can hit all enemies and retreat from every direction...

    1. I like that - "hit all enemies and retreat from every direction..."

      That does sum it up well.

      I realize that often people don't want to go to mapless combat because they see the loss of the map as a loss of Retreat, and thus losing a survival edge. The above options are ways of reducing the resistance to mapless fights.

  3. Theater of the Mind seems like it doesn't mesh with GURPS at all to me. I'd be down to try it since I don't care about my PCs (overly) much but GURPS just seems too exacting to be able to handwave that stuff.

    1. Really? I played GURPS without minis or maps for decades. We've used them pretty solidly in our DF game, and for all the big fights in my previous game. But even the mix of players I have now has still done more mapless fights than mapped fights.

      The only issue to me is wanting the precision and benefits of the map ("I flank him, so he's at -2 to parry and can't Block, while at Reach 2, and leave myself room to Retreat") without the map. Without the map really does need to have much more "I attack the guy on Mo" and "I shoot the closest guy" and at lot less of the tactical maneuvering. Otherwise, the benefits go right out the window.

    2. Maybe I just can't imagine it because I can't imagine our DF group really going for that the way exact positioning can matter so much.

  4. There's some other options. Quite a few actually more than I have time to list. Many though are variations of number 2.

    Limited number of times to retreat.

    Either you get a certain number of times you can retreat. E.g. once every combat, once per opponent, make roll at start of combat result and it is how many times you can retreat that combat etc

    Or you can only retreat on certain manoeuvres. E.g. all out defense, evaluates etc allow or auto include a retreat, other options don't.

    1. Yeah, I think you can expand #2 in all sorts of ways. It's really a split of Never, Sometimes, Always. How you do Sometimes can change.

      I'd want Sometimes to somehow reflect Tactical Combat, though. X number of times doesn't fit, because it's never a fixed number (and it will slow things down - is *this* worth my one remaining Retreat?)/ Same with maneuver limits. You could change the roll pretty easily from my options (IQ or Tactics vs. x in 6) to whatever you like.

    2. I see.

      If you allow the player a choice it slows down play.

      If you make a roll it slows down play.

      Another option just came to me make it a smaller bonus and always included. Something like +1.

    3. Right, you get that "how much rolling does this take?" thing.

      Changing to +1 might be an option for some groups, but it's already +1 for Block and Parry, +3 for Parry with certain skills and with Dodge. So reducing it means there is no Retreat effect for non-Dodge and non-special skill defenses, and reduced for them. Seems easier to me to just do yes/no than try to scale what exists.

  5. Maybe deviate from RAW and use a variable Retreat? 1d-3 with a bonus for the tacticians?

    1. Wouldn't that just mean more rolling, more uncertainty, and thus more time spent on it?

      I'm not sure what upside you're seeing here. Can you elaborate?

    2. Ah, on re-reading I see you mentioned the 'Roll and Shout' die roll, sorry, I missed that. And with what you actually wrote in mind, the variability doesn't really add anything...

      Thinking about my pre-reread answer lead me somewhere else... 'formation chits' - A player can take a 'can retreat' chit (or some other bonus) but they have to give another (actively fighting) player a 'can't retreat' chit (or some other penalty). This could turn ugly...

    3. That would be interesting - but ultimately my goal here is to make mapless retreat work in a way that works with the existing rules. So it's never, sometimes (based on a purely random roll or a skill-based roll that makes two already-combat-useful traits more so), or always. A chit-based system would be a more substantial change. That's probably a good way to do a narrative system, but it's not really what I'm looking for personally.

      It might be how I wrote the post - a number of suggestions have been given that come down to "change how Retreat works." But that's not what I'm looking for. I'm fine with Retreat how it works now. What I'm looking for is a system I and my players can use to deal with Retreat when there is no map, yet without having people try to narrate themselves into Retreat room.

      I mean this kind of thing: "I step up and attack the guy closest to me, leaving myself room to Retreat from his attack." Which is really wanting the benefits of the map (I can Step, I can Retreat, I can choose where I stand in my combat space) without having the map. Since "Can I Retreat or not?" is a time-costing issue, and it drives Retreat-dependent characters to favor Tactical Combat, having some kind of either die-based approach or always available approach has the benefit of being both simple and match up with the rules when we use them at other times.

    4. I think unless someone has a light-bulb moment of inspiration you're stuck. On the off-chance it had something to adapt, I had a quick look through Mass Combat, but that's far too large-scale... maybe there was a Mass Combat article in Pyramid focused on a smaller scale? Or the starship combat system? But even then, I think they are both far too abstract for your needs. :-/

  6. Is there a way to make a faster map? I have often used a huge blank sheet of paper for a map (more often in WFRP 2e than in GURPS, so far) and just drawn out the map--measuring only for things that actually need to be a specific distance. Then, we just used a tape measure for distance. My best supply was a easel-board of 1" graph paper, which is getting harder to find at office supply places. That way, the things that HAD to be precisely placed (in order to mesh up with other features, etc) could be done with precision, and I could just scribble the other stuff. I went through reams of the stuff, but it worked well for me.

    You'd lose some of the precision of hex-based movement, and have to make some judgement calls on facing, but you'd all be on the same page. The things that would be the most 'GM fiat' areas (how much movement does it cost to turn, how much movement does it cost to move this way) would be the same ones that would happen in mapless combat, anyway. Without rebasing everything on hex bases you'd lose some precision, but you'd be losing as much with mapless combat anyhow.

    I personally found that I was spending too much time getting the map on the paper to match the map in my notes (or in my head), and started thinking about it in reverse: the situation on the paper is the REAL situation, and my notes (or my head) aren't the ones the players see.

    I'm not sure what solution to use if you REALLY don't want to draw maps, as I feel like the map, even if it is declared as vague and not to scale, really helps ground people in the fight, and encourages them to think of it as less of a featureless plain. When I scribble on details as they come up (or are created, in the case of magic), the map cements that image. Plus, I like drawing them, so it's hard for me to envision a good solution for eliminating them.

    1. I'm a terrible artist. I've spent long periods of time trying to get a rough map that matches what I see in my head. It's much easier for me to construct one using hexes and lines. At least there I can ask for help. When I've done hex-less rough maps, they never come out to match what I'm actually thinking. For me, I'd rather leave the abstraction in place and try to explain instead of going through the medium of paper, or declaring whatever horrible squiggles I put down are "reality." If only because I'll have to live with it from then on.

      Our Gamma Terra GM, andi, does that, but he's a professional artist and his maps are pretty stellar. For me, though . . . it's really emphasizing a weak point.

      I think my group doesn't so much as think of it as a featureless plain, so much as they want to ask all the details each and every turn. Which trips all of us up, in terms of the killing the upsides of not having to spend time and effort on the map!

  7. How about instead of a roll to determine if you can, simply let characters have a pre-set number of Retreats they are allowed to attempt in a fight, adjusted at the beginning for terrain and Tactics? Like maybe you get a base of 5 retreats in an open field and 1 in a dungeon; rolling Tactics you can get a +1 for a success, nothing on a failure, and -1 on a critical failure? (Or -1 on a failure and lose all of them on a critical failure.)


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