RPG Combat: Sport or War?

There are two different extremes in arranging fights. One is like war and the other is like a sporting event. Sporting events are supposed to be fair contests between roughly equal forces. On the other hand, war is the epitome of unfair competition.


Jeffro Johnson introduced me to this topic, which was discussed in an ENWorld forum. If your game doesn't involve much combat this discussion may not mean a lot to you.

Strategem: a plan or scheme, especially one used to outwit an opponent or achieve an end

Any GAME implies fairness, equality of opportunity. Knightly jousting tournaments were combat as sport. We don't have semi-pro soccer teams playing in the Premier League, we don't have college basketball teams playing the NBA, because it would be boringly one-sided. People want to see a contest where it appears that both sides can win. And occasionally the weaker side, the underdog if there is one, wins even when they're not supposed to.

An obvious problem with combat as sport, with a fair fight, is that a significant part of the time your players will lose the fight. Unless they're really adept at recognizing when they're losing, and at fleeing the scene, this means somebody will get dead. Frequent death is going to be a tough hurdle in most campaigns.

The objective in war is to get such an overwhelming advantage that the other side surrenders rather than fight, and if they choose not to surrender then a "boring" one-sided massacre is OK. Stratagems are favored in war, not frowned upon. Trickery (e.g. with the inflation of the football) is frowned upon in sports in general, it's not fair, it's cheating.

Yet "All's fair in love and war." Read Glen Cook's fantasy Black Company series or think about mercenaries in general, they don't want a fair fight. They don't want to risk their lives. They want a surrender or massacre. The Black Company was great at using stratagems. I think of D&D adventurers as much like the Black Company, finding ways to win without giving the other side much chance.

When my wife used to GM first edition D&D, she'd get frustrated if we came up with good stratagems and strategies and wiped out the opposition without too much trouble. She felt she wasn't "holding up the side." She didn't understand that it's not supposed to be fair to the bad guys.

Think also that RPG adventures are much like adventure novels: we have to arrange that the players succeed despite the odds, much as the protagonists in a typical novel. In the novel the good guys are often fabulously lucky; in RPGs we can arrange that the players encounter opposition that should not be a big threat if the players treat combat as war rather than as a sport.

I'm not saying you need to stack the game in favor of the players, I'm saying that if the players do well at whatever they're supposed to do - presumably, in combat, out-thinking the other side -then they should succeed, and perhaps succeed easily. Just like Cook's Black Company.

contributed by Lewis Pulsipher
Photo © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.5
 

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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio

lewpuls

Hero
Shidaku, there's a big difference between "harder" and "let's kill some people" in old D&D. I never used nor played in those "meat-grinder" modules. I don't believe in human sacrifice.


The problem isn't whether combat is nasty or nice, it's more practical: if the players lose at anything like the rate you'd expect from a fair fight, they'd never get anywhere, unless (perhaps) they rise in levels very quickly. Even the best NBA, NFL, MLB teams lose 25-33% of the time. Those teams are playing as smart as they can within the fair-play system, and still lose that often.


Yes, even in successful war, soldiers die. Did I say they shouldn't?


Notice also, I don't advocate players as "overwhelming force that cannot be denied." No, you don't need to stack the game *heavily* in favor of the other side, IF your players take "combat as war" to heart. That means things like gathering intelligence (taking prisoners!?), scouting, even reconnaissance in force (scouts try hard not to engage the enemy, recon may involve engagement). And an unwillingness to fight unless there's no alternative, combined with a willingness to flee when things go badly.


In summary, you're setting up a straw man and then criticizing me for advocating what I did not advocate. I am definitely not of a "coddle the players" mentality, though I know many players now *expect* to be coddled and looked after, not only in RPGs but in a great many video game genres. They automatically blame the GM (or the game) if they fail. (And often expect the game to be "all about ME".) Anyone beginning a campaign nowadays who wants to avoid coddling players would be wise to describe the adventuring group as military based, in a war of sorts, before anything gets started.


