Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I don't know if anyone ever asked Gary this, but did OD&D/1e not have all kinds of rules for social situations because he didn't think that was important, or because role playing non combat encounters was something the players at the table did? Granted I don't think the focus of early D&D was deep social interaction, it was adventure, exploration, and combat.
You don’t need rules to deal with social interaction and many other aspects of play. But you need combat rules
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
You don’t need rules to deal with social interaction and many other aspects of play. But you need combat rules
Oh I agree. IME the heavier the social interaction rules the more that part of the game becomes "I make a skill check!" rather than trying to roleplay it. Many don't agree and that is fine.

Thanks Lowkey. Been a while since I've cracked that part of the DMG open.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You don’t need rules to deal with social interaction and many other aspects of play. But you need combat rules
Why do you need rules for one, but not the other? GMs are capable of just saying, "Yes, this social interaction plays out in this manner, with these effects," and do so fairly, but they are somehow incapable of doing so with combat? They can't take a player's description of physical and magical actions, and just run with that like they can social interaction?

That, really, is kind of preposterous. GMs certainly *could* do without rules for combat. I have played in games with entirely narrative combat. They aren't impossible.

It isn't that we "need" rules for one or the other. We *choose* rules for one over the other.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
Why do you need rules for one, but not the other? GMs are capable of just saying, "Yes, this social interaction plays out in this manner, with these effects," and do so fairly, but they are somehow incapable of doing so with combat? They can't take a player's description of physical and magical actions, and just run with that like they can social interaction?

That, really, is kind of preposterous. GMs certainly *could* do without rules for combat. I have played in games with entirely narrative combat. They aren't impossible.

It isn't that we "need" rules for one or the other. We *choose* rules for one over the other.
Personally, I like having rules for both. IME, there are just as few masters of social interaction as there are masters of combat in gaming. Having rules for both lets players who aren’t play characters who are.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Why do you need rules for one, but not the other? GMs are capable of just saying, "Yes, this social interaction plays out in this manner, with these effects," and do so fairly, but they are somehow incapable of doing so with combat? They can't take a player's description of physical and magical actions, and just run with that like they can social interaction?

That, really, is kind of preposterous. GMs certainly *could* do without rules for combat. I have played in games with entirely narrative combat. They aren't impossible.

It isn't that we "need" rules for one or the other. We *choose* rules for one over the other.
Fair enough. You can run without either, but on the whole I think most people want combat rules. It is a lot harder in my opinion to adjudicate a game with zero combat rules than one with zero social rules. I think most social interacts can easily be handled by role-play. Combat screams for a resolution mechanism
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I'm not sure about page 84. I'll look in a second. However, the intro section of the PHB says the following.

"While initial adventuring usually takes place in an underworld dungeon setting, play gradually expands to encompass other such dungeons, town and city activities, wilderness explorations, and journeys into other dimensions, planes, times, worlds, and so forth."

It's pretty clear that things like "Rescue the princess" and other such adventures were intended as part of 1e from the very get go. That also jives from my play experience. I started playing in 1983, 6 years before 2e started and every DM I played with had these sorts of adventures. Often it was a dungeon. Less often, but still fairly common were the rescue, infiltrate and steal scenarios.

This is the relevant portion of page 84.

"Tricking or outwitting monsters or overcoming tricks and/or traps placed to guard treasure must be determined subjectively, with level of experience balanced against the degree of difficulty you assign to the gaining of the treasure."

This section seems to indicate that a monster level should be assigned when treasure is accomplished without combat so as to figure out the award of experience for gaining the treasure.

Edit: If you were going by published adventures, then I can see where you'd get that impression from. The vast majority of them were some form of invade the dungeon and get the loot after killing things that got in your way.
Oh, our games with homebrew settings and adventures often included saving the princess and all other kinds of things, for sure. But I think it's pretty clear as displayed in the published modules of the time, and in the pretty skimpy bits about it in the DMG, the rules about rewarding non-combat were far from robust. It basically boiled down to what the DM decided to grant. So if your group wanted to play a more heroic style, and your DM embraced that, then sure, it'd work out. That's how I'd describe my home game at the time (although we were also kids with a tenuous grasp on the way the game was intended to play).

