This is an expansion of the topic I covered last week, about how skill systems generally suck. Skill systems particularly suck at modeling stealth and perception skills, and it’s not a tractable problem easily handled with binary resolutions.
Stealth In The Real World:
Stealth and moving under stealth, are different (and more interesting) in the real world than they are in most Hollywood movies or fictional realities. Special Forces and the military teach that you can be stealthy (under adequate circumstances) out to roughly 3 meters. At 3 meters, you need to be moving towards the objective at full speed and aiming for a fast take down.
In the real world, stealth is a function of facing – most humans see a field of vision that’s about 100 degrees wide; some of us with only one eye see a field about 60 degrees wide. If your RPG doesn’t have facing and field of vision, stealth gets tricky.
Stealth is a game that’s played in the brain of the person doing the observation. You have to look like what the observer expects to see; this makes it hard to be stealthy in a ghillie suit in a bank, and hard to be stealthy in a jungle wearing a three piece suit. Sometimes, that means breaking line of sight. Sometimes, that means holding still and letting the observer’s brain paint the picture the observer expects.
What it doesn’t do is let you play Batman in a parking garage, vanishing into the exhaust laden air between cement pillars.
Stealth In Games
Stealth in games is generally a contest of skills – the sneaker’s stealth versus the observer’s perception stat (or stats). Some game systems break this down to sight, hearing and scent, others just use perception.
Over the course of a typical game, the person who wants to make stealth a focus for their character has a strong incentive to double (or quadruple, or octuple…) down onto the skill. Perception skills always seem to escalate over time, and so do stealth skills. In some ways, this resembles the genre tropes, but in most cases, it’s deeply unsatisfying; it feels like an ability tax.
Stealth in roleplaying games also runs into another problem: The sneaky guy sneaks off ahead to scout…and while they do so, the rest of the players are supposed to remain ignorant of what they see. This, like the car chase scene, results in a situation where not only are other players not engaged, but the player who is engaged isn’t even interacting with an NPC or two; it’s all “room description box text” and “ok, I roll versus X.”
Which leads us back to the core of the problem in some ways:
What makes games interesting is decision points, and they have to be decision points that matter. How do we insert interesting decisions into the stealth versus perception paradigm? Or we just stuck with the idea that if you’re successful at stealth, there’s never anything fun going on?
I await your comments below…