This article on overcoming the friction of combat, along with the same authour's article on wounding, got me thinking on the ideas which now form Conflict. For those who have not experienced a life-threatening conflict or extreme trauma situation, here is an experiment on feeling adrenaline.
- go for a hard run, flat-out for two minutes - use the timer on your phone. Look before you cross the road, and look at the street signs.
- when you feel you can no longer go on, set the timer for another two minutes, and go flat out again.
- now stop, and get out your phone, and without looking up for any signs, use it to write down the name of the street you just passed. Try.
- place thumb and forefinger against each-other, and rub them together by your ear. See if you can hear them. Try.
- slap yourself on the thigh. Can you feel it? Try.
- Most likely, you cannot remember the name of the street you just passed, your fine motor skills have degraded significantly, and you're almost deaf.
This tunnel vision, auditory exclusion, numbness and loss of fine motor skills are just the beginning of the adrenaline rush of combat. Doing things while under the threat of physical harm is difficult, and requires experience and training. As authour Rory Miller puts it,
"Compare your regular conversation skills with our verbal skills the first time you asked someone on a date. Yeah."
In his article, Franklin (apparently a pseudonym) suggests rolling each round to see if the person can act at all, with a failure leading to repeating the last round's action - or freezing if it's the first round. This is realistic but involves a lot of dice rolling and ultimately is annoying. So we've modified it a bit for Conflict, giving another +0 to +3 attribute called Readiness; this is how many actions someone has in a combat round. You might be a crack shot on the range, but that doesn't help you if you freeze up as soon as you hear a shot ring past your ear. And most people do.
Background: +1 may be granted for Social Class. Those of the +0 underclass (long-term unemployed, homeless, refugees, former felons, etc), for example, are quite simply more likely to have experienced someone coming up and clocking them in the noggin for no particular reason, or to see half a dozen guys surrounding a guy on the ground and kicking him until he defecated all over himself, or to see someone overdose and die vomiting and bleeding. Those who did not learn to anticipate these situations and vacate the area immediately or prepare to defend themselves did not survive to tell the tale. The survivors had Readiness+1.
There is less chance of someone from the +1 waged class (labourers, retail, hospitality, etc) having experienced these things, but there may still have been some rough and tumble here and there. The +2 salaried class (officer workers, etc) will almost never see this except on news reports, or fictional accounts. And of course the +3 upper class have no idea. The whole point of rising in social class, after all, is to insulate yourself and you family from the unpleasant realities of life.
Training may also grant +1 to Readiness. Any combat familiarity or expertise will grant this. Note that in Conflict it is understood that a "combat" familiarity or expertise is not merely time in the dojo or down on the range, but an exposure to the conditions of combat, even if not combat itself. Doing live-fire drills, room-clearing, fighting without pads or gloves, and so on. Realistically, each familiarity would grant Readiness only for that particular circumstance - an infantry soldier will not necessarily do well in a boxing ring, for example - however most referees and players will set that aside as too complicated, and simply say that any combat familiarity or expertise will grant +1 Readiness generally. Physician familiarities and expertise may grant it, too.
Combat/trauma experience means actual time on the two-way rifle range where the others really do want you dead. It's arguable how much experience is required, but for game purposes we can assume that no-one has this to begin with, and that after each combat or trauma situation where the person acted usefully, their player might throw a d6, and on a 6 get this tick.
Thus all will have a Readiness of +0 to +3.
Readiness does a number of things:
- adds to Surprise throws, so that more Ready people are more likely to surprise, and less likely to be surprised
- adds to Initiative throws, so that more Ready people are more likely to go first
- allows actions in combat, with the player choosing Readiness different actions out of: give orders, watch, move, equip, and brawl, melee or fire
Readiness may be boosted by someone's Presence expertise or Leadership familiarity, if that person uses an action to give orders. Thus, even useless bystanders (Readiness+0, who normally can do nothing) at a trauma scene can be made useful by a confident first responder bossing them about, and even child soldiers with an adult leading them can run into battle. And already useful (Readiness+1 and more) troops can be made more useful by that leader.
It can also be boosted by the esprit de corps familiarity - a group of people who are just so used to training, working, eating and sleeping together that they can anticipate one another's actions.
It can be temporarily sidestepped by surprise, since when throwing for it, the difference is the number of free actions the attacker gets.
Lastly, Readiness is reduced by two things: being wounded in some way, and being under suppressive fire. Fire counts as suppressive if the victim is in the area of automatic fire, or single shot fire from at least three firearms. Each of these things reduces Readiness by one for that combat round only (though obviously wounds may preclude any actions at all).
