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

In a lot pf ways doing it makes things even easier because the players go out of their way to seek out & use/manipulate world details in their own benefit so they basically can wind up pumping the gm for worldbuilding loredump & descriptive details that would be difficult to express all at once a opposed to being shaded bit by bit with time to think.
Right, so it leads to a game with a very 'textural' character. That is, you find out all about the limits of what the local blacksmith shop is capable of, or how many barrels of oil the town produces in a year. That sort of thing. The game then tends to focus on these sorts of minutia, or at least they enter into the purview of the players at times. As I've said, this simply boils down to a discussion of ways to create a specific 'tone' in a given game, of which 'focus on the materialistic details of conflict' is a perfectly valid strategy. What I argue against is any notion that it holds anything beyond a very superficial verisimilitude (and 'realism' is I hope not something anyone will seriously try to argue for).
 

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Where it becomes CaS is when either of these becomes or remains true: the opposition consistently underplay their hand and don't use best tactics or even half-decent tactics; and-or when every combat is easy enough to be won by the PCs no matter what they do.

Put another way: in CaW the players/PCs are going to lose unless they work for the win. In CaS the players/PCs are going to win unless they work for the loss.
But again, who is to decide what the monster's 'best hand' is? This is all related to factors which are essentially impossible to fully specify in any realistic game scenario. The bad guy's prep could realistically go anywhere from nothing, they're not organized well enough and have too limited intel to prepare for you, all the way up to the bad guy is Machiavelli Jr and before you even set foot from town he's already turned half the townspeople against you and you don't even know it. And the GM can easily invent some explanation which is plausible for either one of these.

VERY RARE in history is the time when equally prepared and resourceful opponents engage in conflict. Usually one side or the other simply has some decisive material advantage the other cannot counter.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
To me this sounds a lot more like enemies engaging in combat as sport.

‘they may have stayed and fought
‘There could have been a 1v1 duel against leaders’

also the enemy appears to have failed to do some fairly obvious things, like trap the exit and hide in wait. Or Putting their backs up to the temple would have allowed them to stay out of the players field of vision and attempt to surprise them and cut off all avenues of escape.

I think the word "sport" just rubs me the wrong way in this context. Then again, so does the word "war."

I think more along the terms of motivation and personality than "pure tactics." Overconfident guards and an arrogant leader who wants to make a show of force rather than "be sneaky" was what I was thinking. Especially since they expected their allies in the temple to be able to handle most if not all of the PCs, they had no idea when and if the PCs would come out this way (more like orders to "watch the doors for anyone trying to escape"). So having them at the ready constantly for hours just to get a surprise round that might never come didn't seem "realistic" to me, nor did trapping a door where allies might also emerge once the threat inside was dealt with.

i get the feeling this is a fight you wanted them to be able to avoid, such that the enemies weren’t doing everything they could have to achieve their goals. Your post even notes the PCs were fairly hurt and depleted.

Not sure I wanted them to do anything. They chose to avoid it. It would have been a tough fight though I really can't say what the PCs chances were because the number and type out there had to do with who was available, not in my creating necessarily a "balanced" encounter.

This is exchange seems to reinforce my gut feeling that CaW vs. CaS is a pretty worthless dichotomy for my thinking.
 

I think the word "sport" just rubs me the wrong way in this context. Then again, so does the word "war."

I think more along the terms of motivation and personality than "pure tactics." Overconfident guards and an arrogant leader who wants to make a show of force rather than "be sneaky" was what I was thinking. Especially since they expected their allies in the temple to be able to handle most if not all of the PCs, they had no idea when and if the PCs would come out this way (more like orders to "watch the doors for anyone trying to escape"). So having them at the ready constantly for hours just to get a surprise round that might never come didn't seem "realistic" to me, nor did trapping a door where allies might also emerge once the threat inside was dealt with.



Not sure I wanted them to do anything. They chose to avoid it. It would have been a tough fight though I really can't say what the PCs chances were because the number and type out there had to do with who was available, not in my creating necessarily a "balanced" encounter.

