Saturday, March 28, 2015

House Rules: You're Better Off Trusting the GM to Handle the Details

If there is something that many people complain about, it's that the rules of a given game don't reflect how it feels to do something that is a thing in the real world. It can be car chases, knife fights, shootouts, surgery, injury and recovery, whatever- someone, somewhere, is complaining about it (and often online somewhere). They may even have valid points to make, and make them properly. However, what comes next is madness of the Sisyphean sort: an attempt to improve the mechanics to make it work as they think it should.

Stop. You can't even approach it with rules and mechanics without getting so built up that you might as well use it as code in a videogame (which is where the best approximations in gaming are, and we know how short those fall). Going that route is folly, and inefficient.

There is a better alternative. Instead, focus upon two questions: "Did I hit him enough to do the thing?" and "Did the thing do what I want?" This translates into Attack and Effect checks, and Palladium's rules are good enough to handle those two questions. What you want to do, when it comes to the details, is to use that liminal area as the conceptual space where the Game Master applies what he knows of how things really work (or, for unreal stuff, the closest analogues) and makes rulings from there.

So, let's talk about something that happens a lot: a Coalition soldier wants to shoot someone with his laser rifle.

Laser weapons, quite frankly, are not firearms no matter how much they may look like them (or how the rules treat them so). The big differences are a total absence of recoil (because there is no controlled explosion, and the following kinetic reactions, involved) and no projectile involved; the rifleman can point his weapon at the target, press the trigger, and instantaneously damage the target with a micro-second length of laser light so powerful as to flash-fry the target. (Because that's how lasers do damage: they burn the target at the point of impact.) The target gets burned, and suffers the consequences of being burned where the laser hit. (Anything that throws a projectile--firearms, plasma casters, etc.--has some form of travel time; the further the shooter is from the target, the more this matters in practice.)

Much as the "-10 to dodge lasers" rule is hated, it's a valid concept (if a botched execution) for that reason; it's a mechanical attempt to make that fact of "no projectile travel time to target" something that layman players can readily appreciate. I wouldn't be that blunt, but I'd gladly make a similar attempt (probably at the Proficiency and Tool Stat ends; the idea of "burst fire" for lasers is absurd, for starters). Go on, dodge a flashlight; that's what you're claiming to do when you argue against something like that -10 rule.

This also means that a shootout with lasers is a series of flashes (assuming, of course, that the weapons are even in the visible light spectrum), but not a silent series; the power necessary to be viable as weapons is also the power necessary to instantly ionize the atmosphere along the path it travels. This will be a sharp, audible crack not unlike the crack of a whip; to get "suppressed" or "silent", you need to tone the intensity to what real world weaponized lasers are (and do as they do; lase the target, burning it over time, until you burn your way to a kill).

So, in rule terms you still have Attack and Damage rolls. The GM, knowing how lasers function (because he's been reading up on them), rules that without superhuman senses (or outright supernatural ones) you can't dodge or parry a laser attack unless you're able to perceive the attacker's pointing the weapon at you somehow. (See him aim at you, get a sensor warning, etc.)- and then, the best you can do is pro-active/pre-emptive defense due to instantaneous travel time. (If he's on the ball, he'll also reduce the damage within an atmosphere due to bean attenuation, so lasers will have "effective ranges" meaning "distance within which targets burn as intended".) These rulings will account for situational details as required, and better than a massive tome of mechanics and rules can do. This principle applies to other things, like martial arts and dog fights and and hacking contests and so on.

I want you to stop letting the rules master you, and instead you be the master of the rules; they are tools, so treat them as such, to use or not as you see fit.

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