log in or register to remove this ad

 

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

The more I think about it, a better way to phrase this distinctions is Combat as Challenge vs Environment as Challenge.

In "Combat as challenge" either the individual combat is intended to be balanced, or the "day" as a whole is overall balanced as a set of challenges within acceptable deviation.

In "Environment as challenge", the challenge is balanced around the adventure environent. (eg a dungeon - although it can be blown up to become the entire game world). In this case the challenge is overcoming or surviving the environment, and that may well involve scouting and knowing when to avoid combat, or coming up with ways to twist odds in the player's favour.

The reason thinking about it this way is useful, is because it makes clear that the concept of fairness in a sense applies in both cases, just in different ways. In the first the combat should be balanced and within acceptable parameters. In the second the environment should be fairly designed. If there is a dragon on the first level of a dungeon for 1st level characters, then it needs to avoidable and discoverable.

Of course, it's possible to run games in which "challenge" is not a goal at all, but when this happens most people have the sense to move to a game system other than D&D.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Ixal

Explorer
The more I think about it, a better way to phrase this distinctions is Combat as Challenge vs Environment as Challenge.

In "Combat as challenge" either the individual combat is intended to be balanced, or the "day" as a whole is overall balanced as a set of challenges within acceptable deviation.

In "Environment as challenge", the challenge is balanced around the adventure environent. (eg a dungeon - although it can be blown up to become the entire game world). In this case the challenge is overcoming or surviving the environment, and that may well involve scouting and knowing when to avoid combat, or coming up with ways to twist odds in the player's favour.

The reason thinking about it this way is useful, is because it makes clear that the concept of fairness in a sense applies in both cases, just in different ways. In the first the combat should be balanced and within acceptable parameters. In the second the environment should be fairly designed. If there is a dragon on the first level of a dungeon for 1st level characters, then it needs to avoidable and discoverable.

Of course, it's possible to run games in which "challenge" is not a goal at all, but when this happens most people have the sense to move to a game system other than D&D.
In Combat as War there is no fairness. Sure, the GM, when runing a more linear campaign, can take care to not place a dragon in the place he expects the PCs to go through at level 1, but once the game starts there is no more fairness. If the PCs make a mistake and raise an alarm which makes 20+ kobolds converge on their location at the same time its their problem. No "have them arrive piece by piece to allow the PCs to rest between waves", no "the kobolds will ignore downed PCs even though they know that there is a healer among the PCs" and no "they will only capture the PCs and leave them in a place easily escaped from with all their gear nearby".
And in a sandbox world there can be a dragon on the first level of the dungeon and its the PCs job to scout that and either find a way around the dragon or have the good sense to not attempt the dungeon. Likewise the dragon will not sit around and wait till prepared adventurers attack it on their terms, but, when it notices the PCs, for example attack them first, strafe them with its breath weapon at night, drag one of them away from the party to kill one by one, etc.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
The more I think about it, a better way to phrase this distinctions is Combat as Challenge vs Environment as Challenge.

In "Combat as challenge" either the individual combat is intended to be balanced, or the "day" as a whole is overall balanced as a set of challenges within acceptable deviation.

In "Environment as challenge", the challenge is balanced around the adventure environent. (eg a dungeon - although it can be blown up to become the entire game world). In this case the challenge is overcoming or surviving the environment, and that may well involve scouting and knowing when to avoid combat, or coming up with ways to twist odds in the player's favour.

The reason thinking about it this way is useful, is because it makes clear that the concept of fairness in a sense applies in both cases, just in different ways. In the first the combat should be balanced and within acceptable parameters. In the second the environment should be fairly designed. If there is a dragon on the first level of a dungeon for 1st level characters, then it needs to avoidable and discoverable.

Of course, it's possible to run games in which "challenge" is not a goal at all, but when this happens most people have the sense to move to a game system other than D&D.
I would call it Encounter as Challenge (where the concept of the encounter is extensible to the Adventure Day) vs Environment as Challenge. This is because I think the CaS/CaW discussion often focuses too much on combat. For example, traps. An EncC DM probably wouldn't want an instant death trap in their game (like a green devil portal with a sphere of annihilation in its mouth), whereas a EnvC DM probably wouldn't be opposed to its inclusion.

