Blogging Wheel: FONFLIFF!

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(10 bonus points if you get the reference in the subject line)

A few quick words about the Duel of Wits and combat systems in BW. To bottom-line it for you: me likey.

But it’s definitely not traditional. See, each round (called “exchanges” here) is comprised of 3 “volleys.” In each of those volleys, you have a set list of maneuvers you can take. For Duel of Wits it’s things like “Avoid the Topic” or “Obfuscate” or “Rebuttal.” For combat it’s “Disarm,” “Push,” “Strike” etc. Everybody involved picks what actions they do in each of the volleys, then they reveal them one volley at a time. Certain maneuvers cancel our defend against certain others. If I’ve chosen to “Strike” and you’ve picked “Block” you’re good. If I scripted “Strike” and you scripted “Feint,” bad things happen to both of us as neither of us are really defending.

At first this felt wrong and like it was taking away some of my narrative control of my combat. But really, is it? No moreso than 4e or any other game with specific combat actions like Grab, Bull Rush, or the like. It’s kind of more board-gamey feeling but that doesn’t bother me.

What’s tricky here is keeping track of all the maneuvers and their relationship to each other.  I mean, there’s 12 different combat maneuvers which, if my math is right, means something like 563 different possible outcomes! Fortunately there’s a download on the Burning Wheel website (hmm, seems to be entirely taken over by stuff about a Burning Empires/Iron Empires product today. Well, all downloads are here) that gives you that grid. Without it I’d never even try to play this game. There’s one for the Duel of Wits as well, which admittedly has fewer maneuvers but is still a little rough to get the brain around.

The only complaint I’d have here is that in fiction you read all the time about how the better swordsman can read his opponent and act accordingly. Here, you’re more or less just shooting in the dark. There must be some way of accounting for that but I’m not seeing it (due possibly to sleepiness and/or scotch). It probably washes out in the tests, where somebody with 6 or7D in the relevant weapony skills will just beat a 2 or 3D flunky most every time barring incredible luck but it would be good to have something where master swordsmen could change their declared maneuver after seeing what their opponent had declared.

There’s other stuff in the combat system as well that I don’t dig as much. I frankly do not get the ranged weapons stuff on a first read-through, and the weapon damage system is clunky. I think it could be streamlined or lightened a bit more and it would hold up just fine. Maybe that’s what happened for Mouse Guard, which I think I’m going to read next.

But yeah, I really want to kick the tires on this scripted conflict thing. It was the thing I wasn’t sure about from the game of Burning Empires I played at Origins last year but now reading through how it works and getting a chance to think about it more I think it’s a neat innovation that can bring some good tension to the table.

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9 Responses to “Blogging Wheel: FONFLIFF!”

  1. Bryant Says:

    My big concern about the scripted system is that it’ll hurt immersion, but I do OK with 4e dailies and such, so maybe not. I’d try it.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      My memory is that the bit where you’re trying to outguess your opponent and choosing the right maneuver to use was pretty immersion breaking, but mainly because I had to read over this hella big chart and had no idea what these things all meant. I imagine after playing the game for a while it becomes faster and second nature. The actual revealing bit was no more immersion breaking than any other kind of combat system I’ve encountered.

  2. Rob MacD Says:

    Maybe you get to know the grid and a couple of signature patterns for your guy? “Lothar loves to feint-feint-strike but he’ll throw in a strike-block-strike when he’s feeling cocky.”

  3. John O'Brien Says:

    It sounds kind of like the very cool and super streamlined ‘Castle Falkenstein’ duelling rules… but instead of three narratively free-form actions (attack, defense, and rest), it’s been over-complicated and pigeonholed with this laundry list of specific maneuvers.

  4. Jeffwik Says:

    It’s a system that I’ve wanted to try playing around with, several times almost getting the wherewithal to pull some other people in and try an evening of things, but never quite managed.

    • Christopher Tatro Says:

      Maybe one of us should try to throw together a one-shot this summer before you leave. I’d be down for that.
      Thanks again for the loan of the books for this! I’ll likely pick up my own copies next time I’m at Pandemonium and they don’t have something shiny like, say, the new Eberron book to distract me.

  5. Ivan Says:

    I’m planning to run a one-shot at GenCon if any of the Circus makes it down.

  6. Planning Ahead « Claw/Claw/Peck Says:

    […] and the scripted combat thing rubs me the wrong way (although interestingly, I read back to my Blogging Wheel posts and I was much more positive about it. Am I judging too harshly?). I really love the lifepath […]

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