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. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      I don't agree that any of this needs a hard-coded resolution system.
      The issues of framing and of mecahnics are orthogonal. As I said in my post, I think there is no real point in looking at the mechanics if you haven't first sorted out the issue of framing.

      But the rest of this post is mostly about mechanics.

      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      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.
      And you know this because . . . ?

      Read these two actual play reports and then get back to me.

      Social resolution systems in games that have them (3E doesn't count - its Diplomacy skill is not an effective social resolution system) depend upon the players declaring actions - ie saying what it is that their PC says/does - and then making checks to see how the situation unfolds.

      Here's another example, from my Marvel Heroic RP game (sblocked for length - I posted this in mid-2016 but it got wiped in the great server crash, and so the below is cut-and-pasted from the file on my hard drive):

      Spoiler:
      The players of Ice Man and War Machine took up those PCs again, and a third player - new to the system - picked up Nightcrawler. The action started a day or two after the events of the previous session: War Machine had been able to fly back to Washington after being driven to ground over Florida in the earlier battle with Titanium Man; and Nightcrawler had arrived in town to meet up with Bobby Drake.

      I asked the Nightcrawler player how he wanted to introduce Kurt into the scenario, and he decided that he and Bobby would go to a bar to try and pick up. (I hadn't looked at Nightcrawler's milestones, but as it turns out he has a "Romantic" milestone and the player was seeking to capitalise on that.) James Rhodes came along as wing man. Kurt's player spent his starting plot point for an image inducer as a d6 Tech resource.

      Flipping through my Civil War book with its roster of B-list characters, I found three suitable women for a bar scene: Black Mamba, Asp and Diamondback (collectively the B.A.D. mercenaries). The scene distinctions were Dark Bar and Seedy Back Rooms, but these didn't come into play.

      Anyway, this produced one of the more inane sequences of my GMing career: I described the three women and tagged Nightcrawler's player to go first. Kurt fastened on Tanya (Black Mamba), and succeeded in inflicting a Smitten complication on her. Bobby tried to chat up Rachel (Diamondback) but as a Skilled Mercenary with Covert Expertise, she recognised James Rhodes and was more interested in talking to him about Stark tech and a new and sophisticated vehicle being delivered to the Smithsonian - and managed to get him pretty tipsy with a d8 Drunk complication. So Bobby had to settle for Cleo (Asp), and inflicted a Mutual Sympathy/Pity complication on her (they were the last two left, and so apparently had to hook up by default).

      I had decided that the B.A.D. women had been paid to extract the vehicle from the Smithsonian (so why were they hanging out in a bar? Put it town to comic-quality continuity). So Tanya, smitten by Kurt but enjoying Playing Both Sides (one of her Distinctions), decided to try to bring him along on the heist. So at her instigation they left the bar in a cab, with Rhodes and Diamondback tagging along. But Kurt stopped the cab at the Washington Monument instead, where he continued to successfully seduce Tanya. She was in Telepathic communication with Cleo back at the bar (still trying to coordinate the team for their job, and also getting her Buddy die which is better than her Solo). But Kurt first spent a Plot Point to cause her to "lose consciousness" (triggering her Conscious Activation Limit and thereby shutting down her Telepathy), and then Teleported her to a romantic place where he proposed to her (bringing his Devout Catholicism to bear) and succeeded in stepping up her Smitten complication to d12+, effectively taking her out of the scene.

      (The rules aren't clear on whether or not Complications can be stepped up like Stress can, but it makes sense and so we were allowing it.)

      I also told Kurt that (with his Enhanced Senses) he could see some shadowy types sneaking into the Smithsonian - these were the Silver Samurai and a mob of Clan Yashida ninjas, and they were able to take their turns unopposed to add some needed dice to my Doom Pool.

      Meanwhile, James (who had started with a Plot Point for having no armour) made a successful roll against the Doom Pool to bring his armour to him, and then took Diamondback for a flight - "Would you like me to show you my Stark tech?" But then a message came through on his helmet radio that an alarm had been triggered on the vehicle in the Smithsonian - at this point it needed a name, and so I christened it the M-PORV (Multi-Passenger Orbital and Reentry Vehicle). So he interrupted his romantic flight with Diamondback - who was still more interested in her mission, even though she hadn't succeeded in persuading Rhodes to join with her in carrying it out - by hooking her to the top of the Washington Monument (a d10 Stuck on top of the Washington Monument complication) before flying to the Smithsonian himself.