I do think you're on to something though. I agree that the concept of fairness is a crucial distinction for these playstyles.
 

I would call it Encounter as Challenge (where the concept of the encounter is extensible to the Adventure Day) vs Environment as Challenge. This is because I think the CaS/CaW discussion often focuses too much on combat. For example, traps. An EncC DM probably wouldn't want an instant death trap in their game (like a green devil portal with a sphere of annihilation in its mouth), whereas a EnvC DM probably wouldn't be opposed to its inclusion.

I do think you're on to something though. I agree that the concept of fairness is a crucial distinction for these playstyles.
Thst tomb of horrors trap really isn't a good example of either style because of how toh itself is designed to basically function as a middle finger shaped meatgrinder
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Thst tomb of horrors trap really isn't a good example of either style because of how toh itself is designed to basically function as a middle finger shaped meatgrinder
Regardless, I would think we could agree that death traps that kill are more likely to appear in a CaW style game? After all, if the enemies are doing their best to stop the PCs, a dinky 1d6 damage trap is fairly laughable. In a CaW game, if a trap is intended to kill (as opposed to raising an alarm or incapacitating) then it probably ought to be legitimately capable of killing one or more PCs, or else it isn't a very good trap.

Additionally, a death trap isn't against the spirit of this style of game. In a CaS game, one-shotting the PCs with an instant death trap is likely to be perceived as unfair, since it isn't very sporting under the majority of circumstances. Whereas in a CaW game, it will most likely be perceived as fair, since it simply demonstrated that the players should have been more cautious.
 

Regardless, I would think we could agree that death traps that kill are more likely to appear in a CaW style game? After all, if the enemies are doing their best to stop the PCs, a dinky 1d6 damage trap is fairly laughable. In a CaW game, if a trap is intended to kill (as opposed to raising an alarm or incapacitating) then it probably ought to be legitimately capable of killing one or more PCs, or else it isn't a very good trap.

Additionally, a death trap isn't against the spirit of this style of game. In a CaS game, one-shotting the PCs with an instant death trap is likely to be perceived as unfair, since it isn't very sporting under the majority of circumstances. Whereas in a CaW game, it will most likely be perceived as fair, since it simply demonstrated that the players should have been more cautious.
It's worth noting that save or die traps are usually considered bad design for either style if you aren't playing something like a DCC funnel (which is basically a completely different style outside the CaW/CaS realm) and that a trap that hinders delays debuffs and/or splits/disorganizes the party is going to get far more mileage in CaW than CaS type gameplay without needing to kill anyone. Tossing a trog or ghoul/ghast/wraith into an otherwise near certain win of an encounter in past editions is a good example of how these types of traps could crank the fear & uncertainty of an encounter without needing to go into what if & other situational details needed to judge a trap that does the same
 

Regardless, I would think we could agree that death traps that kill are more likely to appear in a CaW style game? After all, if the enemies are doing their best to stop the PCs, a dinky 1d6 damage trap is fairly laughable. In a CaW game, if a trap is intended to kill (as opposed to raising an alarm or incapacitating) then it probably ought to be legitimately capable of killing one or more PCs, or else it isn't a very good trap.

Additionally, a death trap isn't against the spirit of this style of game. In a CaS game, one-shotting the PCs with an instant death trap is likely to be perceived as unfair, since it isn't very sporting under the majority of circumstances. Whereas in a CaW game, it will most likely be perceived as fair, since it simply demonstrated that the players should have been more cautious.
In the true spirit of CaW death trap has DC unreachable for PC.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
In Combat as War there is no fairness. Sure, the GM, when runing a more linear campaign, can take care to not place a dragon in the place he expects the PCs to go through at level 1, but once the game starts there is no more fairness. If the PCs make a mistake and raise an alarm which makes 20+ kobolds converge on their location at the same time its their problem. No "have them arrive piece by piece to allow the PCs to rest between waves", no "the kobolds will ignore downed PCs even though they know that there is a healer among the PCs" and no "they will only capture the PCs and leave them in a place easily escaped from with all their gear nearby".
And in a sandbox world there can be a dragon on the first level of the dungeon and its the PCs job to scout that and either find a way around the dragon or have the good sense to not attempt the dungeon. Likewise the dragon will not sit around and wait till prepared adventurers attack it on their terms, but, when it notices the PCs, for example attack them first, strafe them with its breath weapon at night, drag one of them away from the party to kill one by one, etc.
There is fairness in CaW, it's just different.

