Saturday, March 3, 2018

Fight Semantics

Charles Taylor and I are going back and forth on the last post ... and it's a good discussion, I don't want to let it die.  Part of me thinks we should just get on mic and suss it out for five or ten minutes ~ which would be an interesting strategy for engaging mini-podcasts ~ but I'm going to write about it in the moment.

Basically, this is an argument that has been going around for quite a while, and is part of the "weapon simulation" rule-set vs. the "weapon game convenience" rule-set conversation.  To wit: should rules for combat in an RPG be redesigned to more closely represent reality, or should they continue to exist as a shorthand for getting the combat over with so we can get back to role-playing?

Here's Taylor's proposal, a perfectly fair one:
A fighter should be able to snatch up their sword and be able to competently defend themselves, but in D&D, your weapon has no effect whatsoever on your defensive ability. Armour is the only control over their defense the player has, so of course they're going to cling to it. They have nothing else, unlike in real life, where you defend yourself with your sword and armour is a safety net to protect you if you screw up.

I am probably closer to this sentiment than most, who still feel that the priorities of combat are a game.  I love the idea above ... that any character with weapons skill ought to be able to count on their weapon as a means to parry attacks against them, to preserve themselves, and thus rely less and less on the use of armor.  We like the notion that Robin Hood, D'Artagnan or Conan doesn't need to wear armor, because they're just that good with a sword.

Only ... most of the rule sets I've seen that try to present this ideal are cumbersome, or ultimately become a sort of guarantee that the sword swinger becomes invulnerable.  Don't get me wrong.  I like a multiplicity of rules that relate to combat ... otherwise, I wouldn't have this list of standard, regular rules that exist in my game.  And I don't want that as a dungeon master.  I never want the fear of death to go away; I want every combat to be legitimately dangerous, no matter how good a fighter a character happens to be.

My purpose for writing this post is to flesh out the reply I gave to Taylor at the end of the last post's comments ~ my argument that the weapon's defensive element is included in the old D&D combat system, just not in the way people usually think of it.

To begin with, let's take two combatants, Hichem and Jocasta, both unarmored, both 1st level.  Hichem goes to take a swing at Jocasta using a d20, needing a 10 to hit her.

Why a 10?  Why not a 1?  What is this magical force that surrounds Jocasta, that makes every roll between 1 and 9 a miss?  It isn't stated blatantly in the rules, but I think this "missing" is due to Jocasta's use of the weapon ... her weapon is 45% effective against blocking attacks made by Hichem against her unarmored body.

IF Jocasta also happens to have a dexterity above 14, this makes her even less likely to be struck by Hichem's attack.  Now, usually people describe this as Jocasta dodging Hichem's attack, but this is actually pretty unrealistic.  We don't fight by dodging.  We fight by putting our weapon in the way of the opponent's weapon.  Jocasta, because of her dexterity (let's say it is a 16, giving her a 2 pt. armor bonus), is faster at getting her sword in the way of Hichem's sword than she would be if her dexterity were, say, 12.

Now, suppose Hichem hits.  We'll say Jocasta has 10 hit points, and Hichem hits her for 3 damage.  This 3 damage is 30% of Jocasta's hit points.  Now, we can say that this represents Hichem's ability to cause damage ... but we can also say that Jocasta's ability to deflect Hichem's attack resulted in taking 30% of her total hit points.

Suppose Jocasta gained a level, and 10 more hit points, and then fought Hichem again.  And Hichem, again, hits Jocasta, again for 3 hit points.  Now, that 3 damage only counts against 15% of Jocasta's hit points.

We could say, and we usually do, that this means Jocasta can take more damage.  But that is actually a rather warped way of looking at it.  Jocasta's body hasn't changed.  Her skin isn't harder, she hasn't gained weight, there's no physical rationale for her being able to take more abuse.  However, there is a perfectly reasonable argument to be made that when the 2nd level Jocasta deflected Hichem's 3 point attack, less of the actual weapon touched her body, because she is getting better at deflecting an attack.  Where, at 1st level, Hichem's blow probably gave her a good cut, now it does little more than score her.

