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

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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.
That's a feature, not a bug. I'd rather it focus on process simulation first, sort that out (which it vaguely kinda did but not really) and then worry about taking on whatever elements are needed - preferably the minimum required - to make it playable.
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.
The 3e designers made some colossal mistakes, I'm not disputing that; but their underlying intention was IMO just fine.
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."
I'm not talking about the CR system, I'm talking about putting monster(s) X against party Y. In 1e, with its flatter power curve, a 1st-2nd level party can - with a bit of luck and a few casualties - have a reasonable shot at taking down a hill giant. In 3e, they don't have an effing chance in hell.
2) 4e, with its total focus on game and playability, IMHO cannot really be tarred with this criticism.
Its total focus on game and playability, however, means that if one doesn't approach it from a game-first direction it'll fight you. I'd rather approach any RPG from an in-character world simulaton direction first and foremost.
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).
This is one thing about 4e design that I just refuse to accept and, truth be told, have no respect for: that a monster's stats change based on what it is doing and-or who it is fighting. This throws internal consistency within the setting out the window and with it, any reason to treat the setting as anything other than a backdrop to a capital-g Game. Fine for thems as likes it, I suppose; but not for me.
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.
An orc might not be the best example as they're rather pathetic, so let's take an ogre. In 1e a 1st-level party can usually deal with an ogre while that same ogre might make even a 5th or higher level party sit up and take notice. Ditto a giant, though add one to each of those levels. In 3e, there's a much narrower range - even as little as a level or two - between pushover and TPKer.

This also shows in how well PCs of different levels can work within the same party. In 3e-4e, someone a level ahead or behind the party stood out like a sore thumb; in 1e, a 3 or 4 level range within a party often works just fine: flatter power curve.
 

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tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
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.

It may not be CR2 ogres, but a while back my players started at level zero using these rules set against a pack of magebred war wolves using the CR3 winter wolf statblock, There was about 2-3 sessions of planning gathering & setup interacting with NPCs & skill checks to accomplish things ranging from poison bait to painstakingly created traps/defenses & ritually constructed spell type traps such as a weak force cage that gave them a round or two to trgger other stuff , the players were able to successfully rid the town of the breeding pack of war wolves. What the players face in a CaW sirtuation ca be as important as the situation & how empowered they are in CaW. Any single screwup without someone ready to step in & stop the whole plan from collapsing could result in what would have effectively been "yea that's death by massive damage" & there were a few hairy points but they pulled through as a team.

That was an unusual example & it's far from the norm in my games. While it was neither helped nor hindered by the near removal of tactical stuff & so much of the room for crunch the more common minor CaW type interactions are absolutely hindered regularly by it.
 

That's a feature, not a bug. I'd rather it focus on process simulation first, sort that out (which it vaguely kinda did but not really) and then worry about taking on whatever elements are needed - preferably the minimum required - to make it playable.

The 3e designers made some colossal mistakes, I'm not disputing that; but their underlying intention was IMO just fine.
Yeah, we know we don't travel down the same stream on that one ;)
I'm not talking about the CR system, I'm talking about putting monster(s) X against party Y. In 1e, with its flatter power curve, a 1st-2nd level party can - with a bit of luck and a few casualties - have a reasonable shot at taking down a hill giant. In 3e, they don't have an effing chance in hell.
1e is just random. That's the issue. If your dice are hot or somebody misses a save or two, then things go your way. I mean, a Hill Giant could, theoretically have, IIRC 9 hit points, and it is only AC4. Thus a level 1 fighter could, though rarely, kill a Hill Giant with a single strike of even a one-handed weapon. But notice how extreme that is, it just shows you how random things are in 1e, swingy as heck. OTOH an AVERAGE Hill Giant has 38 hit points, and can throw rocks 20 inches, further than the range of most missile weapons, for 2-16 points. If the party starts 20 inches away, they're probably ALL toast. Hardly a surprise, but even at melee range the average Hill Giant will easily win the fight. Again, things are pretty swingy, anything could happen.

Mostly you cannot judge 1e monsters by hit dice though. While a Hill Giant seems like a tough monster, they're not really. Not with AC4 and one attack/round. I don't know in 3e, but 4e Hill Giants are pretty strong. Still, a 3rd level party should be quite capable of killing one, albeit the fight will take a while because it will be hard to hit.
Its total focus on game and playability, however, means that if one doesn't approach it from a game-first direction it'll fight you. I'd rather approach any RPG from an in-character world simulaton direction first and foremost.

This is one thing about 4e design that I just refuse to accept and, truth be told, have no respect for: that a monster's stats change based on what it is doing and-or who it is fighting. This throws internal consistency within the setting out the window and with it, any reason to treat the setting as anything other than a backdrop to a capital-g Game. Fine for thems as likes it, I suppose; but not for me.

An orc might not be the best example as they're rather pathetic, so let's take an ogre. In 1e a 1st-level party can usually deal with an ogre while that same ogre might make even a 5th or higher level party sit up and take notice. Ditto a giant, though add one to each of those levels. In 3e, there's a much narrower range - even as little as a level or two - between pushover and TPKer.

This also shows in how well PCs of different levels can work within the same party. In 3e-4e, someone a level ahead or behind the party stood out like a sore thumb; in 1e, a 3 or 4 level range within a party often works just fine: flatter power curve.
I have not really played much 3e, and only a modest amount of 3.5, so not a real expert on a lot of it. In 4e you actually CAN take on some pretty different level creatures, it is just not normal to do so by its theory of play. Once I had a level 7 elite carrion crawler fight a first level party. It was an awesome fight too. The PCs did win, though barely. IIRC I had a barrel of oil nearby, which they finally realized was how to win, lol.

I mean, you really could go pretty far in the more traditional direction with 4e. You just had to make the fights INTERESTING. That was the secret.
 

An orc might not be the best example as they're rather pathetic, so let's take an ogre. In 1e a 1st-level party can usually deal with an ogre while that same ogre might make even a 5th or higher level party sit up and take notice. Ditto a giant, though add one to each of those levels. In 3e, there's a much narrower range - even as little as a level or two - between pushover and TPKer.

This also shows in how well PCs of different levels can work within the same party. In 3e-4e, someone a level ahead or behind the party stood out like a sore thumb; in 1e, a 3 or 4 level range within a party often works just fine: flatter power curve.

