October 21, 2014

Responding to Comments: Heavy Bows and ST in GURPS

I got a great comment on the Bow ST thing by +Sean Powell, a fellow engineer and archery enthusiast. So I decided to make a post out of my responses to his comments. My responses to his comments will be in blue italics. His stuff is in black bold.

I've only been the occasional GURPS fantasy player (GURPS makes a better superheroes game IMHO and there are plenty of systems for swords and sorcery

This might be the first time I’ve ever heard of GURPS as a preferred system for supers over certainly swords and maybe sorcery!

You got the math right. (Yay math!)

After all the work on The Deadly Spring, I hope I can get E = ½ F^2/K correct. J

It's nice seeing someone use historic data to number-crunch a game for realism. (Yay game realism!)

When I did The Deadly Spring, I researched it somewhere between quite a bit and very heavily. I read scientific papers on bow physics, at least seven or eight books on making and shooting bows of various cultures, as well as empirical trials, such as the much-loved Defense Academy Warbow Trials. I even corresponded over email with one of that study’s authors. I also paid attention – even where I thought the cases were overstated – to the many articles about armor and how it’s impervious to nuclear weapons when made by the proper medieval craftsmen.

OK, I embellish. But between the stories of bows punching through battleship belt armor and someone wearing tin foil mail being impervious to a 200-lb. warbow firing a 1,500-grain arrow, I covered the gamut of bows being the deadliest weapon to not worth using if the other guy is armored at all. I wound up striking a balance that one known armor aficionado mentioned approvingly as a good one: that a strong warbow could punch through moderate mail (DR 3-5 in GURPS terms) some of the time, but not much more. This led to the 130# longbow being pegged at about 1d+1 or so, which would make it fail vs DR 5 and higher. Plate of 1mm (DR2-3) would be vulnerable to strong bows,  but 2mm and higher would basically be nearly impervious, and certainly provide massive protection against even the strongest warbows.

In any case, the fact that we could turn Joules of energy into something that could be calibrated against firearms to some extent (take a 11.43mm bullet like a .45ACP with 475J, basically 2d penetration, and compare with an 11m arrow with 160J, and tell me how any arrow will do more than 2d penetration?) made for a nice well-supported touchstone.

I'm not a terribly strong person being a desk-jockey with arm-chair spread but it takes a fair amount of conditioning for me to maintain strength to draw my bow consistently.

The need for sport-specific exercise, as well as technique, is frequently present in the real world, but hard to model fairly in GURPS. Can be done, though, as I hope my article showed.


Very few other recreational archer I meet can consistently draw my bow even if they are very good shots with lighter bows. (They also think I'm nuts) and the ones who can already shoot ELB or self-bows.

Yeah – I’ve heard too many stories of guys that can bench press 350lbs that can’t draw a 100-lb. bow, even though ST 14 probably accounts for the ability to do both. Again: sport-specific. Pushing vs. either pulling or pull/push. I bet the archer couldn’t press 350 either. Apples and oranges.

Having read the accounts from Crece, Agincort, Poitiers and the Mary rose find along with others I don't think that the Mary rose held an atypical selection of archers.

Me either, but the Mary Rose had a few hundred bows, and there were, what? 5,000 bowmen at Agincourt? So not truly representative. But on the other tentacle, to reach out to the 230yds that was “within bowshot” enough to be militarily significant at Agincourt, you need a strong bow. 

My spreadsheet puts a 130# bow firing a 0.2-lb arrow (about 1,500 grains) with a max range of about 245yards. A 100# bow firing an 1,150-gr arrow will reach to just shy of 230-yards. 

A 915-gr flight arrow would (by the same sheet) reach to about 265 yards, but be basically no threat to anyone on an armored region (I suspect 1d+2(0.5) would be about right for that, good for harassment but not a threat to an armored foe with more than DR 3).

Still, it supports the notion that at least a ST 14 (98-lb) bow would have been somewhere between the minimum and a decent average for the “fire at 230 yards” to have the equivalent meaning as “fire for effect.”

