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View Full Version : So How Brutal of a Death Spiral is Acceptable?



Octopusapult
2015-12-21, 04:45 PM
Death Spiral is a term that exists in gaming as a result of Wounding systems. Cases where, when your health drops (or other such relevant damage tracking systems decrease in their respective ways) your character takes a penalty to certain abilities, oftentimes the very abilities they will need to keep from getting wounded further.

The most basic example being combat. You do ok in combat, but the bad guy gets a lucky hit which debilitates your ability to land your own attacks, granting him free reign to keep swinging until he gets lucky again. This is the most simplified "example" I can think of, but I'm sure you get the point.

But my question is, how bad is it? And how brutal does it have to be to become unacceptably bad? For I actually fancy the idea that taking injuries cripples the character in some way, it makes players fear injuries and treat their characters as more than stacks of numbers. It adds some flavor and something to worry about, and I love it, but everywhere I look on similar systems the "Death Spiral" tends to be feared and shunned. So I'm hoping to hear some success stories or input that will help me keep it from being hated.

Knaight
2015-12-21, 04:50 PM
This is hugely game dependent, with the intended tone, frequency of combat, and ease of escape all helping establish how brutal is too brutal. If the tone is supposed to be grittier, having more of a death spiral is fine. Lots and lots of combat usually makes death spiral mechanics get irritating. If escaping is generally pretty easy, you can have a pretty hefty spiral without worrying too much about it. Consider the three together, and you can generally get a reasonable amount, which then needs to be modified according to group preference.

JeenLeen
2015-12-21, 04:53 PM
I found it annoying but not terrible in old World of Darkness (Mage, in particular) and Exalted.

It definitely made it more annoying once I got a couple wound penalties, and it persuaded me to gear my characters towards "do not get hit" builds. Part of it is that the systems also seemed to work how it was hard to soak/avoid damage once you got hit, but a lot easily to avoid getting hit in the first place.
It was less of a big deal in Exalted due to it being easier to have high dice pools, so a few dice penalties weren't as big as a deal.

I guess I saw it in D&D 3.5 a little bit, in the sense of level drain giving -<levels lost> to your attack rolls. Those were generally annoying, but I found them rather unimportant to my overall ability to perform. Upon thinking about it, I guess because a -2 on a 20-point scale wasn't as big a deal (or at least didn't seem like as big a deal) as a -2 from 10-dice max dice roll.

Vitruviansquid
2015-12-21, 05:10 PM
Mechanically, it'd be a better game if the death spiral is not so brutal that you realize a battle has been decided long before the combatant actually falls. The "dead time" when you know a certain outcome will occur but you still must go through the motions is generally bad.

Florian
2015-12-21, 05:12 PM
But my question is, how bad is it? And how brutal does it have to be to become unacceptably bad? For I actually fancy the idea that taking injuries cripples the character in some way, it makes players fear injuries and treat their characters as more than stacks of numbers. It adds some flavor and something to worry about, and I love it, but everywhere I look on similar systems the "Death Spiral" tends to be feared and shunned. So I'm hoping to hear some success stories or input that will help me keep it from being hated.

I do like games that have a death spiral mechanic in place.
For example, I like it when in L5R, you try to avoid combat because you know it will be deadly. But if you enter combat anyways because you are a samurai.

What I try to shun, though, are games where you can try to make combat as binary as in high OP D&D, meaning players plan for an all-mighty alpha strike kind of attack to finish a fight before it even started. Intelligent and potentially necessary? Yes. Heroic, fun and challenging? Hell no.

Dimers
2015-12-21, 08:57 PM
I don't mind a death spiral here and there. It's a nod to verisimilitude. I was astonished to see an anti-death-spiral effect in 13th Age, though; the only other place I've encountered that sort of thing system-wide was Final Fantasy's limit breaks. In 13th Age, the longer the combat goes on, the more abilities you have access to and the more likely you are to hit. Gives a very action-y and driven feel to the game. Not very believable, but good for making the game feel as the designers intended it to.

In sum, the degree of death spiral (or its opposite) strongly correlates to where the game lies on the realistic<--->cinematic spectrum.

Airk
2015-12-21, 10:00 PM
Honestly, there's almost no good reason to have a death spiral in a game. If you're trying to make things more "realistic" or "lethal" then just have combat be brutal and short. I guess you can have a "death spiral" here, but fundamentally, if one to two blows basically kill you, it's not really necessary. And you waste a lot less time being ineffective in combat.

The only real advantage to a sort of 'death spiral' configuration is that it makes it easy for players to tell that they are screwed and that they need to try to get out of this fight. However, most games don't really offer them a way to do that. And it's not really that hard to build a game system that provides players with this kind of information without incorporating a death spiral.