      Bobby, meanwhile, had left the bar with Asp (Cleo) and taken her to the Washington Monument so that he could freeze the lake for their ice-skating pleasure. Cleo was worried about Tanya (having lost telepathic communication) but was also still willing to hang out with Bobby (she was still under the complication). He imposed more complications on her (In His Arms) and also rescued Rachel from the top of the monument by creating ice steps (mechanically, a d10 effect to remove the complication). Given that Black Mamba is described as "a former call girl turned super villain turned mercenary hero" who Plays Both Sides and is a Covert and Psych Expert, it seemed rather ironic that she should fall for a play that she must have used on others many many times. (But that is the fate the dice had in store for her.)

      Although he was feeling rather Don Juan-ish, and somewhere about here managed to inflict a d8 He's Not Too Bad After All complication on Diamondback, nothing had happened to dissuade the women from trying to steal the M-PORV from the Smithsonian. But before they could, the action shifted back to Nightcrawler. He used his image inducer to take on the appearance of a Smithsonian guard, teleported in, and (with a mighty roll, including a fair bit of Plot Point expenditure to keep extra dice and so boost his total to allow stepping up his effects) took out 4 ninjas and put d10 physical stress on the samurai.

      War Machine then came flying in and unleashed on the Samurai, taking his stress up to d12. And Bobby took advantage of the fact that Asp was In His Arms to freeze her feet to the lake (mechanically, stepping up the complication to 12+). Diamondback, though, was able to escape his attempt to freeze her by blasting away with one of her exploding diamonds (as a reaction). She then ran to the Smithsonian, where she took advantage of the mayhem to try and steal the M-PORV (I had determined that a d8 effect die would be sufficient for this). But despite several attempts (three, I think, all well-boosted from the Doom Pool) War Machine was able to stop her every time.

      The Silver Samurai, on the other hand, was able to get the better of Nightcrawler in their fight, stressing him out; though War Machine was then able to finish him off. War Machine also tried to take out Diamondback with an all-out assault (which then triggers his Shutdown Limit) but she was able to survive this and have what was her last attempt at taking the M-PORV. Bobby then arrived on the scene, used his Psych Expertise and the complication, and was able to step it up to d12+ and sweep her romantically away on an ice slide. So she didn't get the M-PORV, but in the end Bobby did get the girl.

      We then cut to a Transition Scene, the next day. Kurt's player spent another Plot Point for a resource, this time a d6 X-Man class first aid kit from his Medical Expertise, and made a roll to reduce his d6 Trauma from being stressed out. Despite a fairly large Doom Pool this was a success, and so his Trauma stepped down to d4. James Rhodes called in a d6 Covert Resource to get a lead on what was going on with the whole "bad guys all focused on the Smithsonian"-thing, and learned that there seemed to be two different forces: a European contingent, for whom Titanium Man is working, and who probably hired B.A.D; and another group who had hired Clan Yashida. The intelligence suggested that Clan Yashida itself had not interest in aerospace technology, but having been hit hard by the financial crisis was in the market as ninjas for hire.

      Around this point Nightcrawler's player also pointed out that he had earned 10 XP by completing his Romantic milestone (though I think more cynically than would the "true" Nightcrawler), and so we decided (per the rule about adding a new SFX) that he could keep the Silver Samurai's energy sword and get its ability to inflict an effect on a successful reaction without having to spend a Plot Point - this seeming to fit with a slightly more gritty version of Nightcrawler's swashbuckling traits.

      After some discussion the PCs decided to follow the lead to Japan rather than to Kazakhstan



      Overall this was a fun session. The bar pick-up action was pretty close to the limits of my own preferences for romantic/sexual content in RPGing, but with resolute GMing and use of the Doom Pool dice to help out my NPCs I was able to maintain another dimension to the action (the M-PORV/Smithsonian scenario), and the system showed itself able to handle non-combat action without trouble, which was the same as what we found in our earlier session.
      As well as examples of mechanical systems, these also show how framing and consequence-narration can be used to get all the players involved in the situation.

      Quote Originally Posted by Flexor the Mighty! View Post
      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.
      What you describe here is not how games with social conflict resolutoin mechanics handle it. If you look at the examples I've linked to/posted above, you'll see that there social interactions have quite a bit of richness, and involve unexpected twists and turns.

      Quote Originally Posted by Flexor the Mighty! View Post
      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.
      Quote Originally Posted by Flexor the Mighty! View Post
      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.
      I agree, it's fun to think of how I'm going to persuade an official. The point of social resolution mechanics isn't to eliinate that fun. It's to give a way of working out whether or not the town official accepts what I've said.

