Is D&D Too Focused on Combat?
  • Is D&D Too Focused on Combat?


    Dungeons & Dragons' wargame roots are well-known, but what is sometimes forgotten is how much its origins influenced role-playing games. Although D&D has been a platform to tell many different kinds of stories, its mechanics focus on a few core themes and one of them is combat -- but it's not the only one.

    The Three Modes

    Jon Peterson in Playing at the World explained that there are three modes of D&D play, in which dramatic pacing is achieved by transitioning between the three:

    ...a mode of exploration, a mode of combat and a mode of logistics. Time flows differently in each of these modes, and by rationing the modes carefully a referee guides the players through satisfying cycles of tension, catharsis and banality that mimic the ebb and flow of powerful events.

    These modes are interrelated in important ways, and modern role-players tolerance for all three has changed over time. Exploration has experienced a resurgence with sandbox-style play. Combat has been de-emphasized, particularly in story-telling games. And logistics are back in vogue thanks to the Old School Renaissance. Let's take a look at each in turn.

    The First Mode: Exploration

    In the original boxed set of D&D, exploration was important, but beyond the scope of the rules. It was a key part of emergent play -- using basic guidelines to encourage creative strategies -- but it wasn't actually part of D&D itself. Instead, D&D encouraged players to buy Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival board game, as Peterson explains:

    The object of Outdoor Survival is to navigate a wilderness, though there are five scenarios providing distinct justifications for doing so: for example, lost players returning to civilization at the edges of the map or racing to find the object of a search party. Given that the board itself is not a secret from the players (Outdoor Survival has no referee), some other means is required to simulate being lost in the woods, since the players necessarily command a bird’s-eye view of the environment. Dice therefore determine whether or not players are lost, and if so, in which direction they will wander. The board is overlain with a hexagonal grid, segmenting the board into hexagons about 1.5 centimeters across; as there are six possible directions on a hexagonal board to move, a six-sided die can easily dictate the orientation of lost players. Each hex contains a particular terrain type, in much the manner of Hellwig: there are mountains, swamps, rivers, deserts, plains and even roads (well, trails).

    Evidence of D&D's interest in hexcrawling is strongly represented in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, which was published after the original set but before the rest of the AD&D line. Each monster has a few noteworthy statistics, particularly: frequency, number appearing, and % in lair. Much of these stats do not make sense in a typical dungeon context, where the rooms are planned out; DMs would likely know the monsters that were to appear in their dungeons, and in fact author Gary Gygax states, "...It is not generally recommended for use in establishing the population of Dungeon Levels." But when used in hexcrawling they're useful in describing the encounters there, beginning with frequency, then determining if the monster encountered is in its lair, and then concluding with number of appearing (which could sometimes be in the hundreds, befitting a camp but not a dungeon room).

    For a time, hexcrawling and emergent play were out of favor as more scripted adventures came into vogue. The OSR has reinvigorated sandbox-style play, in which the players generate the world as they adventure, one roll at a time.

    The Second Mode: Combat

    D&D's second mode is the one most gamers are familiar with: killing things. D&D grew out of Chainmail, itself a product of wargaming, so combat's relevance to D&D goes all the way back to its first iteration. Additionally, it mimics the style of the fiction that influenced it, including the violent Conan among other swords and sorcery novels. What's changed is how D&D scales combats. The emphasis on leveling up was treasure, as explained in a previous article, "The Original End Goal of Dungeons & Dragons." Kiva Maginn (Battletech design lead) on Twitter explains how this changes the style of play:

    As a player, you could gain experience by fighting monsters or claiming treasure. You could lose it by dying in battle with monsters. You could encounter monsters without treasure, and you could encounter treasure without monsters. So there was an obvious 'best' path. Get in, get the treasure, get out. Do as little fighting as possible, because fighting risks XP loss. Avoid encounters when you can, and subvert them with clever tricks if possible. Money you find without a fight is free XP.