This is exchange seems to reinforce my gut feeling that CaW vs. CaS is a pretty worthless dichotomy for my thinking.
Right, I think you hit some of the notes I've been hitting. Is it realistic for a group of creatures to employ deathtraps within their own lair? Maybe, maybe not, only the GM can decide, and who's to say why they chose answer X? Are the little baby bugbears so well-behaved that none of them is endangered by a deathtrap? For how long can that be said to hold? How exactly long can a group of ambushers remain in hiding at full ready for someone to come by? An hour? A day? What is the probability that the PCs do or do not happen to be passing at a moment of readiness, or unreadiness? Is the guy in charge smart enough to send a scout down the path? Do the monsters have a means of signalling, and what is it?

All of these things are easy enough to make up, but I've only scratched the surface, and the real point is, the GM IS making them up. There isn't any reality which dictates the answers, at best there might be a genre convention or something (bugbears are sneaky and patient, the MM says so, but they are also stupid and primitive). The point being 'WAR' or 'SPORT' is just about what the GM made up, and maybe how the players reacted to that or what they asked for.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I think the word "sport" just rubs me the wrong way in this context. Then again, so does the word "war."

I think more along the terms of motivation and personality than "pure tactics." Overconfident guards and an arrogant leader who wants to make a show of force rather than "be sneaky" was what I was thinking. Especially since they expected their allies in the temple to be able to handle most if not all of the PCs, they had no idea when and if the PCs would come out this way (more like orders to "watch the doors for anyone trying to escape"). So having them at the ready constantly for hours just to get a surprise round that might never come didn't seem "realistic" to me, nor did trapping a door where allies might also emerge once the threat inside was dealt with.



Not sure I wanted them to do anything. They chose to avoid it. It would have been a tough fight though I really can't say what the PCs chances were because the number and type out there had to do with who was available, not in my creating necessarily a "balanced" encounter.

This is exchange seems to reinforce my gut feeling that CaW vs. CaS is a pretty worthless dichotomy for my thinking.
It probably links back to when the tactical game was a bigger thing, CaW would play the monsters like the players play themselves while CaS would tend to do things that give the players more of a sporting chance

edit: There are merits to both approaches & tons of middle ground for both dliberate and accidental "yea I never considered that" to claim credit for very good or very bad choices
 
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FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Right, I think you hit some of the notes I've been hitting. Is it realistic for a group of creatures to employ deathtraps within their own lair? Maybe, maybe not, only the GM can decide, and who's to say why they chose answer X? Are the little baby bugbears so well-behaved that none of them is endangered by a deathtrap? For how long can that be said to hold? How exactly long can a group of ambushers remain in hiding at full ready for someone to come by? An hour? A day? What is the probability that the PCs do or do not happen to be passing at a moment of readiness, or unreadiness? Is the guy in charge smart enough to send a scout down the path? Do the monsters have a means of signalling, and what is it?

All of these things are easy enough to make up, but I've only scratched the surface, and the real point is, the GM IS making them up. There isn't any reality which dictates the answers, at best there might be a genre convention or something (bugbears are sneaky and patient, the MM says so, but they are also stupid and primitive). The point being 'WAR' or 'SPORT' is just about what the GM made up, and maybe how the players reacted to that or what they asked for.
on the flip side isn’t that exactly what is happening for the players as well?
 



FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
D&D is a game. So are you talking about CaW with respect to the game (DM v Players) or as a simulation of reality (Character vs NPCs/Monsters). Is this a meta concept or something you think should be addressed as if this was a real functioning fantasy world.

Gamist: DM vs Players. AKA a "game"
Simulationist: threat it as a "real" world

I guess I could answer both, but I was wondering what you are thinking.

PS - I see how my additional statement confused my original intent, my apologies.
I think i finally get what you are getting at. I’m coming from a perspective of pc vs npc/monsters. I don’t view players and dms as being adversaries that would ‘war’ with each other.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Claim: If the enemies ever adopted a true combat as war mindset then the PC's would eventually be crushed. This does not happen. Therefore, the enemies do not treat combat as War. There's something that seem inherently unfair about that and yet many still find Combat as War fun.

