I’ve written a couple of posts about RPGs with martial aspects recently. And I was struggling to find the words as to why most, if not all rpgs fail to simulate combat by going into detail. More detail ought to mean a better simulation, right?
I’m assuming most gamers don’t know much about martial arts. They may know how to run a great game and narrate a combat, but that’s not the same.
But even a GM who does know a martial art has a problem. I’ll admit that I have this problem. I’m consciously aware of it, and I can compensate for it, but I have no idea of how to translate it to a game.
The problem is this. For effective fighting, the principle attribute must be mindset, or preparedness to fight. After that comes tactics, then technique, and finally equipment.
However, as both gamers and martial artists we are fixated on technique. Technique is what you train in the gym; it’s what looks cool. And it’s what is easy for an instructor to teach.
Teaching mindset is not cool. Some people find it repellent; it’s basically training yourself to visualise harming someone else. The people who have the right mindset will always have advantage over people who don’t, even if those people are black belts at whatever. A master once said to me “black belts often get beaten up by drunken idiots with no skill”.
Now for games design, some designers fixate on technique. I am always skeptical of a game that goes into detail over techniques, because techniques function in a very narrow field. Sometimes that’s OK. If you’re designing a metagame to simulate a specific style of fighting (e.g. Lace and Steel‘s fencing) then it can work. But otherwise games like TROS or BW that over-analyse the process of fighting risk getting it wrong.