5E [Very Long Indeed] Reconciling Combat as War and Combat as Sports in 5ed
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    [Very Long Indeed] Reconciling Combat as War and Combat as Sports in 5ed

    When I posted (http://www.enworld.org/forum/new-hor...ay-styles.html) I was pretty skeptical about reconciling Combat as War and Combat as Sports in the same campaign, but some ideas in the comment thread lead me to re-evaluate that so letís see what we can do to make both sides happy. What does each side want and how do we give it to them?

    The Sliding Scale of Meaning vs. Balance

    Unless a PC death is on the line every single fight, you cannot have both meaningful fights and balanced encounters. To use 4ed terminology, if each combat is followed by an extended rest, then the ONLY way a combat can have any influence on the characters is if a character dies, everything else gets reset. On the other hand, if there is no rest at all between combat encounters then setting up balanced encounters becomes impossible, as how hard the fifth combat is varies massively according to what happened in the first four combats (and varies even more if the party avoids some of the previous combats entirely). It is impossible for the DM to create a balanced fifth combat if the first four combats have effects on the characters that canít be reset before the fifth combat, it is impossible for the first four combats to mean anything (aside from Character(s) Killed? Y/N) if their effects are reset before the fifth combat.

    Of course there is a sliding scale between these two extremes but there is a direct trade-off, you canít have both at once. So how much of each one do we want?

    I believe that having meaningful encounters are more important than balanced encounters (this doesnít mean that I think that balance isnít very important, just that it shouldnít be gauged at the encounter level). This is because thereís a lot of combat in D&D and if thereís a significant chance of characters getting killed in every single fight, then youíre going to have more character death than most people want (even in the hoariest of Old School D&D, lethality declines sharply after you gain a level or two). But if thereís NOT a meaningful chance of PCs getting killed each and every combat then each combat has to have lasting effects that donít reset or every fight in which PC death is not seriously on the line is basically Harlem Globetrotters Combat as Sports: it looks like a basketball game, but everyone knows what the result will be and nothing is at stake, which is boring. So basically we have only a few choices: lots of dead PCs, Harlem Globetrotters CaS, combat that is much rarer than is standard in D&D or combat that has lasting effects. Combat having lasting effects seems the best option here.

    To reiterate, combat having lasting effects subverts encounter balance and the more lasting and important these effects, are the more encounter balance gets undermined. This is because thereís a range of outcomes each combat can have and unless thereís something that returns the results to baseline (like an extended rest) each succeeding combat increases the variance until the difficulty level of the final combat becomes a crap shoot, no matter how you set it up.

    The Glory of Attrition

    So how to make combat meaningful, even though most combats will be stacked in the favor of the PCs (or at least in favor of the PCs being able to escape)? The only real answer is attrition. In most D&D combats (except in exceedingly lethal campaigns) the PCs will be able to defeat most combats without too much trouble (and/or avoid or escape from most difficult combats), therefore the only way to make most fights mean anything is through attrition. Even if you can kill the goblins without serious risk of PC death, they can still hurt you in a way thatíll make later encounters harder, making you have to care about the encounter with the goblins. This means that you have to use smart tactics against the goblins (or maybe avoid fighting them) even if you know that youíll win in the end.

    To make attrition-based play fun, you have to strip away most of the cushions that players have against attrition. Fistfuls of CLW wands have to go, so do scroll libraries, rope trick, easy teleportation, any form of healing that doesnít use a healing surge (or other hard to replace source of healing) and the like. Combat also has to be much faster than in 3ed and 4ed to give the DM time to wear down the PCs (bringing back morale rules would be a good start). But the granddaddy of attrition killers is the 15 Minute Adventuring Day. This has to be killed dead for attrition-based play to work. There have been various suggestions offered that work to varying degrees, but I think that the simplest and easiest way to do this is to make getting what 4ed calls an extended rest take a week or so in a relaxing location (so in LotR terms, the hobbits donít get a single extended rest all the way from the Shire to Rivendell). We can allow characters to recover some resources in the field, but not many and only at significant cost.

