Friday 12 April 2019

Exacts In the Theatre of the mind

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picture from Wonder Momo via  Hardcoregaming101 though the page seems to have become unfindable by me

 Well g+ got put-down and I have not a lot strong feelings about it.
Other than maybe comparing the user built connection networks to soil.
As you may or may not know uncultivated (cultivated meaning dug up, worked over or otherwise human messed with) good soil has the majority of its properties due to the work of micro and not so micro (i.e invertebrates s visible to the naked human eye) organisms.

Organic matter is and has been broken down into small pieces, tiny little tunnels have been dug, a certain amount of biofilm is also clumping the soil together.
Because of this good uncultivated soil has a good amount of available plant nutrients , holds water but has drainage, lets air into the top layers, resists water loss and erosion due to sun , wind and water action.

If you got some earth moving equipment, dug it all up and dumped it somewhere else the soil would then compact down due to the collapsing of the microtunnels built by countless little critters and no longer have the water and air permeability as good. If was repeated wet and compacted it would have worse and worse ability to let water and air through.

But as long as nutrients were available , its biome of flora and fauna would gradually return it to is former pristine state.

A social network platform closing is somewhat like this. The networks and awareness of others that makes a social network good are collapsed if the network closes. The users of it can certainly start again somewhere else and reestablish the connection they had previously but like the soil, it will take time.

Slowing down the process is if the users don't use same name and profile picture with their new account.

Not so much a problem with people that you spoke to often but more with the people who you didn't but  the awareness of formed your network.

This network is a map of everyone you disliked (but didn't necessary blocked), the people you disregarded, the people whose opinion you valued but rarely had anything to talk about directly.

The sum total of that is what motivates or deters one to bother reaching out or contributing to.

So that is what everyone (everyone who was using it on the regular anyway) has lost with google plus gone.

Where and if people start their new networks depends on a multitude of factors , but some of the most important I feel are A regular source of interesting and Not having To Interact with Worthless People.

I don't have the time and interest right now to settle down on some other platform and try and point forth content to help grow the nexus (the network of networks) or even search other platforms adequately to find growing ones.

So the next bit of that importance is currently of theoretical value to me; the Not Having To Interact With Worthless People.

I won't try exact define worthless here , but in general I mean people acting in such bad faith or who value internet conflict so highly that they negatively add to any conversation going on.

Domestic Abuser Zak Smith wrote alot about his rules for determining worthwhile people and how to push out Worthless people.

Towards the end his application of these were so blatantly about control that's it hard to remember having ever held them in regard at all.

Never the less it will be interesting seeing where creative and productive places happen and if any of his theories hold up in regard to them.

His stated goal of having better social spaces online that were still critical (i.e not just endless affirmation hug fests) is still one of merit, and I hope the conversation around it can continue without his malign influence.


So you aren't using miniatures or a hastily drawn battlemap, instead you are being a loose-goose and keeping it all "theatre of the mind" .

If someone is attacking someone they are beside them , if they aren't they aren't. If they are on something or behind it then that's where they are. Otherwise it doesn't matter.


Because there's a number of tactical options that new players will often try and then abandon when the dm seems to not really care that they are doing that.

These options get represented by more tactical systems and/or any with miniatures,  but are often overlooked by theatre of the mind play.

Which is a shame because they are fairly intuitive and can be fairly  crucial to survival.

Basically these are the positions that should matter , or at least be considered , with theatre of the mind.

Hiding behind something:
And that something being relatively static. This is easily supported by the existing mechanics but its important to not just think of it of something thieves can do.
Not just always assuming the monsters can detect and easily access the characters
Giving players information about this

Staying out of the way/Staying at range
Moving out the monsters reach and keeping there. This is far less supported directly by the mechanics
even when using miniatures, as for convenience moving and attacking often both happen in the same turn .  So a slow monster can move up and attack if it has initiative, and then the character that can move much further goes and moves out of range and (missile )attacks. While explainable in some situations is rather odd if generally the case.

A possible mechanic support for mind-theatre is some kind dex contest (but also modified by the rate of movement)  to determine if a character can stay out of the reach of the monster. Say die+dex mod vs die+ dex mod. With the die being Slowest d4 , Average d8, Fastest d20

SO: still good idea to be clear to players if a monster can reach them in its turn and if they want to do something about that

Using long weapons
Can get very mechanically complicated if you want to, but my main point is a new player will often expect it to matter if they have a long spear they are prodding something with and will be confused when the monster just effortless is beside them when it needs to be.
A possible simple mechanic : Resolve longest weapons first regardless of initiative 
Attempting to keep a monster always at spear length is more detailed of a combat matter than I'm getting into in this post

Either let players know that the chaos of the melee , unsteadiness of the footing , terrible light etc, makes the length of the spear matter little or have a mechanic to make it matter.