And if she were 10th level, and had 80 hit points, that 3 points of damage would be little more than a nick on her skin.  She is much, much better at deflecting a hit, using her own weapons' ability.

So the "competent defense" that Taylor is asking for is already inherent in the rules.  It is only that, from bad habit, we've gotten used to thinking of characters "dodging" during fights and not "parrying," just as we've gotten used to thinking of characters "taking more damage" rather than "taking a smaller percentage of their total physical integrity."

It's unfortunate that we've gone that way with semantics, but that's not a problem with the rules.  The rules do account for better effectiveness for weapons.  We don't have to add extra modifiers for parrying attacks for better weapon-AC bonuses ... the modifiers are right there in the experience/level system.  Of course, we can add bonuses; but we're really only tweaking an already working system.

So much for AD&D.  I have another point to make.

Long ago, I introduced my stun lock system (recently renamed from just "stun").  In it, the better combatant has a higher chance of hitting the lesser combatant.  When Hichem hits Jocasta the 1st level for 3 hit points, he stuns her, thus allowing him to attack again before she is given a chance to do so.

This "stunning" will probably be confusing forever, because the combat system is viewed as a turn-based process.  I see the turn as representative for game play, but not as a descriptive for what is going on.

How does a fight usually go?  Hichem swings at Jocasta, she swings at him, he swings at her, she swings at him, ad nauseum?  No.  That's how Gygax saw it, or framed it ... and there's no wonder it's boring as hell.

A fight actually goes, Hichem swings at Jocasta, then swings again, gets off balance, she swings at him and hits, and because he's staggered by the blow, she swings again, glancing off his body, so he swings and misses, so she swings and hits again, then again, then again and Hichem drops unconscious.

Sounds more interesting right off, doesn't it?

Mechanically, it works like this, if Jocasta is a much better fighter (3rd level) than Hichem is, still being 1st.  When he hits, the blows are mostly taken on Jocasta's weapon.  Some of it touches her, but so little of it that she isn't stun locked by the damage he does.  When she hits, however (and she has a better chance to hit, because she's 3rd level), her blows use up a larger percentage of Hichem's hit points.  He's stun locked because he's easier to hit and the hits matter more, because he's lower level.

She doesn't win because she can "take more damage."  She wins because she takes LESS damage, as a percentage of her total hit points, which describes her superior use with a weapon, because she's gained experience that Hichem hasn't.

Just because we don't typically use the words, "Jocasta wins because she's a better fighter," insisting on this semantic of referring to her hit points and chance to hit, doesn't mean she isn't actually using her weapon a lot better than Hichem is.

We could improve our understanding of what's happening in a combat if we could stop letting language be a barrier to describing what is actually being represented here.


Regarding those people who, after a century of failure, still think that incentives work on humans:


Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Only one problem with the idea that the weapon's defensive ability is included already - Jocasta dropping her weapon does not change Hichem's chance to hit whatsoever.

Which I would say is proof-positive that the weapon's defensive role is not, in any way, included in the system. Jocasta's increasing defensive prowess with level is. The weapon's role is decidedly not.

I, for one, have never thought of a "miss" as dodging, unless the character is unarmed. Which is actually why I have a problem with this aspect of D&D combat when most people don't - I see a defense as a parry, using a weapon, and therefore something that's unavailable when unarmed. So I don't think there's any semantic confusion creeping in on my part.

I wrote a longer response that got way too long for a comment which you can find here:

Alexis Smolensk said...

I must confess, the dropped weapon argument is irrefutable.

I've read your post on your blog, Charles; I'm in no way sold on altering the combat system as you've suggested, nor do I see the need.

You've proposed that there is a flaw with the dropped weapon. To address it, I see a very minor change. While the character has no weapon in hand, increase the enemy's chance to hit. The only question is, how much?

Automatic hitting? A +8 bonus (which would mean anything above a natural 1, a fumble, would hit an unarmed defender)? Or do we propose that some part of the "parry" is dodging, and make the bonus +6 or +4?

I must admit, it certainly makes the natural 1 fumble a very, very bad issue for the combatant. However, I do have another proposition.

Very often, a combatant not in heavy armor will have plenty of action points [in my game] left over after an attack (in which the weapon is dropped). That's enough time to quickly pull a dagger, something small, that would enable the combatant to go on parrying.

