Auxiliary MC Principle to avoid getting stuck in a 'Seize by force' cycle

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A problem I've seen when people try to seize by force is that anytime a battle gets complicated the MC falls back on making everyone roll to determine what exactly happens exactly every second every time someone twitches their finger. The rules for seizing by force tell you to use it only when there is an opportunity to exchange blows, but the problem is that exchanging blows happens all the goddamn time. There are other things that an MC can do that sort of hint at how to handle these sort of situations, like responding with fuckery and offering opportunities without a cost, but I feel like a more direct rule will help the game flow instead of making it have some epileptic shock every time someone starts fighting.

This is what I use to remind myself not to get stuck like that, tell me what you think.

Streamline the player's moves, but do not disoblige them
When someone seizes by force and decides on an action, he/she does not have to reroll to do generally the same action and the consequences will generally be the same. He/she can continue until he/she decides on different course of action, runs out of ammo, runs out of targets, or is otherwise incapacitated.

A player can be incapacitated by the harm roll, the effects of their total harm, or the actions of another NPC or PC.

IE: Instead of making a player roll each time you want to shoot someone with your shotgun I'll just go off your last roll.

This works when the MC varies his moves. Don't goddamn make every target just shoot at the PC's. Take something from them, separate them, make threat move, or turn their move back on them.

You could even just elide the action entirely to speed things up.

That being said, DO NOT ignore what the player wants and don't skimp on the details. Make the characters as awesome as you know they are, and remember to digress occasionally to add more flavor to the battle.

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lumpley

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Anybody getting repetitive with seizing by force should use the optional battle moves instead!

-Vincent

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Munin

  • 417
Heh, he beat me to it.  But yes, if the battle is complicated, make it an actual battle complete with the peripheral moves.  This can be a little bit strange depending on the scale and circumstances of the fight, but with some clever MC magic you can make it fit a wide variety of situations.

The other thing to consider is the granularity of combat.  You don't need to roll for every shot you take.  It might be that a single Seize By Force roll can be used to describe the entire conflict.  So not, "I shoot guy A, I roll to Seize.  Then I roll to shoot guy B.  Once he's down, I roll again to shoot C."  But rather, "Guys A, B, and C are in my way.  I shoot them to get what I want.  Here's my roll."  The MC then takes the results of the roll and narrates an outcome for the entire fight, rather than for each tiny piece of it.  Lump NPCs together into an impromptu "gang" for the purposes of determining Harm and/or casualties if desired.

Example: Deke the Battlebabe is at the local watering hole when the local thugs tasked with security (read: extortion) are looking to shake her down for a little jingle.  The MC describes the situation thusly: "Abnett has his hand on the butt of his pistol and Carson is actually holding a rifle, though at this point it's still across his chest.  And you note that while they are trying to hold your attention, Butters is sidling over to block the door.  And his pistol is in his hand.  If you give Abnett what he wants, then this is just another business transaction.  If you reach for a weapon, things are going to get ugly in a hurry."  As an aside, the MC is offering an opportunity with a cost: describing the situation this way lets the player know that this isn't a situation where she can easily Go Aggro, and that if it comes to gunplay she is going to have to risk taking some Harm (although there's nothing stopping Deke from using threats via Seduce or Manipulate).

Deke decides to teach these jokers a lesson: "Fuck this noise, I draw my pistol, dropping and duckwalking to the nearest cover as I do, shooting the whole way.  And when it comes to targets, you'd better believe Abnett is at the top of my list."
MC: "Great, roll+Hard"

Deke: "I got an 11.  Hey, if I choose to 'take definite hold of it,' does that mean I can make it out the door?"

MC: "Absolutely."

Deke: "OK.  I'll do that while keeping myself as safe as possible.  And I want to scare the crap out of these idiots such that I don't have to deal with this bullshit next time I come here."

The MC decides to treat the NPCs as a gang for the purposes of inflicting damage, but since it's "a couple of guys" he decides not to offset the damage, so Deke inflicts the full 2-Harm for her 9mm.  But it's (ap) because she's packing armor-piercing rounds in it.  Did I forget to mention those?  Consulting the section on damage to a gang, the MC sees that 2-Harm is "many injuries, several serious, a couple of fatalities," but decides that since the gang is so small he'll take one of each (in this case one serious injury and one fatality).  Deke herself takes 2-Harm, but her 1-armor drops that to 1-Harm - she'll need to make the Harm move in a sec, which may snowball into more stuff later, but we'll ignore that for now.

