D&D 5E Combat as war, sport, or ??

Honestly, I think something like Combat as Heroes (CaH) and Combat as Anti-Heroes (CaA) is more descriptively accurate of these play styles.
I had said the whole thing is a spectrum but with more then 2 points...
Combat as hero, Combat as Antiheroe and Combat as villian is a great thing
Combat as war and combat as sport and combat as specticul is cool
All 6 of those plus how much you like a challenge all play in...

BUT wait I know someone will say sport v war is the challenge but it really isn't.

Sport can be HARD and War can be EASY.
Combat as the hero can be sport or war or hard or easy... Batman stacks the odds, Superman just walks in and expects to win
 

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TwoSix

Uncomfortably diegetic
But if you know your players and you know what their PCs are capable of... you absolutely should and can build balanced fights for them to face off against in their Combat As Sport just using your own knowledge and intuition of the game and their capabilities. But it's something that you as DM have to do by feel... not by using a chart found in the DMG.
Yep. The number one rule for making fun fights in 5e is "Don't use the Monster Manual." Up the lethality, a major monster that gets a free round of attacks on a back-liner should be able to put them down in one action if their attacks hit. Use high variance on saves to reward people mixing up their spells. Don't run fights that only have melee or ranged attackers, make sure there's a mix in every major fight.
 

sport seems to indicate some sort of fairness between opponents. I think the appropriate comparison is before or during combat.
this illustrates another area that I think the terms fall apart

I used to play basketball... but not real 5v5 full court basketball... sometimes it would be half court 1v1 or 2v2 and sometimes it would be horse... either way most people would call it a sport. When I was in my early 20's I used to play with my then girlfriend, her cousin and her cousins girlfriend. IF we did 2v2 it was always couples... BUT I wasn't very good and neither was my girl friend (but boy was she competitive) so we lost like most games... (especially since cousin's girlfriend was playing college girls basketball). was it less of a sport because it was a mix matched team?
One day we made a joke about shirts and skins and the girls decided that it should be boys vs girls... so 2 six foot+ guys played against 2 5'9 or less women... and they whooped our buts WAY worse then anything before... like we played 5 or 6 times and at least twice it was a 20pt shut out. Where me and he playing a sport (i would say we were playing badly but still playing)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
Don't forget Combat as Narrative Element or Combat as Genre Enforcement.

An issue with Combat as War and Combat as Sport concepts is that they are viewing how we go about a combat. In several discussions, it has seemed to address them as if the combat the the entire point, we only care about what kind of combat it is to match our tastes.

But, we might get a better handle on them to speak of why we have the combat, because why we do it is apt to inform, if not outright determine, the how.

For this, we can look at the game Godlike - which is basically "superheroes in WWII". Now, most superhero genre combat comes out as Sport, rather than War. But, for Godlike, they lean into the fact that the story is set in a gritty war, so while you have superpowers, that doesn't generally make you immune to a sniper bullet to the skull.

I am not sure that really makes Godlike combat "as War" though. Which is why "genre enforcement" came to mind above. The deadly combat helps lay out the stakes, but doesn't really invite the characters to build up a bazillion advantages before they begin - they don't generally have that option, due to lack of tactical information most of the time that combat happens.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
this illustrates another area that I think the terms fall apart

I used to play basketball... but not real 5v5 full court basketball... sometimes it would be half court 1v1 or 2v2 and sometimes it would be horse... either way most people would call it a sport. When I was in my early 20's I used to play with my then girlfriend, her cousin and her cousins girlfriend. IF we did 2v2 it was always couples... BUT I wasn't very good and neither was my girl friend (but boy was she competitive) so we lost like most games... (especially since cousin's girlfriend was playing college girls basketball). was it less of a sport because it was a mix matched team?
One day we made a joke about shirts and skins and the girls decided that it should be boys vs girls... so 2 six foot+ guys played against 2 5'9 or less women... and they whooped our buts WAY worse then anything before... like we played 5 or 6 times and at least twice it was a 20pt shut out. Where me and he playing a sport (i would say we were playing badly but still playing)
I think you are too hung up on the power levels of opponents that sport implies. When sport was used as a term, it meant that rule design focuses on in combat activities of combatants. Combat is not only expected, but that a good portion of the design makes combat interesting. Defined roles, abilities that change the momentum of the battle, etc...