Even better, it offers the second weapon as a better defense than a shield, even for a character with too low a dexterity to use it effectively. [And sorry, no, I won't call a second weapon the equivalent of a shield for AC, though you probably would Charles]. But if the first weapon is dropped, the second weapon is already in hand, yes?

I like it.

These seem like much more rational solutions than yours, Charles, because they don't actually change anything about the system. Without going into it (because I just don't want to] would mess with a lot of interconnected rules I already have for a lot of different things.

As far as what Chainmail did, or even original AD&D, I don't care about those, either. I had decided those systems were broken back in 1985. I have no reason whatsoever to consider either remotely relevant to anything I would write about combat now.

Alexis Smolensk said...

All right ... I'll gripe a little.

Hard to Hit. I run combats with as many as twenty to fifty combatants regularly, and I just don't want to muddy the water with constant quibbling about whether a defender is dodging, parrying or blocking. In a game, this is bound to be a choice that the player fails to do reflexively, until it becomes so obvious which of the three ought to be used that the variation ceases to matter. I don't see it solves any problems or enhances the game experience one iota. I just see it as a pain, already solved by the presence of hit points, which serve perfectly well to create tension and make battles nail-biting affairs.

Hard to Hurt. This sounds like a system to give even MORE rewards to players in armor. I have no desire of any kind to effectively increase the hit points of characters wearing armor. I've seen systems that propose this, and it only leads to characters heaping more and more bits and pieces on themselves, with further resistance against fighting without armor. No thanks.

Hard to Kill. I solved this already with Bodily Units vs. Hit Points (which also solves other aspects of your three defense components). I simply don't see any benefit whatsoever in my present system with isolating meat and bone from other aspects of defense.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

I didn't think you would be sold, but maybe I've planted a seed, haha. You concluded that Chainmail and AD&D were broken in 1985, but they still form the foundation of the combat system you're using. I concluded they were broken and I've spent the last five or ten years wrestling with a replacement. The simple solution is what I outlined in my post; the full solution is still somewhat elusive, though I think I'm making headway.

At the end of the day, I think we have different personalities regarding change. You strike me as favouring the conservative, incremental approach. I'm a bit more slash and burn. And I'll be the first to admit that I'm prone to throw out the baby with the bathwater occasionally, and sometimes let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Does the system *need* the changes I propose? No. It is functional, as attested to by the fact that it is the most-played system and has survived as the most-played system for forty years or so.

You propose a simple tweak that addresses the problem and is totally functional. It would work. It addresses the dropped weapon. But does it address the boulder? The fact that a dagger is significantly less useful than a sword? The overall muddled mechanics? Some of these can also be addressed with simple tweaks, if it comes up, I suppose, some probably not.

What I don't like about simple tweaks is that they have to be remembered. One simple tweak here, one simple tweak there, one here, one there - all special cases, all handled in an ad-hoc fashion, instead of one simple system that works for all cases.

Your wilderness damage system is a great example of a unified, integrated system. It makes intuitive sense, and it interacts in an intuitive and sensible fashion with the existing HP system. It solves a real problem in the game in an elegant fashion.

I'm seeking that integrated solution to the muddled, mixed-metaphor statistics of the combat system.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I certainly wasn't conservative when I adopted the stun lock system.

I think the difference between us is that the system I'm using now, AS IS, is incredibly successful, popular with my players, wonderfully easy to learn and adopt and fully functional in every situation I've applied it against. I'm inclined to be very conservative where it comes to something that works this well.

I was definitely not conservative when I massively altered the Monk last year, or the Bard in 2016. I'm 100% ready to slash and burn when something isn't working.

The boulder? Not a combat. Dodging can apply in that situation. I don't feel there's anything to be gained by separating one form of AC from another is all.

Homer2101 said...

If I'm reading correctly, the issue is that weapons do not affect player defense; armor is the sole reliable method for increasing player defense in combat.

This causes two problems: (1) The armor becomes an albatross -- The player goes armored even where armor is otherwise inappropriate, because going unarmored usually means foregoing 100% of a player's AC bonus; and (2) The weapon does not act as expected -- In reality, a person with a sword is much more difficult to hit than one without.