      The main alternative is the one you describe: the GM has decided what will or won't convince the town official, and has given hints about that, and so the players are trying to solve a puzzle - interpret the GM's hints and then say the right thing to the official.

      I think a benefit of having social resolution mechanics is that they give a different way for working out whether or not the player had his/her PC say the right thing. Instead of asking "Is this the thing the GM had in mind as something that will convince the NPC?", we ask "Is the roll made to determine the consequences of what the PC says a success?"

      It's not a way of eliminating the RP, because if the player doesn't actually declare an action then we don't get to the point of making a roll.

      And good mecanics will enforce the need for an action declaration. In a 4e skill challenge, the player has to say what his/her PC is doing/saying, because otherwise the GM (i) can't apply situational modifiers (generally +/- 2) based on how apt or outrageous it is, and (ii) can't work out how the fiction changes in response to success or failure. In MHRP, the player has to say what his/her PC is doing/saying, because that establishes the effect generated by a success (if you wan't to impose a Smitten complication, you've got to say what you're doing that will make the other character smitten with your character).

      One weakness of the Duel of Wits in Burning Wheel is that it makes it possible to resolve actions without this sort of action declaration being required. (A bit like D&D combat, which doen't actually require you to say what you're doing to try and defeat the other person, besides a very generic "I attack with my sword".) Although DoW has some other strengths, I think I actually prefer the 4e skill challenge system.
    1. lewpuls's Avatar
      lewpuls -
      Interesting analysis, and the obvious answer is “It Depends”.


      Virtually all of us early D&Ders were wargamers. So of course it focused more on combat than anything else. I have always used a grid for maneuver and spatial relationships, which are the heart of warfare.


      But wargames are a Baby Boomer hobby, and more recent generations have other interests. For the original players the game certainly wasn’t too focused on combat, for later generations it is. RPGs have moved from a test of survival and cooperation via military/mercenary-like missions, to “all about me” showing off, with little real danger.


      To the wargamers, the extreme story-telling games aren’t even games, let alone D&D. And most wargamers want to feel in control of what happens to their characters, as much as possible, so they don’t want to be told a story, they want to write their own story. Non-wargamers are less likely to feel this way.


      To me, the big flaw of 4e was that it was only about combat. The spells that helped in strategic (exploration or otherwise) activity disappeared, as did the spells that helped in “the wider world” (politics, war, becoming a ruler, etc.). Imagine a novel that was all combat (some certainly approach it). It would become tedious.


      A contemporary trend in games (and life) is a dislike of constraints. Why do computer games allow such huge inventories? To avoid constraints. Most younger people play computer games and learn habits from them. Logistics are constraints. Boards/grids that require precise maneuver are constraints. So players and newer games tend to ignore such things.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      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.
      Imho, there's several reasons why using die rolls for social encounters can be beneficial:
      1) The die rolls never replace roleplaying, they supplement it. I've already mentioned that in my game players don't get to roll a die without first describing their actions.
      2) It's also a question of what's at stake: I'm not proposing to use die rolls for all kinds of social situations. I propose to use them when the outcome is critically important. Just like you probably wouldn't want to allow your players to defeat a dragon in combat just by roleplaying, I wouldn't want them to be able to solve a diplomatic mission to avoid a war with a foreign sovereign purely by roleplaying.
      3) Did you ever have a player in one of your groups who wanted to be the party's 'face' despite lacking good roleplaying skills? I definitely have. If I'm using an RPG system that supports social skills, then they should be good for something, right? I try to minimize situations in my games that test the skills of the players. I'm trying to test the skills of my players' characters.
      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.
      History has told me something else:
      Players invest in the skills that they believe will give them the best benefits in my game. If my campaigns tend to focus on high politics and social encounters, they will only make minimal investments in combat skills. Swords are only effective in conflicts that can be solved by relying on violence. And swords literally aren't effective against everything (in D&D), either: I notice you picked zombies as an example. Well, what about skeletons or golems? ;-)
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      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.
      And my reply to this would be to remind you of the point that I am actually discussing: that game systems can support the social and exploration pillars through other mechanics other than skill checks, which is taking up the bulk of the discussion. And Fate does feature actual mechanics apart from skill-based resolution systems that support, supplement, and progress the social pillar of the game. Writing character backgrounds hardly adds anything to 5e that could not be added to other games. It's not a game mechanic, so it can't be said to be a feature of the system. And if you look at the OP, it includes a link from Angry GM who does point out that the 5E background system is mechanically weak and insufficiently supported to the point of being meaningless for most players. And although Angry GM does not like Fate, he does adopt Fate-like mechanics to further strengthen the 5e background system. So it would seem that is the level of detail that folks are arguing that 5e doesn't have.
    1. Kobold Boots -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
      And my reply to this would be to remind you of the point that I am actually discussing: that game systems can support the social and exploration pillars through other mechanics other than skill checks, which is taking up the bulk of the discussion. And Fate does feature actual mechanics apart from skill-based resolution systems that support, supplement, and progress the social pillar of the game. Writing character backgrounds hardly adds anything to 5e that could not be added to other games. It's not a game mechanic, so it can't be said to be a feature of the system. And if you look at the OP, it includes a link from Angry GM who does point out that the 5E background system is mechanically weak and insufficiently supported to the point of being meaningless for most players. And although Angry GM does not like Fate, he does adopt Fate-like mechanics to further strengthen the 5e background system. So it would seem that is the level of detail that folks are arguing that 5e doesn't have.
      Entirely fair Aldarc.

