One of the first things we looked at was the combat system in SA. One of the major complaints that we were continually encountering was claims of unclear combat rules, machine gunning, and the fact that under the current system pummeling you opponent with short brawl boffers faster than they could hit you with a sword seemed the most effective method to defeat an opponent. This isn't entirely a safety issue, otherwise we would have passed it off to the Deco and Safety team to deal with. It was also just a fact about how we wanted our game to feel.
Currently much combat involved running up to someone very close and trying to hit them repeatedly. Some systems have rules that prevent coming to close to an opponent for safety reasons. However, what we realized was that we really wanted to see was slower, more calculated combat. Less of a giant mesh of weapons flailing with people falling down because they didn't know how many times they have been hit and not wanting to cheat or people who just keep going because it is impossible to count.
At one of our first meetings we came up with a couple of combat rules we wanted to try out. They were the following:
1. The attacker must wait 1 second after landing a successful strike to make another against the same target.
2. The defender would only take damage from 1 attack per second per attacker.
3. Each strike must be in a different location.
4. Current SA rules fight.
1. When we gathered the testing team and divided them up the results were pretty astounding as was the feedback. After explaining the first rules set we set out basic human on human fight. It was drastically different to watch. One thing that was great to see was how each team set up in a line which persisted through a significant portion of the fight. Also our mix of different ability level fighters was minimized as one of the better fighters squared off against an average level fighter. While the expected party still lost, they scored in a few good hits and weren't overwhelmed. It was a good clean fight.
2. Working under the defender only takes 1 damage was similar but less comfortable. It encouraged people to continue pressing their opponents harshly and led less balanced results. It favored people who swung continuously and quickly.
3. Forcing each strike to fall in a different location worked pretty well. This actually received the best response among participants. People felt that the rule was easy to work with and remember. However, the fight was fairly quick and continuous swinging was heavily encouraged. The differential between highly skilled fighters and moderately skilled fighters was much greater than in the first situation.
4. One thing was that watching the current SA rules fight was embarrassing after watching the other rules sets. The fight was messy and not much fun. At least we knew we would be making improvement regardless of what decision we went with.
DecisionAt the end of that trial we decided to go with rule 1 for the remainder of the play test even though our testers felt that the time restriction was somewhat awkward. We did this for a couple of reasons. First off we had a pretty good idea of what rule 3 would look like. It would be similar to the way things are now but slightly more controlled. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine the results. Secondly, we really like how people lined up and fought cooperatively under rule 1. It forced cooperation and the limited advantage that positioning got you meant it wasn't worth over extending yourself because it wouldn't instantly drop an opponent. You had to position yourself to get a few good hits but you couldn't gun an opponent down. Finally, it led to good fights that rewarded good fighters but only moderately. No longer would a lower level good fighter be able to blow through a weaker fighter with considerable XP in their character. This system would substantially nerf me. I think that for the game overall that is a good thing. In the end we hoped that people could retrain their combat to match the system. Learning a new fighting system is difficult, but it can become natural fairly quickly. I remember the difficulties I had making the switch from Amtgard to a system where I had to call damage.
As we progressed through the day we saw some of the added advantages. A very powerful character played by a player with moderate fighting skill put up against a group of new characters with considerable fighting skill could hold their own. It was a good fight, but without some additional threat an elder vampire shouldn't fear a couple of neonates. Also, it made killing people harder, which was what we wanted to do since we were looking at a more lethal system in a number of other ways. By decreasing lethality of combat by slowing it down, we could increase the lethality of the follow up to kill someone once you've won combat.