Without rebuilding the entire combat system, the simplest solution is to add AC to weapons, and to reduce armor AC to compensate, so that total AC for an armed and armored character remains the same.

For example, say a character currently gets +0 AC from a sword and +8 AC from armor. The player is strongly encouraged by the system to wear armor at all times, because not wearing armor carries huge penalties. If we re-balance the system so that a character gets +4 AC from a sword, and +4 AC from armor, the player now can choose to leave the armor behind because she is abandoning only 50% of her AC bonus, rather than 100% of the AC as under the current system.

Whether it's worthwhile to change the combat system is a different matter. The system works for you and your players. It is possibly the only decent game mechanic to come from OD&D. Unlike the various D&D skill systems, saving throws, and other crud mechanics that pervade all the various incarnations of D&D, there's no particular need to mess with combat from a mechanical perspective.

Alexis Smolensk said...


You completely ignored the misses that occur because an attack does not hit AC 10. I argue the weapon provides AC for that portion of the d20 roll. It's in the text above.

Please reread the post.

Drain said...

Don't want to sound simplistic, but what about just modifying unarmed base AC down to 9 or 8?

Easy to remember, small penalty, aknowledges weaponry importance for defense.

Matthias said...

I don't find the dropped weapon argument so incredibly persuasive, in part because I don't find the use of a sword -- or of any inanimate piece of equipment, for that matter -- to be the decisive factor in explaining how you defend yourself when unarmored. Granted, I am no historian of western swordplay, but a mere middling to mediocre long-term practitioner of kendo. Consequently, take my views with whatever size grain of salt you believe it should.

Deflecting blows with a sword is dangerous for the blade, and not necessarily as useful as good footwork and proper movement over the tactical space. But even with other weapons, the blocking virtues of a mace, a warhammer or an axe are really not that incredible, given their bulkiness/unwieldiness, or the fact that some parts of these weapons -- e.g. wooden handles or shafts -- may be damaged through such defensive use.

More importantly though, blocking/parrying is, in many circumstances, a tremendous waste of time and energy. I believe our thinking in these matters has been unduly influenced both by (i) the predominant role that renaissance-and-later western style fencing has in our conceptions of what a sword fight actually is (and therefore what melee is...); and (ii) mass media productions of staged combat at both individual and group levels, which prioritizes the 'coolness' or dramatic effect of action to a scene, rather than the practicality of actual fighting. From the combatant's perspective, the best hand-to-hand fights are very short and decisive. But that doesn't necessarily make good movies, or other media. So we tend to 'naturally' expect more drama from a combat scene -- since so much seems to hangs in the balance -- when in fact, combat is often short, ugly and somewhat random/unpredictable.

It is the difference between, say, Steve Jackson's recreation of the Battle of the Pellenor fields, in The Return of the King on the one hand, and the more austere ambush in the woods scene from Riddley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. Regardless of the cinematic merits of ether production, or of specific scenes, the aesthetics of choreographed combat reveal starkly different views of what melee is, and how it is accomplished.

Martial arts, eastern or not, spend an inordinate amount of time and effort on 'mere' movement and positioning. Training often pits unarmed individuals against armed ones (even in Kendo I was taught what to do to my adversary if I were disarmed: grapple him and attempt to remove his helmet...). This is of course reflected in 1st ed. D&D with the monk's evolving AC, for instance. But I believe that a less dramatic form of that learning process is occurring with all classes, as they gain levels and their hp pool increases.

Roughly speaking, a third level magic-user would be as deft as a first level fighter at avoiding being cut down by an armed adversary. Giving the magic user a staff, an iron bar, or any other tool for self-defense will not greatly increase her performance in self-defense. It is her experience at moving around the battlefield that grants her that 45% defense bonus, and a slightly deeper pool of hit points to draw from in combat. In between her bookish pursuits, and assuming she levelled a couple of times, that magic-user has now learned to defend herself roughly as well as a 1st level fighter.