As a 3e DM and player, I can confirm that this is the case. It flattens out a bit at high levels, but when in the 1-10 level range there is a huge power gap between pc's of different levels.

For monsters, CR's tend to be pretty reliable as a means of setting level appropriate challenges for your players within that same level range. At higher levels the sheer amount of power creep makes setting the right challenge a whole lot of guess work. CR's can only get you that far.

For CAW in a 3e game however, I've found that CR's can be translated pretty easily to mass combat. Simply give the opposition a leader of the same level of the party or slightly higher, and a crew of the same level as the party or slightly lower.

When balancing ship combat, simply compare the ship types. The amount of heavy weapon slots and sections are a good way to compare the relative strength of ships.

For running very large battles with many ships, the default 3e rules of ship to ship combat become way too detailed. But Pathfinder's Mass Combat rules can easily be adapted to simplify and speed up large scale battles. Simply use the average crew level and average hp of a ship section, to calculate its defense and offense values like you would with an army, using Pathfinder's Mass Combat system. This simplifies the fights between ships to simple opposing checks. I modified this system slightly to also take into account any ship upgrades and specialties of the various pirate factions in my setting.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, we know we don't travel down the same stream on that one ;)

1e is just random. That's the issue. If your dice are hot or somebody misses a save or two, then things go your way. I mean, a Hill Giant could, theoretically have, IIRC 9 hit points, and it is only AC4. Thus a level 1 fighter could, though rarely, kill a Hill Giant with a single strike of even a one-handed weapon. But notice how extreme that is, it just shows you how random things are in 1e, swingy as heck. OTOH an AVERAGE Hill Giant has 38 hit points, and can throw rocks 20 inches, further than the range of most missile weapons, for 2-16 points. If the party starts 20 inches away, they're probably ALL toast. Hardly a surprise, but even at melee range the average Hill Giant will easily win the fight. Again, things are pretty swingy, anything could happen.
That swinginess is part of what helps flatten the power curve IMO: upsets can happen either way. I like that.

And yes, a party dumb (or unlucky) enough to have a hill giant see them when they're still 600' away and be able to take target practice while the party cover that ground is in for a world o' hurt. :)
Mostly you cannot judge 1e monsters by hit dice though. While a Hill Giant seems like a tough monster, they're not really. Not with AC4 and one attack/round. I don't know in 3e, but 4e Hill Giants are pretty strong. Still, a 3rd level party should be quite capable of killing one, albeit the fight will take a while because it will be hard to hit.
A 3rd level party of the typical-for-1e 6-to-8 characters would be quite able to kill one, yes, but likely at cost of at least one or two party members unless they either got lucky or really did some good pre-planning.
I have not really played much 3e, and only a modest amount of 3.5, so not a real expert on a lot of it. In 4e you actually CAN take on some pretty different level creatures, it is just not normal to do so by its theory of play. Once I had a level 7 elite carrion crawler fight a first level party. It was an awesome fight too. The PCs did win, though barely. IIRC I had a barrel of oil nearby, which they finally realized was how to win, lol.

I mean, you really could go pretty far in the more traditional direction with 4e. You just had to make the fights INTERESTING. That was the secret.
Making the fights interesting benefits play in any edition. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As a 3e DM and player, I can confirm that this is the case. It flattens out a bit at high levels, but when in the 1-10 level range there is a huge power gap between pc's of different levels.
My 3e experience is pretty much all in the 1-10 range, which probably skews my perceptions a bit.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I think the word "sport" just rubs me the wrong way in this context. Then again, so does the word "war."
No kidding. I think it's pretty clear that "sport" is used almost derogatorily in this context both in the post that spawned this phrase and in the OSR community that adopted it. The former diminishes the nature of the conflict while the latter of which aggrandizes the conflict.
 

My 3e experience is pretty much all in the 1-10 range, which probably skews my perceptions a bit.

That is probably where most people's experience with 3e would be, so probably not entirely unfair.

It is one of the reasons I'm strongly in favor of party wide experience. I don't think there should ever be a level gap between pc's. It is highly undesirable for a 3e DM and it makes balancing encounters a nightmare. This is also why I houserule the creation of magic items in 3e as not costing experience points.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
No kidding. I think it's pretty clear that "sport" is used almost derogatorily in this context both in the post that spawned this phrase and in the OSR community that adopted it. The former diminishes the nature of the conflict while the latter of which aggrandizes the conflict.
I don't think so. Both Re valid styles of gameplay and T least a few posts seem to suggest that the poster doesn't run 100% either way.
 

No kidding. I think it's pretty clear that "sport" is used almost derogatorily in this context both in the post that spawned this phrase and in the OSR community that adopted it. The former diminishes the nature of the conflict while the latter of which aggrandizes the conflict.

I think a better way to describe it would be simple and strategic.

Simple is just straight forward D&D as we know it, where as strategic requires that both the players and their adversaries plan ahead. A strategic game (CAW) means the battles are more involved, but also other aspects of the game, such as roleplaying and exploration. A strategic game is all about making important choices, both in and outside combat, and reacting to what the enemy is planning.

I have found that a sandbox works really well for this approach, as it allows the opposition to be active off screen. The players can seek them out and try to twart their strategic efforts, or they can pursue their own strategic goals. By having a lot of distance between the players and their foes, intel also becomes less reliable. If the enemy attacks a village, the players might not even hear of it until the fight is already over.

As a DM you are not only thinking about how to challenge and entertain your players, but also about what the goals and motivations of the villains are. How can they best achieve their goals?
 

Woo, leaping into a discussion in media res! That's totally not going to make things difficult :p

That's a feature, not a bug. I'd rather it focus on process simulation first, sort that out (which it vaguely kinda did but not really) and then worry about taking on whatever elements are needed - preferably the minimum required - to make it playable.
So, I think I get what you actually mean by that. But you really should sit down and consider what it means when you say, "I want to play a roleplaying game that ignores all 'game' elements until the very last step, and then only includes the absolute bare minimum to qualify as a 'game.'"

Perhaps I've missed a definition or two (having, as stated, just jumped in)--what does "process simulation" mean in context?
The 3e designers made some colossal mistakes, I'm not disputing that; but their underlying intention was IMO just fine.
Intent without execution is an engineer promising you a space elevator, or a physicist promising you a fusion power plant. Lovely, but that intent and a buck might get you a dirt-cheap cup of coffee.

