• Welcome to this new upgrade of the site. We are now on a totally different software platform. Many things will be different, and bugs are expected. Certain areas (like downloads and reviews) will take longer to import. As always, please use the Meta Forum for site queries or bug reports. Note that we (the mods and admins) are also learning the new software.
  • The RSS feed for the news page has changed. Use this link. The old one displays the forums, not the news.

Vampire's new "three-round combat" rule

uzirath

Villager
Even if the over-all outcome is clear, the final state is not inevitable. You may know that the PCs are going to win, but a win where they slay their opponents is a far different win than one where somebody gets away, or a win where one of the PCs is severely wounded; and you owe it to the players to play that out fairly.
I agree with the premise that the final state is not inevitable, but I fail to see how the GM owes the players any particular type of resolution. That depends entirely on what the group desires. If the players all want a gritty combat simulation from start to finish, then, yeah, you should deliver or let someone else step into the GM role. But that's hardly universal. My current players are big fans of narrating through the tail end of long combats, despite using an intricate second-by-second tactical combat system. Once the adrenaline has started wearing off, we're ready for the next element of the story. Finding out whether Gregor the Buttkicker has 12 or 8 hp doesn't add enough value to the story to be worth the minutes invested.

Again, I am not saying that this is the One True Way. But I will say that it is a perfectly valid and fair way to handle it. As time has become more precious, my players and I increasingly prefer this.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
I'm snipping out a few bit - trying to do so where I agree or it's a supporting point I'm already addressing to keep the size reasonable. If you feel I took out something more please call me on it.

Again, I can see systems where this might work - Amber Diceless is one I've already mentioned. If you want to run a combat in a system where the combat outcome revolves around narrative currency, and the participants work together to narrate the combat, then a 'three act' rule for a combat might be fine - opening, rising action, climax. Two skilled players could probably produce something like the duel from "Princess Bride" under these conditions.
I fully agree, these would be the best types of systems to run something like this in, and in a more traditional game it might feel tacked on or imposed. Because it is. But that doesn't mean it can't open up new mechanical avenues of support just like Inspiration tried to in 5e. Let me address that after your next part.

But fundamentally, you've "reframed" this by attacking my movie metaphor and other details, yet I don't see you really threatening my central point - which is that a combat in an RPG continues to be exciting so long as the fiction continues to meaningfully evolve.
I feel that I have addressed it, but I left it in the movie metaphor and didn't really explore what it means in a RPG setting. It is a point orthogonal to your very valid point you make about the encounter evolving.

Often we talk about alternate win conditions for battle besides attrition. Save the commoners who are going to get sacrificed. Stop the ritual. Deal with the stirges while trying to escape the cave-in. Stop the necromancer from escaping while his undead minions try to slow us down.

Commonly these are seen as "better" or at least more interesting encounters than just attrition where each side is attempting to kill each other, and the side standing at the end is the winner. (Who can then heal up for the next encounter.)

Now imagine that every non-climatic encounter was like this. But with win (or partial win) conditions either way depending on the tide of the encounter. Even standard attrition type battles can be reframed like this - instead of having to kill each and every bandit, as long as you've won two or three of the rounds the others will surrender and you can take them back to justice. But if you've lost the majority of rounds then perhaps their reinforcements arrive and you are captured.

Again, this isn't saying what you are talking about where an encounter with bandits is going badly and then the PCs rally and turn it around isn't a fun game. It definitely is. And that encounter is not static. And the Vampire suggestion, where if everyone is having a good time to extend more rounds, would allow that to happen. But if there's no dramatic turn around and there's an obvious trend on what's happening, then let it end in a dramatic way.

Heck, having reinforcements show and capture the PCs is just a start of RP, escape attempts, bribing or converting guards, etc. A grind of a battle the PCs are losing can end up in a TPK.

Marvel Heroic Roleplay codified this, where the DM can spend 2d12 from the Doom Pool to end a scene in the villian's favor.

But that doesn't mean it needs to end. If the encounter is still tense and the PCs have a shot (if losing) or something to lose (if winning), then continue as long as the players are having fun. Vampire's option does not seem about forcing a stop, from that description it's about putting in an escape valve for if it is turning into a grind.

Again, I am agree with everything you say about "tense, exciting, fun to imagine, producing dramatic moments, or shining moments of awesome" encounters and keeping them going.

If you have an encounter that is going to go 3 rounds, and then already be a grind, then there is definitely something wrong with your encounter design that arbitrarily ending the battle won't fix.
At 10-15 minutes for all players and the DM to take their actions, at this point we've invested 30 to 45 minutes in this scene after three rounds. Most other scenes would be long over with that much table time.

The need that combat takes more wall time than anything else, and should be allowed to do so is a legacy holdover. If it's exciting and the players really want to continue do so, but otherwise move onto the next.

