log in or register to remove this ad

 

Legends & Lore: Combat and Other Forms of Violence

Keldryn

Adventurer
Mike Mearls' latest Legends and Lore column is up:

Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Official Home Page - Article (Combat and Other Forms of Violence)

He talks about combat length, tactical options, and how D&D should allow players to find a balance that suits them.

Ideally, a DM could adjust an encounter to make it run from a few minutes to several hours, depending on how the group likes to play, while also scaling its threat as desired. If AD&D combat was fast but presented few options, modern D&D combat is slow and presents lots of options. Why not let the continuum rest in the group’s hand, or even in a player’s individual hands? Let some players opt for simple characters, and allow others to build complex ones regardless of class. Let some groups speed through fights to get to the roleplaying or exploration, while other groups focus on tough, complex tactical problems.
 

log in or register to remove this ad


hayek

Explorer
The idea that different groups might like different rulesets is some very important insight (albeit pretty obvious if you think about it). What's more important (and maybe less obvious), is that the rules system should have flexibility to change complexity within a single game session. It's great to think that D&D might make a ruleset that allows uber optimizers to tweak out their characters with 100 options, or make characters with only 2 options, attack or move. But, it's a false assumption that every player either wants 10 minute fights or 2 hour fights. Ideally, I would like to see a ruleset that allows players to have some very simple, 10-15 minute fights when the conflict isn't too crucial to the plot, then break out the serious tactical options for the 2-hour back and forth epic battle with the BBEG.

I hope that Mearls and WotC realize that with DDI, they can actually effectively deliver this kind of system to players. It would have been ludicrous to think of publishing a massive variety of systems in paperback. But through the "magic of the interweb", WotC could support a user-driven community that could mix and match simple or complex rules elements to offer tailored rulesets that are combat-intensive vs. social encounter-intensive vs. rules-light narrative focused vs. intense tactical options for every decision, etc...

With a laptop in front of me, i could switch between rulesets at the table, changing to the stripped-down, simple version of my character to take out the castle guards in a quick and dirty 10 minute fight. Then pulling up the fully flushed out version for the 90 minute fight with the vampire lord and his array of minions.

Of course, given the history of WotC's digital offerings, I have no faith in their ability to deliver such a system, but a man can dream, can't he...
 

delericho

Legend
Strictly my opinion and, what's more, strictly my opinion today. Tomorrow, I may feel differently. :)

Length of combat is my #1 issue with 4e. I don't buy into the "you can't roleplay in 4e" argument, but I cannot tell the stories I want to tell using the system - length of combat causes the pace of storytelling to collapse to near-Lost rates.

In my opinion, the default game should play without miniatures and the 'standard' combat length should be about 10 minutes (longer for 'showpiece' and boss fights, of course). Indeed, there should be support for a 'quick play' game model where you play an entire adventure in 40 minutes *.

Support for additional levels of complexity, and the full-blown miniatures support, should come later as a supplementary option.

Why? Because it's dead easy to add complexity to the system for those who want it. It is nigh-impossible for a supplement to remove complexity from the system.

* Though the quick-play mode is probably best achieved by adapting the board games, rather than building it in to the RPG itself.
 

Windjammer

Adventurer
This article is interesting for all sorts of reasons, but to me these two statements stand out:

I like combat in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s not my favorite part of my game, but it’s definitely fun.

I think D&D should also enable groups to focus on tactical combat, or dial down to simple, fast fights. At the end of the day, the gaming group, rather than the rules or a distant game designer, should determine the game’s focus.

Not only was 4.0 very solidly designed around a particular focus, that focus was also what Mearls here calls "not my favourite part of the game".

I'd be interested in a follow up article where he not only references which parts of the game he likes best, but also how to effectively design around various levels of rules complexity and focus variety. Both constitute significant departures from the 4.0 philosophy, so I expect that going forward (if Mearls will have anything to do with it) 5e may be a very, very different game. Certainly the idea for D&D to be a wide tent game that accomodates all sorts of play preferences seems to be back on the menu.
 

I kinda like the idea of quick-play mode for different classes. That system itself would be pretty complicated unless you want to really simplify things. Like:

Monsters
Standard monsters have 2 hp. They can attack a single target as a standard action, and a hit does 1 damage. Elites have 4 hp and either deal 2 damage or make two 1-damage attacks. Solos have 10 hp and split up 5-hp worth of damage. Critical hits deal 1 extra damage.