Another issue with the AC bonus granted to a sword wielding individual has to do with missile weapons, or energy/force spells. Can such an implement be used to deflect these kinds of attacks? If not, what is the effective AC against missiles/magic of an unarmored fighter wielding a sword, and why is it different from that of the magic-user with equivalent hit points? It would seem obvious that in these circumstances, it is tactical positioning and dodging that are doing most of the defensive work.

So all in all, I'd be with Alexis in not granting any defensive advantage for simply holding a weapon.

Ozymandias said...

How does this interpretation address missile weapons?

If you went with a +8 bonus against an unarmed opponent, does it apply to bows and slings? Or hurled weapons?

For my part, I'd accept that ranged attacks always get that bonus because you can't really party an arrow. Or maybe missiles get it but hurled weapons get a +4 (because they're moving slower).

Would give a slight edge to ranged attacks.

Maliloki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maliloki said...

The only issue I have with the proposed unarmed opponent bonus is in the case of ranged weapons. "Realistically," it seems as though, unless the opponent has a shield, ranged attacks should always benefit from an unarmed opponent bonus as you're not deflecting arrows and such out of the air with a sword or axe.


Alexis Smolensk said...

Clearly, as regards missile attacks, the AC compensates for the greater difficulty to hit a moving, turning, sometimes difficult to see or blocked object.

But ~ and this does not surprise me ~ what we have here is another down-the-rabbit-hole argument about weapons' use and simulating reality, all of which leads me to think the solution is to stop looking for a "solution."

The system, as it stands, works for game purposes. It's exciting, gives opportunity for luck and improved level to enact themselves side by side and the players enjoy the experience.

Maliloki said...

That's kind of where I was leaning as well cause I foresaw another "descent into madness" for me if I continued to pursue this line of thought

Alexis Smolensk said...

The originating argument was, essentially, "If we make armor less important to defense in combat, by emplacing weapon-AC rules, players will be more willing to relax their dependence on armor."

Honestly, I believe that players should just relax their dependence. I don't think an incentive is needed. I wrote the post only to argue that more is going on than is usually considered ... perhaps that was a foolish venture, as we always end up going down this road.

Ozymandias said...

I submit that it is not a foolish thing. It's an opportunity to put the system to the test. It fosters critical thinking and good rhetoric. It helps readers learn about game design by providing them an example of a game design evaluation process.

Personally, it helped me because I'm planning on using such a rule (unarmed characters suffer a +4 penalty to AC against melee attacks), which I envision will create a few spin-off rules, contributing to a more integrated system that offers players more choices and opportunities.

Granted, it's not for your game, in the end ~ but the discussion is useful for other people.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

To avoid the rabbit hole and focus on another facet of this issue: Alexis, why do you dislike characters wearing armour so much? Historically, people going into a melee have always worn pretty close to the most armour they can get their hands on. It's just a wise decision to load on the armour. Really the only downside is you tire faster / make a little more noise (but less more than one might think).

Alexis Smolensk said...

Sorry, Charles, but that is a ridiculous assertion, stipulating that I probably hate armor so much because it gets in the way of my beating my wife.

I have 9 years of online campaign to prove that I let players wear armor all the time; but however wonderful and beneficial it is, THERE IS A TIME AND A PLACE FOR IT. I like ice cream, too, but the time for an ice-cream cone is not while pitching softball, since I will probably need both hands to do that. I like cars, too, but they don't work well for driving from my living room into the bathroom so I can take a shit. I like sex, but perhaps not in the seats at a hockey game while the national anthem is playing (while the game is on, it's perfectly all right).

All I'm saying is, sarcastically, maybe walking around the market to buy apples is not the moment to wear your full suit of plate mail, bristling from knees to neck with every weapon you own. Maybe if you have ten seconds to dive out the window because the guard has turned up to arrest you, isn't the moment to try to block the door with a bed so you can put your fucking armor on. Maybe, just maybe, armor isn't a right, or even a privilege, its a tool that is sometimes convenient to use and sometimes it is just damn bloody inconvenient and stupid to insist on wearing.

Picador said...

I'm not sure if anyone has noted this, but the "defensive value" of a weapon isn't just parrying/blocking: at least as important is its role as a threat against anyone who attacks the wielder.

