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D&D General Discuss: Combat as War in D&D

Exactly, and IMO this steep power curve (or narrow challenge band, to use your term) is a very serious - almost fatal - flaw in 3e and 4e design.

I mean, a game where Merry and Eowyn can't punch above their weight to bring down a Ringwraith isn't a game worth playing.
Ehhhhhh, this is your analysis from a specific perspective. That's OK, but I would say:

1) 3e and 4e are totally different games, with vastly different design goals. As I see it the problem 3.x/PF/etc has is that it wasn't designed with enough focus on GAME. A HUGE mistake was made, basically. 3e's job was to rewrite 2e and turn AD&D pea soup muck 'rules' into something that was extensible and realistically playable as-written. Most of the approach seems to have been to try to create a more 'realistic' core, or at least a more 'procedural' one in which most of what would happen in the action at the table could be referred in a general sense to the rules and some mechanic applied to it. I guess they simply didn't get as far as "does this mechanic actually work to produce a playable game?" From what I've heard they basically playtested in a small closed group who's approach was to take 2e characters and material and translate them to 3e and see how it played. Apparently nobody thought to then start a 3e campaign and see how it would evolve, because if they had, and had they done so with their eyes open, they would have run into a lot of bad problems. The result of all the bad problems is, 3e really is NOT extensible, because it is broke at the core. 3.5 attempted to fix it, but it was way too little.

So, maybe it is fair to say that 3e has a 'narrow challenge range', though I would go with the more severe "Except below 7th level or so, challenges DON'T WORK AT ALL in 3e."

2) 4e, with its total focus on game and playability, IMHO cannot really be tarred with this criticism. The design FUNDAMENTALLY presupposes that challenges are dramatic tools and automatically provides for the PCs to triumph as the default, assuming the players want to and actually try. In 4e a Ring Wraith, appearing in the night on Weathertop, would be a level-appropriate creature, part of a level appropriate encounter. I'm not sure what level I would assign to the hobbits at that point, I don't think that is an easy question, but clearly it was a highly difficult (say level + 5) encounter. Maybe even higher, as it was the result of failure in at least one SC and thus made more difficult than normally likely! Honestly, I wouldn't even handle it as combat, given all the factors, but I would just remind you that the Ring Wraiths didn't seem to really have a fixed level of power, even in the original story. They were animated by the will of Sauron, and their abilities waxed and waned as his focus was on them, and as his fortunes rose and fell. All of the Nine together, fully mustered for war and at the focus of their master's attention would be immensely powerful. A single, or a few, Wraiths, operating far from their master's power base and without his principal attention were weak enough that fire and a prayer to Elbereth drove them off temporarily.

I think it is perfectly feasible for 4e to present the above, whereas a game like 3e would find it antithetical to its central design thesis and mechanics. The 4e version would be perhaps a level 6 undead lurker (or just a part of an SC without needing a stat block as such). The same being, might appear at the head of an army as a powerful paragon solo monster, finally being defeated only by the coordinated action of two higher level PCs and a lot of their followers and minions (or again, as an SC).

It is fair to say that 4e handles combat and similar stuff more in an 'action adventure' mode than in a literary "battle of good vs evil" mode. So it isn't the best game to do an LotR kind of scenario, but not because of 'narrowness of challenge rating'. Honestly, how wide is the challenge rating of an orc in AD&D? 5th level PCs will basically laugh at orcs. Yeah, 100 orcs is problematic in mostly a logistical sense, but as actual combatants they're basically worthless. I don't see much of a 'wider challenge range' there. Maybe a tiny bit, but again 4e handles that by having several differently leveled orc stat blocks to play with.
 

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Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
I think where you are going wrong is only approaching these terms from the players perspective. That is - the players can treat combat as war or combat as sport. I’m saying this is only half the picture. We also have to consider how enemies are approaching combat. When combined we actually end up with 4 possibilities.

Player/Enemy
CaS/CaS - typically referred to as combat as sport
CaS/CaW - this would be a more survival focused type game
CaW/CaS - this yields the special forces style strategy game
CaW/CaW - this is what I’ve been talking about here and it’s more of a heavy weight punch and counterpunch style game

many people view the term combat as war as describing the CaW/CaS split above.
I think you're introducing an additional level of analysis that isn't present in the common understanding of CaW and CaS.