As a bit of my personal soapbox, D&D and like games make everyone good at combat while allowing the game to function with only 1 or 1-2 competent PCs in other pilalrs (how many trackers do you need? how many lockpickers do you need, etc.) is an artifact of how long combat takes, and it's a self fulfilling prophesy with combat-focused character creation/advancement mechanics and long combats feeding each other. Another game that doesn't want that same dynamic can easily look at making combat scenes the same length as other scenes.

Perhaps if you wanted a plot twist, escape, or other bit of storytelling, you should have designed possibilities like that into the encounter in the first place, rather than going, "Gee... three rounds have gone by... this is a drag. Perhaps I ought to invent on the fly some away the fiction has meaningfully evolved."
But in reality, HOW OFTEN do we hear, see and experience DMs running an attrition combat? It's by far the default. Making something else the default up front (so it's not in the slightest the "Gee" line you put up there, but something planned from the beginning) helps lead to more interesting combats from the get-go.

Fights get grindy when you have uninteresting terrain, uninteresting goals, and uninteresting foes that do the same basic thing round after round, and winning is a matter of simply eroding hit points without making any real choices.
That is one time fights get grindy. They also get boring when they are just about being the last person standing 90% of the time, then you heal up and do it again with little real meaning outside the combat, no matter how interesting it is. They also get annoying when they take up 2 hours of your 3 hour play session for a non-climatic battle and nothing really gets accomplished except you're one room closer to the end. Things drag on when sure it's an interesting fight but you want to get to the oracle so you can get the answers to who killed your father THIS SESSION. It's a drag when combat ends out the session so the DM can't lay down a satisfying ending nor a cliffhanger. It's a falsehood to say that only poorly designed combats can drag on too long.

This is saying "let's intentionally force the DM to design more interesting stakes for combats, and one that has an escape valve if it isn't staying interesting enough after some time has passed".
 
Last edited:
[MENTION=20564]Blue[/MENTION]: So, I'm going to cut to the chase and say that I think based on that response we are largely in agreement about things, and that the real crux then is "How do you go about achieving the desired result?"

And there are two camps about fixing this problem. One camp is that, if this is a desirable result, then you should achieve it by application of narrative force. That is to say, by rules or rulings or narration, the GM should tell the players that the desirable thing has happened and that the game should explicitly empower the GM to do this, because it is desirable. The "three round" rule we are discussing is one example of this application of narrative force.

The problems that I see in this camp are many. One is that it requires a high degree of spontaneous imagination and foresight. The GM is required to in the midst of the stress of running a session also invent imaginative and creative things to happen which lead to further creative and imaginative things. This is hard and much harder than I think "nar" type games tend to claim. The second is that these applications of narrative force, however well intentioned they may be, are taking narrative agency from somewhere and giving it to the GM, and it's far too easy for that narrative agency to be consistently be taken from the PCs because the GM thinks that it's in the best interest of the game for this desirable thing to happen. So in essence, it's trying to put a nice spin on some of the heaviest handed DMing techniques associated with railroad games where the GM is maneuvering the game in the interest of maintaining the desirable story. And thirdly, dropping these techniques are emersion breaking because they break out of the illusion of the setting and force the player to view the game in terms of the metagame. This last one is why I believe most "nar" games most often fail at their narrative goals, because they become so obsessed with producing story as the outcome of play, that they ignore story as the process of play. The result is not a game that feels like sharing in a story, but a game that feel like sharing in the creation of a story. That is the difference between feeling like you are a character in your favorite story, and feeling like you are a script writer in a meeting hammering out a movie script by committee.

The alternative I'm advocating for here is for the GM to use narrative control not as part of the process of play, but as part of the process of preparing to play, which is a big topic but as it touches on this issue of grindy combat is mostly about "encounter design". In other words, I see this problem not mostly as a rules problem, but mostly as a design problem or a setting issue. People are too busy trying to fix the problem with the science of GMing - the rules and such - and not the art of GMing, the content creation.

I totally agree with you that too often combat is just attrition fights in static locations. But in the defense of GMs, that's the easiest sort of group challenge to arrange or imagine, and too often its the only sort of problem that the GM is exposed to through the game system's examples of play. The reason you don't see a lot of examples of interesting scenarios like "Save the commoners who are going to get sacrificed. Stop the ritual. Deal with the stirges while trying to escape the cave-in. Stop the necromancer from escaping while his undead minions try to slow us down." is that they are harder to design and imagine, and the professionals who ought to be showing the more novice GMs how it is done, too often themselves aren't providing the examples of play (which in my opinion is best done in adventures or modules, otherwise the risk is high that your example is just a toy example).