EthanSental, I have no idea who shidaku is, no past history that I know of.


Saelorn, quite true.


Yes, 3e arranged combats that certainly weren't fair fights, but had the potential to harm if the players screwed up too much instead of only a little. The 5e method seems to be to make it really hard for any PC to get killed.


Aenghus, yes, creativity is subjective. I think of it as finding unconventional ways to solve problems. Many people seem to think of it as a kind of "brain fever," a profusion of wild ideas, that somehow turns out well.
 

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Derren

Hero
IMO it's important to realise that people apply their creativity in different ways, and it really isn't the case that one matter of taste is strictly and objectively superior. You are entitled to your opinions as is everyone else, but Onetruewayism is the death of the hobby. Recognise diversity.

If you want to bring onetruewayism into this then you should realize that combat is sport is a lot more guilty of this than combat as war. In a combat as war system nothing prevents you to have sport like fights with all that entails. A combat as sport system prevents anyone from playing comvat as war though, thus enforcing its way upon the players.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I guess I can agree with that, provided the human beings at the table all keep it clean.
Agreed. Advantage of gaming with friends, I guess: what happens at the table stays at the table.

Maybe. The idea that the base game is "safe" is a pretty reasonable approach in gaming to garner interest from people new to the hobby. I still find the sentiments of the author odd given he's written several editorials about how he dislikes how things have become soft. I mean, what's the point of things being hard if you're plot-protected?
I'm not entirely sure the author is saying what you think he's saying. I interpret it more as his having just discovered that CaW vs. CaS thread from a few years ago (one of the best threads ever, IMO) and putting his take on it, saying that CaW is in fact good even though his DM wife disagrees. :)

See now we're talking about something we can talk about.
I don't know why but I find this to be an excellent line, and it makes me laugh. :)

Is the game designed to make the players win? That's a pretty clear-cut answer: YES.
I personally like to keep things in the Party vs Monsters range of 60/40 or 40/60. I like the idea that victory (not necessarily death) is really never a guarantee. If it is, I won't roll the dice, there's no point, and frankly it's a little depressing.
I'll always roll the dice even if the combat looks on paper to be a pushover for the PCs. Why? A few reasons:
- sometimes pushovers on paper don't turn out that way in play: dice can be fickle things
- resources used/broken/cast in an easy fight aren't there if needed later in a harder fight
- even in a so-called 'easy' fight significant things can happen - looting the fallen provides a key clue to the adventure, for example - and I don't want to telegraph those 'important' easy fights by running only those and not the other easy fights along the way

I don't know if that means the game has moved more towards combat as a sport, I think it just means it's moved towards the designers putting extra odds in favor of the PCs to start with. They cast "Protection from Noobs" on the later editions.
OK, this phrases it better. Same end result, either way.

4E definitely favored combat as a sport (in their encounter balancing design). The CR system from 3.X and now 5E sort of lets you do your own thing.
To some extent. The big difference between 3e and 5e is that 5e seems able to handle a wider range - things don't scale as steeply as they did in 3e - which makes 5e more flexible for a DM. Which is good.

I'll be honest, I don't think I've ever played with total noobs. I'm curious if the default difficulties outlined in 5E are actually fitting for newcomers.
I've had an occasional brand-new-to-RPGs player in my games but never a whole table of them. Closest I've ever had is one brand new player, one player who had watched a lot but never played, and one experienced player make up a table of three in a start-from-scratch 1e game. They did OK - better than some all-experienced tables I've seen. :)

I somewhat suspect 5e would be easier to learn from scratch than to come into from another system/edition.

Lanefan
 

Combat as war does not take anything away compared to combat as sport. You still can do all the tactical maneuvering you can do with combat as sport.
Combat as War takes away the meta-game certainty that your round-by-round decisions during combat will determine whether you win or lose. If you have the option of cleverly diverting a river to wipe out half of the opposing forces, then that becomes the determining factor over who wins combat, and your decision of whether to cleave or whirlwind attack is effectively meaningless.