      I just don't really see the point of saying "D&D doesn't have something" THEN saying
      "Fate has something" WITH
      "D&D must be broken cause it doesn't have what FATE has" SO
      "D&D must fix that". THEN
      starting a thread about what D&D doesn't have.

      It's better to fix the problem in your game (As Angry GM has) then posting whatever system you use and having a discussion about that. Just an opinion.

      Because talking about what 5E "doesn't have" isn't terribly productive, but it does produce debate that we all enjoy.

      Be well
      KB
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      The issues of framing and of mecahnics are orthogonal. As I said in my post, I think there is no real point in looking at the mechanics if you haven't first sorted out the issue of framing.
      From your perspective, perhaps; but I'll wager framing is a far bigger thing to you than to most people here.

      And you know this because . . . ?
      Because if the system allows players to cop out of the roleplaying, or just skip over it, and simply say "I roll a [diplomacy/persuasion/whatever] check" then sure as shootin' some of them are going to do so.

      Social resolution systems in games that have them (3E doesn't count - its Diplomacy skill is not an effective social resolution system) depend upon the players declaring actions - ie saying what it is that their PC says/does - and then making checks to see how the situation unfolds.
      First off, like it or not 3e's Diplomacy (and Bluff, and Intimidate, etc.) does count - it's the thin end of the wedge.

      As for your examples, while there's some fine role-play in there there's also a fair amount of "here's what I want to do, let's see if the dice let it happen".

      Here's another example, from my Marvel Heroic RP game
      And in this one the game system itself allows for so many mechanics to interfere (a He's-Not-Too-Bad-After-All complication? A d8 Drunk complication? Never mind the insertion of Plot Points to shift the goalposts within the RP) that it becomes impossible to ignore them...which doesn't suit free-form roleplaying at all as in these instances one ideally wants the mechanics to completely get out of the way and stay there.

      What you describe here is not how games with social conflict resolutoin mechanics handle it. If you look at the examples I've linked to/posted above, you'll see that there social interactions have quite a bit of richness, and involve unexpected twists and turns.
      They do, though in the Marvel example most of those unexpected twists and turns seem forced by mechanics rather than arising out of the actual roleplay.

      That sais, you also seem to have players who are willing to let the mechanics drive the direction of what they roleplay as their characters and roll with it. We don't all have this.

      I agree, it's fun to think of how I'm going to persuade an official. The point of social resolution mechanics isn't to eliinate that fun. It's to give a way of working out whether or not the town official accepts what I've said.

      The main alternative is the one you describe: the GM has decided what will or won't convince the town official, and has given hints about that, and so the players are trying to solve a puzzle - interpret the GM's hints and then say the right thing to the official.
      There's a third option that falls between these two: that the DM gets in character as the town official - gives it a personality, etc. - and responds naturally as the town official would to what's being said by the PC(s). If needed, the DM can bang off a few quick rolls to give herself an idea of what makes this person tick (ethics? level of adherence to law or policy? right-now mood? overall mood? etc.) and then just play the character.

      But, in the end it comes down to if PCs want to be persuasive in character it requires the players to be persuasive at the table - this is kind of the point. Also, it's always possible the DM didn't have anything in mind, particularly if she's had little or no warning that this encounter was coming.

      I think a benefit of having social resolution mechanics is that they give a different way for working out whether or not the player had his/her PC say the right thing. Instead of asking "Is this the thing the GM had in mind as something that will convince the NPC?", we ask "Is the roll made to determine the consequences of what the PC says a success?"

