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 birdís-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:

    Itís just this thing thatís easy to forget and sits in the game not really doing anything. It feels tacked on. Vestigial. An afterthought. It certainly doesnít 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. ďPeople like Bonds in Dungeon World and Aspects in Fate, we should probably slap something like that in there.Ē

    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. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
      What I hope for is a system that removes the whole idea of the singular face. that is, a social interaction system that is as inclusive for the whole party as combat is.
      I would really start with framing and consequences first, because that's how combat works: GMs (typically) frame combat so that all the PCs get drawn in; and there are consequences for all players in combat (ie their PCs take hp loss). If you are playing the weakling mage, and choose not to roll any attacks, that doesn't stop the GM declaring attacks against you that sap your hit points.

      So what is going on that players who never have their PCs say anything, and leave it all to the "face", never suffer consequences? Never have anyone try and speak to them? Ask them their opinion on the matter? Never develop reputatios as buffoons? Etc.

      Once the framing and consequence issue has been indentified, then it makes sense to look at a system for integrating the multiple checks of multiple players into a single resolution of the encounter. Personally I think 4e's skill challenges work well for this, but one could go more gritty (eg like Duel of Wits) if desired.

      The last step would be to think about giving different classes/roles different abilities to engage the situation. In the skill challenge framework, in my experience, having a CHA stat is enough. A more gritty/intricate system would probably need more (4e saves almost all of its intricacy for combat!).
    1. RevTurkey's Avatar
      RevTurkey -
      Quote Originally Posted by MichaelSomething View Post
      That's TOO ridiculous! What would actually happen is the shopkeeper would go, "that weapon is defective, sir" since the 1 means the PC picked a weapon that is defective. The shopkeeper would then tell the PCs that he doesn't have anymore of that type and recommends they go to another shop/location if he/she wants to buy one of that weapon type. As a punishment for rolling a 1, the PCs have to spend more time to buy that weapon.

      What the PCs don't know is that they embroiled themselves in a spy adventure! A secret agent from a foreign land was suppose to come in and ask for a broken weapon, and get told to go to buy it somewhere else, and go get it there. You see, that weapon (somehow) stores a great deal of super important information and this process was all a super secret way to get that information to the secret agent.

      So buying that weapon from the other location will ensure that SOMETHING will attack the PCs. Either the foreign agent trying to get the info storing weapon, or some other powerful entities/town guard/counter spy/mercenaries trying to prevent the agent from getting it! That's what would happen!
      I like it! Making roll-playing drive the role-playing. Itís kind of like grabbing the ĎOSR stick of righteousnessí (common magic item) and beating the old grognards over the noggin with it

      Iím more of a describe it rather than roll it kind of Gm. In the encounter imagined...Iíd maybe head for the dice if the players were trying to extract more than a basic purchase...getting a discount, or maybe some plot information for example. So, I Ďmightí make them roll for that situation...with the 1 resulting in say, double the price but being convinced the item is very special when it isnít (and of course maybe in the long run something interesting does get discovered about the item..maybe a curse on it etc)...or maybe the information gained is fake and maybe the merchant is a bit dubious and part of the Thieves Guild and sets up the group as a potential mark for robbery etc...

      Thatís how I tend to go...not going to either polar opposite...judge it by what will make the players enjoy the game...if there has been a lot of dice rolling happening...then a pure storytelling/narrative section of play might be good to break things up and vice versa...if the playerís tongues are getting tired of waggling along describing every last detail, then they probably appreciate a change in pace and just roll to resolve a situation.

      Is D&D too combat heavy? You can dial it whichever way you want and donít have to stick to that choice. Donít let things become predictable or they become boring pretty soon in my experience. I think combat is a good area to throw some tactical/rule depth at. More than for social interactions for certain...but then it can be nice to introduce say something like Skill Challenges from 4th edition once in a blue moon just to give the players the unexpected.

    1. Flexor the Mighty! -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sqn Cdr Flashheart View Post
      They could, but they never have over the decades. DnD is a combat game, from inception. The 75% of rules on combat has worked well so far!
      Yep, and I think a lot of DMs are fine with not having detailed rules for situations that have been handled with player and DM interaction in the past.