Intercepting/Keeping someone between you and enemy
The old Fighters In front of Mages / Marching order  deal. But also includes where someone is trying to cut off an exit or get between the tied up sacrifice and the Great Bile Toad Of Go'r'r
 For the amount you can mechanically support this one need only to consider Attacks Of Opportunity in 3rd edition.
A simple approach is when players state they are trying to do this have their attack resolved first and if succeeds the monster can't resolve their attack on anyone other than the interceptor.
Additionally where someone is trying to be a meat shield and circumstances are favorable, allow them to dive in-front of an attack resulting in that attacker having advantage to hit and damage them (even after a failed intercept).

Waiting for something to move before doing a thing

aka overwatch. Simple enough, the player resolves their attack when that happens. However in some cases, like waiting for the lizard man to close before striking, individual initiative might be still appropriate to see who goes first.

 The Basics:
Is Character above or below this?
Are they near or far from this?
Are they ontop of this?
Are they/ can they pay attention to this?

I've tried to keep this to just the most basic situations that still require some consideration and avoid stuff that is more like a stunt or specific combat tactic.
For example , climbing on giant things. That is a topic I will come back to at some stage though.

If you can think of anything else that seems like it isn't considered enough with MIND-THEATRE comment below!



  1. in the heat of a combat round, taking an advantageous position might matter little beyond that space in the rules for improvised bonuses [+1 to jumping down a stairwell at someone] or advantage/disadvantage [though I much prefer Logan's DOOMED!] and could complicate the relatively tricky MIND-THEATRE of making sure all four, five, six, eight people are picturing the sameish scenario in their head.

    BUT! These things do matter & the mechanics should acknowledge that.

    A proposition: Instead of mechanically affecting /this/ round, they work towards /next/ round. Thus, *tactical initiative bonus*

    *tib* is +0 if you are disengaged from immediate combat, on the same elevation as your opponent, holding the same-length poleaxe, aso.

    *tib* if, during your turn, you take any of these combat advantages for yourself [hide behind the fighter, attack the daggerrat with your odachi, scamper out of range of the shot-putter], take a +1 to your next initiative.

    *tib* means that, yes, if the bigbad is almost dead, or you're almost dead and the next initiative seems lightyears away, it might be better to flail.

    *tib* unseats the dextrous hierarchy when it comes to who shot first. About damn time.

    i'd say that *tib* should be used with a fairly flexible held action mechanic, so having a held initiative gives you an advantage even if you're waiting around for the portal to open or the Go'r'r monks to cease their mindless chant.


    This post, plus Patrick's MIND-THEATRE notes in the Silent Titans pdf make this an awesome week for imagining tactics. Thank you!

    1. Even with just 3 players + dm next turn can seem too long in the future to make the reward feel connected to the action. +1 seems too petty, why not give them a bigger die (d8 rather than d6 ) or the Advantage mechanic? Something that feels more significant

    2. for sure - initiative bonus could be a baseline of consistency. No reason not to account for additional modifications to the here and now, but if tactics are forward thinking [positioning yourself in a better place to face whatever challenges may come next] then ending your turn with a tactical advantage over where/when you began it should forward that advantage onto your future opportunities to act.

      stepping up the die is a nice idea [gotta love them chaos], though I'm not the biggest fan of advantage.

      follow up question: should assumption of these tactical advantages require a test as a baseline [to hide behind Chunko the Fightor is easy, to hide where the Go'r'r sapper cannot see you needs a dex chek]? I'm inclined towards yes for your mentioning of the dm easily overlooking the actual advantages of these maneuvers - putting dice between you and tactical advantage is a good way to incentivize it [more rolls!] and give it weight comparable to making/evading an attack.

    3. regarding checks to do things;only where there's a direct conflict (you are pulling on a rope and someone is tied to the other end) or a conflict with plausibility. Sure if you put mechanic benefits behind a die roll you can make them more powerful because they happen less.
      But it's best if the players are having to think as hard as possible about the environment and other contexts,and if some has a great idea, reward them.
      Players are unlikely to want to "waste" a turn if it less beneficial than just rolling to attack.
      If someone is just trying to lever something on their character sheet, and it seems unlikely but conceivable , then sure them roll for it.

