Why are we okay with violence in RPGs?

hawkeyefan

Explorer
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.
But they were basing their initial design on things that already existed. One was Chainmail and other wargames, but the other was genre. Lieber and Howard and Tolkien and Vance and Lovecraft and so on. The game was designed with those stories in mind...so rules for fighting were definitely necessary because those stories all included fighting, or the possibility of it, at least.

So the stories influenced the game design, and then the game design influenced the stories players told with their game.

So why is a specific game so combat heavy? Because Gary designed the rules that way? Or because of the genre the rules are meant to reproduce?

I feel like it has to be a bit of both.

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.
A murder mystery is a great example of a genre that wouldn’t really require combat mechanics. There are others, as well, but even within genres we’d typically think must have them, there may not always be a need. I’m thinking of fiction where most of the “action” occurs offscreen. Or where it’s minimal. Something like The Wire, let’s say. Five seasons of cops and drug dealers, and there are very few gunfights. Rome had almost all of the warfare take place offscreen, although it did show more small scale fights.

These shows were still very compelling. I don’t know if there’s any reason that a RPG couldn’t replicate such fiction.
 
the other was genre. Lieber and Howard and Tolkien and Vance and Lovecraft and so on. The game was designed with those stories in mind...
IDK, I feel like there'd be a lot more rules for walking around, building fires in the snow, and Expositon, Joel, EX-PO-SITION ... We're Tolkien really a lot more than a cosmetic inspiration. Likewise, Lovecraftean influence would have meant more insanity, less combat. Lieber? You'd need some exhaustive rules for the *ahem* interaction /pillar/...
 

Hussar

Legend
In 1e an ancient red dragon was worth 7758, or 1939 xp each for a party of 4. An ancient red dragon can easily have 250,000gp worth of treasure, not including magic items. That equates to 62,500 xp each for that party of 4. Gaining the treasure is 32 times more xp than killing it, and you get that same exp if you steal the treasure rather than fight the dragon.

D&D was originally concieved as a get the loot game where you sometimes had to fight, but really tried to avoid it when possible so you didn't end up dead.
Now, how exactly did you manage to get that couple of tons of treasure out of the lair without fighting the dragon?

Again, why did folks avoid combat when the PC's after about 6th level were FAR more powerful than anything they were facing? And Ancient Huge Red Dragon had 92 HP (IIRC). That was about 1 round of damage output for a 9th level party of 6-9 PC's.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm just blown away by folks that want to paint early D&D as anything other than a hack and slash wargame with a thin veneer of story laid over top. 99% of the rules were related to combat. Virtually everything your character got was either directly related to combat, or as a result of combat. This shouldn't be terribly contentious. This is D&D after all. Y'know, back to the dungeon, the mega dungeon, dungeon crawling, that sort of thing? I mean, good grief, look at most modules published up until about 1982, which is a pile of them - they're pretty much nothing but hack fest dungeon crawls.
And that's what makes them great!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Now, how exactly did you manage to get that couple of tons of treasure out of the lair without fighting the dragon?

Again, why did folks avoid combat when the PC's after about 6th level were FAR more powerful than anything they were facing? And Ancient Huge Red Dragon had 92 HP (IIRC). That was about 1 round of damage output for a 9th level party of 6-9 PC's.
If they won initiative.

But if they lost they'd be eating a 92-point blast of fire (46-point on a made save), with potential subsequent item losses on failing the initial save, when the dragon breathed on them before they got to act. Chances are that'd turn the 6-9 character party into a 3-7 character party, with each of the remaining characters down a bunch of h.p. and possibly down some items as well. That evens the odds a bit... :)

Not every party would want to risk getting hammered that hard, and so would look for ways to somehow lure the dragon away from its lair or somehow else make that treasure accessible without a direct confrontation.
 

Hussar

Legend
If they won initiative.

