Death Spirals: When Losing in a Fight Ensures You Will Lose the Fight

I’ve been playing Betrayal at Krondor a bit over the last week, and it’s had me thinking about death-spirals in RPGs.

One of the major mechanics in Betrayal at Krondor is a two-tiered HP system consisting of Health and Stamina. You nominally have a 1:1 ratio between these, I believe, but it’s generally something like 2:1 due to the fact that you can only fully heal by resting at an inn. The first bucket of HP that gets depleted is your Stamina—once this is gone, you start losing Health, which begins to directly affect your performance. Each subsequent hit makes it more difficult for you to attack and defend. The effect of this is a potential for a death spiral in which your characters have no chance of suddenly turning the tides of battle because with each round their performance diminishes. Worse is the chivalry which prevents characters from fleeing if one party member is KO’d.

Coupled with the “Near Death” mechanic that makes HP recovery incredibly slow until you’ve crossed a certain threshold of Health regained, Krodor’s health system can lead to some dire straits. I spent a decent few hours wandering in the hills, trying not to starve to death as my rations dwindled.

Our homegame has something similar, in that it uses stamina (in the form of “Grit”) in place of health largely to reflect the difference between taking minor and serious wounds, however we’ve used (until recently) a single bucket. (The new bucket is very shallow and very expensive because it replenishes on a roundly basis, mostly as a way for tanky characters to mitigate ping damage). Once “Grit” is depleted, all damage begins being applied directly to the character’s body parts as wounds and injuries. In most cases, these are either so bad that they lead the character to bleed out before anything can be done for them or they result in debilitating injuries that can lay the character up for weeks or months in-game.

One of the big differences is that there’s not this lengthy dwindling death that a party dies as it loses HP. Despite being semi-two-tiered, G3’s mechanics usually mean that almost any injuries grievous enough to damage beyond HP are going to down a character in a way that puts them down for the rest of the fight. Typical activities that restore HP are not going to be enough to negate the actual injury as opposed to offsetting the fatigue tracked via Grit. It’s a bit easier in a tabletop to mitigate the negative effects of a character being out of commission than it is in a CRPG. In G3, a character gets hurt so bad that he’s out of commission for a few months, we can easily roll up a replacement and, if we don’t want to just retire the old character, pick up the injured character later after he’s had a chance to heal. Not quite as detrimental as being told “these three dudes MUST stay alive AND must stay fed AND need two-three weeks rest in the wilderness before they start healing normally”.

It really is a mechanic I find interesting and am always tempted to find more things to do with. Even if works out wonkily in something like Krondor, sometimes keeping a party at knife’s edge of fight-ready, I think it can add some cool drama and tension. But I also don’t think that it should be a vacuum that will inevitably suck a party down in defeat once a certain threshold has been crossed.

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I Hate Doing “I’m Alive” Posts, But…

I just finished writing up about 2500 words regarding the last several months I’ve spent playing Avalon Hill’s Battle of the Bulge. We went through 4 playthroughs, two per side, with one mulligan, one marginal Allied Victory*, one overwhelming Allied Victory, and one overwhelming German Victory.

I’ve been shirking my Wargame Wednesday duties a bit (though I’ve already explained to the Castalia staff that my time is has become much more restricted since the days when I was a regular contributor on Wednesdays a little over a year ago), so I figured I’d give the crew at Castalia a shot at the post before I threw it up here at Cirsova.

*:Marginal in game terms, the Krauts got their asses kicked by any strategic measure, but the Allies suffered greater than historic losses.

Hard Lessons Learned Slowly

I’m very slowly figuring out what works and what doesn’t from the handful of times I’ve had tables or booths at cons or book fairs.

The thing that’s killing me is I always procrastinate until it’s too late to get business cards or bookmarks printed. Frankly, I think I’d be better off making these to give away than actually having any product to sell.

I at least learned from the first table I had to not be over-optimistic about stocks. I’ll be lucky if I ever get rid of all the copies of issue 1 that I’ve had since River City Comic Expo in 2016. Having no more than 10 copies seems to work.

Sell coloring books or children’s books. Virtually everyone who picks these up has a moment where their heart sinks in disappointment when they realize it’s not a coloring book or a comic.

Action, Adventure, and Romance are stronger selling points than pulp, sci-fi and fantasy. I think that navel gazing explanations of throw-backs, periods, Campbellians, Futurians, the Pulp Rev, etc. will make eyes glaze over and should be avoided. I typically never take it that far, and even mentioning the pulps at all tends to evoke a dead-eyed stare from most folks.

I did talk to an old man, though, who was a fan of ERB; he told me about a relative who was kind of spoiled as a kid and had dang near every Burroughs book. So, that was cool.

Also, I got to meet Jesse Abraham Lucas and Donald Uitvlugt in person and hang with both of them for a bit. Jesse’s a pretty decent pitch-man and better at striking up conversations than I am.

So, uh… before I potentially waste my money and time on getting another booth at a fair or a con again, I’ll be sure to actually get my cards and bookmarks printed up this time around.

Things Seem Like They’re Slow, but There’s Really a Lot Going On!

I haven’t been blogging as much as usual. This isn’t because of a lack of motivation or ideas so much as a lack of time and energies being focused on other areas.

I’m reading a lot of comics right now, but I’m always hesitant to turn it into blog-fodder, in part because I’m going to be writing about stuff really behind the curve. Except you could say the same thing about the sci-fi and gaming I write about, since I’ve mostly been playing RPGs from the 70s/80s and reading pulp from the 40s. So, comics from the 80s wouldn’t really be all that out of place! I’m just not sure that “ermegerd, Who’s Black and White, and Blonde All Over? is the worst thing ever; somebody let Mark Beachum know that vulvas don’t stick out from behind through clothes like that” would be a great blog post, and I’m sure you guys will get sick of me talking about the Outsiders real quick. I’m sure a few of you already are.

I know that there’s also a lot of stuff going on with the PulpRev cats right now (who just put out a sampler), but I’m always hesitant to review works of anybody who I know or who may have also shelled out money in the past or might in the future for ad space. So, uh… I probably won’t be posting too many PulpRev reviews (sorry!), but I’ll be sure to shill for your releases (or at least retweet you) on twitter.

As for the magazine, I’ve been hard at work on the next two issues. I’m in the process now of commissioning artwork for Issues 7 & 8. Issue 7 is undergoing another round of line edits and is in the hands of a prospective copy editor, and first round edits for Issue 8 have been completed. There are some REALLY GOOD STORIES in both of these, and I’m already chomping at the bit, wishing I could share them with you right away, but alas, we must stick to the release schedule!

Finally, I must say so long to my editor at Castalia House, Jeffro Johnson. He’s stepped down as site editor for time reasons, and he will be much missed. Morgan Holmes has taken over duties for the time being, and Morgan is a solid guy and great, well-versed fan of classic SFF, so I’m sure he’ll do a great job. I’ll still be doing Short Reviews for the site for the time being and have no immediate plans to do otherwise.

In the meantime, please support us by buying issues you might have missed, or if you have all of our issues, consider buying some merch! We don’t move near enough merch…