    Then, in between these rare extended rests (which generally would be impossible get in the field) the characters can enjoy all of the glories of getting worn down by Oregon Trail D&D. Healing surges are a great way of modeling this (as long as theyíre not potent enough to ward off attrition entirely). Run out of food? Lose healing surges due to starvation. Get dungeon lung? Healing surges. Exposure? Healing surges. In combat healing would cost healing surges, but downtime healing would give more HPs back per healing surge. This makes spending healing surges in combat a lot like using speed, it gives you energy in the short term but at a long term cost (which is a lot like how going berserk is described in the Icelandic Sagas). Town adventurers would use time as a constraint to prevent 15 Minute Adventuring Day issues (the Dresden stories are a good model here).

    By playing up attrition you get rid of combat grind. Even if itís clear that the PCs have won, being smart is combat is still important since getting hurt now can have a bigger effect on the next combat and the next and the next.

    The Glory of Tactical Play

    One of the biggest problems of TSR-D&D for me is that one-on-one Fighter duels are often stupefying boring. This isnít a deal-breaker for me, but in order to get CaS players on board you have to fix that and similar issues. This means that mundane characters need at least the option of fun tactical options to play with and mundane combat canít be as abstract as in Old School D&D without turning off a sizable portion of the player base.

    The hard line to tread here is to be able to make combat tactical without making it take too long. I think that the way of doing this is to make sure that all combat requires tactical smarts, to make all combat situational and to give the players different tactical angles to work with.

    Sid Meierís definition of a game is a series of interesting choices. In all editions thereís stretches of D&D combat in which no real choices are being made (I remember one player who couldíve gone to the bathroom during most fights and left a sign saying ďI take a five foot step away from the enemy and do rapid shot at the closest oneĒ and his contribution to combat wouldíve been unchanged). Focusing on attrition helps with this problem since even if the players can just grind down a combat in a boring way, they have a big incentive to be smarter than that, but some cues from 4ed design are needed here as well. What would also help a great deal is to give players tactical tools to escape from monsters that are too strong for them (to make fights of all difficulty levels fun) and to have fights in which the PCs have goals aside from ďkill them all!Ē such as: escape! capture one and get away! grab the idol! donít let them capture the wizard, they want his brain! kill them before they sound the alarm! etc. etc. which help keep things interesting on the tactical side.

    In the previous thread one person noted that when players find a method that works theyíll do it over and over again, which takes all the fun out of it. I think that the solution for this is to make combat as situational as possible. That means making sure that the foes and the circumstances have a massive impact on which tactics work best. That means that any modifiers that arenít big enough to change what kind of tactics the PCs use should be increased until they do or be thrown out entirely (die modifier bloat die!). I think that all editions have useful ideas that can be stolen for this from 4edís greater emphasis on terrain, to powers that suck in some circumstances and rock in others (I love Affect Normal Fires) to things like 1edís monsters that were completely resistant to non-magical items (ďoh crap, I canít scratch the damn gargoyle with my sword, weíve got to change our game-plan entirely! Weíve got to find some way of immobilizing the damn thing and then braining it to death with our +1 shieldĒ) whatís important is to not have the special features of monsters elicit a response of ďMeh. Weíll just do what we always do; itíll just take a bit longer.Ē On the other hand you donít want to make the thief gimped against all undead, so itíd be better to keep tie this situational stuff to individual critters rather than broad classes (more unique quirky monsters are always good).

    Having competing priorities in combat can also spice up the tactics a great deal. Sure you want the enemies to run out of HPs before you do, but there should also other things to keep track of. A lot of the tactical depth in TSR-D&D came from declaring your actions each round before you knew who was going first and Iíd really like to see that and easily-interruptible casters brought back in a streamlined form. Morale rules also help here if implemented well since they give something for the players to think about in addition to hit points. Marks (in their most basic form) also are great and a lot of elements of the leader and controller roles need to be preserved in 5ed.