Discuss!
I would say that in most typical CaW scenarios, the PCs are the agressors, while the enemy is the defender. Offense is easier than defense. The PCs only need to find and exploit one weak point in the enemy's defenses, whereas the enemy must try to defend themselves against potentially unlimited and unknown threats (using only limited resources).

This mirrors the asymmetrical nature of CaW. The PCs need to find a way to win against forces that they could not necessarily overcome by direct means. The enemy puts obstacles in the way (traps, large patrols, etc) to try to block such attempts, but since they usually don't know when or where or how the PCs will strike, and in many cases won't know what the PCs are capable of, these generic defenses will generally be less ideal for the scenario than the players' custom tailored plan.

Of course, there may be some situations where the players have to assume the role of defense. Perhaps they've made themselves a sufficient nuisance that the BBEG puts a bounty on their heads. Even then, some consideration should arguably be made towards the PCs. It's not a bad idea to telegraph the threat, for example (maybe one of the PCs' allies hears about the bounty and informs them).

I mean, you could have the archmage BBEG scry their location, teleport over their camp while they're resting, and drop a meteor swarm on them. However, particularly for a low level party, it probably won't be much fun. It's essentially TPK by DM fiat, which arguably isn't really what CaW is about, IMO.

Ultimately, while I think CaW/CaS is useful terminology for discussing different playstyles, I do think it is often taken to extremes. I see it as a range. I doubt that most games are "pure" CaW or CaS. As the OP states, in a hypothetical pure CaW game, where the DM is antagonist and playing the enemy as effectively as possible, the PCs arguably don't stand a chance. And I find it hard to imagine a pure CaS game where the PCs meet Asmodeus at level 1 and Asmodeus is therefore a low level monster that the PCs can beat with only a modicum of effort.

You can have a game that leans toward CaS (where most combats are fair and balanced) but also includes elements of CaW (some encounters are dangerous or impossible to beat in a straight fight, and must be overcome by alternate means). I'd say that's my preferred type of campaign both for running and playing in. I similarly see no reason why a CaW style game couldn't utilize CaS encounter design for at least some encounters (particularly those where the DM is playing offense).
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I’d suggest that’s happening because enemies aren’t treating combat with the players as war.
That's not the case at all. The player characters are very small fish in a very big pond. Even if they are often punching above their weight class when they get roped into things. The enemies are focused on other goals that the PCs just happened to somehow get caught up in stopping.
 

on the flip side isn’t that exactly what is happening for the players as well?
Well, things are a bit different for the players. They're restricted to knowing and doing what their PCs can know and do. However, there is an analogous thing going on. I mean, it might be reasonable for a PC to suspect the orcs have a spy in town. Or is it? I mean, the PLAYER thinks that, but it is hard to say how the character might think. Beyond that, there are a million possibilities, most of which nobody has even thought about. I mean, does the GM describe regularly, or even know, what sorts of large birds fly over the town? So, if the orc shaman uses them as spies, would anyone even have the means to ask about it? Presumably the GM might consider whether certain PCs (the druid, the ranger) might notice such a thing, but it is only one of 1000 things the players might think of and ask about on their own initiative.

So, yeah, you can certainly make the town vs orcs war, in which the PCs are a significant factor, play out in a way that has a 'feeling' of what people might do in an actual war of some analogous kind in the real world (give or take, lets not quibble overmuch about any differences between fantasy and reality for now). But the action itself, and what factors turn out to be important, how ploys and plans and strategies turn out, will be largely in the hands of the GM to invent narrative reasons for. He's likely to reward some creative, fun, thinking by the players with some successes, etc. OTOH IME a lot of the time the players have a quite different view of what is going on, and their actions may make no sense at all to the GM, and appear to be ridiculous and bound to fail, yet be utterly logical and coldly rational in the players minds.