MrStabby
2015-12-21, 10:17 PM
I don't know the system you are using but maybe a risk of infected wounds or something could help keep the consequences severe enough to worry about but not effect the current fight too much?

goto124
2015-12-22, 12:41 AM
A death spiral works in a system where you're supposed to avoid combat as much as possible, and where combat is supposed to have lasting effects even after the actual battle is over.

Not copmbat-focused DnD, that's for sure.

Eisenheim
2015-12-22, 07:22 AM
If you want a death spiral, you need a mechanic for graceful exit. Look at fate's damage and conflict system. Fate has a little bit of no-penalty damage absorption (stress), and more damage absorption that comes with short and long term costs (consequences).

However, at any point in a conflict, you can negotiate concession, offering the enemies something they want, and leaving the conflict before you are entirely at their mercy. You get 1 fate point for conceding, +1 extra for each consequence you've taken. That way, the death spiral is partly a choice, and there's a way not to just die once you take a big hit.

Fri
2015-12-22, 07:43 AM
The thing is, with death spiral, you're not supposed to fight to the death. When either party know that they're basically incapable of fighting effectively anymore, they should concede or run away, and there should be good mechanic for that. Fighting to the end should be limited to very special occassion/and or against mook/low level critters that have short death spiral.

An example would be the Wuxia game Legend of the Wulin. Sure you can fight each others to the end there, but usually that'd took too long, and the rulebook notify that it should be limited to special occassion. Rather than that, the game has concede mechanic, where the defeated party can concede, and bargain for the result of the fight, with the winner of the fight getting saying on the effect for the fight.

For example when the party fight a bandit boss, the bandit boss can concede, and the party give the condition that he should never return to banditry anymore (and if the party find out the bandit is back, they'll kill him for real). If the bandit accept, the mechanic is something in the line of, sure he can try to go to banditry again, but the effect of the oath resound in his mind, and he becomes so afraid of breaking the oath that he can never bandit effectively again (he get massive penalties if he tries to mug people, and the party get massive bonus if they fight him again). I'm phrasing out of my mind, but it's something in that line.

Obviously this depend on the setting and the tone of the game. But the basic thought work.

ILM
2015-12-22, 05:03 PM
There's a bit of a death spiral in a system I'm sort of drawing up these days, really just when you're reaching the bottom of your health pool. I had two objectives with that: one, yes, for a bit of verisimilitude, to introduce that state where you're already half-dead but you can still burn all your luck points (another mechanic) on a heroic gambit. The second objective was to make healing even more relevant. In D&D there's this binary state where hp loss doesn't matter until it kills you, which is just one of the reasons why healing doesn't really work as well as it should. With a system of stacking penalties, suddenly there's incentive for immediate in-combat healing. You balance the importance of healing with the stage and speed at which penalties accrue.

Necroticplague
2015-12-22, 06:28 PM
Depends on how you want comebat to be. If you want combat to be a game of skill, where proper strategy can let you comeback from a few poor rolls, or you want for 'tank' to be a valid archetype, then a death spiral is a bad idea, since losing will make you lose more, so a comeback is impossible. This is why MOBAs tend to have the opposite by giving the losing team advantages so they can try and comeback, and make for an exciting game (since, if you don't have such a mechanic the match can be decided 5 minutes in, and the other 25 minutes is just a waist of time towards an inevitable conclusion). However, if you want combat to be a more random affair, where even a little bit of bad luck can bring you low, and everyone always avoids fighting unless they absolutely have to, then a brutal death spiral supports that. If you want to have tank as a viable archetype with a death spiral, than grant tanks the ability to mitigate some of it (i.e, malfean infernals in exalted, who eventually just keep going until they drop dead. Twice. If they don't get lucky; or Prometheans in NWoD, who don't slow down until portions of them are tearing off. ).

NichG
2015-12-23, 02:34 AM
I strongly concur with both the comment about avoiding dead time, and the mention of needing to have really good surrender/escape mechanics.

The thing about a death spiral is that once you've started in on the spiral, you might as well be already dead, but you're being forced to play a dead character walking. So it has a very rocket tag feel without the benefit rocket tag has of being over. So if its just for grittiness, I'd prefer to just embrace rocket tag entirely, and make it so that getting hit once takes you out of the combat (either by killing you or disabling you with whatever followup consequences), rather than giving large penalties and the like.

At the same time, I like the idea of combat systems that don't encourage fighting to the death, because then the outcomes can be a lot more nuanced and interesting (and the party losing doesn't mean game over, which is a nice buffer). So what if you had something where as you get injured, you have a negative spiral on aggressive actions and a positive spiral on defensive actions? E.g. you gain a penalty to attacks, but you actually get a bonus (or unlock additional options) towards running away, negotiating terms of surrender, etc. If you had an explicit Threat mechanic in the game, it'd make sense that already-wounded targets are taken to be lower priority, for example.

