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View Full Version : Combat information and informed active defensive measures



Xervous
2021-03-24, 02:03 PM
Generalized scenario time. This is not about a specific system, itís an open invitation to comment on how youíd like things to work in a game youíre GMing / playing in and why. Itís for having discussions on the merits and drawbacks of different approaches and what sorts of players each method might appeal to.

Consider a bear making an attack against Joe. Joe has both the options of boosting his chance to successfully defend, and the option of rerolling his defense attempt. These options are not exclusive but expend some form of resource each.

At what point do you reveal the bearís roll? Immediately? After Joeís initial roll? After Joe has passed every opportunity to adjust his roll?

Can Joe activate his boost after he rolls, or only before?

Is Joe able to adjust his roll after learning the consequences of failing his defense roll?

Feel free to treat this as an abstract example, the general concept is also present in 5e D&D Shield debates for instance.

Darth Credence
2021-03-24, 02:18 PM
I don't think I can come up with a general answer - it greatly depends on the flavor of the ability in each case. If we are dealing with a game where the players can play with time to undo the immediate past (or see the immediate future), then the player gets to make changes after knowing what the bear did. If the reroll mechanic is supposed to be because the person is lucky or the like, then I'd say only before knowing what the bear is going to do.

For the boosts, if the flavor is something like tactical brilliance where they can figure out what their opponent is going to do, or like shield where it can be justified as reacting to the attack, then boosts after rolls revealed. If the flavor is something that they do that is not in relation to the attack, Like praying for protection from their deity before the attack, then boosts have to be done before the rolls happen.

Man_Over_Game
2021-03-24, 02:44 PM
Fear stems from mystery. Mystery is caused from a lack of expectation. Strategy comes from planning around expectation.

Buffing before you roll creates a game centered around caution and suspense. Buffing after you roll becomes a game centered around expectation and attrition.

So the question becomes, are you trying to cater your game around fear or strategy? Both are valid, but they are often mutually exclusive. Very rarely do they merge well together, and it usually takes a lot of mechanical finesse for when they do (See: Arkham Horror).

MoiMagnus
2021-03-24, 03:11 PM
I like both:
(1) Preventive defences, where you set up your defence before knowing you are attacked. ("Until my next round every attacker has a disadvantage").
(2) Reactive defences after seeing the attack roll, and arguably even after seeing the damage roll.
I don't like:
(3) Semi-reactive defences, where you have to interrupt the GM between the declaration of the attack and its resolution.
[Unless it is a system where active defences is the norm: if instead of having an attack roll against you, you make a dodge roll against the enemy, then I'm fine with having defensive effects that trigger before the dodge roll rather than after, as it doesn't slow down the game.]

In general, I would take roll-back of the state of the game over interruptions every day. This also applies to counterspells, I'm of the opinion that the counterspell windows should be at the same moment where PCs get to make their save against the spell.

I have to admit that (3) is often the best balance-wise for a game, but I still prefer when the game manage to find a balance where only (1) and (2) exist.

Mordar
2021-03-24, 03:23 PM
As I expect most of the answers to be...it depends.

All of this assumes the cost is never a trade-off ("I sacrifice 3 on my next attack to get 3 on my current defense" kind of things).

For me it is less about flavor and more about magnitude, cost or frequency.

If it is large magnitude (say +3 or more on d20, +15%, etc), I am more inclined to think it should be pre-roll. Smaller modification (say +1 on d20, +5%, whatever), post-roll.

If cost (strain, hp, whatever), lower cost = pre-roll, higher cost post-roll.

If it is high frequency (multiple times per day/combat/whatever), I am more inclined to say pre-roll. If it is low frequency (1/day, 1/adventure, 1/level), then post-roll.

I think frequency should dominate cost should dominate magnitude, but that assumes reasonable relationships between them already. Thus a big magnitude effect that is limited to once an adventure could still be post-roll, but if once a day, seems it should be pre-roll.

My rationale is simple - the more limited or expensive the trick, the more often it should succeed for the player. Nobody likes to fire off their once-a-game special attack and roll terribly, or use their once-a-week special ability and not have it matter because you rolled a max value anyway. Roll modifiers are the same idea - if you only get to do it once in a while and before a roll, how often will it really matter? That +5/25% you get to use once an adventure? The pre-roll modifier only matters 25% of the time (assuming the target is at least 27% of the range value...only rolls 1-25% below the target are impacted, as the rest will either already be successful or will be too low to move to success). So on average your special trick matters 1 time in 4...days/adventures/levels/whatever.