I think that last bit actually probably encapsulates a large part of the reason that most games tend more to the tone of a certain degree of 'heroic play' where the PCs are active, the monsters are largely passive, and whichever ploys the players come up with, they may fail, but they can just try something else unless whatever they did was really incredibly dangerous, or when the GM decides to turn the tables and create a tense situation like taking hostages, or an attack on the town by the orcs. Even then, most games will resolve the situation with a symbolic fight or rescue, which is more narratively satisfying vs downright plausible if you start to think about it too much.

I mean, even back in the days of Gygaxian dungeon crawl there were conventions. The monsters in B2 don't set up watches and alarm systems and all swarm out of their caves to gang-bash attacking human parties, although that would make a lot of sense for them to do (there are a few perfunctory guards around, and I think in the notes for the module it talks about maybe if the monsters get shellacked a few times they might all clear out). I mean, probably realistically, given the scale of the Caves of Chaos, as soon as anyone came visiting the whole place would be in an uproar, and the party would be fleeing for its lives! But there's a convention, if you pay lip service to being discrete, the DM doesn't pile 10 encounters worth of monsters on you at once. Otherwise the dungeon crawl just doesn't really work. OK, you can stock all your dungeons with skeletons and zombies, insects and such, and traps, plus maybe an ooze or a jelly or two, that might be a bit more plausible. Nobody does that much though, because it gets old fast...
 

I think i finally get what you are getting at. I’m coming from a perspective of pc vs npc/monsters. I don’t view players and dms as being adversaries that would ‘war’ with each other.
Right, but of course this is the roots of the game. It is quite apparent that Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor D&D game was exactly an adversarial game. Not with the GM against the players, but with the players against EACH OTHER. Not that they didn't ever cooperate, but the idea of some sort of 'party' that you always stick together with that fights monsters simply did not exist in ur-D&D (-1th Edition? lol). There were players controlling PCs and players controlling 'monsters', and the GM was just a referee. So, he didn't have to worry about any sort of conflict between his roles of running the bad guys and adjudicating all the warfare that was happening.
 

payn

Hero
System design has a lot to do with CaW and CaS as well. PF2 for example, has +1/lvl and a <10> DC critical system. This means anything outside a strict level band with the party would auto-crit them to death. Punching above your weight is suicide, so it keeps you within a challenge band, which is very CaS, IMO. In older editions, if you laid out and executed a good plan, it was possible (yet dangerous) to punch above your weight and be successful.

As to the premise, CaW can be fun because the players are figuring out how to dismantle their opponents in interesting ways. If the enemies went full blown CaW on the players, it would be nightmare mode and constant TPK. Some play that way, and some go easier. Yeah, its true CaW isnt hardcore badass, while CaS is wimpy as it can be often framed. Either preference can be difficult or easy in a myriad of ways.
 

That's not the case at all. The player characters are very small fish in a very big pond. Even if they are often punching above their weight class when they get roped into things. The enemies are focused on other goals that the PCs just happened to somehow get caught up in stopping.
That is an assumption of a particular sub-genre of D&D play. Not one that has ever been universal. I'm not even sure it is really all that common these days. I mean, most generic "We play in some campaign world" play has some degree of this in that the world is assumed to be far more durable than PCs and thus you would posit that any given character has some limited ability to drastically change things. Even that doesn't preclude a more 'Epic' play though.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
That is an assumption of a particular sub-genre of D&D play. Not one that has ever been universal. I'm not even sure it is really all that common these days. I mean, most generic "We play in some campaign world" play has some degree of this in that the world is assumed to be far more durable than PCs and thus you would posit that any given character has some limited ability to drastically change things. Even that doesn't preclude a more 'Epic' play though.
Some of us have been talking about how we impliment these concepts in our own games. The fact that there are other ways to run the game that employ different stylistic choices does not make either badwrongfun deserving of the kind of pruning 5e applied to coding against that playstyle
 

Well, things are a bit different for the players. They're restricted to knowing and doing what their PCs can know and do. However, there is an analogous thing going on. I mean, it might be reasonable for a PC to suspect the orcs have a spy in town. Or is it? I mean, the PLAYER thinks that, but it is hard to say how the character might think. Beyond that, there are a million possibilities, most of which nobody has even thought about. I mean, does the GM describe regularly, or even know, what sorts of large birds fly over the town? So, if the orc shaman uses them as spies, would anyone even have the means to ask about it? Presumably the GM might consider whether certain PCs (the druid, the ranger) might notice such a thing, but it is only one of 1000 things the players might think of and ask about on their own initiative.

