Tactics And Combat In Fantasy RPGs
  • Tactics And Combat In Fantasy RPGs



    Think of the old days of FRPGs when parties bumbled into encounters, opening doors without preparation or scouting. Think of how few parties actually took prisoners in order to gather information! And how few parties ran away occasionally rather than engage in a fight that had nothing to do with their mission and might get them killed. And today?

    "Battles are won by slaughter and manoeuvre. The greater the general, the more he contributes in manoeuvre, the less he demands in slaughter." --Sir Winston Churchill

    I want to talk about tactical styles. There are two extremes of approaching a fight in a magic-rich environment. These can be seen as something like an American football team that runs the ball constantly ("4 yards and a cloud of dust") and a team that passes constantly. Sixty years ago in football, the former predominated, nowadays the latter.

    Translating into FRPG terms, the first method is to charge in and cut the enemy down thanks to suitable character classes and lots of perks and magic items that make your folks "meat cleavers." (As in the 9th level character I watched recently do more than 90 points of melee damage in one round.) The second is to set up a defense while the specialist spell casters use area effect and selected individual spells to blow the enemy away. In the first method the characters are more or less like running backs and linemen; in the second they are quarterbacks (and receivers) and linemen. In the first the linemen fire out and try to wipe out whoever they’re up against (run blocking), in the second the linemen are more interested in protecting the “skilled positions” (pass blocking) while the latter do most of the damage.

    The first method is more common, perhaps partly because it requires less thought and planning. It’s easier for players and for the GM. As a person who knew the first time he played D&D that he was going to be a magic user, I favor the second method because you "should" use magic instead of brawn. That’s what magic-use is about!

    A lot depends on the rules. 1e D&D, where the "squishy" magic users had to be protected, encouraged combined arms cooperation rather than individual flair, and the essence of the "passing" method is exactly that, while the essence of the "running" method can run to individual flair. In days of 3e D&D the "one-man army" was in vogue and individualism was everywhere, while cooperation was rare. From a design point of view, having a typical party include only four characters required the one-man-army approach. The spellcasting method requires a larger group.

    In a sense, the "cloud of dust" treats the fight more as a sport, while "pass them to death" treats it more as war. Sports are supposed to be fair; "war is hell," and in war the ideal is to force the enemy to surrender because they face annihilation, or if they won’t surrender, to annihilate them without loss on your side. This is more elegant, and efficient, than hacking the enemy down in pools of blood. But perhaps less satisfying for some...

    “Your mileage may vary,” and most campaigns are somewhere in between. Some sets of rules, and some GMs, don’t allow one method or the other to be practical.

    Article contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
    Comments 71 Comments
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      I'm kinda confused here.

      What tactics are viable in AD&D that don't exist in other editions? If you're a fighter type in AD&D, in combat you have pretty much only have the choice of attacking monster A or B. Flanking? So few monsters actually used a shield and none of them had Dex bonuses, so, flanking was largely pointless.

      Compare to the shopping list of tactical choices a later era D&D fighter has in combat, I'm really confused as to how someone can claim that tactics were even remotely supported in AD&D.
      If you were fighting an Orc at the top of a Tower with a burning Brazier nearby a stack of barrels what tactics do you have?

      In ADnD you could just choose to attack with your sword but there was always the chance, depending on your DM, that you would try to push the Orc off the side of the Tower, or shove the Brazier on top of it or throw a Barrel at it. The problem is that there was no rules for that and there was no character button written on your sheet that you could mash to do those actions so really it was up to you and the DM on how worthwhile it was to try anything tactical.
    1. shidaku's Avatar
      shidaku -
      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      Looking at 1976 photos of convention play
      D&D - several tables shown using miniatures on gridded 3D surfaces.
      EPT - "Phil" Barker shown running it with extensive 3d play surfaces
      T&T - No maps in sight; some maps from adventures survive. (Rules do not support gridded play at all until 1979, and it's not accepted as a standard mode of play until 2015...)
      Met-Alpha - no photos that I've seen of play-in-progress.

      Now, several old salts claim that it was all Theater of the Mind, but the photographic evidence includes visual evidence of minis-on-grid play. The split between the two styles is not a clear one, tho', and many tables used then and still use now both modes, and modes between the two - except for T&T (but T&T was always written for a nearly pure TOTM mode).