    The Glory of Strategic Play

    Too keep CaW players happy, strategic play has to be just as important as tactical play. That means that we have to walk the balance between making sure that what the players do outside of combat has a meaningful impact on what happens during combat, but not so much of an impact to make tactics pointless.

    This means that devs have to look at mechanical widgets with strategic uses in mind by giving the reader a clear idea of what sort of things various powers can do outside of combat and making sure that these uses are clear. If what abilities (especially spells) can accomplish outside of combat isnít laid out clearly then a lot of strategic play gets reduced to ďdoes the DM decide that your plan works or not,Ē so these abilities also need to be carefully bounded or they can slice away whole chunks of gameplay (scry ní die, etc. etc.). Good examples of the kinds of spells Iím talking about here are (skimming through the first level spells of my 1ed PHB):
    Affect Normal Fires, Comprehend Languages, Dancing Lights, Enlarge, Jump, Push, Tenserís Floating Disc, Unseen Servant and Ventriloquism. All of those spells cry out for creative strategic uses but they have clear descriptions of their effects that donít rely very much on DM fiat (although Enlarge is clunky rules-wise as much as I love it). Iíd like to see this kind of spell be the core of the 5ed Wizard class and have the Wizard be relatively weak at straight-up combat in order to compensate for its strategic utility (with more blasty casters being possible, just not the Wizard default).

    Of course other classes need to shine in strategic play as well. Killing the 15 Minute Adventuring Day helps a great deal with this, as does removing spells that steal too much of other classí thunder and making sure that high level character of other classes have plenty awesome out of combat abilities (see Beowulf et. al.).

    In a similar vein, the devs have to write up the monsters with strategic play in mind. Write-ups of ecology and the like (like all of the random percentages of this and that) are useful for strategic play since they give the DM something to go on rather than throwing them back to fiat. Similarly, these needs to be plenty of monsters in which dealing with them through strategic means and never engaging them in a straight-up fight is smart (rust monsters being the classic example here).

    Another benefit of strategic play is that is lets DMs uses much more of the Monster Manual at once. At low levels a hill giant is something that players should figure out smart ways of avoiding, after they gain a few levels they can take one down if they come up with a level strategic plan, then they become standard opponents and then at high levels a couple hill giants are still bad news if the party blunders into them while worn down.

    One downside to putting an emphasis on strategic play is that itís hard to pre-plan epic show-downs since itís hard to hit on the right difficulty when things that the players do before the combat start can cause the difficulty of any one encounter to swing wildly one way or the other. One way of doing this is to let epic fights emerge out of the strategic game, in my experience nothing makes the players smile more after a hard fought battle than the DM saying ďwhat?!? You took THAT on one-on-one and WON? I donít believe it!Ē Letting the players find their own climactic final show-downs can be rewarding. For a more CaS-friendly option maybe a rule to let the PCs ďdig deepĒ and get back resources lost to attrition for just one fight, but at severe mid-term cost so that it would only be used for climactic final fights of a session (or heroic last stands).

    Balance

    OK, now how the hell do you balance THAT? For adventure balance thereís two main methods. First, instead of looking at balance on an encounter level (since attrition-based play and strategic elements kill encounter-based balance) balance it at the adventure level. So if the PCs are going from Rivendell (extended rest available) to Beornís farm (extended rest available) through the Misty Mountains (no place to take an extended rest there) then balance is determined by the difficulty of the Misty Mountains taken as a whole, not according to each encounter or even a list of encounters. Maybe set up a 4ed-style adventurer builder to calibrate the difficulty instead of building things encounter by encounter.

