Conflict: Planning 1 Action instead of 3

One thing I’ve never understood about Torchbearer or BW is why you have to pre plan all your actions for a 3 round turn. Would it hurt anything to have the GM plan his action, players plan 1, reveal? Repeat that two more times and then go to turn 2. This way you can see reactionary strategy from the players. It just seems more intuitive to me to go one at a time than to lock three in at once. Is there a good reason to stick to the plan 3 model? If anyone has good arguments for why the plan 3 model is better or what gets broken when you try to plan only 1 at a time I’d love to hear it.

Locking three at once provokes terrible decisions made without good sources of information. It’s a flurry of chaotic action in combat, then a brief rest.

For example: if my group hasn’t yet suffered loss of disposition, I probably won’t plan a Defend action during the round. I’d go for Maneuvers or Attacks (with a ranged weapon) if I wanted to repel an aggressor. Now if I get hammered by an Attack on action 2, I don’t have that Defend to bail me out on action 3. Doing it one by one would allow me to respond to that sudden, unexpected disposition loss by planning a Defend action. Imperfect information adds chaos! Otherwise it is boring as hell. It’s just trying to counter whatever makes sense for your opponent to do next rather than planning risky actions.

It’s like asking if you have to roll dice in Monopoly. You might get a bad result. Why not just choose which space you want to land on?

Obviously, you can modify the game however you want. But years of testing this type of system have taught us that choosing a set of three actions is the most efficient and exciting method for providing you with a combat system that uses no initiative and no individual health or HP. But it still provides tactical depth, real decisions and dire consequences. These seem to be all of the things that folks ask for in an RPG combat system when they raise their fists to the gods. But I am no augur.

I don’t know why, but something just bothers me about the conflict system. I understand on a certain level why certain things have to be a certain way. For example conflict captains. A set of choices need to be made for the whole group and making the buck stop at someone keeps that from taking all night. That said it feels like it takes away a players choice in what his or her character does. While this often happens when the gm has to adjudicate die rolls, it doesn’t usually come from another player essentially posing a loaded question of, “How is your character performing this action I planned for them?”

One thing I loved about hero system was the ability to abort actions to defend, especially for others. I understand that system draws heavily on initiative, so it’s not an easy one to bring into Torchbearer or BW. What I would really like to do is keep the game focused on dialogue. “This is happening, what do you do?”

What is the best way to run a conflict type scenario while maintaining my players agency? Do you recommend something like a bloody vs from BW? Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.

As far as the captain deciding everyone’s actions, that’s not how we play it. In our game, the GM decides his actions first, then tells us when he’s done. Then the players offer up what they’d prefer to do, based on thier character’s concept, abilities and weapons, as well as stategy for the conflict. The captain is free to veto a player’s choice, but rarely does. He simply decides the order and passes out the cards, along with choosing a new captain if he is taken down. We rarely feel like we have limited choices in conflicts.

You realize that’s a tricky question to answer right? Cuz the game’s essentially trying to take that level of control away from the player. What’s the best way? I think you’ve answered your own question. Just run the conflict like a series of single versus tests. But, bear in mind that the game is, at least partly, built on the idea that combat is a chaotic mess where you’re making the best of imperfect information and don’t always have the option of effectively defending yourself. Players have a fair amount of agency before and after combat, but once combat begins, things get messy by design. That can feel uncomfortable, but that’s also by design.

From a practical perspective, this is going to slow the game down a lot. Torchbearer is already a pretty ponderous games and one of the things I particularly like about conflicts is that it condenses a lot of actions into a short period of time.

Scripting three actions encourages teams to work together to manage risk and resources. Doing it one at a time as you suggest will still involve a degree of this, but since it’s more reactive you’re reducing this aspect and ultimately making the game easier. Why would you do that as a GM?

I don’t think it would make the game easier. Both sides have the benefit of reaction as well as the the potential to be bluffed or lured into a trap. “Okay, he maneuvered last turn. Is he going to attack? If he attacks maybe we should defend. But maybe he is trying to get us to defend and is going to pull a feint? Argh.”

If anything I think it would vary depending on the skill of the players and GM’s at reading each other.

If we accept your premise that predicting your opponents actions requires a degree of skill, it seems self evident that predicting your opponent’s next three moves requires more skill since you don’t have the opportunity to react and adapt to whatever happens. To put it another way, in both systems bad scripting will lose you the conflict but using the rules as written means you only have one opportunity to get it right as opposed to three opportunities in the system you provided.

I don’t think that is true. It takes skill to predict your opponent and a measure of luck. The more data you get, the more it becomes about skill than luck. Since we aren’t playing a game like chess where everything is the same each time, predicting three moves ahead is mostly a crapshoot when your GM is playing cannily. You might predict the Attack, attack, attack of the orcs the second time; but that is more on your GM being transparent than you for your ability to sus him out.

So predicting all three is harder, but in my mind it is so much harder that you are essentially guessing by the time you hit action 3.

Yup, the further out you go, the more chaotic and unexpected the results. Once you’re in a conflict things quickly start to feel out of control. Then, if you’re still standing, you get a chance to regroup, take a breath and make a new plan. I’d say that’s about the size of things. Not everyone wants that.