In other words, the reason why it's hard for me to hit a skilled swordsman wielding a sword isn't just that he'll block my swing; it's that I am afraid of what will happen to me when I lunge forward, raise my weapon for an attack, or otherwise leave myself open to a pre-emptive attack or counter-attack from my target. He doesn't need to touch my weapon to get me to cower in a defensive stance outside of his range, waiting for an opening that may never come. Take his sword away and I'm all aggression, closing, making broad swings and committing to lunges and other risky moves because I have nothing to fear from him.

In D&D, this isn't properly modeled by having opponents deciding to stand inside or outside of melee range: this is behaviour that should continue even when both characters are actively engaged in melee combat.

I think the sensible way to model this is as has been proposed: an unarmed character with no backup weapon should incur a significant penalty to armor class, with improvised defensive weapons or improvised shields only partially compensating for this penalty. A good defence needs to also be a good offence, in other words.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Alexis, where did I say that you don't like armour because it gets in the way of beating your wife?? I just asked why you (seem to) dislike characters wearing armour.

It's my observation that you tend to treat characters wearing armour as a problem to be solved, something to be mechanically punished (i.e. by reducing action points), that characters should almost never be wearing armour and it's an issue if they are.

But it seems you're saying that I've misunderstood, which is fine.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Charles. Charles. It's a joke. Why do you hate armor. Have you stopped beating your wife. Joke. You know? Humour?

You have, really, really, misunderstood.

As a result, you have really, really misrepresented everything I have said on this subject. Please stop. It really, really does not make me want to continue any sort of discussion on these lines.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Haha, no worries. Sorry about that!

JB said...

@ Alexis:

I agree with most everything in your post here, with the exception of your assertion of Gygax's framing of combat: sorry, but I think his abstract ideas (as detailed in the DMG) are right in line with what you're talking about.

[I know, I know...I'm not trying to be an apologist for the man, just giving him his due!]

RE: Dropped Weapons or Unarmed AC Penalties

Having spent a few years fencing and practicing martial arts, I'm of a similar mind to Matthias: much of "defense" in melee is utilizing timing and distance with an opponent, and experience (modeled in D&D with level and HPs) is the greatest indicator of a character's ability in this regard. The constitution bonus to HPs, in my mind, is a matter of greater CON meaning greater endurance (less susceptibility to fatigue in a fight) allowing the more experienced combatant to keep focused and not make stupid mistakes. A competent fighter will be able to utilize these things in defense (as well as grappling and unarmed attacks) even when disarmed, and medieval combat treatises make clear that unarmed techniques were a large part of hand-to-hand fighting of the time, just as they are today. As such, I wouldn't give any bonuses to or penalties for weapon use.

Besides, wasn't D&D was originally conceived of modeling heroic, "pulp" fantasy? Howard's heroes have no problems bludgeoning the hell out of folks, weapon or no; it seems to me that PCs in D&D should have the same capability. If players aren't finding reasons to get out of their armor, the DM may need to up the creativity of environmental challenges facing them.

Homer2101 said...

The weapon does not provide the default AC10, and has nothing to do with the base AC10 in D&D, because:

(1) Everyone gets a base AC10 in D&D, including unarmed and unarmored actors. Armed humans, unarmed orcs, bears, and every other creature gets a base AC10, which indicates that AC10 has absolutely nothing to do with weapons or armor; and

(2) The base AC10 in D&D is a method of increasing predictability in D&D combat; it has nothing to do with weapons. Base AC10 guarantees that the defender always rolls a 10 in combat. The average of 1d20 is 10.5; AC10 is the average 1d20 defense roll rounded down. At lower levels, a two-sided contest of 1d20+attack vs 1d20+AC would be a complete crapshoot, because the 1d20 roll would overwhelm the insignificant combat bonuses at low levels. AC10 guarantees the average roll for the defender, thereby increasing predictability.

The issue you identify is players wearing armor at moments you consider inappropriate. Instead of lecturing players about "relaxing their dependence", think like a good game designer. Players always follow system incentives. If players consistently behave in a certain way, then your system is encouraging them to do so. If players consistently stop to don armor, and want to wear it at all times, then the system is encouraging players to do so. If the system is encouraging behavior you find undesirable, then the fault is with the system for encouraging that behavior, and with you for not changing the system, because you have sole discretion over the system the players are using. The player is not responsible for fighting against your system's incentives.