So, yeah, you can certainly make the town vs orcs war, in which the PCs are a significant factor, play out in a way that has a 'feeling' of what people might do in an actual war of some analogous kind in the real world (give or take, lets not quibble overmuch about any differences between fantasy and reality for now). But the action itself, and what factors turn out to be important, how ploys and plans and strategies turn out, will be largely in the hands of the GM to invent narrative reasons for. He's likely to reward some creative, fun, thinking by the players with some successes, etc. OTOH IME a lot of the time the players have a quite different view of what is going on, and their actions may make no sense at all to the GM, and appear to be ridiculous and bound to fail, yet be utterly logical and coldly rational in the players minds.

I think that last bit actually probably encapsulates a large part of the reason that most games tend more to the tone of a certain degree of 'heroic play' where the PCs are active, the monsters are largely passive, and whichever ploys the players come up with, they may fail, but they can just try something else unless whatever they did was really incredibly dangerous, or when the GM decides to turn the tables and create a tense situation like taking hostages, or an attack on the town by the orcs. Even then, most games will resolve the situation with a symbolic fight or rescue, which is more narratively satisfying vs downright plausible if you start to think about it too much.

I mean, even back in the days of Gygaxian dungeon crawl there were conventions. The monsters in B2 don't set up watches and alarm systems and all swarm out of their caves to gang-bash attacking human parties, although that would make a lot of sense for them to do (there are a few perfunctory guards around, and I think in the notes for the module it talks about maybe if the monsters get shellacked a few times they might all clear out). I mean, probably realistically, given the scale of the Caves of Chaos, as soon as anyone came visiting the whole place would be in an uproar, and the party would be fleeing for its lives! But there's a convention, if you pay lip service to being discrete, the DM doesn't pile 10 encounters worth of monsters on you at once. Otherwise the dungeon crawl just doesn't really work. OK, you can stock all your dungeons with skeletons and zombies, insects and such, and traps, plus maybe an ooze or a jelly or two, that might be a bit more plausible. Nobody does that much though, because it gets old fast...
On the bolded quote...
Monster can and will gang up on the PCs. The normal strat is to "ally" with one faction to destroy the others. Usually, the players are encouraged to put each factions at each others' throat. If the PCs are storming the caves, it will raise some concerns. Most probable allies are Orc tribes (both of them), Goblins and Hobgoblins (and may be the Bugbears), I doublt that in 5ed anyone will ally with the gnolls, but the Bugbears will ally with the hobgoblins and/orcs to ambush the character on their second or third foray. Of course, if no one survives to tell the tale, the players are in for a good ride. But the priests in the Evil temple will hear about the "adventurer" problem. I often make them go into cleared caves and make them animate the remains of the humanoids into Zombies and Skellies.

The tribe themselves will set up watches outside the caves, set up additional traps and make it so that some will try to flee to warn the others when the PCs are in on them.

Also
Although each caves can not replaces their losses (but wounded will heal) it is also stated that cleared caves will not stay empty for long (and that is as long as the priests are there). A new monster (or monsters) will enter the caves after 1-4 weeks of being cleared. It can mean a really fast or slow rate of new monsters.

As for the rest of the post.
I do believe in an "active" world where the actions of the PC will influence the outcome of events but that outside the PCs, events are also unfolding. I do not "doom clock" per say... but the monsters will not wait patiently to be killed.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
That's not the case at all. The player characters are very small fish in a very big pond. Even if they are often punching above their weight class when they get roped into things. The enemies are focused on other goals that the PCs just happened to somehow get caught up in stopping.
This seems more like a justification for why enemies aren’t treating combat as war than a disagreement about whether they are.
 


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