I'm not talking about the CR system, I'm talking about putting monster(s) X against party Y. In 1e, with its flatter power curve, a 1st-2nd level party can - with a bit of luck and a few casualties - have a reasonable shot at taking down a hill giant. In 3e, they don't have an effing chance in hell.
Sure. And (though I know you'll touch on this in a bit) 4e did the same thing: by codifying the idea that threat level is relative, rather than absolute. You can't say that an ogre is an absolute threat level of 3, because a gaggle of 1st level characters could potentially do it, it'd just be very hard (1st level solo fight)--it might wreck them, but they've got a shot. Likewise, an 11th-level party is going to wipe the floor with an ordinary ogre--even one person on that team could do it--so the relative threat level is significantly lower (11th level minion).

If you can just let go of the notion that there must be one, perfect, diamond-absolute threat level that always matters for every PC ever, no matter what their table does or who their allies are or what resources they bring, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Its total focus on game and playability, however, means that if one doesn't approach it from a game-first direction it'll fight you. I'd rather approach any RPG from an in-character world simulaton direction first and foremost.
I strongly disagree with this sentiment, mostly because all but one of the 4e DMs I've played with DID approach it from an in-character perspective. The chips fell where they may; encounters were designed based on what they logically should be, which includes "the player characters are rational beings who at least TRY not to take jobs too far above their paygrade and mostly ignore jobs below their pay grade" (translated into suitable mechanics for the associated setting, of course).

But there's another reason. 4e did an awful lot of work to make "approach it from a game-first way" EQUIVALENT to "approach it from an in-character world simulation direction." The poster child for this is its version of Lay on Hands, which is the only version that actually makes Paladin-like behavior the direct result of the mechanics. In at least 2e, 3e, and 5e, LoH has been "here's a pool of HP, you can hand it out to friends." 4e made it "I give of myself, to replenish them." Likewise, stuff like the various Avenger subtypes, where the mechanics of getting your sweet bonuses (Oath of Enmity) meant you would hound your lone target (Censure of Pursuit), gang up on one guy with your buddies (Censure of Unity), or dive deep into enemy territory emboldened by other enemies' strikes (Censure of Retribution). Several other classes also work this way; it's not an absolutely perfect metaphor, but it works often enough to be worth talking about.

When you consider playability early, you can do this. You can make "playing the game" be, in and of itself, "thinking from an in-character perspective." It's one of the reasons why my third favorite system (after 4e and 13th Age) is Dungeon World, because it does exactly the same thing, just from the other direction. (Though in fairness I do find DW a bit mechanically thin for my taste as a player--it's great for DMing though.)

This is one thing about 4e design that I just refuse to accept and, truth be told, have no respect for: that a monster's stats change based on what it is doing and-or who it is fighting. This throws internal consistency within the setting out the window and with it, any reason to treat the setting as anything other than a backdrop to a capital-g Game. Fine for thems as likes it, I suppose; but not for me.
So, just so I'm understanding this correctly:
A group of children attacking a sewer rat should face exactly the same numerical values as a group of god-slaying nigh-transcendent heroes?

Because that's what you're demanding. You're saying that internal consistency can only occur if "sewer rat" has one, and only one, representation no matter who faces it, no matter what equipment they bring, no matter how disparate the table's tastes might be. You are saying that there can be one, and only one, representation of any given entity.

I find it both more satisfying in terms of game-mechanics AND in "in-world situation" terms of "how should person X deal with threat Y?" when the game factors into Y "the kind of threat X would perceive Y as." Because threat level IS a matter of perception, isn't it? It's about relative differences. Just as (for example) a trained soldier would be an almost impossibly difficult target for me, when I have no combat training and barely-remembered years of Boy Scout survival skill training (and very poor physical condition, sadly!), whereas it might be no problem for my cousin who works on a farm and does target practice regularly with his guns.

This also shows in how well PCs of different levels can work within the same party. In 3e-4e, someone a level ahead or behind the party stood out like a sore thumb; in 1e, a 3 or 4 level range within a party often works just fine: flatter power curve.
It....really isn't as bad as you make it sound with 4e. You can quite easily have a party that is within +/- 2 levels and not really notice much, because 2 levels will equate to (at absolute most) +4 to various numbers between the lowest and highest characters and maybe an extra ~20 HP (unless specifically built to have lots of HP). If you get to more than about +/- 4 levels, then things get dicey, as if you're really pushing the boundaries of those ranges, you may see characters with nearly doubled HP or have enemies that are unhittable by the lowest-level ones and really easy to hit for the highest-level ones. But still, a roughly 5 level range is pretty well comparable to older editions, if I'm not radically mistaken--I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want to take ultra-fragile 1st-level characters along with 7th-level seasoned adventurers in 1e unless you were very comfortable with repeatedly losing characters to "oops I rolled a big damage number" moments.

That swinginess is part of what helps flatten the power curve IMO: upsets can happen either way. I like that.
...Swinginess literally means the opposite of a "flatten[ed]" power curve, my friend. It literally means that the curve is sensitive to sudden, unexpected spiky behavior. So...I'm really not sure what you're saying when you say this.

And yes, a party dumb (or unlucky) enough to have a hill giant see them when they're still 600' away and be able to take target practice while the party cover that ground is in for a world o' hurt. :)
I believe the point is more: it borders on being ONLY dumb luck. You aren't playing a game that you can strategize with; you're throwing craps, and sooner or later the house wins (meaning, you lose your character sheet). For a LOT of people, that's...frankly, demoralizing. As I've said in other threads, I (and I know a lot of people are with me on this!) struggle mightily to become attached to anything that I know is always in danger of being taken away at a moment's notice, especially if there's essentially nothing I can do to alter that. If I can't take hold, why bother? Better to resign myself to failure now so it won't hurt when I do inevitably fail.

A 3rd level party of the typical-for-1e 6-to-8 characters would be quite able to kill one, yes, but likely at cost of at least one or two party members unless they either got lucky or really did some good pre-planning.

