The Importance of Defined Mechanical Tactical Options

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I wanted to spin this out of the OSR thread because it is relevant beyond that sub-genre of D&D, and well beyond D&D in general.

The Question Is: How important is it to you as a player to have mechanically defined tactical options in an RPG. "Mechanically defined" here can be character abilities, but also things like maneuvers and stances that you can use that aren't necessarily part of your character but are present in the game. Also, I don't want to restrict this discussion to the idea of "martials" even though that is often what prompts the discussion.

Finally, I am asking this with the assumed alternative being tactical options that aren't represented mechanically in the game. That is, players can still engage in tactics but they are subject to GM interpretation or narrative conceits and so on. So the question isn't "tactics or no tactics" but "crunchy tactics versus lite tactics."
 

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James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I prefer mechanically distinct options since, for one, as a dm, I'm not put on the spot to make a balanced mechanic and not inadvertently set a precedent I may regret later. As a player, I like knowing ahead of time how something I wish to attempt will be resolved so I can weigh it against other options first.
 

payn

I don't believe in the no-win scenario
I actually prefer strategic options over tactical ones. By that I mean choosing the battlefield, equipment, magic, etc.. The combat should be fast and furious, but lite tactics are still ok. I just don't want long drawn out combats. Ones that are always balanced like a sport and time consuming are not desirable.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
I guess I have questions about what people would consider a "mechanically defined tactical option". Is this something as simple as having mechanical differences for firing a 3-round burst vs going full auto with a weapon capable of doing so? Or choosing to do area-fire vs single-target?
In general, I do find them helpful, even at that relatively simple level because it means that I have options, I know what those options are, and, because of their differences, I can determine or have some idea of when it might be useful to choose one over the other.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I have many thoughts on this topic. Firstly, "tactical" is always taken to mean "combat specific" which I think is a huge mistake. Dividing out combat as its own sphere that deserves more action specificity than the rest of the game leads to the rest of the game being comparatively anemic. Skills should be lists of actions, spells and techniques should exist that do things with both martial and pacific applications.
I am torn, myself. When they exist, it ensures that players know they can do a thing. But when they exist, they often make players feel like they can only do defined things.
This makes me frown every time, because I think it puts player expression on the wrong axis. The interesting bit about having specified actions is in picking how and when they are deployed; there's plenty of creativity and choice in deciding on a strategy by stringing fixed actions together. Once you allow an indeterminate set of actions that will be designed on the fly instead to be declared, it's no longer possible for a player to express a tactic or strategy in that way; you simply cannot know as a player whether there was a set of words you could say that would resolve the problem immediately, or if your choice of action ultimately led to a better or worse resolution than some other choice might have.

That, and it's not hard to write a quite broad set of still defined actions, especially if you start with relatively atomic systems like object interactions (hitpoints, hardness, resistances, etc.)

I want players to have tools they understand and can deploy in surprising and unexpected ways, and I want them to feel empowered to leverage those tools against the world.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
I have many thoughts on this topic. Firstly, "tactical" is always taken to mean "combat specific" which I think is a huge mistake. Dividing out combat as its own sphere that deserves more action specificity than the rest of the game leads to the rest of the game being comparatively anemic. Skills should be lists of actions, spells and techniques should exist that do things with both martial and pacific applications.
That is a worthy topic but probably best left to its own thread.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
"Important" is kind of tough to pinpoint.

There are plenty of games I enjoy which don't have them. There are also plenty of games I enjoy which do. In the games that do, I prefer a broad set of distinctive options such that they're a central aspect of the play loop, so they're certainly "important" in that sense.

If I was making my ideal game, it would have a broad pool of mechanically defined options for character building. I understand the OSR complaint that defined rules put the focus on the character sheet rather than on in-fiction negotiation between the player and the DM, but my preference is for the stronger player authority that mechanical options provide, rather than a constant need for player-DM negotiation.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Assuming it's a game about combat and tactics where this kind of thing would matter, you run head first into the "character sheet as HUD" phenomenon and players instinctively limiting themselves to whatever's on the sheet. Everything's a button to press and if they don't have a button to press, they can't do it. So you either have buttons for everything or players naturally limit their choices to what's mechanically supported.

Give the player a coloring book and 99.9% of the time they'll color within the lines. Give them a blank sheet of paper and they'll draw whatever they want.

It's a weird phenomenon, but it happens all the time. The fewer rules you have, the more flexibility the players have, the more creativity they show at the table. I see it every time I run rules light, FKR, or black box games.

I see more creativity of play in rules-light OSR games than in modern rules-heavy games. I see even more creativity in rules-ultralight games...which is eclipsed entirely by the creativity I see from players when running FKR games.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Assuming it's a game about combat and tactics where this kind of thing would matter, you run head first into the "character sheet as HUD" phenomenon and players instinctively limiting themselves to whatever's on the sheet. Everything's a button to press and if they don't have a button to press, they can't do it. So you either have buttons for everything or players naturally limit their choices to what's mechanically supported.

Give the player a coloring book and 99.9% of the time they'll color within the lines. Give them a blank sheet of paper and they'll draw whatever they want.

It's a weird phenomenon, but it happens all the time. The fewer rules you have, the more flexibility the players have, the more creativity they show at the table. I see it every time I run rules light, FKR, or black box games.

I see more creativity of play in rules-light OSR games than in modern rules-heavy games. I see even more creativity in rules-ultralight games...which is eclipsed entirely by the creativity I see from players when running FKR games.
Emphasis mine.

I think FKR is a reference to Free Kriegspiel (sp?), but what is a "black box game"?
 

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