Seconds ticking away

Following on from my last post about movement and mounted combat I have been thinking about combat rounds.

There are three combat round lengths in the ICE world. RM2, Spacemaster and I guess RMSS use the 10 second round. RMU uses 5 second rounds and HARP uses a 2 second round.

If was obvious that the 10 second round didn’t work for modern day and Sci Fi. There is no way you can only squeeze  the trigger of a gun once every ten seconds. The fix was to introduce fire phase 1 and 2 into the standard RM2 phased combat round.

If everyone was using firearms, which was not unusual in modern settings then it left anyone who had to move wading through molasses. If you could not get from cover to cover in a single move then you would get ripped to pieces.

Splitting the round into two five second rounds does improve things slightly but there is always going to be a disparity between how long different tasks take. Picking a lock could be seen as a 10 second activity for a skilled thief but it becomes more of a stretch at 5 seconds and surely for the typical PC two seconds is not likely?

Is it better to have some actions take multiple rounds compared to some actions happening multiple times in a single round?

I think I am inclined to go for the very short round and things just take as long as they take. We are used to bows taking rounds to reload. I think those times are a little exaggerated in RM2/RMC but that is because they have been rounded to an easy number of whole rounds. I know that I can shoot five arrows in twenty seconds from a galloping horse and be on target. That does not marry up with one arrow every 2 rounds for a short bow in RM2. One arrow every two rounds in HARP is closer to my observed reality.

But lets ignore combat for a moment. A real dramatic plot device is the hero in action movies defusing the bomb with 3,2,1… seconds to go. If you are in combat time, the rest of the party are keeping the enemy at bay while you are defusing the bomb then ten second time chunks do not fit well with this staple of the action genre. If you treat bomb disposal as a static action you really want to avoid partial or near success as either of those leave you with having another go 10 seconds AFTER the bomb went off.

The more I think about this the more I think the 5 second round is not the right choice for RMU. 2 seconds is tried and tested in HARP and works without compaint. Sure it means rejigging spell casting, durations, movement and critical results (bleeding) but they are rebuilding all of RM anyway so now is the time to do it and not in a future companion as an optional rule.

What do you all think? 10, 5 or 2?

12 thoughts on “Seconds ticking away”

  1. I think every RPG has a tendency to fall apart when fire rates of missile weapons are considered. I’ve never fired a bow from horseback, but I have fired at a stationery target and if you aren’t bothered about precise aiming – say, because you’re shooting at a target so big that you don’t need to aim, such as an army – the sheer amount of arrows you can pour out is impressive. Bows really got supplanted by guns because the latter were easier to train people on and often had greater penetration. Not because they had a higher fire rate, at least initially. Even Traveller uses a six second combat round. That’s more than enough time to empty several magazines of most current weapons.

    1. I am not really particularly interested in realism. On the other hand I do like to emulate Hollywood style violence. I think that is what most players are seeing in their mind’s eye during a RPG combat.
      Incidentally didn’t Traveller have an option to empty your entire maganzine in a single round? A sort of panic fire mode?

      1. Yes, Hollywood and realism don’t really go together. If I ever make a countdown device, it’s going to detonate at 1:17. I have read the Evil Overlord List.

        There’s a burst option with Traveller (at least some versions; I have three) where you can either increase the chance to hit or increase the amount of damage done by spraying the place with ammo. There might be some other options as well.

  2. What about a compromise of 4 second rounds? That is of course the exact number of action points characters get each round in RMU. So you could dispense with action points altogether and just talk of seconds worth of activity. Going from 5 seconds to four would also mean reducing the amount of movement each character would have each turn (which I think would be good too).

    I agree with you Peter that going with shorter rounds and letting things take as long as they take is the best way to go. Is there anything that would have to be radically redone if the round were four seconds? I can’t really think of any.

    One arrow every four seconds seems reasonable, since we are also assuming you have to draw them fully, aim them, and recover.

    You can of course swing a sword more than once every four seconds, but again, aiming it carefully and waiting for an opening against another opponent should take a least a few seconds.

    1. I think 4 seconds would work with RMU as is. It would make spells with explicit time durations (minute or 10 minutes/level) slightly more powerful as durations of rounds/level would be 20% shorter but explicit times would be left unchanged.

      In the last 10 seconds before the bomb goes off you could have three attempts to defuse it (2 4AP attempts and one 2AP at a minus).

      That certainly works for me.

  3. And again, remember that in RMU, you can attack faster than that, if you are willing to take the penalty. So you could fire an arrow every second at a -50 penalty.

  4. Two seconds is idea for modern, frankly, or just about anything that doesn’t require spells. For non-combat stuff that might turn into combat I have a Tactical Turn (20 seconds); another fairly common scale system in non-magic games.

    Four seconds still leaves opening for the ‘flurry of blows’ stuff (which to my way of thinking is the elephant in the room when it comes to damage and such for melee weapons) and really doesn’t scale for Hollywood shootouts at all. Two seconds in my view is ideal, and if bullets aren’t flying you can just shift to the Tactical Turn.

    1. I just spent some time looking at youtube videos of the best movie shootouts and they use elastic time. Much of it appears to be played out in 1 second rounds but equally there are long-ish periods of silence and inaction, obviously for dramatic effect, dialogue and cinematographic reasons.

      4 seconds is not unreasonable. Given the work/reward balance of being able to use RMU unchanged. 4 seconds is a great deal better than the RM/SM 10 second round.

      1. That’s fine. I’ve looked at many scenes, compared a wide number of modern combat rules, and also looked at actual weapon rates of fire. Two seconds is the best balance I’ve found that still allows a somewhat realistic rate of fire while balancing game mechanics. It allows you to streamline some mechanics (assuming basic aiming, for example) while still having the level of detail I feel you need to simulate firearms. It also allows you to factor in certain aspects of movement and melee that won’t work in a longer round. When you take magic out of the equation the balance changes quite a bit.

        1. I can easily see magic being a big complication. Too long a casting time and the battle is over before the casters get a spell off, to short a casting time and they can blast armies off the battle field before they even get in range to be a threat.

  5. Just a couple quick notes for anyone who might be following along but not know much about RMU:

    –RMU currently has a 5-second round. This is a reduction from RM2 (and I think RMSS), which had a 10-second round. So I think we can all agree that RMU is at least moving in the right direction here.

    –RMU also allows characters to perform actions quicker than normal at the cost of a penalty of -25 for each 1 action point less than the maximum you spend. So for example, melee is normally a 4 Action Point action, but you can make a melee attack for 3 AP at a penalty of -25, and you can melee attack for 2 AP at a penalty of -50. The same goes for using ranged weapons and spells.

    –Currently RMU does not allow 1 AP attacks (the reasoning being that it would be overpowered), though I have houseruled them into my game (at a penalty of -75). I haven’t had any problems with that yet. I think they are especially useful for many situations, including charging (where you need to deliver an attack at the moment of impact), and surprise or finishing off an unconscious foe (since in reality you really can swing quite quickly at an entirely defenseless opponent).

    So basically, if RMU went to a 4 AP round, you would not only be able to attack every 4 seconds at full OB, you would also be able to do quicker attacks: as quickly as every 2 seconds (in the Rules As Written) or every 1 second (if you adopted my houserule). That seems reasonably quickly to me.

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