      Later convention photos indicate a continued mix of modes.
      I suppose if by "tactical" we are creating a divide between using minis and a grid and using TotM, then you may be correct (since you didn't post these picture you claim exist, I cannot be certain of the veracity of your claims), however, I don't believe that the dichotomy of "tactics" is defined by use of a grid, minis and rulers and that people who do not use those things are conversely not playing a tactical manner.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      If you were fighting an Orc at the top of a Tower with a burning Brazier nearby a stack of barrels what tactics do you have?

      In ADnD you could just choose to attack with your sword but there was always the chance, depending on your DM, that you would try to push the Orc off the side of the Tower, or shove the Brazier on top of it or throw a Barrel at it. The problem is that there was no rules for that and there was no character button written on your sheet that you could mash to do those actions so really it was up to you and the DM on how worthwhile it was to try anything tactical.
      That's precisely my point. The game provides zero tactical options. Pushing that baddy off the tower or throw a barrel at it was 100% free form gaming. The DM decided, not the system. I can do that in any game at any point in time.

      The difference is, now, as a player, I can actually have some idea whether or not any of those tactics are worth trying. I should have a pretty decent idea of how hard/easy it would be to push that orc off the tower. Depending on the edition, I might just be able to do it 100% of the time.

      IOW, these become ACTUAL tactical decisions.

      I honestly have no idea what video games @lewpuls plays to have the idea that the game will protect you and usher you along. About the only thing games do in order to allow that is save points, and well, that's been part of video games for a VERY long time.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      That's precisely my point. The game provides zero tactical options. Pushing that baddy off the tower or throw a barrel at it was 100% free form gaming. The DM decided, not the system. I can do that in any game at any point in time.
      I would have phrased it as the game allowing you to do 100% of your tactical options. Because we dont want it to swing the other way where you can only do a tactical option if you happen to have selected that tactical option when you last leveled up and only once per encounter (or per day in some cases)

      The difference is, now, as a player, I can actually have some idea whether or not any of those tactics are worth trying. I should have a pretty decent idea of how hard/easy it would be to push that orc off the tower. Depending on the edition, I might just be able to do it 100% of the time.

      IOW, these become ACTUAL tactical decisions.
      I dont see that as being more Tactical rather more reliable. But then again some games force you to specialise in certain tactics to be able to use them at all so then you get some limited reliable tactics and nothing else.

      I honestly have no idea what video games @lewpuls plays to have the idea that the game will protect you and usher you along. About the only thing games do in order to allow that is save points, and well, that's been part of video games for a VERY long time.
      I think some games have a story mode - or even an easy mode I guess.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I would have phrased it as the game allowing you to do 100% of your tactical options. Because we dont want it to swing the other way where you can only do a tactical option if you happen to have selected that tactical option when you last leveled up and only once per encounter (or per day in some cases)
      Thing is, this was a red herring argument even in 4e when you had AEDU structures. There was absolutely nothing stopping you from going outside your class defined actions and in fact, 4e actually actively supported (unlike pretty much any other edition) doing so with Page 42 guidelines. The idea that you can only do what was on your sheet was edition warring balderdash. It simply wasn't true.


      I dont see that as being more Tactical rather more reliable. But then again some games force you to specialise in certain tactics to be able to use them at all so then you get some limited reliable tactics and nothing else.
      Part of tactics is being able to accurately predict your odds of success. Unless it's the only possible option, no one chooses an option with a very low chance of success. Not when there are other options that have higher chances of success that are still viable. So, to use your example, if pushing the orc off the tower requires three separate checks, each with a 50% chance of failure (a ridiculous example, but, bear with me), no one is going to do it when they could just stick their sword in the orc and have a much better chance of success.

      And the problem with leaving everything in the DM's hands is that very, very few DM's are good at judging risk vs reward. If swinging across the room from a chandelier costs you more than you could benefit from doing it, no one does it. And, very often, when it's left up to the DM, options that are not rules defined are generally not taken.

      @lewpuls even mentions the idea that stealth is something you do with the aid of magic. Why? Well, because using magic means that the DM isn't coming up with off the cuff rulings and your chances of success and failure are known. A group that doesn't have access to those magic items simply doesn't do the stealth stuff.