      When I'm running a game and a player says they want to convince the burgermeister of Diertburg of something, I want them to think what they are going to say and roleplay it out, give me a synopsis of what they are trying to say to him, or even jump into the skin of the PC and play it out like they are the PC talking. As a DM I know what will convince the NPC or what will influence them. If I was a good DM I dropped a lot of hints in that regard as well. Of course mechanical things like a high CHA score or skill will influence how I have the NPC react but what I get now is just "I'll make a persuasion check". I hate that and its the farthest thing from immersion to me. Plus it puts uncertainty in a situation where there may not need to be any. I may ask for a skill check after that or CHA check if its iffy and the situation needs a check to resolve a questionable outcome but why rush to that point?

      Having a social combat and defense value and rolling that out like physical combat no thank you. To me RP needs to be more than leveraging the numbers on your sheet against other numbers.
    1. Reynard -
      Quote Originally Posted by Flexor the Mighty! View Post
      Having a social combat and defense value and rolling that out like physical combat no thank you. To me RP needs to be more than leveraging the numbers on your sheet against other numbers.
      I think this suggests a hard dividing line between combat and role-playing that isn't necessary or desirable (IMO obviously). When characters engage the enemy in combat, the players are still role-playing. it is just that the process of combat is a lot more granular than other aspects of the game, meaning that their role-play involves their character sheets and rules a lot more. This doesn't need to be the case. D&D combat could just as easily (and satisfactorily) be treated the same way as the negotiation you described: the player tells you what they plan to do, their tactics and approach, and if you think that leaves some ambiguity they make a single "attack roll" to determine whether they win the fight or not, and what the consequences are of either. That's a perfectly viable way to conduct combat in D&D -- and in a lot of cases, especially when talking about combats that ultimately don't matter and exist primarily to drain party resources or eat game time, it is preferable. Sometimes, though, a fight should be a long drawn out affair with every parry and thrust and spell desrcibed in full.

      What I don't understand is why people are so resistant to treating other aspects of the game the same way.
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      The issue of combat vs. social amounts to more than simply making skill checks. Other systems and subsystems may be at play as well.

      In Fate, for example, the social pillar of the game is frequently tied into the characters' high concept, trouble, and other aspects. If you have the (high concept) aspect "Disgraced Bodyguard of Prince Alfric" then this gives the GM and character a lot of material for pushing the social dimension of the campaign forward via compels. This character aspect gives us information that the GM can "use against" the player. We know that the character is "disgraced," and that his character is tied to another character named "Prince Alfric" (and his associates), and that he served as his "bodyguard." This ties the character in question deeply into the story and the social world in which the characters inhabit. This would be "your character" and that provides more social information about who and what the character is about than simply "Level 7 Human Champion Fighter." This aspect could even be invoked in support of the exploration pillar: e.g., "Because I am the 'Disgraced Bodyguard of Prince Alfric,' I happen to know a lot of secret entrances of how to get in and out of this palace, and so I remember an underground path that leads from the inner chamber to a shed on the garden grounds."
    1. Flexor the Mighty! -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
      I think this suggests a hard dividing line between combat and role-playing that isn't necessary or desirable (IMO obviously). When characters engage the enemy in combat, the players are still role-playing. it is just that the process of combat is a lot more granular than other aspects of the game, meaning that their role-play involves their character sheets and rules a lot more. This doesn't need to be the case. D&D combat could just as easily (and satisfactorily) be treated the same way as the negotiation you described: the player tells you what they plan to do, their tactics and approach, and if you think that leaves some ambiguity they make a single "attack roll" to determine whether they win the fight or not, and what the consequences are of either. That's a perfectly viable way to conduct combat in D&D -- and in a lot of cases, especially when talking about combats that ultimately don't matter and exist primarily to drain party resources or eat game time, it is preferable. Sometimes, though, a fight should be a long drawn out affair with every parry and thrust and spell desrcibed in full.

