Note: The below is an unpublished Elements article, appearing here as a rough draft. It further explores Pace of Decision concepts where were mentioned in the Tactics article. It appeared (edited slightly differently) in rec.games.frp.advocacy in Oct of 2006.
I nearly always consider Pace of Decision first when examining a game or designing one for it is what is most likely to be directly in the face of the player (if he recognizes it or not). For one-on-one combat, there are three important points:
1. What is the Minimum length a battle can be
2. What is the Average length of a battle.
3. What is Standard Deviation of that average length.
These should be answered for equal opponents and it should be measured in rounds, which in turn consider at their core *one* set of decisions by the player. Most games define their 'round' in some detail so that part is easy. In the case of games like D&D, the answer varies greatly depending upon the 'level' of the character in question, their gear and the like. So you may have to determine the value for a number of what you consider 'break' points in character advancement.
Thus Pace of Decision determines risk and the number of choices the character needs to make. At it's simplest, it's how long a battle lasts.
A low Minimum and low Average means you have a high Pace of Decision game while of course higher numbers lower the Pace. Standard Deviation determines how random it is and is nice to have, but I've rarely actually calculated it going instead with a playtest 'feel' and estimate.
Once you know the Pace, you can look over the *significant* options provided
in the game be they Maneuver, Resource Management or Dissimilar Assets usage (see
here). The combination of these determine the tactical complexity.
How hard or easy a job it is to determine the three points for Pact of Decision is completely dependent upon the system. It comes down to math. Case in point, dice pools require far more work than most other systems. You'd have to tailor your approach individually to each set of mechanics. You pick what you think is a typical combat example, or milestone of your choice in character progression. You pair off identical opponents and start running the numbers.
For an example, let's walk through a simple example of a D&D like combat system. To keep it easy, no critical hit rules, single attack per round. Nothing fancy.
So in our simplified D&D like system, let's take a pair of combatants who each have 40 HP and with typical weapons and armor need a 11+ to hit each other on a D20 doing 1d8+2 weapon damage. In this type of system, it's basically all Damage per Round numbers.
1. What is the Minimum length:
This would be the case where an attacker rolls successful hits with max damage each round. With 1d8+2, that means 10 points per round or 4 rounds.
2. What is the Average length
This takes only a little more work in our simple example. The average roll for 1d8+2 is 6.5 and the attacks only hit half the time. Since the target has 40 hit points, it would take 40/6.5*2 or 13 rounds (round up) to resolve the battle on average.
3. What is Standard Deviation
The last step is to determine how randomly the results vary from the average. Here the math gets much more serious. However it can be avoided if you have programming skills by modeling the battle in code and running it several thousand times, then running a Standard Deviation on the results.
I hope you don't mind if I skip that for this example . Instead I'll just say that given the number of what is in effect cumulative die rolls required (on average 6-7 damage rolls) the SD is going to be on the low side.
So our example system is slow pace with its Minimum of 4, Average of 13 and low Standard Deviation.
A real system is more complex. D20 for example has critical hits (easy to deal with as they only increase damage), increasing HP per level, increasing number of attacks per level, expected gear per level, etc.
If the effects of increasing level are very significant, you'll want to do this analysis at a number of different points until you get a feel for how it changes with advancement. This is very much the case in D&D, but non-existent in something like Age of Heroes.
The last step is to examine the system for things that alter the Pace of Decision. In D&D magical healing slows it while many offensive spells reduce it. These are generally too great in number to do actual calculations on in mass, but are easy to examine one at a time.
The idea is to look for a baseline, and then examine how the system varies around that.
Pace of Decision directly effects the game's style of play. One man's benefit is another's drawback, but leaving that aside there are characteristics that are important to bear in mind. Let's look over some examples:
Low Pace: Example Min 4, Average 13, SD low
Classic D&D falls in here.
In this style of game one generally has a lot of time to respond to events. "Joe's in trouble! If we don't get to him in 3 rounds he's a goner!"
Generally Maneuver doesn't work well in this type of game as the opponent has time to correct any mistakes.
Resource Management on the other hand can have huge impact,
Especially if by its use a player can significant lowerly or raise the Pace for
a period. Battles are typical won and lost on this single element.
High Pace: Example Min 1, Average 4, SD low
Age of Heroes falls in this lonely group
Here one may find that time is not on their side, and find that out quickly. "Joe's in trouble! Opps, Joe is gone!".
Manuever is the key element here. If you're not where you need to be when you need to be... well, let's say that could get messy.
Resource Management can still be of importance, but in comparison it no longer has such overwhelming influence over the outcome.
One interesting characteristic I noticed in play is that
players tend to seek Resource Options (generally spells and the like) that
reverse the normal Pace of Decision at a key point. Just thought I'd throw that
"0 Pace": Min 1, Average 1, SD 0
These are your one step resolution systems. "Whoever rolls higher on a d6 wins the fight!" is the basic idea although it can have a lot more behind it.
This Pace finds favor with those who want the game mechanics to get out of the way. No room for much in the way of decision making beyond the decision to fight at all.
Any Maneuver is pre-combat, and Resource Management is handled in one step. You pay your ante and take your chances...
If you play with the various combinations, I'm sure you can see all sorts of interesting outcomes and changes.