I asked myself an unusual question recently.
Do I enjoy RPG combat?
I certainly have complained a bunch about combat. As a player, anyway. As a GM, I’ve noted that I now have much better understanding as to why there’s so much focus on it – it’s a group activity with variety supported well by systems.
I continue to drone on interminably about how I feel like I’m losing touch with systems besides L5R R&K. I used to spend a lot of time studying Conan d20. I built a character with so many options at combat that I didn’t know what to do at any point.
I’ve even played D&D campaigns. I’m sure respewing, but the ones I recall are AD&D 1e running through G series, 3/3.5 with homebrew to do merged classes where I was a Paladin/Rogue … exactly what I should be, 4e. None of them lasted particularly long, which is why I hardly feel terribly qualified to speak to D&D mechanics in practice.
What I recall of D&D style systems is way more focus on position. Speed mattered, but position mattered in hefty ways where position is pritnear meaningless in L5R play. “Roll Initiative. How far away are they? You can melee attack whoever you want.”
Feng Shui 1e was a lot of manipulating shots. Aim for enough shots to retain an action on shot 1. Now, I was playing a simple character in the one campaign I played, where those with complicated Fu Schtick action needed to think more about what they were doing.
RuneQuest was either spell or swing. This gets into something I’ll delay talking about for a bit more.
V:TM/V:TR/other WoD: usually did straightforward stuff, mostly use disciplines because I like supernatural powers and don’t get terribly excited by shoot somebody with gun or whatever.
Savage Worlds: tried to think of different things to do, like tricks, but I never played SW in a campaign, so I shouldn’t even be bothering, except I did run a SW campaign.
Shadowrun and whatever: not enough consistency to make the effort to understand how combat works.
The reality is that a lot of my RPG play isn’t home play. Home play was dominated by Conan d20 and L5R, could even say L5R 4e. I’ll learn mechanics of games but only when it feels worthwhile to do so, much like I’ll write RPG fictions when it feels worthwhile to do so.
But, even Conan d20 fades away in my mind where specific combats aren’t remembered in any sort of mechanical detail.
I like combat.
Oh, not a bunch of the time. A bunch of the time, it’s tedious or pointless or arbitrary.
L5R Party Combat Guide is an actual useful post, where the more I try to explain combat to people unfamiliar with L5R 4e combat, the more I want to just point them to that post. The key to that post is providing examples. It’s the “what now, mechwarrior?” approach to making decisions.
So, there are different reasons I got to thinking about combat and whether I liked it and what I liked about it.
Let’s talk about World of Dance.
Due to the lack of sports (mostly), I’ve been watching stuff I wouldn’t think to have watched. Now, like many a human, I am not desirous of partaking myself. But, I can be impressed by all sorts of human achievements.
With a couple exceptions, I thought it was pretty easy to figure out who the judges were going to like in the current season. I don’t get why they don’t like CBAction more, but it might be due to technical flubs, like proper spacing, that I might be seeing. Otherwise, they are way more entertaining than others.
What makes for good combat?
Can read all sorts of blogs for the answer to that, but you don’t even need to do that. You already know what you like in combat and what you don’t, and I’ll now bore you with what I like or don’t.
Repetition is repetitive. Where I grew to really enjoy L5R 3e/3r was that I might never take an action due to the party nuking the enemy. What I didn’t have to deal with was the same action round after round, which is why I really disliked 4e changes, as low XP play is far too grindy. Not so grindy at SR-3 play, but getting off on a tangent.
Actions matter. RuneQuest failed to interest me combatwise not only because I’d always do the same things but so many rounds were unproductive. Savage Worlds can easily fall into this IME, as I’ve both been a player and a GM when players just couldn’t take foes out.
Decisions matter. This ties into repetition and action relevance. L5R 3e/3r was crazy brutal at times, but I still felt like decisions mattered. I give 4e a lot of grief, but the nerfbat and additional stances and guard maneuver all make combat much richer.
I may bring it up that I want to see reasons for fighting besides just killing things, but, actually, just killing things works when the combat is intense. Combats that just consume resources are annoying. Combats where I don’t want to do anything as opposed to ones where I am amused by not doing anything are annoying – see most True Dungeon combat when the party is fully tokened-out.
www.campaignmastery.com/blog was interesting me on various topics – I got pulled to it by the post about PWYW, aka the current most recent post. Having an economics background makes me somewhat interested in understanding economics things. While not the site I most recently looked at, I was reading the post about GM fudging.
Single choice builds. I saw this with Conan d20. One strategy is so dominant that the tactics don’t matter anymore – just keep using Kamehameha with 20x Kaio-ken. Blah. Why Yusuke Urameshi is less interesting to me as a fighter than Kurama.
Loser builds. I saw this with RuneQuest and, to some extent, with other systems in much more limited play where the party is just better off without your PC as the encounter would have fewer enemies and be more in the favor of the party.
But, anyway, GM fudging.
How videogames fudge results is compelling. Why GMs fudge may be less so.
www.robhobart.com is another site I was checking out recently. Sure, finding the HoR1 mods is exciting for many. But, I was interested in reading the commentary on the early mods, not really thinking about previously how HoR1 was a RPGA product in terms of how someone would structure play. I also read most of his articles on how he would change L5R mechanics.
We agree on some things but not others. One thing we agree on is death blows, um, that death blows, PC death. I can use a mook rule that nameless dudes don’t explode on damage. But, any system with hit points, has a death threshold. Some just hide it better than others. Feng Shui makes it pretty hard to die, though my campaign PC should have. Conan d20 is actually pretty antideath with Fate Points. FPs are far more defensive in nature than VPs.
So, yes, GMs fudge in a variety of ways, like making bad decisions in combat. And, GMs should hide that from players so that players feel a real sense of accomplishment.
All of that was basically to get to: I like feeling a sense of accomplishment in combat. I hate the “Suddenly, something stops the fighting.” mechanics built into a few HoR mods, seems more common than it used to be, far more common. Now, will I, as a GM, do the same thing? Yeah, but I try to not make it obvious that the combat never mattered in the first place, like so many HoR combats.
World of Dance didn’t get much play above, so here we go again on our own going down the only road we’ve ever known.
You know better when you see it. You also crave variety, where moves you see with one group not done by another carry far more weight. Bunch of hot honeys in high heels is entertaining, but you know it’s not going to win over better dancers. You also compare one group against another.
A boss fight isn’t the same as a horde fight. A survival fight isn’t the same as a ticking timebomb fight.
So, I really should play some other RPGs to recall what it’s like to not just be “Full Attack, free action draw wak, five raises for extra attack. You may want to cast Force of Will on me.” I have this sense that combat in other systems tends to be far inferior to 4e combat, but, at the same time, I’ve enjoyed one-shot combat and I’ve enjoyed campaign combats (sometimes). My practical knowledge of Hero System is not even on a 8-, but it would be really interesting to understand how Recovery and END control play out.
More fighting! Well, if it’s good fight, not bad fight.