    This changed with Third Edition, in which experience points were rewarded for defeating a monster:

    Consider 3rd Edition D&D, by contrast. Gold provides no inherent advancement. At a certain point, you simply don't need it anymore. You have so much of it that it's absurd to bother picking up any more. So there's a new obvious 'best' path. Ignore tricks and clever solutions. Never avoid fights. Kill every single monster in the dungeon, with 'it's in the dungeon!' as your justification for doing so. Seek out harder fights with bigger monsters. Don't stop killing.

    Ironically, D&D became MORE about killing than less, as PCs were no longer incentivized to just accumulate gold to advance. Third Edition also did away with name levels and retainers as being an end gold, so the purpose of spending gold had shifted from building strongholds and hiring mercenaries to personally enriching the character through acquisition of magic items. This change was a recognition that players were less interested in leading armies and transitioning back to a life of perpetual adventuring, and the game shifted gears to reflect that.

    Of course, role-playing has since moved beyond combat -- relying more heavily on the narrativist style of play -- even if it started with the primarily tactical dungeon and overland exploration of D&D.

    The Third Mode: Logistics

    Logistics have largely fallen out of favor today due to onerous nature of keeping track of encumberance, equipment, and gold. These factors were all intentional controls on player greed, ensuring that PCs couldn't just cart out mountains of gold (and thus experience points) without some challenges. You can read a more detailed discussion of inventory management and encumbrance in a previous article, "The Lost Art of Packing it All In."

    Third Edition's shift towards combat meant that the nature of logistics changed to be less about accumulating gold and more about personal advancement, exemplified by Pathfinder which spins out even more options than Third Edition for character development.

    D&D Today

    So where does that leave us with D&D today? Kiva points out that the combat biases are still there, but now D&D has expanded to encompass other styles of play -- it just doesn't emphasize it equally:

    The flaw in later D&D was that it was a game that was good at modeling killing, and spent a decade trying to be anything *other* than a game about killing.

    Inspiration, Personal Characteristics, and Background were added to incentivize players to role-play but as the AngryDM points out, many players forget all about it because of the way it's implemented:

    It’s just this thing that’s easy to forget and sits in the game not really doing anything. It feels tacked on. Vestigial. An afterthought. It certainly doesn’t seem to have a clear purpose, as evidenced by the fact that the DM and the players get different advice about it and how it is weirdly disconnected from the mechanics that it seems to be connected to. It seems thrown in. “People like Bonds in Dungeon World and Aspects in Fate, we should probably slap something like that in there.”

    Fifth Edition D&D has also changed how experience points are gained, providing an option to level up through milestones instead. This shifts the incentives yet again away from combat.

    Is combat overemphasized in D&D? Maybe, but that's at least partially due to the other two modes of exploration and logistics falling out of favor. If the eight pages detailing combat are any indication in the Basic D&D Rules, combat is still an integral part of the game, and many players are just fine with that.

    Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
    Comments 228 Comments
    1. ArchfiendBobbie's Avatar
      ArchfiendBobbie -
      I am finding it too focused on combat, but that's not because of the amount of rules on combat. It's because of a general lack of rules in other areas and not enough effort to fix it.

      Pathfinder is just as combat-heavy as 5E, if not more so, and it still has plenty to do that is part of the rules and isn't killing something. Far, far more than the 5E equivalent splat.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by ArchfiendBobbie View Post

      Pathfinder is just as combat-heavy as 5E, if not more so, and it still has plenty to do that is part of the rules and isn't killing something. Far, far more than the 5E equivalent splat.
      Could you provide an example or a few of them?
    1. ArchfiendBobbie's Avatar
      ArchfiendBobbie -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      Could you provide an example or a few of them?
      A good portion of this book.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by ArchfiendBobbie View Post
      A good portion of this book.
      That's an entirely fair example of how a game that's been around since the end of 3rd edition has a huge advantage over a game that's been around for five years.

      However, (and I know this isn't the point of the conversation) if you go back through the editions of D&D, you'll find equivalencies all over 2nd edition (Battlesystem and splats) BECMI (kingdoms) etc.

      We can compare Pathfinder and 5e when they're both the same age (never) and it will be a fair assessment. Right now, of course 5E is behind Pathfinder (Though it's Pathfinder and thus 3e based and well, even though I have a sub to all the PDFs.. I'd rather play 4e than either of the games but I always go with latest rev.)

