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Saturday, April 24, 2010

[Gaming] Is Combat Necessary in Loot & Scoot Games?-

Canageek's POST regarding his ... dissatisfaction with RPG combat coupled with his desire to run a dungeon crawl reminded me of the old LODE RUNNER and TROLLS & TRIBULATIONS side-scroller computer games, and how they required a more 'lateral' mentality to advancing one's desired looting goal, primarily by avoiding the opponents, or trapping them in pits, or behind blocks, etc.

I truly wish more gamers would tackle adventures in this fashion.

Thoughts, o' sage gamers?


  1. I've considered that one way to get players to drastically rethink combat would be to go back to the Chainmail combat system. No hit points, just one roll to see if you killed the monster and one roll to see if the monster killed you. You better believe any sane player would stay away from combat!

  2. If mechanics support combat the players are going to engage in combat.

    It's improper to mention that in RPG-land of course but it's the truth of the matter, we get out of the games what we put into them. A game full of combat stats is going to see things resolved through combat a fair bit of the time.

    Games like lode runner or trolls and tribulations have the task resolution in them that they do because that's how they are designed.

  3. Jeff, thank you for posting. I appreciate it :)
    --I agree that combat ought to be decidedly deadly so as to provide proper motivation to do the other, more lucrative things, such as collecting treasures and then spending them on hirelings and strongholds.


  4. JDJarvis: Agreed, but that is an oversimplification in the sense that there are all sorts of rules that rarely get 'played' (such as Magical Research and Item Creation).
    --I will agree, however, that games are run by Playgroups and their likes and wonts are of primary concern in play. I just wonder if some percentage of gamers run combats to the degree that they do because they either do not know of other options, or they are socially conditioned to 'edit out' the sections that do not mesh with their sociological reward system (no funny voices, role-assumption, romance, etc.).

  5. . . . kind of a D&D-style Sim City: "Oh, so my advisers are saying that the people want more parks, huh? I'm calling in some orcs to give 'em reminders of life before I became a fiscally responsible baron!"
    More seriously, I like the idea of encounters that allow for sneaky-types to shine, but ultimately the game really is primarily about adventurers kicking monster ass.

  6. I don't worry about challenge ratings or anything of the sort. Monsters and other opponents do not wait around for potential enemies to get stronger. Every so often a ridiculous challenge appears to deter thoughts of killing everything in their paths and making the players consider other methods of getting the loot and getting by.

  7. Cameron: Belated welcome, and thank you for commenting. :)

    Everything I've heard from Rob Kuntz suggests that combat was only part of what 'the game was about', and that the original crew were much more interested in large-time-scale strategic successes than in resolving one-on-one or team-v.-team combats (which, as Jeff pointed out, was rather deadly).
    --Much of what came in ODD Greyhawk and latter (AD&D) versions was intended to appeal to a larger audience of players, many of whom were perhaps more interested in fast combats than cunningly avoiding insidious traps and abstruse riddles, social conflicts, and that odd thing, role-play.
    ---The more I talk with Rob, the more my fears of what the ODD-era was about are abated, and the more my ire grows at what it became out of marketing (profitability) concerns in catering to a lower denominator (not intended as a slight to combat-heavy games of then or now) who preferred a more, um, superficial (hmm, that does sound like an insult, but it isn't intended to e one) interests. I have seen this both 'BitD' and now, so it seems to be component percentage or even a cyclical trend within most/all groups (I've occasionally indulged in it too, especially in T&T).

    In the long run, I think thar RPGs as a phenomenon are 'about' what one makes them, much like life. :D

    Thanks again!
    --I hope to hear from you again. :D

  8. bat: Thanks. :D

    I hope this doesn't get bogged down in semantics, such as thinking that this is about CRs or (un-)balanced encounters, etc.
    --I'm just talking about Player alternatives to combat. I realise the idea of purposefully setting-up unlikely-to-be-won combats isn't everyone's idea of Cricket, but I was inspired to find a workable solution to Canageek's situation without introducing new components to the system, while offering a change in player mindset.

