A figure chess rules system is one where the combatants take turns and during their turn they typically move and do some other stuff. There might be squares or hexes or one might do without. There are a few situations where most of them break down, with dynamic movement being the most glaring. My interest is in solutions that make these things work in a figure chess context, and different cases where the break-downs happen.
D&D 3,5 with Sean and Helma
athes, my pseudo-mongol mounted archer, wants to keep his distance to a swarm of stirges while shooting them. He has speed advantage and this is precisely the kind of activity he is made for, as a character; the skills and the feats are there.
But how do you keep your distance in figure chess? You have to pre-empt how fast and to which direction the enemy is going to move. So, in context of D&D 3 and relatives, I have to guess whether they are going to move, double move/charge, or run, and towards me or somewhere else. No feedback, just guessing, and they can even react to my decision.
This can be solved if the group looks at the fiction and accepts the figure chess as the abstraction it is; “I keep them at around 70′ from me” is a reasonable thing to try, so we should solve it in some satisfactory way. But if one sticks to the figure chess rules strictly, it will be utterly impossible. The enemy can just choose to fly away at full speed, or fly next to you at full speed, or do whatever, based on how you act first.
In game we did not have problems with this; flexible enough a group and clear enough a situation.
A rider, charging
D&D 3, way back when I was a lot younger. Some enemy knight wanted to charge player characters, who were running to a wall to climb or jump over to escape. The characters and the knight saw each other from fair distance but we turned to combat rules only when there was not so much distance and the hostile intent was clear.
The rules say that the escapee can ready an attack, in which case they attack when the knight gets to within reach and then the knight gets to do their worst. Or, if the knight wins the initiative, they get to move and attack first. This all assuming that the characters in fact use their actions for fighting rather than moving.
The possible coreographies are:
- The character walks away warily, attack prepared. Then the knight comes. Character attacks, knight attacks if they are still standing. (character won initiative, readied an attack)
- The character runs away, and depending on the distance, the knight stands still while they make their escape or charges and strikes them in the back. (character won initiative, ran or took a double move away)
- The character stands still and the knight attacks them. (knight got the initiative)
Not quite all of these coreographies make sense and the problem is, again, a dynamic situation, plus the strangeness of the initiative rules and turn-taking.
Similar and maybe even worse strangeness would happen with jousting, but this I have not seen in play.
I no longer remember what happened or how we resolved this. We had not figured out functional play back then.
Skeletons into a pit
Pathfinder 1, completely different people, several years ago. Characters enter a room and two fall into a pit, 10 feet by 10 feet, as they always are. Three skeletons in the room notice and jump into the pit to slaughter the unfortunate bastards. But wait! A combatant in Pathfinder (and other relatives of D&D 3) occupies a 5′ by 5′ square, so where does the third skeleton go? What if we had even more skeletons? The pit is nine square meters, so certainly there is enough room for lots of skeletons (thin as they are) trying to rip the fools into pieces, and the fiction makes sense, too.
We had some discussion and I think the ruling I made was that one skeleton and character are sharing a square, with some penalties I no longer recall; maybe the squeezing rules? They were easily dispatched and the ruling turned out to not play a decisive role this time.
This is not quite as fundamental a problem as the previous one, but still illustrative of the combat space assumption. A hypothetical similar situation would be a thick crowd of people, where everyone presumably does not hold more than two square meters to themselves, and then a combat starts so suddenly everyone requires that much space.
Abstractions in general
To the extent that some rules act as a model of some kind of reality (as they do in many roleplaying games, though not really all), they simplify and maybe twist it, much as models always do. Much as any other model, they have often implicit limits outside which they do not really work (dynamic situations in figure chess, relativistic speeds in Newtonian mechanics), and sometimes the simplifications break apart (skeletons in a pit, is the ball that falls on the floor really a fully elastic collision).
This is one context where “rules as written” makes sense as a concept. One person says that yes, the figure chess rules are how stuff actually works in this game, and if this means your mongol can’t really keep a fixed distance or the third skeleton can’t jump into the pit, so be it. Another person says that no, the fiction is primary and if the rules are a bad model in a particular circumstance, then we will, in whichever way, alter or interpret or ignore them so that the fiction still makes sense.
As mentioned in the beginning, I am interested in other such cases where the figure chess nature causes the abstraction to fail and if there are good solutions to the issues of dynamic movement in such frameworks. (The skeletons in a pit, while amusing, is not really a huge design issue.) I am interested in cases that have happened in actual good faith play, rather than speculative peasant railguns.