Satinavian
2015-12-23, 06:28 AM
Death spirals makes fights being over before people are dead. They introduce states where people can't realisticly win or do damage but can surrender. They also allow for wounded combatants in acute risk of dying to leave active combat without costing the own side a lot of firepower.

I like it.
But it's not for D&D where half of the enemies want to eat the PC or hate them so much that they would kill even after surrender. D&D likes to use conflicts without possible diplomatic resolution so no one feels bad killing the bad guys. D&D also tries to avoid prisoner dilemmas and doesn't particularly like imprisoned PCs either.

But in games where death is a more permanent state it is nice to get people out of a fight before it is too late.


Also i don't really experience dead time. If the fight is over, it is over, even if the losrs still have hitpoints/health/whatever. Either we switch to surrender or retreat or flight. If the losers can' do that (mindless constructs or similar) it doesn't really hurt to say "yes, it's over now. The winners take the rest of them down eithout further losses" and keep moving.


As for deciding when it is over : That is another interesting tactical decision for the loser to make.

NichG
2015-12-23, 03:29 PM
The losers aren't always the other guys. The dead time is mostly experienced as a PC - you get wounded early in a fight but the other PCs are still fighting at full, for example. It's like a lot of shut-down status conditions - means that a player might be sitting there for an hour or two with nothing real to do. Of course, the same would be true if their character had been killed (though they might start making a new character), but also its usually a lot more common for a character to be wounded in a fight than for a character to be killed in a fight. So that means you end up effectively sitting out larger portions of game time than you would in a system without a death spiral.

Telok
2015-12-23, 04:26 PM
Is "Oh no, I've been wounded and cannot shoot accurately, what should I do on my turn?" any worse than "Oh no, I failed my save versus petrification, I'll take a nap untill it's fixed" ?

I look at it as a graph system. It can be a slope where your effectiveness goes down as you accumulate wounds, a cliff where one roll determines if you can contribute, or some form of curve between the two. D&D has the cliff, characters are either totally fine or one roll away from incapacitation and are often both depending on saves and crits. Any wound system that effectively neutralizes a character from one hit to the next is no different from that model. And it's a fine model for any game where fights are binary win/lose = live/die.

So I'd say that the brutality of a death spiral is porportional to how fast the chatacters go from hero to zero and any system where that's a one hit difference is the same as D&D. You should also be wary of conflating a death spiral with character vulnerability. First level AD&D characters are very vulnerable and have no death spiral where long term Shadowrun characters can get to be immune to anything short of anti-tank weapons and have a death spiral.

Knaight
2015-12-23, 04:37 PM
The losers aren't always the other guys. The dead time is mostly experienced as a PC - you get wounded early in a fight but the other PCs are still fighting at full, for example. It's like a lot of shut-down status conditions - means that a player might be sitting there for an hour or two with nothing real to do. Of course, the same would be true if their character had been killed (though they might start making a new character), but also its usually a lot more common for a character to be wounded in a fight than for a character to be killed in a fight. So that means you end up effectively sitting out larger portions of game time than you would in a system without a death spiral.

On the other hand, that hour or two figure assumes extremely long combats, well beyond what comes up in most systems.

endur
2015-12-23, 06:03 PM
XCom has some death-spiral like options where being wounded is very bad. That tends to force a play-style where the player tries to avoid being hit at all, since any hit can start you on the death spiral to being killed.

If your players like ninjas who are never hit, then this may be the play style you like. If the players like to shrug off blows and keep on fighting, death spiral may not be your choice.

Mr. Mask
2015-12-23, 08:35 PM
Something to remember, is how deadly your combat is effects how useful you are wounded. Even if your chance to hit is down to 30%, you still might hit and put the enemy into their own death spiral, which would help your companions a lot.

NichG
2015-12-24, 03:30 AM
Is "Oh no, I've been wounded and cannot shoot accurately, what should I do on my turn?" any worse than "Oh no, I failed my save versus petrification, I'll take a nap untill it's fixed" ?

Well, you don't fight basilisks all that often, but you're usually fighting things capable of injuring you. I think that a campaign of nothing but action-denial encounters - things using paralysis, petrification, domination, and other one-shot effects - would be incredibly tedious. And generally when you get to the point that those things are constantly flying around in D&D, first priority is basically to sink whatever resources are needed to become immune to those things.

Wraith
2015-12-24, 06:10 AM
I quite like the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay/Dark Heresy's version of Death Spiral, which is a little more abstract than "you fall over and die".