If, however, you get to use it when it matters (because without it you fail, but with it you succeed), then it is special, satisfying and even "narratively fulfilling".

tl;dr: Limited use special abilities should matter in the game, and be less dependent on the dice roll. Things you can do often can be more subject to the whims of chance.

- M

Stonehead
2021-03-24, 03:45 PM
I like both:
(1) Preventive defences, where you set up your defence before knowing you are attacked. ("Until my next round every attacker has a disadvantage").
(2) Reactive defences after seeing the attack roll, and arguably even after seeing the damage roll.
I don't like:
(3) Semi-reactive defences, where you have to interrupt the GM between the declaration of the attack and its resolution.
[Unless it is a system where active defences is the norm: if instead of having an attack roll against you, you make a dodge roll against the enemy, then I'm fine with having defensive effects that trigger before the dodge roll rather than after, as it doesn't slow down the game.]

In general, I would take roll-back of the state of the game over interruptions every day. This also applies to counterspells, I'm of the opinion that the counterspell windows should be at the same moment where PCs get to make their save against the spell.

I have to admit that (3) is often the best balance-wise for a game, but I still prefer when the game manage to find a balance where only (1) and (2) exist.

I tend to agree with this sentiment. The game flows better if you "pass priority" less often. It's also a major feel-bad moment when you reroll something that was already the outcome you wanted.

Knowing the result of a roll before deciding whether or not to reroll is a pretty big advantage, mathematically. So I understand the appeal to balance, but I feel like this could be accounted for through other factors to make a balanced system. You can fiddle with the resource cost of ability, the opportunity cost for building into the ability, the scope of rolls the ability can affect, etc.

That all being said, static modifiers really can't be interesting as reactive defenses (2). In that case, there's not really a decision to be made, you know whether your ability will save you or not, it's only a matter of whether or not you want to expend the resources to do so.

Actually, after typing that all out, I can think of some cases where static modifiers on reactive defenses would work. It just needs additional factors (resource cost, frequency of use, etc).

Quertus
2021-03-25, 06:50 AM
I tend to favor acting with knowledge.

Consider this exchange:

Player: "what's your defense?"

GM: "Ö42?"

Player: "then I hit the BBEG with a head shot, killing them!"

The GM might have chosen to use those defenses had they known what was at stake.

-----

I agree that "passing priority" - and, worse, interrupting - should be avoided.

-----

I think that, realistically, one can usually *tell* roughly how bad something is going to be, notice when a sword is coming for your head, know to protect your groin. So limiting information in the name of realism is something of an oxymoron.

erikun
2021-03-25, 04:26 PM
In most system I've seen, the player can see the bear's roll (and typically, how much damage) and then decide to spend resources to try to avoid the roll. The roll is done, the results are visible, and the player gets to choose if they want to spend the resource to change the outcome. Note that in these systems, the resource is not a purely defense one, though. It is not a choice between "Do I avoid the bear's damage or I avoid the Maybe Bigger Bear's damage later?" It is a choice between "Do I avoid the bear's damage, or do I deal more damage later, or do I save it for that important skill roll, or do I save it for Maybe Bigger Bear Later?" So there are bigger concerns for the resource than merely preserving HP, and choosing to spend it to avoid the damage now has impacts on what the player has access to later.

Other systems I've seen don't turn it into a resource, but into a tradeoff. -5 Attack for +5 Defense, or giving up attacking actions for taking a defensive action. It might not always be a tradeoff with a downside at the moment; perhaps there was just nothing to attack that turn. But it isn't a limited resource that a character can run out of to maintain the defense. They can choose to keep defending, or keep under cover, or keep protecting an ally, for as long as they need if they want.

I'm not too sure about a system with limited "Shield Points" which need to be spent for a bonus before the roll even happens. Particularly low AC characters might just spend them on the first attacks coming their way, figuring that the +2 AC matters the most even early on. But what is a high AC character supposed to do? Someone sitting at 22 AC isn't reasonably thinking that they might be hit. Sure, on a lucky roll, but the majority of attacks from even strong opponents are going to miss. Should they be waiting for an enemy with ~12 levels and 20+ STR to show up to start making the spending of Shield Points matter? Should they just spend them at any time, knowing that 70%-80% of the time stuff won't hit their AC anyway? It doesn't sound like such a great idea to ask a player to spend Shield Points seemingly at random, just in the hopes that it might have some benefit. Perhaps you could make it work, but unless I had a very good idea which monsters it would be useful against - meaning, basically, already knowing their attack bonuses - the spending of Shield Points would just sort of be at random. Or just burn through them all at the obvious "boss" encounter, which doesn't seem to give them too much of a point.