      Be well and Thanks
      KB
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      It's not the situations that are being set up that's causing this, it's caused by the underlying rules clearly and obviously granting a greater chance of success when only the "face" does the interacting.



      there's strong encouragement built into the system for most if not all characters to participate in combats; not least of which is that to just leave it all to the tank (analagous to leaving an important social interaction to the face to deal with) means you're going to bury a lot of tanks and then spend a lot of time recruiting (and rolling up) new ones.
      But the example that you give is not about system. It's about situation.

      If every combat was framed as a duel between one NPC and the PC "tank", then there would zero encouragement for the thief (or mage, etc) to ever get into combat. But the default in D&D a illustrated in modules; as set out by rulebook advice on encounter design) is not to frame every combat as a duel.

      It's the framing that means only the "face" talks. That framing is, in turn, related to bigger issues of encounter and scenario design - for instance, if most interactions with NPCs are of the get some information out of them or justify why the PCs shouldn't be arrested/attacked for being here variety, then of course only the most persuasive PC will do the talking.

      But it's not very hard to frame social interactions where those are not the only things at stake. It's as simple as the NPC saying to the fighter, "So, what's your view of this matter?" If the fighter stands there and looks dumb, well, that's a loss (but see further below). If the fighter replies, well, now the fighter is part of the social interaction.

      If, in fact, it doesn't matter that the fighter just stands dumb when asked questions by NPCs - that is, if social standing and reputation and good relations with NPCs and the like don't matter in the game, then it's going to be hard to frame social encounters that engage all the PCs - just as, if it didn't matter whether or not PCs took damage in combat, then the mages and thieves wouldn't both with fighting and would just leave it to the tanks to mop up. Or to put it another way: social encounters where it doesn't matter if you're a social failure are like combat encounters where you heal all damage as son as it's taken, so it doesn't matter if you get hit.

      No one would dream of setting up that as the default approach to combat; but I think in many D&D games it probably is the default approach to social interaction.

      Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bowman View Post
      Okay, lets get a little ridiculous, lets say the player characters are in a shop trying to buy weapons, and one of them asks, "How much is that weapon?" The DM informs the player that he must roll a D20 to decide the outcome of this encounter. So the player rolls a D20 and the result is a natural 1, so the DM informs the player that the store proprietor gets mad, grabs the sword that is on the table and he attacks the player characters with it, and tells the players to role for initiative to determine the order of combat. The player who rolled the dices asks, "What happened, what did I do?" The DM tells the player, "You rolled a 1 on the d20 and as you know a natural 1 is an automatic failure in whatever you are trying to accomplish, sorry, just bad luck I guess."
      What you describe is no more or less ridiculous than the following:

      The PC walks into a room with an angry orc in it. The orc draws a sword; the player says "Well, I draw too and try and cut the orc down!" The player rolls a 1. The GM, for the orc, rolls a 20, then the damage dice, and the damage result exceeds the hit point total on the PC sheet. The GM announces "You're dead!" The player asks "Why, what happened, what did the orc do?" And the GM answers "Well, I rolled a 20 and you know that's an auto-hit and crit, and the damage roll was more than your hp. Sorry, just bad luck, I guess."

      In other words, the core of D&D combat can be resolved without knowing anything more about the fiction than that character A has a weapon in hand, is in the immediate vicinity of character B, and attacks. If that's not a problem for combat, why is it a problem for haggling? Or, if you have techniques for dealing with this issue in combat, than why wouldn't you use the same techniques for a haggling scenario?

      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      At it's core the game has always been, roll a die or dice and try to get over or under a target number.



      To support combat and social situations you add modifiers. Regardless of flavor, it's a +1 through +5 usually and most mods cap out at +2 to give you a 10% swing on a D20.
      To support combat, exploration and logistics you add distance. This is usually in a number of feet, or number of squares (as an abstraction of feet) per turn.
      To support social situations you add an initial disposition table. This is usually a d10 or d20 adding a modifier (usually charisma)
      To support all the pillars you add a basic economy so that things may be purchased, bribed etc.

      Everything else is DM fiat. Which is as it should be.
      The combat resolution mechanics have never involved just the rolling of a to hit die.