      It's not a way of eliminating the RP, because if the player doesn't actually declare an action then we don't get to the point of making a roll.
      DM: [has just narrated that the PCs have been allowed an audience with the town official]
      Player: "I use my Diplomacy skill* to convince the town official to give us access to the records we need."
      DM: "What are you saying to her?"
      Player: "Whatever seems best. Can I roll now?"

      * - or replace with the system-appropriate mechanic for the game/edition being played

      Without social mechanics the above player-DM interaction simply can't occur. With them, it's a common thing.

      And good mecanics will enforce the need for an action declaration. In a 4e skill challenge, the player has to say what his/her PC is doing/saying, because otherwise the GM (i) can't apply situational modifiers (generally +/- 2) based on how apt or outrageous it is, and (ii) can't work out how the fiction changes in response to success or failure. In MHRP, the player has to say what his/her PC is doing/saying, because that establishes the effect generated by a success (if you wan't to impose a Smitten complication, you've got to say what you're doing that will make the other character smitten with your character).
      This is better, though it would still be relatively easy to stay completely out of character and - for the Smitten example - just say something like "Freddy makes eyes at her and goes heavy on the sweet talk. Does this give me a Smitten advantage?". Not the desired result, I don't think.

      Lan-"what happened to the days of 'if you say it at the table, your character says it in the game'?"-efan
    1. Saelorn's Avatar
      Saelorn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Players invest in the skills that they believe will give them the best benefits in my game. If my campaigns tend to focus on high politics and social encounters, they will only make minimal investments in combat skills.
      Fair enough, if the campaign features so little combat that being bad at fighting doesn't hold you back significantly, and if failure at combat never means death (which is rarely true of D&D, but may hold for certain campaigns in GURPS). However...
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Swords are only effective in conflicts that can be solved by relying on violence. And swords literally aren't effective against everything (in D&D), either: I notice you picked zombies as an example. Well, what about skeletons or golems? ;-)
      Virtually every situation ever can be solved through violence. Skeletons and golems are both susceptible to sufficient violence. Tyrannical dictators, fear-mongering political groups, and annoying neighbors are all susceptible to violence. With enough violence, you can accomplish anything.
    1. Legatus_Legionis's Avatar
      Legatus_Legionis -
      I think combat and role playing are of equal value in D&D.

      I recall when I first started playing, one of our earliest campaign was based off Knights of the Round table. Your knight (group of knights) were on quests for the kingdom.

      Rescue a princess.
      Bring a band of vagabonds to justice.
      Stop the monsters from invading your lands.
      etc.

      One had to role play one's character, even during the encounters/combat.

      One got experience for both combat and role playing (and treasures recovered, etc).



      We had a campaign where we were doing our version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

      Once again role playing and combat were of equal weight in getting experience.


      Then we have had games were all we wanted to do was Mega-Game and go combat heavy.

      Then we had a campaign were it was heavy intrigue/mystery were killing the NPC/monster was a determent to solving the campaign. (Sherlock Homes). But we still had some fights as minions and hired thugs tried to slow us down/stop us from solving the game.

      I have been in groups where we did not have combat in over 100 hours of game play. I have been in games where if we did not have combat once or twice per session would be considered low/unacceptable to the players.


      So is D&D too focused on Combat? No.

      Is there alot of information on combat? Yes, because there are so many different types of combat styles and weapons and monsters, having a universally agreed terms is required to resolve such physical conflicts.


      Is D&D too light on how to Role Play?

      I think so. You can make a PC with whatever skill sets and background etc., but it does not go into details on how you should Role Play that character. That is an individual's personal trait. It is like having to take a mini course in acting.

      Not everyone can act, but everyone can role a dice.
    1. Manbearcat's Avatar
      Manbearcat -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      As for your examples, while there's some fine role-play in there there's also a fair amount of "here's what I want to do, let's see if the dice let it happen".
      Uh, how is this contentious. In one cogent sentence, you've neatly captured the beating heart of roleplaying games! Or if you want to expand it further:

      "Here's what I want to do, let's see if the dice (cards, jenga tower, or whatever fortune mechanic the game possesses) let it happen or if something less desirable happens!"
    1. pemerton's Avatar
      pemerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      To me, the big flaw of 4e was that it was only about combat.
      Skill challenges are the tightest form of non-combat resolution - especially for social encounters - that D&D has ever had.

      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      The spells that helped in strategic (exploration or otherwise) activity disappeared
      And yet in my 4e game the use of spells like Object Reading, Phantom Steeds, Hallowed Temple, varios wards and magic circles, etc is very common. Perhaps you didn't read the rules for rituals?