    The other way is to let players find their own risk/reward balance. The players go out from the town (extended rest available) into the howling wilderness and/or the deep dark dungeon (where, with perhaps a few exceptions, there is no place comfy enough to take an extended rest), and the longer they stay out the more attrition grinds them down and the more dangerous things get. But, if they go back to town to rest after every stiff fight theyíll never get deep enough into the dangerous area to get good loot and theyíll spend a lot of time tromping back and forth through already looted areas running into wandering monsters with no/very little gold. The players can choose to play it safe (low risk/low gold) or gamble (high risk/high gold), with a few helpful doors that lock behind the PCs, enchanted forests in which the trails move around, chutes, teleporters and whatnot to keep things interesting.

    What about PC to PC balance? For 5ed, I really donít think that encounter by encounter balance is the best way to go. First off, weíre not using balanced encounters anyway (see above) and trying to balance things encounter by encounter leads to the MacGyver Wizard Problem. Let me explain. Letís say that you have a 4ed Wizard and a 4ed Fighter who are both equally useful in combat. Now the question is; does the DM let the Wizard MacGyver his attack powers to let them do useful things out of combat (or off-label things in combat)? If the answer is yes, then the Wizard becomes more powerful than the Fighter since itís a lot easier to think of creative uses (especially creative uses out of combat) for Fireball than for, say, Sweeping Blow. But if, on the other hand, the DM or the rules are strict in building an impenetrable wall between combat magic (only good for killing things) and out of combat magic (no good at all for killing things) then, at least for me, that robs D&D magic of some of its most fun elements, since all of my favorite D&D spells have always had combat and out of combat applications.

    So how do you balance character classes in 5ed then? I think that the best rule of thumb is to make it so that there is no 4-member party that is clearly superior to the traditional one fighter, one thief, one wizard and one cleric over the course of a standard adventure (a ďstandard adventureĒ is somewhat hazy, but I think thatís unavoidable). By this standard, 3ed fails badly. A party of two clerics, a druid and a wizard vastly outclass the traditional party at virtually any adventure that you can imagine. Other editions of D&D do better and I donít think that this is an impossible standard.

    There are a number of ways to meet this standard and probably the biggest question is what to do about the Fighter (which mostly boil down to whether a high level fighter looks more like Lancelot or like Hercules, I like the Lancelot option but thereís room for disagreement here) but this is my own personal stab at it:

    Fighter: best at tactical combat. Best HPs, best Saves/Defenses/ACs, damn good damage dealing. You need the fighter when the PCs are ambushed and havenít had time to come up with rat bastard plots and need to fight their way out and theyíre the battering ram that makes all of the strategic plans have the oomph to work. Over the course of an adventure, the Fighter should have racked up more HPs in damage than any other class (and HP damage should actually matter). The fighter would have a secondary focus on skills (best bar the thief), leadership and social interaction so they have plenty of things to do outside of combat.

    Wizard: best at strategic combat. While the Fighter is the best at playing the game, the Wizard is the best at tilting the playing field. They can do some spike damage, but itís not their forte and their skills are fairly weak (too much time spent learning magic to learn other stuff) but their magic is good at changing the terms of engagement of fights.

    Thief: best at just plain avoiding encounters altogether. The best fight is often the one that never happens (thieves know their Sun Tzu) and the thieves are the best at doing this through sneaking around things and talking their way past them. Their strong skills and stabbity nature give them a strong role in strategic and tactical combat, but they donít have the raw power of the fighter or game changing magic of the Wizard.

    Cleric: best at putting the other threesí fat out of the fire when they screw up at their roles and a limited buffer against attribution. The Cleric would be useful in combat (second best at a straight up fight), spells that can do some of the strategic shenanigans of the Wizard (although not so well) and OK skills.

    Thoughts? Do you think this would satisfy most people or is it too tilted towards my own preferences?

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    First of all, this whole CaW/CaS thing still just looks to me like rationalizing subjective preferences. Sure, some people like one ed over another. That liking doens't have to have a 'reason.' But, whatever... there's a few things worth talking about, here...