      I think some games have a story mode - or even an easy mode I guess.
      Fair enough. But, they also have hard modes too. Shouldn't games cater to everyone?
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Derren View Post
      After 3E WotC tried to minimize the importance of strategy to the point when they tried to get rid of most strategic options with their combat as sports aporoach.
      Sports and games have a lot in common. 'Combat as Sports,' is just a cryptic. condescending, way of conceding that the game you're talking down is strictly a better game than the one you're talking up.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Thing is, this was a red herring argument even in 4e when you had AEDU structures. There was absolutely nothing stopping you from going outside your class defined actions and in fact, 4e actually actively supported (unlike pretty much any other edition) doing so with Page 42 guidelines. The idea that you can only do what was on your sheet was edition warring balderdash. It simply wasn't true.
      Of course you could do anything as long as you did not mind it being much worse then what was written on your sheet.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      In ADnD you could just choose to attack with your sword but there was always the chance, depending on your DM, that you would try to push the Orc off the side of the Tower, or shove the Brazier on top of it or throw a Barrel at it. The problem is that there was no rules for that and there was no character button written on your sheet that you could mash to do those actions so really it was up to you and the DM on how worthwhile it was to try anything tactical.
      Exactly: there were no rules, therefore you were at the mercy of your DM.

      Even in the Pathfinder campaign, I'm currently playing in, I've encountered that problem:
      Our DM is quite inexperienced and tends to be _very_ unflexible. In one session he complained when I wanted my character to move off the battle-map. "You can't." was about all he had as an argument.
      And when I wanted to balance on the rim of a well during a fight, at first he didn't even get what I was trying to do, and only after I showed him that were actually rules that explicity covered this very situation, did he allow it.
      I find it particularly annoying because when I'm DMing, I tend to be very lenient and try to encourage my players to think out-of-the-box and experiment with unorthodox tactics. But I have a few decades of experience under my belt and rarely find it difficult to come up with reasonable rules on the fly.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      Of course you could do anything as long as you did not mind it being much worse then what was written on your sheet.
      Only if your DM was an ass. Considering the DMG pretty much flat out tells DM's that they should be encouraging their players to go beyond their character sheets.

      Problem was, people looked at the character sheet and figured that was the end of everything. It really was a shame that people got fixated on this idea that your character sheet was the be all and end all of what you could do. The system certainly didn't mandate that.
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      Sports and games have a lot in common. 'Combat as Sports,' is just a cryptic. condescending, way of conceding that the game you're talking down is strictly a better game than the one you're talking up.
      Combat as Sports is a pretty good analogy to what WotC tried to do in 4E.
      Both teams enter the field with the exact same* resources and prepared for the game and the action only starts then to see who wins.

      * Of course in D&D combats are slanted for the PCs to win and ressources can take different forms.

      In combat as war there was no such meeting on the field to have a fair game. You brought more guys, better equipment or used other advantages to make the actual game as unfair as possible. No setting up positions while waiting for the game to start. You teleported in and killed everyone before they knew what happened.

      That was the smart, strategic thing to do, but D&D wanted to prevent that in favor of having sport competition like combats, something that is strategically speaking very stupid.
    1. mflayermonk -
      Quote Originally Posted by Derren View Post
      In combat as war there was no such meeting on the field to have a fair game. You brought more guys, better equipment or used other advantages to make the actual game as unfair as possible. No setting up positions while waiting for the game to start. You teleported in and killed everyone before they knew what happened.
      There was a reason Tenser had numerous simulacrum.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Derren View Post
      Combat as Sports is a pretty good analogy to what WotC tried to do
      They tried to improve the game, to the limited extent that they succeeded it became more like a game (or sport, by analogy) and less like the most horrific of human activities.

      Both teams enter the field with the exact same* resources and prepared for the game and the action only starts then to see who wins.
      Thats focusing on a weaker part of the analogy, as there is only one team, the players, and one official, the DM. There are sports that don't play against another team...

      In combat as war there was no such meeting on the field to have a fair game.
      Nod. The point is to leverage or bypass a dysfunctional game - or 'cheat' (all's fair in 'war') if the game or the DM didn't offer enough opportunities to exploit.