But, even if we just confine ourselves to attrition fights, there are plenty of ways to keep the fiction evolving. Consider cases where there is some barrier to getting into the encounter area such as perhaps to get into the encounter area you have to climb down a rope, or perhaps crawl and squeeze through a narrow tunnel. Scenario's like this present an interesting evolving fiction in that the first player to enter the encounter area may find themselves challenged by a foe which the party as a whole would not have a problem with. Now the scenario is not just an attrition race between the party and a foe, but also a race by both sides to bring reinforcements to the fight. The portion of the party in the fight is facing a tactical challenge, while the portion of the party not yet in the fight is facing a skill test to get into the fight. That's an evolving fiction and it is tense and exciting, and it will go longer than 3 rounds. In fact, it's probably going to go 3-4 rounds + the number of PC's in the party.

Or, consider the case of the party attacked while on a moving vehicle, or the party trying to attack a moving vehicle (or the party attacking a moving vehicle while in another moving vehicle themselves!). Now we have a fight that is continually moving across new terrain. Even if it is an attrition fight, the fact that you can bring new obstacles into the fight and new conditions into the fight means that the fiction remains tense and exciting.

Real mastery of these techniques can turn even randomly rolled up wandering encounters in attrition fights into exciting combats, just by varying the weapons and terrain. The GM I consider my mentor and guru pulled this off for me in an eye opening way by turning an encounter with demihuman mooks into something tense and incredible, just by arming all the mooks with bows, and putting the encounter in a wooded area where the mooks were acting as snipers and skirmishers. What could have been an easy fight if the foe had just gone toe to toe with us, became a tense encounter filled with terror and fog of war as our foes hid behind the boles of trees and maneuvered to stay at range and generally made an encounter that should have been a foregone conclusion into one that saw a high level party huddling behind trees trying to figure out what to do. Granted, we were young and novices at the time, but at the time as a middle schooler learning how to DM, this was eye opening and amazing.

I guess what I'm saying is that the only reason we think we need a 3 round rule is it's too rare that we see combats in published scenarios designed as well as the chase scene in 'Mad God's Key', to pick one example of an amazingly designed encounter.
 
Last edited:

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
It seems that this idea of a combat should end at this cinematic point is fire for some games, but games were management of resources is an issue I can't see it being useful. Losing those 4 hp on that last goblin attack may seem meaningless, but those may be the HP that forces the party to decide to pull back and try to recover. Which then gives the goblins time to reinforce, lay new traps, etc. So every HP can have an impact on how the "story" plays out.
 
As a bit of my personal soapbox, D&D and like games make everyone good at combat while allowing the game to function with only 1 or 1-2 competent PCs in other pilalrs (how many trackers do you need? how many lockpickers do you need, etc.) is an artifact of how long combat takes, and it's a self fulfilling prophesy with combat-focused character creation/advancement mechanics and long combats feeding each other. Another game that doesn't want that same dynamic can easily look at making combat scenes the same length as other scenes.
So, I'm going to do something that I normally don't like doing and fork the thread. You call this out as a personal soapbox, so I know before hand that challenging this stance is going to cause a bit of a clash, but one of my personal soapboxes is that this claim or assumption you are presenting - logical as it sounds on the surface - is spurious, and that a ton of bad design has been generated by assuming this false claim is true and running with it.

Games do not revolve around combat because they emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution. The reverse is true. Games emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution, because physical combat is a uniquely dynamic cooperative activity that uniquely involves meaningful decision making by all parties. Too many designers have assumed without I think a lot of play testing, that problems can be made to share the properties of combat, when in fact most if not all other problems either lack the need for cooperation, or lack the need for meaningful decisions to be made, or lack the property of being dynamic and that this in inherent to the problem and as such not one that can be overcome by the rules.

Typically what you see in such attempts is examples of play which turn out to be toy examples. That is, they turn out be fairly rare cases where the difficulties have been carefully smoothed over, and not in fact typical examples of the problem.

It turns out, if you try to go beyond the nice sounding theory, that there are not a lot of scenarios where a group is required to work together on the same problem, where the process of working on that problem involves making different decisions by the player from moment to moment, where everyone has the opportunity to equally contribute, and where imagining and being part of that process is compelling. And to the extent that there are, it requires also ensuring that everyone is as equally focused on and capable in that field of endeavor as they are in combat.

There are a lot of different proofs of that, but one example is that even though a computer game can potentially address aesthetics of play that a pen and paper game cannot (think about certain rapidly timed puzzle games, or games where the beauty of the graphics are a major aesthetic of play), you'll be hard pressed to find many examples of multiplayer computer games that aren't focused heavily around combat. And to the extent that you can, with something like EVE Online having a major economics/production focus, potential for grind in combat doesn't begin to cover the potential for grind in an economics/business simulator. If you think combat is potentially grindy, imagine the lack of dynamism in the simulation of a production assembly line where each player is an assembly line worker.

Or consider raising a barn or working on some other joint construction project. Yes, now numbers do matter and now the construction is cooperative. But how many meaningful choices are there to make? How dynamic is the process of building the barn? What would the pen and paper simulation of this process be in order to make it compelling? And how much would the GM or system have to know about barns to in any way resolve this problem?

