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

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
This seems more like a justification for why enemies aren’t treating combat as war than a disagreement about whether they are.
not at all, it just explains why they aren't always focusing on the players as the players are focusing on them. Look at what @Helldritch wrote about the orc tribe & other factions in 118. The orc tribe still needs to worry about all of those other factions & the same applies to any other group of foes... As another example the dragonmarked house doing bad things might have moved most of the really valuable & irreplaceable stuff before the players got there because the players got in & out of that warehouse a couple weeks back that even explains why so many lethal monsters are locked in the various rooms :D
 

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dave2008

Legend
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.
OK, thank you.

Since we are looking at this as fantasy simulation of real world with the PCs, monsters and other people, I will look at your original statement in this light. So back to your original statement:
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!
Part 1: "If the enemies ever adopted a true combat as war mindset then the PC's would eventually be crushed."

This is a flawed assumption. Without any information about the world the PCs live in and the enemies they face we cannot assume they would be crushed by their enemies. Heck, it is entirely possible PCs and their allies could be the strongest force in existence.

Furthermore, there is no guarantee that the enemies have the skills, resources, or ability to make use of every possible advantage and therefor "crush" the PCs. We cannot assume enemies have access to information about the PCs and therefore be able to prepare for them. It is possible that some might, but that is very likely not to be the standard. It is highly unrealistic to assume every enemy / threat the PCs encounter is 100% aware of the PCs, has extreme knowledge of the PCs, and as the intelligence, ability, and resources to take advantage of that information.

Finally, we cannot assume there is a campaign long adversary that has been following and plotting the PC's demise for a long time. That is a trope that could lead to a Combat as War causing the destruction of the PCs, but even then there is no guarantee this villain has the resources to pull it off. Not, in your OP you said if the enemies ever pull of Combat as War, not always pull of Combat as War. It could be that the only NPC cable of pulling off Combat as War simply meets the PCs when they are too strong and gets curb-stomped by them.

Conclusion 1: In a realistic world not all enemies have the ability to utilize every possible advantage. Additionally, they may not have the intelligence or resources to take advantage of every possible advantage. Therefore, even if the monsters sometimes (or less realistically always) have the Combat as War approach, there is no guarantee the PCs will be crushed.

EX 1: My group is 15th level. Most NPCs max out at 5th level, a few make it to 10th and the greatest mage in the land (except the party's Wizard) is 12th level. In terms of intelligent and resourceful individuals, the PCs are the top dogs.

Part 2: "This does not happen. Therefore, the enemies do not treat combat as War."

Since the conclusion to Part 1 is that Combat as War doesn't guarantee the PCs are crushed, then logically we cannot assume that proves the enemies don't treat Combat as War. Whether or not enemies treat combat as war has to do with many factors. The existence and survival of the PCs does not necessarily significantly change that fact.

Conclusion 2: The survival of the PCs is not sufficient evidence to say enemies do not treat Combat as War.

Part 3: "There's something that seem inherently unfair about that and yet many still find Combat as War fun."

I honestly am not sure I understand this statement. I think you are suggesting Combat as War is inherently unfair, yet still fun to some? Sure, I guess. Not everyone likes the same thing, and that is OK (in general). People like games to be challenging or even impossible (Call of Cthulhu). Sometimes the journey is more important than the end result. However, I think if you are talking about the Characters, then I would guess that for the vast majority they would not find it fun. Real people do not like to always have the odds stacked agains them.

Conclusion 3: Yes, some people like to challenge themselves when the odds are stacked against them in a game. However, real characters would not usually find it "fun" to always have the odds stacked against them.
 
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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
I assume you mean in terms of random peasants were almost as strong as a fighter in 1e, or more properly a 1e fighter was just a peasant with some good weapons and a bit of training. I'm not sure what a 'peasant' is like in 5e. Still, it is true that a 5e level 1 PC seems rather tougher than 'regular folks'. OTOH I think you could still manage to play a game that gave a pretty decent 'zero to hero' feel. 4e OTOH just really fundamentally doesn't let you compare a PC to a normal person, and is pretty clear that PCs are ALL heroes, even at level 1.

Yet, it seems Gygax didn't really think PCs were 'zeroes' at level 1 either. He describes a PC as a special sort of character, destined for possible greatness. Nor are their level 1 capabilities THAT unimpressive. Beyond class stuff and race stuff, they are RICH (possessed of about a year's worth of living expenses at least) and possessed of a high level of overall competence and 'presence of mind'.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
I assume you mean in terms of random peasants were almost as strong as a fighter in 1e, or more properly a 1e fighter was just a peasant with some good weapons and a bit of training. I'm not sure what a 'peasant' is like in 5e. Still, it is true that a 5e level 1 PC seems rather tougher than 'regular folks'. OTOH I think you could still manage to play a game that gave a pretty decent 'zero to hero' feel. 4e OTOH just really fundamentally doesn't let you compare a PC to a normal person, and is pretty clear that PCs are ALL heroes, even at level 1.

