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Old 11-12-2019, 04:47 PM   #1
Dalin
 
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Default Toning down the grue

One element about DFRPG that occasionally irks me is the gruesomeness of the combat system. I spend a lot of time introducing the game to kids, and the hit location system is quite graphic. It feels harsh to ask my seven-year-old if she is shooting the orc in the eye or the neck. Or for my ten-year-old to consider whether he'd like to cripple the ogre's legs and then back across the room peppering the crawling creature with arrows until it bleeds out. The tactical combat system, of course, encourages that sort of thinking: what's the most efficient method of butchering your opponent?

With my own kids and their friends, I've just dealt with it, either playing down the violence or de-emphasizing the importance of optimal tactics. The benefits of the character generation system still make it worth it, in my eyes, over D&D. Now that I'm hoping to offer a summer camp next year for middle-school students, I'd like to think it through more carefully. I don't love the idea of kids going home to tell their parents that they spent their day decapitating, crippling, and blinding every foe they met.

One option is to simply ignore the hit location system and have all shots be to the torso. That's how my groups mostly played GURPS 3e back in the '90s and nobody clamored for more realism. This simplifies armor, too. This is basically the way my students play in our school club because they don't have enough time to really learn the rules. With the summer camp, I'm hoping to actually fully teach them the game. The downside of removing hit locations entirely is that some foes are designed for hit locations (I'm thinking of you, Peshkali). This might also nerf some professions like the scout.

Another option I've been rolling around in my head is to somehow retool the hit location system to be less explicit. I can't decide what that would look like yet. It seems fun to be able to take penalties to hit for potentially greater damage or other effects. Maybe it's just about describing things differently. A crippling shot to a limb might just be a Charley horse or a stomp on their foot. Not sure how to manage eyes and neck though. Maybe taking the -9 for the eyeshot is doing something so crazy that you stun/distract/enrage your foe into having -1 to attack rolls (i.e., the effect of one eye). Not sure how doing that a second time though would lead to them flailing around blindly.

Have any of you ever taken a stab (ahem) at something like this?
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:18 PM   #2
Turhan's Bey Company
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

I'd do away with hit locations and just treat everything as torso shots.

That said, perhaps I've always run with a different kind of kids, but every early gamer I've ever met, on being introduced into a combat situation, goes for the kill. They often want to go straight for the head and do maximum damage. They may not be bloodthirsty as a matter of course, but when they do get into combat, they don't take half measures. So don't introduce hit locations, but be prepared to trot them out when you're asked for them, because you will.
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:35 PM   #3
DouglasCole
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Can always do something like:

-4 to skill: any injury past armor is tripled
-8 to skill: any injury past armor is quadrupled OR armor is halved

tripling and quadrupling replace any damage type modifiers.

that first one is basically "vitals"
the second one is "pick brain or chinks"

But without the specificity.
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Old 11-12-2019, 06:54 PM   #4
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Interesting post. I imagine that the game's audience doesn't skew so young, and expects the full monty where slashing and bashing are concerned, so I can't fault the design for being what it is.

For the young'uns, though . . . I don't know, I think there's a bit of a mismatch between "let's play a game of hacking at enemies with swords" and "let's not have too much gore". Still, to tone things down a bit, ideas that come to mind are:
  • Don't drop hit locations; as you note, they're important for tactics, and fun for high-skill characters. But drop (or rename) the ruder ones like eyes and groin, and leave out grislier combat effects like dismemberment.
  • Whatever happens rules-wise, avoid gory description of it.
  • Use lots more "foe runs away when at half HP" sort of situations. That's often realistic, is just as fun for the players, and avoid all the corpses and gibs.
  • Similarly, play up pre-fight negotiation and intimidation that avoids bloodshed.
  • I would imagine that all of these concerns and remedies really only matter for flesh-and-blood creatures. "Mom, we chopped the heads off of three evil priests" could raise an eyebrow; "Mom, we shattered a skeleton and disintegrated a ghost" sounds like spookhouse-level fun. For young players, I'd focus on constructs, skellies, slimes, crushrooms, all the monsters that aren't about blood and messy deaths.
  • Side note: Inhuman demons that poof into smoke at -1xHP would be a fine example of the above sort of foe, but mention of demons & devils will rile some parents more than bloody violence will. Whether that's a worry is a matter of knowing your players (and their parents), I suppose.
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Old 11-12-2019, 07:14 PM   #5
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Great ideas. I appreciate the thoughts thus far.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post
Interesting post. I imagine that the game's audience doesn't skew so young, and expects the full monty where slashing and bashing are concerned, so I can't fault the design for being what it is.
I want to clarify that I'm definitely not faulting the design. One of the things I like about DFRPG is that it is clearly written for adults. I've just seen a few scenes in recent games that felt a bit off with my own youngest players and am considering the optics for an official (parents-pay-for-it) school camp.
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Old 11-12-2019, 08:51 PM   #6
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Quote:
Originally Posted by DouglasCole View Post
Can always do something like:

-4 to skill: any injury past armor is tripled
-8 to skill: any injury past armor is quadrupled OR armor is halved

tripling and quadrupling replace any damage type modifiers.

that first one is basically "vitals"
the second one is "pick brain or chinks"

But without the specificity.
I like these... consider them on the "might have to stolen" list.
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Old 11-13-2019, 01:00 AM   #7
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Yes, this is a good discussion with several helpful replies.

I think T-Bone had lots of good guidance on steering fights towards resolutions with less fatalities. I want to call this the A-Team approach. That's the action packed show from the '80s with Mr. T. They reveled in fighting with lots of intimidating military hardware, but no one got killed, just knocked out.

But I also have a related solution.

If you can successfully hit a more difficult location on a foe, he must make a fright check to avoid running or surrendering.

The rationale is that the foe is witnessing your threatening expertise and realizes how close he is to losing his eyes, brains, or guts.

The fright check can be penalized in proportion to the degree of harm that would occur if you actually applied the wounding modifiers.

This could lead to another concept that starts to require a lot of changes to the game: some kind of morale tracking. Maybe characters have a morale supply that can track damage (b-dog likes damage tracks). Attacks could wear down morale instead of gory HP.

This creates a dual damage track. Douglas Cole has a damage supply called Vitality (if I remeber correctly) used in conjunction with physical HP in his Dragon Heresy RPG. So a precedent has already been set for a variety of damage types and tracks.
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Old 11-13-2019, 09:57 AM   #8
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dalin View Post

Another option I've been rolling around in my head is to somehow retool the hit location system to be less explicit.
One option is to look at each monster and decide whether a particular called shot is needed to defeat it – whether because of unusual advantages like Supernatural Durability, special disadvantages, or just high HT and piles of HP that nobody could hack through with anything less than hits to high-value locations. If the creature wouldn't take extra injury from the easiest such location to hit (common with traits such as No Vitals and Homogeneous), move to the next-easiest one. For these monsters, simply rule there's a generic -x to hit, where -x is the penalty for the location. There's no need to describe the details . . . just say that such a fell foe requires seeking a loose scale or other weakness, in the manner of Bard the Bowman.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Turhan's Bey Company View Post

That said, perhaps I've always run with a different kind of kids, but every early gamer I've ever met, on being introduced into a combat situation, goes for the kill. They often want to go straight for the head and do maximum damage. They may not be bloodthirsty as a matter of course, but when they do get into combat, they don't take half measures. So don't introduce hit locations, but be prepared to trot them out when you're asked for them, because you will.
That has been my experience. It may be that all the parents I know are lax, but kids seem to know all about Capcom-style fighting games and even UFC matches, and have no issues with head shots, liver punches, curb stomping, etc.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DouglasCole View Post

Can always do something like:

-4 to skill: any injury past armor is tripled
-8 to skill: any injury past armor is quadrupled OR armor is halved
That's a pretty cool idea. Note that it can be combined with the one I offered above, so that triple damage on a monster with a required -7 to hit calls for -11. This maintains the value of high skill and makes fighters a lot more competitive with casters.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post

For the young'uns, though . . . I don't know, I think there's a bit of a mismatch between "let's play a game of hacking at enemies with swords" and "let's not have too much gore".
I tend to agree.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post

Don't drop hit locations; as you note, they're important for tactics, and fun for high-skill characters. But drop (or rename) the ruder ones like eyes and groin, and leave out grislier combat effects like dismemberment.