It's kind of like how introducing a class that gets all of the fighter stuff and all of the wizard stuff would reduce the total number of class options available, because it removes two valid choices while only introducing one. It's not quite the same thing, but it's the same basic principle that increasing the number of theoretical options can effectively reduce the number of options in practice.
 

S

Sunseeker

Guest
I'm not entirely sure the author is saying what you think he's saying. I interpret it more as his having just discovered that CaW vs. CaS thread from a few years ago (one of the best threads ever, IMO) and putting his take on it, saying that CaW is in fact good even though his DM wife disagrees. :)
I find that a difficult pill to swallow that the author, being who he is, has never come across this subject before.

I don't know why but I find this to be an excellent line, and it makes me laugh. :)
Well, I always find it a bit silly to try talking about preferences and opinions. We can both say "Yeah I like this, or yeah I like that." and never really get anywhere, regardless of if we see or don't see each other's POV. BUT! We can talk about game design, maybe not what we prefer but what exist. We can talk about if D&D has gotten softer or not because we have a starting point, and an ending point for comparison. It's one of the reasons I can react rather strongly to heavily opinion-based editorials, of which Lew has no end of.

I'll always roll the dice even if the combat looks on paper to be a pushover for the PCs. Why? A few reasons:
- sometimes pushovers on paper don't turn out that way in play: dice can be fickle things
- resources used/broken/cast in an easy fight aren't there if needed later in a harder fight
- even in a so-called 'easy' fight significant things can happen - looting the fallen provides a key clue to the adventure, for example - and I don't want to telegraph those 'important' easy fights by running only those and not the other easy fights along the way.
I do the same in some situations. If the fight is important to the campaign or relevant to the current endeavors. If it is against a foe the party has been tracking but has significantly out-powered for whatever reason. But the point is no longer to provide a challenge, it's to tie up plot points, so I wouldn't really include such things in a discussion on if that's a sport or a war type fight, it just is. Defeat the boss, find the McGuffin, reach the goalpost, whatever. This is "something else".

To some extent. The big difference between 3e and 5e is that 5e seems able to handle a wider range - things don't scale as steeply as they did in 3e - which makes 5e more flexible for a DM. Which is good.
I'll definitely agree there. Even through 3E had a greater diversity, it became unwieldy a lot faster. The "sweet spot" in 3X was a fairly narrow range between 3rd and 9th level. The "sweet spot" in 5E is MUCH wider, arguably 3rd through 12th, and it's why most of the official campaigns end between 15th and 17th level. That's the area where the game starts to break down. So, there's that, at least they learned something from 4E. I can't say that system ever broke down, though it did grow to pretty absurd levels.

I somewhat suspect 5e would be easier to learn from scratch than to come into from another system/edition.
I hope so, that was certainly a design goal.
 

pemerton

Legend
I think it can lead to confusion if what we are trying to talk about is game design and/or game play, but the conceptual framing we use is all drawn from the fictional "reality" of the ingame context.

In 4e, for instance, there is no difficulty in having a combat resolved by (infiction) strategic rather than tactical considerations (like, say, diverting a river). That would generally be resolved using skill challenge mechanics.

When someone says that 4e is "combat as sport", I think what they are trying to get at is that 4e's resolution system is mechanically "closed" - with considerations of the fiction being used to establish or inform mechanical elements of the closed resolution. This is true of its combat mechanics, and true of skill challenges, and is something that 4e derives from "indie" RPG design.

Conversely, when someone says that AD&D is "combat as war", I think what they are trying to get it is that AD&D's resolution system involves much more direct adjudication of the fiction without that having to be mediated via mechanics, or expressed in mechanical terms.