      D&D wanted to prevent that in favor of having sport competition like combats, .
      That's a poor, but recognizable metaphor for a more functional game, sure. But, even at the peak of it's implementation, D&D never got there. It hasn't ever tied the DMs hands to that degree, only offered guidelines for the challenge a combat the DM might run would pose, that have varied in how accurate they tend to be. At it's best, they were reasonably accurate, but even then, all sorts of factors could render them less so. The big one, of course, being resources expended in or reserved for other encounters.

      And, even at their most accurate, you didn't need to follow them. 'Gaming the DM' would still let you avoid or trivialize a given encounter - It might've been more transparent that you were doing so, but it's always possible. Regardless of system, the GM is always able to throw more or less difficult challenges at the party, including non-challenges and insuperable ones. The only difference between a game derided as 'CaS' and one praised at 'CaW' is that the "CaS game" is better at delivering the intended level of challenge.
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      Nod. The point is to leverage or bypass a dysfunctional game - or 'cheat' (all's fair in 'war') if the game or the DM didn't offer enough opportunities to exploit.
      That only makes sense if you think that the combat is all what is D&D about and that bypassing or otherwise trivializing combat is "playing D&D wrong".
      Yet this is not the case. D&D, at least theoretically, is not only about combat so "cheating" in combat, I would rather call it using strategy instead, is as part of the RPG than is duking it out honourably.
      By trying to remove most of the strategy from the equation by making combat more like a sport the only thing the designers succeeded in was to invalidate many playstyles and to make D&D even more into a wargame (as they enforced the view that the combat is the only important part which should not be "cheated" at with whatever you do outside combat)
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Derren View Post
      That only makes sense if you think that the combat is all what is D&D about
      It's always been a major focus of the game, sure, but the CaW/CaS metaphor sums up and makes judgement about games based only on combat. Thus 'Combat as...'

      Yet this is not the case. D&D, at least theoretically, is not only about combat so "cheating" in combat, I would rather call it using strategy instead, is as part of the RPG than is duking it out honourably.
      Sure, but it's more theoretical at some points in it's history than others. The game has mostly had lots of rules for combat, lots of rules for spells, and not a lot of rules for everything else - the other 'two pillars' as non-combat has recently been refined.

      So when you judge a game by a metaphor on how it supposedly approaches combat - however invalid the metaphor may be - it's implicit that it's a game about combat, and that the system is dictating the approach, rather than the approach being a matter of style.

      That's all wrong, of course, not just the combat-only assumption.

      By trying to remove most of the strategy from the equation by making combat more like a sport the only thing the designers succeeded in was to invalidate many playstyles and to make D&D even more into a wargame
      OK, one point at a time:

      First of all, what strategy did WotC start removing from the game over it's tenure? That is, what strategy was actually there, as part of the game, before they started 'removing' it? (Yeah, that's rhetorical.)

      The answer is really 'not much.' The game, itself, mechanically was a resource-management challenge centered around spells and hps, and the primary resources renewed by retiring from the dungeon to rest. The goal was exp, which got you more such power, and acquiring treasure, especially magic items, which got you more power. Prettymuch a video game, really - successful play earning more play at a higher level. Any 'strategy' beyond the timing of resources was just an interplay between the player proposing a course of action and the DM deciding how well that worked out for him. Not game, not even meta-game - just the player persuading the DM to rule in his favor. There was a lot of room for that, but calling it 'strategy' is pushing, or at least, spinning it, rather a lot. 'Gaming the DM' would be, as or more valid, spin in the other direction.

      Now, WotC did start filling in the missing pieces by having mechanics do more of the basic modeling, and by providing the DM with more guidelines. Skills, character customization options like feats, and, of course, CR, are all examples of that, giving players more control over defining their characters and making informed decisions based on what the characters were mechanically capable of, and giving DMs a (rather poor) yardstick for how challenging a given monster would be relative to the level of a 'typical' party. 4e continued that trend, 5e pulled back from it considerably - players can still customize their characters to a fair degree, but can't be confident in all of their abilities, so it's less about tactically or 'strategically' using the character's abilities, and back to being more about leveraging your relationship with the DM to get favorable rulings. Which is, of course, evocative of the classic game.