      Quote Originally Posted by lewpuls View Post
      To the wargamers, the extreme story-telling games aren’t even games, let alone D&D. And most wargamers want to feel in control of what happens to their characters, as much as possible, so they don’t want to be told a story, they want to write their own story. Non-wargamers are less likely to feel this way.
      This reads a bit like you've missed the last 20+ years of RPG design.

      The whole rationale of games like Burning Wheel, HeroWars/Quest, Dogs in the Vineyard, Cortex+ Heroic, etc, is that the story is generated in play, rather than being told to the players.
    1. MichaelSomething's Avatar
      MichaelSomething -
      Rules can totally influence how people role play. For example, Gygax made the exp for gold rule to encourage players to act more like swords and sorcery protagonists that were in for the money.

      Sent from my [device_name] using EN World mobile app
    1. Thomas Bowman's Avatar
      Thomas Bowman -
      It also encourages building a fief and commanding armies at higher level, Generally the higher level you are the richer you are. I'll give you a counter-example, one of the most famous Forgotten Realms characters is Drizzt Do'Urden, Drizzt has been adventuring for quite some time, by now he ought to be quite high level, by the old rules, he would have accumulated a lot of treasure, he would have built or acquired his own keep, he would have retainers and men at arms guarding his castle, and he would be a general of his army while often going toe to toe with the various beasts and monsters encountered on the battlefield.
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Manbearcat View Post
      Uh, how is this contentious. In one cogent sentence, you've neatly captured the beating heart of roleplaying games! Or if you want to expand it further:

      "Here's what I want to do, let's see if the dice (cards, jenga tower, or whatever fortune mechanic the game possesses) let it happen or if something less desirable happens!"
      Ideally this is true for nearly all combat situations, for some exploration and other situations, and for no interaction situations (to use 5e's three pillars). Anything that inserts dice into what players can instead roleplay their way through is a discouragement to roleplaying, as the dice almost invariably act - or are seen by the players - as more or less of a shortcut. This is where it gets contentious.

      Dice come in when something the players can't do (swing weapons or sneak down hallways or whatever) needs to be resolved.

      Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
      This reads a bit like you've missed the last 20+ years of RPG design.
      This'll sound harsh, but from what I've seen - with a few exceptions - the years between about 1996 (nadir of TSR) and 2016 (5e) didn't provide much of any worth at all; with the exception of 3e/PF which at least gave us a few good things and ideas to chew on if we were patient enough to dig 'em out.

      Sure lots of experimental games came out in that time, and lots of little niches were created and-or filled...but that's all. And 4e came, made a pretty big splash, and then went; and by 'went' I mean within a few more years on its current trajectory it'll likely just be another niche game unless it somehow enjoys a rather big resurgence. Meanwhile the OSR, welcome though it was and is, has merely more or less replowed fields already harvested long ago; and generated yet a few more niches.

      Lan-"shields up"-efan
    1. Shasarak's Avatar
      Shasarak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Bowman View Post
      It also encourages building a fief and commanding armies at higher level, Generally the higher level you are the richer you are. I'll give you a counter-example, one of the most famous Forgotten Realms characters is Drizzt Do'Urden, Drizzt has been adventuring for quite some time, by now he ought to be quite high level, by the old rules, he would have accumulated a lot of treasure, he would have built or acquired his own keep, he would have retainers and men at arms guarding his castle, and he would be a general of his army while often going toe to toe with the various beasts and monsters encountered on the battlefield.
      Actually you are right, that does sound exactly like almost every Drizzt book ever. He has treasure, keep, retainers, armies and still manages to find time to go toe to toe with Demogorgon!
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      Dice come in when something the players can't do (swing weapons or sneak down hallways or whatever) needs to be resolved.