      What I don't understand is why people are so resistant to treating other aspects of the game the same way.
      Yes, you could have a largely diceless narrative game for sure. But where I want the system to dictate things is combat where every swing of the weapon is uncertain. Nobody in my group has sword fought to the death, but they are all experience in BS'ing, persuading, cajoling, and flattering people that they can use at the table in a roleplay situation. So we need mechanics in that area far less than combat. To me its more fun and immersive as a player to think of how I'm going to talk to a town official than thinking well I"ve got a +8 and I need to pass a check. Of course there is way to combine them both and many don't agree with me. Heck I'd get rid of all skills that aren't really tied to a class function so I'm an outlier I'd wager. All IMO, YMMV and that.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post

      What I don't understand is why people are so resistant to treating other aspects of the game the same way.
      I posted half of this answer in another post you've acknowledged with XP, so I'll only add the other half.

      Objective tasks like combat require a lot of rules to handle properly and are bloated by character guidelines that increase word count.
      Subjective tasks like social situations can't be modeled well given the same word count, it's actually less effective because you have far more nuance with the interaction

      Here's something that works for my table:

      Player trying to convince a merchant to lower pricing.
      1. How strapped is the merchant - If he's doing well he'll be inclined to haggle -2 to difficulty. If not less so +2
      2. How good of a mood is he in today - start at 10, roll 2d10. First die is 1-5 good mood, 6-10 bad.. second die is the modifier
      (range of 0-20) sets the initial difficulty. So final diff is no check necessary to 22 - really bad day.

      Roleplay because I don't allow a check without a trigger and the conversation itself is that trigger.

      Player rolls against desired skill or attribute depending on what version of the game we're playing.
      If they beat the target we continue the conversation favorably. If they fail it we continue the conversation less so unless it's really botched.

      What I just typed up is all that's really needed when a contest is expected socially. You don't really need more. The responsibility is on the DM to set table rules for what has to happen before a check is allowed. If you require some rp then you'll get much more of it over time. If you don't, then none will happen or it will happen sporadically.

      Thanks,
      KB
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
      The issue of combat vs. social amounts to more than simply making skill checks. Other systems and subsystems may be at play as well.

      In Fate, for example, the social pillar of the game is frequently tied into the characters' high concept, trouble, and other aspects. If you have the (high concept) aspect "Disgraced Bodyguard of Prince Alfric" then this gives the GM and character a lot of material for pushing the social dimension of the campaign forward via compels. This character aspect gives us information that the GM can "use against" the player. We know that the character is "disgraced," and that his character is tied to another character named "Prince Alfric" (and his associates), and that he served as his "bodyguard." This ties the character in question deeply into the story and the social world in which the characters inhabit. This would be "your character" and that provides more social information about who and what the character is about than simply "Level 7 Human Champion Fighter." This aspect could even be invoked in support of the exploration pillar: e.g., "Because I am the 'Disgraced Bodyguard of Prince Alfric,' I happen to know a lot of secret entrances of how to get in and out of this palace, and so I remember an underground path that leads from the inner chamber to a shed on the garden grounds."
      My reply to this would be "Have your players write a one page background prior to sitting down at the table". Alternatively, create a game around it at session zero.

      It's a good thing to have backgrounds that kick off the imagination, but I don't necessarily think that's the level of detail folks are arguing that 5e doesn't have.
    1. Reynard -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kobold Boots View Post
      My reply to this would be "Have your players write a one page background prior to sitting down at the table". Alternatively, create a game around it at session zero.

      It's a good thing to have backgrounds that kick off the imagination, but I don't necessarily think that's the level of detail folks are arguing that 5e doesn't have.
      Using Bonds, Flaws and so on as something analogous to FATEs Aspects works pretty well in my experience.

      Sent from my [device_name] using EN World mobile app
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Reynard View Post
      Using Bonds, Flaws and so on as something analogous to FATEs Aspects works pretty well in my experience.