In my experience the labels focus on table expectations for the players, letting them know whether the expectation is that they try to trivialize encounters in advance, or whether the expectation is that they fight encounters as presented by the DM.

Your additional level of analysis is interesting, but I think it misses the point of CaW and CaS as descriptive labels that help communicate and set expectations at the table by describing a fairly fundamental difference in playstyle.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
There's a very significant correlation between campaign difficulty and deadliness. Leaving aside outliers (like a campaign where death isn't typically on the table for reasons) an easy game is FAR less likely to result in a TPK than a hard campaign.
That counter argument only works if TPK isn’t a foregone conclusion. They assertion is that TPK is guaranteed to eventually occur in both and so The liklihood of a tpk cannot be used as a measuring stick for difficulty when that liklihood is 100% in both situations.

your counter argument is putting the cart before the horse so to speak by assuming that tpk is not a forgone conclusion.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
That counter argument only works if TPK isn’t a foregone conclusion. They assertion is that TPK is guaranteed to eventually occur in both and so The liklihood of a tpk cannot be used as a measuring stick for difficulty when that liklihood is 100% in both situations.

your counter argument is putting the cart before the horse so to speak by assuming that tpk is not a forgone conclusion.
Apart from a railroaded conclusion, or an infinitely long campaign where TPK is guaranteed simply as a consequence of infinite opportunity for TPK, I don't see how that's possible. The former isn't really in the spirit of CaW (since nothing the players do can impact the outcome), whereas the latter is purely imaginary.

In reality (assuming death is possible), you are far more likely to experience a TPK in a hard game than an easy game.
 

Define 'viable'. Is it the delicious salsa that builds up between the claws of small cats due to characters not having enough HP to exist in a stiff wind?

Also define 'commoner' in 4e. I don't remember them being statted, mostly because a traditionally statted commoner is basically a water balloon filled with blood and shame.
LOL, well said. There CANNOT BE a definition in 4e of 'commoner' because power levels in 4e are based on dramatic function of a character, not on some imagined 'power ladder' that is theoretically rooted in some idea of who 'should be' stronger than someone else in a fantasy world. There's nothing wrong in 4e with the GM making a peasant who is the 7th son of the 7th son, and magically endowed with a karmic destiny that makes him a paragon character (more likely to be a PC but not mandated).
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I think you're introducing an additional level of analysis that isn't present in the common understanding of CaW and CaS.

In my experience the labels focus on table expectations for the players, letting them know whether the expectation is that they try to trivialize encounters in advance, or whether the expectation is that they fight encounters as presented by the DM.

Your additional level of analysis is interesting, but I think it misses the point of CaW and CaS as descriptive labels that help communicate and set expectations at the table by describing a fairly fundamental difference in playstyle.
What I’m pointing out is that a game described as CaS or as CaW can be ran vastly different ways depending on whether enemies use CaS or CaW.

my initial premise focuses on what it would be like if enemies engaged in CaW - and most counterpoints to that have shades of enemies not being ran with the CaW mindset - or only introducing threats attacking the PCs in ways that would qualify as a CaS encounter.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Saying a TPK is eventually inevitable under CaW isn’t a stance about its difficulty. You are trying to shift the conversation into being about easy and hard and that’s fine but - you can have an easy campaign that inevitably ends in a TPK and also a hard campaign that does the same.

see the issue with that framing?
Wait, I never said anything about TPK being inevitable under CaW. I think you may have conflated what I was talking about with something someone else said. I agree that there's nothing about CaW that makes TPK inevitable.

Either CaW or CaS can be so difficult that TPK is inevitable, or so easy that a TPK is nearly impossible. However, I expect that the majority of games don't fall at either extreme.
 

I think there's a large difference between a steep power curve and impossible odds.

I should remind people that I've been running a 3e campaign for years now in which the players are always up against foes that are two challenge ratings higher than would be considered level appropriate. And yet they always punch above their weight.

I run my games to be deadly at higher levels. My villains DO treat this as a war. They lay ambushes and attack the players with superior strength and numbers. And yet no deaths yet. They are nearly level 20, and our last session was the closest we've ever come to a pc death.

What did it take? Several guards of the same level as them (lvl 18), a few paladins (lvl 20), a few priests with instant death spells (lvl 20) and a gargantuan stone construct (CR 22) with 5e style special attacks.