    Thanks as always for commenting. :D
    --Nice to see you around these parts again. :)


  9. I suspect that in order to be more fun, there not only needs to be a provision for non combat solutions to problems and quests, but players also need to be able to influence the outcomes. Players might choose combat because they 'know' that they won't have to rely on a single up-or-down roll to fail or succeed -- they can also engage in actions (like flanking or using 'bless spells') to improve their odds... and the combats tend to play out over several rounds so you get more than one chance to influence the outcome.
    I think players might become more interested in alternatives to combat like negotiation or sneaking if they (as players) could understand how they influence the success or failure of the outcome. In most games I have played in, players have a much better idea of the odds of success when they fight a kobold than when they negotiate a price with a shopkeeper. In addition, combat is often more straightforward (i.e.: I beat X creature, I get X number of points which allow me to eventually get stronger and beat stronger creatures).

  10. Thanks for the belated welcome!

    I'm seeing a pair of pictures. To the right: a 1st person view looking down a mysterious hallway. Some warrior types are battling monsters in front of a door. Left of that, the same picture, with some orc guards talking to each other in front of the door in a rather bored fashion while the PCs, in the shadows, are crawling into a hole in the wall which appears to be another way into the room where loot awaits. Underneath the picture is a caption: "Old School Gaming: There's room for everyone here.

    Okay - had to edit this. My word verification was "maxypee" and as a guy who grew up with three sisters I just found that too freaking hilarious to be the word I used.

    Let's try again.

  11. limpey: Excellent input. :)
    --Thank you.

    I am beginning to favour more 'constructive' or 'deductive' task-resolution methods.
    --Your comment is food for thought as regards game-design.

  12. It's all in the currency of the game, to use Costikyan's terminology... What can the players *use* and what do they *get*? If you give them a hammer they will hit things with it. If they get armor and weapons they will get the idea they are supposed to fight. If combat is quick and deadly they will not want to fight.

    But: if it is not to be a combat game, there will have to have methods other than combat to get what they want. What will those methods be? There will have to be rules for it, things players can meaningfully choose in the game that make a difference to their success. And those have to be readily available to all of the players, not just to the GM.

    What I'm saying: it has to be on the character sheet. Not the GM rolling a D6 to see if the player character sneaks past the guard. If the player sees (fer instance) Level, To-Hit, Hit Points, Sword 1D6 damage, etc, but does *not* see "Chance to Sneak" right there under his nose, guess what is more likely to happen?

    This is what galls me about the OSR arguments about "player skill not character skill." Especially for novices, if they don't see (literally see) the character has a means of resolving things other than combat, the game tends to become monster-bashing.

    My 2 c.p.

  13. From what I've read from 70's UK fanzines, multi-room traps and layered puzzles were the big thing, players had to apply deduction and creativity to advance.

    One of the reasons I like Dragons at Dawn is that the morale check system, the uncertainty of spellcasting and the lethality of combat (whatever level the character is at) work to shift the player mindset over the course of play.

  14. I feel that OD&D has always been more about maximizing treasure and minimizing combat or only engaging in combat when the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor. It's right there in the experience rules, which makes the "give them a hammer and all they will see is nails" theory seem incorrect. Sure, there are combat rules in OD&D, but with each supplement, combat became more detailed, character hit points increased,, and the experience system was shifted to support combat over theft. Look at what was important in OD&D that is now eliminated: morale and "unbalanced" random encounters. People deliberately wrote a bigger role for combat into the game and wrote "loot & scoot" out of the game, because that's what some people wanted, not because that's what they thought the game was about because of the presence of combat mechanics from the start.

    I disagree with Dave's assessment, obviously, but if we wanted to test that theory, what about writing a few keywords next to each attribute to show what they govern. Write "trickery" next to Intelligence, "sneaking" next to Dexterity, and see if there's any difference in play.

  15. Thinking about computer games - I think the 1st one for Tomb Raider had the balance right between exploration, puzzles and combat.

    Looking at 4e - emphasizing multi-creature type encounters across more than one room, often in a dynamic environment, I'm disappointed that module designers haven't run with this idea for non-combat obstacles as well.