    Attrition/Encounter Balance: The way D&D has always been set up, from 0D&D through Essentials, assumes the party will be worn down over a series of encounters to be challenged. Incidentally, that means D&D has /never/ (any ed) had consistent encounter balance. So 'encounter balance' isn't something we have to worry about losing, here. It's something we can reject trying to finally achieve (not impossible, just toss dailies), though, I suppose. Consider it rejected for purposes of this discussion. At least, encounter balance relative to the party (the only kind that /really/ counts). But, the DM has gotten better tools (3e CR, 4e encounter building) to gauge how challenging encounters are relative to eachother or relative to a fresh party, and there's no need for 5e to throw those away.

    Extended Rest: Week long extended rests in places of safety only? Well, that would change the pacing of some campiagns. It still doesn't address the basic issues that daily resources raise, it just upps the ante a bit. Instead of the 15 min work day, you have the 15 min work week (what a union!). It'd be easier to bring time-pressure to bear, of course, but by the same token, harder to have a faster pacing. I'd suggest making the 'Extended' rest benefits more story-based, with the DM designating a milestone (not the 4e jargon milestone) or plot point, that when reached, enables the benefit. Depending on play style, he can share that with the group or not. I'd just suggest throwing out dailies, but we know how likely that is. Anything short of absolute DM fiat will result in some adventures having many more (or less) encounters. Even with absolute DM fiat, the average encounters/adventure the game is balanced (see below) around is going to constrain adventure design (...and 3 and 4 and boss fight), and possibly lead to recognizable patterns the (1 and 2 and...) party can exploit when managing resources (which may even be part of the point, I guess).

    Encounter Balance: Never had it, never will (6e?). But, try to hold onto the encounter-construction tools 3e introduced and 4e refined.

    Class Balance: The thorniest problem. Class balance was always a goal of D&D, but one rarely attained - through some levels, between some classes, on some days, maybe there's some balance. Sure, 4e did pretty well, but it did it by giving all classes the same access to resources, and that's clearly unacceptable (not D&D). With some classes having 'daily' (or weekly or adventure-ly) resources and others not, the only way to make class balance /possible/ is to dictate a number of encounters per day/week/adventure. That unduly constrains the DM. And it's only a necessary condition, not sufficient, class balance can still be pretty screwed up, pretty easily, even if you lock the game into some sort of 5-encounter formula. So, in the name of 'bringing everyone together,' 'retaining the soul of D&D' and (most ironically) 'supporting as many styles as possible,' do we give up on class balance, or try to enforce it enforce by narrowing the game down to /one/ manditory pacing formula? Even if WotC tries the latter, DMs will just ignore it and players circumvent it.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    First of all, this whole CaW/CaS thing still just looks to me like rationalizing subjective preferences. Sure, some people like one ed over another. That liking doens't have to have a 'reason.' But, whatever... there's a few things worth talking about, here...

    Attrition/Encounter Balance: The way D&D has always been set up, from 0D&D through Essentials, assumes the party will be worn down over a series of encounters to be challenged. Incidentally, that means D&D has /never/ (any ed) had consistent encounter balance. So 'encounter balance' isn't something we have to worry about losing, here. It's something we can reject trying to finally achieve (not impossible, just toss dailies), though, I suppose. Consider it rejected for purposes of this discussion. At least, encounter balance relative to the party (the only kind that /really/ counts). But, the DM has gotten better tools (3e CR, 4e encounter building) to gauge how challenging encounters are relative to eachother or relative to a fresh party, and there's no need for 5e to throw those away.

    Extended Rest: Week long extended rests in places of safety only? Well, that would change the pacing of some campiagns. It still doesn't address the basic issues that daily resources raise, it just upps the ante a bit. Instead of the 15 min work day, you have the 15 min work week (what a union!). It'd be easier to bring time-pressure to bear, of course, but by the same token, harder to have a faster pacing. I'd suggest making the 'Extended' rest benefits more story-based, with the DM designating a milestone (not the 4e jargon milestone) or plot point, that when reached, enables the benefit. Depending on play style, he can share that with the group or not. I'd just suggest throwing out dailies, but we know how likely that is. Anything short of absolute DM fiat will result in some adventures having many more (or less) encounters. Even with absolute DM fiat, the average encounters/adventure the game is balanced (see below) around is going to constrain adventure design (...and 3 and 4 and boss fight), and possibly lead to recognizable patterns the (1 and 2 and...) party can exploit when managing resources (which may even be part of the point, I guess).

