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Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
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.
Again, I'd argue they're not necessarily easier, just more familiar, that way. Is it really that difficult to conclude who wins a fight (a fight in an heroic fantasy story, no less - the hero usually wins, unless his loss advances the plot somehow, no?), and narrate how, vs both the DM and player getting deeply enough into the minds & emotions of a character & NPC to accurately simulate a tense or high-stakes negotiation, between those two imaginary individuals, with their knowledge, talents, skills and agendas?


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?
Well, a GM isn't just a referee/judge, even if they did get called the latter back in the day, but also a player just one with a very different role in the game, and a sort of narrator or storyteller, and a sort of author...

...even so, when adjudicating in the absence of rules, the GM is still mediating between the players and the rules, just in the abject case of the rules.

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.
since the game appeared in 1974, well within living memory, it clearly came first. Of course, it was preceded by Chainmail & other wargames, which carried with them an expectation of being combat simulators - but, for the most part, that wasn't /our expectations/ as Roleplayers, because we didn't exist as a community until after D&D came on the scene.

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.
There are reasons a game /could/ be more focused on combat, like it's a combat simulator, or the stakes of combat are life-and-death or combat is always there as a last resort - negotiations break down, exploration triggers hostility, whatever. But no reasons it must or should be, and reasons it might not be: combat could be out of the scope of the genre, or instance, or a (comparatively) minor part of it. In a murder mystery genre, for instance, violence is actually pretty rare, overall in what would correspond to play - there's /a/ murder, which is viewed as a terrible thing, but generally happens 'off stage,' anyway, and the murderer rarely fights his accusers (more often confesses, gives up, flees or dies trying), and it'd be an odd twist if he got away with it by resorting to violence.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
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.
So, I agree with you re: need. I've played diceless games that allow for narrative combat. And it is certainly possible to have games with social rules (and many do).

...that said, I think the reason for this split is somewhat clear. As originally conceived, D&D had a somewhat ... mixed ... nature. In fact, the best way to think of it is to think of old- school CRPGs, when you are just wondering around doing stuff, and then suddenly DUN DUN DUN you are thrust into your completely separate combat screen.

Activities other than combat? "Normal mode," and this would include roleplaying. Which you did by, um, roleplaying.

Combat? That put you into combat mode, as derived from OD&D, as derived from Chainmail, as derived from the Wargames of yore back to Kriegsspiel.


Doesn't mean it has to be that way, but it was.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
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?
I'd say my job as a referee is to adjudicate between the scenario, call it fiction or imaginary world and those in it, and the players actions. The rules provide a framework for a lot of that but for me some areas are best left to the interactions between the players and the DM. If I know what will lines of argument will convince the King and what will enrage him I can rule fairly easily based on what the players tell me they are doing if they are successful or not.

IME heavy social rules have never led to more roleplaying, only less. Granted I don't play with a lot of randoms. But even in the Con games I was in last spring there was all kinds of role playing going on and none of it had to do with mechanics.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
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.
If a group decides to go with simple binary for non-combst, then I tend to think thats what they want. The rules certainly dont require it. Both the GM and players csn ddcide to build as much into those as they eidh.

I mean, ok, so if we look at stealth and hiding, we see it starts with GM determination of whether thsats evedn even possible well before you get yo jour toll. You got spells starting at cantrips thst csn help, a little or a lot, plus help action, etc etc.

For social checks, the defined interaction process in the DMG for resolving those is far from "I persuade" and vice hit table- it includes determination of starting outlook, possibility of changing that using traits, possibly needing investigation etc.

And yep, the PHB mentions progress eith srtbsck, tight theremin the same sentences as they do pass and fail. So, not really given much less than they were. Then it shows up again in the DMG for saves snd attacks- fitted in with Success at cost.

Whether or not groups decide to use any of it is on them... but it's not a case that 5e by design boils those kinds of things to a simpler declare asnd one roll.
 

5ekyu

Explorer
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.
"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."

The DMG setup for these involve the traits such as ideals, bonds, flaws- discovering them, exploiting them etc and can easily lead to no roll needed or an easy roll of DC 10.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
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.
So, w/r/t and what [MENTION=177]Umbran[/MENTION] said earlier, I am reminded about the controversies over the introduction of the original Thief class.

