Let’s undertake a design exercise. Our constraint is that we are trying to come up with gameplay that does not rest on mass murder. Yes, I wrote “gameplay”. Even in hardcore RP worlds, you need gameplay if you don’t want the world to simply be a chatroom. Roleplayers also have achiever and explorer motivations (when using Bartle types). For our exercise, we’ll use a mêlée combat system in a standard fantasy world. It does not matter is it is high or low fantasy, though it may be a better fit for low fantasy. Similar thought experiments could be carried out for magic, crafting, economic, etc. systems, but we’ll focus on simple mêlée combat for this post.
For some of the core ingredients of our recipe, let’s look back to the deep physics series.
- We’ll approximate a character and its equipped items as a cloud of point masses. This includes things such as armor and weapons and can also include the physical build of the character; tall versus short, stocky versus slender, etc.
- For each animation, we can then calculate the transient moment of inertia of the character for each keyframe of each animation, which we’ll call the Keyframe Moment of Inertia, or KMI for short. Each time a character changes his/her equipped items, we’ll need to recalculate the KMIs for all of his/her animations. We’ll keep a remote process that can calculate the KMIs of all animations for a character, sending the current point mass cloud as input.
- Once we have these KMis, we can take the strength and skill of the character and determine the new timescale of each keyframe. Strong characters accelerate through their animations faster than weak ones. Small and slender characters also accelerate faster than larger ones, but can’t achieve as high a final velocity for heavy weapons. Etc.
- Let’s toss in some random tweaks to the keyframes to account for individual styles.
Now we’ll add a few gameplay bits that are not directly drawn from the deep physics concept:
- Let’s allow players to create macros, or scripts in the form of Memotica Action Choreographies. A chirography is a set of action keyframes (Memotica Action keyframes correspond 1:1 to animation keyframes) strung together. Choreographies can also include if/else style logic and can be nested inside other choreographies. In gameplay terms, this allows player scripting of complex combat logic in what would be a high twitch without the need for player twitch. This also allows the player to create new combat moves and even entire fighting styles.
- Let’s allow characters to analyze each other’s moves and to learn from them or teach others. If a character if performing a particular move in a less than optimal way, another character can take note of this and show them the “right” way.
- Allow a “holding pattern” action that can be terminated with one of several options, depending on what the character sees. You might know this as a defensive stance. If a character sees an incoming oberhau, perhaps he responds with a pflug.
So what does all of this give us?
Well, for starts, we’ve just made the combat system insanely complex; even with the simple act of swinging a sword. Being complex is dangerous and potentially game breaking, but can also be a good thing. Chess is complex. The rules are simple enough to teach a six year old, but it takes years of study to truly master the complex game that emerges from those rules. That is what we are trying for here. What armor you are wearing matters. The type of weapon (or even who made it, but that is another discussion entirely) matters. How you hold it matters. Most swords allow for some adjustment up or down of the character’s grip. Your character’s physical (as opposed to character sheet) build matters. Who you have practiced with and how much you have practiced matters. All of these things are intuitive and fit our sense of naive physics; making them easy to learn and understand, but mastery does not come easily.
Naturally, feints will have to be part of the ecosystem. Perhaps that oberhau is not an oberhau at all, but a feint explicitly staged to provoke a pflug, while the real strike goes to the thigh. How often has the character ever seen that feint, if ever? Can they tell the difference between the feint and the real thing? This means that how much sparring the character has participated and observed matters.
What do we gain from making the combat system so complex? We gain four things.
- We can switch from a fight to train (via combat XP) to a train to fight model without losing gameplay. Mastering the three dimensional chess that is swordsmanship becomes a gameplay end unto itself. We can drop most or all XP from combat as it has become a way to demonstrate prowess, rather than a way to gain it. Since we no longer have to gain directly from combat, we can make it less frequent and we are free to make it more dangerous as characters can flee or avoid combat without incurring opportunity cost.
- The characters’ domain knowledge and the players’ domain knowledge converge. This increases immersion and leaves us with fewer OOC ways to break the magic circle. In fact, the player and character learn the ropes together, proceeding from novice to master.
- Dojo RP – Rather than highly generic and nonspecific “I am a warrior” roleplay, where the player roleplays the style of a knight, or barbarian, or pirate, etc. without delving too deeply into the details, we can have heated discussions of the merits, or lack thereof, of various moves and fighting styles. “Your swing is sloppy and slow there and you are telegraphing yourself. Watch me and I’ll show you how to do it right” and “Be careful when fighting orcs. They are fond of this kind of feint…”.
- A vehicle for IC character created content where characters can leave their mark on the world. E.g. invent a new school of swordsmanship and be its founding master.