      By trying to remove most of the strategy from the equation by making combat more like a sport the only thing the designers succeeded in was to invalidate many playstyles and to make D&D even more into a wargame
      Now, CaW and CaS make a lot more sense as metaphors for play style, specific to combat, than they do for games. The CaS play style is to approach a combat like a mini-game or like a scene in a story. The objective is to have a fun game or an entertaining scene - that scene plays out, and the fun happens, in the combat, itself. It's, obviously, a perfectly reasonable way to approach playing an actual game.
      The CaW play style is to approach combat like an obstacle, and overcome it with a minimum of risk and resource expenditure. The objective is to trivialize the combat, ideally, to remove it as an obstacle with no risk and no resources expended. That may not seem like a lot of fun or excitement, but it's its own form of fun and some folks really like it - and it's still a game, in spite of the 'War' metaphor. The fun just doesn't happen in the combat, itself, which should be one-sided & play out quickly or even be narrated by the DM without touching dice, as the perfect plan unfolds, perfectly, but in the /preparation for the combat/.

      Where CaW/CaS falls down is when it's used as a metaphor for the game, instead of the style. A game that lacks a statistic like CR is less convenient to use in a CaS mode, but that doesn't mean it can't be used that way, nor that it 'supports' CaW. It just lacks something. A game that has a CR statistic may be more convenient to use for CaS, but it's not any less convenient to use for CaW, in fact, it's still a useful tool to the DM running for players in the CaW style, just a less important one.

      So, when 3.x introduced CR, it didn't 'invalidate a style,' it merely became less inconvenient to use in an additional style, it expanded support to more styles. If people gravitated towards the newly-enabled style, it could only be because they found that style, now that it was no longer as impeded by as severe a lack of tools, desirable on some level.

      Really, the shift from what the community now calls DM Empowerment to Player Entitlement and back again over WotC's custodianship of D&D is more significant than the CaW/CaS (as metaphors for play style) shift, which was really only from supporting neither (but favoring CaW, because it thrives on ill-defined parameters, dysfunctional rules, and gaming the DM), to supporting both, to supporting CaS less well.

      DM Empowerment favors CaW gaming-the-DM strategies, of course, but that's just one minor aspect of it, arguably not even a benefit (arguably a disadvantage).
      The benefits of DM Empowerment are really something.

      By trying to remove most of the strategy from the equation by making combat more like a sport the only thing the designers succeeded in was to invalidate many playstyles and to make D&D even more into a wargame
      D&D started as a wargame, and founded RPGs more or less by accident. It'll always have those wargaming roots, and acknowledging them, and enabling play in such a style (there's playstyles again) is in no way a bad thing.


      (as they enforced the view that the combat is the only important part which should not be "cheated" at with whatever you do outside combat)
      Not so much, no. D&D did briefly flirt with what indie RPGs call 'scene framing,' and the like. Getting to 'the action' or defining the challenge, and concentrating on that, rather than on setting it up. What that action is, though, can be a matter of style.

      Let's look at a stereotypical D&D adventure. A nasty band of monsters is holed up somewhere, raiding a town. A nasty band of adventurers is recruited from the tavern to get rid of the monsters.

      In the CaW style, the players investigate the town, the aftermath of the attacks, question townspeople to determine the nature & number of the monsters, make preparations, scout around, find tracks or other evidence, trace it to the monsters lair, retreat, make more preparations, observe the lair, take an isolated prisoner and torture & question it, repeat the process to confirm it's information, make more preparations, enter the lair in extreme stealth mode (quite probably only one actual PC doing so), gather first-hand reconnaissance, withdraw, prepare, strategize, prepare, and come up with a plan of attack (or attacks), run it by the DM, perform more planning/recon/preparation, reach a consensus among the players & DM on an assault that will work, and execute it. That could be multiple sessions, with only the first part of the last session being the execution (and the rest being securing the site, stripping it of all valuables, divvying them up, collecting from the town, recovering resources, gaining levels, &c).

      In the CaS style, the players & DM reach a consensus about the parameters of the combat challenge, the PCs investigate the threat, locate the lair, decide whether to assault it or harass it, and do so. Play moves quickly from the intro to the first combat scene, which is played out in detail, resolved, and bridged to the next, and great fun is had by all until the last enemies are defeated. That could be multiple sessions, most of each dedicated to the 'action scenes' of the combats, the last probably almost entirely to some climactic battle, with a few minutes of bookkeeping at the end as everyone levels up.