When other DM's hear about my campaign, they are shocked how tough I make my fights.

But there's more to it than that. I carefully consider the capabilities of the players when creating encounters and I include strategic options that would allow them to turn the odds more in their favor.

In a game where combat is treated as a war, it is all about strategy. And so a DM needs to design the battles in a way that includes many strategic options. You never know what the players will pick up on, but you don't want the fights to be unwinnable. As long as there are lots of options, the players are free to be creative in their approach, which is a lot of fun.
For me this is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. You call it 'CAW', but then you speak about how carefully crafted each encounter is to provide opportunities for the players to exercise 'strategic options' (you don't really get into how this works or what they are) in order to redress any imbalance. You seem to equate 'CAW' pretty much with bad odds using the CR rating system too, and finally you invoke 'ploys' and 'strategems' like ambush and similar scenarios as providing this tone. I don't really see this style as less 'forced' or 'arranged' than would be a style where the opponents are simply level-appropriate tough monsters that the party fights in a more 'arena-like' string-of-encounters fashion similar to most modules and such.
 

Yes. Although I did say it was extensible to the whole adventuring day.

But you're right about "Encounter as Challenge". Somewhere between reading the thread and posting the reply I'd realised that "Encounter as challenge" was a better term, but then forgot that when it came to actually writing.
Would you say that 'exploratory play' vs 'directed play' might be a viable distinction? In exploratory play the primary goal IS exploration. That is mostly what happens. This is the case in classic Gygaxian play where the PCs explore the dungeon maze, or the wilderness hex grid. Finding things is the main activity, and the challenges are logistical "do we have enough torches" and environmental "did we see the pit trap before someone fell in." Combat encounters in this mode of play are at best gambles where you figure fighting is cheaper than some other course of action, or is the only option for environmental reasons (IE you need to get to the next room through this one).

Directed play is more a sequence of set piece encounters and focuses mostly ON the encounters. There may be multiple paths, and they might even be picked directly or indirectly by the players (either in the guise of their PCs or perhaps in a more 'meta' way depending). The trappings of exploration often exist and can be used to choose paths, but overall the challenge level is about the same however you go, and the goal is to have fun experiencing the encounters. Modules are pretty much like this, there is one main line of advance for the party, overall, and a specific goal, though there are a few (mostly early low level modules like B2) which are more exploratory.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think there are some misunderstandings in regards to combat as war, when it comes to game balance and encounter difficulty. Combat as war, simply means that some of the opposition in your campaign strategizes. They plan each attack against the players thoroughly with the intent to win (whatever the winning condition may be), while possibly working with finite resources and intel. It also means that the players need to strategize in order to be victorious. In other words, it is a different approach to running a campaign/adventure, with more focus on strategy.

What combat as war is not, or does not have to be, is a meatgrinder. It doesn't mean the difficulty of the fights is any harder or easier than normal D&D encounters. The same balancing should still be considered by the DM. Combat of war describes merely the approach to combat by the players and their adversaries.

Combat as War can be used on a grand scale, where both the players and their enemies command large armies, or on a small scale, where one villain simply commands a small band of minions. It can be used for a short adventure, or for a campaign that lasts several years.

A DM who runs their campaign with Combat as War, seeks a more realistic/strategic approach to combat. They probably will include a few key elements in their campaign:

-Acquisition of war assets / building an army / building ships / obtaining better weapons
-Conquest of land and/or import buildings
-Securing of alliances / diplomacy / politics
-Gathering of Intel / espionage
-Strategic deployment of all of the above
That focus on strategy makes a big difference in terms of survivability. I've seen lots of times in CaW games where a player will say "this might be a bad idea that will probably kill me, but I think if I do X I can keep this from becoming a TPK" or similar only to have everyone pull their trump cards & go all out while using every strategic hook they can yank this instant to make sure everyone survives resulting in a party of players surprised nobody died. By the same token I've seen players time & again do things so far into awestruck wtf levels of nonstrategy that would result in a CaW game where a player says "your on your own, I don't have enough heals to fix stupid" or similar only to wind up on the Nth time completely shocked that they somehow died with a table of players expressing similar levels of shock and regret that "there was nothing we could do".