Feel free to provide counter examples, where you think that the problem does have the unique characteristics that combat has in a cooperative and social game, but I'm pretty confident now that attempts to apply this idea that everything can be made as fun, cooperative, and crucial as combat generally fail to simulate the thing that they are simulating, and/or fail to actually be fun in practice, and/or fail to capture what actually makes solving that particular sort of problem fun and memorable.

As you said yourself, "How many trackers do you need?" "How many lockpickers do you need?" And we could continue out that complaint to most anything. We notably don't have the same answer to the question, "How many soldiers do you need?"
 
Last edited:

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
[MENTION=4937]Celebrim[/MENTION] - well presented. Part of calling out something as a personal soap box of mine is I would be lax if I didn't acknowledge it was opinion. You've put together a well thought out different opinion. I see where you are coming from even if for myself my view differs some.

Here's my general viewpoint in a nutshell: I think that the amount of time spent on a scene should be in-line with how interesting it is to the players, which is usually (but not always) proportional to how important it is.

That is regardless if a scene has combat or not. (And leads back to what we were already discussing, the debated point of combat-focused character creation both a symptom and then a cause of combat taking a lot of RL time.)

If my mid level player wants to sell off a magic item in a big city, it's a moderate-big deal. We can spend 10 minutes on how/what/when, with dice rolls and others involved from the bard doing marketting and the rogue planting rumors, the cleric talking to the temple to get lists fo heavy donators who might have the coin, and the like. If the same character wants to sell a bunch of looted silverware it might be one roll to see how well they do vs. the appraised value.

Combat should be able to be the same thing.

Recent example from near the end of my last campaign - the high level party was fleeing their crashed airship with a large chunk of a concentrated orken army searching from them from multiple sides. Say 10K orcs, including some dragon-riders.

1. The whole escape was done a bit like a 4e skill challenge, but tossing botht he limiter "skill" and the horrible mechanics, replacing it with several tracks - how close/on their trail the pursuing orcs were, how close/on-their trail the orcs in front of them were, how close to the dwarven bolthole they decided to try for they were. It was everything you talk about combat being - tense, dynamic, developing, cooperative, without being combat. The fact that they took the wounded crew with them and the bulky supplies the under-siege dwarves needed caused problem in what they were trying to do, but were important if they succeeded.

2. On the other hand, they were found at one point by a group of orc scouts. The combat wasn't important. They were high level PCs, these were just standard orc scouts. I didn't have them roll any dice, I just went around the table and had each PC add to the montage of how they won. And because players did remembered to do things like take out the signaller before they could raise an alarm back to the rest, that didn't worsen either track. (Of course, an hour later when the scouts were all signalling back in they had to decide to attempt to replicate what they though was the "missing" signal since they had heard them every few hours several times, or just be quiet and let the orcs know that squad had been killed.)

So we have both what you say is mostly found in combat, but I can see in any tense, developing situation (but done better when the mechanics support it). Combat is not unique, it's just treated that way because it's the common point in the character creation/advancement processes that all characters have,a dn the only type of scene described that is given that level of mechanical support.

While in fact, so many situations can require that same sort of thrill if the DM designs them right and works with an appropriate timescale for the scene. Navigating downriver and hitting rapids. A three week overland journey chock full of hazards and meaningful decision points (which may or may not be fully informed descision points based on the PCs abilities and actions). Just as you (rightfully) pointed out that combats can be grinds if they aren't full of interesting hazards, terrain, win conditions, foes, etc - the same for every other scene. Combat are one among many, but propelled to a first place only because of the mechanical focus on handling that type of challenge vs. a much lighter mechanical focus in handling other types of challenges.

I've also put up a counterexample where a combat as combat wasn't important so shouldn't (and didn't) have significant time spent on it, but the results of the players actions still had effects.

And all this is staying within the D&D-type game (the campaign above was 13th Age, my favorite fantasy heartbreaker, a d20 by JonathanTweet and Rob Heinsoo). But there are games like Leverage, a Cortex game based off the TV show, and there you might have one Hitter - you only need one character who specializes in each category for a heist. So your question of "how many soldiers do we need" is just one.
 

Sadras

Explorer
So, I'm going to do something that I normally don't like doing and fork the thread. You call this out as a personal soapbox, so I know before hand that challenging this stance is going to cause a bit of a clash, but one of my personal soapboxes is that this claim or assumption you are presenting - logical as it sounds on the surface - is spurious, and that a ton of bad design has been generated by assuming this false claim is true and running with it.
I concede I believe you might have a point here about what this claim reflects.

Games do not revolve around combat because they emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution. The reverse is true. Games emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution, because physical combat is a uniquely dynamic cooperative activity that uniquely involves meaningful decision making by all parties. Too many designers have assumed without I think a lot of play testing, that problems can be made to share the properties of combat, when in fact most if not all other problems either lack the need for cooperation, or lack the need for meaningful decisions to be made, or lack the property of being dynamic and that this in inherent to the problem and as such not one that can be overcome by the rules.