All players start the game with Fate Points, which are essentially "get out of jail free" points. If you're hit with something horrible that would otherwise kill or maim you, you can permanently burn one of your Fate Points to negate the effect.
It prevents your character from being irrevocably crippled several times over, but at the same time it's a finite resource that does not actually stop you from getting hurt; you still lose HP and the likes, and the nature of WFRP is that once you've been hit with something that will kill you, Fate Point or not you're probably STILL going to be in the same position next round unless you do something drastic.

It's simple, yet it solves a whole lot or problems. You still feel the peril of a close-fought combat as you have to budget your points and decide if you can "take this one" in order to be at less risk in a future fight, and you're never completely safe from harm until you finish or escape from the fight.

SLA Industries has completely the opposite - every time you are injured you take a Wound, which gives you a -1 penalty to any roll you make while Wounded. Wounds are cumulative and once you go beyond -10 then you pass out from blood loss and are helpless. This version works, however, because Healing in the system is very easy and is available as little more than a 'Quick Action'.
The peril here comes from getting your timing right and coordinating your team properly; it's quite difficult to get significantly along the Death Spiral and fairly easy to get out of, but you're almost ALWAYS on it in some way, as a constant threat.

Eisenheim
2015-12-24, 07:14 AM
If anyone is really interested in death spirals as a defining mechanic in RPGs, I suggest looking at Don't Rest Your Head, which is basically a game where your entire character and campaign arc is one long spiral down, growing in power as you come closer and closer to losing everything. (it's a horror game, from the same people who made fate core)

Thrawn4
2015-12-24, 07:28 AM
It adds some flavor and something to worry about, and I love it, but everywhere I look on similar systems the "Death Spiral" tends to be feared and shunned. So I'm hoping to hear some success stories or input that will help me keep it from being hated.

I agree to you, but I wonder why people would shun it. Because it feels less heroic and more gritty?

goto124
2015-12-24, 09:56 AM
Yea. It's just different tastes - some people prefer the larger-than-life high fantasy heroic style.

GrayDeath
2015-12-24, 03:53 PM
In short: It has nothing to add to mediumheroic+ Games, only adds more upkeep.
if youw ant it Gritty and/or "realistic" (attention: I know true realism is neither possible nor a thing to aim for^^) then it is a good idea to add maluses for wounds, sicknesses, fatigue and so on.
IF you can come up with some that are good (ergo have clear rules that are the same for everybody AND do more than just drag combat out) go for it!
However you should make VERY clear that the System/world works that way.

In one of our homebrew Setting/System Combos Ir an a while ago I did NOT.
And people expected something along D&D`s "I can fight until Id rop dead" lines.

Eisenheim
2015-12-24, 05:04 PM
I don't know about that. Fate is pitched at pretty high heroism by default, and it uses a death spiral. It's just that it couples that with pretty strong fail-forward assumption so that losing scenes doesn't mean losing the adventure.

Kami2awa
2015-12-24, 05:31 PM
In an RPG, Death Spirals might be realistic but they aren't much fun. Once you get hit once, often the penalties mean that you might as well sit out the remainder of the fight, and that is just dull for the player. It also adds additional detail for the GM to track for each NPC, which if neglected disadvantages the PCs unfairly. Anyway, how realistic are they? People have gone on fighting despite terrible injuries due to adrenaline rushes and endorphins.

Kami2awa
2015-12-24, 05:35 PM
On the other hand, that hour or two figure assumes extremely long combats, well beyond what comes up in most systems.

That's true once you are well versed in the game, but if you are a group of new players, or experienced players trying out a new system, then it takes a lot longer. If a player's experience with a new system involves an hour of "time-out" then they are unlikely to persevere with that system.

Telok
2015-12-26, 03:23 AM
In thinking back on the various systems I've played most of them have penalties for being wounded. Only the D&D, Paranoia, and Hero systems lack them. WoD, CoC, Traveller, Shadowrun, Twilight 2k, and Pendragon all use them. I don't think WFR had them but my memories of that are twenty years old and revolve around a GM who didn't understand probability or percentages.

Again I'll emphasize that there is a difference between the concept of a death spiral and the vulnerabilities of a character. Rocket tag isn't a death spiral mechanic and it is a D&D thing, likewise the various forms of stun-lock and negation that occur in all editions. Characters taken out in one or two rolls isn't due to any wound penalty mechanics, it's vulnerability.

Fri
2015-12-26, 04:50 AM
Also, death spiral should have more mechanics on it than simply "you're wounded and now you can't fight effectively."

Maybe people can choose between spiralling your damage, defense, or attack. Also, "tanks" may pick skills that can mitigate death spirals, like ignoring penalty for this fight to make it more severe later, or reducing the amount of spiral, etc. Of course you can also try to not get hit at all, and so on.