I think that the XP for GP helped mitigate this somewhat (that was my original point, although it wasn't very clear) but how much depended on play expectations and practices for each group. But we can look at the MM, the DMG, and the published adventures and have all kinds of specific examples of how much XP would be granted for killing a given monster.
 

Bobble

Villager
Like a lot of things AD&D, it was pretty schizophrenic.

For example, while you can talk about xp for "tricking" monsters being in the 1e DMG, you also have the training rules. A fighter that didn't fight was actively penalized by being forced to take longer to train and
Um, NO. "Hanging back from combat" means that combat is ongoing with the rest of the party and the fighter is not involved but hiding behind the party. That is NOT equal to the fighter working out how to trick the monsters so no combat happens in the first place. Nice try but you got it wrong.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Like a lot of things AD&D, it was pretty schizophrenic.

For example, while you can talk about xp for "tricking" monsters being in the 1e DMG, you also have the training rules. A fighter that didn't fight was actively penalized by being forced to take longer to train and spending far, far more money on training, for example. In 2e, while there were "bonus Xp tables" again, fighters ONLY gained bonus xp for killing stuff.

Add to that the published modules of the day, which again, leads to a VERY schizophrenic experience of 1e where the DMG advocates one thing and the modules pretty much entirely ignore the DMG, and it's very easy to see why murderhobo play was pretty common.

Referenced: 1e DMG p 86



It was pretty clear the implication that combat was pretty strongly expected.

1e DMG P 85:



And then there are pretty complex maths used for calculating that xp. For stuff that isn't killing and/or looting, we get this piece of advice:



IOW, if you kill the monster and take the treasure, you are guaranteed a certain xp award. If you trick the monster and steal the treasure, your xp reward will be based entirely on whatever you DM feels like. You tricked them too easily? Oops, sorry, no xp for you. And, frankly, that sort of thing just leads to far too many arguments at the table. So, DM's and players both shied away from it and relied on the codified rules.

And, lastly, we're left with this bit of advice on page 85



IOW, all that stuff that isn't killing and looting is "conducive to non-game boredom".
Yeah, the game very clearly wanted you to engage in combat, with maybe the occasional attempt to avoid a particularly deadly opponent through trickery or stealth, or by simply avoiding it if another route was possible. The game could punish those who always attacked, but didn't do a lot to help support any other approach to a challenge. Or at least, it didn't really do so in a mechanical way. How sneaky was the average party? No idea, really.....only the Thief had the ability to Move Silently and Hide in Shadows. So much was left up to DM judgment. And while I generally don't think that's bad (assuming a reasonable DM), I think that such judgment is better off when there are established rules or guidelines on how to handle something so fundamental.

Like with many things in D&D, there's a sweet spot of sorts; too many rules, and the DM's judgment doesn't matter as much, too few rules and it becomes supremely necessary. There's a sweet spot somewhere in the middle.
 
You don’t need rules to deal with social interaction and many other aspects of play. But you need combat rules
You don't need rules, at all, it's true: the DM can just rule on everything - combat, absolutely, included. If you feel you /do/ need rules for combat - because it's life-or-death, presumably, what about life-or-death exploration challenges or negotiations?

D&D grew out of wargames, they were heavily combat-oriented, so D&D rules started out heavily combat-oriented. The game happened to progress slowly and haphazardly, at first, then fall into the hands of people who neither understood nor cared about it - so the first 25 years saw very little progress towards more formal, more functional, coverage of other areas. But that was just an accident of how the game developed.

It's not that you do "need" rules for combat, it's that you've always had them. It's not that you "don't" need rules for non-combat, it's that you'd gotten accustomed to getting by without them fairly well before even comparatively dubious ones were even published.
 
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Bedrockgames

Adventurer
You don't need rules, at all, it's true: the DM can just rule on everything - combat, absolutely, included. If you feel you /do/ need rules for combat - because it's life-or-death, presumably, what about life-or-death exploration challenges or negotiations?