Whatever happens rules-wise, avoid gory description of it.
That's the best advice yet: Don't talk gory. Generations of kids have survived fading to black or cutting to James T. Kirk pulling on his boots to sidestep the matter of sex. I'm sure the same is possible with violence. You can have fighting without explicit groin shots and horrible bleeding wounds simply by not using those words.

Whether that's a good idea is off-topic for this forum and perhaps on-topic for a forum about child psychology. It suffices to say that there are those who feel that hiding the consequences of violent actions by, for example, taking the blood and gore away tends to desensitize kids.

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post

Use lots more "foe runs away when at half HP" sort of situations. That's often realistic, is just as fun for the players, and avoid all the corpses and gibs.
Yeah, "And Stay Down!" (Exploits, p. 86) doesn't get a lot of love. I think it's a good, simple, and even realistic rule. Just go through the list of monsters and decide "1-HP tap, major wound, 0 HP, or -1×HP," and also "cower, play dead, flee, or surrender." That gives 16 possible combinations that aren't "scream and bleed out messily."

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post

I would imagine that all of these concerns and remedies really only matter for flesh-and-blood creatures. "Mom, we chopped the heads off of three evil priests" could raise an eyebrow; "Mom, we shattered a skeleton and disintegrated a ghost" sounds like spookhouse-level fun. For young players, I'd focus on constructs, skellies, slimes, crushrooms, all the monsters that aren't about blood and messy deaths.
That, too, is sage advice. Just limiting encounters to monsters in the Construct, Demon, Divine Servitor, Elder Thing, Elemental, Plant, Slime, Spirit, and Undead classes will solve the problem nicely . . . and if the kids come from homes where demons and such aren't a comfortable subject, leave out Demon and Divine Servitor (or rebrand monsters in those classes as belonging to one of the others, probably Elder Thing, Elemental, Spirit, or Undead) . Doing this won't really limit the game that much.

For that matter, it doesn't take much tweaking to use Animal, Faerie, Hybrid, and Mundane monsters that ought to bleed and squeal. Making heavy use of "And Stay Down!" should do it. Using that rule for these monsters but not for the supernatural ones above ought to keep high skill and special abilities useful. And if you want, you can always have the seeming ogres, orcs, tigers, etc. be magical creations summoned by a wizard, and simply go "poof!" and turn into treasure if defeated. Kids used to video games won't even find that odd.
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Old 11-13-2019, 03:22 PM   #9
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

If you're going to be running a game for kids the level of violence is something you'll be accountable for. But when I was in middle school there weren't a lot of movies I watched that didn't feature heads exploding or body parts being lopped off, usually with geysers of gore and chunks of person. I started gaming when I was 10, and while the games weren't detailed in that violence my GM's didn't hesitate to describe the gruesome critical hits. I'd talk to your kid players and find out if they're uncomfortable with the violence before you start dumbing down what they may find the most enjoyable part of the game.

If you want to make that cut just cut out hit locations entirely. It's the cleanest and simplest way to not have to detail limbs being crippled or eyes being stabbed. I wouldn't try to simulate generic critical injuries. That's just being vague about the gruesome parts and kids have enough imagination that that just makes things worse. But keep the difficulty for targeting a weak spot in the armor or unarmored location.
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Old 11-16-2019, 04:37 AM   #10
Anders
 
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Default Re: Toning down the grue

Quote:
Originally Posted by tbone View Post
For the young'uns, though . . . I don't know, I think there's a bit of a mismatch between "let's play a game of hacking at enemies with swords" and "let's not have too much gore". Still, to tone things down a bit, ideas that come to mind are:
  • Don't drop hit locations; as you note, they're important for tactics, and fun for high-skill characters. But drop (or rename) the ruder ones like eyes and groin, and leave out grislier combat effects like dismemberment.
  • Whatever happens rules-wise, avoid gory description of it.
I mean, we live in a world with PG-13 horror and action movies... Just avoid the blood-splattering descriptions and the more questionable adventure locations.
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