So, in your example you think sport means some level of balanced ability. What they were really going for was the fact both sides use the same rules which lead to common objectives. Dribble past the opponent, pass the ball to a teammate, and score a basket. Don't double dribble, or charge, or goal tend. Both sides operate on an assumed tactical system. So, yes, even though you lost, with a presumed advantage, you were still playing a sport.
 

Don't forget Combat as Narrative Element or Combat as Genre Enforcement.
another GREAT set of points on the spectrum
I am not sure that really makes Godlike combat "as War" though. Which is why "genre enforcement" came to mind above. The deadly combat helps lay out the stakes, but doesn't really invite the characters to build up a bazillion advantages before they begin - they don't generally have that option, due to lack of tactical information most of the time that combat happens.
I forgot is godlike the one that was d10's rolling for successes but you have to choose what numbers to take and the higher the number and the higher the number of those dice both change the outcome?
 

I think you are too hung up on the power levels of opponents that sport implies. When sport was used as a term, it meant that rule design focuses on in combat activities of combatants. Combat is not only expected, but that a good portion of the design makes combat interesting. Defined roles, abilities that change the momentum of the battle, etc...
again this is why I don't like the term
So, in your example you think sport means some level of balanced ability. What they were really going for was the fact both sides use the same rules which lead to common objectives. Dribble past the opponent, pass the ball to a teammate, and score a basket. Don't double dribble, or charge, or goal tend. Both sides operate on an assumed tactical system. So, yes, even though you lost, with a presumed advantage, you were still playing a sport.
except most times that isn't how the term is used.
heck by that all combat is sport in D*D
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
again this is why I don't like the term
I agree, I think framework is excellent, but the chosen terms are bad.
except most times that isn't how the term is used.
I think it actually is, folks just take it incorrectly and run with it.
heck by that all combat is sport in D*D
Again, its meant to define the design focus of the system. A big issue with the framework is it came out of the E War. So naturally folks assume it means some diametrically opposed philosophy. It's not, you can have strategy in a tactics game, and you can have tactics in a strategy game. Though, game design can lean heavily into one or the other making them a focal point. Makes sense coming from 3E/4E split, though 5E didnt lean into either, so it has confused folks.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I'd argue combat as war is the bigger illusion.

I'm all for players trying to gain advantages in whatever way they can. But the simple fact is if there isn't a thumb on the scale then eventually intelligent enemies should proceed to enact their own combat as war on the players and that is going to feel exceedingly unfair to the players, and ultimately culminate in PC deaths/TPKs. Thus, what combat as war boils down to is letting the players get whatever advantages they can but not letting team monster do the same.
Then it seems you haven’t actually played with a referee who uses combat as war, because that’s exactly what happens. PCs can drop like flies. The referee plays the monsters as out to kill the PCs. Just like the PCs are out to kill the monsters. Tucker’s Kobolds and all that. Fantasy Vietnam. The style has a lot of history in D&D.
 

payn

He'll flip ya...Flip ya for real...
Then it seems you haven’t actually played with a referee who uses combat as war, because that’s exactly what happens. PCs can drop like flies. The referee plays the monsters as out to kill the PCs. Just like the PCs are out to kill the monsters. Tucker’s Kobolds and all that. Fantasy Vietnam. The style has a lot of history in D&D.
This is the other side of the coin from the term sport. Folks take it very literally that the war will escalate to scorched Earth. Where I think a position that leads to a skirmish is more appropriate. YMMV.
 

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