If the Mary Rose held typical archers and the typical archer could pull in the 160-180 lb range then we as modern men are WEAKLINGS! I only know 1 or 2 modern archers who can draw in that range consistently and they aren't really that strong at other tasks. Meanwhile the people I know who are generally strong can span my bow a few times but not hold it without shaking and they aren't capable of drawing the historic draw weights.

I suspect that when you have about 800,000 men available (population of England in 1400 estimated to be about 2.5 million people) getting 5,000 archers that can draw strong bows is not a problem when your national policy reflects the need. That is a very specific kind of strength, and given the “train his grandfather” trope, I suspect that kids started on light bows and drew progressively heavier ones.

The human body is very good at repetitive exercise, and this is the sort of thing that should respond well to modern training methods – if we didn’t care about skeletal deformation and out-of-balance musculo-skeletal development!

It seems the only way to draw and shoot bows in that poundage is to develop a special dedicated set of muscles (not just generally strong) and that set of dedicated muscles comes from a lifetime of bow training.

Yeah, this!

Which leaves us with: Historically the solution may be 'trained strength' even if that does not fit with game mechanics and game balance as easily... BUT you might consider access to certain regional/society/racial perks (Born Welsh or Raised in Mongolia)that could reduce that cost or provide a cumulative bonus if maintaining historical accuracy was very important to you.

Trained ST as it’s given in Technical Grappling and to a lesser extend in The Last Gasp is a full-body strength that is basically the ability to apply leverage, force, and weight dynamically against a resisting opponent. That’s why the +50% (ish) boost to ST requires you to get to DX+10 in order to leverage that.

Drawing a bow is not quite so dynamic. You don’t have to worry about being picked up and thrown suddenly, or doing it on the move. You set up, plunk your arrows into the earth in front of you, and fire one every ten seconds (!) in a lather, rinse, repeat motion, in order to replicate battle tactics (not FRPG fighting!) as described at Agincourt, Crecy, and the like.

As such, the Technique-based logic that makes drawing a heavy bow a matter of fairly mild point expenditure makes sense to me. The ONLY thing it applies to is . . . drawing a heavy bow. Not lifting your friends to safety, climbing walls or a rope, wrestling, or swinging a sword. Nor does it impart hit points. So if all of that is 10 points per level, then the ability to pull a bow of a given power is going to be much less than that. If you can pull a bow but not even carry heavy weights (Lifting ST at 3/level) then at the lowest you’re dealing with about 1/level (a -60% limitation on lifting ST) and at most you’re talking 2/level (-60% on Striking ST).

I like the idea of cancelling skill penalties when drawing heavy bows rather than boosts to ST, though, since it preserves the maximum amount of the RAW and tends to avoid arguments about what else ST might be good for. It’s good for one thing: cancelling penalties. This would include penalties to hold a bow at full draw, though – something that is touched on in The Deadly Spring when it comes to aiming a bow.
(This reminds me of a deleted scene in the movie Gladiator, where the Emporer is monologuing in front of a guy who he’s going to execute, all the while his archers are behind him with shaking arms and full-drawn bows, looking really panicked about it.)

October 20, 2014

Compressing Bow ST into a smaller range

When I wrote The Deadly Spring, I pegged the strongest bow that humans pulled at about 200 pounds draw. I saw lots of bows in history in the 170-190# range, but not much more than about 200#. Mongol composite bows of as much as 165#, the strongest bow on the Mary Rose of about 185#.

OK, that was the strongest bow. Great. Well, if we tag bow draw weight to basic lift, putting a 200# bow drawn to about 30-32" at (Lifting) ST 20 made some degree of sense. Well, if we do that, it naturally puts a ST 10 bow at a factor of 4x less, so a ST 10 bow would be a 50-lb. bow, that is, something eminently suitable for hunting animals.

That all seemed to fall out quite nicely, even putting a 20-lb. kid's bow at ST 6 or so (and ST 8 bow at about 32 lbs, which would be the women's Olympic norm).

Still, that has the interesting and unwanted side effect that to draw what seems to be a moderate power warbow judging (perhaps wrongly) by the samples reconstructed from the Mary Rose (the average was what by this scale would be a ST 17 bow), one has to be extremely strong. ST 17 is 1d+2 thrust and 3d-1 swing as raw damage, so our hero would do 1d+3 imp with a "regular" bow and 3d+1 cut with an axe, or 3d with a broadsword. 