      Sent from my [device_name] using EN World mobile app
      In my case, I usually have a session zero where players can mad lib their backgrounds with other players and the DM chiming in while using poker chips as a currency to buy their story. If anyone wants to add or change something they need to outbid or equal whatever was spent to get to that point.

      I started doing this because any character's backstory has an effect on the campaign but also affects every other player at the table. The natural preventer that stops players from being jerks to each other is that anything they spend on someone else's story is less they have to spend on themselves and jerks get rooted out fast.

      Ex.

      "I am friends with all nobles and courtiers of the noonah empire, they love me and I'm always chatting with them to influence the world" - dick move.
      GM vibes in with similar coin "Your friends are imaginary".. table erupts.
      Another player chimes in.. "Imaginary in the sense that you're a seer and the friends give you visitations"
      Last player.. "the noonah empire was overrun and replaced with the various city states of the game."
      GM vibes in.. "and on occasion the ghosts will give you flashbacks or intel that help the party."

      Player happy, and stunned that something cool came out of his power play but more respectful of the process.
    1. evilbob's Avatar
      evilbob -
      A thread about opinions! Everyone loves giving opinions, so I'll post too!

      I think D&D has a large number of rules concerning combat - really more than anything else - which tends to make it seem focused on combat. (4.0 was 10x more focused this way.)

      But D&D is a game about people sitting around and telling stories to each other, and that means that each group will have its own focus based on its own tastes. So to claim something like "D&D is too focused on combat" is pointless because any group that wants less can have less.

      And now, the statistically meaningless personal anecdote: we don't have a lot of combat in our game because we don't like it as much.

      Opinion granted! Please place it in the pile of 8 (and growing) pages' worth of other people's opinions who also won't be read by most people who are more eager to give their own opinions than read others'. (I sure didn't read anyone else's.)
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
      A thread about opinions! Everyone loves giving opinions, so I'll post too!

      I think D&D has a large number of rules concerning combat - really more than anything else - which tends to make it seem focused on combat. (4.0 was 10x more focused this way.)

      But D&D is a game about people sitting around and telling stories to each other, and that means that each group will have its own focus based on its own tastes. So to claim something like "D&D is too focused on combat" is pointless because any group that wants less can have less.

      And now, the statistically meaningless personal anecdote: we don't have a lot of combat in our game because we don't like it as much.

      Opinion granted! Please place it in the pile of 8 (and growing) pages' worth of other people's opinions who also won't be read by most people who are more eager to give their own opinions than read others'. (I sure didn't read anyone else's.)
      thanks evilbob.
    1. Thomas Bowman's Avatar
      Thomas Bowman -
      I think a lot of D&D, especially at higher levels is player characters preparing for combat, for example buying equipment for one's army and building a castle, there is a lot of detail involved in this. I used to sit down with my players and we'd talk about how much its going to cost to hire and equip mercenaries, what you want to equip them with, usually the PCs do this with the treasure they accumulated from the last Dungeon expedition, or sometimes they would just randomly travel around, having random encounters, and killing whatever attacks them and taking their treasure, and sometimes they would go on dragon hunts, trying to find a dragon's lair so they could steal its treasure, with all the money accumulated, they could build a keep, hire a bunch of mercenaries to patrol its walls, and enforce the law in he surrounding town that they built.
    1. rmcoen's Avatar
      rmcoen -
      IME, if you don't have a good story, the (RPG) rules don't matter. The players will go play a boardgame that fills their "combat itch". Having said that, the way the rules are written can and will influence the will the story is told and played. If you are playing a grim & gritty game system, players will (tend to) play more conservatively; if you are "high fantasy" with full health 5 minutes away, more risks (and brashness and arrogance) will be seen. If a fireball clears a room, expect more fireballs; if it just announces "Roll for Initiative!" (4e, I'm looking at you), expect fewer fireballs.

      I played Ars Magica in college for awhile (alongside D&D campaigns). The rules rewarded character growth. I hated when we had to leave the homebase and "deal with something", because it got in the way of my studies (XP and level-up, in D&D). Encounters were interruptions, problems "in the way", not methods of getting better/faster/stronger. [They were, though, opportunities to demonstrate *being* faster/better/stronger, so there was still some appeal.]

