Part of the Empire pre-event idle speculation.
There’s a been a number of conversations about calls since our playtest at Maelstrom. Matt’s set down his thinking on the subject in one of them, and I felt it was worth wider distribution.
(Originally posted on facebook)
Matt on Calls
“Calls are interesting (to us) because they provide for a number of tactical options that aren’t readily present otherwise. For instance we can simulate some classic fighting style maneuvers like axes smashing shields to pieces (shatter) or two-handed swords lopping the heads off spears (shatter) or pole-axes being used to trip people (strikedown) and so forth.
That’s interesting to us because I think it will give an element of battle field strategy that might not otherwise be available. If a battlefield commander is informed that there is a unit of barbarians with pikes coming up on his left, he might try and get a unit of Marcher Knights with two-handed swords sent that way to drive them off.
Calls are also useful in rebalancing certain weapons. Bows for instance, are notoriously shite in LRP. By using special calls you can adjust the power level of the bow to address the fact that it would otherwise be useless. Without special calls your bow does one point of damage with every arrow. At which point you might as well give the archers toffee hammers for all the use they’ll be.
Equally shields are often over-powered. You can’t grab them, you can’t shatter them, you can’t slam into them… Adding the potential for a player to use a shatter call a few times a day starts to address that issue. Players target shields with shatter calls when they have access to them, precisely because they’re such effective combat tools in LRP.
Calls allow for mages to take a part in battles. Our crazy new battle-magic system was well received on the play-test, people seemed to like our touch-range sympathetic magic which is cool. But all of that would fall apart without calls. Of course we could just give the mages calls and give the fighters nothing, but I worry that the fighters would feel like the poor relation, like it was the mages that got to do the cool stuff and they were just also-rans. Calls allow for battle-field magics and allow those players playing warriors for whom feeling special is important to feel special.
Speaking personally, I like the idea of the odd call in combat. I think it will “mix things up”. I want hard skill to carry the day (and our tests convinced us it still does) but I want to roleplay being in a fight, worried that it could go against me at any moment even though I’m sure I’m the better man. The limited use of the calls means that players will save them for when they think they need them. So psychologically I can be beating a man with my better hard skill, but remain nervous that he might “pull off something clever” and get the drop on me. I like that, I find it’s more “immersive” than the classic LRP combat where you have five hits, I have five hits, I am a better fighter than you so it’s basically all over and it’s just a matter of us both going through the motions until you run out of hits.
By removing that mathematical certainty, I can keep a nervousness about my opponent that makes me find the roleplaying of being in combat more enjoyable against a less skilled opponent. The potential for a call to happen in a fight I’m in reduces the element that feels like a combat sport in my head where we just trade blows and count hits until one of us falls over – it “mixes that up” and makes the whole thing less mathematical and deterministic.
Our call system also has some potential to enhance hard skill which I think is very cool. The suggested call like Cleave is very powerful, but it’s stopped by chain or plate or equivalent armour. But it’s only stopped if the blow physically lands on a piece of armour of that type. So a combatant in a mail hauberk suddenly becomes the perfect target for a well place axe blow to an unarmoured leg or fore-arm. This makes actually aiming your blows for weak points in your opponents armour a valid and effective tactic.
Calls have far more uses than that of course. They allow for progression. It doesn’t actually matter how slow the progression is, progression itself is interesting. While some hate it, I personally like it, it gives a rules basis for the heroes journey and for me that’s a common trope that I enjoy playing in LRP. You can’t really do progression very well without some kind of ability to be better.
Calls also give us a technology for our setting. In some sort of mythical “real world” your equipment might actually have been important. Some plate would be better made than others. Some swords are sharper than others, some are less prone to being shattered than others. None of that works for shit in LRP, where your foam and fibreglass core phys-rep is identical to the next one. You have an OOC game – of trying to buy the best weighted weapon you can – but you have no IC game that your character can pursue.
Calls give us options for having a technology base to our game – to allow characters to actively pursue well made swords/weapons and other things that will help. While I appreciate that game may not be of much interest to players here, it’s incredibly important to us, because trade and commerce, buying and selling is a very effective, very fun part of LRP for a lot of players – particularly a lot of our existing players whose game comes to an end this year. We want to have things for players to buy and sell – calls give us many more options for that. I want to keep as much of that trade and commerce that Maelstrom has as we can (while dumping all the awful admin shite), because I think it makes the world richer and more immersive.
Calls also allow for more interesting, more iconic, more dangerous monsters. The barbarians may field a unit of incredibly strong ogres in their line. We can pick big burly guys for that, but we can’t phys-rep the ogre’s physical strength in anyway. But if we give the ogres two strikedowns a day – through a call system – then we can have our ogres be meaningfully different to our orcs or other barbarians. We could of course just give special calls to monsters and not to PCs, but in the game I want to run the PCs are the heroes, not the cannonfodder.
Calls have often been used very badly in LRP, particularly fest LRP. Magic damage, artifact damage, cold damage, fudge flavoured ice-cream damage. Often the purpose is to weaken players, to prevent them from affecting monsters or NPCs in some way by enabling the monster to call “no effect”. Empire doesn’t have a no-effect call, there is literally no way for anything to resist anything in the current rules system being developed and tested. So I really don’t think we’re trying to use calls in the way that they have often been used in large fest games in the past, it’s a different ideological approach.
Likewise calls are often used in club systems to make soft skills dominate over hard skills. That’s not the design aim for Empire, indeed as mentioned I think our rules may even enhance the use of hard skills in many circumstances. But even if they don’t, the play-tests convinced me that hard skill will still dominate on the battle-field (which is a design criteria for the system). Shifting from unlimited calls to “X calls per day” is partly designed to ensure that soft-skills don’t run riot over hard skills. Again it’s a very different set of design criteria to that used in many LRP club systems.
For me the Empire call system is aiming to provide better rules support for different fighting styles, to allow a more immersive roleplay experience where an opponent remains a threat even when you’ve got the edge, to improve game balance for certain fighting styles like shields or bows and to allow a much richer, deeper game world where a thriving economy where players can buy and sell things that will provide a small but useful advantage to them.
So that’s the point of the call system for Empire. Obviously some people don’t like them and I can’t hope to change that essential attitude, but hopefully this helps people understand where we are coming from and that this is part of an entire system design, not just a combat system for a battle-game.”