That's serious hurt.

Really? ST 17?

Well, not entirely. The Strongbow perk lets you draw that bow with "only" ST 15 if you have your Bow skill at DX+2. You can also justify 2-3 levels of the perk "Special Exercises: Arm ST" as a dedicated archer. That brings your overall ST requirement down to 4-5 levels below the draw requirement, or ST 12-13.

Not unreasonable, but if we assume that a 175# bow (about ST 19) isn't that rare, it means there were a whole lot of ST 14-15 (plus Strongbow plus special exercises) people were kickin' around England in Ye Merrieye Oldee Tymes.

Shudder.

There are a couple ways to go about this one, though, if you don't care for this outcome.

Strongbow

Not everyone that is good with a bow is good with a really powerful bow. You could be relatively weak but not practiced in the art of, well, pulling really strong springs. It should be possible to be DX+Lots in bow skill but not necessarily be able to pull a hugely powerful bow.
Note: the following options are a bit stream of consciousness, and not ordered by preference. They're just coming out as I type. If this were a published article, I'd pick the best options and cull the rest. 
One possibility is to allow multiple levels of Strongbow. Each point doubles the bonus for getting to DX+2 in Bow. So 5 points would give you +5 to the ST of the bow you can draw at DX+1, and +10 at DX+2. So a ST 10 archer with DX+1 skill could draw a ST 15 (113#) bow, and DX+2 could draw a 200# bow (!).

The downside of this is that for a relatively low cost (DX+2 is 8 points, and 5 points for Strongbow 5) you put a 2d-1 base damage bow in the hands of just about anyone (2d regular bow, 2d+1 longbow).

Of course, that's 2d+1 imp every second or third round. For the same 10 points, your ST 11 guy does 1d+1 cut every round by swinging a shortsword, and 1d+3 cut with an axe. That's not hugely imbalanced, considering ranged attacks require a much higher skill for equal effectiveness.

I suspect allowing just this won't break anything.

Drawing Powerful Bows

There are two mentions of this in the Basic Set, as mentioned here by +Cole Jenkins, and one in Low-Tech on p. 75. This seems to supersede p. B270 but frankly does so in a confusing way due to the problems talked about in Inefficient Springs, below.

So let's use the usual rules for doing things at lower ST than required: -1 skill per -1 ST and a fatigue penalty at the end of the battle. So a ST 12 (reasonable) archer pulling a ST 17 bow will act at -5. But they'll be aiming (+2 or +3 to hit) for at least 2 seconds (an extra +1) and shooting at an area, not a point target. While you might traditionally go for +4 to hit a hex, you might also say that a battle line might be +10 to hit, if you're just launching into a 50yd x 100yd box. So even someone using a bow at DX+2 (call it Bow-12) at 250yds (-13) would be at a net flat skill. Sure, you're not Robin Hood, but Henry V is thought to have had a million arrows on hand with his forces at Agincourt. 

Shoot all you want, miss some, no problem. Just drop an arrow into the box 75% of the time every six seconds or so. 

Inefficient Springs

Drawing an overstrength bow seems like a good idea in GURPS, and if you assume that you can simply pull the thing back to full draw and you just get inaccurate and a bit tired, you're good.

But I suspect that's not how it works. You're as strong as you are, and if you can't exert 145# of force come hell or high water, you can't pull the bow back to full draw. For a basically linear bow, like many self-bows (but not recurves, reflex bows, or compound bows), the linear spring assumption where draw force is a constant times draw length isn't spectacularly awful, and is close to correct.

That means that if F = K x D (K is constnant, D is draw length), then normally you'd put energy into the bow equal to roughly half of F x D, assuming that F is the max force at the full draw.Or F squared divided by K.

But if you're only strong enough to draw the bow halfway back (D/2 and F/2) then you're putting energy into the bow equal to F-squared / 4 K.

So drawing a full-strength bow halfway back is not the same as drawing a bow of appropriate poundage the entire way back. In fact, it's got half the energy, or roughly 70% of the penetrating power (b/c GURPS does penetration with guns as sqrt(KE)).