      In GURPS, when I knew a single axe-hit could kill me (but a rapier thrust couldn't), it changed the way I entered combat. I played for the story, but the *way* I played changed.

      I've run multi-year campaigns in 2e, 3e, and 4e now. The type of story I tell has been influenced by the game system (4e in particular, with the concepts of Heroic, Paragon, and Epic tiers), and in turn, the way the players have chosen to play has been influenced. My 2e campaign was heavy in Logistics... until it wasn't, because no one enjoyed it. The 3e campaign, then, started with logistics to set the mood - under equipped, rain, weather disruption from the Big Bad Event... then dropped, when that initial campaign goal was complete. the 4e campaign has only had to deal with Logistics for specific set-piece adventures - "the one on the frozen undead-covered island", or "the one in the swamps of Carceri", or "the one in the plane-locked drow city, where divine magic sets off alarm bells".

      I like Exploration, I love that part of a 4X, and I'd love to bring that to a new campaign... but D&D isn't the system for it, and I'm not comfortable as a GM "winging it".
    1. shidaku's Avatar
      shidaku -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I would really start with framing and consequences first, because that's how combat works: GMs (typically) frame combat so that all the PCs get drawn in; and there are consequences for all players in combat (ie their PCs take hp loss). If you are playing the weakling mage, and choose not to roll any attacks, that doesn't stop the GM declaring attacks against you that sap your hit points.

      So what is going on that players who never have their PCs say anything, and leave it all to the "face", never suffer consequences? Never have anyone try and speak to them? Ask them their opinion on the matter? Never develop reputatios as buffoons? Etc.

      Once the framing and consequence issue has been indentified, then it makes sense to look at a system for integrating the multiple checks of multiple players into a single resolution of the encounter. Personally I think 4e's skill challenges work well for this, but one could go more gritty (eg like Duel of Wits) if desired.

      The last step would be to think about giving different classes/roles different abilities to engage the situation. In the skill challenge framework, in my experience, having a CHA stat is enough. A more gritty/intricate system would probably need more (4e saves almost all of its intricacy for combat!).
      I think this is an important takeaway. A lot of DM's won't engage people who don't want to engage with non-combat encounters, and I understand that some players just don't enjoy that element of the game as much as others.

      But I do think that social encounters to function similarly to combat in that the NPCs can choose who they engage with. There's no reason that your NPC is going to engage with Billy just because Billy has high social scores. He may find John attractive. He may think Sue did something special last week and she's the only one with a brain on their shoulders. A non-face party member may have title or standing that the others do not. A spellcaster NPC may refuse to talk to non-spellcasters. There could be race or gender or other social issues.

      As you say, the players don't get a choice if the bad guys want to attack them. Social really shouldn't be any different.
    1. Ovinomancer's Avatar
      Ovinomancer -
      Quote Originally Posted by rmcoen View Post
      IME, if you don't have a good story, the (RPG) rules don't matter. The players will go play a boardgame that fills their "combat itch". Having said that, the way the rules are written can and will influence the will the story is told and played. If you are playing a grim & gritty game system, players will (tend to) play more conservatively; if you are "high fantasy" with full health 5 minutes away, more risks (and brashness and arrogance) will be seen. If a fireball clears a room, expect more fireballs; if it just announces "Roll for Initiative!" (4e, I'm looking at you), expect fewer fireballs.

      I played Ars Magica in college for awhile (alongside D&D campaigns). The rules rewarded character growth. I hated when we had to leave the homebase and "deal with something", because it got in the way of my studies (XP and level-up, in D&D). Encounters were interruptions, problems "in the way", not methods of getting better/faster/stronger. [They were, though, opportunities to demonstrate *being* faster/better/stronger, so there was still some appeal.]

      In GURPS, when I knew a single axe-hit could kill me (but a rapier thrust couldn't), it changed the way I entered combat. I played for the story, but the *way* I played changed.