      Lan-"shields up"-efan
      Presumably they can swing weapons or otherwise they wouldn't be trying. Admittedly, mileage may vary, but I don't see things that way. Dice for me, or even most of players, is not a shortcut for anything. For me at least, dice come in when there are interesting consequences for success or failure. If my players want to sneak down the hall, but the failure to do so adds nothing of value or consequence, then I would not see the point in having the players roll for it. That, to me, seems like an extraneous roll. But there may be interesting consequences at stake in social situations that should require a roll or a series of skill-challenge rolls. I don't think that discourages bad roleplaying unless your own bad GMing provides incentives for that sort of behavior. It can even heighten roleplaying as failure creates new complications or challenges, and this pushes the players to roleplay for what they need. The dice roll also means that the players are not having to mind read the GM's desires for what constitutes "good roleplay" in a social situation. Often the GMs "The NPC is not convinced" is like roleplaying without dice resolution mechanics "Your weapon does not hit." Again, I'm not arguing that dice resolution mechanics should be used for every social, combat, or exploration situation, but, rather, - and I quote again from Fate - "Roll the dice when succeeding or failing at the action could each contribute something interesting to the game."
    1. Ovinomancer's Avatar
      Ovinomancer -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      Ideally this is true for nearly all combat situations, for some exploration and other situations, and for no interaction situations (to use 5e's three pillars). Anything that inserts dice into what players can instead roleplay their way through is a discouragement to roleplaying, as the dice almost invariably act - or are seen by the players - as more or less of a shortcut. This is where it gets contentious.

      Dice come in when something the players can't do (swing weapons or sneak down hallways or whatever) needs to be resolved.

      This'll sound harsh, but from what I've seen - with a few exceptions - the years between about 1996 (nadir of TSR) and 2016 (5e) didn't provide much of any worth at all; with the exception of 3e/PF which at least gave us a few good things and ideas to chew on if we were patient enough to dig 'em out.

      Sure lots of experimental games came out in that time, and lots of little niches were created and-or filled...but that's all. And 4e came, made a pretty big splash, and then went; and by 'went' I mean within a few more years on its current trajectory it'll likely just be another niche game unless it somehow enjoys a rather big resurgence. Meanwhile the OSR, welcome though it was and is, has merely more or less replowed fields already harvested long ago; and generated yet a few more niches.

      Lan-"shields up"-efan
      Mechanics are role-playing, too, though. I don't stop playing the role of Bob the Fighter every tine I roll to hit. In fact, rolling to hit is a pretty good example of me role-playing Bob.
    1. shidaku's Avatar
      shidaku -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lanefan View Post
      Ideally this is true for nearly all combat situations, for some exploration and other situations, and for no interaction situations (to use 5e's three pillars). Anything that inserts dice into what players can instead roleplay their way through is a discouragement to roleplaying, as the dice almost invariably act - or are seen by the players - as more or less of a shortcut. This is where it gets contentious.

      Dice come in when something the players can't do (swing weapons or sneak down hallways or whatever) needs to be resolved.
      I agree and disagree with this.

      The rules say the players can do a lot of things. The players can hide any time they want. But that doesn't necessarily mean they will become the game status of Hidden. They need to roll for that. But they can role-play up hiding all they want.

      More specifically, lets look at the Monk's "Tongue of Sun and Moon", which lets you be understood and understand any creature which can speak a language. You can role-play this up all you like, but there is some built-in vagueness to "understand". Does understanding imply perfect comprehension? Does "understanding" mean you get innuendo or implication? Or is it simply literal translation, which could lead to a lack of understanding. Does it mean you understand slang? Does it provide context as well as comprehension? These things you may have to roll for.

      Also, swinging a sword is completely within the purview of the player. Hitting with a sword requires a roll. You can role-play your swing all you like, THAT is under your control. You cannot role-play through the attempt to hit with your sword, that requires a roll. You can certainly role-play the outcome of that roll though.

      So, I agree that if it is within the player's power to do, I will not stop them. The rules say they can, so unless there are extenuating circumstances imposed upon them, they can. But being able to do something doesn't guarantee them an outcome. There are very few things which are completely under the player's control to determine an outcome. That is largely the purview of the dice.

      This'll sound harsh, but from what I've seen - with a few exceptions - the years between about 1996 (nadir of TSR) and 2016 (5e) didn't provide much of any worth at all; with the exception of 3e/PF which at least gave us a few good things and ideas to chew on if we were patient enough to dig 'em out.

      Sure lots of experimental games came out in that time, and lots of little niches were created and-or filled...but that's all. And 4e came, made a pretty big splash, and then went; and by 'went' I mean within a few more years on its current trajectory it'll likely just be another niche game unless it somehow enjoys a rather big resurgence. Meanwhile the OSR, welcome though it was and is, has merely more or less replowed fields already harvested long ago; and generated yet a few more niches.

      Lan-"shields up"-efan
      And I think you're exaggerating, but w/e.
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Aldarc View Post
      Presumably they can swing weapons or otherwise they wouldn't be trying.
      Gah!

      By players I mean the people sitting at the table.

      If I'd meant characters I'd have said characters.