  16. Since getting back into OD&D/AD&D, I've discovered that combat is really a pittance in terms of reward (xp) compared with treasure. Considering the deadliness of many monsters. My favorite example: in B/X D&D, a Medusa is worth 125 xp. However, in her lair you can find treasure type A, which averages around 10,000 gold (give or take) and is worth that many xp to the party. The xp part of gold rewards assumes that the gold was hard won, whether that means the monsters guarding it were slain, or simply tricked or bypassed. I like this old way of experience because it encourages players to think tactically and pick their battles carefully.

    ...or at least, it is supposed to. The number of dead PCs we've had since I started my weekly AD&D game acts as a sort of learning curve, I suppose...

  17. Lady T,

    Just some thoughts:

    1. The confined environment of a dungeon allows for a better level of control over player options, which is not necessarily a bad thing if a DM wants to create drama.

    2. When doing the writing, it might make it easier for the DM to simply consider the dungeon as a 'meta-monster' of sorts, looking to protect what it was built to protect. Just a writing approach, but it might help.

    3. The popular formula of 'kill the monster, take the treasure' is really a disconnect from the original formula, which (in my estimation) was more like:
    'Go into the dark, prepared to defend yourself against things that want to kill you and garnish a reward if you are smart enough to survive.'

    4. Monsters found in the dungeon face the same equation (#3 above) as the characters do: 'if I enter that darkness, will it provide me with treasure/safety or will it kill me?'

  18. I'll reply to the others in a bit.


  19. Sean: I have only given D@D a cursory look (, and already thought of tweaking it, lol), but what I have read, and what you've just written above there, it looks promising.
    --I'm not as familiar with Tomb Raider as I ought to be, having only played the demo with the tiger in the cave. :D
    ---The old 'trap as a dungeon' ;) was fun stuff.

  20. ** Revised **

    Dave: OD&D had a very Spartan character sheet, so that meant that Players had to determine what they wanted their characters to do, rather than what their characters could patently do via permission of the system.
    --In this, I think the Old School of gaming (I do not speak for the 'Revolution' or 'Renaissance') philosophy had it 'right', while still seeing your point.
    ---My game's Character Control Record is cHock-a-block with stuff PCs 'can' do, but I have taken great pains to habitually mention that these are but the essential methods that I have determined for the sort of overall game my Milieu promotes, while encouraging the Referee and Playgroup to determine how they would prefer, based upon their sensibilities.

  21. Ryan: That was fun.

    Gamma World 1st Edition has treasure values that are at a 1:1 ratio with XP, but the benefits are interesting:

    1). Combat bonuses of
    1a). + to hit
    1b). +1 point of damage to non Powered weapons
    2). Ability Score Increases
    3). Ranking: If two characters are faced with a question of one having an advantage of any sort over another, it is always given to the character with greater XP total.

    It is good to keep all of this in mind. :)

  22. I agree, you have to send a clear signal about what is rewarded, and what is risky with little reward attached to it.

    Modern gaming sends no signals that combat is dangerous. Instead, they are explicit that combat is the primary method of moving the game and story forward.

  23. scottz: Your 4-Point Plan is pretty interesting, and should do the trick for Canageek's dungeoncrawl.
    --I am thinking about the application of 2). in my UWoM SciFi/P-A setting, and can already think of at least two ways it could work there, too.

    Thanks. :D

  24. I think one of the biggest favors the DM that introduced me to basic D&D ever did for me was introducing me to the game with B7 Rahasia. I was primarily a World of Darkness player, and I associated D&D with hack and slash style games. I almost didn't give the game a chance based on those prejudices, but I'm glad i did.

    Rahsia was like nothing I had ever experienced. Through out the module combat is actively discouraged, either because you don't want to harm the innocent victims of the curse, or because the monsters were way "out of level." All through out the module there are secrets and puzzles that couldn't be solved with dice. It forced us to think about the game in new ways. I can't think of a better module to teach players to think out side the battle.

  25. Paladin: Sadly, I agree with the sentiments expressed in the blanket statement regarding combat as the narrative magnet. :(

  26. BlUsKrEEm: I've never read B7, let alone played it.
    --I'll have to check it out. Thanks. :D

  27. Yes it's a simplification to some degree. There are all sorts of rules that rarely get 'played' (such as Magical Research and Item Creation) and when they do they are almost always about increasing combat effectiveness.