So in 4e, if I divert a river to flood an enemy encampment, that probably allows a Nature check in the context of a skill challenge that has as its goal the routing or destruction of enemy forces. Success on that check increases the prospects of said routing/destruction; failure indicates that something has gone wrong in my planning (which could be anything from miscalculating the hydraulics of the situation, through to Poseidon showing up to protect the enemy forces from the raging waters, depending on how the GM wants to adjudicate the failure given the broader context of established fiction, tier of play, etc).

Whereas in AD&D, if I divert a river onto the enemy forces there is unlikely to be any mechanically structured process used to adjudicate the consequences, and its more likely that the GM will do his/her best to determine the prospects of success of the actual techniques I describe my character using (perhaps setting a % chance of success) and then directly adjudicating, within the fiction, the effect on the enemy camp of having floodwater pour through it.

Neither approach demands more or less cleverness per se. The 4e approach is, I think, more rewarding for people who have imaginative ideas (perhaps drawn from familiarity with genre fiction) about how a problem might be resolved. The AD&D approach is, I think, more rewarding for people who want to work out in detail the effects that flooding river waters will have on pre-modern military encampments. I'm guessing a good number of wargamers fall into the second category, but I imagine a good number of non-wargamer RPGers might fall into the first category.

RPG combat is story.
This is certainly something that 4e-type/"indie"-type mechanics are meant to facilitate.

Combat as War can devolve into "if you can convince the DM you win you win, otherwise your PC loses" paradigm, which sucks for players who hate the "convince the DM" subgame.
And this is what the AD&D-type approach can degrade into, if the GM's unmediated adjudication of the fiction ends up turning on idiosyncratic judgements of plausibility rather than resting on a sound and shared understanding of the fictional situation (such as the hydraulics of diverted rivers).

But I think the real merit of the 4e/"indie" approach isn't about avoiding this degraded version of an AD&D approach, but about achieving the affirmative benefits of mechanically closed resolution, which is primarily its tendency to yield something that is recognisable as a story (rising action, climax, denouement, etc) in a reliable fashion.
 
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When someone says that 4e is "combat as sport", I think what they are trying to get at is that 4e's resolution system is mechanically "closed" - with considerations of the fiction being used to establish or inform mechanical elements of the closed resolution. This is true of its combat mechanics, and true of skill challenges, and is something that 4e derives from "indie" RPG design.

Conversely, when someone says that AD&D is "combat as war", I think what they are trying to get it is that AD&D's resolution system involves much more direct adjudication of the fiction without that having to be mediated via mechanics, or expressed in mechanical terms.
The problem with 4E, in this context, is that it tried to put the mechanics ahead of the narrative instead of deriving the mechanics from the narrative.

In 4E, dropping a boulder on your enemy will do roughly as much damage as hitting them with an encounter power, because that is the extent to which the mechanics will permit clever ideas to disrupt the balance of combat. In any other edition, dropping a boulder on your enemy will deal damage proportional to how heavy the boulder is.

It's not that other editions let you adjudicate things without translating them into mechanical terms. It's that other editions don't artificially restrict how those things are translated because of balance. It's also what they mean when they say that 4E was a slave to balance.
 

Aenghus

Explorer
The problem with 4E, in this context, is that it tried to put the mechanics ahead of the narrative instead of deriving the mechanics from the narrative.

In 4E, dropping a boulder on your enemy will do roughly as much damage as hitting them with an encounter power, because that is the extent to which the mechanics will permit clever ideas to disrupt the balance of combat. In any other edition, dropping a boulder on your enemy will deal damage proportional to how heavy the boulder is.

It's not that other editions let you adjudicate things without translating them into mechanical terms. It's that other editions don't artificially restrict how those things are translated because of balance. It's also what they mean when they say that 4E was a slave to balance.

The hidden assumption here include that there's a narrative superior to the mechanics that doesn't need to agree with them, and that it's desirable that PCs e.g. drop boulders on enemies to kill them easily.