      There have always (in the post-Chainmail era) been damage rules, related to rules for hit point ablation and the consequences of that. From time to time there have been facing rules, positioning rules, movement and engagement rules, etc.

      And these haven't always just been GM fiat. Gygax's AD&D has intricate rules for facing, how many figures can attack a single figure, when the shield bonus to AC does or doesn't count, when DEX bonus to AC is retained or lost (based on position and other elements of status), etc.

      4e has very substantial non-GM fiat elements in its social resolution mechanics (ie skill challenges) (the most important being X successes before 3 failures; but other ones too, like the requirement that the player declare an action for his/her PC that makes sense given the fictional situation; and the distinction between primary checks (that, if successful, will advance the PC's goal in the challenge) and secondary checks (that, if successful, don't directly advance the goal but open up some other resource or opportunity)).

      An initial disposition table (ie a reaction roll system) is not essential (4e doesn't have one - the GM sets the "initial disposition" as part of the framing of the situation). And it won't help if there is no system that permits the players, via their PCs, to actually generate changes in the relevant fiction. And I take it as given that the 3E version of that system, in its Diplomacy rules, shows why a simple "Roll X to improve the disposition N steps" mechanic, that has no scope for considerations of framing and context, is not feasible in a game which allows for essentially open-ended bonuses. (Traveller social interaction does use a "roll X to win" system, but bonuses in Traveller are tightly capped. And even then I'm not sure the Traveller system is impervious to breakage.)

      Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
      Having mechanical means for suicidal challenges means that the PCs are subject to the same kinds of social "attacks."
      It doesn't have to. In Classic Traveller players make morale checks for their PCs on the same basis that the GM makes them for NPCs; and in Burning Wheel the GM can call on a player to make a (comparable) Steel check.

      But in AD&D and Moldvay Basic PCs are immune from the morale rules. And in Traveller, while players can make Admin and Bribery checks to resolve interactions with officials, there is no system that allows the GM to make Admin or Bribery checks on behalf of NPCs to resolve interactions with the PCs.

      In 4e, a social situation may be resolved via a skill challenge, but the only way for an NPC to "win" the challenge is for the players to lose (ie 3 failures before N successes). What consequences flow from the NPC "win) (= player and PC failure) is up to the GM to narrate based on the logic of the ingame situation, but I think it is a matter for individual tables to decide whether or not a failure can include a PC having his/her mind changed.

      I wouldn't do that at my table. The closest I have come is much more minor manipulations of PC behaviour as consequences for failed checks on the way through the challenge. Eg one time the PCs were negotiating with some witches, one of whom was a Pact Hag (and thus has, on her statblock, a whole host of verbal manipulation abilities backed by magic). A player failed a check, and I descibed the result as being that, as the hag talked to the PC, she led him to move through the room from point A to point B - point B being where there was a trapdoor, which the hag then activated by pulling on a cord so as to drop the PC into a pit.

      For me, in 4e, that's about the limit of "mind control"-type consequences I will impose on player for a failure in a social skill challenge (in combat terms, it's a modest amount of forced movement). When I have posted that example in the past, though, many responders have thought that it broke the limits of acceptable consequence narration. But it's quite feasible to resolve social interactions via the skill challenge mechanics without using even consequences of that sort.

      Quote Originally Posted by Sebastrd View Post
      If anyone has experience with games that do a good job of mechanically implementing exploration and interaction, I'd love to hear about them. I hate glossing over them at my table, but I've yet to come across a better alternative.
      Exploration's not really my thing, but OD&D used the Outdoor Survival game which some liked (eg someone just upthread mentioned it favourably); Moldvay Basic's dungeon exploration rules are highly regarded and are the inspiration for the contemporary game Torchbearer.

      I think Classic Traveller's jump space mechanics work nicely, because (like the Moldvay exploration rules) they use a tight resolution sequence: roll for an encounter as you leave the system; roll checks for drive failure and misjump; spend a week in jump space (which can inclue a roll for hijacking if there are NPCs on board; and other situations the GM chooses to run, but none are obligatory); roll for an encounter upon arrival in the destination system. (It's quite similar to Moldvay's move the PCs their movement rate, map, resolve any declared checks to look for traps or secret doors, mark off the appropriate number of turns, roll a wandering monster check every X turns.)