      Admittedly, mileage may vary, but I don't see things that way. Dice for me, or even most of players, is not a shortcut for anything. For me at least, dice come in when there are interesting consequences for success or failure. If my players...
      You mean characters
      ...want to sneak down the hall, but the failure to do so adds nothing of value or consequence, then I would not see the point in having the players roll for it. That, to me, seems like an extraneous roll.
      Except in most such cases neither the characters nor the players know whether anything's at stake, meaning you'd still go through the motions of rolling anyway (otherwise you're giving away info they shouldn't have yet).

      But there may be interesting consequences at stake in social situations that should require a roll or a series of skill-challenge rolls. I don't think that discourages bad roleplaying unless your own bad GMing provides incentives for that sort of behavior. It can even heighten roleplaying as failure creates new complications or challenges, and this pushes the players to roleplay for what they need. The dice roll also means that the players are not having to mind read the GM's desires for what constitutes "good roleplay" in a social situation. Often the GMs "The NPC is not convinced" is like roleplaying without dice resolution mechanics "Your weapon does not hit."
      If the players are actively roleplaying their way through the situation and the dice are only occasionally being used as a backup, I can live with that.

      It's the attempted use of die rolls by players - and sometimes DMs! - who want to skip or circumvent the whole scene that annoys me to no end; and the only surefire way to prevent this is to remove those mechanics.
      Again, I'm not arguing that dice resolution mechanics should be used for every social, combat, or exploration situation, but, rather, - and I quote again from Fate - "Roll the dice when succeeding or failing at the action could each contribute something interesting to the game."
      I disagree with Fate, then; in that if dice are only rolled when something's at stake it far too soon becomes obvious in the metagame when something's at stake vs. when it isn't even though the in-game situation is the same; and players will pick up on this and metagame it.

      "Hey, why are we rolling to sneak down this hallway when we didn't have to roll for the last three? There must be something here. On guard, everyone!"

      Bleah.

      Lan-"then again, IMO the DM should be making such rolls behind the screen to avoid giving away extra information"-efan
    1. Lanefan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ovinomancer View Post
      Mechanics are role-playing, too, though. I don't stop playing the role of Bob the Fighter every tine I roll to hit. In fact, rolling to hit is a pretty good example of me role-playing Bob.
      Which backs up my point.

      You-as-Ovinomancer, the player at the table, aren't (I hope!) whaling away with a sword - but Bob the Fighter is; and this player-character disconnect is taken care of by dice. All is good.

      But you-as-Ovinomancer, the player at the table, can (I hope!) talk and think - which means you can more or less speak as Bob would and think as Bob would. There's much less* player-character disconnect and thus much less* requirement for dice to bridge it.

      * - the ideal state here is zero.

      Quote Originally Posted by shidaku View Post
      I agree and disagree with this.

      The rules say the players can do a lot of things. The players can hide any time they want. But that doesn't necessarily mean they will become the game status of Hidden. They need to roll for that. But they can role-play up hiding all they want.

      More specifically, lets look at the Monk's "Tongue of Sun and Moon", which lets you be understood and understand any creature which can speak a language. You can role-play this up all you like, but there is some built-in vagueness to "understand". Does understanding imply perfect comprehension? Does "understanding" mean you get innuendo or implication? Or is it simply literal translation, which could lead to a lack of understanding. Does it mean you understand slang? Does it provide context as well as comprehension? These things you may have to roll for.

      Also, swinging a sword is completely within the purview of the player. Hitting with a sword requires a roll. You can role-play your swing all you like, THAT is under your control. You cannot role-play through the attempt to hit with your sword, that requires a roll. You can certainly role-play the outcome of that roll though.

      So, I agree that if it is within the player's power to do, I will not stop them. The rules say they can, so unless there are extenuating circumstances imposed upon them, they can. But being able to do something doesn't guarantee them an outcome. There are very few things which are completely under the player's control to determine an outcome. That is largely the purview of the dice.
      For the hiding and sword-swinging examples you're quite right: these are both things the characters can (try to) do but the real players at the table probably won't, and dice are the bridge.

      As for the Monk ability - were I a DM faced with that I'd try to adjust my speaking as the target NPC to match what the Monk would actually hear/comprehend and let the Monk's player roleplay from there. Failing that, all the rolling for the variables you note would only be done once - the very first time the ability came into play - after which the capabilities of Tongue of Sun and Moon would be pretty much locked in, to be noted for future reference in whatever rulings or houserules setup we're using.

      Lanefan
    1. MichaelSomething's Avatar
      MichaelSomething -
      Maybe we should all seek to emulate the DM in this post?
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