Making the fights interesting benefits play in any edition. :)
Eh. If there's always a 10% chance my character is going to just flat die in any encounter, it's going to be very hard to make the fights interesting. Because I'm going to be actively trying NOT to care, so that it won't hurt when I lose. And since I know, for an absolute and incontrovertible fact, that I'm going to lose eventually, I'm going to try very hard not to care.

No kidding. I think it's pretty clear that "sport" is used almost derogatorily in this context both in the post that spawned this phrase and in the OSR community that adopted it. The former diminishes the nature of the conflict while the latter of which aggrandizes the conflict.
Yeah, I've brought this up before as well elsewhere. Like the "Quick Primer," the terms come from a debatable place of being well-meaning, but they are pretty clearly disparaging to the currently-common style and unabashedly positive toward the advocated style. The latter is perfectly fine; it is the former that is a problem.

I don't think so. Both Re valid styles of gameplay and T least a few posts seem to suggest that the poster doesn't run 100% either way.
Perhaps, but it is very very VERY often framed as "combat-as-war is SERIOUS BUSINESS, combat-as-sport is just playtime," or the ever-popular "nothing matters in CAS"/"you can never lose"/etc. that tends to crop up. See also, the thread I made (which exploded) over fear-of-character-death not being essential and even being detrimental (sometimes, anyway), followed by a dozen people telling me that that must mean I want a game where nothing matters and no one ever suffers loss.

I think a better way to describe it would be simple and strategic.
Yeah uh...no, I don't really care for that either. Both because I would consider 4e play very tactically-minded, and because "simple" is...really easy to read as derogatory? Like I think I understand what you mean, but "oh that's SIMPLE combat, what you really want is the superior STRATEGIC combat" is not at all hard to read from those words.

For my part...trying to keep the ideas of "combat as a dangerously grueling thing you avoid like the plague or else slant so heavily in your favor you basically can't lose" vs "combat as a dangerously exciting thing you engage with when you want that kind of experience," I'd call them combat-as-extermination vs. combat-as-adventure. Combat-as-extermination is an extraordinarily serious affair; you are out to exterminate your enemies as ruthlessly as possible by exploiting every possible advantage you can (think 4X games!) and your enemies will do likewise. Combat-as-adventure isn't a non-serious affair, but it is less serious than the previous; you are out to do or see badass, (anti-)heroic/(anti-)villainous, and/or awesome/terrifying things, and enjoying the highs and lows of having that happen.

I'm reminded of a term--was it yours, @AbdulAlhazred ?--that someone used on RPG.net, contrasting lethality with volatility. Early-edition games are highly lethal, basically all the time. Even a 10th-level Fighter, who has lots of HP and great gear, can be one bad roll away from permadeath. (Admittedly, that is unlikely, but early-edition saves were very, very nasty at times.) By comparison, 4e games are much less lethal (though absolutely NOT non-lethal, as my own experience can attest), but they very frequently feature characters brushing against death, or dropping perilously low, etc., only to be righted a bit later by an ally's support. And just as turn-by-turn can be volatile, round-by-round can also be volatile; many 4e fights I've played, we started off at a significant disadvantage until we learned "what's this guy's deal???" so we could oppose them effectively. We had to think dynamically; we had to pool our resources; we had to act like a team and not four-five individuals who happen to adventure to the same places at the same times. Early-edition gameplay is much less volatile most of the time. It has its upsets, to be sure, but most of the time, you either stockpile so many resources/advantages that the result is a nearly foregone conclusion, or you're taking a huge risk and hoping against hope that it pays off, because one outcome or the other will come down pretty damn quick.

Combat-as-adventure values volatility and tamps down on lethality, because the latter ends the sequence, as it were. Combat-as-extermination amps the lethality up to 11, but is so-so on volatility per se, because the latter depends on a level of "bouncing back from problems" that doesn't mesh well with its "if something goes wrong, it goes REALLY wrong" mentality.

As a DM you are not only thinking about how to challenge and entertain your players, but also about what the goals and motivations of the villains are. How can they best achieve their goals?
This, at least, I absolutely agree with. Motivations and goals should be paramount to a DM. It's how you create villains that stand the test of time.
 

Yeah uh...no, I don't really care for that either. Both because I would consider 4e play very tactically-minded, and because "simple" is...really easy to read as derogatory? Like I think I understand what you mean, but "oh that's SIMPLE combat, what you really want is the superior STRATEGIC combat" is not at all hard to read from those words.

For my part...trying to keep the ideas of "combat as a dangerously grueling thing you avoid like the plague or else slant so heavily in your favor you basically can't lose" vs "combat as a dangerously exciting thing you engage with when you want that kind of experience," I'd call them combat-as-extermination vs. combat-as-adventure.

I like combat as adventure, but I think combat as extermination doesn't quite capture the same tone as combat as war, or strategic combat.

The difference I am trying to get across, is the way a combat as war campaign plays differently from a combat as adventure campaign. Its not just all about the combat. In a war campaign, the battle and strategy loom over the entire campaign. The players have to constantly be mindful what the opposition is planning, and the DM plays the opposition as if literally putting armies into motion.

This doesn't mean that combat as war is a meatgrinder that the players are sure to lose in the long run, as some other posters have suggested. Any campaign can be a meatgrinder or a walk in the park, depending on how difficult the DM chooses to make it.

In a combat as war campaign the DM tries to play the opposition to the best of their capabilities, and with ruthless efficiency. The DM is making an effort to let the bad guys win. But the capabilities of the opposition are still limited by their relative strength when compared to the party, the amount of resources they have at their disposal, and time. And so, balancing a combat as war is not all that different from a combat as adventure campaign. The DM is still trying to create fair winnable scenarios. But 'winning' in this case, may not always be a simple case of walking up to the monster and hitting it on the head till it stops moving. It requires more thought and strategy.

An example:

In my campaign I had a tower on a peninsula. The tower had a powerful lens on top of it, that could be an important war asset, as it could set ships aflame that were in range. The big bad attempted to take this tower for himself with an all out assault. They invaded the tower through subterfuge and through a simultaneous underwater invasion into the subterranean harbor of the tower.

The players first had to fight against the forces that were already there, while trying to prevent reinforcements from overwhelming them. The fight was skewed against them on purpose. There was a real risk of defeat, which would mean either death or a forced retreat. The players might have had to sacrifice the harbor, or they might have had to abandon the tower entirely, after which it would fall into enemy hands.