Knaight
2015-12-26, 10:49 AM
That's true once you are well versed in the game, but if you are a group of new players, or experienced players trying out a new system, then it takes a lot longer. If a player's experience with a new system involves an hour of "time-out" then they are unlikely to persevere with that system.

Even with a bunch of new players, a whole bunch of systems will lean towards the shorter side. Something like Savage Worlds isn't getting a 2 hour combat unless you really try to drag it out, something like D&D absolutely can.

Trekkin
2015-12-26, 01:44 PM
I like death spirals that are nonlinear.

In the archetypal death spiral, some manner of Wounds apply penalties or otherwise erode some set of statistics that controls everything a character is likely to want to do during a fight. I think this is a large part of what makes it so tedious, because nothing actually changes except that the numbers get smaller.

It might help alleviate the tedium if Wounds, however they're tracked, add penalties for specific actions. I've seen critical charts that work like this. Maybe the character's hand is broken and they have to fight with their off-hand. Maybe blood gets in their eyes and they can't aim properly. These are crude examples for a D&D type of game, where characters are homogenous bags of vitality; systems that actually track body parts would have an easier and more logical time of it.

There are certainly problems in the implementation, but the point is that wounds are no longer a uniform reduction in fightiness, so wounded characters can still scrabble around for something to do and feel like it's an achievement to keep functioning rather than a burden to continually subtract their injury tax.

Quertus
2015-12-26, 02:45 PM
Even with a bunch of new players, a whole bunch of systems will lean towards the shorter side. Something like Savage Worlds isn't getting a 2 hour combat unless you really try to drag it out, something like D&D absolutely can.

... How do other systems play faster than rocket tag (rocket tag sans death spirals, no less)?

And that's my biggest comment: don't add something to slow the game down, unless what it adds is worth it, or slowing the game down is somehow a virtue.

Apricot
2015-12-26, 05:16 PM
Thinking about this, maybe there's a significant death spiral present in D&D-style systems as well, only it's more on the part of the party than the individual players. When a party loses a member, they suddenly drop in effectiveness, which can quickly spiral out of control and end things. A TPK tends to go exactly this way. But there's still a bit of a death spiral on the part of individual characters: when they suffer a lot of damage, they have to actively decide on their every move whether they're willing to risk being killed for what they're about to do. This means that, say, the melee combatant can't walk into the middle of a crowd of people and try to cleave them all down, because he or she is risking death from the attacks of opportunity. It lowers combat potential, just in a more circumspect manner. What I do like about that style over what we usually call death spirals is that it gives more opportunities for the players to choose things. That warrior can walk into the crowd and risk death, if it seems like the right thing to do. A character in a death spiral game simply doesn't even have the option. A D&D-style system increases the penalties while allowing the same actions, while a death spiral system just prevents you from playing the game.

So, in summary: I think that the only good kind of death spiral is one that gives you the chance to take action despite the penalties it inflicts. A death spiral that's too brutal is one that stops you from making choices and playing your role. After all, what's a combat game without heroism?

Cluedrew
2015-12-26, 07:09 PM
or slowing the game down is somehow a virtue.I don't know if you meant this ironically or not but I would have to agree that slowing a game down can sometimes be a virtue. Usually a slower game is just the price you pay for a more thoughtful or detailed game. However some times you want to slow down the game.

I remember a game I played once: a computer puzzle game with a gripping story. I later replayed it later and I was not nearly as impressed with it the second time. It wasn't because I solved the puzzles more easily (I knew most of the answers) or because I noticed any glaring flaws with the game. But rather I solved the puzzles more quickly so the pacing of the story was all wrong. In other words speeding the game up actually worsened the game.

Oh, and Apricot: "What's a combat game without heroism? Why it is a combat game without heroism. Nothing more. Nothing less. I mean you seem to imply that is a bad thing and you may (and I definitely do) prefer heroic combat games but that doesn't mean that the other types of combat games don't work. Talk horror games, in most horror games combat is not heroic, in fact usually dying slower is usually a win in those sorts of games. Yet they work and people play them.

Apricot
2015-12-26, 08:35 PM
I recommend you expand your definition of "hero" some to get a better idea of what qualifies as "heroism."

Cluedrew
2015-12-26, 08:55 PM
How so? As in the "every day hero" or "hero as protagonist" or... those are the two expansions I can think of off the top of my head but neither seem to apply here. Well I suppose either could but... basically, could I get more detail.

goto124
2015-12-26, 10:59 PM
I thought people woukd nitpick on the term "combat game", which I presume means "game where the main point is combat", aka "combat-focused game".

A game with a death spiral is unlikely to be a combat-focused game. Instead, it encourages the players to be much more cautious about entering combat in the first place. You don't fight to the death - you try to avoid combat in the first place, or attempt running away before the death spiral eats you up.