Example: Corporal Merkava is on leave and at the pub. She gets a few drinks in her and sleazes onto a likely lad, Mr Anderson who looks her up and down and says, "Wooah." Merkava gives him a sloppy pash and orders another drink, putting it on Anderson's tab. Anderson's slapper girlfriend Ginger is none too pleased with this turn of events, and sizing up Merkava (who is built, you may recall, like a Soviet brick shithouse) decides that a direct confrontation would be poorly-advised, and instead to waylay her in the bathroom. She goes to the bathroom, reasoning that a woman drinking that many lagers will eventually make her way there, and waits behind the door with a half-empty bottle of Vicker's Gin. She has no kind of Stealth ability, but does have a door granting her +1, and Merkava is sailing with three sheets to the wind and blinking into it as she staggers in, granting her a DM-3 (one for each sheet) to surprise despite her Observation/Tactical familiarity that normally lets her spot obvious ambush points. These add to,
Slapper Ginger: Readiness+0 + Stealth+0 + door +1 = DM+1
Cpl Merkava: Readiness+2 + Obs/Tac+1 + Drunk-3 = DM+0.
Ginger's player (the heartless referee) states her actions "slam her with the door, and while she's pinned, smash the bottle over her, and then stab her with it."
Ginger's player throws 5+1 = +6, and Merkava's player 4+0=+4. Thus, Ginger gets her first two planned actions. She slams the door into Merkava, which is simply a blunt object (the door) as an improvised weapon, which is a familiarity of Brawling; Ginger has neither of these, thus DM+0, with another +1 for the door itself (it's hard to miss a person with a 6 foot by 4 foot object, though whether you wound them is another matter). Ginger's player throws 1,4+1 = 6, short of the 10+ required to hit with a wounding effect. Merkava goes "oof" but is unharmed, and certainly not pinned.
Now Ginger follows up with the half-empty bottle of Vickers. She has no Melee expertise or familiarity, and so it's a simple DM+0 throw aiming for 10+. Her player throws 6,4=+10, and she hits. She throws 3,1 which indicates a WIA result on the torso. Ginger smacks Merkava in the guts with the half-empty bottle of Vickers, which will not down her, but will cause her a DM-2 to other actions until treated, and Readiness-1 for the next round.
Now surprise has been dealt with, it's down to normal initiative. The conditions are unchanged from surprise, excepting that Observation no longer matters - only Readiness and Leadership. Neither has Leadership, and Merkava's Readiness is down 1 due to her being wounded in the surprise round. Thus,
Slapper Ginger: Readiness+0 + d6 throw of 1 = +1
Cpl Merkava: Readiness+2 - Wound1 + d6 throw of 5 = +6.
Merkava goes first, and has 1 action. "What the hell?" she mutters, "who's this bitch?" She has Brawling expertise giving DM+6, and Strength expertise granting DM+3, but of course is still drunk giving DM-3, and is winded from the Vickers to the guts, for a net DM+1. She throws 5,5+1 = +13, and then for wounding effect throws 5,6, which is a WIA effect on Ginger's right leg - she gives her a nasty kick in the kneecap.
For her part, Ginger with Readiness+0 is unable to act, and so simply drops the bottle of Vickers which smashes, and sinks to the ground clutching her knee and wimpering. Merkava gives her an extra kick for good measure, throwing 4,5+1 = +10 to hit, and 1,2 for wounding effect, which is a KIA result on Ginger's head. With blunt objects, KIA results become INC results where the target is automatically unconscious. Ginger slumps to the floor into the puddle of Vickers and broken glass and whatever else you find on the floor of the ladies' bathroom in a London pub.
Shaking her head in confusion, Merkava forgets she needed to go to the bathroom, and turns to leave. As she stands in the open doorway, Ginger sprawled on the floor behind her with her nose broken and blood streaming from it, Mr Anderson calls out, "Wooah, look what she did to my Ginger!"
It turns out the two of them were in a street gang and have many "friends" in the pub. Several of these friends pick up bottles and pint glasses and chairs and billiard balls, and advance upon Merkava. There is no opportunity for surprise, and no leadership worth speaking of, and so it is a simple test of initiative and Readiness - theirs against hers. The referee rules that 1-6 of the gang have Readiness+1, and the rest none - he throws 5. The 5 of them raise their weapons, and Merkava - now still wounded giving DM-2 to most actions, but with Readiness+2 - looks to jump behind the bar. For initiative each throws 6, and so Merkava goes first. She uses her two actions to run over to the, and vault over it to get behind it as cover. Once she's over they have their turn, and start throwing things in her direction. As 3 or more people are firing "single shots" (ie throwing stuff), this counts as suppressive fire, reducing her Readiness to +1 in the next round.
What will she do now? Well, she has just one action while the chavs are hurling pub furnishings at her, and her player says, "Any weapons about?" which means her action is to look around - "watch". Normally a trivial task not requiring a throws, with bottles smashing above her head and billiard balls pinging about, and a startling number of chavs wanting her head, her concentration is somewhat lacking. She's still drunk, though, giving DM-3 to observe things. The referee asks for a throw of Observation or Observation/Tactical, privately noting that apart from all the bottles there is a cricket bat leaning against the inside of the counter (8+ result) and a concealed sawn-off shotgun (10+ result). The referee is generous and says that the Vickers blow doesn't hinder her looking about. It'll be drunk DM-3 + Obs/Tac+1 for a net -2 to her throw.
What will she notice, if any of it? And what will she do from there? Is she willing to take a shotgun to a bottle fight? This should sufficiently illustrate Readiness, so we'll leave it there.