    Encounter Balance: Never had it, never will (6e?). But, try to hold onto the encounter-construction tools 3e introduced and 4e refined.

    Class Balance: The thorniest problem. Class balance was always a goal of D&D, but one rarely attained - through some levels, between some classes, on some days, maybe there's some balance. Sure, 4e did pretty well, but it did it by giving all classes the same access to resources, and that's clearly unacceptable (not D&D). With some classes having 'daily' (or weekly or adventure-ly) resources and others not, the only way to make class balance /possible/ is to dictate a number of encounters per day/week/adventure. That unduly constrains the DM. And it's only a necessary condition, not sufficient, class balance can still be pretty screwed up, pretty easily, even if you lock the game into some sort of 5-encounter formula. So, in the name of 'bringing everyone together,' 'retaining the soul of D&D' and (most ironically) 'supporting as many styles as possible,' do we give up on class balance, or try to enforce it enforce by narrowing the game down to /one/ manditory pacing formula? Even if WotC tries the latter, DMs will just ignore it and players circumvent it.
    Let's hit your points in order:

    Intro: However closely related the war/sports split is in terms of rulesets, I think that it's a pretty real split in terms of playstyles.

    Attrition/encounter balance: Agreed overall with the following caveats:
    A.: 3ed (because of various ways off blow of attrition) and 4ed (because of encounter-based design) are farther towards the balance end of the spectrum, although of course not completely all the way there.
    B.: Although I wouldn't want to return to the days of well there's undead, therefore rogues suck, I'd like to have a good bit of swing in critter vs. player balance (so the same bunch of critters could be significantly harder to easier vs. different parties).

    Aaak, gotta get some work done now, will respond to the rest in a while.
    Last edited by Daztur; Monday, 13th February, 2012 at 12:10 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Daztur View Post
    Let's hit your points in order:

    Intro: However closely related the war/sports split is in terms of rulesets, I think that it's a pretty real split in terms of playstyles.
    The only familiar thing I see is that CaW roughly corresponds to the powergamer/munchkin/whatever phenomenon - the psychology of wanting to 'win' a cooperative game.

    But let's just agree to disagree on that point, because you're sure not giving up your theory, and I'm sure not buying it. The rest is potentially interesting...

    Admin here. Please discuss this without labeling people you don't agree with "munchkins." -- Piratecat

    Attrition/encounter balance: Agreed overall with the following caveats:
    A.: 3ed (because of various ways of blow off attrition) and 4ed (because of encounter-based design) are farther towards the balance end of the spectrum, although of course not completely all the way there.
    I don't know what you think 'encounter based design is,' 4e was explicitly 'exception based design' maybe you misread something. Encounter balance in 4e is variable with the 'length' of the adventuring day, prettymuch like it's always been, just without the former extreme consequences to class balance (that you and many others seem to want to bring back, BTW), it's OK. Not the kind of thing that needs to be a priority, IMHO.

    B.: Although I wouldn't want to return to the days of well there's undead, therefore rogues suck, I'd like to have a good bit of swing in critter vs. player balance (so the same bunch of critters could be significantly harder to easier vs. different parties).
    There's always going to be some of that, it's the kind of thing you can't quite get rid off, even if you try. As long as it doesn't get to the level of 3.5 Rogue vs Undead (and Constructs, and Oozes, and long-legged things, and concealment... I played a 3.5 rogue through 14 levels), or 1e magic-user vs 90% Magic Resistance, or anything along those lines.
    Last edited by Piratecat; Monday, 13th February, 2012 at 03:26 PM.

  5. #5
    Interesting post again!