In the end they secured the tower, but blew up the harbor. This meant the powerful lens weapon would be available to them during the next naval battle (and any battle to come), but the harbor was forever lost.

Another example:

The party received intel that the big bad was attempting to establish a base somewhere off the coast. This base would then create a portal to another dimension, allowing the big bad to more easily send its fleet to the surface. Meanwhile, there were also reports of an attack on an allied town.

The party had to make a choice. Would they come to the aid of the town and risk the enemy fortifying their base, with the added risk that the fight might be over by the time they arrived? Or would they commit to an early strike against the base while its defenses were low, but leave the town to fend for itself?

Losing the town would be a great loss of life, plus it would mean one less safe port for the players to rely on. They would also no longer get intel from the town on enemy movement if it was destroyed.

But allowing the enemy to build its base, would allow their enemy to make it strong enough to repel any attacks that they could currently launch against it. This would fortify the enemy's position in the region and greatly strengthen its fleet.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think it's pretty clear that "sport" is used almost derogatorily in this context [...]
I don't see the term itself as derogatory. Then again, no matter what specific term gets used, the concept it's describing - combat that's curated and packaged and with a non-swingy nearly-guaranteed outcome - is something I see as inferior in various ways. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
That is probably where most people's experience with 3e would be, so probably not entirely unfair.

It is one of the reasons I'm strongly in favor of party wide experience. I don't think there should ever be a level gap between pc's. It is highly undesirable for a 3e DM and it makes balancing encounters a nightmare. This is also why I houserule the creation of magic items in 3e as not costing experience points.
In 3e I can see this.

But, for this among many other reasons, I don't play or run 3e any more. I want a system that can handle individual experience and in-party level disparity while remaining playable and fun for all.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So, I think I get what you actually mean by that. But you really should sit down and consider what it means when you say, "I want to play a roleplaying game that ignores all 'game' elements until the very last step, and then only includes the absolute bare minimum to qualify as a 'game.'"

Perhaps I've missed a definition or two (having, as stated, just jumped in)--what does "process simulation" mean in context?
It means I want the game mechanics to (within reason) as far as possible be a representation of the physics of the game world; consistent and solid such that I, in character, have a firm foundation on which to roleplay and can not only figure out how things work but rely on the fact that barring unexpected developments they're always going to work that way.
Intent without execution is an engineer promising you a space elevator, or a physicist promising you a fusion power plant. Lovely, but that intent and a buck might get you a dirt-cheap cup of coffee.
I'd rather end up with bad execution of a good idea than good execution of a bad idea; because in the latter case you're still stuck with a bad idea no matter how well it's been realized; while in the former you can always try to fix it yourself.
Sure. And (though I know you'll touch on this in a bit) 4e did the same thing: by codifying the idea that threat level is relative, rather than absolute. You can't say that an ogre is an absolute threat level of 3, because a gaggle of 1st level characters could potentially do it, it'd just be very hard (1st level solo fight)--it might wreck them, but they've got a shot. Likewise, an 11th-level party is going to wipe the floor with an ordinary ogre--even one person on that team could do it--so the relative threat level is significantly lower (11th level minion).
And as the same would be true if the ogre had the same absolute stats all the way along, there's no need to change them.
If you can just let go of the notion that there must be one, perfect, diamond-absolute threat level that always matters for every PC ever, no matter what their table does or who their allies are or what resources they bring, you can have your cake and eat it too.
Not sure what you mean here.
So, just so I'm understanding this correctly:
A group of children attacking a sewer rat should face exactly the same numerical values as a group of god-slaying nigh-transcendent heroes?
Yes. Absolutely yes.
Because that's what you're demanding. You're saying that internal consistency can only occur if "sewer rat" has one, and only one, representation no matter who faces it, no matter what equipment they bring, no matter how disparate the table's tastes might be. You are saying that there can be one, and only one, representation of any given entity.
Exactly, because within the game world that entity doesn't change - it's still the same entity, with the same strengths and weaknesses, the same inherent degree of toughness relative to everything else in the setting, and so forth. Sure, the relative power level of the PCs might have changed in comparison to our poor little rat, but that should not and does not cause any material change to the rat.
I find it both more satisfying in terms of game-mechanics AND in "in-world situation" terms of "how should person X deal with threat Y?" when the game factors into Y "the kind of threat X would perceive Y as." Because threat level IS a matter of perception, isn't it? It's about relative differences.
Except those relative differences are being measured only in comparison to the PCs, where I want the relative differences to be measured against the whole setting, of which the PCs are just a little tiny part. Within the setting, the rat is and always will be tougher than a kitten and less tough than an orc; and that shouldn't change just because it's a PC looking at it.

And yes, this means I have no use whatsoever for the idea of minions.
It....really isn't as bad as you make it sound with 4e. You can quite easily have a party that is within +/- 2 levels and not really notice much, because 2 levels will equate to (at absolute most) +4 to various numbers between the lowest and highest characters and maybe an extra ~20 HP (unless specifically built to have lots of HP). If you get to more than about +/- 4 levels, then things get dicey, as if you're really pushing the boundaries of those ranges, you may see characters with nearly doubled HP or have enemies that are unhittable by the lowest-level ones and really easy to hit for the highest-level ones.
The 4e DMG (the first one) begs to differ, so I'll have to take your word for this.
...Swinginess literally means the opposite of a "flatten[ed]" power curve, my friend. It literally means that the curve is sensitive to sudden, unexpected spiky behavior. So...I'm really not sure what you're saying when you say this.
I'm saying that the less swingy it gets overall, the narrower a creature's viable-but-not-deadly-threat range becomes.

Swingy means a 1st-level party can threaten a giant while that same giant can be a menace for a 7th level party or even higher. Non-swingy means that the giant will consistently wipe the floor with 3rd-levels, be a viable threat to 4ths and 5ths, and get creamed every time by 6th-levels or higher.
I believe the point is more: it borders on being ONLY dumb luck. You aren't playing a game that you can strategize with; you're throwing craps, and sooner or later the house wins (meaning, you lose your character sheet). For a LOT of people, that's...frankly, demoralizing. As I've said in other threads, I (and I know a lot of people are with me on this!) struggle mightily to become attached to anything that I know is always in danger of being taken away at a moment's notice, especially if there's essentially nothing I can do to alter that. If I can't take hold, why bother? Better to resign myself to failure now so it won't hurt when I do inevitably fail.
This is perhaps where we differ in underlying philosophy: I just don't take it as seriously as all that. I play to have fun, and characters - particularly at low level - can be easy come, easy go. At mid-to-high level revival effects come into play, making it easier to keep a character going for the long run.