      Those are styles, but they say nothing about the game. If you wanted to play, classic D&D in either style, you could, you'd just have challenges. Very different challenges.
      Taking the CaW approach means working almost entirely outside the mechanics of the system. Aside from an initial reaction roll, there's no rules covering interacting with the townspeople, the PCs don't interact with the townspeople, the players interact with the DM, pumping him for information. Similarly, aside from one ranger special ability, there's no rules for tracking the monsters back to their lair - though a spell might just reveal that location. So, the players interact with the DM, the DM describes the area, the players describe investigating it, the DM coughs up clues until the players figure it out. Similarly on down the line, the rules provide little coverage for the players' activities, and, where they do, they're often unfavorable, so it behooves them to keep the action to levels where the DM decides what happens based on what they're doing, not what they're characters are capable of.
      Conversely, taking the CaS approach is a challenge for the DM. The players want to just 'get to the fight,' so the DM prepares a fight, he has no guidance, maybe he uses too few monsters, and the fight is a quickie let-down, maybe too many or too strong and it goes badly, someone's knocked to negatives and they spend a week in town, or someone's playing a new character next session, or the DM shifts gears and starts soft-balling a combat so the players can make it through and it becomes a comical slog of fudged misses and implausibly low damage rolls behind the screen.
      CaW was largely unsupported by the classic game, but, if the DM let it, it could work out quite satisfactorily. CaS was largely unsupported by the classic game, and until the DM was a past-master of the art of DMing, it would often go very badly, indeed.
      5e intentionally harkens back to that.

      Contrast that with a more 'modern' (90s or current 'indie' game or peak-"CaS" WotC D&D) system. Played in the CaW style, the scenes are framed as intro/exposition (interacting with townspeople), mystery (what are the raiders, where are they hiding?), foreshadowing (scouting, taking a prisoner, etc), grand strategy (planning and preparing for the raid), and denouement (the raid & it's aftermath). Each scene is played through in detail, using the resolution systems best suited to it. The combats implicit in the raid may be mostly narrated, or highlights of each played through quickly as part of a broader resolution, perhaps as consequences of partial failures along the way.
      Played in the CaS style the scenes are framed as a series of exciting/challenging battles. That framing includes learning about the raiders from the townsfolk, investigating the evidence they left behind and looking for their lair - all to set up a battle with a patrol. Questioning that prisoner is part of the framing for the next scene - the first battle in the lair, itself. From there it's a series of fights in the lair, book-ended by a little bookkeeping and scene-framing. The system provides detailed/engaging resolution with plenty of meaningful player choices for the combats, just as it does for any other scenes.


      That's what I mean about the typical CaW/CaS rant being a way of acknowledging a better game while talking it down. Yeah, relative to the poor support for CaS in the classic game likely giving bad results, the poor support for CaW leaving players room to finagle favorable results could be taken as encouraging/supporting/validating that style over the other - while solid support for both, can, relatively speaking, be taken as 'discouraging' CaW.


      Then again, there's no reason to focus only on challenging combat, nor exclusively on trivializing combat: an equally valid (set of) playstyle(s) would be to engage in both the more interesting non-combat scenes (whether they might influence later combat difficulties or not) and the more dramatic combat scenes. Another problem with CaW/CaS, it presents two rather extreme playstyles as a dichotomy.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      Only if your DM was an ass. Considering the DMG pretty much flat out tells DM's that they should be encouraging their players to go beyond their character sheets.
      So then, if your DM is an ass, what is the difference between editions? Nothing.

      And if your DM is not an ass what is the difference? Nothing.
    1. Derren's Avatar
      Derren -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      It's always been a major focus of the game
      And yet if you think that combat is its only focus so that making it trivial is cheating then you should not call it an RPG.