      I've run multi-year campaigns in 2e, 3e, and 4e now. The type of story I tell has been influenced by the game system (4e in particular, with the concepts of Heroic, Paragon, and Epic tiers), and in turn, the way the players have chosen to play has been influenced. My 2e campaign was heavy in Logistics... until it wasn't, because no one enjoyed it. The 3e campaign, then, started with logistics to set the mood - under equipped, rain, weather disruption from the Big Bad Event... then dropped, when that initial campaign goal was complete. the 4e campaign has only had to deal with Logistics for specific set-piece adventures - "the one on the frozen undead-covered island", or "the one in the swamps of Carceri", or "the one in the plane-locked drow city, where divine magic sets off alarm bells".

      I like Exploration, I love that part of a 4X, and I'd love to bring that to a new campaign... but D&D isn't the system for it, and I'm not comfortable as a GM "winging it".
      As someone running a 5e exploration focused game with one exploration focused houserule (I changed rests to move hp gain from long rest to a new category full rest that requires 24 hours in a safe location), I kinda disagree.

      The core books offer some great suggestions for exploration: tasks. One Ring expanded on this, but the core 5e rules still have the suggestions. When travelling, everyone does something. For me, I have navigating, trailblazing, foraging, mapping, being alert for danger, looking for points of interest, and other. You can do one job at a time. Foraging works just as the PHB says. Navigating works pretty much as the PHB says. Trailblazing is trying to reduce the travel time through terrain by picking paths. Being alert for danger means you don't have disadvantage to notice hostiles like everyone else doing something else. Looking for points of interest means you can roll to discover things that may be hidden while you travel (not all things are on the map visibly). Other is for things like tracking, or tending to a wounded comrade, or carrying the wounded comrade, etc. This means that players have to organize and make choices on what's important to them when they travel. Add in random travel encounters (I build mine base on the area but you can use those in Xanthar's) and you have a neat, pretty much by the book exploration subsystem. Set some DCs and roll out (pun semi-intended).

      For social encounters, I have a few rulings I fall back on. Social rolls are only made once a player has stated a goal and a method to achieve it. This can be 'I try to bribe the guard 50g to let us in' to 'I try to convince the King to grant me a patent of nobility or I will reveal that his Queen is having an affair with his Royal Advisor!" The ask has to be reasonable -- the King would never give you all of the money in the vault, for instance, and the guard won't let you in armed to the teeth. The DC is set based if the attitude of the person towards you. Friendly is DC 10, indifferent is DC 15, and hostile is DC 20. This is modified by whether the ask is dangerous or trivial to the individual. For trivial things the DC is lowered by 5. For things that are neither trivial or dangerous, no change. For things that are dangerous -- either physically or to social status -- the DC is raised by 5.

      If the player can leverage a trait, bond, flaw, or ideal in their ask that the target has, they gain advantage. If the target can leverage one of the player's trait's, bonds, flaws, or ideals, the player gets disadvantage. This would mean that if a character that had loyalty to the King as a bond trying to blackmail the king would be at disadvantage. If the player can provide some other kind of leverage, they can also gain advantage for that. If the player making the check isn't the one that benefits from the check - ie, you're asking for someone else - the check is at disadvantage -- asking a friend to help your other friend is harder than asking them to help you, for instance. So, if you're 'facing' for another player, you can, at best, get a straight roll against the DC if you can gain leverage in the situation. This encourages players to do their own thing, if they can work it. Also, the DC is set for the person asking, so if you try to get the face to help you convince your friend, their DC is already 5 high than yours and it's at disadvantage.

      I've run out of time, so I'll leave this here and pick it up when I can get back. There are a few more things like consequences for failure I'd like to touch on.
    1. DMMike's Avatar
      DMMike -
      Quote Originally Posted by talien View Post
      Is combat overemphasized in D&D?
      No; a game about killing monsters for XP should probably focus on combat.