      Conversely, Classic Traveller has poor rules for planetary surface exploration. The weakest moment of play in my current Traveller game occurred when we got stuck in these rules - which are basically "GM fiats all distances and directions, the players roll for vehicle malfunction every ingame day, the GM checks for an encounter/event twice a day, every day uses X amount of rations/oxygen". Everything turns on the passage of ingame days, but these are just parcelled out by GM fiat. (On the return trip I had the PCs, in their ATVs, under bombardment from an orbiting starship, and used the "quickie" resolution system that is intended for when a small craft comes under attack from a starship. That system worked well, and let us avoid the tedium and fiat of the proper rules.)

      For a completely different sort of exploration resolution system there is Cortex+ Heroic. The default published version of this is Marvel Heroic RP, but the Cortex+ Hacker's Guide has a number of variant rules, including exploration rules for fantasy gaming. The basic unit of play in Cortex+ Heroic is the scene. In MHRP these are either action scenes or transition scenes; the Hacker's Guide introduces exploration scenes. In my own Cortex+ Fantasy game I don't use exploration scenes, but just treat them as a species of transition scene; and by a combination of house ruling plus induction from various rules that are part of MHRP, I use a rule that in a transition scene each player is allowed to declare a single action (rolled against the Doom Pool). If that succeeds, then the player can establish an asset - so a player might make a check to establish a Found the Path Through the Forest asset, which would then provide a bonus die on salient actions in the next Action Scene.

      Exploration-type assets can also be created in Action Scenes; when the PCs were trying to rescue some villagers who were locked up inside a giant chieftain's steading, one of the player's established a Hole in the Pallisade asset which then gave a bonus die for the action to rescue the villagers (which, from memory, in mechanical terms was an action aimed at degrading the Imprisoned Villagers Scene Distinction).

      In 4e skill challenges can be used to resolve exploration - I've done a few of those, as well as slightly more conventional approaches.

      For social resolution I'm finding Traveller fine at present (it has a few subystems - a generic reaction roll, which I let the players make as a type of "influence" check; the systems for resolving bureaucratic encounters; the patron encounter system for estabilshing contacts/recruiters). Burning Wheel is very different - it has the Circles mechanics for establishing friends/contacts; and the Duel of Wits (which can bind on players/PCs as much as the GM/NPCs) for resolving disagreements/persuasion attempts.

      In Cortex+ Heroic social conflict is resolved in a mechanically identical fashion to any other conflict, but instead of Physical Stress and complications like Stuck on the Top of the Washington Monument, you deal Emotional or Mental Stress and inflict complications like Smitten. (Those are examples from actual play: in the end, Ice Man resolved the conflict between the PCs and B.A.D. by riding in on ice slide and carrying Diamondback off into the sunset (in mechanical terms, stepping up her complication to a disabling level).)

      In 4e skill challenges work well for social conflict resolution. Here's an actual play example.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      The combat resolution mechanics have never involved just the rolling of a to hit die.
      Pem - You know I don't mind chatting with you, but if you're going to write a book, at least make an attempt to actually understand what I wrote and stop yourself before you write a book that isn't relevant to what I wrote, or better yet, don't quote me to make your point.

      Other than this I have no reply to you. My post is accurate and stands on its own. The fact that it may not be accurate based on whatever it is you rambled on about doesn't matter.

      Be well.
      KB
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      The Third Mode: Logistics

      Logistics have largely fallen out of favor today due to onerous nature of keeping track of encumberance, equipment, and gold.
      I just can not believe that there are Players who think that keeping track of Gold is onerous.

      Excepting that obviously there must be Players out there who think that because it is the internet afterall. What is next, leveling up just because the DM can not be bothered to keep track of XP?
    1. talien's Avatar
      talien -
      To be more specific:
      * The weight of items one can legitimately carry.
      * The bulk of items, even if they're light, that can be carried.
      * The weight and bulk of coins

      There's plenty of tools to keep track of equipment, and my kids are having a blast playing a Minecraft-stye hexcrawl game using a D&D 5E version of Gamma World (and lots of tokens). Logistics is one of their favorite parts of the game. But it's not for everybody, and there seems to be magical banks that just automatically allow exchanges and withdrawals even when PCs aren't near civilization.