D&D grew out of wargames, they were heavily combat-oriented, so D&D rules started out heavily combat-oriented. The game happened to progress slowly and haphazardly, at first, then fall into the hands of people who neither understood nor cared about it - so the first 25 years saw very little progress towards more formal, more functional, coverage of other areas. But that was just an accident of how the game developed.

It's not that you do "need" rules for combat, it's that you've always had them. It's not that you "don't" need rules for non-combat, it's that you'd gotten accustomed to getting by without them fairly well before even comparatively dubious ones were even published.
I disagree very strongly. It isn't just about the stakes. It is about how difficult it is to adjudicate something as physically unpredictable and dynamic as combat fairly without a resolution system. With social situations, it is much easier to adjudicate based on the NPC personality in question and the reasonableness of what players are proposing. Negotiations are things we do all the time. Not saying it is the only way to do it But I think if people are honest with themselves, they will have to admit, most people find it easier to manage the social aspect of play without mechanics but harder to manage combat without mechanics. I don't think it is purely because it comes from war-games. I think there is also a very functional reason you see combat mechanics being so central to rules systems. It doesn't need to reflect a focus on combat. It can easily just be that combat requires it more, and the other stuff is more manageable without.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
When you put it that way, it's amazing we spent so many hrs playing it!
;)

And, typically only one character...

I can see how some table take a fair play message from encounter guidelines - and, hey, its not a dysfunctional style of play for the DM to essentially assemble foes for the party like building an army in a wargame, then playing that side intelligently, to win.
That's the sense I was going for....


Yes, I do find that idea compelling. It was just 1e treasure for XP as an example that threw me.
And, while I argued that the WotC eds have implemented some sub-systems that move the game towards more non-combat challenges, I have to acknowledge that none ever really succeeded. Skill Challenges were probably the closest, but they were still more abstract, and faster/less engaging than combat, unless the DM stepped up and elaborated on them to a degree that the game didn't tend to encourage.
Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that XP for GP was a solution. Just that it at least offered something for those who didn't fight their way to the treasure. Later editions certainly got other things right (skill systems, etc.) but got other things wrong.

I think the flatter math of 5E should have also been applied to XP. No need for hundreds and thousands of XP. Have each instance of a certain action grant an XP. Make them class and perhaps race and alignment specific. And it'd probably have been a good idea to connect the Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws to the system, too. Limit how much XP a player can get for any individual action. If a Fighter can only gain XP twice for combat in any given session, he's not incentivized to resolve every challenge with a fight. Each PC would have very specific play goals, and could actively and clearly work toward obtaining those goals.

You'd have to couple this with other things, though. You'd have to make non-combat action resolution more engaging than:

Player: I try to sneak past the guards.
DM: Okay, make a Dex-Stealth roll.
Player: I got a 7.
DM: Not good enough. The guard sees you and charges.

This just doesn't really compare to the depth of combat in the game. I think that you'd need to increase the depth of non-combat actions and encounters. I also think that speeding up combat a bit would also help. Obviously, every table will have preferences, so you have to leave it adjustable, but I think that generally speaking, that's the route they should have gone if they wanted the game to genuinely be about 3 pillars rather than 1 pillar and a pair of support beams.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Yeah, I didn't mean to imply that XP for GP was a solution. Just that it at least offered something for those who didn't fight their way to the treasure. Later editions certainly got other things right (skill systems, etc.) but got other things wrong.

I think the flatter math of 5E should have also been applied to XP. No need for hundreds and thousands of XP. Have each instance of a certain action grant an XP. Make them class and perhaps race and alignment specific. And it'd probably have been a good idea to connect the Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws to the system, too. Limit how much XP a player can get for any individual action. If a Fighter can only gain XP twice for combat in any given session, he's not incentivized to resolve every challenge with a fight. Each PC would have very specific play goals, and could actively and clearly work toward obtaining those goals.

You'd have to couple this with other things, though. You'd have to make non-combat action resolution more engaging than:

Player: I try to sneak past the guards.
DM: Okay, make a Dex-Stealth roll.
Player: I got a 7.
DM: Not good enough. The guard sees you and charges.

