[Very Long] Combat as Sport vs. Combat as War: a Key Difference in D&D Play Styles... - Page 3
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  1. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by enigma5915 View Post
    You are correct, but the entire game can be summed up under “you can only win if the DM lets you”. At any time the DM can do anything, so this shouldn’t apply as a specific problem with this combat style. CAW is just as fair as CAS…the DM is the factor where fairness comes into play and truthfully if you have to worry about the fairness of your DM, then there are more serious issues at hand at your gaming table.
    I think there's a difference. A lot of the things that players can do in CAW is, by its nature, not going to be covered by the rules. There's no "Bees are stunned by setting fire to the forest" rule. There's much more room for DM interpretation and having to get by his "do I think this crazy stuff work" filter.

    For CAS, the rules can be much more concrete and both the DM and players tend to rely on those rules. There's a lot less room for DM interference or interpretation when the barbarian charge-pounce-shocktrooper for 100 damage. The feats and abilities the player are relying on are explicitly spelled out in books.

    The DM can of course still throw out those books and say it doesn't work like that, but that's a much more explicit use of his DM power (and the players know it). It's the nuclear option compared to "I don't think the player's plan works and here's how the monsters will respond" which is a much more subtle use of the DM's veto.

    The DM may not even trying to be deliberately unfair but the fact is that there is going to be a lot more DM judgement calls in a CAW playstyle. DMs are people and their judgements are going to be subjective, influenced by their background and knowledge. One DM may think a player's plan is not going to work while another DM may allow it to work.



    Also, I may be incorrect here but does it seem easier to breed a DM vs Player mindset in CAW as compared to CAS.
    Last edited by nightwyrm; Thursday, 2nd February, 2012 at 05:43 PM.

  2. #22
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    I find that having played all editions that CAW can be deeply satisfying for some players, but for the DM is deeply unsatisfying over the long run.

    I think its a significant contributor to DM burnout. Essentially the DM never really gets to play and they bear an enormous responsibility. Either the PCs come up with a clever plan and win without breaking much of a sweat, completely frustrating the DM and their plans for the encounter, or things start to go horribly wrong and the DM either has to pull punches, or the game ends in a TPK.

    There is a very narrow sweet spot in CAW where the PCs plan something devious, it is mostly a success, but something goes wrong, the DM's monsters manage to get some licks in, but the PCs are ultimately victorious.

    All great D&D moments that I have read, experienced myself, or heard others talk about tend to follow this pattern. The problem is this is a very narrow results window and bad die rolls can totally swing it one way or the other leading to very unsatisfying results.

    CAS results in a more consistent play experience where once the encounter is designed, the DM doesn't have to hold back but can go full bore against the players. So effectively, the DM gets to "play" too. I find as DM its more satisfying for me. As a player, I like CAW when we hit the sweet spot. But its hard to attain consistently.
    Last edited by Dragonblade; Thursday, 2nd February, 2012 at 05:48 PM.

  3. #23
    Most of the players I know seem to favour the Combat as Sport approach, taking the encounters as they come without spending the time to research them beforehand.

    Combat as War seems to come in to play when the party feel they have been wounded/humiliated by the enemy in question and thus feel it's time for payback. (e.g. A recent game of mine had the party burning down the Thieves' Guild in response to the murder of an ally).

    I think that CaW requires a much freer playstyle than CaS, which is perhaps wy 4th ed. didn't manage it quite so well. For many people 4th ed.'s focus on powers and abilities meant moving away from being able to do something that wasn't already written down. 3.x had the same problem, though it was to a much lesser extent.

    With this in mind, WotC's approach of "More power to the GM" seems to be among the better ways to amalgamate the two playstyles. That way the GM is in a better position to adjudicate the occasionally arbitrary and random actions that the players will pull in the CaW style while allowing the rules to cover the majority of the CaS battles.

  4. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Dragonblade View Post
    I find that having played all editions that CAW can be deeply satisfying for some players, but for the DM is deeply unsatisfying over the long run.

    I think its a significant contributor to DM burnout. Essentially the DM never really gets to play. Either the PCs come up with a clever plan and win without breaking much of a sweat, completely frustrating the DM and their plans for the encounter, or things start to go horribly wrong and the DM either has to pull punches, or the game ends in a TPK.

    There is a very narrow sweet spot in CAW where the PCs plan something devious, it is mostly a success, but something goes wrong, the DM's monsters manage to get some licks in, but the PCs are ultimately victorious.