      So yeah, there are definitely players who consider it onerous and they're not the minority.
    1. ArchfiendBobbie's Avatar
      ArchfiendBobbie -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      That's an entirely fair example of how a game that's been around since the end of 3rd edition has a huge advantage over a game that's been around for five years.

      However, (and I know this isn't the point of the conversation) if you go back through the editions of D&D, you'll find equivalencies all over 2nd edition (Battlesystem and splats) BECMI (kingdoms) etc.

      We can compare Pathfinder and 5e when they're both the same age (never) and it will be a fair assessment. Right now, of course 5E is behind Pathfinder (Though it's Pathfinder and thus 3e based and well, even though I have a sub to all the PDFs.. I'd rather play 4e than either of the games but I always go with latest rev.)

      Be well and Thanks
      KB
      Eh. 5E could solve it with just one release. It's really not that hard to fully address.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      But I read a lot of posts which talk about leaving all the talking up to "the face". This suggests that situations are being set up so that none of the other PCs (and thereby the players) have anything distinctive at stake which they need to make social checks to achieve. Contrast the situation with combat, where (typically) every PC is at risk of losing hp.
      I would imagine that leaving all the talking to the "Face" character would be similar to leaving all the damage taken to the "Tank" character.
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by talien View Post
      To be more specific:
      * The weight of items one can legitimately carry.
      * The bulk of items, even if they're light, that can be carried.
      * The weight and bulk of coins

      There's plenty of tools to keep track of equipment, and my kids are having a blast playing a Minecraft-stye hexcrawl game using a D&D 5E version of Gamma World (and lots of tokens). Logistics is one of their favorite parts of the game. But it's not for everybody, and there seems to be magical banks that just automatically allow exchanges and withdrawals even when PCs aren't near civilization.

      So yeah, there are definitely players who consider it onerous and they're not the minority.
      I like Minecraft and on the other hand Minecraft logistics are really funky.

      Name: Minecraft Logistics_small.jpg ► Views: 101 ► Size: 49.3 KB
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by ArchfiendBobbie View Post
      Eh. 5E could solve it with just one release. It's really not that hard to fully address.
      Sure, and Pathfinder fixed a lot with Ultimate Campaign, but that was also four years after the initial game released
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I would imagine that leaving all the talking to the "Face" character would be similar to leaving all the damage taken to the "Tank" character.
      In practice, leaving all of the talking to the "Face" character is a lot like leaving all of the lockpicking to the "rogue" character -- it's extremely efficient for everyone concerned.
    1. Jacob Lewis's Avatar
      Jacob Lewis -
      So why do we categorize every aspect as combat and non-combat? Why not exploration and non-exploration, etc.? Oh, yeah... Because it is a combat-focused game! It always has been. Every edition, every derivative system. That is the game, and hooray for that because we need/like it that way!

      Now what is the point of arguing so strongly against it like it's a bad thing? D&D does what it does best, and can diverse itself just enough to give everyone their favorites on the side. Regardless how you slice it, you're still just rolling a die trying to beat a number to determine a pass/fail situation which is the simplest (and out-dated) mechanic in RPGs. So keep fighting the good fight, I guess.
    1. Manbearcat's Avatar
      Manbearcat -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
      In practice, leaving all of the talking to the "Face" character is a lot like leaving all of the lockpicking to the "rogue" character -- it's extremely efficient for everyone concerned.
      There are lots of problems with this Saelorn, not the least of which is how your extreme metagame aversion is incoherent with this position.