But if they lost they'd be eating a 92-point blast of fire (46-point on a made save), with potential subsequent item losses on failing the initial save, when the dragon breathed on them before they got to act. Chances are that'd turn the 6-9 character party into a 3-7 character party, with each of the remaining characters down a bunch of h.p. and possibly down some items as well. That evens the odds a bit... :)

Not every party would want to risk getting hammered that hard, and so would look for ways to somehow lure the dragon away from its lair or somehow else make that treasure accessible without a direct confrontation.
Meh, the dragon had a non-zero chance of being asleep when you got there. :D And, again, given that level of a party, you've got so much fire protection that the breath weapon is a joke. And, let's not forget, we're cherry picking the biggest non-unique monster in the 1e monster manual here. Most other monsters were nowhere near this dangerous. There's a pile of variables here. My point is, by and large, most groups are going to steamroll most encounters. Why did people feel the need to avoid combat?

I dunno, then again, we left AD&D as soon as 2e came out and 2e was even worse - fighters really were damage gods.

As I said, I'm always left rather surprised that folks worried about this sort of thing. It was so easy to curb stomp monsters in AD&D. The only real danger came from the plethora of save or die effects. Combat? A 9th level AD&D party could face multiple dragons and come out on top.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Now, how exactly did you manage to get that couple of tons of treasure out of the lair without fighting the dragon?
A bag of holding or four. It's not as if most of that didn't come from gems, jewelry and platinum anyway. One of the largest bags of holding could hold 150k of the 250k with 1000 pounds left over.

Again, why did folks avoid combat when the PC's after about 6th level were FAR more powerful than anything they were facing?
Death? Energy Drain? Save or die sucked and was all over the place with poison, and energy drain was hell. It had no save and you never got back all of your experience, even if you were lucky enough to be drained within a day of someone who could cast restoration. And you started encountering a lot of energy drain undead well before the party could cast restoration itself, assuming your cleric wasn't also drained.

And Ancient Huge Red Dragon had 92 HP (IIRC). That was about 1 round of damage output for a 9th level party of 6-9 PC's.
Sure, if it just hung out on the ground ready to duke it out. Played intelligently, that dragon would destroy a 9th level party. I also like how you made it a party of 6-9 NPCs, rather than the typical 4. Double the party size and you double the monsters. So 8 PCs against a pair or three of ancient red dragons.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Meh, the dragon had a non-zero chance of being asleep when you got there. :D And, again, given that level of a party, you've got so much fire protection that the breath weapon is a joke. And, let's not forget, we're cherry picking the biggest non-unique monster in the 1e monster manual here. Most other monsters were nowhere near this dangerous.
And worth nowhere as much XP. I went with ancient red dragon to illustrate just how piddly combat XP was. Especially vs. XP from treasure.

My point is, by and large, most groups are going to steamroll most encounters. Why did people feel the need to avoid combat?
You played with a generous DM, or perhaps one who didn't know how to run monsters. If the DM wasn't worried about killing you and used tactics that many of the monsters would know and use, combats were not easy, especially when you factored in save or die and energy drains.

I dunno, then again, we left AD&D as soon as 2e came out and 2e was even worse - fighters really were damage gods.

It was so easy to curb stomp monsters in AD&D. The only real danger came from the plethora of save or die effects. Combat?
Those are mutually exclusive statements. :p
 

Celebrim

Legend
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.
Doing this in a concrete way requires a bit of preparation of the sort people generally don't do.

You have to define the Duke as a social character. The 'Seven Sentence NPC' article in Dragon #184 is still in my opinion the definitive starting place for this. You then need to define the basics of the social challenge, essentially setting the Difficulty, the various obvious modifiers that might result from doing or saying things the Duke likes or dislikes, and defining before hand what partial success or success with complications looks like and under what circumstances such outcomes apply. These sort of challenges if well constructed have the sort of details we might otherwise lavish on traps or monsters. Social focused challenges can be really cool, if you have the right group of players, but they do take a bit of work and/or some experience to run them well. You don't necessarily need a ton of complicated mechanics and most systems - even 1e AD&D with its loyalty checks or a modified version of a common ruling like 'roll below an ability score' - usually have enough of a system to adopt to this sort of thing, but you do need some sort of tangible social reality you are describing.