So if you do (say) 1d+3 with a ST 17 bow at full draw, and 1d+1 with a ST 14 bow at full draw, you will not do 1d+1 with a ST 17 bow being drawn by someone of ST 14 - it should be more like ST 12, for 1d. Probably a nice -1 per die damage penalty would work here. So if you take a very strong bow that you can only pull as ST 12 (1d for a regular bow), you'll hit for 1d-1 instead.

Strongbow II

Another way to go with Strongbow is to treat it like a Technique. You normally take a -1 penalty to skill for every -1 ST you have. Use Strongbow to buy this off.

This would allow a ST 10 person to draw a ST 20 bow at full skill for 10 points, because you're buying off a -10 to skill. This is a restated variation on an idea presented here.

That nicely uses the Technique rules (used for buying off penalties to skill), doesn't require a huge investment in ST other than that required for character concept, but gives a minor cost to pulling a powerful bow. It also decouples skill at hitting point targets with the ability to pull powerful bows - maybe a feature, maybe a bug. If you have ST 12 and 5 points in the Strongbow Technique, you can fire at full skill a bow up to ST 17. Not extra skill, but full skill.

Going Non-Linear on ya

Another way to go would be to consciously couple skill and the ability to draw a powerful bow, such that you could keep archers' ST in the 10-14 range but still hit a ST 18 bow. That would basically allow Strongbow to scale more. +1 to ST for each point of relative skill from DX to DX+3 (say), so that at ST 14 (2x in basic lift) and DX+3 (12 points expended, or +4 lifting ST for bows only) plus the Strongbow perk to represent pulling powerful bows (and what you might get for spending the points in Bow and ST to pull it to begin with) you could basically have a strong guy pulling a 160# bow, or an average one pulling a ST 14 (100#) bow, generally considered an entry-level warbow.

Trained ST

I'd be remiss if I didn't just say "treat Strongbow like Trained ST," which would allow up to +5 to the ST for pulling a bow at DX+10 - but that has the undesirable side-effect that you have to get to DX+10 to pull a heavy bow. 

So anyone that can pull a ST 15 bow with only ST 10 raw has Bow-20? Really?

No. Much as I loves me my Trained ST, this one doesn't work. Or rather, doesn't work as the only solution. This couples well with Strongbow as a perk (see what I did?) for spending the 40 points in skill for getting to DX+10, but not as the only way to get there.

Parting Shot

I think overall I prefer Strongbow II and the extra damage penalty of -1 per die for shooting a bow in excess of what you can draw.  It plays well with the rules, gives an incentive to meet or exceed the ST of a bow you're pulling, and doesn't make archers even yet more painful to play than they already are.

October 18, 2014

Trained ST and drawing bows

I'm actually a bit surprised I didn't do this on Thursday when I talked about Lifting ST and Striking ST and ranged weapons. But it came up tangentially on a thread on the forums about powerful warbows and how pulling a high ST bow couldn't have been that unusual if states could field thousand of archers, and one ship had 200+ bows with draw weights ranging from 100-185#. (That would be the Mary Rose, of course.)

But what about Trained ST?

The concept of Trained ST for bows already exists in a limited form in the form of Strongbow. It's a perk, and you get +1 to your ST at DX+1 and +2 at DX+2.

Trained ST uses this progression (well, that and more) already to extend the bonuses for Wrestling, going up to ST+5, or ST+50% if you like to level things up.

What I'd do is simply eliminate Strongbow, and make your ability to draw a bow follow the fast progression of Trained ST.
Stretton and his 200# bow

So your ST 12 archer could pull a bow of up to ST 17. This is basically "sport-specific ST" and I personally think it's quite realistic.

The use of "Arm ST" to push bow draw weights up might want to be curtailed. Maybe not, though. It's somewhat expensive at 5/level, and does represent a real thing. It's also often capped at 1-3 levels, but it would let you take a ST 10 guy and let him draw a ST 18 bow if you get three levels of Arm ST and are at DX+10.