      Additionally think about countering tactics with tactics; if something seems too powerful, have it the monster think about a counter, or have it used on the players at some point and make them think of a counter.

      E.g If hiding up a tree and attack with 3 spears tied together makes a character immune to wolf attacks , have the wolves attack their horse or attack their spear or have 2 wolves settled down out of range while the other wolf goes off to get more wolves.

  2. As someone who frequently uses theatre of the mind for running combat, I can concur that presenting it in terms of discrete states, like you've listed, is important. One additional thing that's been useful for me has been describing tactical distance in terms of units of movement. (i.e. if a charcter's per-round speed is 30ft, then a monster 40-60ft away is 2 'movements' away). It's made it easier for players to understand the Staying at range concept.

  3. Your points about networks are really good. I hope it doesn't take too long for such a nexus to form, for you are others

  4. Harassing or suppressive fire? Not the kind of thing that would come up a lot, although it would be a nice strategy for a low-level character with a higher-level group.

    1. Think that's more a larger scale engagement thing or where you have a high rate of fire.
      Also less about positioning and more about how missile weapons work in your game

  5. Illusions are a lot stronger with a battlemap. Did that wizard cast Wall of Stone, or Phantasmal Force? Do you want to waste a round finding out?

    1. Definitely, though a work-around is declaring the illusion between or around something .It doesn't allow for the more exacting tactics of positioning or the like but it still keeps the important bit clear in everyone's mind

  6. Enjoyed your thoughts on totm, Scrap. I linked some folks over here on my blog/podcast this week.

    1. Cheers! Feel free to drop a link to your podcast

  7. I've been trying to make a big list of "location creation" dungeon elements. Basically, if you can say you are on one side or another, above or below, beyond a certain edge or behind it, it's much easier to track who is where. Should make the bottleneck of "I stay outside the room in the hallway" a bit less of a thing.

    1. How do you treat characters moving from one position to another? Like do they get one Move per round? Is there risk or chance of failure for doing so?
      Sounds like a good framework for keeping everyone on the same page

  8. >start again somewhere else and reestablish the connection they had previously but like the soil, it will take time.

    I disagree. In the past year I observed several communities being nuked. Some getting banned from reddit and the others being closed when tumblr purged NSFW content.
    Time passed and they have not reforemed to their previous glory, and I fear they never will. I mantained contacts with some of them, and yes they did reform, but smaller. Hence the content output was lower and I stopped visiting regularly. And as me many others. Those communities are a shadow of their former selves.

    I never was part of the G+ OSR community, and most of your work are on the blogs, so it will not be such a big issue here. But still I would worry a bit more.

  9. Hi Scraps! Hope you are doing well.

    My group started with something just like what you've got cooked up there, and then gradually over five years we’ve bric-a-bracked onto it until it became a ginormous Frankenstein of a theatre of the mind system. It has a lot of depth and is a lot of fun and is designed to be used with only words, no minis or visual scrawl of the battlefield or anything like that.

    The big problem was something you bring up as well; meat shielding. Can monsters just gang up on the wizard ("OK wizard you get 20 attacks on you")? What can the players do about it?
    We were doing all rolling out in the open, no fudging with HP etc, super fair, and still the players felt like life & death was arbitrary, that I could pretty easily chose who the monsters killed pretty.

    We've been using this system for the last year.

    Your post (which is great, you write much more clearly than I do) makes me realize something though. I thought I was pretty smart putting these mechanics "under the hood" and "invisible", but if the players don't know that i.e. reach weapons are great (my rules make reach weapons strong) then there's no use. I need to tell them!

    1. The ideal is ,I feel,allowing a new player to have very little disadvantage in their ability to play the game because of mechanical unfamiliarity. More of a guiding principal than 100% achievable though.
      I mention this because often when codifing "fuzzy" states like meat-shield in the theatre of the mind or the games aspects that attacks of opportunity was meant to fix, you often often risk having a large and difficult to digest lump of mechanics for new players.

      However yeah , sometimes it's inevitable that you will need to tell a new player how risky it is to try and run past someone or how easily they can be reached when standing behind the fighter.

      I feel like something that can explained in a couple of sentences (i.e not attacks of opportunity) and is based on a simple risk/reward system (rather than numerical modifier juggling) is the guiding light here.

      Thanks for the share of your houserules , I'll check it out.