But if we borrow FATE...
I'm really not a fan of FATE, and the only part of FATE that I'd ever advise anyone to borrow is less its system than the description it provides for outlining in some concrete way the elements of the game and challenges. The system itself leaves me cold for a ton of reasons, but it does in its advice to the GM push you toward good preparation to play. Unfortunately, I really think too often this good foundation is ignored and at most people attempting to play the game do no more than a rough draft and build nothing on it, thinking that they can get away with little or no preparation. Based on what I've seen from play run by even the designer of the system, this is not a great idea.
 

Celebrim

Legend
And worth nowhere as much XP. I went with ancient red dragon to illustrate just how piddly combat XP was. Especially vs. XP from treasure.
Depending on the style of treasure allocation, XP from combat tended to be between 1/3rd and 1/10th as much as the XP from treasure.

You played with a generous DM, or perhaps one who didn't know how to run monsters. If the DM wasn't worried about killing you and used tactics that many of the monsters would know and use, combats were not easy, especially when you factored in save or die and energy drains.
The question I have for that statement is, "Is relying on Save or Die or Energy Drains to challenge PCs fun?"

I dunno, then again, we left AD&D as soon as 2e came out and 2e was even worse - fighters really were damage gods.
The problem started in 1e Unearthed Arcana. Fighters post UA were dishing about twice as much damage at a given level as the game had been built around, but even before UA AD&D had a problem that almost everything in the game was a glass cannon capable of dishing out far more damage than it could take. I used to joke that the initiative roll was the mid-game of AD&D combat, and that round 1 was the end game. Any monster that went last in the round would never get an attack off.

Still there are a variety of things you could do about that. The most important is to not put your fights in 'tournament spaces'. Instead of arenas with flat floors, you put the fight where the PCs are at a disadvantage of some sort. And you use the sort of monsters that can actually manage to challenge PCs. You can also tweak monsters from the MM's a bit and end up with good challenges, which works well in any edition. For example, taking a standard Ogre and giving it better than normal equipment like plate mail and a two-handed sword can on its own make an encounter much more challenging. I wrote a short guide.

I left AD&D in the early 90's, frustrated by the amount of rules and changes that I felt at the time I'd need to make to get the game to work. In many ways, it's a terrible game. In many ways it's brilliant. I get occasionally struck by nostalgia for the game, and want to run it with the knowledge I've accumulated since the time I left it.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
I am suggesting, as someone said upthread, that the GM has several functions, only one of which is adjudicating. When the GM is just deciding a result, for their own reasons unrelated to the rules of the game - that's not adjudicating.

That moment when the GM is *authoring* a result, whatever their inspiration for that - that's not the moment they are adjudicating.

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.
I don't buy it. I don't think it fair to call it a "referee" when you choose the opposing force, the scenario, and determine the result yourself. If there were rules present, we'd have that to fall back on. But lacking them - again, it is a proper GM function, but I think calling it "referee" in this case is misleading.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
The question I have for that statement is, "Is relying on Save or Die or Energy Drains to challenge PCs fun?"



The problem started in 1e Unearthed Arcana. Fighters post UA were dishing about twice as much damage at a given level as the game had been built around, but even before UA AD&D had a problem that almost everything in the game was a glass cannon capable of dishing out far more damage than it could take. I used to joke that the initiative roll was the mid-game of AD&D combat, and that round 1 was the end game. Any monster that went last in the round would never get an attack off.

Still there are a variety of things you could do about that. The most important is to not put your fights in 'tournament spaces'. Instead of arenas with flat floors, you put the fight where the PCs are at a disadvantage of some sort. And you use the sort of monsters that can actually manage to challenge PCs. You can also tweak monsters from the MM's a bit and end up with good challenges, which works well in any edition. For example, taking a standard Ogre and giving it better than normal equipment like plate mail and a two-handed sword can on its own make an encounter much more challenging. I wrote a short guide.

I left AD&D in the early 90's, frustrated by the amount of rules and changes that I felt at the time I'd need to make to get the game to work. In many ways, it's a terrible game. In many ways it's brilliant. I get occasionally struck by nostalgia for the game, and want to run it with the knowledge I've accumulated since the time I left it.
For the first question, oh yes. Very much so. Its quite amusing to watch a higher level PC be afraid of a little spider with a save or die effect.

