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. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      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.
      Links of any that are still up, then. And that's not like a challenge, just thought they'd be cool to see.

      I assumed you'd taken pictures back in the day - for some reason, I imagined Polaroids - and maybe hadn't thought to take a picture of a picture with your phone.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      And yet D&D was not developed using miniatures. It was all TotM.

      There is plenty of talk from Ernie, Luke, Rob, Tim, and others that the only time the sandtables and minis came out was when someone decided to storm that 9th Level Lords keep or similar. Oherwise they were playing Chainmail or some other wargame.

      Gary pushed the wargames/minis bit because it was the ONLY market he knew and D&D was a product unlike anything previously published and he had to sell it somehow.

      The Grognard Games interview with Rob Kuntz on youtube is pretty damned enlightening. Well worth listening to for any fan .

      https://youtu.be/QGQ_IICAWkI
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      Oherwise they were playing Chainmail or some other wargame.
      Early D&D /was/ Chainmail, for the combats (and Wilderness survival for the hexcrawls). It got it's own combat system later.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      Early D&D /was/ Chainmail, for the combats (and Wilderness survival for the hexcrawls). It got it's own combat system later.
      Watch the video. It was NOT. There are a lot of poor assumptions in this thread and others.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      Watch the video. It was NOT. There are a lot of poor assumptions in this thread and others.
      So, in what amounted to playtests before the game was written let alone published, he remembers not using minis - 45 years ago? Kuntz notoriously played Robilar solo, too, doesn't mean D&D was meant to be played with one player and one DM.

      D&D is a matter of record. We don't need pictures of conventions in 76 to confirm the facts, nor recollections of development in 72 to challenge them. It's all there in print.
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
      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.
      Well, then you'd be getting into critically examining what HP are, and their (mis)function in the game....and that's a "no-no" for many people.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
      So, in what amounted to playtests before the game was written let alone published, he remembers not using minis - 45 years ago? Kuntz notoriously played Robilar solo, too, doesn't mean D&D was meant to be played with one player and one DM.

      D&D is a matter of record. We don't need pictures of conventions in 76 to confirm the facts, nor recollections of development in 72 to challenge them. It's all there in print.
      Now that is some funny . Thanks, I will take the word of everyone who was there, Rob, Ernie, etc, over your opinion on what you think happened in Gary's house.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      Now that is some funny . Thanks, I will take the word of everyone who was there, Rob, Ernie, etc, over your opinion on what you think happened in Gary's house.
      I offered up no such opinion about what happened. Merely as to the relevance of it to what the D&D that actually hit the shelves, and that all of us have played over the decades, has actually been the whole time.

      Whatever anecdotes come out about it's development (and there have been many, and some very confused thanks to the legal battle between Gygax and Arneson), whatever reasons it may have been written the way it was, or mis-marketed then (and recently), the definitive game, itself, in each of it's versions, remains the same: what's between the covers.

      They can shed the odd interesting light on it, but they don't change it. The words 'wargame' and 'miniature figures' aren't going to flee the covers of 0D&D, 1e isn't going to suddenly stop expressing range in inches.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      You are arguing something else.

      The game was developed from the beginning to be a game of the imagination and not a tactical wargame with minis. Once he knew he would publish of course Gary tied it into chainmail and wargaming purely for business reasons. He used wargame scale and such because those were the only gamers on earth who understood "movement". And wargamers took to it, and had they not we would not be having this conversation. This is all well documented by people who were there. But that is another point.

      His sons, Rob and Tim and other local players have all all said the same thing. Didn't use minis (even after pub) except for mass battles (and he developed swords & spells as the direct tie-in). Conventions were different.

      "In fact you will not even need miniature figures..." Foward- Men & Magic 1974
    1. shidaku's Avatar
      shidaku -
      Quote Originally Posted by aramis erak View Post
      It is, however, a criminal and civil offense to post photos I didn't take.
      This is the silliest argument you could have possibly made to defend not posting photos.
    1. Tony Vargas -
      Fascinating narrative, but doesn't revise the entire history of the game, just shines a flicker of different light on the litigation-shrouded earliest days. The subsequent 43 years of it's publication, the hobby's entire history, the cannon of the game's multiple editions, the highs of the fad years, the lows of TSR's failure, the infamy of the edition war, none of that changes.
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