So the MC decides to narrate it this way: "You drop and draw, and as you do so your first shot takes Abnett right in the crotch.  He drops, screaming and bleeding profusely, and you know for sure he's a dead man writhing.  Carson curses and brings his rifle to bear on you.  One shot passes through the table-top you knock over for cover, and wood splinters into your face.  After that, though, you hear a pop-click, then him cursing and messing with his rifle.  When you pop up to send a couple shots in his direction, you're pretty sure he's ducked behind the bar, and you don't see him again before you leave.  On your way out, Butters initially lifts his pistol to take a shot at you, but you can see his heart's not in it.  It might have something to do with the high-pitched scream Abnett's making as he bleeds out on the floor.  He doesn't actually shoot, but you blaze away in his direction anyway as you move and he wisely dives for cover. You're pretty sure you tag him at least once.  Then there's sunlight on your face and you're out the door.  Go ahead and make the Harm move."

As a side note it's six of one, a half-dozen of the other whether you call for the Harm move before or after the character is out.  It can give you some interesting options either way, but one of the things that Deke chose to "take definite hold of" was getting out the door.  As such, even if Deke flubs and rolls a 10+, I would still respect the success Deke got on her Seize By Force roll and the resulting choices she made, so being rendered "unconscious, trapped, incoherent or panicked" would be to deny her success and I wouldn't do it.

You could just as easily not treat the NPCs as a gang and split her Harm amongst the them individually, maybe doing 2-Harm to Abnett or one each to Abnett and Butters, Deke's choice.  But I think treating them as a gang lets you be a little freer with your crosshairs, which to my mind is usually a good thing.  It also "scales up" the action a little bit, meaning that Deke can inflict the equivalent of multiple hits with a single roll.  She doesn't need to act on Abnett, then make a new roll against Butters, or whatever.

But that's not to say that you couldn't zoom in your granularity if you wanted.  The above exchange was predicated on Deke wanting to get out.  If instead Deke chose some other intent (like kill Abnett where he stands, then go to the bar and calmly have a drink), things might have gone differently, because she might still have had to deal with Butters and Carson, which might have necessitated more rolls.

I guess the point I'm trying to make with all this is that as the MC you have the option of zooming in or out on the action and making the rolls as specific or general as you wish.  I don't think you need to "keep the last roll," because if you zoom out there will only be one roll, and if you zoom in you should be narrating in such a way that dry, repeated Seize By Force isn't necessarily obvious or even the best approach.  At the very least there should be some Act Under Fire going on.

so totally taking notes here. running my 2nd session soon, and this is all excellent stuff

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Munin

  • 417
I wanted to revisit this topic a bit because some other similar questions have come up recently regarding use of Seize By Force.  I think one really important thing to keep in mind when narrating the results and snowballing of Seize By Force is the choice that people make when picking options and what those choices mean in the context of what is happening in the fiction.

For example, what does it mean to "take little harm?"  Is it not exposing yourself to fire?  Is it diving for cover?  Is it suppressing the enemy?  Is it zigzagging movement?  In my previous example I used happenstance - Carson's rifle jammed and he wasn't able to continue shooting, allowing Deke to escape with less Harm being taken.  Similarly, what does it mean to "inflict terrible harm?"  Is it concentrating fire on a particular target?  Is it knowingly making attacks that are as ruthlessly damaging as possible?  Or is it being very calculating and taking every possible advantage of the enemy's mistakes?  Or is it just a really lucky shot?  The truth is that it can be any of these, and they are all equally valid in the abstract.  But when it comes to your specific fiction, the distinctions become important because they dictate what follows, how the moves snowball, and what the appropriate "next move" is going to look like.  So consider what the options mean, and how the trade-offs that the players are making will influence what comes next.

Because an example always helps, let's consider the previous example of Deke throwing down against Abnett, Butters, and Carson.

Deke decides to teach these jokers a lesson: "Fuck this noise, I quickdraw my antique Colt Navy revolver, dropping and duckwalking to the nearest cover as I do, shooting the whole way.  And when it comes to targets, you'd better believe Abnett is at the top of my list."

MC: "Great, roll+Hard"

Deke: "I got an 11.  I want to 'take definite hold' of Abnett's fucking life.  Seriously, I want that dude to die.  Apart from that, I want to keep myself as safe as possible and scare the bejeebers out of everybody else to keep them out of the fight.

