Establishing a marching order in a videoconference game is a hassle. It always seems to take longer than it should, and then PCs in the middle or back are doing things which should often disturb the previous marching order, but practically speaking it’s just difficult to keep everything in mind along with everything else going on, such as describing the area, mapping on Twiddla, or checking off the passage of time.
Dungeon World has a formalized system for wilderness exploration which requires characters to take on different roles, the Undertake a Perilous Journey move. Specifically, characters can take on the trailblazer, scout, and quartermaster roles, which, respectively, improve speed, decrease the chance of being surprised, and decrease the number of rations consumed during the journey. Each PC that takes on one of those jobs makes the equivalent of a wisdom check (roll +WIS in DW parlance), and the result of that roll contributes to their given job.
A similar system could perhaps be used for abstracting marching order. Rather than worrying about exact order, just assign the key positions. Roles that I can think of are:
- Scout: Assumed to travel beyond the light source, and report back periodically. Using a scout guarantees that the party will not be surprised from the front by visible dangers, though the scout risks being surprised.
- Vanguard: protects the center of the group from melee. Up to two may take the vanguard role given 10′ hallways.
- Second rank: may attack with reach weapons if the vanguard is in melee.
- Torchbearer: you might want to double up on this role, as the light source is an obvious target for the minions of darkness.
- Rearguard: function like the vanguard if the group is approached from behind.
So, rather than “give me a marching order,” instead: “who is scouting? who is vanguard?” And so forth. The actual order is not so important as long as the roles are filled. These roles can also carry some weight in more open spaces. For example, the vanguard could be assumed to intercept incoming melee combatants first, followed by the second rank, etc. PCs could of course override these default positions at any point, but I think a shared understanding about these roles might make abstract combat flow more smoothly, especially in games played over Google hangouts or similar technology.
I am also planning on including fields for these roles on my session record sheet. Such spaces could also double as session attendance (useful for things like handling treasure awards later).
That makes sense with the abstractness of combat. If a player is Vanguard I can assume they are stepping up to interpose between danger and other players. I might add Protected, or Cautious for the 1 hit point mages that will try to keep the Vanguard between them and danger at all times. Also, how about Door Opener for one of the Vanguard?
I just added this to my session record sheet (which I will post soon), and added something for designated door opener. I assume that everyone not taking on one of these roles would be cautious, so I’m leaving that off as an option for now, but I’ll see how it plays and maybe add more fields.
These days I don’t worry about marching order unless something comes up. I’ll just ask: “Who’s in front?” If there is no volunteer, I go by what I heard them say (“I’m scouting” or “I’m going to check…”). If still no agreement is reached, I will usually escalate: “So, nobody was walking in front? Clearly this is rubbish. Who has the highest level or the highest Charisma? Who did you order to the front?” Then I tell them what they see, what trap they fell into, who they surprise, etc. It turns out to work smoothly with my groups.
I find myself getting marching order down first thing in sessions, but I really should do more with it – I like the way you’re handling these – I especially like the inclusion of the scout, it makes sense and it’s an elegant way of handling scouting – I always feel bad when playing the scout or GMing the scout and leaving 4-5 other players sitting around waiting for that little adventure to be done.
Yeah, the ninja minigame is tricky to handle.
Forgot Mapper: both hands occupied and roll +INT for accuracy of narration and amount of errors.
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