    Re: The Sliding Scale of Meaning vs. Balance

    I agree that there is a trade-off between the consequences of an encounter and it's destabilizing effects on the ones that follow.

    Traditionally you could theoretically use up almost all of your resources in one encounter and have none of them restore until the next. 4e solution is healing surges and encounter powers - the absolute worst you can do is lose about 50% of the party's encounter affecting resources.

    Losing 50% is plenty, so I don't think that's the main problem (although I also don't think such a limit is needed). I think it's the fact that in 4e attrition only last for the rest of the day.

    Re: The Glory of Attrition

    I agree that 15 MAD is the dark side of attrition. However, like @Tony Vargas, I think moving from days to weeks would only make it a 15 MAW.

    Instead, I think it is a necessary consequence of heavy attrition that 15 MAD becomes optimal for survival. The DM needs tools to deal with it, but getting rid of it would mean getting rid of attrition. That's worse.

    Having most resources, but not all, restore each day is the best I can think of. Hit points are an obvious candidate for longer term attrition, and I think healing (both magical and mundane) should be scaled back from 3e/4e levels. Some casters might also have longer term consequences, but it has to work easily.

    (There was actually an interesting dynamic in 3e, where divine casters had the same 8h recent casting limit as arcane, but didn't necessarily prepare their spells in the morning (Faiths and Pantheons had the times for Forgotten Realms deities). Unfortunately, it was tedious to track when spells had been cast, so I usually allowed clerics of all deities to either prepare spells in the morning or ignore the limit.)

    Re: The Glory of Tactical Play

    I think the solution here is modularity. Groups who want purely CAS can use the tactical combat module for all fights, whereas a more CAW oriented group would probably only use it for a minority of combat encounters with some needing no rules.

    The important thing, as I explain below, is that tactics aren't seen in isolation.

    Re: The Glory of Strategic Play

    I'd like to add a couple of points you don't mention here.

    Blurring the lines of encounters. I don't think there should be a hard line of what constitutes an encounter. Sometimes you retreat for a minutes of healing and planning before continuing a fight. The short rest means these sort of things need to be tracked more closely.

    Introducing strategic concerns to encounters. Having strategic and tactical concerns be at odds introduces tension. Attrition is one important part of it: you could blow the opposition to pieces with your single scroll of chain lightning, but you were hoping to save it for the goblin chief's bodyguards. However, there are other issues like morale (the goblins you let get away will live to fight another day/encounter), loot (disintegrate destroys loot, in some editions other spells as well), persistent effects (buffs/debuffs that last longer than an encounter but not for the whole day), etc.

    Re: Balance

    On encounter balance, I disagree with balancing adventures. For CAW it is either impossible (if you can't predict how resources are consumed) or counterproductive (if it makes resource attrition predictable). For CAS it doesn't really solve the problem of wanting fair fights.

    Instead, I would like to see encounters balanced against an unworn party, with guidelines for the DM to take the party's attrition into account. E.g. if the party has lost half their total hit points + healing, encounters will be X levels harder. This (plus easily modifiable encounters) would let CAS DMs adjust so that each fight is "fair" within their individual preferences. Add some sort of restore option between encounters and it should fulfill the needs of both styles of play.

    About PC balance, I agree. The notion that all PCs should be about as useful in all encounters needs to go. Instead, the rule of thumb should be that all characters have something useful to contribute in every encounter. The fighter may be twice as useful as a wizard in a given encounter, but the converse will be true in another. Some swinginess in PC abilities would in my opinion be a good thing: If the wizard crits in the encounter I mentioned, he won't be less useful after all.

    Undead immunity to crits and thus sneak attack is something that comes up often. This sort of thing wouldn't happen if 1) no class relied too much on one ability and 2) immunities in general were rare and limited. Taking only 50% sneak damage, for example, would be an acceptable ability for some monsters. Being immune to sneak attack with piercing weapons would as well, since the rogue can bypass the immunity.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    The only familiar thing I see is that CaW roughly corresponds to the powergamer/munchkin/whatever phenomenon - the psychology of wanting to 'win' a cooperative game.