...(snip)...

It turns out, if you try to go beyond the nice sounding theory, that there are not a lot of scenarios where a group is required to work together on the same problem, where the process of working on that problem involves making different decisions by the player from moment to moment, where everyone has the opportunity to equally contribute, and where imagining and being part of that process is compelling. And to the extent that there are, it requires also ensuring that everyone is as equally focused on and capable in that field of endeavor as they are in combat.
How many hit points do we need? How many spells do we need in combat? How many rolls do we need to pick a lock or track someone? Is it really the number of participants or is it the design of the mechanics? Could a simpler combat system not have been designed? Why were the levels reduced from 36 to 30 to 20? Why does E6/P6 exist?

I do not expect you to answer to all these questions, but the obvious understanding I take from this all is that combat can/has been unnecessarily time-consuming.

BUT here is the other side of it, my 10th level group recently played Episode 4 in Rise of Tiamat, where they went up against the green dragon in Neronvain's Stronghold. The combat with the dragon alone lasted, and I'm guessing now, around 2 hours, which included an in-game 40 minute wait, search, rest period.
The combat was tense, difficult, deadly, it also included an important social pillar aspect and in the end, despite having to face the dragon twice (fully healed) - it was highly enjoyable and memorable. The conclusion was the dragon survived, having being forced out its lair to save itself.

Could I have replicated that experience in the Vampire's game of 3 rounds? No
Do I want to? No.
 
Last edited:

Riley37

Villager
Games do not revolve around combat because they emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution. The reverse is true. Games emphasize combat in the rules, whether in character creation or process resolution, because physical combat is a uniquely dynamic cooperative activity that uniquely involves meaningful decision making by all parties.
There are boardgames such as Pandemic, which are (and which simulate) a more or less dynamic cooperative activity that involves meaningful decision making by all parties... but not in the ways unique to combat. Combat involves immediate physical danger AND fast pacing. There are other activities which involve immediate physical danger, such as mountain climbing, but generally, slowing them down is safer and wiser. (With the exception of the overlap set: US Army Rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc on D-Day scaled a cliff while under fire.)

Team sports such as basketball involve pacing and coordination which is somewhat like combat. A basketball game, and a six-on-six SCA match, have similarities of movement and flow. Decisions such as engaging one foe or another happen at much the same pace as the basketball decision to shoot or pass, because they're both under the time pressure of the opponent trying to make similar decisions just a bit better and faster. (With tough trade-offs between better and faster.) Combat is still unique because the stakes are higher (unless it's that Mayan game in which the losing team gets executed).

I don't want players taking a minute to chose whether their PC spends six seconds casting Web or casting Shatter; I want that decision to happen under at least as much pressure as the basketball decision of shooting or passing. So I try to decide my PC's action within six seconds. I have the advantage, of pondering the situation during the turns of other players; perhaps that balances (a) my PC is more awesome than I am and (b) the PC can see the situation in first person view, while I'm making do with miniatures on a tabletop.

In D&D, it often takes much more time *resolve* the action. I try to make the "Web or Shatter?" decision in under six seconds. It then takes more than six seconds for everyone in the Web's area to make saving throws and declare results. IMO this is one of the differences between 4E and World of Warcraft: who does the math, and how quickly the results show up in everyone's display.

When I have no spell slots left, and neither Web nor Shatter are options, and my only practical option for pressing the attack is casting Fire Bolt, then I no longer feel any tension in trying to make a decision anywhere near as quickly as my PC might. Heck, I could just tell the DM "whenever my initiative comes up, I cast Fire Bolt at +5 to hit", and then just watch the fight play out, unless a change in the situation inspires me to override "auto-play mode" with fleeing, offering the foe a parlay, or some other interesting decision. During the attrition phase, my player agency becomes less interesting, to myself or to anyone else. I'm happy for the DM to hand-wave the outcome of attrition.

So far, I'm in agreement with Celebrim's points, right?

The victory of one side, whether by attrition or otherwise, is also a turning point. I enjoy stories in which it matters both how the PCs win (or don't), and what they DO with that victory. Sometimes that's simple: we killed the guards/dragon and we loot the vault/hoard. Often it's not: do we offer surrender? do we pursue a fleeing foe? if more than one PC has dropped to O HP, who heals whom first? does choosing to immediately loot determine who sees the loot first... or who reaches the trapped chest first, and checks Perception? No, I don't play D&D in groups which allow "I steal all the magic items, because my character would." But in my current group, the urchin rogue takes a single coin from the hoard, before dividing the rest evenly; it's a quirk or flaw which I find more interesting than annoying, and I look forwards to the scene in which another PC notices and raises the topic. (The players all know he does this, the PCs do not.) IMO the most interesting round of many combats, is the round AFTER the last point of damage is dealt. Or the round during which some PCs are trying to do damage, while other PCs have switched to other priorities.