      First of all, what strategy did WotC start removing from the game over it's tenure? That is, what strategy was actually there, as part of the game, before they started 'removing' it? (Yeah, that's rhetorical.)
      If you do not want to hear answers, do not ask questions, although you are poorer for it.
      I will answer you anyway even though you don't want to hear it.
      What especially 4E removed, or tried to mostly remove, was the preparation. Buffs were mostly limited to one encounter and things like the infamous teleport bomb where a party of pre buffed adventurers suddenly teleported in was not possible any more. Also other forms of preparation was removed like organizing the correct weapons to overcome DR. Another thing was removed was attrition. No longer could you win fights by slowly chipping away the healing resources of an enemy so that they eventually run out or had to leave. Thats because in an effort to make the combat more sports like WotC wanted each party to enter combat in full power.
      Lastly, they also removed much of the tools which could be used strategically like utility spells.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by Derren View Post
      And yet if you think that combat is its only focus
      It's always been a major focus. The CaW/CaS analogy, itself, implies - wrongly - that it's the only focus that matters.

      ... then you should not call it an RPG.
      Another arbitrary way of attacking an RPG you don't like, pretend it's not an RPG.

      tried to mostly remove, was the preparation.
      The kind of 'preparation' you had in 3.5 had been added in by WotC, to begin with, so taking it back out hardly seems preposterous.

      3.x added spells, made them more plentiful, and had a very permissive, player-driven make/buy system for consumable items. So push-button resources that could be piled on ahead of time were in unprecedented abundance. For the most egregious instance, a self-buffing CoDzilla could arguably become a better fighter than the fighter. That was broken in terms of class balance, and undermined the traditionally attrition-based design of the game. 5e also put a lid on such shenanigans with the Concentration mechanic, and casters hadn't had the slots nor the wealth of buff spells to pull such shenanigans in the classic game, either, which was what I asked my rhetorical question about (and, in the way of rhetorical questions, immediately answered, of course).

      But cutting down that excess of opportunities to abuse the system didn't remove preparation or strategy. You could use strategy and preparation to make a future encounter easier (or, if you screwed up, harder), in just the way I outlined in my examples, of CaW vs CaS, above. There was even, briefly, a workable structure for it, the Skill Challenge. Want to ambush an enemy instead of walk up and challenge him to a fair fight? Enough successes before 3 failures and the PCs could set that up. The PCs, using their abilities, not just the players wheedling the DM, or leveraging a surfeit of broken rules, and broken spells from the platform of a Tier 1 class.

      Buffs were mostly limited to one encounter and things like the infamous teleport bomb where a party of pre buffed adventurers suddenly teleported in was not possible any more.
      D&D was a game, afterall, and a game where one stupid player trick is overwhelmingly overpowered is simply a badly balanced game. Taking advantage of something like that isn't 'strategy,' it's exploiting a flaw in the system. Meta-gaming, system mastery, even 'cheating' would be more accurate labels.

      A lot of other broken things were fixed, too. SoDs became (save ends) duration. Stackable durations were replaced with more limiting 'Sustain' actions.

      This is what I mean about the CaW/CaS rant being a way of acknowledging the superiority of a system while simultaneously talking it down. A better game isn't as casually exploitable, so you say you "can't play CaW" - actually, you can, it's just a real challenge to do so, and engages the abilities of the characters. In contrast, in a broken game CaS-style play is problematic, while in a functional one, it is also supported. The better game supports both styles, but because it doesn't over-reward one with wildly broken holes in the system, it's deplored as 'CaS-only.' It's not, it's just not CaW-privileged.

      Also other forms of preparation was removed like organizing the correct weapons to overcome DR.
      That kind of rock-paper-scissors thing was reduced from 3.0 to 3.5 and from 3.5 to 4e & 5e - but not to the point it wasn't still a very good idea to know your enemy and bring the right resources to bear against it. Just so that player-knowledge wasn't the only thing that mattered. Instead, knowledge skills of the characters increasingly came into it.

      Another thing was removed was attrition. No longer could you win fights by slowly chipping away the healing resources of an enemy so that they eventually run out or had to leave.
      Actually, attrition of healing resources remained: surges were a finite daily resource, and non-surge healing was daily or very limited. You couldn't just have bushels of WoCLW in your bag of holding anymore.

      Thats because in an effort to make the combat more sports like WotC
      There was no 'effort to make combats more sports like' that analogy was coined for the edition war. The effort was to make a better game, that was less radically imbalanced and offered more & more meaningful choices in play. Games are analogous to Sports, so yeah, a better game will be more like a sport - fun, fair for all involved, challenging yet comparatively safe, something people will willingly engage in as a pastime - while a deplorable game be more like a War - nasty, horrifying, ruthless, pure hell - something rational people will do almost anything to avoid. ;P (Not that there aren't plenty of people willing to go to War every day...)

      wanted each party to enter combat in full power.
      In a typical D&D 'day,' in any edition, the party chews through resources as they go. They don't actually lose much power in the process - the casters can bring their greatest power to bear as long as they have a top-level slot left, being wounded doesn't reduce the DPR of the heavy-hitters - they just lose staying power. Their enemies, OTOH, are usually fresh at the start of a fight, and dead at the end of it.

