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Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 01:43 PM #81
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
A good way of avoiding this is removing abilities that strip away big and important constraints from the players and making sure that they have to cook up a lot of their plots in places where they can’t easily rest and resupply.
Another thing you can do is take away the PC’s initiative, most fun CaW scenarios are the players plotting how to screw over someone or trying to escape being screwed over and it’s good to alternate them. If there’s a monster behind you chasing you RIGHT NOW or something like that you don’t have time to make up crazy-ass Wile E. Coyote plots. Attrition is also a great way to strip away the silliness.
Let me give you an actual example from one of our B5 module (Horror on the Hill) games. We’d taken too many risks and gone too deep into the wilderness and were low on food, the cleric was stabilized at negative hit points, the thief was almost there, the hirelings were scared, the magic-user was down to one spell and the fighter (me) was at half HPs. We’d found a (somewhat) safe place to hole up but we couldn’t wait long enough for the cleric to wake up, we didn’t have enough food, and we didn’t dare try to carry him back to town, since it was a day’s march away.
The magic-user and my fighter left the others behind to go to the bush with magic healing berries (which we hadn’t picked since we were afraid of them going old and losing their mojo) to pick some and bring them back to the cleric so he could wake up and heal us. We were on the edge of our seats the whole time since one random encounter could doom the whole party. All that happened is the DM rolled one ogre, who we surprised and killed. Combat took less than five minutes and nothing tactically interesting happened, but it was more exciting than many boss fights (even for the player whose cleric was unconscious but who was staring nervously at the surprise dice) because of the context and there was nothing comedic or goofy about it.
We were on the edge of a TPK but there was nothing about it we could blame on the DM, none of his decisions had made anything more difficult, all of the decisions that brought the PCs to the edge of a TPK (going too deep, not hiring more than two hirelings, not buying dogs, not picking the berries earlier, etc. etc. etc.) were made by us and were almost all made out of combat. Damn fun session, especially since the thief found some hidden loot while we were gone berry picking, despite most of the combat being uninteresting from a CaS perspective (with some fun exceptions).
I think that also shows why tracking boring logistics stuff is important. Logistics is important since having the players think, “Oh god, we’re almost out of X, we’ve got to get the hell out of here!” is a great way of lighting a fire under their asses. It doesn’t matter what X is as long as you can track it, it runs out during adventures, it can’t be replenished in the field and the players can’t easily get back and forth between the place where they can get more X and the place where the gold they want to take is. Some game rules make it too easy to replenish any given X, which can make CaW play go sideways.
Last edited by Daztur; Saturday, 4th February, 2012 at 01:48 PM.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 02:19 PM #82
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
Historically there is a big range between anything goes warfare and more ritualized warfare, but I think CaS/CaW gets across the main idea pretty clearly, which is what matters most.
And yes, I agree with you about 3ed being annoying (it's interesting how complaining about 4ed or TSR-D&D brings forth fountains of rage, but both sides complain about 3ed and nobody defends the poor thing...) combat is too slow for good CaW and too unbalanced and situational for CaS (at least in my opinion).
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 02:59 PM #83
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
For example, in one exploration campaign I let the party use only one variable to track most resources (those < 1gp in value). The party could carry resources for 10 days + 5 days / pack animal. Those could be replenished in towns for a daily cost. There were modifiers, like half cost while the party was staying in place and foraging, or something like 2x-5x resource use in terrain where animals couldn't graze.
Of course, even if resources are tracked as one variable, specific events can still result in a particular resource running low. For instance, if they lose a donkey for some reason, fail to notice a thieving goblin, or if there is a natural hazard of some sort.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 03:23 PM #84
Cutpurse (Lvl 5)
Thank you again for your wonderful analysis. I think it goes a long way to getting to the core of the difference between play styles.
I guess the $64,000 question then becomes....
Do you think a single system can cater to both CaW and CaS play styles?
I do not believe that both play styles can co-exist at the same table... but is it actually possible to design a modular system that would suit both styles?
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 04:57 PM #85
Lama (Lvl 13)
Basically, even the audience that likes the benefits of CaW does not like the costs of CaW. And there is a strong temptation to ignore those costs. But the costs are necessary to keep things from degenerating.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 06:27 PM #86
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
You know, this is a brilliant analysis of some of the differences between old school and newer game styles. It does put a lot of things into perspective for me.
I guess I would say that ideally I like to CAW style with some CAS thrown in for spice. But I have some reservations based on past play experience:
1) it is much more difficult to DM in a logical and consistent manner. Too often, you end up in a laborious discussion/debate about the physics/logistics of the environment while you try to convince the DM to allow the stuff you saw on MacGuyver last night to work. The first time you melt oyster shells down over a camp fire to get the toxic powder that you toss at you foes to blind them was neat. The next five times: not so much. Honestly, I wonder why they ever invented hand grenades with how effective a flask of oil and a torch was at times back in the day. This stuff was extremely hard to DM in a fair and consistent manner. Not to mention the ridiculous plots and plans that would only work on an episode of Scooby Doo (Now Shaggy, you cover yourself in strawberry ice ream to lure the monster in, while Scooby slides across the room on bars of soap...); the example in the original post falls into this bucket, IMHO.