This just doesn't really compare to the depth of combat in the game. I think that you'd need to increase the depth of non-combat actions and encounters. I also think that speeding up combat a bit would also help. Obviously, every table will have preferences, so you have to leave it adjustable, but I think that generally speaking, that's the route they should have gone if they wanted the game to genuinely be about 3 pillars rather than 1 pillar and a pair of support beams.
To me, looking at your sneak example, that's a pretty bland setup. Its setup like it's a throwaway scene, not a real task.

Add in a setup with meaningful scenery, NPCs around and scenes back and forth past the guards etc and you get opportunities for PCs to arrange distractions, to find ways that dont require stealth checks, to investigate and bribe or persuade etc etc etc.

In other words, your sample started way too late in the scene to be interesting. (Although, honestly, there could still be a more robust set of options for the guard's reaction.

"7, not good enough, the guard sees you, but doesnt say anything, just smiles and make a gesture with his hands like handling coins." Some success with setback. - PHB.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I disagree very strongly. It isn't just about the stakes. It is about how difficult it is to adjudicate something as physically unpredictable and dynamic as combat fairly without a resolution system. With social situations, it is much easier to adjudicate based on the NPC personality in question and the reasonableness of what players are proposing. Negotiations are things we do all the time. Not saying it is the only way to do it But I think if people are honest with themselves, they will have to admit, most people find it easier to manage the social aspect of play without mechanics but harder to manage combat without mechanics. I don't think it is purely because it comes from war-games. I think there is also a very functional reason you see combat mechanics being so central to rules systems. It doesn't need to reflect a focus on combat. It can easily just be that combat requires it more, and the other stuff is more manageable without.
I do agree with you that we are, generally speaking, more comfortable with managing the social aspect of the game without rules than we would be the combat aspect of the game without rules. But this is likely a byproduct of the fact that we actively do the social actions in real life....we try to convince people, we discuss, we socialize...so there's a framework we can access. Most of us (I hope) aren't engaging in life or death combat with deadly opponents in day to day life. So yeah, I think we all have a better idea of what might be considered a compelling argument than what would be the best approach to attack with a broadsword.

But I don't think that automatically means that social interaction rules shouldn't exist, or that combat rules must be more complex.

I do think that it's a bit of a chicken or egg thing.....is the game combat heavy and that's flavored our expectations, or have our expectations influenced the rules design? It's a bit of both, for sure, I'd say.

I don't think that there's any reason a game cannot be focused on non-combat more than combat, or that there must be more rules for combat. I think this is simply the general trend, which reinforces long standing play expectations.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
But I don't think that automatically means that social interaction rules shouldn't exist, or that combat rules must be more complex.
.
I never said this at all. This is a matter of preference. Some people like social interaction rules, some people don't. Both options are fine. Personally I am less inclined to social interaction rules because I have trouble using them in practice. But I don't think there is a problem wit them being in a game. My only point was you can still have plenty of social interaction even if there are no rules in the game (in fact for me, it makes it easier to do so if there are not such rules in the game)
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
To me, looking at your sneak example, that's a pretty bland setup. Its setup like it's a throwaway scene, not a real task.

Add in a setup with meaningful scenery, NPCs around and scenes back and forth past the guards etc and you get opportunities for PCs to arrange distractions, to find ways that dont require stealth checks, to investigate and bribe or persuade etc etc etc.

In other words, your sample started way too late in the scene to be interesting. (Although, honestly, there could still be a more robust set of options for the guard's reaction.

"7, not good enough, the guard sees you, but doesnt say anything, just smiles and make a gesture with his hands like handling coins." Some success with setback. - PHB.
Sure, the set up was very basic....and although that was largely for the sake of brevity, I don't know if expanding a bit upon the set up will matter all that much. A lot of times, that's exactly what a skill check boils down to.....one roll, with a success or fail end state. I'd expect that most attempts to avoid combat by using a skill or a spell wind up coming down to one roll, and a failure almost always results in the combat taking place anyway. Very often with the PCs in a worse position than if they'd simply charged in at the start.

Again, that's speaking in general; there are certainly examples of a different approach (my 5E game would have plenty of examples to offer).