So though I don't want to play out the kind of D&D rounds which Celebrim accurately compares to RISK endgame, I also don't want the DM to narrate the *resolution* of combat.
 
There are boardgames such as Pandemic, which are (and which simulate) a more or less dynamic cooperative activity that involves meaningful decision making by all parties... but not in the ways unique to combat.
True. But I had completely forgotten about Pandemic and it is a good call out. I'm not sure it overturns my claim by counter example (you seem to think it doesn't) but it does come at least close enough that I'm going to spend some time thinking about applying the lessons of Pandemic to RPG minigames.

Team sports such as basketball involve pacing and coordination which is somewhat like combat. A basketball game, and a six-on-six SCA match, have similarities of movement and flow.
Also a good call out. However, this goes back to you could make basketball as important to your RPG as combat is to most RPGs, but only by having a system that invested as much in the mechanics of basketball as RPGs normally invest into combat and only if all the characters were basketball players. It should also be obvious that if you wanted to simulate or even just narrate a basketball match in any detail, that it would probably take longer to play than a real game of basketball. Still, I could easily imagine a Hoosiers: The RPG simulator that put you, as the movie does, into the last portion of a game and asked you to finish using a process simulation.

When you mention that one difference between 4e and WoW is who does the math, it reminds me again of Risk. As a kid, I was really fascinated by the game of Risk. The problem with the game though was it was rare to actually play it to completion, since a game could take 8-16 hours depending on the pace the players played it and the luck on the table. One day I got ahold of a Risk computer program. What I discovered somewhat to my surprise is that a full game with 6 human players could be played on a computer in under 45 minutes, and a game with a single human player and 5 computer opponents much faster than that. Not only did I never play Risk on a board again, I pretty soon never played Risk again. By automating all the dice rolling and leaving the game only with its decision making points, I quickly realized that it didn't have enough meaningful decision making relative to the amount of dice rolling. Further, with the ability to play 10 games in the time that it would have taken to play one, I quickly exhausted all the depth of the game in a period that I might not have done in a whole lifetime were I forced to stick to a table top.

A computer game taught me that, relative to the effort required to play, Risk wasn't a very good game. It was after that experience, only a tolerable game if most of the effort was automated away so that it could be played at a faster pace.

So though I don't want to play out the kind of D&D rounds which Celebrim accurately compares to RISK endgame, I also don't want the DM to narrate the *resolution* of combat.
I agree this is the crux of the problem with a three round hard limit. As with my hypothetical Hoosiers: The RPG, it's not the last rounds of combat you would want to narrate away, and if you had to choose which rounds to handwave away with narration you'd choose the ones leading up to the resolution and not the all important resolution itself.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
Heck, I could just tell the DM "whenever my initiative comes up, I cast Fire Bolt at +5 to hit", and then just watch the fight play out, unless a change in the situation inspires me to override "auto-play mode" with fleeing, offering the foe a parlay, or some other interesting decision. During the attrition phase, my player agency becomes less interesting, to myself or to anyone else. I'm happy for the DM to hand-wave the outcome of attrition.
It sounds to me like this goes back to problems with the HP mechanic. Due to massive HP bloat in D&D, torching an enemy for 3d10 fire damage doesn't feel like it changes anything; the only difference is that they're slightly more singed than they were before you hit.

Is that a problem with Vampire? Last I'd heard, these sorts of games didn't really have an "attrition phase" of combat. Every hit was meaningful in itself.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
It seems that this idea of a combat should end at this cinematic point is fire for some games, but games were management of resources is an issue I can't see it being useful. Losing those 4 hp on that last goblin attack may seem meaningless, but those may be the HP that forces the party to decide to pull back and try to recover. Which then gives the goblins time to reinforce, lay new traps, etc. So every HP can have an impact on how the "story" plays out.
I thibnk you're making an assumption the "winning by wiping out the goblins" and "there is a twist and the combat ends" are the same thing.

If your'e fighting goblins and the combat ends with a retreat horn getting blown and they escape - well, the fact that you took less damage BUT they have reinforcements later at balancing points.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad day
It strikes me that there is a lot of daylight between "end fights before they get tedious" and "end fights after 3 rounds."
Stop right there. The Vampire mechanic is "keep going if you are having fun". So it's really "stop when it becomes a grind - but go at least three rounds'.

I think that addresses the rest of your points.
 
It sounds to me like this goes back to problems with the HP mechanic.
It doesn't really have to. High level GURPS in older editions had a problem where if two experts fought each other, the only blows that would land would be critical hits that bypassed active defenses, and these were only scored on relatively rare rolls. The result would be that you might have round after round where each fighter attempted to land a blow but was reliably parried or dodged. Not only did the round not change anything, but it didn't advance either side toward victory and the winner was determined by one lucky blow.