    All great D&D moments that I have read, experienced myself, or heard others talk about tend to follow this pattern. The problem is this is a very narrow results window and bad die rolls can totally swing it one way or the other leading to very unsatisfying results.

    CAS results in a more consistent play experience where once the encounter is designed, the DM doesn't have to hold back but can go full bore against the players. So effectively, the DM gets to "play" too. I find as DM its more satisfying for me. As a player, I like CAW when we hit the sweet spot. But its hard to attain consistently.
    On the contrary! As I DM I thrive on CAW and burnout pretty quickly working on CAS. I get more interesting play out of CAW as that form allows more organic change in situations as the player act as agents of change.

    I find the whole set up and adjudicate CAS dull.

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    I am very much a combat-as-war dm/player.

    I find that my love of the ripples of consequence make me very dissatisfied with combat as sport; although it's fine if any given encounter is CaS, I would get awfully bored running an actual campaign that way.

    Then again, I write a good novel, but have a hell of a time with short stories, so maybe it's my own creative style working here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Nagol View Post
    On the contrary! As I DM I thrive on CAW and burnout pretty quickly working on CAS. I get more interesting play out of CAW as that form allows more organic change in situations as the player act as agents of change.

    I find the whole set up and adjudicate CAS dull.
    Cool! There are some who do thrive on it. One of my friends is such a DM and its a real joy to play with him. But he lives far away and I don't play with him often.

    But thinking back to all of the 1e-3e games I have played in over the past 20 plus years, and how they pre-maturely ended, usually in DM burnout or a TPK, I can trace failing to attain the CAW sweet spot to virtually every one of them.

    If 5e can somehow manage to pull both styles together and stabilize that CAW sweet spot, I will be amazed and astounded.
    Last edited by Dragonblade; Thursday, 2nd February, 2012 at 06:17 PM.

  7. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by nightwyrm View Post
    I think there's a difference. A lot of the things that players can do in CAW is, by its nature, not going to be covered by the rules. There's no "Bees are stunned by setting fire to the forest" rule. There's much more room for DM interpretation and having to get by his "do I think this crazy stuff work" filter.

    For CAS, the rules can be much more concrete and both the DM and players tend to rely on those rules. There's a lot less room for DM interference or interpretation when the barbarian charge-pounce-shocktrooper for 100 damage. The feats and abilities the player are relying on are explicitly spelled out in books.

    The DM can of course still throw out those books and say it doesn't work like that, but that's a much more explicit use of his DM power (and the players know it). It's the nuclear option compared to "I don't think the player's plan works and here's how the monsters will respond" which is a much more subtle use of the DM's veto.

    The DM may not even trying to be deliberately unfair but the fact is that there is going to be a lot more DM judgement calls in a CAW playstyle. DMs are people and their judgements are going to be subjective, influenced by their background and knowledge. One DM may think a player's plan is not going to work while another DM may allow it to work.



    Also, I may be incorrect here but does it seem easier to breed a DM vs Player mindset in CAW as compared to CAS.
    The position of the DM is to interpret, adjudicate, and moderate. This is not to say that the players do not matter, on the contrary, the role of the DM requires impartial judgment to resolve situations fairly. Do DMs make mistakes, yes of course they do. The primary difference between a board game and D&D is the DM. The DM is not a position of power; it is a position of responsibility. DM responsibilities can spin off into to a whole new threadso I digress. My point is to have faith in the DM and let them learn and grow to be better decision-makers and problem solvers by being a DM and doing what a DM is designed for. As long as the fear of the DMs power is present, all other issues are obscured and misjudged. I hope my point doesnt come off augmentativethats not my intent.

  8. #28
    This is a super interesting post, so I hope you'll forgive my disagreeing with you on a point of detail. Like many posts these days I do ask myself which game people talk about when they mention 4E. It's certainly not a game I've played that matches the description. Off we go...

    Quote Originally Posted by Daztur View Post
    the whole line of [4E] thinking runs counter to Combat as War thinking, the whole POINT of Combat as War gameplay is to make the playing field as unbalanced as possible in the favor of the party, so mechanics that are built around balancing combat at the encounter level just get in the way. In addition, 4ed removes a lot of items from the Combat as War gamer’s bag of tricks and it’s much harder to rat the opposition with 4ed powers than 1ed spells
    Yes, you'd think so from reading the books, but it ain't so.

    Let's start with a basic question. Ask yourself: when do players try to make the playing field as unbalanced as possible in their favour?

    Easy: when the odds are crazily stacked against them.

