A common way of balancing play in Video Games
is to classify units, attacks, and skills into several distinct classes, with each class having a clear advantage and disadvantage over other classes; in other words, the classes interact with each other like a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors
. This helps encourage different playstyles by making the effectiveness of a given class slightly context-specific, and encouraging the player to utilize a variety of classes, rather than relying on a single strongest one
is a common Sub-Trope
if the relationship is specifically limited to special skills or magic (with regular skills/attacks classed as Non-Elemental
), but the tactical use of Rock-Paper-Scissors
relationships can in concept be extended to any aspect of any game.
For example, in strategy games:
- Ranged units (i.e. Snipers; Tanks; Battle-Copters; Cruisers) defeat fast units
- Fast units (i.e. Infantry; Jeeps; Fighter-Jets; Submarines) defeat siege units
- Siege units (i.e. Heavy-Infantry; Artillery; Bombers; Battleships) defeat ranged units
Or in fighting-games, beat-em-ups, and hack-n-slashers:
- Defending blocks attacks
- Attacking interrupts grappling
- Grappling cuts through defending
Or in Platformers:
- Fast/hovering characters excel at horizontal platforming stages
- High-jump/flying characters excel at vertical platforming stages
- Strong/heavy characters excel at combat/boss battles
Or in RPGs
- Warrior's weapons/armor beats/disrupts mage's magic
- Mage's magic beats rogue's stealth/cunning/evasion
- Rogue's stealth/cunning/evasion beats warrior's weapons/armor
Or in shooters:
- Handguns beat heavy-weapons
- Heavy-weapons beat rifles/snipers
- Rifles/snipers beat handguns
It is important to note that sometimes Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors
can be applied separately to an individual units's offensive and defensive potential, which makes the Meta Game
more complicated because the relationships are twofold. For example, tanks may have an advantage against infantry in general
, but equipping said infantry units with anti-tank rocketry can level the playing field by creating a Mutual Disadvantage
, where both units get an attack boost against each other (especially if the quicker infantry gets to shoot first). Likewise, tanks armed with anti-tank cannons or rocketry won't necessarily have their usual advantage against infantry as would tanks armed with machineguns
, and machinegun-toting tanks will also be at a disadvantage against other tanks with cannons or rockets.
In Strategy games specifically, Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors
provides an easy discouragement to the Zerg Rush
, as a player building a massive swarm of identical, low-cost and moderately-powerful units (hoping to wipe out enemy forces with sheer numbers alone) may suddenly find themselves annihilated by a small number of unit exploiting their army's common vulnerability.
To a limited extent this can be Truth in Television
; there are plenty of examples of, say, medieval heavy cavalry getting skewered by pikemen, who would in turn be meat on the table for a bunch of men with crossbows — who would themselves be easily trampled by said cavalry before they could load their next shot. But the rock-paper-scissors relationship is often much more explicit, and much purer, in games.
can sometimes be used to enforce this relation. Related to Situational Damage Attack
in that some kind of attack may be more effective to enemies with a certain inferior attribute.
Bladed Weapons Triangle
Ranged Weapons Triangle
- Sword beats Ax
- Ax beats Spear
- Spear Beats Sword
- Direct-attack weapon (such as sword) beats ranged-attack weapon (such as bow)
- Magic beats direct-attack weapon
- Ranged-attack weapon beats magic
Some games reverse the ranged weapons triangle. "Straight" and "reversed" were picked arbitrarily, please don't be offended.
Reversed Ranged Weapons Triangle Examples
Non-Video Game examples
- Parodied in Brawl in the Family: In 499, Frederick is assailed by an Unknown Rival who intends beating him by exploiting the weapon triangle... only for Frederick inform him that being a Crutch Character beats everything.
- Dungeons & Dragons has this, to a degree.
- AD&D has weapon type vs. armor type modifiers — e.g. chain mail has +2 for slashing and -2 for blunt weapons, splint mail has 0 for slashing, +1 for piercing and +2 for blunt weapons. Combat & Tactics has three basic armor types (leather, mail, plate) against which some weapons were better (e.g. mace vs. mail, maul vs. mail or plate), worse (chakram vs. anything heavier than leather) or inefficient at all (blowgun vs. any heavy armor).
- Telepathy in AD&D has 5 attack and 5 defence modes with specific adjustments against each other, from -5 to +5. If 5x5 table wasn't enough, Dark Sun sourcebook The Will and the Way adds 4 constructs/harbingers for each of 10 powers, expanding the table to 20x20 (plus the old 5x5 for opponents not using these) of the adjustments in range -8 to +8.
- Nonmagical combat in 3rd Edition has a subtle version of this. Most Uberchargers (characters who rely on massive speed and damage) lose to Lockdown tactics (combining long-reach weapons with Counter Attacks that halt movement), which in turn has little defense against ranged combat. Other combat styles have less consistent properties, but are generally weaker.