PCs
PCs have 4 hp. They can attack a single target as a standard action, and a hit does 1 damage.

  • Strikers deal +1 damage.
  • Defenders give a -2 penalty to attack rolls of adjacent enemies.
  • Controllers can choose to either hit area burst 1 for damage, or to make a single target they hit also grant combat advantage.
  • Leaders can let allies spend healing surges to heal 1 damage.


But that's probably too simple.
 

Markn

First Post
RW,

In a nutshell, that really IS what D&D is. If you simplify the math, it pretty much comes down to about 4HP per PC and monster, with adjustments for elites and solos. Damage IS about 1HP.

In the past I have looked at this kind of method to speed up the game, and it does have merrit.

I'd say your "simple method" is really the heart of D&D.
 

I kinda like the idea of quick-play mode for different classes. That system itself would be pretty complicated unless you want to really simplify things. Like:

Monsters
Standard monsters have 2 hp. They can attack a single target as a standard action, and a hit does 1 damage. Elites have 4 hp and either deal 2 damage or make two 1-damage attacks. Solos have 10 hp and split up 5-hp worth of damage. Critical hits deal 1 extra damage.

PCs
PCs have 4 hp. They can attack a single target as a standard action, and a hit does 1 damage.

  • Strikers deal +1 damage.
  • Defenders give a -2 penalty to attack rolls of adjacent enemies.
  • Controllers can choose to either hit area burst 1 for damage, or to make a single target they hit also grant combat advantage.
  • Leaders can let allies spend healing surges to heal 1 damage.


But that's probably too simple.

Eh, I don't know about the specifics, and I'm sure you're not intending to make terrible specific suggestions either, but something that simple could be QUITE tactical. I recall developing a mass space combat system that was at approximately that level of complexity, 2 types of attacks, 2-3 stats for each unit, simple single die rolls to resolve everything, and just a couple pages of basic rules. It was quite popular and worked really well. Tactics were quite effective, it was quick, fun, and while your average person that wasn't into tactics would get eaten alive by someone who was sharp in that department pretty much everyone had a lot of fun playing it.

Here's a question for people though. Would it be troublesome in a meta-game sense to have 2 radically different combat resolution systems? Would most groups be stuck with some people who hated the 'detailed' system and others who hated the 'quick' system? How hard would it be to write adventures for something like that? I won't say it isn't feasible to do, but it seems to me the existence of 2 substantially different systems might create almost as many issues as it solved.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
Would it be troublesome in a meta-game sense to have 2 radically different combat resolution systems?

Sight unseen: yes.

You can have optional rules and tinker at the margins. D&D has done that in the past (combat and tactics, which he references, is probably the most extreme case) and so have many other games.

But two radically different systems to be used in the same game or campaign...hmm...

4E combat can be a little long and predictable. This is the grind. You avoid the latter by things that may amplify the first. Recent changes have reduced this a bit, but not 100%...One implication is that "easy" combats can still take too long and be sort of boring.

It would be nice if you could do smaller combats with basically the same system, not have them take too long, but still have a cost, or at least possible cost, for the PCs. Notable attrition, or at least a threat of a devasting crit or some other impact. I do think some simple steps in this direction include:

*Fewer hp/more damage, and maybe less regular healing.
*More risk through critical hits or other mechanics.
*More strategic resources that could be tapped for the big, long, fights.

One metagame difference might be set up:

*Running by the same rules, but without minis.
 

Scribble

First Post
I think this would be a perfect opportunity for them to roll out a D&D "lite" that uses char-gen rules a little closer to Gamma World.
 

Sight unseen: yes.

You can have optional rules and tinker at the margins. D&D has done that in the past (combat and tactics, which he references, is probably the most extreme case) and so have many other games.

But two radically different systems to be used in the same game or campaign...hmm...

4E combat can be a little long and predictable. This is the grind. You avoid the latter by things that may amplify the first. Recent changes have reduced this a bit, but not 100%...One implication is that "easy" combats can still take too long and be sort of boring.

It would be nice if you could do smaller combats with basically the same system, not have them take too long, but still have a cost, or at least possible cost, for the PCs. Notable attrition, or at least a threat of a devasting crit or some other impact. I do think some simple steps in this direction include:

*Fewer hp/more damage, and maybe less regular healing.
*More risk through critical hits or other mechanics.
*More strategic resources that could be tapped for the big, long, fights.

One metagame difference might be set up:

*Running by the same rules, but without minis.