    But let's just agree to disagree on that point, because you're sure not giving up your theory, and I'm sure not buying it. The rest is potentially interesting...
    Neither style inherently emphasizes winning. In fact I feel "survival" sometimes takes the front seat in CAW - escaping or bypassing the encounter is just as good as winning it, whereas in CAS it is usually assumed that the encounter will be won or lost.

    In any case, we will also have to agree to disagree, since I feel the playstyle differences are real and have seen examples of them between DMs and players in my group.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    I don't know what you think 'encounter based design is,' 4e was explicitly 'exception based design' maybe you misread something. Encounter balance in 4e is variable with the 'length' of the adventuring day, prettymuch like it's always been, just without the former extreme consequences to class balance (that you and many others seem to want to bring back, BTW), it's OK. Not the kind of thing that needs to be a priority, IMHO.
    It is quite clear in my opinion that 4e reduced the effect of an encounter of subsequent encounters. You restore all your hit points as long as you have surges and a larger part of a character's power is in encounter powers.

    In the absence of consumable items it was common in pre-4e games to go to encounters without full hit points. The only exception is high level 3e, where healing was too common for my taste.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    There's always going to be some of that, it's the kind of thing you can't quite get rid off, even if you try. As long as it doesn't get to the level of 3.5 Rogue vs Undead (and Constructs, and Oozes, and long-legged things, and concealment... I played a 3.5 rogue through 14 levels), or 1e magic-user vs 90% Magic Resistance, or anything along those lines.
    I agree, but think that the sweet spot is somewhere between 3e and 4e. 90% magic resistance isn't as bad as the rogue problem, since there are still a lot of things the caster may do like summoning spells, buffs and weapon attacks.

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    Good analysis: What I would emphasise is the importance of keeping uncertainty in combat (this relates closely to your discussion of variable situation). It's the uncertainty that keeps combat exciting even when the baseline threat level is low.

    It's 1991, and you're an American M1 Abrams tank commander in the first Gulf War. You've swept across the deserts of southern Iraq, and now your tank division is about to engage a tank division of the Iraqi Republican Guards, equipped with Soviet-export T72s. Rationally, you know from everything you've heard that your tank is far superior to theirs. You may suspect that your training is far superior too. So, are you bored? Hell no. Why not? Uncertainty. It may be unlikely that you're about to die. But you can't know that. You never know what will happen next.

    Maybe they've laid a trap.
    Maybe you're about to run into an anti-tank minefield.
    Maybe they have hidden artillery emplacements.
    Maybe they have hidden infantry with anti-tank rockets ready to pop up behind you and shoot your vulnerable rear.
    Maybe they're having breakfast, are out of their tanks, and don't even know you're coming.
    Maybe your Chobham armour isn't as good as they say.
    Maybe they have chemical weapons - are you sure your anti-NBC system really works in battlefield conditions?
    Hell, maybe they have battlefield nuclear artillery. You know the Russians do.

    From what you know, there's a 99% chance you'll survive the imminent conflict. It's that 1% chance that makes life interesting...

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    To OP: "Must spread XP..." of course.

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    On 4e extended rests - I definitely think that for many campaigns it would be better if an ER took a week in a comfy locale, while an overnight rest restored perhaps 1 Healing Surge. This would allow for a much lower default threat level to still be exciting, while still allowing for occasional spike encounters. It would also greatly increase versimilitude; I have a big problem with the 0 Healing Surge, 1 hp from negative bloodied, 1 death save from death PC who receives no magical healing but is still back to 100% health 6 hours later.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tony Vargas View Post
    The only familiar thing I see is that CaW roughly corresponds to the powergamer/munchkin/whatever phenomenon - the psychology of wanting to 'win' a cooperative game.
    Whether you prefer CAS or CAW is indeed a subjective preference, and nothing wrong with that. However you calling people who prefer CAW 'munchkins' is just you being a not nice guy.

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