Thursday 4 September 2014

Combat or Roleplaying?

Doc Bargle recently wrote a great little post pointing out the tension between good tactical combat and good roleplaying. I recommend that you read it in full, but here's an excerpt:
the good Dr. instructing a new player to his group
(source Google Image Search)

I play mostly with people who have not and will not read the rules. And so I am acutely aware that combat with lots of choices equals victory to those with system mastery. I find nothing more disheartening when I read roleplaying forums that are 'epic' accounts of encounters that concentrate on the 'synergies' that the players managed to set up between their powers or other clever exploitation of the system. In the games that I run, once combat is started I want the encounter settled quickly. I want it settled quickly because I want the consequences of that combat to result in further interesting choices for the PCs. Choices about the game world, not the game system.

I definitely agree with Doc's model of tactical combat vs. roleplaying. Just look at our 4e games--when every encounter take between 45 minutes and the entire session, there just isn't any time left for roleplaying!

At the same time, I disagree with Doc's conclusion, that the roleplaying should be at the center and the combat an afterthought. DnD grew out of Chainmail, a simple wargame, and wargames are all about interesting tactical combat.

The subtle joy of obscure polearms
Even when Gary and Dave discovered the joys of roleplaying, combat continued to be a major part of the game. Heck, the whole reason I got sucked into DnD to begin with was that I just couldn't put down the equipment list for Pool of Radiance--I just had to keep re-reading it and figure out what these strangely named weapons were(it was only a decade later that I figured out what the heck a Bec-De-Corbin was) and try them all out to see what worked best.

Bottom line, I enjoy the Roleplaying and I enjoy the Tactical Combat, and I want both in my game, dammit!


  1. I guess that my problem is the requirement for system mastery that some combat systems have. I do want to create combat environments that present players with the opportunity to make decisions in combat. But if it is about setting off a chain of effects using their feats - and I know I'm presenting a cartoon version of some games here - then it is not only something that my players won't do, but something that I don't want them to do. So I guess to misuse the terms, I enjoy games in which strategy within the game world plays a part in combat, but when it is tactical exploitation of the game system... hell, I don't even like it when we are player WFB and someone has found a new and entirely implausible way (within the game world) of organising their little men for maximum mathematical effect.

  2. I am agreeing with you though! Even 'boring systems' can have interesting combat.

    1. Gotcha, yes. I like it. This sort of reminds me of the issue of Dissociative Mechanics.

      Your point though, if I understood correctly, is that complexity in a system opens one to exploitation and thus rules-mastery focus over roleplaying. Really a great point, in my opinion. And I take your point that a simple, yet elegant system can produce very interesting results.

      Thanks for taking the time to clarify your point.