Saturday, October 06, 2007

Killbox Etiquette


This is a term used in the Camarilla to describe any sort of set piece battle sequence. Whether generated by the GM, or generated by players ganking one another. Often, it is a room set aside for the purpose of running combat that exceeds the normal bounds of a PC on PC fight. I.E. anything that may involve a dungeon crawl of some sort or that may involve Large numbers of players or NPC combatants.

Large scale fights in any sort of game can be thrilling and exciting. It's certainly an opportunity to discover how much of a bad-ass your character really is. It's also an opportunity to discover how far you've got to go before you are even in the neighborhood of bad-assery. These sorts of combats can also be dramatic. They can be the turning point of a majo storyline. They can be the point when all the feuds between characters finally boil over into violence.

Or they can be boring tedious affairs that leave players frustrated and pissed. This, sadly is what they often turn out to be. So, in order to ease the way and hopefully find a way to make this sort of thing work better... I have a few suggestions that might just help things out. Or at least i hope so.

1) Remember that mediation is an option
It's easy to forget in the sturm und drang of a potential combat in the offing, that you can mediate what the combat will turn out to be. All you need is the ability to get everyone on the same page about what they hope to accomplish. Let's say i'm playing a Vampire that is being set upon by a sherrif and his entire posse. If i'm thinking realistically, No matter how much of a bad-ass i really am, unless i get dumb lucky on draws, i can't take more than 3-4 other vampires at a time. Mechanically, it's just very unlikely. Unless i am able to flat out kill one vampire each turn, sheer weight of numbers will pull me down.
As a result, I have only two options really. Flee and try to fair escape or lose the fight in a way that can live with.
If i can mediate a solution with the players of the opposition where i am knocked into a short duration torpor, staked and dragged to the prince for a big dramatic show trial. or allow myself to be taken into custody, where i manage a daring escape... Then everybody is happy and nobody has to die.
On the other side of the equation is if i and my party of vampire bad-asses should go out into the wilderness and discover the entire werewolf nation waiting out there, then the decision to mediate should signal to the GM, "I am not ready to die tonight. May we attempt to parley or flee with lots of damage?" When you recieve such signals, pay some attention to them.

The numbers game:
The more people involved, the more likely statisticly that one or more of the following will happen.
1) There will be an unfortunate and perhaps incovenient frenzy on one or more sides of the conflict. This is the reason why you should keep combat parties small. If one vampire loses his shit, it can turn the tide of the whole side.
2) There will be enough crosstalk that it will drive the ST to distraction.
3) There will be at least one or more people involved in the fight who have no knowledge of combat, the system, or indeed why they've been dragged along in the first place.
4) There will be someone who gets fucked over. (See "3" above.)
5) There will be someone who gets their nose out of joint so badly that they invoke the 48 hour rule and a scene freeze goes into effect. The 48 hour for you non camarilla types is basically a temper cooling rule, and good one at that, but it can shut things down in a major way. especially if it invoked in a situation that is not a regular weekly game. Say at a game of the month, in a far off city or at a major con.
6) it is very likely that no matter how many people you bring along to gank someone, they will fair escape. Usually with the ST's blessing, because he's already sick of the combat. Smart players who have calculated the odds realize that often it's easier and cheaper to routinely flee these things rather than get swept up in the blood lust. and since most GM's brains overheat after about a half hour of fast and furious combat, they are often inclined to allow the escape and start drinking early. This can leave combat gumbies with a serious case of blueballs.

The Second String:
Some players have no business being in combat. Such players ought to be involved in the second string of the operation. (I.e Standing guard outside to prevent help from coming, or to prevent the target(s) from leaving the box. Maybe they ought to be sent round to burn down the haven or slaughter the targets ghouls and herd. Makes it harder for the target to recoup if he does escape. If you're planning to destroy someone, you might as well go all Michael Corleone on them.
In GM based killboxes, second stringers ought to be involved in vital and necessary operations, such as exfil support, medical support, tactical comms, lookouts and so on. There's nothing that states they can't take their fair share of abuse too from enemy forces, But I would consider it poor form to attack them with the main enemy force and leave the combat gumbies standing there with their dicks in the hands.

