Roleplaying Game Application To Track/Analyze Combat enKounters (ATTACK)
RPG ATTACK is a collaboration between The Prince of Dusk and I that has been in development for several months. RPG ATTACK allows for the collection of data on how Game Masters (GMs) and players spend time during combat encounters in roleplaying games such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, WarHammer, and Dragon Age. The data collected can be analyzed and used to understand patterns in how people play these games, and how different techniques affect the flow and speed of play.
We realize that this kind of application is not for everyone. Some may feel concentrating on statistics will distract from the roleplaying in RPGs. If you feel that it might affect your game in that way, please feel free to ignore us; we in no way want to interfere with people having fun playing RPGs! However, we are players and GMs who love the roleplaying and other social aspects of playing RPGs. Our professional backgrounds led us to be curious and investigative, which has resulted in this creation of an application to collect and analyze hard data and utilize statistics on combat encounter, which may help to improve our games. We have combined our passion for RPGs with our interest in the scientific method. We are having fun with the RPG ATTACK, and we hope some of you will join us in exploring data from RPG combat situations.
How Does RPG ATTACK Work?
We have developed an easy-to-use web-based application for coding activities from actual-play podcasts and gaming sessions, which is something I started with an analysis of the Penny Arcade/PvP Podcast Series. In that analysis, I coded two types of behaviors: 1) Role-playing/Tactical decisions and 2) Rolling/Calculating. Interesting patterns of time usage were evident, and the analysis demonstrated the benefits of examining combat encounters in closer detail. The patterns discovered may tell us how people actually play and how different techniques and behaviors can affect an encounter.
How Do I Use ATTACK?
- Open the RPG ATTACK Application.
- A window will open in which you can enter information about the game you are playing, the names of the GM and PCs, and any other notes you wish to make.
- Enter the type of game you are playing (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons 4e Essentials, Pathfinder, Dragon Age RPG etc.).
- Enter names for the PCs (or first names of players), so that you keep track of who is performing actions during recording. If there are fewer than 6 PCs, you can delete the default names of the unneeded PCs and buttons for them will not appear in the main application.
- Entering the names in the order that they will act (i.e., Initiative order in D&D) will help to keep the data organized.
- Enter classes and levels for the PCs. This level of detail isn’t necessary, but the data may be helpful if you analyze the same group over time. For instance, you can determine how much combat speed is influenced by PC Level.
- There is also a Notes section at the bottom of the page to include any other details you think are pertinent. The length of your description is not constrained, so please use whatever you feel will be useful. For example, if the GM was using a technique to speed up play—such as reducing the number of hit points the monsters have by 25%—then please note that here.
- There is also an Add Notes button in the main application to add any other details after you’ve begun recording data.
- Press OK and you will be sent to the RPG ATTACK application.
The main application contains all you need to record data from one encounter. When you are ready to begin recording the encounter, you can press a button that corresponds to the first action of the encounter. In D&D, this will most often be the GM asking the players to roll for initiative. In this case, you will press the GM ‘RP/Tactical’ button. There may be other ways that a combat encounter can begin, but for the purposes of this project we would like to define this type of action as the time to begin recording data.
There are two buttons associated with the GM. If the GM is describing some aspect of the situation (as she or he will at the start of the encounter), then press the Description button in the GM row. If the GM is making tactical moves, rolling dice or calculating damage for the enemies, then press the GM Tactical/Calculate button.
Likewise, there are two buttons for each PC. The RP/Tactical button is pressed whenever the playing is roleplaying or is making tactical decisions. The Roll/Calculate button is pressed whenever the player rolls dice and is calculating damage or other results. The PC can switch back and forth between these two types of activities during one turn, so you may press one or both of the buttons more than once during each player’s turn. If you just want to know how much time is taken by each player during their turn – regardless of specific actions – then you can simply click the PC’s button when their turn begins and switch to the next PC when their turn ends. Clicking the Round button will alert the application that a new round in combat has begun, and the data will be coded accordingly. We encourage you to experiment with RPG ATTACK to determine how it best fits your needs!
- You can use the PAUSE button whenever you want to take a break. The timing will begin again when you press one of the action buttons.
- You can add a note at any time with the Add Note button. This will stop the timing of actions until you have finished the note and pressed an action button to re-start recording data.
- When the encounter has finished, you must save the data using the Save File button. At this point, a pop-up window will allow you to add any extra notes that you wish. Please feel free to write as much about the encounter as you like.
- A window will appear asking you to name and save a text file in the location of your choice on your computer. The text file simply has lines with the information about the PCs and the encounter that you entered at the beginning, lines with the types of actions and their durations that you recorded, and lines with any notes you may have made.
- After the text file is saved, it can be opened in Excel or other applications to analyze a variety of statistics related to combat speed and pace of play.
The Prince of Dusk and I have been modifying the application over the course of many weeks, but his time is quite limited and he was the one doing all the lifting on the programming side of things. If there is enough interest, then I believe we could develop an application that produces graphs and summaries instead of forcing the user to take the extra steps of analyzing the data in Excel or another statistics program. However, this is a great start in terms of helping GMs collect data about combat encounters, and I am very grateful for The Prince of Dusk approaching me with this idea and developing the application.
During my first combat encounter analysis, the data collection took many hours over the course of days since I was forced to stop and start the podcast and track the time in another application. However, RPG ATTACK allows you to listen to a podcast once and code the information simultaneously. There is no need to pause the podcast or coding (unless you want to take a bathroom break). I used RPG ATTACK for my second combat analysis and the process went much faster.
In theory, a GM could code combat speed with RPG ATTACK during actual play as it is just a matter of clicking a button each time a PC begins their turn. Or the GM could task one of their players to use the application during a gaming session. Alerting players that you are tracking combat speed is likely to speed up play anyway, but the data collected could be quite helpful for the group. It may produce eye-opening results about who is taking the most time during actions. As with all data, treat the results cautiously and learn with your group how best to improve your gaming sessions.
If you decide to use RPG ATTACK but are uncertain how to analyze the data to produce meaningful results, then please feel free to contact me. I will attempt to assist in data analysis as much as time allows. If you find a “bug” in the application, then also let me know.
If you are a programmer that would like to assist taking RPG ATTACK to the next level, then please contact me so we can continue to improve the application and make it even easier for GMs to quickly analyze combat encounters.