I'm not sure that's a real problem, though. Yeah, your bow, which can only do damage once ever second-to-sixth turn in any sort of game where Fast-Draw and Quick-Shoot are not options, is your primary attack mode. You've invested (say) 20 points in ST, 40 points in DX, another 40 points for DX+10 in Bow, and 15 points in Arm ST - so you've just spent 115 points for the privilege of drawing a ST 20 bow, which does 2d-1 raw damage. Nice, but not world-shattering.

October 16, 2014

Lifting ST, Striking ST, and ranged weapons

In a recent thread on the SJG Forums, forumite Kenneth Latrans notes he does not like that The Deadly Spring used Lifting ST instead of Striking ST for bows, which he describes as a "striking-related action."

I'll admit I was quite deliberate about putting Lifting ST in place of Striking ST. For real warbows, like the one pictured here (a 170# bow being bent by Joe Gibbs ST 18 by TDS), drawing the bow is a slow pull (though for a 170# bow, that guy pulls it back like it's nothing).

Still . . .

Why I'm wrong

Let's start off with Devil's Advocate on myself. If Kenneth would have said "using Striking ST for damage-related action," I'd probably nod my head and say, "yep, that's a valid game design call."

In GURPS, Lifting ST is the ST you use for encumbrance, which is valuable as heck in the games I've played and GM'd, and at 3/level, is probably worth it even without drawing bows and grappling thrown in.

But "you pay 5/level for the things you need to do damage," which includes firearm ST scores, is a fine game-mechanical rule, internally self-consistent, and a good way to go.

The Basis for Doing What I did

Pulling bows is slow. Grappling can be a lot of steady pressure. Being strong has real merit, and for grappling at least, it's the kind of strength that matters. I know a guy who could defeat my arm bar by simply lifting my entire body off of him with one freakin' arm.

But with drawing a bow over at least a second, that seemed like Lifting ST to me.

Plus, of course, is that Striking ST is 5 points/level, and that +1 to ST gives you +1 swing damage, right off the bat. That's the GURPS currenty: one point of ST gives you an extra point of swing.

For bows, though, and other thrust-based weapons (and that includes Control Points from Technical Grappling), each 3 points get you a half-point of increased damage, so for equal currency, so to speak, it's 6 points per level . . . so swinging with a weapon (striking damage) and shooting with a bow or grappling are about he same. So that works there for me.

Between biomechanics and game mechanics, I like Lifting ST for bows and grappling.

Parting Shot

The middle ground would be interesting though. Striking is a fast twitch, and there are several ranged-weapon related activities that work with Striking ST, the way it's described.

  • Punches and Melee Weapons: Yep. I'd add Trained ST as well, of course.
  • Quick-Shooting Bows: You have to draw and release within one second. This is the opposite of the slowish pull seen when you draw big bows, More like plucking a string, but with 100-200 pounds of force.

This would favor "regular" ST for dungeoneers, for example. You'd want lifting, grappling, swinging, and quick-shooting. That says "Striking ST" for me. But if you had a bunch of extra Lifting ST and wanted to take a Ready maneuver to pull the bow instead of a Quick-Draw, you could combine that with whatever other perks and Trained X abilities you wanted. Slow and heavy, or fast. Or just by regular ST and have at.

October 14, 2014

Bad Guy Characterization 3: The character of pure evil

+Aaron McLin made a comment on my previous post noting that if you actually have (say) a plane of elemental evil, where evil is a real, tangible thing, then working through the "they don't think it's evil" thing doesn't work. From the comment feed on G+ Tabletop RPGs:
That, I think, depends on how you want to set up good and evil in your world. In my game world, evil people understand themselves to be evil, because they deliberately set out to be that way. But I'm also working under the idea that good and evil are objective moral stances, rather than tactical considerations. Which is something that one can do in a purely fictional world. - Aaron McLin
Quite.

I still think there's room for my characterization, though, with a slight modification: that the "bad guys" must basically be able to self-justify what they do. If Evil is their thing, then they'll be happy doing it, keep doing it, and be easily motivated - "It's what I do, Mr. Prichard."

This isn't some deeply psychological angst thing. Critters do what they're motivated and rewarded for doing if they can. If there is a deep conflict within or without about what they're doing, it'll stop absent an external force.

So let's look at Evil as an objective moral stance.