Some people enjoy the core game activity and don't see extensions and variants as necessarily superior. I don't think chess players see chess variants as superior or more clever just because the happen to have more options.

To players who enjoy interacting primarily with the core mechanics provided by the game, lethal boulder dropping and their ilk isn't necessarily an improvement of anything, it potentially involves skipping the part of the game that some players enjoy.

Obviously some players enjoy effective boulder dropping and such activities, making an end run around the rules, but other players want to interact with the rules for their enjoyment and opportunities to bypass them aren't universally desirable.
 

pemerton

Legend
The problem with 4E, in this context, is that it tried to put the mechanics ahead of the narrative instead of deriving the mechanics from the narrative.

In 4E, dropping a boulder on your enemy will do roughly as much damage as hitting them with an encounter power, because that is the extent to which the mechanics will permit clever ideas to disrupt the balance of combat. In any other edition, dropping a boulder on your enemy will deal damage proportional to how heavy the boulder is.

It's not that other editions let you adjudicate things without translating them into mechanical terms. It's that other editions don't artificially restrict how those things are translated because of balance. It's also what they mean when they say that 4E was a slave to balance.
The hidden assumption here include that there's a narrative superior to the mechanics that doesn't need to agree with them, and that it's desirable that PCs e.g. drop boulders on enemies to kill them easily.

<snip>

To players who enjoy interacting primarily with the core mechanics provided by the game, lethal boulder dropping and their ilk isn't necessarily an improvement of anything, it potentially involves skipping the part of the game that some players enjoy.

Obviously some players enjoy effective boulder dropping and such activities, making an end run around the rules, but other players want to interact with the rules for their enjoyment and opportunities to bypass them aren't universally desirable.
I generally agree with what Aenghus says here.

A further complication is this: what is the *true* damage dealt by a boulder dropped on a D&D character or monster? D&D protagonists and antagonists are (frequently) larger-than-life characters of the sort typical to genre fiction, adventure stories, myths and legends, etc.

Why is it more dangerous to such characters to have a boulder dropped on them than to be stabbed by a sword wielded by a Conan-like figure, or to be shot by an arrow loosed by a Bard-like figure?

Making boulders more dangerous than swords and arrows just seems a recipe for making the game depart from the genres it seeks to emulate, to a rather silly sort of genre, where Conan would prefer to throw stones than to wield a sword.
 

mykesfree

Explorer
To help with this, has anyone tried playing the Adventures in Middle-earth 5E OGL? Some of the adventures in the first module Wilderland Adventures help showcase this very topic.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
I generally agree with what Aenghus says here.

A further complication is this: what is the *true* damage dealt by a boulder dropped on a D&D character or monster? D&D protagonists and antagonists are (frequently) larger-than-life characters of the sort typical to genre fiction, adventure stories, myths and legends, etc.

Why is it more dangerous to such characters to have a boulder dropped on them than to be stabbed by a sword wielded by a Conan-like figure, or to be shot by an arrow loosed by a Bard-like figure?

Making boulders more dangerous than swords and arrows just seems a recipe for making the game depart from the genres it seeks to emulate, to a rather silly sort of genre, where Conan would prefer to throw stones than to wield a sword.

Why is it more dangerous? Because it's a big, freakin' boulder, that's why. Exactly why using the terrain to defeat a monster isn't genre, I don't know. Gandalf doesn't initially fight Durin's Bane, he breaks the bridge (which would create boulders) to drop it so they can all get away. Tarzan doesn't defeat the lion in Tarzan Untamed by fighting him, he traps him (with a boulder, fittingly enough). Luke doesn't defeat the rancor with his lightsaber and Jedi mind trick, he crushes it with the door (by throwing a very small boulder at the control). And if Conan thought that pushing a boulder off on an enemy would do a better job of killing it than his sword, he darn well would do so because he's not dumb (plus, his strength would probably be necessary to dislodge the boulder).

