Saturday, July 30, 2011

RPGs and real world fights

Warning this post could be stupid and in poor taste as I am discussing real world events and relating them to game play. I don't want anyone to think I'm minimizing the danger and stupidity of actually fighting.

Along with a host of other topics I've been wrestling with unarmed combat (pardon the pun) lately. From limited experience I just don't think any games I know of stack up and provide a rules framework that would allow some of the fights I've actually been in to happen as they did.

Here's four real-world fights I've been in, all over 20 years ago.

#1. In a stupid street squabble I'm hit in the head with a baseball bat, it hurt like hell. My attacker swings while I'm backing away and I grab the bat and pull it out of his hands, I wave it menacingly (all I could manage) and my attacker flees. Fight Over.

#2. A fight with a larger foe, a couple of punches are exchanged, he grabs me and I manage to leverage him up against the wall and proceed to knee him in the groin rapidly a number of times, I'm grabbed from behind I let go of the larger guy who slips to the ground and I grab the unknown assailants wrist, strike the arm closer to his body with other hand and grasp, twist with both hands and push him away. Fight over. I walk away, one person had dislocated arm the other had to be helped up.

#3. In another fight I'm lifted off the ground and slammed against a wall, my feet are dangling and I'm am not getting free. The other guys hand is back by his ear and bam he hit me and all of a sudden his hand is back by his ear and I'm hit again. Surprisingly enough, he's not hurting me much I start laughing (it was absurd being helpless but not really getting hurt) and he proceeds to pound me until either he got bored or his arm got tired, all I was doing was very occasionally partially blocking a blow by sheer luck as his blows were so fast. Fight over. We both walk away.

#4. Two guys standing next to each other block my progress while I'm walking and start giving me crap, one has baseball bat and gestures with it in a threatening fashion. I punch his companion in the throat as hard as I can , grab him with both hands while moving so he is between me and guy with bat and slam him twice into the other guy before pushing him and running away. Fight Over. Two guys fumbling over each other trying to stand up and me running.

So how the heck would these fights be modeled in an RPG?

In all the fights above everyone would be zero level in D&D terms. If anyone had more than say 4 or 5 hp it wasn't me. The only thing exceptional about these fights are none of them went to the ground, probably because they weren't even/fair fights and I was most certainly disadvantaged in all of them unarmed in #1, smaller in #2, weaker and slower in #3, outnumbered and unarmed in #4. Not one of these fights was very long I think #3 was the only one that may have been a minute of actual blows being exchanged as I cleverly beat the other guys fist with my face.

#1. Attacker attack roll. Hit. Target Dazed.
Defender withdraws/dodges possibly avoiding a blow.
Attacker attack roll. Miss. Defender disarms attacker.
Defender postures.
Attacker fails morale check and flees.
That might do it but no free attack of note while defender withdraws and the disarm was quick and no attack of opportunity was conducted in the attempt.

#2. A series of blows are exchanged blows land but nothing substantial. hits and no tellign damage.
Larger Combatant grabs smaller combatant. Easy grab, no chance to escape.
Smaller Combatant held by larger combatant pivots and Larger combatant is backed against wall. Bad tactical decission on part of larger guy, smaller guy thinking faster?
Smaller combatant moves in closer and proceeds to deliver multiple successful blows to a very sensitive location. Auto hits and nonlethal but noticeable impact.
Unknown Assailant attacks smaller guy from behind grabbing him. Auto hit.
Smaller combatant executes a move that disables unknown assailant. Attack roll and combat maneuver?
Smaller combatant leaves.

#3. Larger guy grabs smaller guy. Auto hit.
Smaller guy pinned. No escape roll for smaller guy.
Larger guys strikes smaller guy many times no effective defense if offered but no significant damage is inflicted on smaller guy.
Larger guy gets bored, shows mercy, has a tired arm and drops smaller guy.
Fight is over, both walk away.

#4. two men, one armed threaten lone unarmed man.
lone unarmed man strikes unarmed threat with a decisive blow incapacitating foe almost immediately. Surprise Achieved? Or Just initiative? Critical hit?
Lone guy moves to shield himself from armed guy with unarmed guy. A shift?
Lone guy slams unarmed guy into armed guy. STR roll and hit roll?
Lone guys pushes unarmed guy into armed guy both fall over. Hit roll and targets knocked prone?
Lone guy runs like hell while two aggressors fumble about trying to stand up.
Fight over.

I think I suffered a little hearing loss from fight #1 that is manifesting itself now many years later and the unknown assailant in fight #2 got a dislocated arm. In all these fights those involved either walked away or ran away.

I don't know of a single combat system that could handle all 4 of those brief conflicts in a meaningful manner. Does anyone?

Disclaimer/Reality Check:
I'm not recommending any macho B.S. here either, run away if you can at first (unless someone else would be put in danger) and everything you do if you can't run away should be to set up your escape so you can run away. I'm offering these as examples of fights I reality checked by unfortunately being in them. Real fighting is dangerous, painful and stupid that's why I like to pretend fight with dice and toy soldiers and maybe with goofy padded weapons once in a while.


  1. That's why I dig the abstract nature of OD&D-esque combat; you can interpret in many ways.

  2. Also, my experience with street fights has me pretty dubious regarding the precision ballet of 3E/4E combat; not chaotic enough!

  3. GURPS Martial Arts, with it's 1 second combat rounds and maneuvers like feints and throwing people around and such was designed to be able to model some of that type of grappling combat. It's been a decade or so since I looked at it though.

  4. Yeah, I pretty much agree with both of the above commenters, but I'd point out the way you asked the question: "I don't know of a single combat system that could handle all 4 of those brief conflicts in a meaningful manner. Does anyone?" (Emphasis added.) It all depends on how the players define "meaningful"; what's meaningful to some is irrelevant or even counterproductive to others, and there's no system that can handle every possible kind of meaning simultaneously.

    Systems like GURPS focus on the outcome of individual actions as "meaningful". It can't model every possible individual action, and gets bogged down if it tries to model too many, but for those interested in blow-by-blow description and willing to gloss over some of the intangibles, it will work reasonably well for 90% of the purely physical events and behavior in your examples. I would say it wouldn't handle the ending to #1 all that well, though.

    Original D&D, in contrast, doesn't have "to hit" rolls or model individual actions; instead, it has rolls to see if one of an attacker's actions that round was potentially deadly, followed by a damage/hit points comparison to see if it really was deadly. It places a higher emphasis on morale rolls. So, incident #1 works out to a single round combat: successful attack with bat, followed by successful disarm, which triggers a morale roll that fails. The attacker's second "attack" and your menacing stance aren't handled as rolls, because OD&D doesn't model individual actions; instead, they're descriptive embellishments of your successful attack to disarm.