Evil by the Numbers

Looking at the key questions posed yesterday, we have:


  1. Vision: What is our "bad guy" trying to make the world look like in the future?
  2. Values: How the bad guy and his minions are expected to operate.
  3. What is the bad guy trying to accomplish. In McChrystal soldier-speak: "What does winning look like?"
  4. How do you plan to accomplish your mission? "What do we need in order to win?" 
  5. Specific action plans needed to get what you need to win, and then accomplish the mission. This is the who, what, where, when, and how.
  6. "How do we know the tactics are succeeding? Quantify that our strategy is working? In short, how do we keep score ?"

For something of identifiable, true, objective evil, the nice thing about the questions is that you can jump immediately to the first and last. What does the future world look like, and how do we measure it.

Lots of answers here, but I'll throw one down: The vision for True Evil is a world/universe where suffering and despair are maximized. Reasons for hope are raised but continually crushed. This is not noble suffering - Paksennarion enduring days of torture and remaining true to her faith - but ignoble suffering. That's important.

The way I see it in this case, ignoble suffering is sort of like entropy - it's a quantity that can be "measured" or sensed by whatever is at the root of objective Evil. This is probably a source of magical power, too - it gives Dark Sorcerers and evil undead reasons to do the things they do as well.

So the vision of the world is one where freedom and striving to make things better - the stuff Superman stands for, for example - are not unknown, but known to be pointless. The nail that sticks up is efficiently and cruelly hammered down, but there is no contentment or satisfaction from not sticking up.

OK, that that hits Vision. Values for the Minions of Evil are likely wrapped around "whatever it takes to maximize suffering." This will be directly reflected in the metrics of the world in question, where the more the cruelty, the higher the reward. It explains the "make all those beneath you suffer" mentality that never seems to quite turn against the Big Bad Evil Guy the way it should. Sure, the "Trusted" Lieutenant betrays the BBEG . . . but only to set himself up in power, not to bring down the whole structure and have a bake sale and a hug-in instead.

So winning for a particular BBEG will be a situation where he/she/it has as many people under his boot as possible. Policies and influence will be set up to be capricious, arbitrary, and capable of giving the illusion of hope, while still ultimately disappointing. The other side of that is that one person's hope might be fulfilled . . . but only in a way that crushes the spirits of others. This sets up a situation where the only behavior rewarded is naked power seeking.

OK, then you get down to plans - strategy (what do we need) and tactics. You probably need access to, or actual, power. If it's a ruling class or noble elite, you'll want to infiltrate it. If there's a justice system or taxation system that is somehow independent of the ruling authority, you'll want to corrupt it. And if there's a stalwart band of protectors - paladins or other do-gooders - you definitely want to deal with them.

But remember - despair. So sure, you can kill the paladins, but that's likely the last resort. Torture is better, but only if you can make them recant their faith. Turning one to your side is best of all. While the suffering of the population must be real, having the leaders bewitched (not "real" despair, and presumably the objective moral plane of evil knows the difference between real coffee and decaf) might be one of those places where you give a little to get more.

Parting Shot

In any case - I've managed to throw down something that seems to hang together reasonably well. It explains "evil" races (it's all in the metrics!) pretty well, and forced me to consider the cosmology of Evil in a manner that allows me to set up a hierarchy of strategy, tactics, methods, and values that while still scenery-chewingly stereotypical, is understandable and self-consistent.

It also plays ridiculously well with classic fantasy tropes, which is all to the good. A Theory of Evil shouldn't invalidate previous classics, should it?

The questions that are asked using the method I described yesterday - thanks to the McChrystal Group for the structure - helped me bang out a useful cosmology and motivation structure for your classic Evil Menace in less than an hour of structured thinking - and much of that was exposition for the point of posting about it.

I can (and will!) do the same thing for my bad guys in Alien Menace - but I won't post about them, because if the Good Guys can understand the Bad Guy's strategy, they can interrupt the initiative and momentum of the plans and actions. "We stand now at the turning of the tide . . . "


October 13, 2014

Bad Guy Chararacterization 2: General McChrystal does RPGing

Yesterday I talked about how my almost 5yo came up with - with no prompting - that the "bad guys" in the Lego Movie didn't think they were bad - they thought that the good guys were bad.