It becomes substantive in system design. 5E was built on an idea of modularity, it takes ideas from many playstyles and tries to deliver a neutral position. Since neither CaW or CaS is heavily implied in the system, its fairly easy to push it in one direction or the other. This sort of compromise zone is great for some folks and very meh for others. That takes you to systems like 4E and PF2 which are heavily based in CaS design. Now to get a CaW experience you are working hard against the design decisions of the system. Which pushes some players away from that particular system, and pulls in others.
Actually, 5e does a lot to force CaW towards CaS. Things like the deliberate miss on things like flanking & facing joined with the near total removal of movement based AoOs that once allowed players monsters to setup a zone of control that could not trivially be bypassed without potentially serious cost & risk of getting trapped is a huge blow. The ease of recovery coupled with the overuse of concentration keeping players from being able to go all out in an emergency knowing it might cost them later ensures that players are pretty much always going to be at the same point on the power scale no matter how much they are willing to burn & makes certain that going all out probably won't cost them later.

For all the talk 5e makes about the simplifications allowing the gm to be more flexible with the type of game they want to run, 5e itself applies a great deal of pressure working to enforce a one true way of gameplay leaning pretty far into CaS with the "modularity" omissions that would enable those other styles as a more complete/supported style making that pressure all the more obvious.
 
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I think there are some misunderstandings in regards to combat as war, when it comes to game balance and encounter difficulty. Combat as war, simply means that some of the opposition in your campaign strategizes. They plan each attack against the players thoroughly with the intent to win (whatever the winning condition may be), while possibly working with finite resources and intel. It also means that the players need to strategize in order to be victorious. In other words, it is a different approach to running a campaign/adventure, with more focus on strategy.

What combat as war is not, or does not have to be, is a meatgrinder. It doesn't mean the difficulty of the fights is any harder or easier than normal D&D encounters. The same balancing should still be considered by the DM. Combat of war describes merely the approach to combat by the players and their adversaries.

Combat as War can be used on a grand scale, where both the players and their enemies command large armies, or on a small scale, where one villain simply commands a small band of minions. It can be used for a short adventure, or for a campaign that lasts several years.

A DM who runs their campaign with Combat as War, seeks a more realistic/strategic approach to combat. They probably will include a few key elements in their campaign:

-Acquisition of war assets / building an army / building ships / obtaining better weapons
-Conquest of land and/or import buildings
-Securing of alliances / diplomacy / politics
-Gathering of Intel / espionage
-Strategic deployment of all of the above
I agree that this is the COLOR that is being gone for. It is simply important to understand that the campaign setup will not sufficiently constrain or define the logistics of the various groups, the resources needed or available to them, nor really define what sorts of information are available to them. It probably will not even clearly enough delineate the environmental factors. So all of these elements will be decided by the GM, and the decisions will be primarily gamist and tone-related.

As a whole, every campaign is a game. So they all eventually dance to the same constraints. However, I agree that IN THE FICTION games (or parts of them, either way) can focus on your list of elements, and that this makes a fairly definable and coherent style. Calling that style 'CaW' is of course perfectly fine :).
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
For me this is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. You call it 'CAW', but then you speak about how carefully crafted each encounter is to provide opportunities for the players to exercise 'strategic options' (you don't really get into how this works or what they are) in order to redress any imbalance. You seem to equate 'CAW' pretty much with bad odds using the CR rating system too, and finally you invoke 'ploys' and 'strategems' like ambush and similar scenarios as providing this tone. I don't really see this style as less 'forced' or 'arranged' than would be a style where the opponents are simply level-appropriate tough monsters that the party fights in a more 'arena-like' string-of-encounters fashion similar to most modules and such.
Yea. If someone is going to the trouble of carefully crafting an encounter with specific strategic elements that can be enlisted to level the playing field, that’s just an extravagent combat as sport scenario.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Would you say that 'exploratory play' vs 'directed play' might be a viable distinction? In exploratory play the primary goal IS exploration. That is mostly what happens. This is the case in classic Gygaxian play where the PCs explore the dungeon maze, or the wilderness hex grid. Finding things is the main activity, and the challenges are logistical "do we have enough torches" and environmental "did we see the pit trap before someone fell in." Combat encounters in this mode of play are at best gambles where you figure fighting is cheaper than some other course of action, or is the only option for environmental reasons (IE you need to get to the next room through this one).