D&D as you use it encourages players to wear armor at all times because armor is the sole source of reliable AC bonuses in almost all cases. An unarmored character is equally easy to hit regardless of level, skill with weapons, or sage level, or any other factors. Wearing armor is strictly superior in-game, regardless of whether it would make sense in reality, because wearing armor provides massive bonuses not available through any other means. A player who blocks up a door to put on armor recognizes that diving out the window unarmored into the unknown is more suicidal than taking the time to put on armor and risk entrapment, given the rules as written.

There are only two solutions: (1) Add other sources of AC bonuses and reduce AC effect of armor proportionately; or (2) Reduce the AC effect of armor so that wearing armor is not always strictly superior to all other choices.

Penalizing unarmed characters doesn't address armor's disproportionate effect on combat. It just encourages players to also drag around a weapon or two to avoid penalties.

The above has nothing to do with simulating the effect of weapons or armor, or any other such. If your system rewarded AC solely for uncovered flesh, all of your players would play nudists whenever possible.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I like this from Homer. It's just like politicians arguing that disincentives will end drug use, or that incentives will ensure greater productivity among employees.

In fact, the science is in. I'll add the video above in the post, because it won't go in the comment window. But here is a link for it.

Virtually everything said above, about "good design," "players always follow system incentives," "consistently behave," "fault in the system," etcetera, etcetera, is based on virtually nothing.

D&D does not, in fact, encourage players to wear armor at all times. The particular emotional construction of some humans compel them to believe that, since armor makes them more powerful in a particular aspect they understand, they are psychologically prone to emphasize that thing. I have no actual control over that ... but people like Homer will insist that I do, and then attempt to shame me for not being a better game designer, just as many people will shame politicians for not being better law makers, or engineers for not being better home builders, or a million other things in which pundits conveniently forget that people are INDIVIDUALS, who don't necessarily do something just because it is incentivized.

But you know what does work with individuals, and has worked for millenia? Education. That thing where we, as thoughtful observers of human behaviour, "lecture" people on things in order to encourage thoughtful responses. You know, that thing that Homer above just tried to shame me for doing.

Yes, I feel very ashamed for A) identifying a problem; B) talking about it; C) suggesting that others talk about it and think about it; D) giving warning to DMs who are reading the post to recognize when it is happening in their games; and E) not realizing that human beings are totally programmable automatons who only take actions or make decisions based on how a game is designed.

Shame on me. Shame, shame, shame.

Homer2101 said...

The linked video argues that most financially-secure people are motivated by incentives other than money. Nowhere does it argue that incentives do not exist, because its thesis is how to improve incentive structure for financially-secure employees to obtain better performance. It's a good summary of the current state of the field, but it's not particularly relevant in this specific case of excessive armor use, which has straightforward non-monetary incentives causing undesired behavior.

The system rewards players for wearing armor, makes wearing armor relatively easy, and trains players to want to wear armor at all times because not wearing armor in D&D combat is a big disadvantage. If you don't want players to try and wear armor whenever possible, change your system not to favor wearing armor at all times. The players want their characters to survive, and wearing armor at all times is an excellent way to promote that in your current system.

Unless you are arguing that if you (1) consistently reward players for an action, (2) make that action easy, and (3) train players to default to that action over many sessions, you are not responsible for players wanting to do that action whenever they can. Or that someone other than you is responsible for the game rules.

You can tell players that wearing armor to market is unrealistic, or that a normal person would not stop to don armor when someone hostile is breaking down the door. You can also tell football players not to assault each-other on the field. Or you can make rules to discourage such behavior. Or you can do both.

To restate my previous comment, the D&D combat system you're using is fine; it doesn't need change. But it's worthwhile to recognize that it sometimes encourages behavior that makes sense in-game, but is implausible or unrealistic.

Alexis Smolensk said...

The video clearly indicates that motivations come from within, not without, where cognitive, creative matters are concerned.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

Alexis, I have to agree with Homer. The video, while very interesting, is completely and entirely irrelevant to this discussion. We're not discussing motivating performance, nor are we discussing cognitive/creative matters. We're discussing incentives and disincentives within a framework. It's the difference between performance incentives and mechanical incentives, and they're totally different animals.