And of course, the British thought the same thing about the American Revolutionaries (and were technically correct) and the aims of the Confederacy that seceded from the United States were preserving the rights of their member states to their rights, including the "property rights" of slaveholders in certain industries. The Nazis - and it's not an internet argument, so don't go all Godwin's Law on me - presumably thought that putting some of my relatives in the gas chamber was all good stuff in a day's work as well.

That's earned them primo status of RPG bad guys that you can maim, kill, and dismember with no compunction if you're on the "good guy" side of things.
Chiwetel Ejiofer: Giving Sam Jackson a run
for his money as a BMF since 2005

In the Monster Hunters series of books by +Larry Correia, the plotline of the second book (Vendetta) has the Big Bad state that well, yeah, his goals are whatever they are, but it's way, way better than the alternative, so really the Good Guys should just throw in the towel.

The point is, to the "bad guys" at least, what they do is at least along the lines of "self defense," "justifiable homicide," or some level of being morally and ethically permissible, given a certain background logic. Very few are as clear about this as, say, The Operative:
I'm not going to live there. There's no place for me there... any more than there is for you. Malcolm... I'm a monster.What I do is evil. I have no illusions about it, but it must be done. (Serenity, 2005)
Seeming non-sequitur that isn't: I have participated in one of the +McChrystal Group's CrossLead seminars. Other than the privilege of spending a day with a member of SFOD-D - which I said then and say again now, was truly an honor (and I gave him a copy of GURPS Tactical Shooting, 'cause why not?) - there were some concepts that were given then and again in a recent corporate communication meeting that emphasized stuff that while good for corporate governance, is pure gold for GMs.

It's also online, more or less, so I don't feel bad about distilling it in this context. I'll happily shill for them, though - it was an impressive way to look at things. So let me break it down from the perspective of . . . writing and working with plausible bad guys. Good guys too, but a plausible adversary is so much more fun.

Kickin' it Bad Guy School

I'm going to assume that a bad guy and his motivations can be characterized in the same way you might motivate, say Evil, Incorporated.

There are five parts to consider when plotting out bad guy motivations and methods.

1. Vision and Values
2. Mission
3. Strategy
4. Tactics
5. Measures

In short, and in gaming terms as well

1. Vision and Values

Vision: What is our "bad guy" trying to make the world look like in the future?
Values: How the bad guy and his minions are expected to operate.

Vision is often combined with Mission, but they are different. Vision is "in the process of winning or after I win, what do I do then?" Values in this context is basically "What disadvantages do I have?" at least in GURPS terms.

One thing about the Vision: sure, "I want to rule the world!" is a vision, but why? What dysfunction will the BBEG's rule fix? "I'm smarter and better and could do things more effectively than all these clowns" is completely appropriate. One can likely look at anyone that, say, runs for high office - especially the Presidency of the US - as having to believe this to a degree that probably disqualifies them a priori from the very office they wish to hold. I'm not being partisan here: ask Douglas Adams about that:
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.” ― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
2. Mission: What is the bad guy trying to accomplish. In McChrystal soldier-speak: "What does winning look like?"

This is different than Vision. Really. For a company that sells disc drives, winning looks like a series of awesome products that are technically awesome (because that's what the geeks in the company want to make), serves the chosen market segments - and that may well be all of them, and makes money hand over fist, both due to brand power and reputation (high revenue) as well as a flawless execution and low cost. Winning, frankly, looks like the reason Rolls-Royce has to protect it's brand ("the Rolls-Royce of XXX") so fiercely.

For the bad guy, You want "the bad guy is trying to do X, and that will allow his Vision to be completed."

3. Strategy: How do you plan to accomplish your mission? "What do we need in order to win?"

This is the question as well as the answer. It is likely a list of things you have, but more importantly it's a list of things you either need or must accomplish in order to execute the mission and achieve the vision. It will borrow heavily from tactics, below.

4. Tactics: Specific action plans needed to get what you need to win, and then accomplish the mission. This is the who, what, where, when, and how.

For GURPS, it's the people, skills, locations, and likely an equipment list.