Yet, it seems Gygax didn't really think PCs were 'zeroes' at level 1 either. He describes a PC as a special sort of character, destined for possible greatness. Nor are their level 1 capabilities THAT unimpressive. Beyond class stuff and race stuff, they are RICH (possessed of about a year's worth of living expenses at least) and possessed of a high level of overall competence and 'presence of mind'.
Nah, more that they are playing a very different game than dragonmarked houses & powerful people with vast resources at their disposal that include things like organizations they own run or are part of
 

I asked one of my gaming groups to plan out the Villains attack on my other gaming group. They didn't have infinite resources or perfect knowledge, just what the Big Bad had. But they had to plan it with the intent of, as is being discussed, "combat as war". Don't be fair or sporting, with what you have and what you know., tell me how you will murder them without them having a chance.

I used about half of what they gave me and killed 4 PCs out of 6

In CAW, you don't care if the other side is having fun at the table. That works ok for monsters because they won't sulk and flip the chip bowl and leave the table. Not so much with the PC's.

The characters have to win (or at least escape from) 100 battles in a campaign. The monsters only have to win one.

So whether the monsters engage in CAW has NOTHING to do with whether it's feasible or realistic, and everything to do with the fact that it suuuuuucks to get your PC ganked with no chance to defend yourself because the monsters kick in YOUR door and fireball YOU.
 


FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I don’t see where this thread is going.
DnD is all about pretending.
Pretending War, horror, high fantasy, mystery plot, gritty realism,
at best you can alter the rules and say : we play more ruthlessly than the other table so we play combat as war, but it is still pretending.
I don't see where this comment is going :unsure:
 

I don't see where this comment is going :unsure:
I take look at the old thread, about the CaW concept,
I see there is a need to allow more ruthless tactics coming into play,
That is fine, players can have good idea to solve an encounter ruthlessly and that’s it, don’t even roll the fight.
The OP was thinking applying such ruthless idea toward PC. The DM could effectively think about a death tactics plan by the goblins and describe it to its players, saying their PC are now dead. That’s war! I think he will loose its job soon.

This funny concept of CaW is still a romantic view of applying ruthless idea. but in fact it has nothing to do with actual war. It is a call for more challenge, more overwhelming solution in some fight, but ultimately it is to make believe the players they succeed using their clever ideas and avoid nasty plans using their wisdom.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And, this is one of the problems with the whole idea. GMs must be inherently conflicted. The path to 'deconfliction' is to be on the side of the players, which means that there can only be an ILLUSION of 'war'.
The path to deconfliction as a DM, once combat starts, is to be completely neutral - detached, even - and to act with integrity regarding what the opposition knows and-or is capable of doing..
How do the orcs know, or not know, what is going on in town? The GM can invent some plausible stories, but he's definitely inventing them, and they can range anywhere from "they know everything, there are multiple spies!" to "they know nothing and sit passively awaiting the PC's next move." None of these are implausible, and you can invent a vast range of alternate and intermediate channels of intel that these orcs could logically take advantage of.
Indeed; and this is where some random prep-time dice-rolling can come in handy if-when it's truly uncertain what the orcs might be able to know/learn.
Likewise the PC's know basically what the GM tells them. If they act to learn more, it is still up to him what actually comes of that.
This again comes back to integrity IMO.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Many campaigns would be cut short if DMs really use CaW for all monsters as that would mean no level appropriate encounters, but often swarm tactics with entire dungeons converging on the PCs or, if possible, combatants which are much too high level for the PCs.
Exactly, and that's almost the point: after having this happen once or twice players with PCs of low-mid level will be a bit more cautious about having them face-charge anything and will (one hopes!) start to pick their battles where possible and to - as best they can - simply avoid situations where they're up against things they just can't handle.

That said, if through no fault of their own a party gets in too deep I've no problem with the DM allowing for a viable path of retreat or parlay or whatever, to de-escalate things.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But again, who is to decide what the monster's 'best hand' is?
In many cases it's fairly obvious.

In those where it isn't, that's where the DM has to put on a thinking cap. And maybe she guesses wrong; whatever "best hand" she comes up with plays right into whatever tactics the players/PCs come up with during the session. Them's the breaks.
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.
By sheer coincidence I was just reading up on the battle of Waterloo the other day, and that's one instance where - going in - the forces were fairly even. The thing that tipped the balance against Napoleon was the to-him unexpected arrival of a third army (the Prussians) who he had expected his own outlier army to deal with or at least hold at bay.

Otherwise it's quite possible Napoleon could have won that thing.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
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!
This assumes the various monster groups there in fact all get along with each other and would co-operate to this extent.

