Attacking defense | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

Attacking defense

Defense has always been an important factor in rpgs... passive defense anyhow. Active defense, meanwhile, is something I think has been tossed aside. Although it remains a part of many rpgs, it's usefullness is questionable. The situations in which you can win by using an active defense (counter-attacking exluded) is rare, to say the least. However, it isn't exactly the fault of defense... it's the fault of offense.

Generally, an rpg will have 1 way to defeat an enemy and 1 alternative. Hitpoints are usually that way (wound levels have the same problem). The alternative is going to be magic and is represented by a death attack causing the instant defeat of an enemy. In such cases, active defense isn't practical. It isn't practical because your opponent isn't going to run out of attacks (also magic usually has no active defense, a whole different can of beans). If your opponent can attack for 1000 straight rounds in combat, that diminishes many of the uses for an active defense.

The solution is simple, right? Limit the amount of times an opponent can attack and you increase the value of active defense manyfold. In theory, it may be simple, but in practice it does take quite a bit of balancing to become effective. The last thing you want is the game to turn from a "wailing-on-each-other" fest into a "defend-until-someone-gets-bored-and-attacks" fest. You also don't want it to take a lot of time to keep track of things, have too many things to keep track of, or to make senseless restrictions. At the same time, it's nice to keep the metagaming opportunities to the minimum and allow the player to know when an enemy is using defense.

I think all of the effort it might take would be worth the end result. Active defense plays too little of a role, for me, in the rpgs I play. It's another way of empowering the players as well. Nothing screams freedom like giving up your attack to not die.


Bwian said...

Hero Systems again?

In that system you can abort your action to Dodge, which makes you much harder to hit.

But some characters get actions more often than others do. This often is enough to avoid stalemate in itself.

On top of that, attacking usually costs lots more ENDurance points than does dodging. Most characters can only make a limited number of full strength attacks before being worn out.

So you can wear your opponent down without attacking at all - if you are skillful enough.



KingSpoom said...

I haven't played heroes in a while, isn't there a way to easily counteract dodging? For example, in Gurps (probably the system I was thinking of when I wrote the post), you can take a penalty to your attack score to give the enemy a penalty to dodge.

I've never actually encountered an enemy where the day was won by dodging everything he had until he had no more. I'm sure it's happened before, but not that much.

The hero system takes a step in the right direction, I think, but it's not exactly right (for me anyhow).

Bwian said...

I'm not sure about the later editions of Hero Systems. In the early editions there were a few ways which all basically reduced to using an area effect attack of some sort.

However, if you declared one of those, the target could abort to Dive for Cover instead, which was even better, if anything.

Since both options are reactions to a declared attack, they're pretty hard to avoid. If you've got a high enough OCV you can still hit them... but one has always had to apply campaign guidelines for CV and damage levels in those games.

BTW: You didn't "roll to Dodge" in Champions. You declared a Dodge manouevre, which gave you character a big DCV bonus (i.e. effectively gave your opponent a big penalty on her attack roll) - but meant you got no attack roll that phase.

I have played through that particular scenario a couple of times, both in one-on-one combats in superhero settings. But it was certainly a possibility in fantasy settings. This was in the earliest editions where END costs for using STR were higher.

You needed to set it up though (like so much in Hero Systems) - and restrict the dodging characters damage potential.

Sure, its not perfect. Hero Systems is a bit too fiddly for me nowadays - and it always had too many dice.

Cheers Bwian