When I first started playing 1e AD&D I thought so much in the MM was too weak. Then when I started playing an OD&D clone recently the power of those monsters all made sense compared to the power of OD&D PC. It was the first book and I think written more in line with that. But the power creep in the 1e PH didn't help, and UA made it largely a push over.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I am suggesting, as someone said upthread, that the GM has several functions, only one of which is adjudicating. When the GM is just deciding a result, for their own reasons unrelated to the rules of the game - that's not adjudicating.

That moment when the GM is *authoring* a result, whatever their inspiration for that - that's not the moment they are adjudicating.



I don't buy it. I don't think it fair to call it a "referee" when you choose the opposing force, the scenario, and determine the result yourself. If there were rules present, we'd have that to fall back on. But lacking them - again, it is a proper GM function, but I think calling it "referee" in this case is misleading.
Call it whatever you will, the terminology doesn't mean that much to me. Referee, GM, DM, largely interchangeable terms for the guy running the game. And I determine the results myself for so much stuff since the game I run isn't loaded down with a rule for everything, especially talking to some NPC.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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).
Boogeyman: "If I have the mechanics, I don't actually role play - I just use mechanics."

FATE, as an example, puts social interaction on the same mechanical footing as physical interaction.

In FATE-based games, if you say, "I attack" in physical combat, all you get is a very basic roll of your skill, which in general isn't so high as you'll be able to down anything other than a mook. If you want larger results, you have to engage with the situation more, and interact with the environment, and describe what it is you're doing and trying to achieve, and set up moves and situations that take multiple rounds to achieve results.

The same follows for social interaction - folks have to actually engage in the conversation, interact with the situation, and describe what they're doing and trying to achieve. Best way to do that is to do the role-play, for those who want to do that. For those who aren't as comfortable with that, we still get description of their approaches and tactics, and that's okay, too. Broadly speaking, the rules *enable* social interactions, because the players have some clear guidelines about how likely they are to succeed.
 

Celebrim

Legend
For the first question, oh yes. Very much so. Its quite amusing to watch a higher level PC be afraid of a little spider with a save or die effect.
Only if there isn't a high level cleric on hand with a selection of Slow Poison and Neutralize Poison effects. Slow Poison can return a PC to life with no ill-effects, no resurrection failure chance, no lost CON, even if they fail a save or die poison effect that has an instantaneous result. Keoghtum's ointment along with a high level cleric renders most poison a non-issue, as your little spider needs a 20 to hit most likely, and the fighter needs only a 6 or so to pass the save, and worse come to worse, you cast 'Slow Poison' and then neutralize the venom by some means.

There are of course things with save or die effects that aren't "little spiders", but most of those IMO aren't very fun - Rot Grubs, Magnesium Spirits, Bodaks, etc. They are just random unavoidable death determined in the long run by dice and not player action.

When I first started playing 1e AD&D I thought so much in the MM was too weak. Then when I started playing an OD&D clone recently the power of those monsters all made sense compared to the power of OD&D PC. It was the first book and I think written more in line with that. But the power creep in the 1e PH didn't help, and UA made it largely a push over.
I largely agree with that. But I also think the problem was that the designers didn't really expect players to advance to more than 10th level or so, and if they did, figured DMs could invent their own challenges without needing any sort of guide. Further, I think that designers in that period didn't routinely theory craft and do the math. They just sort of went with their gut, and their gut tended to make everything a glass cannon.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
Only if there isn't a high level cleric on hand with a selection of Slow Poison and Neutralize Poison effects. Slow Poison can return a PC to life with no ill-effects, no resurrection failure chance, no lost CON, even if they fail a save or die poison effect that has an instantaneous result. Keoghtum's ointment along with a high level cleric renders most poison a non-issue, as your little spider needs a 20 to hit most likely, and the fighter needs only a 6 or so to pass the save, and worse come to worse, you cast 'Slow Poison' and then neutralize the venom by some means.