      Encounter guidelines and monster & class designs that work with that dynamic can be simplified /and/ still work better. Instead of designing monsters like PCs with many spells, for instance, that they'll never have a chance to use, monster designs went back to being streamlined and focusing on what was needed given the monster's role in the game. Thus, monsters with only encounter rather than daily attacks, because there's no meaningful difference between the two for an antagonist whose role in the story is to either kill or be killed, most likely, in one go. While PCs have such resources, in detail, since they're supposed to have a story arc.

      The result was an improvement, of course, but it didn't actually get in the way of playing in the CaW style, if you wanted to. Even a sneaky trick like engineering a conflict and taking on the hurting 'winner' could work, you just for greatest effect, don't give them time for a short rest before springing the trap....

      Lastly, they also removed much of the tools which could be used strategically like utility spells.
      Actually, they were just moved to Rituals, consuming components (gp) instead of slots.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      So then, if your DM is an ass, what is the difference between editions? Nothing.

      And if your DM is not an ass what is the difference? Nothing.
      While, I see your point, there is a difference though. My point about DM's not being able to calculate odds has nothing to do with the DM being an ass. It's simply that MOST people are very poor at calculating odds. There's an entire industry devoted to that fact.

      I remember one discussion here on the boards where a DM talked about using Acrobatics to avoid difficult terraing (in this case, mud). His ruling was a DC 15 Acrobatics check to move freely. On a fail, you were grappled. These were 5e rules.

      Now, that's a pretty commonplace ruling. I can totally see DM's doing that at a table and many people agreed with the ruling. Thing is, that ruling is very, very bad. Because, the thing is, most PC's would have about a 50:50 chance of success on that. So, you have a 50% chance of moving freely, or, you have a 50% chance of losing your entire round of actions (since you'd have to take an action to free yourself from the grapple). The risk reward calculation here is just nowhere near worth it. It would be far, far better to simply double move at half speed and not take any risk.

      And that's why I have a problem with the idea that tactics were supported back in the day. They weren't. They were almost always dependent on the DM's ruling. And DM's (and people in general) are notoriously bad at calculating risk:reward. It's almost always ruling against the players. Not intentionally. There's no malice here at all. it's just that people are bad at math, particularly calculating risk:reward.

      Now, in 4e's case, you had Page 42 to help you. Dumping that brazier onto the orc deals damage depending on the level of the adventure. Meaning that it's always a viable choice. If it's an absolute value, then, at a certain level, it stops being a viable choice. As you say, why give up an action to do something that is less (and sometimes wildly so) effective. That would be stupid.

      Only problem with that is, people freaked out about the idea that a brazier would have variable damage dependent on the level of the adventure.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by shidaku View Post
      I suppose if by "tactical" we are creating a divide between using minis and a grid and using TotM, then you may be correct (since you didn't post these picture you claim exist, I cannot be certain of the veracity of your claims), however, I don't believe that the dichotomy of "tactics" is defined by use of a grid, minis and rulers and that people who do not use those things are conversely not playing a tactical manner.
      That they are using minis and rulers is a pretty good indicator of highly tactical play. It's not a claim that the lack of them is non-tactical; I carefully weasel-worded to avoid that claim. It's much easier to run highly tactical play with minis on maps, and if you're using minis and rulers, the odds are approaching unity that you're running a tactically played environment.

      TOTM doesn't preclude tactical play, but it does make it harder to pull off well.

      Several of the photos are from Strategic Review (off the Dragon CD-Rom); others are from various websites... Including some ken used to have posted on his blog. Reposting them would be a copyright violation.

      Note also: I've not knowingly seen pre-1976 photos from GenCon, nor 1980 photos of RPGs at Origins....
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      So... it's not hard to post photos...
      It is, however, a criminal and civil offense to post photos I didn't take.
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