Sniffen Packets

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Gaming stealth

The economy of information flow and the awareness and orientation of participants is a key emergent feature of the best wargames. Few have explicit mechanics to represent this. Can we characterize good ways of writing systems to support player-level injection of distraction and deception? Can we write good systems at all that provide mechanical support for playing a better maneuver-warfare expert than the player?

Case study: D&D 4e stealth and perception. The default Perception action benefits the group. It’s helpful for everyone to roll, helpful for anyone or everyone to be trained in Perception—if you’re trained, you might see the monster coming, and then you can tell the rest of the party. Everybody benefits. You personally benefit in being surprised less often, but the whole party’s glad to hear that anyone got trained in Perception or increased his score.

The default Stealth action does not benefit the group: it only hides one character. We optimize in common play: only the worst member of the group rolls to hide the whole group, no matter its size. There is no benefit to mid-ranked characters increasing their scores. What if it did? What if the default Stealth action was to hide a group? Let everybody roll, and require separate perception checks to see through each veil?

I wonder if there’s anything out there that really deals with awareness and deception at a systemic level.