One of the issues with introducing the class was that people were worried that if you introduced a Thief with certain defined skills (like Hide in Shadows) that would mean that individuals who were not Thieves could not perform the skill. Moreover, once you start to require these types of skills to do things, people would demand that these sorts of things be done by skill.

And two observations I would have are:

1. Most people fought against this line of argument. "Of course people can still do what they want!"

2. That said, my observation (anecdotal only) was that only thieves hid in shadows.

If you give someone a hammer, they start to look for nails. Using social resolution mechanics will result in players using those mechanics to solve problems.


To put it in old school terms-

(1)You can either just RP everything, in which case charisma is a useless dump stat and everything is determined by DM fiat as they judge your performance; or
(2) you can use a resolution mechanic for social events, in which case RP is just a mechanic.

There isn't any "right" answer, but these are decidedly different approaches.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
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?
Sure. I mean the GM adjudicates things all the time that are not covered by the rules, and in those moments the GM is acting as a sort of game mechanic. They are not referees in the same way that a boxing match or soccer match has. They are also there playing a world around the players. I don't need a mechanic to decide something interesting happens, or to decide how a baker responds to a player character's request for an endless supply of bread sticks.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
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.
Sure if there is no combat in a game, then you don't need combat rules really. But I think the key thing here is social interactions are things we can actually play out at the table. I can talk in character to the GM playing an NPC and to other players playing their characters. I can't really do that with combat. We are not going to take out boffer weapons to resolve combat. We need a mechanic. Now that mechanic could just be GM fiat. But the point is you can't play it out naturally the way you can play out a social interaction naturally and I think that is the main reason why so many games have large amounts of combat mechanics. It isn't necessarily a reflection of the game being focused on combat. It is just that more of the combat stuff can't be played out as naturally at the table as exploration and social stuff. Even when you have social mechanics, you don't really need that much. You don't necessarily need social mechanics to function like combat mechanics (there are games that do this obviously, but it is perfectly easy to play games without this level of depth of social mechanics).
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
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.
This
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
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.
Not if you want people to talk in character and have what they say be the thing that determines whether the king is persuaded. I am not saying social mechanics are not useful, or are bad. But I mean you don't have to have them just because you want social interaction in the game (especially if you want actual social interaction in the game).
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Not if you want people to talk in character and have what they say be the thing that determines whether the king is persuaded. I am not saying social mechanics are not useful, or are bad. But I mean you don't have to have them just because you want social interaction in the game (especially if you want actual social interaction in the game).
So, does that mean you probably /do/ want combat mechanics, especially if you don't want actual combat at the table?

;P
 
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.
More to the point, they tend to be less engaging than the social interaction that they are simulating.

By the argument that I outlined above, the more detailed the social interaction rules, the less engaging that they will tend to be because the less they will resemble the thing that they are a model for.

I can foresee this becoming Celebrim's Third Law of RPGs at some point, I just haven't figured out how to phrase it. But I have a strong suspicion that one of the reasons that the systems that try to cover everything using the same mechanical resolution system never seem to catch on is that fundamentally the things that they are trying to model are more different than they are similar. You can hammer every square peg through the round hole in order to get some sort of 'pass/fail' answer, but you can only do so at the cost of increasing abstraction and with that an intuitive and cinematic transcript of play.

"Cinematic" word I realize has been defined in several ways by tRPG writers, but as I use it I mean a process of resolution that tends to increase the ability of all participants to imagine what is transpiring in the scene in the same concrete way. That is to say, it has mechanics which tend to be self reifying. For example, if your process of resolution of a social encounter primarily depends on holding some sort of conversation, then everyone at the table can easily imagine what is transpiring in the scene in the same concrete way, because the transcript of the conversation (or at least something quite similar to it) is right there for everyone to experience. Thus, holding a conversation is cinematic in a way that, "I try to intimidate the guard.", or "I try to persuade the Baron to lend some of his household troops to assault the lizardfolk", or "I use a conversational feint.", etc. etc. just isn't.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
"Cinematic" word I realize has been defined in several ways by tRPG writers, but as I use it I mean a process of resolution that tends to increase the ability of all participants to imagine what is transpiring in the scene in the same concrete way. That is to say, it has mechanics which tend to be self reifying. For example, if your process of resolution of a social encounter primarily depends on holding some sort of conversation, then everyone at the table can easily imagine what is transpiring in the scene in the same concrete way, because the transcript of the conversation (or at least something quite similar to it) is right there for everyone to experience. Thus, holding a conversation is cinematic in a way that, "I try to intimidate the guard.", or "I try to persuade the Baron to lend some of his household troops to assault the lizardfolk", or "I use a conversational feint.", etc. etc. just isn't.
I think it depends on defining what you want the end goal to be in a social encounter, in fact it has to be really. If the end goal is the Duke lends you some of his household guard to trounce that lizardfolk resolution mechanics need to tell us when the Duke acquiesces, does what we want but with a condition, or flat out refuses. But it also needs to let us use the character abilities, and use player input in a way that physical altercations don't.