IMO B2 works way better if the different groups of monsters don't all get along and each have their own allies/enemies/neutrals among the other groups e.g. maybe the Hobgoblins and Goblins are allies but neither have any use for the Kobolds while the Gnolls just piss everybody off, etc.
 

Lanefan

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

I mean, a game where Merry and Eowyn can't punch above their weight to bring down a Ringwraith isn't a game worth playing.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I assume you mean in terms of random peasants were almost as strong as a fighter in 1e, or more properly a 1e fighter was just a peasant with some good weapons and a bit of training. I'm not sure what a 'peasant' is like in 5e. Still, it is true that a 5e level 1 PC seems rather tougher than 'regular folks'. OTOH I think you could still manage to play a game that gave a pretty decent 'zero to hero' feel. 4e OTOH just really fundamentally doesn't let you compare a PC to a normal person, and is pretty clear that PCs are ALL heroes, even at level 1.

Yet, it seems Gygax didn't really think PCs were 'zeroes' at level 1 either. He describes a PC as a special sort of character, destined for possible greatness. Nor are their level 1 capabilities THAT unimpressive. Beyond class stuff and race stuff, they are RICH (possessed of about a year's worth of living expenses at least) and possessed of a high level of overall competence and 'presence of mind'.
Indeed, there's certainly design space in the Gygax game to slot in a viable 0th-level between commoner/peasant and 1st-level; and it's something I use all the time. EGG even kinda waved at this idea (badly, IMO) with Cavaliers' design in UA.

In 4e there's design space for about 5 viable levels between commoner/peasant and 1st-level and it's one of the great failings of the edition that this design space wasn't used.
 

The path to deconfliction as a DM, once combat starts, is to be completely neutral - detached, even - and to act with integrity regarding what the opposition knows and-or is capable of doing..

Indeed; and this is where some random prep-time dice-rolling can come in handy if-when it's truly uncertain what the orcs might be able to know/learn.

This again comes back to integrity IMO.
Human beings are never unbiased. Not at all. No amount of dice you roll is going to matter, the very things you pick to dice for and not dice for are arbitrary, selected because they will or will not result in what you do or do not want to have happen, the true agenda. Lest the game be a failure, this true agenda must, as some others have suggested in a slightly different way, ultimately be about gamist considerations. Thus 'CAW' or 'CAS' is merely color, just a type of 'spin' you put on the events, their tone. There's no actual figuring out of warlike anything.

If you want to see what a REAL wargame RP scenario is like, play a Free Kriegspiel sometime. Noting that is exactly the sort of thing that Dave Arneson was into. I can believe that he could run a campaign where WAR was figuratively fought on a realistic basis, but in no case does the referee in a game like that play either side. There's a good reason for that, it doesn't work. There is ALWAYS a 'red team'.
 

In 4e there's design space for about 5 viable levels between commoner/peasant and 1st-level and it's one of the great failings of the edition that this design space wasn't used.
Define 'viable'. Is it the delicious salsa that builds up between the claws of small cats due to characters not having enough HP to exist in a stiff wind?

Also define 'commoner' in 4e. I don't remember them being statted, mostly because a traditionally statted commoner is basically a water balloon filled with blood and shame.
 

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

I mean, a game where Merry and Eowyn can't punch above their weight to bring down a Ringwraith isn't a game worth playing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

In a game where combat is treated as a war, it is all about strategy. And so a DM needs to design the battles in a way that includes many strategic options. You never know what the players will pick up on, but you don't want the fights to be unwinnable. As long as there are lots of options, the players are free to be creative in their approach, which is a lot of fun.
 

S'mon

Legend
Recently IMC a 6 PC mostly level 5 group went hunting goblins... found no goblins... were heading for an Abbey for the night when ambushed by 20 goblins & a goblin boss. Extremely tough fight! From the goblin POV they were definitely doing CAW, within the limitations of goblin-ness. Archers BA hiding & shooting every round wreaked havoc on the PCs.
 

Lanefan

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

Also define 'commoner' in 4e. I don't remember them being statted, mostly because a traditionally statted commoner is basically a water balloon filled with blood and shame.
Remind me never to play a commoner in your games, if that's how you view them. :)

But obviously people with few hit points (including minions!) can survive a stiff wind, otherwise the game-world would be very sparsely populated. And yes, low-level play can be lethal particularly if the players insist on fighting everything they meet. So what?
 

reelo

Adventurer
In a game where combat is treated as a war, it is all about strategy. And so a DM needs to design the battles in a way that includes many strategic options. You never know what the players will pick up on, but you don't want the fights to be unwinnable. As long as there are lots of options, the players are free to be creative in their approach, which is a lot of fun.

I actually say the DM doesn't need to do that. The PLAYERS need to find out (scout, scry, bribe) what they're up against, and come up with a plan. They have to figure out if they possibly bite off more than they can chew. If they find themselves in a fair, or even difficult fight, it means their planning wasn't good enough! They need to figure out if they better run or not.
 

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