The reason this sort of thing won't work all the time is because the situation isn't right to pull it off all the time. But if the game is designed so that every problem is effectively a nail, then the PC is never going to use anything other than his hammer (to borrow, somewhat badly from Maslow's "I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail"). And that's pretty boring.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
This is certainly something that 4e-type/"indie"-type mechanics are meant to facilitate.
4e isnt the why RPG combat is a story. Anyone noting players are meant to win are going against both sport/war models btw, it is explicitly the story taking precidence.

Gygax spent large amounts of effort explaining the story behind hit points to influence visualization of them. Additionally when discussing critical hits Gygax brought up story characters noting that Conan would not die to such an ignoble event (sure in D&D mayhaps a death spell but arguable he just thought a death by spell was awesome) and that is the point its very much about the story.

The hero going through many battles reliably in many adventures etc is a trope that is supported by D&D hit points that RuneQuests arguably more realistic mechanics didnt really support well when your character is dying of a fluke die roll you make different choices the attrition of hitpoints explicitly enabled making heroic choices ie it at minimum greatly lessened Conan dying to that minion arrow.

1e even had explicit zero level adversaries a fighter could theoretically mow through (ie minion rules) 4e failed to capture the fighter as minion clearer and let the wizard have that.

4e just picked up on a few more tropes like struggling back in to the fight after being beaten down.
 

The hidden assumption here include that there's a narrative superior to the mechanics that doesn't need to agree with them, and that it's desirable that PCs e.g. drop boulders on enemies to kill them easily.
There's nothing hidden about it. The obvious truth of a role-playing game is that the mechanics of the game are meant to reflect the reality of the game world, and not the other way around. If the mechanics try to artificially limit what is allowed to take place in the narrative, then something has gone horribly wrong.
Some people enjoy the core game activity and don't see extensions and variants as necessarily superior. I don't think chess players see chess variants as superior or more clever just because the happen to have more options.
Chess isn't an RPG, though. Chess is a board game. The rules don't actually mean anything, other than that they are the rules of the game.
To players who enjoy interacting primarily with the core mechanics provided by the game, lethal boulder dropping and their ilk isn't necessarily an improvement of anything, it potentially involves skipping the part of the game that some players enjoy.

Obviously some players enjoy effective boulder dropping and such activities, making an end run around the rules, but other players want to interact with the rules for their enjoyment and opportunities to bypass them aren't universally desirable.
Why would you think that the core activity of D&D is to decide between firing a bow and casting Fireball, rather than the core activity being a decision whether to engage the foe in direct combat or not?

This is a role-playing game, so all in-game decisions should be made from the perspective of your character. The core mechanic is that you decide what your character wants to do, and the DM adjudicates resolution of that action, only consulting dice if the outcome is uncertain. Why would a player character charge directly into combat, rather than seeking any safer alternative and only engaging directly as a last resort?
 

A further complication is this: what is the *true* damage dealt by a boulder dropped on a D&D character or monster? D&D protagonists and antagonists are (frequently) larger-than-life characters of the sort typical to genre fiction, adventure stories, myths and legends, etc.
False. A D&D character is just a person, similar to any other person except in those ways shown in the rules. They are flesh and bone, and can be modeled as simple physical constructs.
Why is it more dangerous to such characters to have a boulder dropped on them than to be stabbed by a sword wielded by a Conan-like figure, or to be shot by an arrow loosed by a Bard-like figure?
Because damage is a reflection of physical trauma, and the amount of trauma which an object can inflict is directly proportional to the force behind it. For falling objects, that means it scales with mass. The damage inflicted by a falling boulder should be much greater than what Conan can inflict with a sword, because force is quantifiable.
Making boulders more dangerous than swords and arrows just seems a recipe for making the game depart from the genres it seeks to emulate, to a rather silly sort of genre, where Conan would prefer to throw stones than to wield a sword.
From my experience with Conan, he would absolutely prefer to crush his enemies rather than engage them in a fair fight. He is under no illusion that the world is fair, or that he is a protagonist who is destined to prevail.
 

pemerton

Legend
4e isnt the why RPG combat is a story. Anyone noting players are meant to win are going against both sport/war models btw, it is explicitly the story taking precidence.