Directed play is more a sequence of set piece encounters and focuses mostly ON the encounters. There may be multiple paths, and they might even be picked directly or indirectly by the players (either in the guise of their PCs or perhaps in a more 'meta' way depending). The trappings of exploration often exist and can be used to choose paths, but overall the challenge level is about the same however you go, and the goal is to have fun experiencing the encounters. Modules are pretty much like this, there is one main line of advance for the party, overall, and a specific goal, though there are a few (mostly early low level modules like B2) which are more exploratory.
I don't think they're the same thing. You could have exploratory play that is either CaS or CaW. Technically, you could have directed play that is either as well, although I admit that CaW doesn't really jive well with directed play (IMO).
 

I think you might be placing more emphasis on the "war" part of the analogy than the dichotomy requires to be a useful description of different styles of play. Ultimately, Combat-as-War vs Combat-as-Sport describes a difference in how encounters are approached on a metagame level, and how those differences emphasize different types of IC strategies and tactics, rather than whether the in-world content of those encounters resembles a military conflict.

In other words, a CaW game doesn't need to have anything "warlike" about it or the opponents--all that is required is an expectation that players can (and should try to) have their characters affect the difficulty of encounters before the encounters begin. The source of the challenge comes from finding strategies and tactics to win (or give oneself as large an advantage as possible) before the encounter even starts. CaW is "warlike" merely to the extent that it approaches conflict with Sun Tzu's advice in mind: "A victorious warrior wins first, and then goes to war, while a defeated warrior goes to war first, and then seeks to win." Critically, Combat-as-War generalizes that mindset to all sorts of conflict, including non-combat encounters. (More on CaW in non-combat encounters below.)

A CaS game, by contrast, is characterized by the opposite expectation, that encounter difficulty cannot be changed prior to the encounter, and that it is poor form for players to try. The encounters are faced in the manner that they are presented by the DM. The challenge in CaS comes primarily from finding in-combat tactics to maximize one's chance of success, or, if success isn't in doubt, to minimize one's use of resources. CaS is like a "sport" only to the extent that metaphorically the PCs show up to a "match" and fight the team fielded by the enemy. It may or may not be a "fair" fight, but any unfairness is determined by the relative strength of the two teams, not by pre-game efforts by one or both teams to skew the odds.
Not a bad description, and I personally think the avoidance of any of the language attempting to cast CaW actions in terms of actual strategic thinking is a plus point.

I think where the focus on lethality often comes in is that it is the 'stick' in this equation. In other words, you face the level 1 PCs with a group of ogres instead of some goblins. They are not going to beat that by wading into combat (in any edition of D&D). This will force a more involved plan to be developed. Another element is the color of relations as a 'war', since this implies immediate and direct conflict which must be resolved with some urgency (IE the ogres are COMING TO THE VILLAGE). If the threat was just "some goblins live in a cave down the road, sometimes they make trouble" then the players are much less incentivized to come up with some sort of strategic plan beyond "we go down the road, enter the cave, kick their asses, and take their loot." Now, maybe in any case the later plan will fail, but chances are the adventure will be organized as a graded series of fairly linear encounters with weaker goblins, medium goblins, and the toughest goblins at the end. Maybe the goblins WILL react to the PCs, maybe some sneaking or whatever is indicated, and this could even be an SC in 4e, but the key point is the encounters need not be THAT hard, since the PCs won't be doing anything especially strategic to tilt the odds in their favor.
 

I don't think they're the same thing. You could have exploratory play that is either CaS or CaW. Technically, you could have directed play that is either as well, although I admit that CaW doesn't really jive well with directed play (IMO).
OK, though IMHO the 'exploration play' style is more amenable to the sort of thinking that feeds a CaW tone (since it often involves things like elaborate logistical constraints and intelligence about the local environment). Not to say that all or most exploratory games focus on warlike combat I suppose, but strategically/operationally exploration play does have some of that element to it.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
OK, though IMHO the 'exploration play' style is more amenable to the sort of thinking that feeds a CaW tone (since it often involves things like elaborate logistical constraints and intelligence about the local environment). Not to say that all or most exploratory games focus on warlike combat I suppose, but strategically/operationally exploration play does have some of that element to it.
Yeah, I agree. IMO, the fundamental difference between CaS / CaW is one of symmetry. Whereas with directed / exploratory it's more about freedom.