Deke is again going to inflict 2-Harm (ap) on Abnett as before (different gun, same armor-piercing rounds), only this time she's focusing the damage on him.  Inflicting 2-Harm on an NPC is likely to kill him, but since she used one of her choices to "take definite hold of it," the MC decides that the damage is immediately fatal.  In return, she'll take the 3-Harm from Carson's assault rifle minus 1 for her armor, minus one more for taking little harm.  The MC narrates thus: "You drop and draw, and as you do so your first shot takes Abnett right in the crotch.  He falls, screaming, and your second shot takes off the front of his face, thankfully ending his screaming with a final wet gurgle.  Carson curses and brings his rifle to bear on you, letting rip as you dive for cover.  You throw some rounds in his direction as you roll, upending tables to make as much cover as you can.  One round catches you in the calf, but it's a through-and-through.  Meanwhile, every other Tom, Dick, and Harry in the joint is kissing the floorboards and praying to whatever powers they hold dear.  Go ahead and roll+Harm."

Deke: "Including the +1 gives me an 8."

Here the MC has an opportunity.  He decides that because Deke chose to "take little harm" by ducking for cover that she has "lost sight of someone she was attending to," and narrates it this way: "Right, so you duck out around the table to drill Carson, only to discover that he's gone.  He must have been moving too, because he's not where he was and you don't see him immediately.

Deke: "Well either way I need to reload.  I suppose that's under fire from Butters if nothing else, yes?"

MC: "Believe it."

Deke: "Pssh, a 14.  Half the new shells are in before the spent brass hits the floor."

MC: "Indeed, but you are still taking fire, albeit inaccurate, wild fire.  You don't have eyes on him but Carson knows your general location and is spraying the area down.  You roll over onto your back and pushwalk yourself across the floor to better cover, continuing to reload smoothly as you go."

Deke: "Right, so now that I can shoot him again, where the fuck is Carson?"

MC: "It sounds to me like you'd like to know your enemy's true position, yeah?"

Deke: "Fuck.  Yes, rolling+Sharp nets me a...4.  I really need to improve my Sharp."

The MC chooses to flip her move, i.e. to reveal her true position to her enemy: "Nah, you're just focused on the important work of reloading and trying to keep all the flying debris our of your eyes.  Then there's a brief lull in the shooting, into which Carson shouts, 'She's over by the piano.'"  This is the MC announcing future badness, letting Deke know what's up.  "Butters yells, 'Yeah, I can see her!'  'Well then shooter her, you idiot!'"

Deke: "Time to move!  Staying low I want to run across the room, if at all possible putting myself farther away from Butters and crossing Carson's line of fire more or less perpendicularly.  I want to get him to reveal his position, but in a way that minimizes my chances of getting ventilated."

MC: "Sounds dangerous.  Roll+Cool."

Deke: "Whoops.  Bad time to roll a 9."

This is a success, albeit a partial one, so Deke gets what she's going for, mainly to bait Carson into revealing his position.  But as a partial success, there's a complication, so the MC says, "You take off at a run, and sure enough Carson pops up from behind the bar, hosing as you go.  He's not anticipating how fast you are, however, and his shots are all falling behind you.  Unfortunately, your line takes you almost straight away from Butters, so he doesn't have to lead you as much, and he tags you with his pistol, two rounds smacking into the back of your armored biker jacket.  You're looking at 1-Harm after armor, so roll+Harm."

Deke: "Hah!  My shitty dice karma is on my side for once.  I got a 5."

MC: "Right, so you pretty much cross the room.  You're now closer to Carson than you are to Butters, and you're ducked down behind the edge of the elevated stage that the strippers use.  Fortunately all the strippers are face down and screaming, so no one's in your way really.  Carson has ducked behind the bar again."

Deke: "So he can't see me right now?"

MC: "Nope."

Deke: "OK, here's what I want to do - I want to vault up onto the stage and run across it.  When I get to the other side, I want to dive at the bar, such that I'm sliding along it at a high-rate of speed.  And as I pass I want to waste Carson.  And once my velocity is spent I want to roll off behind the bar to get cover from Butters."

MC: "Wow.  You're ice cold, aren't you?"

Deke: "I sure am."

MC: "Well that kind of move is pretty damn Cool, so roll it."  The MC is a fan of Deke's character, and decides that this is a great excuse to showcase a player's stat substitution move.  As such, he allows Deke's bold move to take Carson and Butters by surprise, allowing her to go aggro in the middle of the fight.  But the fiction dictates risk here: "Just be aware that Butters might be able to take a shot at you if you're not quick enough."  Here again the MC is offering an opportunity with a cost - if Deke gets a partial or a miss, she risks Harm.

Deke. "No worries.  Fortune favors the bold, heh.  An 11."

MC: "As you vault up onto the stage and run across it, dodging strippers as you..."

Deke: "No way, I step on those bitches if I need to."