Further, though there's all sorts of things you can do in the game to skew the odds in your favour, underneath everything it's all a matter of luck...much as it would be for the characters, were they real; similar to some real-life commando units in wartime where x-% casualties per mission were a known thing and yet people still signed up to do it, hoping they'd be the lucky ones who survived.
Eh. If there's always a 10% chance my character is going to just flat die in any encounter, it's going to be very hard to make the fights interesting. Because I'm going to be actively trying NOT to care, so that it won't hurt when I lose. And since I know, for an absolute and incontrovertible fact, that I'm going to lose eventually, I'm going to try very hard not to care.
10% death chance per encounter is a bit hyperbolic for non-gonzo play; as that'd turn over the whole party in maybe 3 or 4 sessions. 10% death chance per whole adventure, sure; in a party of 5 that'd be one death per two adventures, hardly a terrifying rate.
For my part...trying to keep the ideas of "combat as a dangerously grueling thing you avoid like the plague or else slant so heavily in your favor you basically can't lose" vs "combat as a dangerously exciting thing you engage with when you want that kind of experience," I'd call them combat-as-extermination vs. combat-as-adventure. Combat-as-extermination is an extraordinarily serious affair; you are out to exterminate your enemies as ruthlessly as possible by exploiting every possible advantage you can (think 4X games!) and your enemies will do likewise. Combat-as-adventure isn't a non-serious affair, but it is less serious than the previous; you are out to do or see badass, (anti-)heroic/(anti-)villainous, and/or awesome/terrifying things, and enjoying the highs and lows of having that happen.
OK, those aren't bad terms; and I fall in the c-as-x side. :)
I'm reminded of a term--was it yours, @AbdulAlhazred ?--that someone used on RPG.net, contrasting lethality with volatility. Early-edition games are highly lethal, basically all the time. Even a 10th-level Fighter, who has lots of HP and great gear, can be one bad roll away from permadeath. (Admittedly, that is unlikely, but early-edition saves were very, very nasty at times.) By comparison, 4e games are much less lethal (though absolutely NOT non-lethal, as my own experience can attest), but they very frequently feature characters brushing against death, or dropping perilously low, etc., only to be righted a bit later by an ally's support. And just as turn-by-turn can be volatile, round-by-round can also be volatile; many 4e fights I've played, we started off at a significant disadvantage until we learned "what's this guy's deal???" so we could oppose them effectively. We had to think dynamically; we had to pool our resources; we had to act like a team and not four-five individuals who happen to adventure to the same places at the same times. Early-edition gameplay is much less volatile most of the time. It has its upsets, to be sure, but most of the time, you either stockpile so many resources/advantages that the result is a nearly foregone conclusion, or you're taking a huge risk and hoping against hope that it pays off, because one outcome or the other will come down pretty damn quick.

Combat-as-adventure values volatility and tamps down on lethality, because the latter ends the sequence, as it were. Combat-as-extermination amps the lethality up to 11, but is so-so on volatility per se, because the latter depends on a level of "bouncing back from problems" that doesn't mesh well with its "if something goes wrong, it goes REALLY wrong" mentality.
Frequently brushing against death and-or dropping perilously low can and does happen in early edition games as well; the difference being they're not nearly as hesitant about going that last step and pushing you off the cliff if that's how the dice fall.
 

Coroc

Hero
I'd say it should be more than a deadly encounter. More like a triple deadly encounter at minimum ;)
But that would be unfair as well, unless you allow the PCs also to muster a triple deadly force from time to time, e.g. Mob is a dragon, PCs can effortless summon an army with heavy ballistas to assist them.

Which is precisely the idea the OP was bringing forward. That you have to have monsters/enemies not engage in combat as war. Why aren't enemies in such campaigns trying to destroy the PC's before they even take an action. That's the unfairness I'm talking about. Combat as war is perceived as PC's being great and intelligent tacticians - but in reality it's just enemies being imbeciles by never adopting actual 'war' style tactics in order to defeat the PC's.

Beating the enemy in a decisive manner can certainly be fun. Oftentimes even more fun than winning a battle intentionally set up to be 'fair'. The issue I'm bringing up about combat as war isn't whether it's fun or not - it's that the model inherently removes the ability of enemies to threaten the PC's in like manner.

Well i do that from time to time, although most often i balance encounters so that the PCs are really on their last edge after the combat, glad to have survived instead of running with the meaningless 8 encounters / day. It saves time, and still makes them feel heroic and justifies the XP awarded.

But sometimes it works out differently, they get into situations were they cannot easily win, due to "preprogrammed" course of events, or highly intelligent adversaries which use every tactical advantage.

But your regular 8 - encounter - medium - orc - patrol will not be sufficient for either of those two examples.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I think a better way to describe it would be simple and strategic.

Simple is just straight forward D&D as we know it, where as strategic requires that both the players and their adversaries plan ahead. A strategic game (CAW) means the battles are more involved, but also other aspects of the game, such as roleplaying and exploration. A strategic game is all about making important choices, both in and outside combat, and reacting to what the enemy is planning.

I have found that a sandbox works really well for this approach, as it allows the opposition to be active off screen. The players can seek them out and try to twart their strategic efforts, or they can pursue their own strategic goals. By having a lot of distance between the players and their foes, intel also becomes less reliable. If the enemy attacks a village, the players might not even hear of it until the fight is already over.

As a DM you are not only thinking about how to challenge and entertain your players, but also about what the goals and motivations of the villains are. How can they best achieve their goals?
I think a better alternative terminology would be tactical (CaS) vs strategic (CaW). A tactical game places the emphasis on the decisions made during an encounter. Whereas a strategic game places more importance on decisions made before the encounter (ideally so that you never have to make a tactical decision at all, since the strategy meant you never had to fight).

Calling someone's game "simple" does come across as derogatory, IMO. Using the term tactical, on the other hand, recognizes that both games are equally cerebral. The only difference is where the primary decision points are.
 

