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Old 12-17-2014, 04:11 AM   #1
vicky_molokh
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Default Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

Greetings, all!

Started off on a tangent in another thread (quotes and link below), I got wondering: how do people feel about the literal vs. abstract dichotomy of GURPS, particularly in combat?
Of notable examples, I remember a statement that a Step forward and Retreat back within one second doesn't always represent two full steps, but can also represent shifting one's centre of mass into and back out of the enemy-adjacent hex, without significantly moving one's feet. Another one quoted is the (RAW, as per MA127) idea of a Rapid Strike representing a single thrust with a follow-up motion of the blade before pulling it out of the wound, or of stomping and then grinding, or of hitting two targets with a single swipe.

I used to be pretty literalist about combat rules; now I think I'm undecided. I certainly find it pleasant and entertaining to know which rules are in play, so that when my decisions, I know the possible consequences I'm expecting and betting on.

What about you? How do you view the spectrum/dichotomy? Do you have any different opinions about some particular examples of abstraction/literalism? Etc.?

Thanks in advance!

Appendix A: threadbranch that inspired this thread:
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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
As for the difference between step-by-step representation, and how it looks in real combat - well, these things can be quite different. For examples, see Rapid Strike representing thrusting with a blade then twisting it, striking both enemy legs with a single blow, stomping-and-grinding etc. (MA127).
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Originally Posted by Tomsdad View Post
Yeah but those tend to be more about flavour text, rather than actual combat value (IMO some of them make no sense, but lets not go there right now).

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Originally Posted by Tomsdad View Post
And it's meta game one as well. Because people don't complete moving and then then fight, they move and fight at the same time. Now GURPS as a system has to be somewhat step by step just to resolve stuff, but I don't think it best to abuse that. Either way the clarification that facing changes can be taken more freely solves this issue, as does the fact that a CA feint if allowed comes with the CA negatives.
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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
What I often have problem with, is drawing the line between a honest match of Man-To-Man-'Chess', and abuse of the system. Divining that requires knowing RAI, at the very minimum.
On one hand, I want a ruleset that maps mostly 1:1 to descriptions of events. On the other, it has been stated that what descriptively happens can only be interpreted after all the game-mechanical issues have been resolved within a turn sequence.
I remember a clarification that when the first, third and seventh 'shot' in a beam weapon RoF attack hit, that does not necessarily mean on-off-on-off shots, but rather that at some point within those ten shots, three in a row got on-target.

So . . . separate thread about abstraction vs. literal mapping between system and description?
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Cool

I think there's always going to be the competing issue of a playable system that can be followed easily and what would happen in real life in a chaotic everyone going at once combat. For me the best to apply the former with an eye on the latter. Rather than just run the former on the assumption it's also the latter.

So for instance I tend to be careful about rules that hinge on a precise cut off points for actions that can be exploited, because the underpinning ethos of the GURPS combat is while it's completed in a step by step turn based way, it's actually a series of concurrent contiunuums. The example in [Unarmed vs. Knife] thread being when you can and can't change facing, but can for instance leverage a hex of movement (with facing change) of defence response.

IME none of these by themselves ever cause that much of an issue, it when you combine a few of them together you get some pretty odd situations.

Weather this is just clever play within the rules, or gaming reality, is going to come done to that balance I first mentioned. Of course that distinction is going to irrelevant to many genres where the constraints of reality have less bearing (this is a point I should perhaps have made a while back).

But yep happy to discuss that in a different thread some time!
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Old 12-17-2014, 05:32 AM   #2
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

Depends on the circumstance. Some things I take literally, some things the situation dictates, some things I take abstractly.
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Old 12-17-2014, 05:58 AM   #3
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

"playable abstraction"
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Old 12-17-2014, 06:32 AM   #4
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

I prefer GURPS Combat (and GURPS in general) to be as literal as possible, because I find that GURPS is strongest when concrete. When you show people all the rules, they panic because they're used to games like D&D, which are very, very abstract. But when I explain that a player can just describe what she's going to do, and GURPS can cover that, then they relax. Thus, I want the game to resemble that as much as possible.

Granted, you reach a point where such things become impossibly complex, and further realism actually harms my goal, so I do accept some abstraction, but I prefer to keep it to a minimum where possible.
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Old 12-17-2014, 06:34 AM   #5
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

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Originally Posted by Dwarf99 View Post
Depends on the circumstance. Some things I take literally, some things the situation dictates, some things I take abstractly.
Basically this.

IME the difference between the two doesn't come up until you really load up on it.
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Old 12-17-2014, 06:38 AM   #6
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

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Originally Posted by Tomsdad View Post
Basically this.

IME the difference between the two doesn't come up until you really load up on it.
You had a comment on Rapid Strike and other specific examples, right? Back in the other thread. Could you post about them now, please? I'm curious.
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Old 12-17-2014, 06:51 AM   #7
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

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Originally Posted by Mailanka View Post
I prefer GURPS Combat (and GURPS in general) to be as literal as possible, because I find that GURPS is strongest when concrete. When you show people all the rules, they panic because they're used to games like D&D, which are very, very abstract. But when I explain that a player can just describe what she's going to do, and GURPS can cover that, then they relax. Thus, I want the game to resemble that as much as possible.

Granted, you reach a point where such things become impossibly complex, and further realism actually harms my goal, so I do accept some abstraction, but I prefer to keep it to a minimum where possible.
Yeah, combat is one of those literal approaches for me.