Apricot
2015-12-27, 01:13 AM
"The heroes of the story" is the common way we use the word. It doesn't have the exact same nature as the word "protagonist," but there's a lot of overlap. You have your classic heroes, your tragic heroes, your antiheroes, your Lovecraftian heroes... there's as much room for heroes as there is for types of story. The acts of heroism change accordingly, of course. In a horror story, a glorious paladin coming in and saving the day for everyone doesn't make the first bit of sense as an act of heroism. A gritty, determined underdog managing to scrape together an impossible victory does, and hell, even a valiant (or not!) defeat in the face of overwhelming odds has its place. Ever play that Call of Cthulhu game, Dark Corners of the Earth? For the hero in that game, running away was a wonderfully heroic act. That's what I mean. If you're only thinking of knights in shining armor as heroes, you're missing out on a whole world.

goto, you're the only person in the whole thread who has said, and I quote, "combat-focused." Your interpretations might differ strongly for others; for example, a common interpretation is just that a combat game is one that has strong and binding rules for combat. Any game with rules for a death spiral thus obviously qualifies as a combat game.

goto124
2015-12-27, 01:20 AM
... I did say "presume".

I should've phrased myself better, and just ask "what did you mean by 'combat game' by the way? For the purposes of this story, I shall presume..."

Telok
2015-12-27, 03:13 AM
Any game with rules for a death spiral thus obviously qualifies as a combat game.

But Call of Cthulhu has the Sanity death spiral and in that game combat is usually one of the least effective things you can do. In fact sanity loss is not usually connected to combat but to knowledge, and that knowledge is necessary so that the characters don't try to fight things like Lligor by using guns and knives.

Faily
2015-12-27, 06:29 AM
I find that some game-settings work better than others with Death Spiral-mechanics.

In D&D, I don't miss it's presence since I like the feel they're going for there with being fully functional even at 1HP.
In L5R, they capture that samurai-drama feeling better by making combat incredibly lethal, where the first few blows usually establishes who will be the victor as the Wound penalties quickly can seriously hamper a person.

Ars Magica too has something of a Death Spiral, as you get penalties based on how wounded you are, though that system (in my experience) makes it more likely to survive combat but die in the sickbed due to infections and what-not instead. :smalltongue: Medieval medicine and chirurgy is more dangerous than swords.

Cluedrew
2015-12-27, 08:33 AM
To Apricot:
That all make sense, in fact I considered something like this (little bit different) when you first said to expand my definition of hero. However by this "heroes of the story" definition any combat the PCs precipitate in is heroic combat, which isn't a particularly useful definition. Also your previous post seems to associate heroic combat with, and I quote, "making choices and playing your role" which is a different concept, actually that itself is two different but interconnected concepts.

So what would you consider to be non-heroic combat: one that the PCs don't participate in, one where there is little or no choices effect the outcome (either highly random or pre-determined) or one where characters cannot be well represented during combat. Or some combination there of.

P.S.: I am writing (aka, working on the ideas for when I have time) an epic fantasy where the main character is the one who does the laundry. I am know about the variety of heroes.

Arbane
2015-12-27, 06:50 PM
Consider also the Negative Death Spiral, which imitates the sort of character who can't fight at full power until they've received a severe beating (looking at YOU, shonen manga heroes...), as seen in D&D 4th edition.

jinjitsu
2015-12-27, 08:33 PM
I think the best way to implement death spiral mechanics is by not having the penalties be applied mid-combat (unless they're severe and immediate, like having a limb severed). This can be justified to a degree by saying that, even as a character takes a debilitating wound, the adrenaline of combat keeps them going at full strength until the fight's over and their body feels the strain. This also makes retreating to recover more of an option - you can just run back through the areas you've already cleared, ducking any new patrols, rather than having to shake a hostile pursuing party off your tail, which, depending on the system, can be as difficult for a wounded character as winning the fight outright. Obviously, this requires that some systems have to be modified to make it work, but if you're worried about death spiral severity that's probably the plan already.

Octopusapult
2015-12-28, 01:32 AM
Wow, thread got some attention when I wasn't looking. Thank you everyone for the opinions. I haven't had the chance to play a game with a Death Spiral effect in it so this was all very insightful.

After reading some ideas and reflecting on them a bit, I'm considering a "Retreat" mechanic I'm going to drop here and see how it resonates with everyone.

Retreating will work kind of like the "Run" option in pokemon games. Battle over, things weren't working out here, time to bolt. The exact details aren't important...

"you only remember keeping your head down and running for your life. Somehow you made it here and managed to regroup."

...the only thing that matters is everyone made it out.