I like combat as adventure, but I think combat as extermination doesn't quite capture the same tone as combat as war, or strategic combat.
This is fair. I originally had "combat as death," but that felt a little TOO strident. Trying to capture that "make the battlefield as unfair as possible" perspective in a single word is hard!

The difference I am trying to get across, is the way a combat as war campaign plays differently from a combat as adventure campaign. Its not just all about the combat.
Quite cromulent, but isn't "combat-as-X" always going to be inadequate for that? You want to capture stuff beyond combat in your term.

This doesn't mean that combat as war is a meatgrinder that the players are sure to lose in the long run, as some other posters have suggested. Any campaign can be a meatgrinder or a walk in the park, depending on how difficult the DM chooses to make it.
This I agree with, but it's been made very clear to me, both from actual players and from looking over the rules, that losing characters is basically guaranteed. For even one player to go, say, six months without losing a single character--that is, playing a single character from level 1 to whatever their collected XP permits--would be pretty unusual. Not "never ever happens," but highly unusual and noteworthy.

In a combat as war campaign the DM tries to play the opposition to the best of their capabilities, and with ruthless efficiency.
See, I don't actually think THIS is strictly accurate either. I've known 4e DMs who do exactly this--because they trust the 4e system to deliver a fun fight even when they do it. (It's part of how the best 4e game I've ever been in had 2 deaths before 4th level, and a near-miss before 5th.)

An example: <snip> In the end they secured the tower, but blew up the harbor. This meant the powerful lens weapon would be available to them during the next naval battle (and any battle to come), but the harbor was forever lost.

Another example: <snip> The party had to make a choice. Would they come to the aid of the town and risk the enemy fortifying their base, with the added risk that the fight might be over by the time they arrived? Or would they commit to an early strike against the base while its defenses were low, but leave the town to fend for itself? Losing the town would be a great loss of life, plus it would mean one less safe port for the players to rely on. They would also no longer get intel from the town on enemy movement if it was destroyed. But allowing the enemy to build its base, would allow their enemy to make it strong enough to repel any attacks that they could currently launch against it. This would fortify the enemy's position in the region and greatly strengthen its fleet.
I would absolutely do this to my own players--whether in 4e or DW or if, in some fit of pique, I ran 1e or something like that, in that too. An example of my own:

The party has learned that the Shadow Druids have been shipping around dangerous stuff--wicked spirits and fungus zombies/spores to infect others with the zombie fungus--from two different places. The stuff is coming out of an area in the northeastern wastes, routing through the main city and up to one of the tributaries of the main trade river, then coming back to the main city for "deployment." They had to choose: check out the root source, potentially cutting off their supplies, or check out the far destination, and potentially catch some leadership? They chose the latter, and got some bad rolls on the journey to get there--so by the time they arrived, someone else had already attacked, scattering the enemy and ruining their chances of learning much or capturing anyone. When they eventually got around to checking out the other location, the Shadow Druids there were long gone--and had clearly extracted more blood-obsidian than they could ever use, so they'll be able to set up shop somewhere else.

Yet I would absolutely say I run a "combat as adventure" game, not "combat as war." I just make the victories and defeats, the rewards and losses, something that primarily happens on the "what stuff matters to the NPCs? What stuff do they love or hate?" level, rather than the "your ticket for getting onto the ride (aka their PCs themselves)" level.

It means I want the game mechanics to (within reason) as far as possible be a representation of the physics of the game world; consistent and solid such that I, in character, have a firm foundation on which to roleplay and can not only figure out how things work but rely on the fact that barring unexpected developments they're always going to work that way.
You can have that....and yet also have threat assessment that is relative. See below for a real-world example.

I'd rather end up with bad execution of a good idea than good execution of a bad idea; because in the latter case you're still stuck with a bad idea no matter how well it's been realized; while in the former you can always try to fix it yourself.
Whereas I would rather spend my money on a good execution, and then simply not buy things that don't cater to my interests. And the real problem is more that what 3e did is debatably good--and the execution was very, very bad. When the execution is so bad you have to disassemble the entire edifice before you can build something effective in its place, it's quite easy to argue that no amount of "good idea" is enough to justify it. I mean, consider the Spheres of Power/Spheres of Might stuff for Pathfinder--even its ardent supporters admit that it doesn't actually FIX caster-vs-martial problems, it just papers over them well enough that they usually won't adversely affect a group prepared for them. (Or, y'know, just PF2e, where the PF designers openly admitted the only way to move forward was to redesign the system.)

And as the same would be true if the ogre had the same absolute stats all the way along, there's no need to change them.
Except that that's the problem: those absolute numbers now enslave the whole system to making sure they stay absolute....or else the system just turns belly-up and is worthless. Or, I guess, the 5e solution of "here's some numbers...and if they don't work, you figure it out," which I am extremely not a fan of. You have to constrain what low-level players can do, so that "CR6" actually means "CR6," and not "CR6 unless you have a Wizard built to one-shot it," where "CR8" means "CR8" and not "CR8 unless the Fighter gets 4 crits in a row because of Action Surge." More on this below.

By making relative threat assessments rather than absolute ones, you liberate yourself from having to so tightly constrain things. A level 5 fight is designed to be challenging for typical 5th level characters, but maybe you punch above your weight tonight, or maybe you punch below your weight and have to retreat. (Yes, I have specifically had to do this at least twice in 4e.)

Not sure what you mean here.
What if the stats don't tell you "this is an absolute, ideal ogre, in every detail necessary," but rather tell you "this is what an ogre means to you"? Absolute mechanics are perfect truths present everywhere--an ogre is like an electron, it has one (rest) mass, one charge, one dipole moment, etc. Relative mechanics are mechanics true for a situation. E.g. instead of having an absolute "this lock is DC 25," and then needing to rigidly control what numbers the player is permitted to attain so that that number is impossible at 1st level and trivial at 20th, you instead say "this lock is designed to be hard for a 5th level character," so that the numbers naturally represent the world?

Under that notion, "an ogre is designed to be hard for a 6th level character" is a perfectly natural way to speak about it: you're talking about a world where "6th level character" MEANS "person who would find it hard, but not impossible, to defeat an ogre by themselves." And then all those different ways of cashing it out--a solo, an elite, a minion, whatever--are all recognizing the fact that it isn't a 6th-level character, and thus it shouldn't be identical in threat.