To fix that math there was a common house rule - later adopted into the core rules - where expert fighters could 'power attack' and exchange chance to hit for reduction in the opponent's active defenses.
 

Saelorn

Explorer
It doesn't really have to. High level GURPS in older editions had a problem where if two experts fought each other, the only blows that would land would be critical hits that bypassed active defenses, and these were only scored on relatively rare rolls. The result would be that you might have round after round where each fighter attempted to land a blow but was reliably parried or dodged. Not only did the round not change anything, but it didn't advance either side toward victory and the winner was determined by one lucky blow.
In retrospect, nothing will have changed over the course of the round. But when it comes your turn to make the attack, that can still be pretty exciting; it's almost like a game of Russian Roulette, in a way. It also gives you plenty of chances to carry on witty dialogue with your opponent, and plenty of chances to back out of the duel.

I wouldn't really compare it to the boring certainty of a 70% chance to deal 5% of their HP, with the only excitement coming from a critical hit that instead deals 10% of their HP.
 

uzirath

Villager
To fix that math there was a common house rule - later adopted into the core rules - where expert fighters could 'power attack' and exchange chance to hit for reduction in the opponent's active defenses.
I don't know the term 'power attack,' but in GURPS 4th edition (the current rules) and the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game, there is a melee attack option called 'Deceptive Attack' that has this mechanic. For every two points you lower your effective skill, you reduce your opponent's defenses by one. There has always always been the ability to feint, too, which can dramatically improve your ability to get past defenses.

But, I agree with your larger point that hit points are not the only mechanic that can cause combat to become repetitive. I enjoy rules that reward creative melee tactics to gain an edge (maneuvering beside or behind an opponent, slamming them with your shield to try and knock them down, grappling to get inside their weapon's reach, attacking their weapon to disarm, etc.).
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I thibnk you're making an assumption the "winning by wiping out the goblins" and "there is a twist and the combat ends" are the same thing.

If your'e fighting goblins and the combat ends with a retreat horn getting blown and they escape - well, the fact that you took less damage BUT they have reinforcements later at balancing points.
Sure.

Personally I use morale mechanics in my games, 5e included, so as the fight goes more and more against said goblins the more morale checks they are making and the more likely it is they break and run.
 

ParanoydStyle

Villager
The Vampire mechanic is "keep going if you are having fun". So it's really "stop when it becomes a grind - but go at least three rounds'.

I think that addresses the rest of your points.
I don't know about ninjayeti, but that addresses all of my concerns. Initially I thought the "three round combat rule" meant FIGHTS MUST END AFTER THREE ROUNDS which would have been an unspeakably crappy game mechanic (except perhaps in a very niche game designed around a very niche concept that fits that rule).

It's weird yet not unexpected that there's been so much discussion within the D&D frame in this thread about the new Vampire. I have not played a lot of WoD and the WoD that I did play was ages ago when I was a teenager and EVEN THEN as a teenager--the height of the appeal of the Trenchcoat McKatanas style of VtM play--combat was not particularly common. Now, as for D&D...I've heard many a player say that fights virtually never last more than three rounds anyway, and it's not usually said like it's a good thing. It's not that players want longer combats, but in various editions of the game (including, I think, the current one) certain abilities and parameters will never be relevant within that time-space. In 5E, a duration of one minute might as well be a duration of forever because I don't think I've ever seen a ten turn combat (not that I'd necessarily want to). In 3.X frequently various spells or spell-like abilities had a duration of Caster Level rounds. Because combats lasting more than three rounds are almost unheard of, this meant that there was no meaningful difference in duration between a spell cast by a 3rd level character and a spell cast by a 15th level character.

Because I have Legendary Resistance 3/Day, I will choose to succeed my Wisdom save against launching into my rant on how painfully idiotic the 3-6 second combat turn is right here and now. I will say that I have come to the conclusion that the combat turn should really be, at a minimum, 10 seconds, for a ratio of six turns to one minute, but I won't justify that assertion because I think then I'd fall into the rant I said I was avoiding.

I don't know that I'd go so far as to say I want longer combats (in rounds) in my D&D, but I do know that the most fun D&D combats I've run have all been the ones that ran well over three rounds. That said I'm broadly in favor of the thinking on this new Vampire rule, but in the D&D context I don't think it needs a rule as such. If after three rounds the party is getting its ass kicked, the logical thing for the party to do is to run away. If after three rounds the enemies are getting their asses kicked, the logical thing for the DM to do is to have them runaway or surrender, assuming they're not mindless--even the dumbest orcs, goblins, bugbears, troglodytes, whatever, are smart enough to realize that hey, 12 seconds ago there were ten of us and now there are three of us, let's GTFO (this is also why I've never felt a need for morale mechanics; a glance at the board state is usually enough to let me tell when the enemies would lose morale and retreat). If after three rounds the fight is undecided then play on, play on, play on!

