This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.
The message boards have been upgraded. Please log in to your existing account by clicking here. It will ask twice, so that it can properly update your password and login information. If it has trouble recognizing your password, click the 'Forgot your password?' link to reset it with a new password sent to your email address on file.

Author Topic: Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs  (Read 6449 times)

Alexander Kalinowski

  • Dark God
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 624
    • View Profile
    • http://www.knightsoftheblacklily.com/
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« on: February 08, 2019, 06:50:38 PM »
CAVEAT: The below is primarily aimed at traditional games with 3 to 6 second rounds. If you have a different round length, this does not necessarily apply. And if you're playing games with more abstract or narrative mechanics, these observations might be less interesting mechanically but in making your narrations more closely aligned with the visual story-telling of cinematic fights.

In spite of many games' promises, combat in RPGs often does not feel all that cinematic. One situation in which this becomes apparent in RPG rulesets are 'One-vs-Many' combat situations. The default solution in role-playing games -round robin-style attacks by the outnumbering force (since everyone can attack once per round)- is boardgame-like and does not correspond to the observable combat dynamics in most choreographed combats. In the worst case scenario, things even turn unheroic: when the last bandit, beset from all sides by PCs, finally collapses under a hail of strikes. This is hardly evocative of glorious movie combat.

So, what's the situation like in movies and TV shows instead?

Unless one of the 'heroes' can be bothered to confront the final enemy alone in an honorable mano-a-mano duel, by no means all members of the outnumbering force each attack in every round. Usually, any given number of them may hesitate instead - or end up being temporarily blocked by their own allies.

One example is the following from HBO's Game of Thrones:



Also, there is this scene from LotR:


And in this scene from Conan the Barbarian simultaneous or coordinated attacks by the outnumbering side remain rare as well:



Reviewing the above scenes, we got to ask ourselves: is the standard RPG approach of round robin attacks really the proper approach to simulating movie fights? Based on the evidence (and many, many more scenes can be drawn on to confirm that this is, in fact, typical), the answer is probably 'no.'

Bridging this gulf between film and RPGs obviously requires that not every outnumbering force member gets to attack the single combatant in every round - only a subset (minimum: 1) may do so. Of course several other aspects concerning this situation need to be observed (who can attack and parry how often, how does withdrawal from combat work, etc), however the central element for delivering truly cinematic battles here lies in abandoning the concept of 'attacks for everyone in each round.'

Can't we just simulate all of that by applying a negative modifier to attack rolls?
Probably not a good solution, even if it's simpler and faster. Anecdotal evidence teaches that most GMs and players do not interpret failed attack rolls as hesitating or obstruction by allies - but as striking at the enemy and missing ('whiff') - which once again bestows a boardgame-like feel to dynamics of combat. It might be faster but it's just not evocative of cinema action.

What do you think?
Author of the Knights of the Black Lily RPG, a game of sexy black fantasy.
Setting: Ilethra, a fantasy continent ruled over by exclusively spiteful and bored gods who play with mortals for their sport.
System: Faithful fantasy genre simulation. Bell-curved d100 as a core mechanic. Action economy based on interruptability. Cinematic attack sequences in melee. Fortune Points tied to scenario endgame stakes. Challenge-driven Game Design.
The dark gods await.


jhkim

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8207
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #2 on: February 08, 2019, 07:53:47 PM »
S'mon's comments are about D&D - but I think the OP question is more general.

Quote from: Alexander Kalinowski;1074016
Bridging this gulf between film and RPGs obviously requires that not every outnumbering force member gets to attack the single combatant in every round - only a subset (minimum: 1) may do so. Of course several other aspects concerning this situation need to be observed (who can attack and parry how often, how does withdrawal from combat work, etc), however the central element for delivering truly cinematic battles here lies in abandoning the concept of 'attacks for everyone in each round.'

Can't we just simulate all of that by applying a negative modifier to attack rolls?
Probably not a good solution, even if it's simpler and faster. Anecdotal evidence teaches that most GMs and players do not interpret failed attack rolls as hesitating or obstruction by allies - but as striking at the enemy and missing ('whiff') - which once again bestows a boardgame-like feel to dynamics of combat. It might be faster but it's just not evocative of cinema action.