Again: threat is a relative assessment. Why should we make it absolute? It's quite easy to set absolute non-combat attributes (since, if we're being quite honest, those rarely matter--and when they do matter, you know better than any designer could what they should be if you disagree with what's written down).

Exactly, because within the game world that entity doesn't change - it's still the same entity, with the same strengths and weaknesses, the same inherent degree of toughness relative to everything else in the setting, and so forth.
But that's the thing. The entity's inherent nature isn't what is relevant for a threat assessment. The entity's relative power is what is relevant.

Opportunistic infections--such as Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus or candidiasis--are mostly harmless to everyday folks, but potentially lethal to anyone immuno-compromised. Instead of rating it in absolute terms, it is much, much more useful to rate it in relative terms. Relative to a healthy adult immune system, they're almost never dangerous and can usually be disregarded as a cause of illness. Relative to patients with weak or undeveloped immune systems, however, they need to be considered. (I got an oral candidiasis infection as a child, for example.) Same exact pathogens; it's not like we can alter their physical makeup IRL. But we assess them differently, depending on different circumstances.

A teen with a two-by-four is dangerous to an ordinary unarmed citizen and no threat to a trained soldier because of what the unarmed citizen and trained soldier are, not because of what the teen is.

Except those relative differences are being measured only in comparison to the PCs, where I want the relative differences to be measured against the whole setting, of which the PCs are just a little tiny part.
Why? Do you regularly play the entire setting all at once?

Also, technically, they aren't even being measured against your PCs. They're being measured against idealized "standard" PCs. Actual PCs--and their ploys and foibles--will always meaningfully differ. The goal of designing the system so it works is to make it so a reasonable level of "expected unexpectables" are accounted for without distorting the utility of the system.

The 4e DMG (the first one) begs to differ, so I'll have to take your word for this.
Being perfectly honest? There are a few bits in the 4e DMG that...aren't great. I'd have to see the specific section you're referring to. I know that it suggests that you keep the party at the same level--and that's advice I generally agree is a good idea!--but it's not necessary, because the system is very resilient. Early 4e tended to play things far too safe (e.g. enemies tended to not do a lot of damage, but have high health).

I'm saying that the less swingy it gets overall, the narrower a creature's viable-but-not-deadly-threat range becomes.
In my experience, it is the opposite. Or, rather, the swingier things become, the wider its "allegedly viable but actually deadly" range becomes.

Swingy means a 1st-level party can threaten a giant while that same giant can be a menace for a 7th level party or even higher. Non-swingy means that the giant will consistently wipe the floor with 3rd-levels, be a viable threat to 4ths and 5ths, and get creamed every time by 6th-levels or higher.
It is perfectly viable--and I know this is actually in the 4e DMG--to use combats up to +/- 4 levels of the party. The very extreme ends, especially at low levels (e.g. average party level >4) can be too swingy because that sort of thing tends to happen ANY time you're at extremes, but at most party levels, a -4 fight will be quick but still potentially dangerous (especially if you use smart tactics/ambush or get lucky) while a +4 fight will be VERY dangerous but still within the realm of winnable. And you very explicitly SHOULD provide a mix of encounters at, above, and below the party's level--both to create variety, and to let the party have a sense of progression. That, too, I know is present in the 4e DMG.

This is perhaps where we differ in underlying philosophy: I just don't take it as seriously as all that.
Though I laugh embarrassingly easy (I have a reputation for being debilitated by laughter at random things), I fear I take most things very seriously. It's why I write these wall of text posts!

Further, though there's all sorts of things you can do in the game to skew the odds in your favour, underneath everything it's all a matter of luck...much as it would be for the characters, were they real
Yeah, I'm not here for real. I'm here for fantasy. I get enough of the soul-crushing realism away from the gaming table.

10% death chance per encounter is a bit hyperbolic for non-gonzo play; as that'd turn over the whole party in maybe 3 or 4 sessions. 10% death chance per whole adventure, sure; in a party of 5 that'd be one death per two adventures, hardly a terrifying rate.
Alright, so my numbers were slightly high. But, in my (admittedly limited) experience of OSR play....having the whole party die every 3-4 sessions really isn't that weird. Maybe a little more lethal than usual, but "the whole party survived an adventure" is, as I understood it, something to genuinely celebrate because it doesn't happen plenty often.

OK, those aren't bad terms; and I fall in the c-as-x side. :)
I was trying for fairness on those, yeah. As Imaculata pointed out, C-as-X may be incomplete, but I'm glad it worked for you. I like C-as-A because...well, adventure is what a lot of people sign up for, regardless of what they like, and because it feels a bit like the "Brighthammer" tagline I love so much: "In the noble brightness of the far future, there is only HIGH ADVENTURE!"

Frequently brushing against death and-or dropping perilously low can and does happen in early edition games as well; the difference being they're not nearly as hesitant about going that last step and pushing you off the cliff if that's how the dice fall.
Well...okay, but that's sort of what I'm getting at. Being so eager to go over that line--and making it hard to pull back from it--is the opposite of volatility. Because it means that a definite answer, death, is quite common. Combat-as-adventure EXPECTS that you will have setbacks to start with, and then rally and recover--though sometimes the rally-and-recovery fails to be enough and you have to retreat. Combat-as-war (or extermination, or whatever term you prefer) makes pretty much any setback at least potentially immediately lethal--and that's even after you've done your level best to do something about setbacks ahead of time.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I don't see the term itself as derogatory. Then again, no matter what specific term gets used, the concept it's describing - combat that's curated and packaged and with a non-swingy nearly-guaranteed outcome - is something I see as inferior in various ways. :)
That's a straw man description of CaS play if I ever saw one. If you feel the need to feel superior about how you play a magical elf game, I don't know what to tell you. Maybe just say that CaS play isn't to your tastes and leave it at that? Just a suggestion.
 

I think a better alternative terminology would be tactical (CaS) vs strategic (CaW). A tactical game places the emphasis on the decisions made during an encounter. Whereas a strategic game places more importance on decisions made before the encounter (ideally so that you never have to make a tactical decision at all, since the strategy meant you never had to fight).

I'm fine with that terminology as well.
 

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