CaS presumes some degree of symmetry. This certainly doesn't have to be perfect symmetry. You can have hard encounters and easy encounters. However, an impossible encounter would typically be viewed as unfair, whereas an effortless encounter would most likely be seen as a waste of time. Similarly, PCs burning down a forest to take out some orcs is probably not in keeping with the spirit of this style of game.

CaW assumes asymmetry. The DM can field challenges that would be considered unfair from a CaS perspective. The players are expected to overcome these challenges by whatever means they can (which might include simply avoiding the challenge entirely). If they want to burn down the forest in order to try to wipe out the orc horde, then the only thing for the DM is to figure out how to resolve that.

I think that exploration style games often are in the CaW style because they're both viewed as offering freedom of choice, and therefore are complementary.

Whereas directed games are often CaS because they're both seen as leaning into crafting the most streamlined and enjoyable experience possible (albeit, from a certain perspective).

That said, there's nothing stopping someone from running a game where you have the freedom to explore but anywhere you go you find appropriate encounters. The exploration aspect in this case is more about discovery and being able to do what you want, rather than the risk/reward management that it is in a CaW game (I'm assuming threat bands). In at least one sense, a CaS style exploration game actually offers more freedom than CaW, since players can go and explore whatever strikes their fancy without worrying about wandering into a zone that's above their pay grade.

A CaW directed game would be where you're following an adventure path but the challenges along that path are designed asymmetrically. I could see that being potentially fun, although I don't expect it would appeal to everyone.
 

Yeah, I agree. IMO, the fundamental difference between CaS / CaW is one of symmetry. Whereas with directed / exploratory it's more about freedom.

CaS presumes some degree of symmetry. This certainly doesn't have to be perfect symmetry. You can have hard encounters and easy encounters. However, an impossible encounter would typically be viewed as unfair, whereas an effortless encounter would most likely be seen as a waste of time. Similarly, PCs burning down a forest to take out some orcs is probably not in keeping with the spirit of this style of game.

CaW assumes asymmetry. The DM can field challenges that would be considered unfair from a CaS perspective. The players are expected to overcome these challenges by whatever means they can (which might include simply avoiding the challenge entirely). If they want to burn down the forest in order to try to wipe out the orc horde, then the only thing for the DM is to figure out how to resolve that.

I think that exploration style games often are in the CaW style because they're both viewed as offering freedom of choice, and therefore are complementary.

Whereas directed games are often CaS because they're both seen as leaning into crafting the most streamlined and enjoyable experience possible (albeit, from a certain perspective).

That said, there's nothing stopping someone from running a game where you have the freedom to explore but anywhere you go you find appropriate encounters. The exploration aspect in this case is more about discovery and being able to do what you want, rather than the risk/reward management that it is in a CaW game (I'm assuming threat bands). In at least one sense, a CaS style exploration game actually offers more freedom than CaW, since players can go and explore whatever strikes their fancy without worrying about wandering into a zone that's above their pay grade.

A CaW directed game would be where you're following an adventure path but the challenges along that path are designed asymmetrically. I could see that being potentially fun, although I don't expect it would appeal to everyone.
Yeah, the more we have this whole discussion, and I don't disagree with you particularly on any of your points, the more I see that this entire thing is predicated on a more fundamental division of approaches to play, which is to say 'overall play progress'.

The exploration/directed and CaW type of style are fundamentally predicated on a play process which is GM-directed play where a Game Master is the sole arbiter of the content and direction (at least in a formal sense). Players never contribute in anything except PC action descriptions, or maybe queries as to the perceptions/memory of their character (though often these kinds of games yield a bit to players on PC backstory).

So, I developed a much more story-now, player-directed kind of process when we started playing 4e. In this process the whole concept of 'CaW vs CaS' isn't even relevant. Actually it is possible that the players could effectively signal that they want a 'warlike narrative', which would have a 'CaW tone' to it as a consequence. There would not even be the fiction of it being some kind of actual "wargame like" setup where each side is pitting its situation and resources against the other in a genuine all-out contest (albeit fictional). Instead it would be more like "how can we create a fun story?" and (in a PbtA-like spirit) "How can I, as GM, crank up the pressure on the PCs to generate excitement and tension?"

