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D&D General Why are we fighting?

He says he doesn't have a solution, but he does. First, stop forcing combat to continue past the point of victory, i.e. once you know who's won the fight, end the fight. Second, stop using boring goals in combat, like murdering all of the other team.
Welcome to how I've DM'd combat since literally the '80s!

But like, it's a valid point - an awful lot of D&D DMs feel the need to:

A) Have virtually every enemy fight to the death even though it makes zero sense.

B) Playing every last second of every combat, no matter tedious, because they might eke out a few HP more damage on the PCs and thus get that sweet sweet attrition which is immediately nullified by a Long Rest lol.

Imho those DMs suck (if the shoe fits!) and should be forced into going back to DMing school, but like, that's just my opinion man.
And what are some other games we can lift subsystems from to use in D&D to achieve better results in this regard?
I gotta be honest - I don't think subsystems are really ever the solution here. I don't think I've seen clocks, timers, contests and so on improve combat if they're MECHANICAL. Now if they're merely conceptual and most role-played out, sure, like having other goals that wiping the board is great. But I feel like when you make them mechanical, you very often just get into pretty boring and overly-systematized territory again.
 

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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Morale rules or not, part of the issue of dragging combats to the end is that retreat is often more foolhardy than fighting back.

Bad guy wants to flee: disengage, move 30ft.
PC; move 30ft next to bad guy, attack.
Bad guy: disengage, move 30ft.
PC: move 30ft, attack…

There’s no way out. You’ll eventually get killed without doing any damage to your attacker. Let’s try running faster.

Bad guy: move 30ft, dash for an extra 30ft. Provoke attack of opportunity from PC when leaving.
PC: move 30ft, dash for an extra 30ft next to bad guy. PC is out of move/action.
Bad guy: move 30ft, dash for an extra 30ft, provoke attack of opportunity from PC…

Rince and repeat. Again, no way out. And that’s not counting ranged attacks.
Both of those point straight at the underlying problem: allowing turn-based combat rules to overwrite realism.

Particularly in the second example. Realistically, if a PC takes the time to make an attack of opportunity that PC is then left behind by the fleeing foe and - assuming speeds and stamina are equal - the foe can never be caught as it'll have about a five-foot lead.
Another solution is to remove anyone who declares retreat out of combat right away. If you want to pursue, get out of combat too and initiate a chase.
This works too; well enough I would have assumed it to be the default.
That usually gets luke-warm reactions at best.
Tough.
Yet another solution is a gentlemen agreement to let bad guys escape when they turn tails. In my experience that rarely works because PCs are paranoid (often for good reasons mind you) and expect the bad guy to come back or send reinforcements, so the pragmatic solution is to make sure no one escape.
Yeah, that one won't fly. :)
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I've thankfully had a good DM in my usual face-to-face group, and they're comfortable with doing a lot of their own monster design.

But, by the book, a lot of high-level challenges still tend toward being bags of HP.
I think that's one of the big things that helps. If you're stuck only using the boring official monsters, you're going to tend to get boring combats. Even more interesting monsters like the MCDM ones will get you boring combats if everyone's just standing around whacking away until one side is whittled down to zero HP.
There's also a lack of granularity when it comes to resistance in 5E. So, a lot of creatures effectively do have more HP. The game simultaneously says that magic items shouldn't be assumed and designs monsters using a very binary method of determining resistance (which hinges upon having or not having items).
Exactly. It claims one thing but is explicitly designed for the opposite.
My opinion is that I would have rather kept the 4E-style encounter design (with more creatures and more moving parts,) but went with numbers for building monsters (and the 'physics engine' of the game world) that are more similar to older editions of D&D.
If you look at 5E MM on a business card you can see the numbers WotC actually uses. Then do some basic math and you get what 4E would call a "standard" monster. Build encounters from there.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Likewise, if accepting surrender means the players have the hassle of dealing with prisoners who will shiv them the moment they let their guard down, players will be less likely to let enemies surrender.
IME even if the prisoners can be expected to behave themselves (e.g. defeated soldiers of a culture known for its sense of honour etc.) the PCs don't want to accept surrender, as they don't want the ongoing headache of keeping watch on the prisoners, feeding them, keeping them safe, and so forth.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
IME even if the prisoners can be expected to behave themselves (e.g. defeated soldiers of a culture known for its sense of honour etc.) the PCs don't want to accept surrender, as they don't want the ongoing headache of keeping watch on the prisoners, feeding them, keeping them safe, and so forth.
One of the many, many problems of getting rid of hirelings. We took prisoners and left them to the retainers. The referee would also make a point of having those same NPCs react badly to brutality directed at the prisoners by the PCs and ransoming the prisoners later, etc.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
For me, there are two big things that keep combat from being boring, and these shouldn't be a shock because others have mentioned them:

  1. Run monsters/NPCs like they are living creatures. How would the act and react? Hardly anything fights until death if given an opportunity to survive. That almost completely eliminates the "victory is assured, why do we keep going through the paces" problem.
  2. Use the environment. Too often I see combat encounters where PCs only do things that are on their character sheet. Or DMs who run monsters only what's in their stat block. Incorporate the environment like a living creature would, and it keeps things fresh and avoids "I attack" repeated over and over.