2) It would encourage gaming/exploiting the spell system beyond any reasonable bounds. Arguments about how a wall of force could be infinitely thin and infinitely sharp from the side, therefore able to cut foes who came upon it unawares in half, abounded. Not to mention the: "Well, the spell's name is Grease, it must be flammable, so if we toss a torch in there when they are caught in the AOE... " Combine this with number one above, and you too can defeat the orc tribe with a rope, a bucket of frogs, a tree and Ray of Frost. Now you may say that the DM just needs to grow a backbone, and it is a matter of group dynamics, and sure, you're probably right.
It is, IMO, a very thin sweet spot of group preferences and DM skill to hit, but when you do hit it, boy it really works.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 06:32 PM #87
Spellbinder (Lvl 16)
The way I see it, Combat as Sport or War is the difference between Simulationist and Gamist play.
I prefer the newer terms "Right to Dream" and "Step on Up." When you do your Combat as Sport play (sim), you are given the Right to Dream whatever dream you have. Combat as War doesn't give you that right; you have to earn it for yourself. Obviously, if you don't want to have to earn your dream, the game is going to be really annoying.
In my 4E Hack game, which is intentionally Combat as War, one of the players likes Combat as Sport. His "dream" is that his character is a brave, noble, courageous man. This conception of his character was tested: while the 1st-level PCs were collecting leech-thorn (from the Secret Santicore compilation, download it!) so that the PC Cleric could transform it into mind-bending drugs to aid in her meditation (and thereby gain levels and work her secret Rites to prepare Daily prayers), I rolled a random encounter with gnolls. The encounter was level 3 (the level of the hex the PCs were in); the gnolls & their war-bred hyenas were busy chasing down a couple of humans, playing with their prey. They didn't notice the PCs in the field of leech-thorn.
The "courageous" PC was tested here; either he could courageously go after the gnolls on his own and risk death - the other PC wasn't interested in the gnolls at all - or he could play it safe and let the gnolls have their prey. This wasn't the kind of choice he wanted to make. He didn't want his conception of his PC tested.
It'll be interesting to see if he engages with the game or gives it up in frustration. Obviously I hope for the former; it means the game's design is strong enough to signal to players how the game is meant to be played. However, if he does give up the game, it's a validation that the game is designed to do what I intended.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 06:35 PM #88
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
CaW vs. CaS, interesting vocabulary.
Well I'm certainly a CaW guy. I don't think you actually can do CaS in D&D. Simply because D&D is analogous to PvE in MMOs, not PvP.
You can't have a long series of fair battles in D&D; the odds have to be tilted drastically in favor of the PCs if you expect to keep them alive for the whole adventure.
The nice thing about CaW is it allows you to take fair-looking battles and massage them into being unfair in a very engaged, organic way.
Your only option in CaS D&D is to have the system itself tilting the odds drastically in favor of the PCs. Which means the battles aren't really fair anyway. It's like Harlem Globetrotters basketball.
Essentially, you either do CaW, or Harlem Globetrotters-style CaS.
Harlem Globetrotters-style CaS I would argue isn't actually gamism (using the GNS definition of gamism). It's more like a certain kind of simulationism for flashy combat drama and "tactical beauty". Just like the Harlem Globetrotters are simulationism for the more athletic and flashy aspects of basketball. The outcome isn't really in doubt: it's more about the journey than the destination.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 07:09 PM #89
Minor Trickster (Lvl 4)
I'm firmly combat as war with some combat as sport. As are all my players.
This notion that combat as war means the DMing "letting" the players win is ridiculous. I don't let my players win. The defeat or fail at encounters I've set up to challenge them. If they win it's because they defeated the encounter.
Everyone at the table is a player. It's just the DM is playing the world itself. If you like your games as stories where the DM is really just spinning a tale that the PCs are a part of, fair enough, that's your thing. But that's simply a style of playing. I prefer to use random charts in most cases because it lets me focus on enabling the PCs to play with the world as if it really is a world. Not just a tunnel. They can 'peek behind the curtain' and see the inner workings and know that it's not just me the DM player challenging them, it's also the game world itself.
Both styles are awesome. I've played in combat as sport style games and that is great fun too. My group personally finds it too staged and immediately is turned off and can't actually get into the story because of it.
Saturday, 4th February, 2012, 08:56 PM #90
Myrmidon (Lvl 10)
I prefer combat as sport as both a player and a referee, as it's less stressful and easier to play and run in (less preparation as both a player and a referee, less ad hoc rulings for the referee to make). It's also easier to implement and justify a low casualty rate in.
I also like old school paladins, and increasingly dislike delays produced by overplanning. I prefer a system where being direct and heroic isn't a death sentence. I don't want a game where there is no safe haven, constant guard is needed against death traps, assassins and poison, and checking everything is essential to survival.
Combat as War also has its own limitations, as it has a pretty crunchy failure mode. In this mode of play the opposition generally have superior numbers. This style can work well against large numbers of conventional inferior troops, and makes the players feel smart and sneaky.
The smarter the opposing force is the more likely the party are the ones ambushed and killed without hope of surrender or escape, and it doesn't take much of this sort of thing to make players give up.
It can be much more difficult to justify the party's continued survival against an intelligent and deadly enemy in this style of play. Almost all DMs I know pull their punches at some strategic level - where the line is drawn is a matter of taste. Few DMs teleport liches in to kill the party before they grow powerful enough to be a real threat, though that's exactly what at least one PC bad guy I've seen started doing once he got powerful enough to do so. After all adventurers have more transportable wealth on them than anyone else.
To referee fans of the Combat as War style, do they acknowledge there is a line they choose not to go over in the interests of a fun game?
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