What the video is discussing is something like "If you throw the ball through the hoop the most times, I'll give you a larger prize than anyone else." This is motivating performance - providing an incentive after the task is complete in the hope that the task will be performed to a higher standard. This is not what's at issue here.

What we're discussing is a scenario more like this: "If you throw the ball through the hoop the most times, I'll give you a larger prize than anyone else. There's two hoops, one of them is bigger. It doesn't matter which hoop you throw through." Nobody is going to aim for the small hoop. There's a strong mechanical incentive to use the big hoop, because *success is easier for the same effort*. It's incentive for behaviour within the system, not an extrinsic motivational incentive.

It's the same with wearing armour. Armour makes it easier to win/survive combat, so of course they're going to choose to wear armour. There's a strong incentive for them to do so. And it's a totally different kind of incentive than what that video is discussing.

Wearing armour is part of the free play within the rigid structure. To use the metaphor you've used before of free play within a rigid mechanical structure, if the players have an advantage when the freely-moving part is at one end of its travel vs. the other end of its travel, they're going to do what they can to keep the part down at that end of its travel.

Just to belabour the point, if you offered players their choice of three swords, a sword +1 (+1 to hit and damage), a regular sword, and a sword -1 (-1 to hit and damage), which will they choose? Where does the mechanical incentive lie? Obviously, every player, every time, will choose the sword +1 - they want to maximize their chance of success, and that's where the mechanical incentive lies.

Now, on the topic of performance incentives (as discussed in the video), I would be interested to see an experiment where a bunch of players are given different kinds/amounts of XP rewards for the same combat, and see if XP incentives display the same counterintuitive relationship as found with monetary incentives in the video.

Charles Taylor (Charles Angus) said...

The video actually provides a great explanation for why we make worlds, run worlds, and why people play RPGs.

Ozymandias said...

Charles: "Just to belabour the point, if you offered players their choice of three swords, a sword +1 (+1 to hit and damage), a regular sword, and a sword -1 (-1 to hit and damage), which will they choose? Where does the mechanical incentive lie? Obviously, every player, every time, will choose the sword +1 - they want to maximize their chance of success, and that's where the mechanical incentive lies."

This is a false comparison. There is no impact to choosing one sword or another except as it relates to your ability to hit your opponent. Wearing armor is more complex because 1) it takes time to put on; 2) it makes noise and gives away your position; and 3) it's threatening. It's the equivalent of a modern day Soldier going on patrol in Fallujah: even if the Soldier has a smile on his face and is very polite to everyone he meets, there's still this aura of danger because, holy crap, he's wearing freaking armor and carrying a weapon!

Ozymandias said...

Homer: "If you don't want players to try and wear armor whenever possible, change your system not to favor wearing armor at all times."

I should think that appropriate communication between the DM and the players, as well as an established, trusting relationship, would be sufficient to accomplish this.

If the DM clearly indicates what is and is not a threat in her game, and does so consistently, then players will learn when it is and is not appropriate to expect that they will benefit from their armor.

If the players trust the DM to fairly communicate the world to them ~ that she won't pull any, "Aha! Gotcha!" moments ~ then the players should be able to judge for themselves whether it's appropriate to stop and don their armor, given their situation.

We might consider that, as much as we want to define every little detail of the game with mechanics and rules, there are times when it's better to let common sense apply.

Alexis Smolensk said...

It also slows you down; has negative effects on CLO; is impractical in many situations where terrain or the presence of running or standing water occurs; it rusts; it reduces how much additional equipment you can carry; and it aids certain magic spells such as heat metal in helping bring about your demise.

AND too much reliance/fetish upon getting into it before a combat can result in getting trapped in an alley way and killed, when you should have dropped it while running away. But none of that matters to certain players, because like I pointed out,

MOTIVATION IS NOT CONTROLLED BY INCENTIVES. It is controlled by personal outlook and prejudice. Like people who feel the need to keep pounding on the same drum, when a century of failed incentive-creating has proven it doesn't work.