I'm thinking one solution would actually be another monster type, the "mook". This would be specifically intended to be a fairly trivial monster to defeat but would have some characteristics designed to make it a credible threat for a round or two.

Maybe something like a standard but with less hit points (say 1/3 of a standard), rather simple powers that might be just marginally more complex than a minion's are. I'd say give them one encounter power that is fairly high damage and then a low damage output MBA/RBA, and maybe a trait in some cases. They'll go down quite fast and reliably, but if they get lucky they can put a ding in your character big enough to notice. They'd fill in the gulf between minions and standards and they could be used (with minions perhaps) as the main monster type for 'quick' encounters. They'd be worth a bit less XP than standards but the basic idea would be 5 mooks would stand up to 2-3 rounds or so, get in a couple good hits, and then die hard. Yet they would be substantial enough that the wizard can't just clear them with Beguiling Strands.
 

Mengu

First Post
It would be interesting to be able to strip the combat engine down to basics, and add to the complexity of the skill system for a different kind of game.

Something like a 1/1/1 system where you have 1 at-will, 1 encounter, 1 daily power could be fairly simple and elegant. I could see it in an alternate 4e. Hit points and damage rolls might go away. Instead monsters would usually have 4 hits (elites have 8, solos have 16, minions have 1). PC's might have 6-8 hits. Strikers might have mechanics to deliver 2 hits. Leaders could heal 1 or 2 hits. Ultimately it would be enough similarities to current rules, but with simpler and faster mechanics.

Skill system could be expanded, probably not to the level of Rolemaster, but some skills could be branched into multiple skills, and a skill point system could be introduced for customization, and what tasks can be done with what skills could be elaborated upon.

What do we get in the end? A different system. Isn't this why there are various RPG systems out there? You want to a different feel for your game, pick a different system, it's not like there is a shortage of systems out there. I'm not sure if D&D developers need to devote time for people who are really just looking for a different system. Having said that, I don't mind such discussion as it's always intriguing.
 

shmoo2

First Post
Ideally, I would like to see a ruleset that allows players to have some very simple, 10-15 minute fights when the conflict isn't too crucial to the plot, then break out the serious tactical options for the 2-hour back and forth epic battle with the BBEG.

RPG's have done this for decades.

GURPS included a basic, fast combat system and an advanced system with many optional tactical choices 20 years ago in the same book.

D&D used to publish Basic D&D with simpler combat than the AD&D rules with weapon speeds (and weapon minimum space requirements) and flanking (different effects for side and rear flanks) etc.
The Basic D&D combat system was often used with the AD&D classes, spells, and magic items. Mearls mentioned that he did it himself
Mearls;Legends and Lore said:
When we played AD&D, we kept using the Basic D&D combat rules.

Why can't WoTC do that again- publish a Basic D&D with simpler combat (and character building)?
It would not be a new edition, but rather a separate game line.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
I'm thinking one solution would actually be another monster type, the "mook". This would be specifically intended to be a fairly trivial monster to defeat but would have some characteristics designed to make it a credible threat for a round or two.

Maybe something like a standard but with less hit points (say 1/3 of a standard), rather simple powers that might be just marginally more complex than a minion's are. I'd say give them one encounter power that is fairly high damage and then a low damage output MBA/RBA, and maybe a trait in some cases. They'll go down quite fast and reliably, but if they get lucky they can put a ding in your character big enough to notice. They'd fill in the gulf between minions and standards and they could be used (with minions perhaps) as the main monster type for 'quick' encounters. They'd be worth a bit less XP than standards but the basic idea would be 5 mooks would stand up to 2-3 rounds or so, get in a couple good hits, and then die hard. Yet they would be substantial enough that the wizard can't just clear them with Beguiling Strands.

This is good in that you can bring it right into an existing 4E game. But, maybe the more straightforward option is to just make minions better?
 

Quickleaf

Legend
I agree with delericho's proposal for nested complexity. I see three ways this sort of tactical complexity could be built in:

(1) DM's encounter design: Guidance for DMs to design encounters with an eye toward how long the encounter is supposed to last.

E.g. Simple terrain coupled with terrain powers dealing extreme damage speed up short combats. Big boss fights might have particularly complicated terrain though terrain powers deal less damage. Lower level skirmishers and lots of minions also speed up combat. As well as time limits, trigger changes, and unusual tactics.

(2) Player's character choices: Players could choose between a simplified version of their class (a la the martial essentials classes) and a more advanced version with greater tactical options.