It may very well be such that the tactics you use can be phrased as "we will do X things, with Y people, on Z timeframe," in order to get the M, N, O, and P that are required to fulfill the strategy.

Tactics is about the right now, the visceral. Strategy is, I think, largely about mental initiative and momentum.

5. Metrics and Measures. "How do we know the tactics are succeeding? Quantify that our strategy is working? In short, how do we keep score ?"

This is key, because it will be the easiest and quickest way to figure out what the bad guys will be doing at any particular moment. If they're trying to make/steal money, then they'll be looking for the right level of score. If metrics are around recruitment, then it's about brainwashing or persuasion or whatever, and it's about the numbers. If you can quantify it, you can probably also generate a risk/reward profile for it.

If the bad guys are recruiting their Legions of Terror, then a mission that loses more than they recruit because of poor planning and run-ins with the Special Justice Group will not be repeated in the same way.

Breaking it down simply.

For game purposes, the mission and vision should be a quick summary, one or two sentences about the bad guy's outlook for what he's trying to accomplish and what the "world" will look like when he gets it.

Values are basically the Sean Connery line from The Untouchables: "What are you prepared to do?" What methods are within scope? How does one justify such methods? I can torture my foes because they're "Other" seems to work. "Our ends justify any means" is used with surprising frequency by groups whose goals would not "rationally" be associated with the actual methods used.

Examples? Protecting unborn children . . . by killing people. Protecting the environment . . . by killing people. Spreading a religion . . . by killing people. Common thread there? Yeah.

Strategy tells the PCs (and the GM) where the bad guy is going to deploy his resources. My Alien Menace patron "good guy" organizatin needs ships, space crew, exploration/scout crews for peaceful missions, scientists to figure out what the stuff is, and security teams to protect them all (or go in aggressively). That also means political contacts to ensure that the missions are either "undetected" or at least unreported. My Wayne Oliver good guy needs recuitment and training. Access to materials. Equipment, either purchased or bespoke, and doubly so for where a good/bad guy gets those stockpiles of weaponry.

Tactics can probably be summed up as "at any given moment, what activities are being executed or planned?" In my Alien Menace example, they are probably flying actual missions, recruiting and training operatives, maybe some politicking if needed, and research into what they bring back. Building extra ships.

Finally, metrics. What does winning look like? Market share? Percent of the world's population that fall under his iron fist/benevolent control?

Parting Shot

Know what your bad guy is about. Make sure that his outlook is logical, even if the logic is twisted. If he's a "madman," it's probably a good idea to get a "map" of how normal inputs are twisted into something that would make sense for someone to respond that way.

Sure, someone standing next to you is no threat . . . but certain types of personality have an exaggerated view of their own personal space, and react to what even an American would say is plenty of room with extraordinary violence. Way more than the usual discomfort an American feels at "European" conversational distances.
I say this having been backed into a corner by a very intense Polish PhD who really needed to explain his theories to me emphatically and from about six inches distance.
Give yourself a lens with which to view the bad guy's world and objectives, and he'll come alive.

Or undead, if that's how you roll. But have a reason for it.

October 12, 2014

RPG characterization wisdom from a 5yo

My not-quite-5yo daughter:

"You know, in the Lego Movie, the good guys think the bad guys are the bad guys, but the bad guys think the good guys are the bad guys."

See? Even a five-year-old (not quite) knows that the bad guys do what they do because they think it's the right thing from their own perspective.

Granted, usually a twisted perspective, but while distorted, one might wish to think about the lens through which your Big Bad Evil Guy looks at the world.

Oh: but if your methods include genocide or pulling limbs or heads off of your fellow man:  it's still evil.

Even in The Lego Movie.

I suppose I could extend this and say if I have not at least thought about the "logic" of why my bad guys are doing what they're doing - what's their goal at the very least, regardless of what they'll do about it - then not only am I not done thinking about it, I've not even really started. I've just created a series of plot holes with no way to patch them.

It's probably why the "random stuff in a dungeon all packed cheek to jowl" wears thin faster than one would otherwise think. The plot has to make sense to someone, somehow. And it should be easily articulated.

Perhaps twisted, but easily articulated.