MC: "...I mean, running across it on the supine backs of the screaming strippers, Butters's eyes look like dinner plates.  You throw a couple of rounds in his direction to keep him honest, and he dives for cover.  You leap across the gap between the stage and the bar head-first, scattering glasses and bottles as you slide along the wet bar-top.  As you get to him, Carson looks up at you, shocked, his mouth a big round O.  You put two rounds in it before you're past, coming to a stop and rolling off behind the bar close to the end nearest the door."

Deke: "Great!  As soon as I can get my feet under me, I want to pop up, level my gun at Butters, and yell, "Drop it, asshole!"

MC: "OK, but roll+Hot because you're drawing down on him with an empty gun.  You haven't reloaded yet."

Deke: "Oooh, but I'm dangerous and sexy!  Can I make eye contact with him?"

MC: "Yeah, at some point he peeks over the top of a roulette table to see if he can see you."

Deke: "Great.  I got an 8.  I spear him with my gaze."

MC: "He freezes, total deer-in-headlights."

Deke: "Awesome.  I want to walk over to him.  Hey, can I reload as I go?"

MC: "If you roll+Cool."

Deke: "Hahaha, another 14."

MC: "Right, so this end of the bar is actually closed off, so you have to backtrack, stepping over a cowering Nabs and Carson's leaking corpse as you go.  As you cross the room you keep your dead stare at Butters, boots crunching on broken glass, the tinkling of spent casings as you calmly reload, never taking your eyes off him.  He actually stands up from his crouch and takes an involuntary step backwards.  What do you do?"

Deke: "Once I've reloaded and I'm close, I level my gun at him, stick it right in his eye.  He's still frozen, yeah?"

MC: "Yup.  He's actually wet himself, tears welling in his eyes.  He's mouthing the word 'please' but no sound is coming out.  What do you do?"

Deke: "I gently reach down with my free hand and relieve him of his pistol."

MC: "No resistance, his pistol is yours."

Deke: "Great.  Then I waste him, sashay over to the bar, drop his gun on the bar-top and say down to Nabs, 'This should cover any damages.  We're square, yeah?'"

The MC is looking at Butters through crosshairs (nobody likes Butters anyway), and the fiction puts Deke in a position to simply inflict Harm.  Done and done.

Right, so this is a very different fight, with much closer focus for the same opening situation, and predicated on different player choices.  But it's still not a repeated Seize By Force over and over again.  The position of the PC and the NPCs changes throughout the fight, largely because no one in their right mind stands still when getting shot at.  That position has consequences.  It opens up some opportunities and closes down others.  This fight was one Seize By Force, one Read a Sitch, three Act Under Fires (two of which were predicated by the need to deal with her weapon's reload tag), and a Go Aggro.  And had Deke not had the custom move, it could have ended with a Manipulate as she bluffed Butters with an empty pistol.  Three NPCs put down like dogs and the other non-combatant patrons terrified of Deke the death-dealing dynamo - not bad for only rolling+Hard once.

Additionally, in this particular example, the MC allowed Deke to do something she was good at (Act Under Fire) to make up for something she was bad at (Read a Sitch) by exposing herself to fire as a way to draw Carson into revealing his position.  Had she spotted him first thing, she'd not have taken that second point of Harm, at least not the way she took it.  As the MC, look for ways you can offer these kinds of opportunities for players, just as you look for ways to put them in a spot.  Deke was saddled with needing to Read a Sitch because of her other choices ("take little Harm") and the changing situation (as a result of her partial on the Harm move) altered her position within the fiction relative to the NPCs.

Whether you choose to zoom in or out is going to have a lot to do with the story you and your players are trying to tell.  What is the purpose of this encounter?  Does it set the stage for future badness, does it escalate some existing situation, or is it the culmination of part of a major plot arc?  Answering these questions will help you decide which level of focus is appropriate.  And if you don't have a good feel for meeting their expectations, don't be afraid to ask your players.  Just be straight-up about it, and ask how detailed they want this particular fight to be.  The more experience you get with each other as players and MC, the more of a feel for this kind of thing you'll develop, and you'll be able to give them interesting, challenging, exciting fights that involve more than just rolling+Hard.

But whichever way you choose to take the focus (close or far), don't skimp out on the narration.  Because nobody remembers "that time I rolled+Hard and totally crushed it to shoot up Abnett's dudes."  But I promise you Deke's player (and probably all the other players present) will always remember "that time Deke beer-surfed along Nabs' bar and shot Carson in the face."
« Last Edit: January 28, 2014, 11:23:24 AM by Munin »