Diceless and randomless combat: Theatrix

(this is, essentially, a repost, but hopefully a better illustrated one)

Theatrix has, besides Amber and Everway, the most comprehensive tips for a diceless game.  One of the ingenious innovations of Theatrix were flowcharts, with which the (beginner) referee could quickly and reliably determine whether actions of player characters succeed or fail.  A while ago I extended this flow chart by the aspect of RANDOMNESS, in case the referee wants to include dice or cards (Everway) in his decision.  

Let’s get started!

The situation:

The player character is in Venice, Italy. It’s lunchtime, the sun is burning from the sky, and people are gathering in the cool shadows, enjoying their coffee. Fruit dealers have put out their small stands, tourists are buzzing around.

The player character turns the corner, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle, and suddenly a huge guy in a dark suit and sunglasses is standing in front of him, with clearly hostile intent.  The character turns around and wants to run away, but behind him: a broad-shouldered man with sunglasses, as well.

The player character is ex-special forces. He has no tools (not even a car key) with him that he could use to his advantage. 

The two gangsters represent a roughly equal threat to our character.  They are a clear challenge.  A direct attack against them would not end well for our ex-special forces guy.

I now take a look at the flowchart.

No, I didn’t plan anything like that.

No, I do not want to use random generators for this conflict.

I can now decide whether to treat the conflict as a single, entire scene (and therefore use the flowchart only once), or whether I judge each individual action of the character.  I go for the second variant.

I’m asking my player: So the two guys are in front and behind you.  The whole alley is full of people, all close together.  What are you doing?

Player character (player clutches his heart, gasps, mumbles, laughs, grins, acts all out weird:)  I stagger like this towards one of the thugs.

I notice that my player is roleplaying really well  – that’s one of the criteria in the decision making process:  How well does the player act?  If he acts badly by his own standards, his character’s action is considered a failure.  But with this rule, I have seen many a player transform from wallflower to “amateur actor”.  

This is what  I tell my player: The guy takes a step back, irritated, and perhaps a little disgusted.

Player: Cool!  When I am very close…

Me: Yes, now you are very close to him.

Player: …then I grab his balls and squeeze with all my strength.  (gestures) My other hand grabs his throat and squeezes.

Definitely.  The character is experienced in combat.  Dirty tricks are part of his standard repertoire.

I choose “more tension”.  The corresponding box says

So the victory is not yet in the bag – the other gangster is still around.

I’m acting out the futile resistance of the gangster against the player character’s attack, gasping for air, flailing around with his arms, and finally collapsing onto the ground. 

Then, I tell the player: The guy collapses lifelessly in your arms.  You hear some terrified screams from bystanders.  The other thug is leaping at you.

Player: Oh! Oh! I push the one I just KOed into him, with full force! Let’s get out of here!

Is the player character capable of the action?  Any normal-built adult can shove another normal-built adult anywhere. So, yes. 

Again, I decide to let the player sweat a little more.

Now I could, for instance, add a wild chase through the city, if I wanted to. 

But regardless: our character will be successful because that has already been established.