    I think one reason combat is such a popular option because it's the one we really don't get to take part in on a regular (and successful) basis in real life. We can haggle with shopkeepers, we can deal with baroque and byzantine government officials, we can socialize and woo folks that draw our eye, we can get drunk off our butts at the local, we can even be thieves. We can't battle dragons or even bandits with any degree of favorable outcome.

    Look at the monster tomes out there, volumes of combat stats and dirty tricks the monsters can use in combat but seldom are we told how wary creature X is or how likely creature Y is to negotiate or how gullible creature Z is. Sure there are specific exceptions where wariness, social interaction and gullibility are noted but they are the exception.

    Of course DM's can do that all themselves we don't need more rules cluttering up the game. But why then can't DMs just make up the combat bits ourselves, why are they typically spelled out in detail as required by rule edition?

  28. I don't have anything to add that hasn't already been said, but I'll weigh in anyway :-)

    Thinking about Loderunner, iirc, fighting isn't an option at all, right? That gets the job done, but it could be a problem for some folks in the context of RPGs, where we've gotten kind of used to having fighting rules. Though I would guess that real robbers would really prefer to avoid fights with weird dungeon monsters whenever possible! Most of us are less... cautious... with our imaginary persons, of course.

    In Canageek's case in particular, it might end up being something of a non-problem if they go with an older edition. Not right away, mind, but after a little trial-and-error, character deaths, and so on. The fights are short and deadly. The XP is mostly in the treasure anyway. Half the monsters don't even want to fight you, if you're using the reaction table. Our group gravitated toward less fight as time went on. Not necessarily so much sneaking, I guess, which I actually think might have something to do with there not being so many clear rules for party stealth actions. Anyway, Canageek is coming from a 3.5/4e background, and I tend to run those games more fighty myself.

    I'm probably running in circles here, not having a clear thesis in mind. Again, to think about Loderunner etc., there's the issue of options/choices. Fighting isn't a choice, so you don't do it. It's not the game. In our Rainy City caper style sessions, as the characters have gotten higher-level, force actually has become more of an option than it used to be. And it's been exercised more often, though still I suppose fights have been quite rare thanks, I think, to framing it as a caper game. But yeah, I guess if force is an option, it's often an... easy option, which makes it appealing. If it's not such an easy option (i.e., like in JRients's suggestion), I'd expect it to be chosen less often.

  29. @JDJarvis: Thank you for your expanded comments. Food for thought. :)
    --Ultimately, I suppose it all depends upon Ref/Party. :)

    @Superhero Necromancer: Thank you for commenting. :D

    Combat is not an option in (classic) Lode Runner, per se, but digging a pit properly will cause the fellow to disappear and reappear dropping from the top of the screen which buys time and, often, and escape avenue. However, in my second example, Trolls & Tribulations the character does have a zapper, but only the Trolls are zapped by it (part of my hypothetical premise), and only for a moment, reverting them to an egg stage from which they will again hatch to threaten.

  30. Thanks, A/all, for these great comments.
    --I'll have to post something more-OS more-often. :D

    I'd like to offer this, though, in answer to the premise that 'we cannot combat in our daily lives'-- this is simply not true. The factor that prevents most of us is that we are not willing to deal with the consequences of fighting other living beings (let alone our machines) just to loot desirables under less than perceived as 'desperate' circumstances, and this is the case with the villagers and townsfolk and urbanites in the game world, too.

    What I am proposing (**for Canageek's purposes only**) is that the PCs fear the repercussions of entering any fight, so that, while it is an option, it is likely not to be a successful one for those employing it (which itself creates a new dynamic of a Monster Magnet/Sacrifice character [Hireling?] used to buy the rest of the party time to abscond with the heavy loot.

    I am perfectly content to have combats in most of my sessions, if that's what the PCs are calling for through their actions, but I was really only addressing the problem the OP was facing.

  31. Thought provoking thread - I'm currently trying to make combat "deadlier" for my players, but they're having a really hard time getting their heads around *not* charging into combat.

    I'm currently running Deadlands, and even after explaining the whole "sometimes you won't be able to win the fight, this isn't scaled to your level" thing... I just know that if I dropped in some slimy undead horror with a great big sign on his head that says "I'm too hard for ya," they'd still try it on.

