George’s Saga: Big Increments vs. Little Increments

George When last we spoke, I was working out how to do combat in George’s Saga, using GURPS Lite as my inspiration. Which is one reason it’s been so long since we last spoke.

Since then, I’ve come face to face with a number of basic differences between table-top RPGs and computer RPGs, and the main one is that table-top RPGs are about big increments and computer RPGs are about little increments. I’ll explain that, but first a few words about my experience using GURPS rules for combat in George’s Saga.

Verily, they sucketh.

Here’s how a round of combat might go in GURPS, insofar as I actually understand it.

Our hero, Akallabeth the Bold, wields a mean broadsword, with which he has a skill of 14. His opponent, Ulthar the Underhanded, has a basic dodge skill of 12, to which his trusty shield adds another point of defense, making 13 in all. Akallabeth swings at Ulthar, rolling 3D6 to see if he hits. He gets 11, less than 14, so he hits. We roll damage, and Ulthar takes it in the shorts.

No, wait a minute. He doesn’t. Ulthar makes his defense roll, and gets 7 on 3D6, which is less than 13. He managed to dodge the Akallabeth’s attack. Akallabeth used his sword skillfully, but Ulthar was just too quick.

Now it’s Ulthar’s turn. He comes in from below with his Dagger of Stabbing, with which he has a nearly super-human skill of 17. He rolls a 10; he hits. Akallabeth is bold, but none-too-quick on his feet; he rolls 16 against his defense skill of 7. He fails to evade Ulthar’s hit. Ulthar rolls 3 points of damage (I’ll spare you the details), and now Akallabeth takes it in the shorts!

No, wait a minute; he doesn’t. Ulthar was aiming at his chest, and Akallabeth is wearing his Corselet of Kevlar…which can absorb 4 points of damage. Net result: 0.

Now, in a table-top RPG this might be a thrilling moment. Each player got to roll four times, and feels that he’s the master of his fate. Three points of damage is a huge amount; Ulthar would have been happy to do one point of damage. Each player has lots of choices of how to attack and defend, and these choices, at the GM’s discretion, can make a huge difference; if Ulthar had but known that Akallabeth was wearing his Boots of Achilles, he might have stabbed down instead of up, and that would have made all the difference.

I’ll pass over the next four rounds of combat in which Ulthar is knocked down, stepped on, and ultimately flees the battlefield nursing a hangnail, leaving Akallabeth with one point of damage and all the glory.

Here’s what this style of combat looks like when I put it into my computer game.

Akallabeth swings at Ulthar. He misses.

Ulthar swings at Akallabeth. He misses.

Akallabeth swings at Ulthar. He misses.

Ulthar swings at Akallabeth. He does one point of damage.

Akallabeth swings at Ulthar. He does two points of damage.

Ulthar swings at Akallabeth. He misses.

Akallabeth swings at Ulthar. He misses.

And so on and so forth. Kind of lacks that old dramatic tension.

And that’s why computer RPGs are all about small increments. In GURPS, a powerful character might have 18 or 20 hit points. Losing one point is a big deal. Losing 10 is a catastrophe. Skills runs from 1 to 20, averaging around 10 or 11. Gaining 2 points of attack skill is huge. One would expect GURPS characters to become more skilled over time, but only very slowly; and there are hundreds of skills, each of which might be of use in a table-top scenario. But there’s so much else going on, and so much of it is going on only in the fevered imaginations of the GM and players, that this slow rate of progression doesn’t harm the play.

A computer RPG is different. Battles need to progress. You need to know whether you’re stronger than the monster or the monster is stronger than you, and you’d like to find out before he kills you. You can only judge this by the respective rates at which you each lose hit points…and that means you need to be able to hit and do damage with some frequency. If you’re only connecting every four or fifth stroke, it had better be because the monster is a lot more powerful than you are, and the monster had better be having you for lunch.

And then, your character needs to grow in strength throughout the duration of the game. Every time you level up you should gain strength. Each slight improvement in your weaponry, or your armor, or your various magical talismans should give you an edge. And this growth needs to be gradual; if it’s too rapid, the game will perforce be a short one.

Similarly, the monsters need to grow in strength, slowly and gradually. Of course, your party doesn’t grow in strength at quite the same rate as the monsters: sometimes it’s slower, and sometimes it’s faster, sometimes you’re enjoying a walk in the park, and sometimes you’re having to fight every inch of the way. That leads to a kind of rising action that carries you along to the end.

So…GURPS combat was not a success for me. GURPS is an interesting system, and I hope to mine it for a number of ideas, but I rapidly discovered that I needed something else.

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