I guess that sort of game can certainly have a concept of 'dangerousness' where the GM can construct specific challenges to the PCs which, if the players don't overcome them, produces fiction of "the character died." This is more dramatic than having a wargame-like texture of losing a combat and thus some of your units/resources. For one thing, a principle of this sort of play is that "nothing is lost once gained, unless it is volunteered as stakes or spent as resources." In other words, you won't save the village from orcs one week only to have orcs burn it to the ground next week. Not unless the scenario is "You can risk your village's destruction by striking out for goal X, but the orcs might come and burn it!" Then of course there would need to be some fiction in the quest for X that signified a failure of enough magnitude to make that happen, possibly with a chance of fixing it, probably by taking some even bigger risk.

This is also not like directed play, nor like classic exploratory play in that the world is usually either zero-myth or at least low-myth with the players having a direct role in fleshing it out, so exploration is more 'authoring' than discovering what the GM wrote down before the session/campaign started. Both of those modes presuppose there is an existing world to be directed across or explore.

This is ultimately why I steer clear of descriptions of things like CaW or CaS, or exploration, that are too process-dependent. I can have a definition of a narrative-focus game that has a 'CaW tone' to it, or a 'CaS tone' to it, and may focus on the PCs exploring, or not. It just doesn't describe anything OUTSIDE of the style of fiction being generated by the participants.
 

For me this is a perfect illustration of what I'm talking about. You call it 'CAW', but then you speak about how carefully crafted each encounter is to provide opportunities for the players to exercise 'strategic options' (you don't really get into how this works or what they are) in order to redress any imbalance.

I could get into how it works. My CAW campaign centers around naval combat. The party are a band of pirates, who have united the various pirate factions, to form their own fleet. Their ultimate goal is to defeat a fleet of pirate hunters, commanded by a warlord, hired by the emperor of a powerful nation. But there are many more strategic battles against lesser opponents along the way, on sea and on land.

But lets talk about the naval combat for a moment. Naval combat in my campaign takes into account the following factors:

Wind direction
Ship facing and cannon facing
Siege weapon operation
Misfires
Changing weather conditions
Sailing checks
Obscurement from gunpowder smoke or fog
Sea hazards (reefs, rocks, maelstroms)
Depth (running aground)
Sinking checks
Fire hazards
Crew morale
Ship speed and maneuverability
Sea monster world movement

shipstartbattle-jpg.77331


When I say my campaign uses Combat as War, what I mean is that it gets pretty close to being a full on simulation. We have miniature ships and everything to illustrate ship movements. The players are required to think about how fast their ships can move and turn, and how to get their cannons pointing in the right direction and in range of a target. We also take into account the effect on morale of the crew when they witness a catastrophic loss or a glorious victory of their fleet. Ships may flee the battle if morale gets too low.

You seem to equate 'CAW' pretty much with bad odds using the CR rating system too,

No, I was commenting on the certain death argument that a few posters claimed was part of CAW. My CAW campaign has not had any pc deaths, despite being a years long 3.5 campaign with really tough opponents, and a strong focus on naval battles and strategy.


and finally you invoke 'ploys' and 'strategems' like ambush and similar scenarios as providing this tone. I don't really see this style as less 'forced' or 'arranged' than would be a style where the opponents are simply level-appropriate tough monsters that the party fights in a more 'arena-like' string-of-encounters fashion similar to most modules and such.

They are but examples. I didn't feel anyone would be interested in a detailed description of all the strategic facets of naval combat in my campaign. I didn't want anyone to think that a CAW campaign needs to be as strategic and detailed as mine in order to qualify to be in that category. I consider my campaign a very extreme example of CAW.
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
Yeah, the more we have this whole discussion, and I don't disagree with you particularly on any of your points, the more I see that this entire thing is predicated on a more fundamental division of approaches to play, which is to say 'overall play progress'.

The exploration/directed and CaW type of style are fundamentally predicated on a play process which is GM-directed play where a Game Master is the sole arbiter of the content and direction (at least in a formal sense). Players never contribute in anything except PC action descriptions, or maybe queries as to the perceptions/memory of their character (though often these kinds of games yield a bit to players on PC backstory).

So, I developed a much more story-now, player-directed kind of process when we started playing 4e. In this process the whole concept of 'CaW vs CaS' isn't even relevant. Actually it is possible that the players could effectively signal that they want a 'warlike narrative', which would have a 'CaW tone' to it as a consequence. There would not even be the fiction of it being some kind of actual "wargame like" setup where each side is pitting its situation and resources against the other in a genuine all-out contest (albeit fictional). Instead it would be more like "how can we create a fun story?" and (in a PbtA-like spirit) "How can I, as GM, crank up the pressure on the PCs to generate excitement and tension?"