    Maybe we're used to low-level big baddies, like the dragon we beat in a friend's D&D campaign at level 4?

  32. Tom: How quickly can they make new characters? ;)

  33. I feel like a latecomer to this discussion but...

    Simply raising the lethality of combat is no guarantee this is not something players will indulge in a lot. Look at Warhammer Fantasy 2nd Ed. The game was very, very lethal, but combat is a big part of the Warhammer Fantasy world.

    Also, I remember, as a kid playing OD&D and 1st Ed, we threw out the xp for treasure rule. We hated that you got xp just for walking out of the dungeon with a pile of coins, so we concentrated on awarding experience for the actions we took to get the treasure, combat or not. So, not all OD&D players found this the best way to play. Heck, when we were 8 we thought it was boring...

    Anyway, good conversation, thanks.

  34. @Timeshadows: Um, I played OD&D from 1974-77 (until I found better rules), so I am quite aware of what was on the character sheet. Hit Dice and To Hit By Level were pretty much it. Which is what I said.

    Half of the basic equipment list was weapons and armor, and all of the E.P. examples in Whitebox Book 1 are about killing monsters and taking their stuff. NOTHING ELSE. Trust me, or go read it for yourself. Fighting and casting spells are the only two things beginning characters are actually given rules for doing in OD&D. That was what the rules said your character could do. It didn't say "Do whatever you want." It said: Kill The Monsters And Take Their Treasure. Go Up Levels. Build A Castle. The End. Doing anything else was outside the rules of the game-- something the players had to make up themselves (and later, better games did). Sure, if you want, say your character is juggling, seducing the barmaid, disarming the trap. But there were only RULES about killing things. So that is what 90% of players did in the bad old days.

    Sorry to sound so upset here, but I am a little tired of being told how we played the game in 1975.

    The OSR should not be about recreating the awfulness of 1974 rules, but about building on all we have learned--- ALL we have learned--- since then. RPGs, tabletop wargames, boardgames, video games, indie games, all go into the mix.

  35. morrisonmp: That's the great thing about thread-necromancy, as long as the link exists, the conversation may be kept alive.
    --Please, feel free to comment on any old or new post of mine. :D

    Dave: I am going to focus past my TMJ-influenced headache and simply say, 'yes, sir. whatever you say, sir. this private isn't in the OSR army, sir. watch your six, sir, it's dangerous out there.'

  36. Just a note about something called unintended consequences. Making combat highly dangerous does not always make it rare.

    Instead it may make it criminal (as opposed to heroic).

    Further, I doubt the that model of high reward for non-combat, low reward for combat would actually work. People who agree with it would already be selecting non-combat options.

    Those who don't will either pass on the game, or house rule it's revease.

    In short people will play how they want with respect to combat.

  37. I think people have overlooked another aspect: players engage in combat because they're good at it.

    "Breaking the game" in a non-combat way is very open to DM management and the peculiarities of the game world. But breaking the game in combat is a straight-forward min-max deductive problem, and hard for the DM to mess up. Once you've got your spiked-chain trip-monster build, you've pushed your character off the RNG for his level and turned every fight into a cash cow. So of course you're going to look for opportunities to fight.

    I see two solutions: one, break the min-maxer's ability to create a character that dominates in combat. (This doesn't have to take away from the players - you can just have a DM that makes equally good min-maxers. Although that's hard).

    Two, allow the min-maxers to dominate in non-combat situations. I.e. diplomancers and wish-casting magic users. But this is generally even harder for the DM to manage than just making really tough monsters.

    Hence... take a zombie, add 10 hit die and "immunity to damage," and you're ready to challenge even your min-maxing maniacs. It's the easy way out for DMs and players!

  38. Bit of a delay but I wanted to test this with a new group.

    Dealing more with the scout option, but the mere act of giving XP for traveling and for finding hidden locales shifted drastically, as did the rewards to looting missions.

    I think its less about what has rules, or does not have rules and more about what has a game attached and what gives positive reinforcement (in that order of import). The allure of man vs nature is there equally as fun as man vs man (or monster), but man vs man gives a reward (xp) so it starts to edge out..switch around and that can change.

  39. Thanks for the comments, guys. :)

    Starting to re-format the combat rules for UWoM. :)