    What happens in our 4E home games is that the difficulty of encounters are super swingy. When we know there's a chance at an even fight, we start ravaging and throw ourselves in the middle of a - mostly unprovoked - fight, with no second thoughts. Hey, my PC is a barbarian, what do you expect?

    But what happens when we stand no chance in a fair fight? That's when party brooding begins, plans are forged, and we unleash things on the world we wouldn't want to have visited on ourselves. The ensuing mixture, if you like, encapsulates Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. They excelled at playing it unfair - after all, you gotta backstab the world before it backstabs you! - but they sure also liked throwing themselves into mettle with only half a mind.

    To prove the point, here's an example from one of our 4E games, from last October or so - I mention it because it's a personal favourite. (I've posted this on another forum some weeks ago, and you'll see that like you I use Kellri's signature phrase below.)

    We had to re-capture two spies who had taken refuge in a bandit camp. Problem: our party is hopelessly outnumbered by the bandits (5 vs. 30).

    So we cast a Tenser's Floating disc ritual, built a wooden hut on top with a 'window of safe escape' which means anyone jumping out of it falls to floor under the feather light spell, thus slooowly and safely to the ground (this is an item from Adventurer's Vault 2). We filled the hut with combustibles (oils etc).

    Ok, off we go. Party goes inside the hut - remember, it's on top of a Floating Disc - and wizard steers the hut over the camp (it's night), ca. 100 feet above the ground. We all then jump out of the hut, the wizard terminates the 'floating disc' ritual and as the hut roars towards the ground he sends a fireball after it...

    ..and it's" Fantasy F*cking Vietnam", to use Kellri's phase. The exploding hut detonates on the bandit camp, there are lakes of fire everywhere, as we float down we keep firing arrows and spells on the bandits (now slowly awaking), and kill the rest once we hit the ground. It's dirty, but spectacular, and the fight takes only 5 minutes of real play time to resolve.

    You think smart, prepare the fights instead of them setting up you, think outside the powers, and you can play 4E quick, dirty, and spectacular. Some of the best fun I ever had with D&D, and this type of thing happens in every session. Quite remote from the received wisdom as regards "4E in play" you find in the forums, so there you have it.


    In terms of time spent, this was a three hour session, the majority of which was spent on planning the disaster. As stated, the final fight once the PCs hit the ground was over in hardly no time. And that was all using 4E rules.

    The reason I find 4E such a rich game is that it added what you call "War as Sports" to the RPG. It didn't take anything away because, as you can see, it's all still there for the taking, involving only published material no less.

    Now, I totally agree that the core books could have given more advice about "Combat as War" for those innocent souls who have never seen it. But in our age group, insanely immature as we get once D&D hits the table, with an adversarial DM and a couple of pints downed? We're there, buddy, we're there.

    And you forgive me if I say that these are things no designer can write up for you, and that you'll never buy that stuff in a book, no matter what edition number or label on the cover.
    Last edited by Windjammer; Thursday, 2nd February, 2012 at 06:48 PM.
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  9. #29
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    This is turning into an interesting discussion. I don't agree with all of the characterizations of the OP, but I'm seeing some value in the CAS/CAW difference. For me, I think this is why 4e feels so much more like chopsocky martial arts movies (it may not have helped that I was reading the 4e PH right before going to see Kung Fu Panda at the drive in) or pro wrestling than real fights. For the most part, I prefer the real fights in my D&D - from a DM's and a player's perspective.

  10. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by Windjammer View Post
    This is a super interesting post, so I hope you'll forgive my disagreeing with you on a point of detail. Like many posts these days I do ask myself which game people talk about when they mention 4E. It's certainly not a game I've played that matches the description. Off we go...



    Yes, you'd think so from reading the books, but it ain't so.

    Let's start with a basic question. Ask yourself: when do players try to make the playing field as unbalanced as possible in their favour?

    Easy: when the odds are crazily stacked against them.
    Umm, as a player I try this any time the odds aren't crazily stacked for me.

    What happens in our 4E home games is that the difficulty of encounters are super swingy. When we know there's a chance at an even fight, we start ravaging and throw ourselves in the middle of a - mostly unprovoked - fight, with no second thoughts. Hey, my PC is a barbarian, what do you expect?
    Whereas I never trust the initial optics. The only time I throw myself in without second thought is when the stakes on failure are too high for sober reflection to occur.

    Fair fights are for rubes. That means you're willing to settle for a 50% win ratio. I prefer close to 100% -- recon, plan, THEN strike if necessary.

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