- In the Teen Titans episode "The End, pt. II", Starfire, Beast Boy and Cyborg have trouble defeating their respective clones. So, they switch enemies hoping to counter the clones. The resulting win implies that Cyborg is stronger than Beast Boy, Beast Boy is stronger than Starfire and Starfire is stronger than Cyborg.
- Near-identical situation in a Justice League episode, as well, where the heroes switch up in order to defeat their robotic duplicates without being argued into despair.
- And in the original Young Justice comic, when they're up against fake nemeses; Robin versus Joker, Superboy versus Metallo, Impulse versus Grodd. Robin works out that they need to switch. He beats Metallo, Superboy beats Grodd, and Impulse...is so annoying that he drives the Joker nuts with frustration.
- Nontransitive dice do it for random number generation: if one die is rolled against another 1dA6 > 1dB6 > 1dC6 > 1dA6 in average (the specific probability varies in different sets).
- xkcdb: Mormons < Police < neighbors < Mormons
- The tabletop game Dungeon Quest settles all fights with a fantasy rock paper scissors of three moves: slash > leap aside > mighty blow > slash. The only kink is that player mighty blows deliver two points of damage, while the other two player moves and all monster moves only do one point.
- Fencing swords have this built into their mechanics, and it is understood by sport fencers today. In it's simplest formulation, it goes like this: The direct attack is a fast thrust at the opponent. It is defeated by a parry-riposte, where you block the attack and immediately counter. The parry-riposte is confounded by the compound attack, where you present a menacing false attack (a feint), evade your opponent's parry, then attack for real. The compound attack is defeated by the counter attack, where you hit your opponent as he unwinds his over-long compound attack. The counter attack is defeated by the direct attack. A more complex discussion can be found on pretty much any site about the sport, and needless to say when you have to actually land the attacks against a flesh-and-blood opponent, it's not as easy as selecting the counter to their movement.
- An alternate formulation is: attack, draw and feint. A "draw" is leaving a false opening with the intent responding with a parry-riposte. What is known as "countertime" is a weak attack intended to be parried as a set-up for a counter-parry/counter-riposte and thus is a draw rather than a feint.
- Another big real-life example is boxing, where it's commonly believed that, all things equal, a boxer's style determines the outcome of a fight. An Out-Boxer, who keeps at a distance from his opponent and allows him to wear himself out, beats a Slugger, who favors punching power over technique and footwork. A Slugger beats an Swarmer, whose strategy is to crowd his opponent, and hit him over and over with hooks and uppercuts (which leaves him especially vulnerable to heavy punches). An Swarmer is great against an out-fighter, who can't maintain the distance he's comfortable with when his opponent is charging him all the time.
- For an example of this sort of thing happening in nature (combined with Color-Coded for Your Convenience, no less), look no further than the common side-blotched lizard. Specifically, the males of this species come in three varieties, easily distinguished by the color (orange, blue, or yellow◊) of the patch on their throat. Oranges are Boisterous Bruisers that can easily beat up on blues and take their partners; blues form strong bonds with their partners, making them far less likely to mate with yellows (the fact that blues are big enough to beat up on yellows and smart enough to recognize them also helps); yellows are very similar, size and appearance-wise, to females, and can thusly sneak past oranges with ease and mate with their partners unnoticed.
- A literature example: in the fourth novel in Piers Anthony's Cluster series Thousandstar, three sapient species compete for control of precursor technology: the spherical Hydr O, whose needle-like water jets can penetrate the flesh of an Erb, but are vulnerable to the claws of a Squam; the snake-like Squam, whose claws can cut the flesh of a HydrO, but are vulnerable to the drilling action of an Erb; and the plant-like Erb, whose drilling action can penetrate the carapace of a squam, but are vulnerable to the water jets of a HydrO.
- Mentioned by name in Wearing the Cape when Astra is introduced to the concept during her training and in the sequel novel has to organize her teammates on the fly during the climactic battle. It's mentioned that superhero teams in general try to do this whenever possible.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe goes into detail about the seven different styles of lightsaber combat and how each has certain advantages and disadvantages compared to the others (speed, strength, endurance etc.). In order, they are: Shii-Cho, Makashi, Soresu, Ataru, Shien/Djem So, Niman and Juyo/Vaapad.
- The Digimon franchise gives us an interesting variation. Almost every Digimon belongs to one of three attributes: Vaccine, Data, or Virus. Vaccine is vulnerable to Data, Data to Virus, and Virus to Vaccine.
- Invoked in Adventure Time. Finn and Jake were about to be killed by some ghosts due to an elaborated prank from Marceline. She comes to them to apologize, but states that vampires cannot win against ghosts; as she said, it was kind of a Rock Paper Scissors thing.