      1) In reality (you're extremely predisposed toward extrapolation via internal causality), both informal and formal parlay (regardless of stakes and goals) among groups (associates/peers, would-bes, or strangers) typically involves multi-layered interactions. One of the most important in the animal kingdom is unspoken signalling such as postures and respect for courtesies or social norms. For instance, if someone is spoken to and they are ill-equipped to interact or aloof/rude/non-credible in their interactions, it damages the prospects of getting what a side wants out of the interchange. This speaks to both (i) framing (a GM engaging a non-"face" character during interaction) and (ii) lack of consequences/fallout if either the non-"face" character eschews the interaction or the "face" character steps in and denies the NPC their interchange with the other PC. In the real world, that typically doesn't fly and you'll draw the ire of someone ("I was talking to him/her") or they'll lose respect for both parties (due to the beta nature of the former and/or the unsolicited, rude interruption of the latter).

      It may be "metagame cozy" to have the face do all the interactions (because of action resolution maths), but that should be a big problem of internal causality for anyone accustomed to varying social interactions in real life. And a GM who is insufficient at framing "non-face" characters into social interaction needs to step their game up. And a resolution system (GMing ethos or mechanics) that doesn't play into this paradigm is also likely a problem.

      2) While this won't move you at all, genre fiction (upon which plenty of people draw genre logic inspiration from) isn't exactly starved of tense social engagements with non-specialists (either because they imposed their will upon the situation or the situation was imposed upon them).
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      Pem - You know I don't mind chatting with you, but if you're going to write a book, at least make an attempt to actually understand what I wrote
      THis claim:

      At it's core the game has always been, roll a die or dice and try to get over or under a target number. Early on the D20 and D100 were used for task resolution and the others were used mostly for damage. These days it's more about the D20 and hitting a target number threshold. Really, that's as complicated as the game is in a nuts and bolts way and I don't think that ever needs to change.

      is not correct.

      The nuts and bolts of D&D combat are not roll to hit a target number. They never have been. (There are games that fit this description: HeroWars/Quest and Burning Wheel, just to give two examples, allow combat to be resolved this way.)

      Initiative; position; damage and hit points rules; these aren't add-ons to D&D combat. They're absolutely at it's core.

      You can't even begin to work out who won a D&D combat just be finding out who hit how many target numbers.
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
      There are lots of problems with this Saelorn, not the least of which is how your extreme metagame aversion is incoherent with this position.
      It's not metagaming if that's how the world actually works. Your argument basically amounts to saying that the world doesn't really work that way, which may or may not be true of the real world, and may be true in your particular game world, but isn't necessarily true of my game world or any other game world I've ever played in. In most D&D worlds I've seen, you should leave fragile negotiations to the bard or paladin, because any interjection from the barbarian will cause negotiations to fail.

      Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
      2) While this won't move you at all, genre fiction (upon which plenty of people draw genre logic inspiration from) isn't exactly starved of tense social engagements with non-specialists (either because they imposed their will upon the situation or the situation was imposed upon them).
      In genre fiction - depending on what genre you think this is - non-specialists rarely accomplish anything useful through grace or eloquence of speech. More often than not, one side has a trump card which makes negotiation superfluous, or the opponent pretends to be convinced so they can betray the heroes later on in a dramatic fashion. Translating that into D&D terms, the die isn't usually rolled in those situations, or the villain succeeds in bluffing past the nonspecialist's insight.

      And that holds in D&D, as well. The barbarian may choose to negotiate with the Big Bad by holding the MacGuffin hostage, or otherwise giving them no choice. You don't need to send in the Face, because skill is a non-factor in this situation.
    1. Lylandra's Avatar
      Lylandra -
      And this is why people who love talking the talk as well as fighting the fight tend to invest into diplomacy etc. as much as they'd do in perception. The only problem there is often a lack of skillpoints or available proficiencies. Because I'd love to have each character be able to contribute to social encounters, both in terms of roleplaying AND in terms of mechanics.

      And this is where one could argue that D&D is "too combat focused". Because everyone *has* to be able to contribute in a fight and not everyone *has* to be able to contribute in social or exploration situations per RAW.
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
      It may be "metagame cozy" to have the face do all the interactions (because of action resolution maths), but that should be a big problem of internal causality for anyone accustomed to varying social interactions in real life. And a GM who is insufficient at framing "non-face" characters into social interaction needs to step their game up. And a resolution system (GMing ethos or mechanics) that doesn't play into this paradigm is also likely a problem.
      I can't say for certain, since you're the one choosing your language, but it sounds to me like you aren't talking about meta-gaming or framing at all. It sounds more like you think the DM is roleplaying their NPCs inauthentically, and that they're getting away with it because there are no system mechanics with which to hold them accountable.