A prime example of this is old school dungeon design. Level 1 of the dungeon generally had level 1 monsters (unless it was a higher level dungeon). Level 2 primarily had level 2 monsters, and so on. You can call it verisimilitude or whatever you want, but there's no denying that fairness is a part of it.

It would be easy for a DM to design a game world such that, irrespective of what they do, level 1 characters cannot gain any traction (level up). Everything in the world is simply too tough to defeat with even clever, indirect methods, and therefore they cannot level up. I dare say that even a hardcore group dedicated to CaW would consider this unfair.

Even in a CaW world, there need to be surmountable challenges. They just don't need to be surmountable by direct means (and it's okay if some things are essentially insurmountable). However, there most certainly is fairness in CaW. It's just different from the fairness expected when playing a CaS game.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
It's worth noting that save or die traps are usually considered bad design for either style if you aren't playing something like a DCC funnel (which is basically a completely different style outside the CaW/CaS realm) and that a trap that hinders delays debuffs and/or splits/disorganizes the party is going to get far more mileage in CaW than CaS type gameplay without needing to kill anyone. Tossing a trog or ghoul/ghast/wraith into an otherwise near certain win of an encounter in past editions is a good example of how these types of traps could crank the fear & uncertainty of an encounter without needing to go into what if & other situational details needed to judge a trap that does the same
That may be true for you and your preferred style of CaW, but I assure you that I have seen gamers on these very boards who love save or die mechanics. I don't agree that it's inherently antithetical to the CaW style.
 

In Combat as War there is no fairness. Sure, the GM, when runing a more linear campaign, can take care to not place a dragon in the place he expects the PCs to go through at level 1, but once the game starts there is no more fairness. If the PCs make a mistake and raise an alarm which makes 20+ kobolds converge on their location at the same time its their problem. No "have them arrive piece by piece to allow the PCs to rest between waves", no "the kobolds will ignore downed PCs even though they know that there is a healer among the PCs" and no "they will only capture the PCs and leave them in a place easily escaped from with all their gear nearby".
And in a sandbox world there can be a dragon on the first level of the dungeon and its the PCs job to scout that and either find a way around the dragon or have the good sense to not attempt the dungeon. Likewise the dragon will not sit around and wait till prepared adventurers attack it on their terms, but, when it notices the PCs, for example attack them first, strafe them with its breath weapon at night, drag one of them away from the party to kill one by one, etc.
I would submit that most sandbox games begin with level 1 characters in a region of the world basically appropriate to first level characters*. That right there is fairness. If you design your sandbox so that the difficulty of the environments within it is signalled* (i.e there are rumours of werewolves in the haunted forest which indicate to the players they should probably wait a few levels before tackling it), then there is fairness.

You yourself say "once the game starts there is no more fairness", which suggests that there is in fact fairness and that fairness lies in the design of the environments or the overarching set-up and structure. So in fact there is a sense of fairness.

* Or at least discoverable by smart players - really it depends on the level of difficult you're pitching the game at.
 

I would call it Encounter as Challenge (where the concept of the encounter is extensible to the Adventure Day) vs Environment as Challenge. This is because I think the CaS/CaW discussion often focuses too much on combat. For example, traps. An EncC DM probably wouldn't want an instant death trap in their game (like a green devil portal with a sphere of annihilation in its mouth), whereas a EnvC DM probably wouldn't be opposed to its inclusion.