Each template (kind of like classes) will have a method of retreat. The Arcane and Psionic templates may have a warp option to simply blink everyone out quickly. The Combat classes may have a "Bash through" option dealing some "on-the-way-out" damage to whatever it was that caused the retreat that may still be there for next time. The Nature / Skill oriented classes may have a "Secret Passage" that they find and may grant the party a quick way back.

This may alleviate some of the "Death Spiral" feel as characters know they have an out if things get too bad, and that they can come back more prepared next time. Obviously limitations would have to be imposed, maybe a 3 strikes rule per dungeon, or if the enemy is intelligent they may block off the exits or have anti-magic auras prepared in advance. Just so the PC's don't abuse the mechanic like their own "Get out of Death free" card.

Thoughts? Adjustments? Opinions?

goto124
2015-12-28, 01:55 AM
Or let them run away as many times as they want, but they can only go back the way they came. Just a suggestion - may not work for all types of games.

The act of retreating itself can be fairly hard as well, so that it's not left to the last minute.

Mr. Mask
2015-12-28, 04:55 AM
I think turns is a big part of the problem of death spiral. It's problematic having to wait your turn, but feels much worse if you can't do anything and are basically waiting useful players' time.

Fri
2015-12-28, 09:27 AM
Wow, thread got some attention when I wasn't looking. Thank you everyone for the opinions. I haven't had the chance to play a game with a Death Spiral effect in it so this was all very insightful.

After reading some ideas and reflecting on them a bit, I'm considering a "Retreat" mechanic I'm going to drop here and see how it resonates with everyone.

Retreating will work kind of like the "Run" option in pokemon games. Battle over, things weren't working out here, time to bolt. The exact details aren't important...

"you only remember keeping your head down and running for your life. Somehow you made it here and managed to regroup."

...the only thing that matters is everyone made it out.

Each template (kind of like classes) will have a method of retreat. The Arcane and Psionic templates may have a warp option to simply blink everyone out quickly. The Combat classes may have a "Bash through" option dealing some "on-the-way-out" damage to whatever it was that caused the retreat that may still be there for next time. The Nature / Skill oriented classes may have a "Secret Passage" that they find and may grant the party a quick way back.

This may alleviate some of the "Death Spiral" feel as characters know they have an out if things get too bad, and that they can come back more prepared next time. Obviously limitations would have to be imposed, maybe a 3 strikes rule per dungeon, or if the enemy is intelligent they may block off the exits or have anti-magic auras prepared in advance. Just so the PC's don't abuse the mechanic like their own "Get out of Death free" card.

Thoughts? Adjustments? Opinions?

I'd add concession mechanic, though depending on the system or group taste, it might feel too narrative to them. Basically, make it so that if either party want they can either offer concession, and there's clear rule on benefit/penalty for them. Something like, you can give chance for enemy to surrender, and you'll get bonus if they get uppity and you fight them again in the future/ bonus on fighting their friends later because you got info on them, or maybe you can run away but you'll have to lose something permanently. You're the one who know the system/friends more, so you should be able to think something better. Just some ideas.

Also, in burning wheel, there GM will make it clear when this is a fight to the death, and there will be no concession if you lose. So then the players will know that this is time to burn all their power. Something like, if the party is fighting a golem that will accept no surrender, the gm should make it clear that this is a fight to the death with permanent penalties.

Also, something in lower priority, but just to make the battle more fun, maybe there are several spirals. Like, maybe people can hurt their enemies' accuracy, damage, or defense, etc. and some classes might have special ability to ignore the spiral for a short time for bigger penalty later.

Octopusapult
2015-12-28, 01:17 PM
I'd add concession mechanic, though depending on the system or group taste, it might feel too narrative to them. Basically, make it so that if either party want they can either offer concession, and there's clear rule on benefit/penalty for them. Something like, you can give chance for enemy to surrender, and you'll get bonus if they get uppity and you fight them again in the future/ bonus on fighting their friends later because you got info on them, or maybe you can run away but you'll have to lose something permanently. You're the one who know the system/friends more, so you should be able to think something better. Just some ideas.

Also, in burning wheel, there GM will make it clear when this is a fight to the death, and there will be no concession if you lose. So then the players will know that this is time to burn all their power. Something like, if the party is fighting a golem that will accept no surrender, the gm should make it clear that this is a fight to the death with permanent penalties.

Also, something in lower priority, but just to make the battle more fun, maybe there are several spirals. Like, maybe people can hurt their enemies' accuracy, damage, or defense, etc. and some classes might have special ability to ignore the spiral for a short time for bigger penalty later.

The thing that worries me about a concession mechanic is that it implies it needs to be mechanical. (this may be a lengthy post.)