Oh, and the last thing I wanted to say is...while I definitely understand, as a game designer, the desire to make fights resolve faster, I think there's an external limit on what you can accomplish with the actual system and mechanics. No matter how much you simplify and streamline, you are still going to run into the fact that many players are very slow. If your game has meaningful choices for PCs to make in combat--and honestly a game that doesn't probably shouldn't even have combat--a certain portion of players are going to fall into analysis paralysis and slow things way down, no matter how many times the DM has asked them to PLEASE have their decision ready when their turn comes up. A certain portion of players will struggle with the mechanics of any game system that is remotely new to them, and that too slows things down. A certain portion of players will have two, or three, or five, or ten, or fifteen questions about the battle situation--at least half of which you have already told them the answer to, they just weren't paying attention. And finally some players are just jerks and slow down combat with dumb arguments. I don't think there's anything to be done about any of this, I just don't think combat in an RPG is ever going to run at anything close to the ideal speed it would run at in a perfect world (which I'd say is probably 1-2 minutes of real time to each full combat turn) unless the players have been selectively curated. My only real point with all of this is that there is only so much MECHANICS can do to "make combat fast".

Those are my random thoughts.
 

Riley37

Villager
unless the players have been selectively curated. My only real point with all of this is that there is only so much MECHANICS can do to "make combat fast".
Player curation has given me excellent results. When I run a convention game, "Please be ready with your action" is an early recourse, and "Apparently you spent those six seconds pondering your options. Next player, what's your action?" is not far behind.

Chess can move quickly or slowly. In one variant, each player gets a time cap, not per move, but for the whole game; you move, you hit the button, that stops your timer and starts the opponent's timer. If you checkmate the opponent OR if your opponent's timer runs out, you win.
 

Riley37

Villager
In retrospect, nothing will have changed over the course of the round.
That's true in a duel, when there's no one and nothing else involved. If those two experts are blocking each other's blows, clang clang clang, in a burning building, then perhaps the roll which ends the fight is the DM roll on round 5 determining that the second story collapses into flaming rubble. Or perhaps Horatio held off the Etruscan vanguard, long enough for other Romans to ignite the bridge, denying the Etruscan army entry into Rome; the collapse of the bridge into flaming rubble ends Horatio's life and also meets his victory condition.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
For a game like D&D a ten round fight can take an awful lot of time in real life. If the DM spend 120 seconds on his turn and the other players each take 60 seconds on theirs then a ten round fight will last 80 minutes of real time. (I don't think giving players 60 seconds to figure out what they want to do during their turn, roll their dice, and figure out the outcome is unreasonable.) There are plenty of people who could spend hours just fighting one encounter in D&D and have a great time and more power to them. After about thirty minutes I keep hoping combat comes to an end.





Maybe you're just really good at designing encounters but after a while I find they can get tedious. As you said, it's much harder to keep things interesting in the player's imagination than it is for the cinema.



I think we have different ideas of what railroading is. In the context of an RPG, I think of railroading as forcing the PCs to perform certain actions. The three round rule isn't an absolute as the players can continue the encounter as they like. And even if it ends after three rounds if the players are victorious they've achieved whatever goal they set out to achieve.



They get grindy if you spend a lot of time on them too.
"Maybe you're just really good at designing encounters but after a while I find they can get tedious. As you said, it's much harder to keep things interesting in the player's imagination than it is for the cinema. "

So, here is what I wonder...

I am a GM who uses what 5e calls extended conflicts a lot. Have for decades thru lots of systems.

It is rare for a combat to go more than say 3-5 rounds without a significant change coming into play.

So, really, the fight at round 4 say is really not the same fight you were in at round two just dragging on. By round seven or nine, it is another thing again.

Obviously this is not for every fight, but mostly for those that are meant to be challenging not just quick skirmishes to serve other narrative goals.

That, to me, is what the heart of the V5 3 round fight take is about... taking moment to assess and change the stakes or the event.

Now, in my experience a "character turn" in VtM takes longer than D&D to execute because of the nature of their dice pool, more resisted actions, more creative actions etc. So, I dont equate three rounds in one to three rounds in the other.

But the idea strikes mtpe much the same, a notion that if you haven't resolved it after three, take stock, continue if it's fun and engaging, but if not do a major change that makes things reach a conclusion.

Not really all that different from "you hear sirens" in a vigilante game or "an explosion rocks the bridge" in others.

But I think if perhaps they had expressed it not so much as a "fights over" or " sudden death- one round for all the marbles" but as a "hey, narrator, throw a monkey into that wrench..." either in favor of the PCs or against them (same logic, who won the first three rounds) or against both... it might have a better feel to some.

Either way, it certainly pushes a "favors the bold" playstyle" for the action scenes.
 

Advertisement

Top