E.g. An "easy-mode" wizard build might have no powers which inflict conditions you need to track.

(3) Rules differentiating between 'modes' of complexity: The rules could have nested layers of combat complexity as delericho mentioned. So the basic combat rules would always work, and then the tactical combat rules would get activated by the DM or players during major fights.

E.g. The basic combat rules would work fine without miniatures, meaning speed and range are reinterpreted through this lens.

Regardless I think more robust "improvised actions" rules are in order, maybe taking a cue from Mark Monack's Terrain Powers article. That's something that could be used no matter the tactical complexity of the fight, and could either shorten fights or lengthen them depending on how it's used.
 

This is good in that you can bring it right into an existing 4E game. But, maybe the more straightforward option is to just make minions better?

That's why I like it, it is 'homebrew' but very mild homebrew and you can use it right along with CB, MB, etc. Technically the mooks are just monsters that don't conform to the DMG1 monster development guidelines.

In terms of 'better minions' I think it is sort of a semantic argument, you can call these 'improved minions' if you want. You can just not use real minions and use them instead. The XP cost/award for them is actually the only thing that is sort of not a real rule, and I'm not 100% sure what XP value a 'mook' should have, but somewhere north of 25% of a standard and probably less than 75% (so half sounds good, but I'm guessing).

Of course I also don't know how much this will make combat go faster. It probably will to SOME extent, and might work well for some groups in some cases. It might not do a lot in other cases.
 

Who here has seen the Old School Hack? Old School Hack

You don't use maps. Instead, there are different areas of a combat, and you can spend your one action per round to attack, use a power, or move to an adjacent area. Different weapons get bonuses in different types of areas.

For instance, a house might have a ground level, an attic, a wide-open front yard, and a back yard with a cliff. Normal weapons are best in the main room, light weapons best in the cramped attic, ranged weapons in the front yard, and reach weapons in the back yard (since you can force enemies into bad terrain).

It's hard to find a quicker and easier game.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
re. old school hack...traveler had a system like that back in the day (this is the game where your space farers would carry daggers, swords and shotguns). So I guess that is old school!
 

Keldryn

Adventurer
Length of combat is my #1 issue with 4e. I don't buy into the "you can't roleplay in 4e" argument, but I cannot tell the stories I want to tell using the system - length of combat causes the pace of storytelling to collapse to near-Lost rates.

I have many issues with 4e, but the length of combat is one of the biggest and perhaps the most insurmountable.

We play for 4 or 5 hours every other week (in theory; it seems to end up being once every 3 to 4 weeks). There are usually three combat encounters each session, and the typical encounter takes 45 minutes to an hour or more to play out. So the immediately obvious issue is that 2/3 to 3/4 of each game session is consumed by combat encounters. True, I could run only one or two battles per game, but they need to be tougher (and thus probably longer) encounters or else the PCs daily resources are never tapped out. Also, my players like combat and find it exciting... for the first 15 minutes or so.

In TSR-era D&D, exploration could be slow-paced and combat encounters would often be used to liven things up. In 4e, a combat encounter absolutely kills the pacing of my games as we take a break from the story for a good hour to play out the combat. After a combat wraps up, it's not uncommon for one of my players to say "so... what were we doing again?"

In my opinion, the default game should play without miniatures and the 'standard' combat length should be about 10 minutes (longer for 'showpiece' and boss fights, of course).

I agree completely, on both counts. 10 to 15 minutes for a typical encounter sounds about right to me, with 30 minutes as an upper limit for an important set-piece battle. A very rare climactic encounter at the end of a long story arc could even take up to an hour.

After over half a dozen 4e game sessions, even the trivial encounters in Reavers of Harkenwold were still taking us 40 minutes to play out. Only one of my players actually enjoys these tactical encounters; the rest of my players wish that the rules were simpler and that the battles were over in about 1/3 of the time.
 

Aegeri

First Post
Length of combat is my #1 issue with 4e. I don't buy into the "you can't roleplay in 4e" argument, but I cannot tell the stories I want to tell using the system - length of combat causes the pace of storytelling to collapse to near-Lost rates.
Personally I avoid this by making quite a few combats important to the story in some way. So a battle is advancing the plot at the same time. I don't really like to throw incidental combat encounters at PCs for the sake of having them. I want them to add something to the game either tactically: Because they would be fun, or because it advances the plot/story in some way (due to rescuing an NPC, finding important lore or whatever else).
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top