I do think you're on to something though. I agree that the concept of fairness is a crucial distinction for these playstyles.
Yes. Although I did say it was extensible to the whole adventuring day.

But you're right about "Encounter as Challenge". Somewhere between reading the thread and posting the reply I'd realised that "Encounter as challenge" was a better term, but then forgot that when it came to actually writing.
 

That may be true for you and your preferred style of CaW, but I assure you that I have seen gamers on these very boards who love save or die mechanics. I don't agree that it's inherently antithetical to the CaW style.
Oh they are great in a funnel/meatgrinder type game like dungeon crawl classics. I'm not saying that they aren't a thing for that style of game by saying that they are a topic somewhat outside CaW/CaS since they are not required by or in conflict of either style. If that's a topic that interests you here is a pretty good video on it.

The (de)merits of save or die traps in the CaW/CaS split is like the (de)merits of natural turf & astroturf in flag football vrs tackle football. There might be some impact but that impact is largely the subject of a different topic. This thread has depressingly been quite a few pages of we play like this">"here's why your style of fun is bad" trying to shoehorn save or die traps into that is just one more level of that.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Oh they are great in a funnel/meatgrinder type game like dungeon crawl classics. I'm not saying that they aren't a thing for that style of game by saying that they are a topic somewhat outside CaW/CaS since they are not required by or in conflict of either style. If that's a topic that interests you here is a pretty good video on it.

The (de)merits of save or die traps in the CaW/CaS split is like the (de)merits of natural turf & astroturf in flag football vrs tackle football. There might be some impact but that impact is largely the subject of a different topic. This thread has depressingly been quite a few pages of we play like this">"here's why your style of fun is bad" trying to shoehorn save or die traps into that is just one more level of that.
You said the save or die is "usually considered bad design". I said that I disagree that save or die is bad for CaW. Now it seems that you are suggesting that I am claiming badwrongfun somehow? I don't see the logic behind that.

While I agree that SoD is a poor fit for CaS (because a single roll that instantly kills your character is hardly sporting), I disagree that it is a similarly poor fit for CaW. Does that imply that a CaW DM who doesn't use SoD is playing wrong? No! It means that a CaW DM who does use SoD isn't doing anything wrong, IMO. (Obviously, a CaS DM can use SoD and if it works for them great, but it does seem to run counter to the philosophy behind CaS, IMO.)

Fundamentally, there's not that much difference between a trap that shoots a poison dart with SoD poison, and putting an angry adult dragon in a level 1 dungeon. Either can be avoided with skill (or luck) and either can result in instantaneous death if the player is careless.
 


Ixal

Explorer
Just asking.
what ratio PC death per X sessions give a good feeling of CaW?
Does the spell Revivify spoil CaW feeling?
CaW has nothing to do with a specific death rate nor does it aim to kill PCs. Its a different way to handle encounters, imo more believable and immersive as monsters and humanoid enemies are not only there to be killed in balanced combat (slightly engaging but in the end still heavily favoring the PCs with enough pauses between them for the PCs to recover) but fight to win or to survive (which can even make the PCs job more easy initially as some enemies would also flee sooner).

In CaW the actions and preparation of the players also have a much bigger effect on their success or failure which some type of players find more rewarding than always being guranteed to have balanced combats no matter what they do.
 
Last edited:

Democratus

Explorer
Combat as war is the only approach both for my NPCs/monsters and the PCs.

There are a lot of PC deaths in the game. But this is a feature, not a bug. This particular campaign is OSR; where the world, not the PCs, is the main focus of the game. The PCs serve as a way to explore that world and uncover its wonders (and its terrors).
 

CaW has nothing to do with a specific death rate nor does it aim to kill PCs. Its a different way to handle encounters, imo more believable and immersive as monsters and humanoid enemies are not only there to be killed in balanced combat (slightly engaging but in the end still heavily favoring the PCs) but fight to win or to survive (which can even make the PCs job more easy initially as some enemies would also flee sooner).