To elaborate, if the PCs want to be merciful and let people go, then they should do that knowing full well it may come back to haunt them. There are plenty of examples in media or real life where defeated persons come back traumatized by their loss so I can see where that comes from. But there are as many examples where that doesn't happen, or that they even come back more powerful. It should be the GM's call, not a mechanical feature, in my opinion at least.

This may also give way to PCs acting darker. They may be the heroes, they may be fighting for a just cause, but they know if they release this villain he will come back with an army. There's no means of imprisoning him now just due to the current situation, so the only option is release or execution. This morale dilemma may never be considered with a concession mechanic that makes your foes weaker because the answer is then obvious. "Release him so we can save face, since we'll be guaranteed a victory next time anyway." Personally, I'm a fan of the "Grey-area" of morality, so I'd never want choices that dramatic to be so easy to make.

The other thing that worries me is unintentional defeats of your big bad may lead to a weaker narrative down the line. Sometimes critical hits are your worst nightmare, and your villain who was intended to escape, or never be drawn into the fight, is unavoidably dragged into it by some unforeseen player preparedness or sheer excellent rolls. Now your main villain who was supposed to pester the PCs for a long time coming has been "released" and should be mechanically weaker. If you still use him as intended, won't it annoy the players that the rules don't apply to him? And if you do use him as intended, won't they justifiably blow through every encounter?

To bring it full circle, I'd rather they released the enemy based only on what they know. Maybe he'll come back. Maybe he'll be stronger than he was, maybe not. Maybe he really did learn his lesson. Or maybe it's just better to slay him now and rid the world of his arrogance. Maybe someone will take up his mantle, maybe he had a son and the PCs just made a lifelong enemy. Or perhaps if they released him, the children will grow to appreciate their mercy. But with mechanics insisting that they're "weaker" after defeat, I feel it shuts down too many narrative options.

This is just how I feel regarding a concession mechanic that weakens foes from a purely hypothetical point (clearly I've never played with these mechanics myself, this is just how I think it might play out.) but I would love to hear counter-points if anyone has got 'em. I like to see things from all angles and bear an open mind.

-------------

So far my death spiral affects groups of attributes. There are three groups, Physical, Mental, and Spiritual. (each has three attributes therein, the Physical group governs Agility, Endurance, and Strength for example.)

And once you take a wound, the assailant who inflicted it chooses which of those three groups the wound targets. Then each attribute within that group suffers a -2 (or perhaps -3, I haven't nailed down the math just yet.) penalty until healed. (If there was no assailant, like a trap caused the wound, then the player may choose the attribute group himself.)

This allows intelligent enemies to be intelligent (targeting the Spiritual attributes of the magical classes to limit their abilities for example) while kind of "spreading out" the penalties incurred by the Death Spiral.

(lot of parenthesis. XD)

Eisenheim
2015-12-28, 01:28 PM
I'll say that, in fate, the concession mechanic is a great way to NOT lose villains before you're ready, because you can, as GM, have the NPCs concede a scene but escape with their lives. The way it works in fate is that you're upfront about the consequences of letting the opposition bow out. If they're going to return, that's part of negotiating the concession.

The side that concedes also gets fate points based on how much damage they took before conceding, which works to prevent them just coming back weaker than before.

NichG
2015-12-28, 01:33 PM
What about a concession mechanic that works by negating the death spiral if the concession is refused?

So basically, you gain penalties, but at any time you can say 'I surrender' and fully bow out of the combat. If someone takes hostile action towards you after you surrender, you immediately get an action before their attack completes, and you ignore all death spiral penalties for the remainder of the encounter. The fluff justification is basically, once surrender is refused, you get that backed-into-a-corner adrenaline surge where you might wreck your body or push past the limits where you'd normally be protecting yourself from future injury (e.g. responding to pain). The minimum condition for surrender is that the person not be killed immediately - they could be held captive, have all their stuff taken, be put on trial and executed later, etc. So that encourages the winning side to accept a surrender, because if they're willing to do so it will actually make the fight easier for them to conclude than if they didn't.

Perhaps with some character abilities, that 'surrender' could gain extra, stronger conditions - for example, a character ability that allows one to negotiate the right to retreat rather than becoming captive, or things like that.

Broken Twin
2015-12-28, 03:20 PM
Personally, I like how Savage Worlds handles it. A simple global penalty is easy and quick to remember and apply, and from personal experience, doesn't completely negate your ability to have an impact while you're affected. It helps that dying in SW isn't an assured thing upon taking max wounds. Temporary or permanent injuries are much more likely than outright death.

goto124
2015-12-29, 11:28 AM
"This morale dilemma may never be considered with a concession mechanic that makes your foes weaker because the answer is then obvious. "Release him so we can save face, since we'll be guaranteed a victory next time anyway."

Good luck catching the villain again.