I guess that sort of game can certainly have a concept of 'dangerousness' where the GM can construct specific challenges to the PCs which, if the players don't overcome them, produces fiction of "the character died." This is more dramatic than having a wargame-like texture of losing a combat and thus some of your units/resources. For one thing, a principle of this sort of play is that "nothing is lost once gained, unless it is volunteered as stakes or spent as resources." In other words, you won't save the village from orcs one week only to have orcs burn it to the ground next week. Not unless the scenario is "You can risk your village's destruction by striking out for goal X, but the orcs might come and burn it!" Then of course there would need to be some fiction in the quest for X that signified a failure of enough magnitude to make that happen, possibly with a chance of fixing it, probably by taking some even bigger risk.

This is also not like directed play, nor like classic exploratory play in that the world is usually either zero-myth or at least low-myth with the players having a direct role in fleshing it out, so exploration is more 'authoring' than discovering what the GM wrote down before the session/campaign started. Both of those modes presuppose there is an existing world to be directed across or explore.

This is ultimately why I steer clear of descriptions of things like CaW or CaS, or exploration, that are too process-dependent. I can have a definition of a narrative-focus game that has a 'CaW tone' to it, or a 'CaS tone' to it, and may focus on the PCs exploring, or not. It just doesn't describe anything OUTSIDE of the style of fiction being generated by the participants.
Fair enough, but I do think the terminology/concept does have some merit beyond fodder for internet debate.

I can recall instances at tables I played where the game broke down, largely because we lacked these concepts. The player and the DM had different ideas of what kind of game they were playing (along the lines of CaS/CaW). This was before the days of Session Zero. They had no understanding of what was causing this friction, lacked the language to properly convey these ideas, and therefore it seemed to them like the other party was simply being disruptive and obstinate. It resulted in arguments that derailed play and resulted in an unpleasant time by all. Had I known then what I do now, I honestly believe that I could have explained what was causing the issue and hopefully negotiated a resolution. However, because I didn't understand the cause myself, I was unable to do so.
 

Would you say that 'exploratory play' vs 'directed play' might be a viable distinction? In exploratory play the primary goal IS exploration. That is mostly what happens. This is the case in classic Gygaxian play where the PCs explore the dungeon maze, or the wilderness hex grid. Finding things is the main activity, and the challenges are logistical "do we have enough torches" and environmental "did we see the pit trap before someone fell in." Combat encounters in this mode of play are at best gambles where you figure fighting is cheaper than some other course of action, or is the only option for environmental reasons (IE you need to get to the next room through this one).

Directed play is more a sequence of set piece encounters and focuses mostly ON the encounters. There may be multiple paths, and they might even be picked directly or indirectly by the players (either in the guise of their PCs or perhaps in a more 'meta' way depending). The trappings of exploration often exist and can be used to choose paths, but overall the challenge level is about the same however you go, and the goal is to have fun experiencing the encounters. Modules are pretty much like this, there is one main line of advance for the party, overall, and a specific goal, though there are a few (mostly early low level modules like B2) which are more exploratory.
I think there is a lot of overlap, but I don't think they're the same thing as what I was talking about.

I could have a very directed goal in an adventure, "collect the bounty on the head of the bandit king", and I could approach that either as encounter as challenge, or environment as challenge. It might be that getting to the bandit king involves a series of set piece combats, or it may be that the environment of the bandit stronghold contains more bandits than the party can realistically defeat in combat, so they are going to have to come up with some way to stack the odds heavily in their favour (poison the water suppy, trick half of the bandits into leaving to raid a non-existent caravan etc).

But where the overlap resides is that the "environment as challenge" approach to the bandit stronghold tends to work better in a more open sandbox style game structure. If the stronghold is optional players can go and do something else until a suitable plan comes to them, but if the stronghold is the adventure than the game grinds to a halt until the players thnik of something. The incentives are different too, if the stronghold is optional it feels a lot fairer if a bad plan or merely blundering in result in a total party kill or similarly bad outcome, whereas if it is the adventure the GM is much more strongly incentivised to allow whatever the the players come up with to work in some fashion.
 

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