On the other hand, I had this RPM idea where I used the Alternate Spaceships rules for buildings to determine Building HP that varied from the Basic Set, then used that determine how much energy RPM Casters could gather. Someone said something about how ST/HP didn't correlate to electrical Kilowatts. My response was generally that was correct, but it did correlate to the maximum amount of wiring in the walls. Abstraction.
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Old 12-17-2014, 01:15 PM   #8
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

It is my opinion that what tabletop roleplaying games are best is at presenting an experience for the players and referee to enjoy. Not storytelling, not wargaming, but rather as a tool for creating a pen & paper virtual reality to experience a variety of interesting situations.

Among the tools that are used to present that experience include things like rules from wargaming, dice, acting. But the fundamental rule that makes it happen is that it is a game where players act as individual characters interacting with a setting where their actions are adjudicated by a human referee.

The rules are a tool in two ways. They convey to the player what is possible and perhaps what is expected about the setting. They are aide to the referee to adjudicate actions.

What many who are involved in tabletop roleplaying miss is that the rules are not point in the way they are in Catan, Munchkin, Axis & Allies, and dozens of other games. The point is to be a character, to interact with the setting, and to have a referee tell you the results of the action.

Rules are important in the same way that genre and setting are important. A set of rules that is liked by groups makes the periodic sessions more enjoyable. A set of rules that effectively addresses the level of detail the group is interested in at that time makes tabletop session more enjoyable.

And that brings me to Literal vs Abstract interpretation of GURPS Combat. GURPS is nice in that you can approach various aspects of the game, particularly combat, at various level of detail and the game works as designed. You could abstractly resolve combat as opposed rolls or you could go the full monty with Martial and all options on. It all works and all you have to do is pick the level of detail that is enjoyable for you and your group.

The question that any group should ask themselves is what rules will effectively address the resolution of our characters actions at the level of detail we want as a group.

As it is a preference issue there is no right or wrong answer as to works for a particular group of individuals. And also because preferences changes over time, it needs to be revisited periodically to see if everything still working. Note nothing formal needs to be done, just everybody be aware of how the group is enjoying the game and speak up if you think something needs to be talked about.

I personally prefer a more detailed approach where the mechanics map to what the character to on a one for one basis. However I don't want a ton of modifier or condition to look and remember. I will gladly sacrifice the last bit of detail for playbility. It is enough that I know how to adjudicate a disarm, or somebody trying to tackle an opponent, with a few general modifiers to handle the occasional advantageous and disadvantageous situations.

I prefer this because it fits with the way I seen players describe their character's actions through my thirty years of referee tabletop even when playing game with more abstract combat like Dungeons and Dragons.

It is rare when I get a player who just goes "I whack the orc with my swords" all the time. They generally look at situation and take it into account. "I keep the cabinet between me and the orc with bow as I try to hit the other orc with my sword." is type of usual type of action description I get.

Last I despise metagame mechanics; fate points, whimsy cards, narrative mechanics, the part of GURPS luck advantage that has me looking at the wall clock occasionally, etc. I strongly feel that any mechanics that forces you to think as a player and not as your character distracts from the experience that being presented.

But that is my situation and even after 30 years of playing and refereeing I only barely scratched the variety that is possible with tabletop roleplaying.

Yours may differ, the trick to learn how to figure out what a particular groups like and then apply it to future campaigns and new people. Along with figuring out the right balance between detail and playbility.
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Old 12-17-2014, 01:21 PM   #9
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

I like to keep things simple, so I usually abstract a lot of things into simpler versions.

I have on my weapons table a single type of combat knife ("Dagger", or GURPS Large Knife), one short sword (no separate entries for cutlasses or falshions), one broadsword (the "Arming Sword" or GURPS Thrusting Broadsword), one fencing sword (edged rapier), one hand-and-a-half sword (longsword instead of katana or bastard sword), and one two-handed sword. I don't use hit location rules or piecemeal armor, and if I were to introduce the former I would still forbid the latter. I only have max damage critical hits rather than the random critical hit results table. I ignore Major Wounds, Mortal Wounds, Knockdown, and any other rules that don't feel immediately obvious, intuitive, and easy to remember for me and my simple-minded ways.

And still I love GURPS combat for how concrete things feel. Small HP pools, armor-as-DR, Active Defenses, and HT rolls to remain conscious/alive feel both more realistic and more engaging than a large HP pool that represents durability, dodging, and luck coupled with Armor Class as an abstaction including both armor and dodging.
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Old 12-17-2014, 01:35 PM   #10
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Default Re: Literal vs. Abstract interpretation of GURPS combat and other things

It's not an either-or question, but one of scale.

Like any simulation, it's literal only down to a certain level of resolution, in this case that roughly 1 sec / 1 yard scale. Below that, it doesn't make sense to try and literally interpret the macro-scale Maneuvers as centimeter-by-centimeter and millisecond-by-millisecond motions. That's below the resolution. It'd be like complaining that a weather prediction model was incorrect because there aren't any binary digits being added and subtracted in the atmosphere, and deciding that the concepts that are modeled, like "precipitation" and "temperature", are thus arbitrary abstractions with no real-world correlates.

Sequence is even more abstract than time/space in the GURPS system, as it explicitly claims to be trying to model continuous and simultaneous action. So, questions about exactly what happened first below the scale of a round (that is, turn-to-turn between combatants) are even less precisely spelled out sequentially, step-by-step, than are the turn-to-turn actions of a single combatant relative to themselves. But sequence above that scale, round-to-round, spans of several seconds, are literal enough.
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