In CaW the actions and preparation of the players also have a much bigger effect on their success or failure which some type of players find more rewarding than always being guranteed to have balanced combats no matter what they do.
Funny, passing from level 1 to 20 without dying by playing smart is already plain DnD.
I thought that War style, should imply casualties even for a well prepared operation.
What you describe look like Police tactical unit, that come with superior training, weapon, technology, and make operation with minimum risk.
 
Last edited:

Fanaelialae

Legend
Funny, passing from level 1 to 20 without dying by playing smart is already plain DnD.
I thought that War style, should imply casualties even for a well prepared operation.
I wouldn't say that it has anything to do with difficulty (or deadliness).

We can imagine a CaW style game where the DM has many challenges that the players cannot beat in a fair fight. However, this DM runs an easy game and therefore allows the PCs plans to succeed even when their plans are farfetched and success should realistically be improbable. When things don't work out, this DM makes it easy for the characters to retreat, and enemies who could capture the PCs will do so rather than kill them. We've just described an easy CaW game with low risk of death.

Similarly, we can imagine a CaS game where every encounter is calibrated to bring the PCs to the edge of death. It's still sporting, but the difficulty is quite high. If the players make a mistake in their tactics or even just have a run of bad luck, death is likely.

Hence, I wouldn't say that CaS or CaW have any direct correlation to difficulty or death. Either style can range from very easy to extremely deadly.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
I wouldn't say that it has anything to do with difficulty (or deadliness).

We can imagine a CaW style game where the DM has many challenges that the players cannot beat in a fair fight. However, this DM runs an easy game and therefore allows the PCs plans to succeed even when their plans are farfetched and success should realistically be improbable. When things don't work out, this DM makes it easy for the characters to retreat, and enemies who could capture the PCs will do so rather than kill them. We've just described an easy CaW game with low risk of death.

Similarly, we can imagine a CaS game where every encounter is calibrated to bring the PCs to the edge of death. It's still sporting, but the difficulty is quite high. If the players make a mistake in their tactics or even just have a run of bad luck, death is likely.

Hence, I wouldn't say that CaS or CaW have any direct correlation to difficulty or death. Either style can range from very easy to extremely deadly.
I think it’s debatable whether what you are calling CaW here is actually CaW. The enemies in your CaW scenario sound a lot more sporting to me. They don’t do anything particularly warlike.

though it does make me think there’s a third playstyle that CaW and CaS dichotomy miss. It’s the combat as special forces and I think your description above fits this. Essentially you are special and the game is enemies are played in such a way to allow you to consistently punch above your weight via shock/awe/surprise/strategicalness/etc and since you are special the enemy doesn’t ever match you on strategy.

I think this is a common way to play the game and is what is getting confused for CaW by many.
 
Last edited:

Ixal

Explorer
Funny, passing from level 1 to 20 without dying by playing smart is already plain DnD.
I thought that War style, should imply casualties even for a well prepared operation.
What you describe look like Police tactical unit, that come with superior training, weapon, technology, and make operation with minimum risk.
Smart in a tactical sense, not strategic.
When you follow encounter guidelines or pre written adventures the players very often do not have to think strategically as it is guaranteed by the guidelines/adventure that all combats they face are manageable or at best slightly challenging, very often because enemies do not try to win outside the specific encounter. I.e. the guards fight the PC to the death in an encounter clearly favouring the PCs which then proceed inside the dungeon and face the next isolated group of enemies which again fight to the death in a combat stacked in the PC's favor.
Even when a alarm is raised at best some enemies are moved around to have a few more minions together with the boss of that dunegon and the isolated groups might be a bit larger, but still nothing the PCs can't handle.

In CaW the guards would immediately pull back, raising an alarm, the individual groups of enemies would unite and swarm the PCs with a 4:1 or 5:1 numerical advantage to ensure that the PCs have no chance.
Or they would all barricade themselves around strong points and wait for the PCs. It all depends on what type of enemies the PCs face. But either way, the enemy will try to stack the chances in their favor, preferable so far that the PCs have no chance of winning, no matter what the adventure or encounter guidelines says.
 
Last edited:

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top