Game Design: Reliable Escape Route
I had this incredibly strange idea this morning while riding the train.
Please forgive the standardized notation.
Withdraw [Basic, Escape]
Effect Remove target from combat.
See now, this is weird. You know what it resembles, of course. It looks like the “Escape” option presented in lots of console RPGs. It’s the “run away” option. But there are some different connotations that are huge. Enormous. “Remove from combat” is a concept that exists in Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons, as a control effect.
But I want you to think about the implications of a self-removal action.
What is missing from tabletop roleplaying games in general? Characters and monsters fighting to the death practically all the time, moral implications aside. There is a complete and utter lack of reliable escape mechanics. This has been on my mind for a long time now, and I didn’t think an answer might be so simple.
See, in a turn-based roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons, which remains my primary example because I have the most experience with it, you often have botched or failed escape attempts because each player takes their own individual turn, and often “don’t get the memo” when the party is going to run away.
So half the party starts to run away while half the party (or just one character) stays to fight. There are so many problems with reducing the overall number of actions that one side or the other receives in a D&D fight (or most popular tabletop RPGs), that this spells the doom of the stragglers.
If, however, the entire adventuring party takes their turns at the same time, as I’m suggesting with my combat rules, then it’s possible for everyone to say, “we’re running away from this one,” and no one misses the cue. Everyone runs because they do. Because they can’t forget, or change their mind. They escape as one.
Second. It introduces the concept of “removal from combat” at the most basic level of combat. You don’t have to comb through pages of combat text looking for a way to run away, it is quite literally right there. If you have a “teleport ally to safety” spell, you can look to “Withdraw” and know exactly how it works. Straightforward. Elementary.
If you later come across a “dismissal” effect that removes an enemy from the battle, you know exactly what that implies as well. “Banish” has the effect of removing a target from the field, and “Word of Recall” does as well. Some of these things turn out to be quite easy when you have the rules present at the most basic level of play.
Furthermore, it creates the opportunity to expand on this most basic of concepts. What does it mean then, to enter combat? When is someone in combat? What is “a combat?” I’ve described it in some cases as a temporary “zone,” wherein characters are engaged in causing harm to one another, and this is a way to show that.
As a Standard action, there is a clear way of prioritizing the effects. If you have an effect that interrupts or prevents escaping, then it can trigger when an opponent attempts to withdraw from combat. It fits very neatly into the rest of the system.