Using mechanics to wear the Duke down from his starting Social Points total is probably a bad idea, because as you say it looks too much like combat, but doesn't really let us know what is happening. But if we borrow FATE and start following stress then we can start assigning actual descriptions to what happens. For example, we might pick up a stress description of Insulted the Target, which doesn't go away just because the encounter is over. In a lot of ways that requires the players and the GM determining the outcomes after the dice roll, so if you insult the Duke its between the players and the GM to figure out how that happened.
 
To put it in old school terms-

(1)You can either just RP everything, in which case charisma is a useless dump stat and everything is determined by DM fiat as they judge your performance; or
(2) you can use a resolution mechanic for social events, in which case RP is just a mechanic.

There isn't any "right" answer, but these are decidedly different approaches.
I'm not sure that there is a "right" answer (that is, there is probably more than one good way to do things), but I do think that there are wrong answers.

In any event, assuming that both of those are right answers, I think that they are also a false dichotomy. It's not true that either everything is determined by DM fiat or else RP is just a mechanic. There are definitely ways to both engage in RP and also have some system for resolving social tests that doesn't depend only on DM fiat. The real question is just how much prep time do you want to engage in in order to minimize fiat during the run time (fiat during the preparation time, such as what monster a room holds is pretty much impossible to avoid), or which gives you a really great return on investment. My experience on this is for most things preparation time in structuring a social test is better spent elsewhere unless the social test is going to involve some sort of multi-session minigame focused on RP.

But, now moving up to your thief example, the reason you tended to see only Thieves hiding in Shadows is the relatively poor construction of the 1e AD&D rules. There is a tension in the rules. A good rule set tends to have as a meta-rule "Everything that is not forbidden is permitted." However, if you don't outline a good majority of the things that are permitted, there will be a tendency for players to not even try them, simply because they won't be prompted to consider the option. Likewise, if you don't outline a good majority of the things that are permitted, then DMs will tend to find themselves in a bind when propositions don't have a rule that covers them, and the result is likely to be either bad rulesmithing that makes the task too hard or too easy, or simply just saying "No" when they realize too permissive of rulings tend to be vastly more destructive to the game than too restrictive of rulings.

So, in a sense, climbing a wall had always been permitted. But I'm guessing in practice that prior to the introduction of the thief, a given wall was only climbable if the DM called it out as climbable in his own preparation, by for example noting that handholds could be found if the north wall was closely inspected. The thief allowed a player to propose climbing a more or less sheer wall regardless of whether the DM had called out whether it was climbable. Indeed, the introduction of the thief probably started provoking DMs to do the opposite - calling on it in their preparation when a wall was especially not climbable. And this latter habit would tend to make most walls unclimbable except by thieves unless the DM was of a particularly imaginative sort.

There were two other things that created problems. First, the system didn't define what a non-thief could do, which meant it was always up to the DM to decide on some number for the chance for a non-thief. And secondly, and this was a fundamental problem with the thief itself, the thief skills at low level already had such a low chance of success that a good thief player basically never used them anyway, since to face a fortune test was to fail and failure was often lethal. Thus, any number that the DM selected for a non-thief using thief skills would be so low as to be basically saying "No" anyway.

In practice, only M-U's hid in shadows, because they had Invisibility. Thieves had no reliable means of stealth and so rarely utilized it. 'Move Silently' was used, but only because you had to move anyway, so you might as well try to do it moving silently. Ironically though, moving silently had no obvious impact on the Surprise system with its fixed chances of surprise, so unless the DM made some sort of fiat ruling, there was usually little point in doing it.

The point is that we know you don't have to a climb skill that either relies entirely on fiat or else prevents untrained characters from trying to climb, even though we know that poorly thought out implementations might have either consequence.
 