      Quote Originally Posted by evilbob View Post
      A thread about opinions!
      Unless you do what I did, and let D&D set the bar for what D&D should be.
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Who says that you need more rules to model encounters that deal with something else than combat? What I'm proposing is to use the same system to resolve encounters, i.e. using a skill system. Why should using a weapon skill be inherently different from using a debate skill? Both can be determined by a die roll with a target number derived from the opponent's abilities. This actually results in fewer rules, not more.
      My question is this: how do any of these more-die-rolls-for-social-situations proposals do anything other than mechanically discourage players from actually role-playing their characters in character in favour of just rolling dice?

      That's right, they don't. Which by default makes them bad ideas.

      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      I would really start with framing and consequences first, because that's how combat works: GMs (typically) frame combat so that all the PCs get drawn in; and there are consequences for all players in combat (ie their PCs take hp loss). If you are playing the weakling mage, and choose not to roll any attacks, that doesn't stop the GM declaring attacks against you that sap your hit points.

      So what is going on that players who never have their PCs say anything, and leave it all to the "face", never suffer consequences? Never have anyone try and speak to them? Ask them their opinion on the matter? Never develop reputatios as buffoons? Etc.
      Agreed. A DM can easily draw other PCs in by simply speaking directly to them through NPCs...unless, of course, the "face" has been sent in alone - the social equivalent of sending the Thief ahead alone to scout and explore. A less subtle variant on this is that the NPC being approached will, on noticing the party contains one or more of [Dwarf, mage, knight, female, or whatever], only speak with those characters and completely ignore the rest:

      Local Noble NPC: "By your armour, heraldry and bearing, ma'am, you are clearly a knight and thus worthy of my time. The rest of you may leave, or if you must stay, at the very least remain silent. Lady Knight, what is your business with me?"

      And now the Fighter's on the spot.

      But I don't agree that any of this needs a hard-coded resolution system. 3e's inclusion of codified social skills was IMO a mistake, sadly perpetuated since.

      Lan-"given some other recent threads, my agreeing with pemerton here is almost an 'alert the media!' moment"-efan
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Who says that you need more rules to model encounters that deal with something else than combat? What I'm proposing is to use the same system to resolve encounters, i.e. using a skill system. Why should using a weapon skill be inherently different from using a debate skill? Both can be determined by a die roll with a target number derived from the opponent's abilities. This actually results in fewer rules, not more.
      History shows us that a system which requires combat skills and non-combat skills to compete for character resources will almost invariably end with players investing in combat skills and ignoring the non-combat skills. Words don't work against zombies or otyughs, but swords are effective against everything. Games that use a unified system for everything tend to have worse balance issues than games which keep those activities segregated.

      As long as you maintain the distinct resource groups, like 5E does with combat skills coming from your class while non-combat skills come from your background (mostly, at least - even 5E could stand to be better about this), it wouldn't necessarily be impossible for combat to be resolved through a small handful of die rolls. Honestly, combat does pretty much start out that way, at low levels while using Theater-of-the-Mind style; it just explodes into wild complexity as HP numbers inflate.

      Of course, that gets into the matter of that other thread. Since D&D goes into more mechanical detail with combat than with the other pillars, it's mostly played by people who enjoy the combat part of the game, so simplifying that out to just a couple of die rolls would be counter-productive in terms of enjoyment for that group.
    1. Ratskinner's Avatar
      Ratskinner -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saelorn View Post
      History shows us that a system which requires combat skills and non-combat skills to compete for character resources will almost invariably end with players investing in combat skills and ignoring the non-combat skills. Words don't work against zombies or otyughs, but swords are effective against everything. Games that use a unified system for everything tend to have worse balance issues than games which keep those activities segregated.
      I think that @Jhaelen's idea there was to simply reduce combat encounters to be similar to some kind of skill challenge, not (necessarily) change the way skills are allocated. You could still pre-package the skills into Race/Background/Class, rather than let the player pick from each bag arbitrarily.

      IME with more than a few games that do something akin to that. It produces super-fast gameplay and (can) facilitate much better(IMO) storylines, just because speed. However, it doesn't usually produce the visceral tension that turn-based tactical combat like D&D can produce. (Capes, a quirky little superheroes rpg, is the one stellar exception that I am familiar with.)
    Comments Leave Comment