Move Your Mice

I started writing a combat strategy primer for the L5R RPG (4e).  It’s long, which is why I haven’t finished.  I’m not sure where I will post it, probably here and maybe a couple of other places in the hopes that people will see it, maybe even offer it up on the AEG forum.

Not a combat primer, since someone could just read the book and have a basic idea how combat works.  A combat strategy primer since I get routinely frustrated by how obtuse people are about how to conduct themselves in combat.

L5R has had a reputation as a highly lethal system.  Seems a bit overblown now that I look back at even the 3e days.  Fourth Edition is certainly less immediately lethal than Third Edition, though I have often said that I don’t think that’s to the benefits of PCs – it’s much better that PCs one-shot enemies than have the enemies hang around round after round to get more shots in, even if enemies have a greater likelihood of one-shotting PCs.  Also, there are much more lethal systems, like the old school RuneQuest I play Friday nights.  Even D&D, in nearly any version prior to 4e, can be quickly deadly.

Having said that, L5R plays rather dangerously.  Deaths should occur on a regular basis, but GMs are kind.  GMs don’t gang up on PCs, have enemies run away even if the result of combat is in doubt, etc.  When I run L5R combats, it’s amazingly hard not to kill off characters or wipe parties, but I’m a softy so I find ways to limit the damage.  What makes L5R so much more dangerous than the system is I feel a lack of practice, a lack of understanding of the rules, and a lack of strategic/tactical sense.

Because the mantra is “L5R combat is lethal, avoid it.”, PCs don’t get the same level of experience as they would with other systems.  I find myself forgetting to make tactical decisions that I think about often because “often” isn’t often enough.

A primer.  One can get into fairly sophisticated stuff as one learns a system in and out.  I’m not concerned with such things from others.  I’m concerned with such basic things as knowing the various uses of Void Points, using different stances when the situation calls for stance changes, recognizing the importance of Initiative order, casting spells sensibly, etc.

For instance, regardless of system, it seems intuitively obvious that if you are ganging up on someone and plan on knocking someone over that you time things so that the enemy is still prone for murderer #2 to get the attack bonus against a prone opponent.  Yet, I too often see Tempest of Air fired off at the beginning of a round, the enemy stand up, then the rest of the party make attacks.

As a primer, I think what I’ve written up so far is a fail.  It’s wordy.  It’s not laid out in an easy to read manner.  Once I finish the remaining sections, I plan to go through and see what I can do about summarizing things in a format that someone who isn’t all that interested in being effective in combat will bother to read.  I also see running it by Andy, since we have talked about awful tactics many times in the past, for both omissions and readability.

What’s interesting is that I had never thought about doing this before.  Sure, I keep thinking about explaining how what people do is terrible, to be a bit more humble about it, I include my own wealth of terrible decisions.  I’m a strategist not a tactician, so I “know” better than I perform in the heat of the moment.  But, I never thought to actually come up with a guide/manual/document to point out or remind people of simple ways to perform better.

Where did the idea to write it down come from?  Amusingly, from my mother.

The idea is so obvious that I started doing online searches for combat strategy primers.  And, found none.  Now, I was looking for something someone might have done for L5R, but even a D&D search only resulted in a combat primer and not a combat strategy primer.

Yes, players learn these things as they play.  Except when they don’t.  Getting someone up to speed would also be a lot faster by having a document of basic strategy that could be reviewed.

Why is this primer important?  What’s wrong with some players being less efficient than others?  Doesn’t a GM just rebalance based upon the skill of the players and skill of playing to the rules?

To an extent, the last is true.  I’ve talked with Brad about how bad our Conan d20 tactics are and the conclusion is that the level of opposition would simply have to rise if we were more effective.

But, Conan d20 and L5R are different animals.  Or, more specifically, Fate Points and Void Points are two different animals.  Void Points make L5R PCs more effective at doing things and help in combat through things like damage reduction or increased Armor TN.  While Fate Points can be used like that, the primary use of a Fate Point is to not die.  For those that don’t know, that’s the actual mechanic – Left for Dead = don’t die when you would normally die.  While I’m not that averse to creating new characters since I love character creation, I also don’t like getting killed because others do dumb stuff when there’s little ability on my part to compensate, so I fear for my L5R characters more than my Conan characters.

Well, there are other reasons I fear for my characters in Conan less than I do in L5R.  The philosophies of the PCs are different.  In Conan, running away is entirely reasonable.  The only time when that produces a moral problem is when someone has a Code of Honor and there’s something that would break the code, like a comrade being left behind.  In L5R, honorable behavior means never running from a fight, ever.  A strategic withdrawal can be construed as fleeing from battle, which means Honor hit.  In theory, if playing a samurai as the genre says they believe, death is assumed and dying is not a thing.  In practice, it’s a hassle to bring in a new character as a previous blog post has addressed.  A reason I die so often in RuneQuest is that I have this strange belief that I’m not some random mercenary who cares more about his own life than anything, including dignity.  A reason our party doesn’t get wiped more is that other players feel differently and often cut deals with enemies to save ourselves, even if that transgresses our supposed beliefs – “We all hate Chaos.  Please Chaotic monster, don’t kill us.  We have treasure if you will spare us.”

So, getting back to the questions above, the problem with fighting poorly is that fights have greater consequences to the PCs in L5R.  Also, while the GM can provide weak enough opponents to the party to enable even inept parties to survive their poor decisions, that’s rather embarrassing.  Some day, it’s nice to graduate from goblins and bandit mooks to ogres and Lost and have a legitimate chance of success.

Finally, some folks will never learn mechanics.  The “game” that they are playing is not a game of roll-playing but of role-playing with dice, et al, being a necessary evil.  Having a document to help understand the implications of the rules is not likely to matter.  Still, rather than be frustrated, it’s worth taking a shot at helping such so that their disdain for the mechanics has less impact on everyone else.


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