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Why fights take a long time

Kensanata just wrote about how quick fights are in Blades.

I wanted to dig up this old crusty seen-before reprint of mine, originally posted to Story Games.

But there’s three levels to this post. That’s right, let’s get some Scheherazade up in this bee! I first posted a comment on Rob Donoghue’s blog, and then I quoted my own comment in full in my post to S-G.

Additionally, I want to add in some commentary about what I think about this now, four years later (it’s July 2021).

Originally titled “Why fights take a long time in Blades” but with the new commentary, that title maybe needs the last two word dropped.

My post to S-G, June 2017

I’ve been thinking about the old division of resolution mechanics into “task resolution” and “conflict resolution”, it’s not seen as much these days (and, mostly, good riddance; design has become more nuanced taking the best from both). But for some reason I came to think of them again.

Typically (though not necessarily my preference), conflict-level resolution has more detail, more inputs, more post-Fortune elements. You add extra dice through FoRKs or what have you.

You zoom out to resolve the entire conflict in one roll, then you kinda break that roll up again to make it more detailed and more fine-grained even though it’s zoomed out.

I just posted the following as a comment on Rob Donoghue’s blog:

My comment on TWM, June 2017

So, what I’ve found with this in Blades (which I’ve never played, but I’m trying to catch up on one of the web series (RollPlay Blades, I’m halfway through Week 16 now)) is that it is sorta like hitpoints. Hitpoints for a situation rather than for a person.

Since Blades’ mechanic is as detailed as a conflict-level resolution mechanic (with multiple inputs [SIS position, SIS effect, special abilities, pushed help, pushed self, Devil’s Bargain], and several Fortune in the Middle factors such as Resist rolls), every roll, hmm, takes a good while. Every roll in Blades is like a whole fight in our D&D 5e game.

But, it’s not used as a conflict-level resolution mechanic. Because of the many clocks, in practice it becomes a task level mechanic. You Skirmish and Resist on the individual Harm level, not on the Scene level. And what happens is that fights sometimes takes one and a half hours or more.

By contrast, in our 5e game this last Thursday (we do a mashup of 5e and Dramasystem, everyone has a 5e character sheet and a Dramasystem character sheet, and 90% of our play is in the Drama layer, but when action happens, the D&D dice come out), one character was sneaking on an NPC and tried to subdue her. She startled her with her short sword (represented as HP loss w/ sneak bonus), they both jumped out of the window where the character kept threatening her with the sword (more HP loss, w/o sneak this time) and then hid. The NPC (also a rogue) used her main action + cunning action to double dash 90 feet, so the player character shot her dead with a shortbow w/ sneak bonus. The whole thing was over in mere minutes and that was a level 5 rogue (the PC) vs a level 8 rogue (the NPC).

The HP (which represent “threat, upper hand, position, footing, momentum, wounds, scratches, fatigue, hope, fate, destiny” not all of these at once but a sum of these factors) is what’s pacing the scene while we can have plenty of fine-grained SIS interaction since the system is task-level based. In one fight we had sneaking, climbing, trying to subdue/capture w/ sword, jumping out the window, booking it, taking a lethal shot. All paced out by HP. (But every roll fast and simple. You sneak? You just roll. You Go Aggro with your sword? You just roll. You hide again? You just roll. You shoot? You just roll.)

Now back to the S-G post

My point is, I guess, that when you add all the detail of a typical conflict-level designed roll to a task-level roll everything takes a lot of time. Fate Core has a similar thing going on to a lesser extent and, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, too?

Compared to a game like The Shadow of Yesterday or Dogs in the Vineyard which also has pretty fiddly rolls but there, the protocol resolves the whole thing.

2021 post-post commentary

All of the above needs to be nuanced by two hard facts♥︎

  1. As the aforementioned Blades campaign went on, fights became way quicker.
  2. In our own D&D game, fights are now super slow

Fights, while sometimes a single fight was drawn out over more than one episode in the early days, became quicker in the Blades game for two reasons. First of all, I think Harper started using smaller clocks on things. Second of all, the players all got very familiar with the rules.

In our D&D games, fights have become very slow now. The biggest reason is that players now run two or more characters each since there’s a pandemic and we are playing over video and our group is smaller and I don’t eagerly want to bring in new players since it’s already cumbersome enough to use video. A player running two characters is more than twice as slow as two players running a character each. Context-switching is a hell of a drug.

The other reason is that we switched to a “players make all rolls” model including rolling damage for monster attacks.

We also use the whole “Oh, Injury” layer that makes fights way more descriptive.

Now, it could be worse. Our fights are still faster than others I see.

If I wanted to really speed them up again, I’d go back to rolling for the monster attacks and using the average damage when listed. I’d keep the “Oh, Injury” layer, it’s worth the time it takes. I’d ask the players to re-write their sidekick attacks as if they were attacks on their own sheet, like this

and list their sidekick’s HP next to their own HP.

I’m not super stressed out over this since the molasses-slow fighting means that I need to spend waaaay less time prepping. The current roster of players just enjoy the fights for their own sake just like they enjoy a game of Magic or Overwatch or whatever, and why would they want to fast-forward through what they love? I’m not onboard with that sentiment but I’ve put all plans to revise our fighting rules on hold until the whole video sitch is over.