      As an example, if the party is in town and the local loan shark starts harassing the fighter over some past debts, you think the fighter shouldn't be able to get away with simply letting the bard handle it; even though the fighter negotiates at -1 and can't possibly bluff, while the bard is absolutely guaranteed to convince the loan shark that the debts had already been paid. Is that an accurate assessment of your position?

      Assuming this to be the case (so I can finish my point before going to bed), it sounds like you're confused by the concept of meta-gaming. The colloquial definition of the term refers to a character within the game world acting on information from outside of the game world. If the fighter chose to talk instead of the bard, based on the real-world rules of etiquette, then that would be meta-gaming because the world they live in doesn't actually work that way; only in our world would the fighter feel such a social pressure to speak for themself. Within the game world, allowing the bard to handle it is the correct course of action, because their world really does allow such deflections to be handled in that manner (it all comes down to the skill check, after all).

      If you want to say that D&D is too combat-oriented because it has a lot of rules for combat and not enough rules to compel group participation in social interactions, then that's certainly a valid position (and it wouldn't even rely on DM framing to carry out). I would just argue that you could solve this example equally well by nixing the social skills entirely, such that the bard couldn't save the fighter trivially, and the fighter was not mechanically penalized for speaking on their own behalf.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sebastrd View Post
      If anyone has experience with games that do a good job of mechanically implementing exploration and interaction, I'd love to hear about them. I hate glossing over them at my table, but I've yet to come across a better alternative.
      "The One Ring" has pretty good rules for exploration; basically, every party member is assigned a particular role when traveling.
      "The Burning Wheel" has a "Duel of Wits" to determine the outcome of social conflicts. In Ars Magica there's an elaborate system to determine the winner of a debate.
      Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
      Well, words and thoughts generally don't tend to injure, maim, or kill.
      Maybe not directly, but definitely indirectly: It's quite a common meme that the heroes are (falsely?) accused of committing a crime and have to talk their way out of it to avoid being punished. That punishment may well be fatal.
      Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bowman View Post
      Okay, lets get a little ridiculous, lets say the player characters are in a shop trying to buy weapons, and one of them asks, "How much is that weapon?" The DM informs the player that he must roll a D20 to decide the outcome of this encounter. So the player rolls a D20 and the result is a natural 1, so the DM informs the player that the store proprietor gets mad, grabs the sword that is on the table and he attacks the player characters with it, and tells the players to role for initiative to determine the order of combat. The player who rolled the dices asks, "What happened, what did I do?" The DM tells the player, "You rolled a 1 on the d20 and as you know a natural 1 is an automatic failure in whatever you are trying to accomplish, sorry, just bad luck I guess."
      That's a rather weird example. But apparently you're so focused on combat that you cannot imagine any negative outcome that doesn't involve the pcs being attacked?
      I'd expect a roll of '1' to indicate that the store proprietor will flat out refuse to sell any weapons to the pcs. It's still a pretty bad example because usually you don't use a single die roll to determine the outcome of an encounter.
      Quote Originally Posted by Shasarak View Post
      I just can not believe that there are Players who think that keeping track of Gold is onerous.

      Excepting that obviously there must be Players out there who think that because it is the internet afterall. What is next, leveling up just because the DM can not be bothered to keep track of XP?
      Well, I think, it's much more elegant to have a system using abstract wealth categories to determine what kind and quality of equipment you have access to. Such systems are e.g. used by Shadowrun and Ars Magica.
      And tracking xp? It's already a thing of the past for me. Using milestones is way better. It neatly solves a bunch of problems, e.g. leveling up when there's no time to rest, lagging behind the expected power level due to missed encounters, and most importantly the freedom to solve conflicts and quests in whatever way the players prefer without having to fear that they'll be punished for not picking a solution that would grant them xp according to the rules.
      And let's not forget that there are plenty of RPGs that don't use the concept of 'levels'.
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