Gygax spent large amounts of effort explaining the story behind hit points to influence visualization of them. Additionally when discussing critical hits Gygax brought up story characters noting that Conan would not die to such an ignoble event
I agree with all this. I also think that Gygax's stuff in his DMG might reflect changes in the approach to RPGing that had changed between 1974 and 1979 - this was a time of very rapid evolution in RPGing techniques and preferences.

But, with all that said, there seems to be a "wargame" approach to D&D that has some degree of currency, and that treats the survivability of PCs not as a feature of story but as more like a series of saves or "takebacks" to keep the player in the game over the long term. Preserving that long term status of the player and the player's playing piece can be used to support story, but I don't think it has to be.

The hero going through many battles reliably in many adventures etc is a trope that is supported by D&D hit points that RuneQuests arguably more realistic mechanics didnt really support well
I agree with this comment about RuneQuest.

From my experience with Conan, he would absolutely prefer to crush his enemies rather than engage them in a fair fight. He is under no illusion that the world is fair, or that he is a protagonist who is destined to prevail.
Which REH story do you have in mind?

Why is it more dangerous? Because it's a big, freakin' boulder, that's why. Exactly why using the terrain to defeat a monster isn't genre, I don't know. Gandalf doesn't initially fight Durin's Bane, he breaks the bridge (which would create boulders) to drop it so they can all get away.
Gandalf doesn't through boulders at the Balrog. Nor do Aragorn or Boromir.

In AD&D, a boulder thrown by a giant does 2d8 (hill giant), 2d10 (fire or frost giant) or 2d12 (cloud giant). (Stone giants are a special case, as they are masters of stone; and "unlike other sorts of giants, storm giants do not hurl rocks".)

That is average damage of 9, 11 or 13. A fighter with a two-handed sword and 18/91 strength does an average of 10.5 damage vs a size S or M enemy, and 15.5 vs a size L enemy. Unless that fighter can do more damage with a boulder than a giant can, the boulder doesn't seem significantly better to me.

In the real world, I don't think boulders have ever been the weapon of choice for attacking other soldiers (as opposed to, say, walls and encampments).

Using terrain to defeat enemies is within genre, and 4e supports it more strongly than any other edition of D&D. But that has nothing to do with [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION]'s comment that boulders should do more damage than an encounter power, for whatever reason.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Gandalf doesn't through boulders at the Balrog. Nor do Aragorn or Boromir.

In AD&D, a boulder thrown by a giant does 2d8 (hill giant), 2d10 (fire or frost giant) or 2d12 (cloud giant). (Stone giants are a special case, as they are masters of stone; and "unlike other sorts of giants, storm giants do not hurl rocks".)

That is average damage of 9, 11 or 13. A fighter with a two-handed sword and 18/91 strength does an average of 10.5 damage vs a size S or M enemy, and 15.5 vs a size L enemy. Unless that fighter can do more damage with a boulder than a giant can, the boulder doesn't seem significantly better to me.

In the real world, I don't think boulders have ever been the weapon of choice for attacking other soldiers (as opposed to, say, walls and encampments).

Using terrain to defeat enemies is within genre, and 4e supports it more strongly than any other edition of D&D. But that has nothing to do with [MENTION=6775031]Saelorn[/MENTION]'s comment that boulders should do more damage than an encounter power, for whatever reason.