I think the penalty can be flexible here - particularly because cinema does vary. In action films, there is a common sequence where a hero is mobbed by a large number of foes. The hero is lost from sight for a moment, then they surge up and all of the foes are pushed back.

In 3rd edition Hero System, the Ninja Hero supplement suggested a rule of -1 attack roll for each attacker beyond the first. Especially if they were attacking hard-to-hit foe, this could mean that it makes sense for mooks to approach one at a time. Alternatively, they could try all rushing together - in which case they are less effective. It helps if there is a move that lets a skilled hero attack everyone around them at some penalty ("whirlwind attack" or similar).

This also gives attackers good reason to split up and attack all of the opponents. (Using hit point rules, it tends to be better to all concentrate on a single opponent until they are down and then move on to another.)

BedrockBrendan

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 12366
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #3 on: February 08, 2019, 08:27:13 PM »
The closest I've gotten to this is using free form initiative, where you speak, you act. Basically it isn't all that different from out of combat stuff that happens. But it can break down if the players feel awkward engaging in this way (if someone is too reticent, if people develop a chaotic rhythm, etc). When it works, it works. But I think standard initiative systems are just so much easier on most days of the week.

JeremyR

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1684
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2019, 11:30:50 PM »
This sounds like it's built upon two questionable premises.

Do RPGs strive to reproduce "cinematic" combat (which is after all scripted and choreographed)?

And do all RPGs let all opponents attack at once? Even theatre of the mind ones limit the number of attacks to those that can plausibly make an attack.
http://osrnews.blogspot.com/ All the news about OSR products I can scrape up, including a weekly roundup of new OSR stuff at RPGNow

mAcular Chaotic

  • All Evils of this World
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2033
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #5 on: February 09, 2019, 12:16:18 AM »
I use "swarms" for this kind of effect and then just narrate the swarm as if it's made up of individual enemies getting KO'd by attacks.
Battle doesn't need a purpose; the battle is its own purpose. You don't ask why a plague spreads or a field burns. Don't ask why I fight.

Kyle Aaron

  • high-minded hack
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8813
    • View Profile
    • http://www.athleticclubeast.com.au
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2019, 01:57:50 AM »
Of course there is the old rule that an X level fighter gets X attacks per round against 0-level foes... So for example in many movies we get the thing of the Hero and the Villain casually hacking their way across a battlefield to get to each-other to duel. If they are both (for example) 3rd level fighters and everyone else is a 0-level man-at-arms (or 1-1HD humanoid, etc) this works fairly well.

Now, with multiple attacks vs <1HD creatures, are we to suppose that the fighter suddenly becomes faster? It makes more sense to suppose that... the foes hesitate before the might of the fighter.

And there were surprise rules, too, where one side could end up standing helplessly for a number of combat rounds (or segments) while the other lot pounded them. "Surprise" was not necessarily an ambush situation, it was quite possible to just walk in the room and for one side not to be ready to fight at that instant, to mill about in confusion for a bit. If you do surprise for each combatant separately, then this can explain things a bit, too.

As usual with such things, looking back to the earlier versions of the games is instructive.
« Last Edit: February 09, 2019, 02:12:14 AM by Kyle Aaron »
GAMERS rpg

One of the great virtues of the dice is that they do not come with boxed text.

"Don't let yourself get too worried about all this talk about roleplaying [...] the ultimate object of all this is for everyone to have fun, not to recreate some form of high dramatic art." - Dungeoneer

jhkim

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 8207
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #7 on: February 09, 2019, 02:30:39 AM »
Quote from: JeremyR;1074048
This sounds like it's built upon two questionable premises.

Do RPGs strive to reproduce "cinematic" combat (which is after all scripted and choreographed)?

And do all RPGs let all opponents attack at once? Even theatre of the mind ones limit the number of attacks to those that can plausibly make an attack.

I read it as "I'd like to do cinematic combat in an RPG - what are good ways to achieve that" rather than "All RPGs should be like X".  Looking back, I can see reading the OP as "all RPGs should be cinematic" - but that's a dumb point, and the former is more interesting.

Just to be clear, though, not all RPGs should have cinematic combat.

S'mon

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 11464
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #8 on: February 09, 2019, 02:56:42 AM »
Quote from: jhkim;1074026
S'mon's comments are about D&D - but I think the OP question is more general.