There are of course things with save or die effects that aren't "little spiders", but most of those IMO aren't very fun - Rot Grubs, Magnesium Spirits, Bodaks, etc. They are just random unavoidable death determined in the long run by dice and not player action.



I largely agree with that. But I also think the problem was that the designers didn't really expect players to advance to more than 10th level or so, and if they did, figured DMs could invent their own challenges without needing any sort of guide. Further, I think that designers in that period didn't routinely theory craft and do the math. They just sort of went with their gut, and their gut tended to make everything a glass cannon.
I disagree. Rot Grubs are wonderful, but usually only get players when they get foolish. I had a PC trying to fish out a hobbit corpse from a pit trap. They lowered him on a rope and he tried to lasso the corpse but kept failing. So he got frustrated and just grabbed it and they hauled him up. So he gets to the top and oh no, he's got rot grubs. So the rest of the party start putting torches to him. Which lead to him getting some nice burns, and the moronic fighter randomly applying more torch for a few rounds just to be sure. The table was laughing about that all night.

And yes, I'm well aware of the solutions to poison. But your cleric isn't always there, isn't always with spells, and doesn't always have the quick fix. My guys in S&W are far more hesitant around poison at any level than they were in 3.x or especially 5e. Even with a 8+ save they are worried about that failure and the rest of the party possibly being unable to haul them up multiple levels of Rappan Athuck while possibly under fire.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
Boogeyman: "If I have the mechanics, I don't actually role play - I just use mechanics."

FATE, as an example, puts social interaction on the same mechanical footing as physical interaction.

In FATE-based games, if you say, "I attack" in physical combat, all you get is a very basic roll of your skill, which in general isn't so high as you'll be able to down anything other than a mook. If you want larger results, you have to engage with the situation more, and interact with the environment, and describe what it is you're doing and trying to achieve, and set up moves and situations that take multiple rounds to achieve results.

The same follows for social interaction - folks have to actually engage in the conversation, interact with the situation, and describe what they're doing and trying to achieve. Best way to do that is to do the role-play, for those who want to do that. For those who aren't as comfortable with that, we still get description of their approaches and tactics, and that's okay, too. Broadly speaking, the rules *enable* social interactions, because the players have some clear guidelines about how likely they are to succeed.
I never said that. Everyone is different Umbran. Not crapping on social mechanics. But you don’t need them to to play
 
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Celebrim

Legend
I disagree. Rot Grubs are wonderful, but usually only get players when they get foolish.
Your example assumes that the players know OOG that rot grubs exist and have some idea what to do about them because they've read the entry, and that the party is of sufficient level that some solution is available and non-lethal. In too many cases, they are just whoops, "Die. No save.", and in the rest of the cases they get rather old fast. At least they usually have a period of time where the party can respond to them before they become lethal. Things like the Bodak, which are randomly lethal and a pushover if they aren't, aren't ever fun.

I tend to get really annoyed by monsters that just come down to, "Do you roll well?" This can include in 1e things like the Death Knight, where if you win initiative as a party it will probably not survive the round, but if it goes first then Power Word: Kill or 20HD Fireball, and someone in the party is probably dying (without a save, or even if they save), turning the initiative into a save or die roll.

Say what you will about the danger of 1e AD&D, I have had far more glorious combats using 3e D&D than I ever had in 1e AD&D, which for all the fun we were having on the whole tended toward the grindy, the random, or the anticlimactic. Possibly things would have been better with more OD&D power level of PCs, but at the time I lacked the knowledge to adjust things.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
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.
Sure, it's discussed as a possibility. But it's pretty vague is what I'm saying. One of the things I like about 5E is that they seem to have left it very malleable so that different groups can use it for different styles of play, and could tweak it as needed. The DMG is largely a list of suggestions on how to do so.

And that's great. I don't know if I'd hold it in the same category as a game that includes partial success in a more definitive way. As we've seen in some discussions on the boards, the very idea isn't always easily understood, so without actual rules, it's harder to grasp. For those familiar with the concept, or who take the mention in the PHB and DMG and run with it, yes, you can establish a pretty different system. But I don't know if many people would do so.
 

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