The odd's favor the house:
You want to keep to keep a cool head. I'm going to repeat that because it's damned important. YOU WANT TO KEEP A COOL HEAD. Players flipping out in the middle of a combat scene because of a real or perceived screwing merely ratchets up the tension level of the game and increases the odds that your going to piss off other players and/or the GM. When this happens, things are liable to get punitive real fast.
To this end, there are a few things you should keep in mind. In fact you might want to tattoo them on your soul:
1) You are the sole person responsible for how well you know and understand the rules.
2) You are the sole person responsible for how prepared you are in play. (Keep your sheet out and updated)
3) as i often say, the GM has more things to think about than you.
4) No matter how perfect or well rehearsed your plan is, draws can favor you or screw you to the wall. There are NEVER any garauntees and nobody OWES you a critical hit or an instant kill. No matter how well you've stacked the odds in your favor in a killbox, you can still DIE. Each time you dive into combat is a crapshoot. Act like it.
5) If you cannot keep your head cool in the face of the possibility that your character might be harmed, much less die, then maybe you need to seriously take a look at other hobbies.

large Killboxes indicate a failure of kindred leadership and the aftermath of such event should be attended by princes handing out punishment like beads at motherfucking Mardi Gras. At least that's the way i'd spin it to the players of Princes. On the other hand, GM driven killboxes might be an opportunity for players to earn some status in kindred society, especially if they can handle the problem without shredding the masquerade to pieces. Pay attention to these things.

The Fog of War:
Subdivide the fight when you can. Hand off what you can to other narrators and make each group of combatants be ignorant of what is going on in other parts of the fight. This is not as hard as it sounds. Smoke, darkness, gunfire, distance, and a host of other factors can effectively segregate players from one another.
Make players use a full action to use Summon or Telepathy in the midst of a running guerrilla battle and then make sure that those messages don't get passed until the proper turn. Then make a player fair escape from one room and then spend a FULL turn to get to the next part of the fight. As a matter of fact, you might consider the possibility of disallowing combat communication altogether. Fights happen in a very short and hectic amount of time, most people tune out distractions when they are in the middle of a struggle for their existence. You might allow players in one section of the fight to go join another section of the fight once they've fair escaped or fought the enemy down and dropped out of rounds. But i'd still make them wait one turn before joining the next combat.
You could try coordinating the combats via walkie talkie, but i suspect it would create more trouble than solve problems. In any event, the combat involving the largest number is allways going to run slowest.

Get a room willya:
I realize that many people play Larp to get up and away from the table. But for Yog's sake, if you run a killbox, think very hard about whether it would better to throw down a battlemap on a big table and run the damn thing from a fast laptop. There are many reasons for this. There are people who simply should not be on their damn feet for any length of time. Those who are recuperating from illness, those who are preggers, those who wore the WRONG set of heels, Hell, my knees are for shit some night. People standing in one spot for hours at a time are going to have problems and those problems are going to be 3 times worse if you're doing the scene outdoors. Even if the weather is cooperating.
Take the killbox into a room, tabletop the fight, if it's large and complex. It's easier to keep notes at a table and read sheets indoors under actual light. Nobody want to freeze or get rained on, or swelter in their leather coat, or be subject to outdoor allergies, or miss part of the fight because it's too far away to be heard. Get real. Comfort level is a very real consideration.

In a killbox there are only two people who should be talking at any given time. The ST and the person he is talking to. This isn't even up for discussion. It's not up for arguement or debate. Each utterance of "Dude, nice kilt." or "Damn these fucking heels" or even "God, there's too much chatter. I can't hear what's going on" is distracting from the main business and slowing it down.
In addition, each and every person who takes it upon themselves to help by going "SHUT THE FUCK UP RIGHT NOW!" is merely adding to the noise polution and ratcheting up the tension level besides.
If you are in room situation, you might tell the people in the room that each time you catch someone cross talking, that they'll be bumped to dead last in the initiative queue. Repeat offenders will be asked to leave the fight entirely. If you want or need to crosstalk, go outside. If you miss your initiative then you miss your turn. If you want to volunteer information (Say on a rules call) then raise your hand like in school.
Hopefully that can keep the chatter down. There's nothing wrong with a little dramatic dialogue or with the OCCASIONAL joke that gets a laugh, but players need to be on notice that this thing is something that drives ST's batty.

Sono Finito.


At 10:15 PM, Anonymous Everett said...

Welcome back.

At 10:30 PM, Anonymous Everett said...



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