Well it was ENW. :)

I address a couple other systems later - http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?656624-Observations-on-matching-quot-One-vs-Many-quot-combat-mechanics-to-cinematic-combat&p=7556659&viewfull=1#post7556659

Alexander Kalinowski

  • Dark God
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 624
    • View Profile
    • http://www.knightsoftheblacklily.com/
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #9 on: February 09, 2019, 03:38:40 AM »
Quote from: S'mon;1074017
I think my comments here stand. :p
I remembered your name. ;) But did you see the companion thread,as well: https://forum.rpg.net/index.php?threads/attack-sequences-further-considerations-for-cinematic-fantasy-combat-potential-spoilers.841316/page-2?
If you could reply to that thread and bump it for me, it would be very much appreciated. I'll post it here sometime soon as well to see what people here think.

That being said, I've had further discussions in other forums and more time for reflection, so the debate evolved a bit. Here's where I am currently add:
The question to me is what combat mechanics are just evocative enough (that also goes for the new thread above). By which I mean: sometimes a GM doesn't have to narrate much to convey how cool a combat event is. Example: you roll in Hârnmaster a head hit against a major enemy and the hit resolution determines he dies (possibly even due to head amputation). When a player rolls that result and the dice confirm the head goes off, this automatically creates some kind of epic badass imagery in the head of the players. It all originates from the pure dice rolling and the GM rather is facing the threat of over-narrating here. Like in literature, too much narrated detail might be counter-productive.

This line of thought applied to the subject of cinematic "One v Many" means to me that the usual model of round-robin attacks by all "outnumberers" every round does not create the right imagery on its own at all. You have to  make the conscious effort of creating a more cinematic interpretation because the natural and lazy imagery it evokes is 4 people statically standing around a poor guy and beating on him from all sides. That dice mechanic isn't very evocative of cinematic combat.

On the other hand, if only a random (and changing!) subset of all outnumberers gets to attack each round, it creates a more dynamic mental imagery of battle on its own. Some attackers possibly don't get to attack because they're being outmaneuvered by the single fighter, some hesitate or might tie their shoelaces - or whatever.

And, yes, cinematic combat is choreographed. But that does not necessarily mean we cannot deduce combat dynamics common to various fights in cinema and TV - and try to recreate them if we want our combats in games to be more cinematic.
« Last Edit: March 24, 2019, 02:45:58 PM by Alexander Kalinowski »
Author of the Knights of the Black Lily RPG, a game of sexy black fantasy.
Setting: Ilethra, a fantasy continent ruled over by exclusively spiteful and bored gods who play with mortals for their sport.
System: Faithful fantasy genre simulation. Bell-curved d100 as a core mechanic. Action economy based on interruptability. Cinematic attack sequences in melee. Fortune Points tied to scenario endgame stakes. Challenge-driven Game Design.
The dark gods await.

S'mon

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 11464
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #10 on: February 09, 2019, 08:33:28 AM »
There are systems like 4e dnd that encourage movement every round. In the Conan orgy scene arguably it's a case of fast acting pcs and staggered reinforcements coming in. Also an initial surprise round. The guards have trouble locating and getting to the pcs in the complex environment with drugged revellers and lots of terrain. Even the two bbegs aren't really ready for a fight.

It works great in context. As does the Battle of the Mounds where the pcs work hard to split up the attackers and stop them concentrating forces. Like I said this is different from mobs just standing there while heroes cleave through them.

spon

  • Sr. Member
  • ****
  • Posts: 284
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #11 on: February 09, 2019, 11:21:59 AM »
Thing is, early RPGs were based on wargames, not films. So things like armour type, weapon used and morale were considered important, whereas recreating action film "coolness" wasn't. The newer RPGs try to have more cinematic action, not sure whether they succeed though as they are trying to "simulate" combat, not films about combat.  Maybe Feng Shui captured the essence of cinematic action? I know it tried to, but I never actually played a game!
More modern games (Pbta games , for instance) put job onto the GM (and the players to some extent) to be as cinematic as they wish. But it's not baked into the system, it's left to the players to describe their successes/failures/partial failures in the game and the GM to manage the game in such a way as to encourage cinematic action.