The idea of a partial success, or success with a set back, is a very good one, and is the kind of thing I'm talking about when it comes to improving the non-combat actions. The PHB does talk about them, which is a good thing, but I think they likely could or should have gone a little further.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I never said this at all. This is a matter of preference. Some people like social interaction rules, some people don't. Both options are fine. Personally I am less inclined to social interaction rules because I have trouble using them in practice. But I don't think there is a problem wit them being in a game. My only point was you can still have plenty of social interaction even if there are no rules in the game (in fact for me, it makes it easier to do so if there are not such rules in the game)
No, but you said more people would be comfortable with them not existing. So I was addressing that. I think that's mostly due to expectation and tradition, or maybe a feedback loop of both.

I'm currently playing a game that treats all the combat and non-combat actions the same....it has a universal mechanic that's resolved the same for all actions.

Combat is still a big part of the game. But non-combat is just as important, and is just as engaging.

So I think the existence of engaging mechanics for social interaction can actually add to play rather than detract from it. The problem is that the most common social interaction rules aren't really all that engaging.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
No, but you said more people would be comfortable with them not existing. So I was addressing that. I think that's mostly due to expectation and tradition, or maybe a feedback loop of both.
All I meant was more people are able to play the game with an absence of social mechanics than they are with an absence of combat mechanics. i wasn't addressing whether more people wanted them or not. Personally my impression is more people do want social mechanics than don't. This is why I include them in my own games, despite not being partial to them myself.
 

Bobble

Villager
All I meant was more people are able to play the game with an absence of social mechanics than they are with an absence of combat mechanics.
100% correct. It is easy to use role playing in place of social mechanics vs. trying to adjudicate combat without mechanics.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
It is a lot harder in my opinion to adjudicate a game with zero combat rules than one with zero social rules. I think most social interacts can easily be handled by role-play. Combat screams for a resolution mechanism
I rather think that depends upon what the focus & intent of the game is. Just this weekend, I played a game which had no combat mechanic. The PCs weren't people addressing their challenges via personally applying physical force, so no system for doing so was included. We didn't miss it.

If the intended action in a game is "kill things and take their stuff" then yes, your game needs a combat mechanic. If the intended action in game is... "Kill things, and take their stuff... and then persuade the king to not execute your PCs after you killed many of his subjects," then you really should have a social conflict resolution mechanic.

I will toss out there, for folks to chew on, whether the GM is adjudicating when they are not referring to any rules. A referee or game judge's job is to mediate between the players and the rules. If there aren't rules, are they really acting in that capacity?
 

Celebrim

Legend
Why do you need rules for one, but not the other?
My suspicion is that it is because gamers tend to prefer the least abstract experience of the scenario possible (or at least that is convenient).

For combat, the least abstract thing to do would be dress up in armor, take up some sort of sparring weapon, and play out the combat. This is exciting visceral and only slightly abstract and many people do it, yet it is not particularly convenient and leaves open problems of how you simulate giants, dragons, magic, and most of all being someone other than yourself.

The combat rules used by most systems, and certainly by the most popular and enduring systems, tend to be as un-abstract as is convenient to run in a table top game. All those fiddly rules help describe a less abstract reality for the combat, where moment by moment decisions can be played out in a way that allows the participants to imagine what is going on.

By contrast, the least abstract way to simulate social interaction is with social interaction. Table-top RPGs after all are inherently social games, and so the easiest way to simulate a conversation is simply to have that conversation. Actually having the conversation creates in a non-abstract way what was said in a far more detailed, complete, natural and convenient manner than any attempt to model conversations as combat ever could. Thus, while the least abstract combat system involves the most rules, the least abstract social system involves the fewest rules.

And while there are some complexities to overcome in imagining conversations, I personally as a DM find it easier to simulate speaking and thinking like a dragon - however unrealistic my approximation may be - than I find it to actually simulate moving and fighting like a dragon. I can pretend to hubris and greed far easier than I can pretend to fly and breath fire and be 40' long. Barring acquiring the ability to change shape and bend the laws of physics, I'm going to need to model the later in a way I don't need a model for something I can do like conversation.

So in a sense, yes we do choose rules for one over the other, but I don't think it is true that we do this for arbitrary reasons or even that the reasons are primarily cultural in nature.
 

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