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Bedrockgames

Villager
So, does that mean you probably /do/ want combat mechanics, especially if you don't want actual combat at the table?

;P
I just think RPGs are generally harder to run without them than they are without social mechanics. Doesn't mean you have to have them. You can just use fiat if you want. But I think you will run into more contention if and when combat comes up if it isn't perceived to be a fair system.

What I will say is I don't think having zero combat mechanics is the best way to discourage combat. Players can still pursue combat mechanics even if you don't have them (you will just be forced to figure out mechanics on the fly if they push for combat). In my experience the best ways to discourage combat are to make adventures where there are plenty of non-combat solutions, be open to non-combat solutions and use lethal combat systems. If the combat systems are sufficiently lethal, I find players tend to lean on smarter solutions to problems.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
I just think RPGs are generally harder to run without them than they are without social mechanics. Doesn't mean you have to have them. You can just use fiat if you want. But I think you will run into more contention if and when combat comes up if it isn't perceived to be a fair system.
You'll run into contention with any unfair mechanic or lack there of. It might take different forms. Bang! Your Dead! Am Not. Are too! for lack of combat mechanics, vs moping and not showing up to the next session when your 18 CHA paladin is humiliated in court for the nth time, because the DM doesn't care for the way you RP him, and it's reflected in his success in social situation, for want of any actual mechanics...

If the combat systems are sufficiently lethal, I find players tend to lean on smarter solutions to problems.
Like shooting first. ;P Seriously, the impetus a very lethal combat system gives is not towards pacifism, but towards assassination over "fair" fights.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
You'll run into contention with any unfair mechanic or lack there of. It might take different forms. Bang! Your Dead! Am Not. Are too! for lack of combat mechanics, vs moping and not showing up to the next session when your 18 CHA paladin is humiliated in court for the nth time, because the DM doesn't care for the way you RP him, and it's reflected in his success in social situation, for want of any actual mechanics...
Again, I think there is a big difference between combat and non-combat situations here. I've certainly seen people upset about the 18 CHR paladin thing, but that still doesn't require a whole system dedicated to social mechanics. It just requires the GM stay on the ball and fairly incorporate the CHR score. At the same time, I've not seen nearly as many fights and arguments over this sort of thing as I have over combat issues. I just think combat is much more open to contention. And I find it fairly easy to run a game without non combat mechanics.

Like shooting first. ;P Seriously, the impetus a very lethal combat system gives is not towards pacifism, but towards assassination over "fair" fights.
That would be a pretty bad strategy long term in a lethal combat system. Most systems don't guarantee you get to go first every combat. Even if you have a high Speed (or whatever is used to determine initiative order) there are always people out there who are fast or faster. If it is a game with guns, and guns can potentially kill in a single hit, my experience is people really hedge their bets when violence arises and they generally try to avoid violent solutions when safer ones are feasible. Obviously if violence is inevitable in a campaign using such a system, shooting first will be the go to move....but that is almost always the case anyways.
 
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Tony Vargas

Adventurer
Again, I think there is a big difference between combat and non-combat situations here. I've certainly seen people upset about the 18 CHR paladin thing, but that still doesn't require a whole system dedicated to social mechanics. It just requires the GM stay on the ball and fairly incorporate the CHR score.
IDK, couldn't a GM just stay on the ball and consider a combat-bad-ass concept character's bad-ass-ed-ness when adjudication combat?


That would be a pretty bad strategy long term in a lethal combat system.
Taking advantage of the system's lethality by killing enemies when the odds are all on your side? It's classic CaW.
 

Bedrockgames

Villager
IDK, couldn't a GM just stay on the ball and consider a combat-bad-ass concept character's bad-ass-ed-ness when adjudication combat?
He could do that, but I think combat is a lot harder to adjudicate in that way than talking (which I explained in an earlier post).


Taking advantage of the system's lethality by killing enemies when the odds are all on your side? It's classic CaW.
But if it is genuinely lethal, any time you engage in combat it is a risky proposition. Look, you might have reckless players who do this, particularly if they don't care if their character dies or if the premise of the campaign involves a high level of character death, but for the most part my experience with this has been players are much more cautious using violence and tend to lean on non-violent solutions when they are feasible. If all it takes is one bullet to kill you, you can have the best laid plans and if one little thing goes wrong, you die. You can't get away with that over the long haul if you are doing it all the time.
 

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