In the article Combat Turn Design Decisions Thorin makes the case that designing how a combat round works in a tabletop RPG has to balance keeping everyone involved and attentive, and actually letting players do substantial things on their turn. Quick turns mean less can get done, but players stay more engaged because they’re acting more often. Longer turns allow the players to have a lot of positive feelings of agency, but those who aren’t currently taking their turn tend to have their attention wander. Thorin suggests a simultaneous planning system in an effort to compromise.
Mike says: Thorin brings up a critical point in the design of tabletop RPGs, and his attention to player psychology is very well-placed. My concern with this article is an absence of detail in what actions actually mean and how much time they tend to take. When analyzing this topic, I would look closely at exactly what kinds of things players have to do to plan and resolve actions. I’d carefully take notes on where players got hung up, and on how engaged other players were during off-turn periods.
From my experience with tabletop RPGs, playing and running games, Thorin’s approach seems somewhat reductive and overly-simplistic. Much more work could be done here to make a convincing argument. As it stands, I’m not convinced his dichotomy is necessarily the case, nor am I remotely convinced that his suggested solution effectively addresses his concerns without opening up further cans of worms.
Richard says: I agree with you, Mike. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around Thorin’s ideas because they’re in an awkward space between abstract game design analysis and concrete examples. He doesn’t break things down into design parts like mechanics or difficulty design. And he doesn’t pick a specific tabletop game to illustrate his point. The result is a collection of thoughts that presents a vague issue and suggests a few game design knobs to twist in search of the solution. There are so many factors in a games design and outside its design that can create the negative effects Thorin outlined.