In 1e, if you’re going to pull stats, giants throw rocks. They aren’t described as boulders (apparently, they aren’t tall enough for that ride). The 2e cyclops, now he gets to throw boulders for 4d10 and that’s really not likely to be the upper limit on boulders that Conan (or others) could drop on someone. So, yeah, if the PCs get a chance to drop some big boulders on their enemies, I expect they may give it a try.
 

pemerton

Legend
In 1e, if you’re going to pull stats, giants throw rocks. They aren’t described as boulders (apparently, they aren’t tall enough for that ride). The 2e cyclops, now he gets to throw boulders for 4d10 and that’s really not likely to be the upper limit on boulders that Conan (or others) could drop on someone. So, yeah, if the PCs get a chance to drop some big boulders on their enemies, I expect they may give it a try.
I didn't know that "boulder" was a technical term in this context. When I Googled, though, I found that Wikipedia says "In geology, a boulder is a rock fragment with size greater than 25.6 centimetres (10.1 in) in diameter". I think the rocks that giants are hurling in AD&D are envisaged as being at least that big.

If you're dropping really big rocks on someone, presumably it's an ambush. In which case stabbing them with a sword should (presumably) be just as dangerous! (And to the extent that D&D hit points provide protection against ambushes with swords, why should they not provide comparable protection against ambushes with boulders? Which goes back to [MENTION=2656]Aenghus[/MENTION]'s point about the merits, or otherwise, of circumventing the rules.)
 

Shasarak

Banned
Banned
Why is it more dangerous to such characters to have a boulder dropped on them than to be stabbed by a sword wielded by a Conan-like figure, or to be shot by an arrow loosed by a Bard-like figure?

I guess this probably my biggest problem with viewing Combat as Sport; when rocks fall someone asks "so why is that so dangerous".
 

Aenghus

Explorer
False. A D&D character is just a person, similar to any other person except in those ways shown in the rules. They are flesh and bone, and can be modeled as simple physical constructs.
Because damage is a reflection of physical trauma, and the amount of trauma which an object can inflict is directly proportional to the force behind it. For falling objects, that means it scales with mass. The damage inflicted by a falling boulder should be much greater than what Conan can inflict with a sword, because force is quantifiable.

But D&D has hit points and there has been no agreement on what they mean and how they work from the earliest days. Massive dragons can fly in D&D, breaking the laws of physics, and don't automatically kill PCs if they pounce on them even if they weigh tons. Because it's a game, not a physics simulator.

My players don't want to play the "drop rocks on hapless foes game" whatever that is, they want to play D&D with the copious, and detailed rules in many, many rulebooks. If I tried to enforce a "read the mind of the DM or die" style of play on my players I would be a terrible DM and deserve them walking out on me, which is what would happen. Attempts to force players into styles of play they don't want seldom end well. If a compromise style everyone can enjoy isn't possible, play another game instead, or some other leisure activity,

"Rock, good old rock, nothing beats rock". I beg to differ.I want to play Dungeons and Dragons, not Boulderdash.

From my experience with Conan, he would absolutely prefer to crush his enemies rather than engage them in a fair fight. He is under no illusion that the world is fair, or that he is a protagonist who is destined to prevail.

Conan prefers to face his enemies and doesn't take the cowards way out. He only has contempt for fat merchant types who pay others to fight and die for them.

Conan's been written by many writers and as a solo protagonist does what the plot requires. His melancholy mirth allows him to get drunk and wake up in chains when required. He might drop a rock on a brute monster, but IMO prefers to shank evil sorcerer types up close with a sword or other edged weapon, thus proving the superiority of sword over sorcery, sword & sorcery after all is the name of that genre.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
If you want to bring onetruewayism into this then you should realize that combat is sport is a lot more guilty of this than combat as war. In a combat as war system nothing prevents you to have sport like fights with all that entails. A combat as sport system prevents anyone from playing comvat as war though, thus enforcing its way upon the players.

This is untrue. Why would a smart player ever engage in a combat as sport type combat in a combat as war game? I can't find any reason to ever do so.
 

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