Alexander Kalinowski

  • Dark God
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 624
    • View Profile
    • http://www.knightsoftheblacklily.com/
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #12 on: February 09, 2019, 11:40:47 AM »
Quote from: JeremyR;1074048
Do RPGs strive to reproduce "cinematic" combat (which is after all scripted and choreographed)?
And do all RPGs let all opponents attack at once? Even theatre of the mind ones limit the number of attacks to those that can plausibly make an attack.


Well, yes, these are the questions with which to begin:
Not all RPGs strive to do that. But for at least 20 years I have heard various publishers advertise their games as having cinematic combat rules. And there is no shortage of gamers on the internet inquiring about such systems in various places. Not to mention countless of RPGs based on movie or TV show IPs. So it's probably a legitimate question that affects either game design and/or GM narration.
And various rulesets surely have different rules. Round-robin style attacks each round from anyone in threat range (in initiative order) is probably the de facto standard in trad games though.


Quote from: jhkim;1074026

In 3rd edition Hero System, the Ninja Hero supplement suggested a rule of -1 attack roll for each attacker beyond the first. [...] This also gives attackers good reason to split up and attack all of the opponents.


Sure. But it renders the combat still static, mental imagery-wise. A few more examples how dynamic things should be,

This one is very fluid. The King's men almost never get to attack in parallel:



And here the protagonists don't all attack simultaneously either (just as in the OP Thorgrim and Rexor hardly attack Conan simulataneously and in a coordinated fashion):



Sometimes all outnumberers do get to attack at once here (but then later one of them is completely blocked for more than 5 seconds):



If people prefer the simplicity of modifying the attack roll, more power to them. Personally, it's a dissatisfying solution for me for all the reasons mentioned.



Quote from: mAcular Chaotic;1074051
I use "swarms" for this kind of effect and then just narrate the swarm as if it's made up of individual enemies getting KO'd by attacks.

Swarms or hordes are good rules. However, some of the above videos seem to suggest to me that even non-mooks are prone to getting blocked by an ally or straight hesitation. It's not just limited to Orc #46, I think.


Quote from: S'mon;1074074
There are systems like 4e dnd that encourage movement every round.

I don't think the Ringwraiths were split nor the Game of Thrones party going beyond the wall. In the scene in which Yoren dies you can see Lannister mooks standing 2 steps back, doing nothing:

Author of the Knights of the Black Lily RPG, a game of sexy black fantasy.
Setting: Ilethra, a fantasy continent ruled over by exclusively spiteful and bored gods who play with mortals for their sport.
System: Faithful fantasy genre simulation. Bell-curved d100 as a core mechanic. Action economy based on interruptability. Cinematic attack sequences in melee. Fortune Points tied to scenario endgame stakes. Challenge-driven Game Design.
The dark gods await.

capvideo

  • Newbie
  • *
  • Posts: 15
    • View Profile
    • http://www.godsmonsters.com/
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #13 on: February 09, 2019, 12:04:36 PM »
I generally handle this by allowing both PCs and opponents to combine into a group effort, like a swarm, although mostly it is only used for their opponents. I mainly made it up to make things easier for me, but also to make PCs fighting hordes more interesting. The basic rule is that if 2, 4, 8, 16, etc., opponents combine into a group effort they gain a bonus of 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. This bonus applies to attack rolls, AC, saves, and increases the number of attacks per round by the bonus. It also increases hit points by the bonus times whatever the median hit points are, and increases movement by the median movement. All of this makes it easier to handle a larger group that can spread over a wider area, can't focus all attacks on one target but can move in and out so that the opponent hit one round isn't the opponent hit the next, and so on.

PCs don't usually do this as they are more effective on their own, but they can use it if they're leading, say, a unit in an army.

That said, I cringe when I hear words like "recreate" used to describe RPGs in comparison to movies, tv, books. Unless there's a director and writer controlling both the opponents and the PCs, recreating is going to be counterproductive to fun and interesting.

S'mon

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 11464
    • View Profile
Cinematic Combat: One-versus-Many in Film and RPGs
« Reply #14 on: February 09, 2019, 12:19:15 PM »
Re death of Yoren scene, that reminded me of schoolyard fighting as a child. I remember facing off vs a gang and going for the leader - and as hoped, the 'mooks' actually did just stand there watching while we fought. :)