You don't need to have all these powerz on character sheets to keep combat interesting. Just do the above and it's helped me for more than 40 years.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
For #1, nobody reads the DMG anyway so I'm not sure this is a serious problem outside of forum discussions where people are looking up the rules to quote at each other to prove a point.
You are aware that's just a dumb meme, right?
That said, I do run the recommended number of encounters between rests, on average, and it's never boring. This also touches on #3, where attrition makes fights more difficult and thus, in my view, less boring since the tension is higher.
Difficulty isn't the same as interesting. Trying to punch a brick wall down is difficult (for people who aren't me), but not interesting.
It's also on the players to conserve their resources in the face of anticipated attrition so this can't really be a DM problem.
Whether resource management is interesting or not varies form person to person. For me, it's the most boring a man can get, like anti-Gillette.
As for #2, I'm not sure the monster on its own makes for a boring encounter. It's what the DM does with them. A tool is only as good as its user.
Monster design is the heart of encounter design. If the monster is just a big thing that hits you, it's boring and at best, not directly hindering the interest in the combat.
And #5, if the party goes a round without making progress, that just raises tension since the monsters now get another shot at chewing up their resources.
Again, tension isn't interest and resource management isn't inherently interesting.
Some games like D&D 4e have damage-on-a-miss, but I haven't missed it in D&D 5e (where it still effectively exists for certain spells).
It would help for the move-it-along crowd at least. It makes the combat clock (HP) go down quicker. And it helps make combat interesting if you're not sucking and failing all the time because the dice say so.
There are a lot of resources in the DMG which talk about setting/terrain (#4), but again, nobody reads it.
1) it's a meme. People need to stop taking this stuff at face.
2) what's provided is bare bones at best.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The mere existence of terrain doesn't solve the problem. The players then have to interact with that terrain. In my experience most players refuse to. Because unless the referee is incredibly generous, their normal attacks and spells will always be better than whatever environmental effect they might get out of interacting with the terrain. At best, they'll maybe hide behind cover for a round or two, but that extends rather than shortens combat.

Combat becomes a slog once the victory of one side becomes a foregone conclusion. The idea is finding ways to shorten the time between when the fight is no longer contentious and the actual end of the combat. Combine that with making fights generally more inherently interesting unto themselves by introducing goals other than simply slaughtering all the bad guys.
Perhaps the issue is viewing combat as a matter of who wins and who loses as what is in contention versus how much in the way of resources the party retains/loses. I could bet on the PCs winning most fights and be right most of the time, but if they want to spam cantrips to conserve more damaging spells, that's likely to come at the cost of hit points and hit dice since the monsters may live longer. So they have to weigh that out accordingly.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
This is a problem that will never get solved, because there is a segment of the D&D populace that needs there to be mechanical rules to accomplish anything, and another section that wants open-ended narrative so that everyone can just state what they want to do for the betterment of the story. And never the twain shall meet.

The idea that a DM can make arbitrary decisions in a moment of battle to just "complete" situations and bounce away from the tactical wargame of D&D is the ultimate boon for some tables, and an anathema for others. @Laurefindel gives us a wonderful example of this right above this post-- the game mechanical results of trying to "retreat". The game has not been designed with any sort of airtight and robust mechanical formatting a la your typical wargame... so by following the letters of the rules we get into the circular issue of impossible retreat they post above. And I would say that is because I suspect the designers want players to be able to make the decision to just go narratively in and out of combat whenever a DM feels it is time... so in the case of retreats, the DM can just say "The monsters run"... and either they get away... or the players can make the narrative decision to chase after them if they want to. And if they do... then we can move away from the tactical wargame and use any sort of "chase rules" the DM wants instead.

Some tables appreciate this decision, other tables hate it. But it is what it is. D&D has not been a tactical wargame adaptation in a long, long time. So anyone who wants it to back that way is kind of stuck having to create those rules on their own. Unfortunate for them... but there's not much that can be done so long as the designers of D&D are interested in putting more narrative and story resolutions as legitimate options to the ending of scene rather than just game mechanics each and every time.
Strange forum glitch: your mention of @Laurefindel in the above post triggered a "mentioned" notification to me, which on clicking led me here...unless you also mentioned me then later edited it out but I see no sign of an edit.

Curious. :)

(now I'm wondering if my mentioning Laurefindel will trigger a notification to myself)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You are aware that's just a dumb meme, right?

Difficulty isn't the same as interesting. Trying to punch a brick wall down is difficult (for people who aren't me), but not interesting.

Whether resource management is interesting or not varies form person to person. For me, it's the most boring a man can get, like anti-Gillette.

Monster design is the heart of encounter design. If the monster is just a big thing that hits you, it's boring and at best, not directly hindering the interest in the combat.

Again, tension isn't interest and resource management isn't inherently interesting.

It would help for the move-it-along crowd at least. It makes the combat clock (HP) go down quicker. And it helps make combat interesting if you're not sucking and failing all the time because the dice say so.

1) it's a meme. People need to stop taking this stuff at face.
2) what's provided is bare bones at best.
People not reading the DMG isn't just a meme. It's verifiably true among a wide swath of DMs.

If you don't like resource management, you strangely chose a game that involves resource management. Maybe you secretly like it!
 

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