Fuck Combat!

Today I stumbled upon an interesting thread on the RPG.net forums titled “Come to think of it, fuck combat” which I want to recommend to you. The OP talks about how he perceives combat in RPGs and what he sees as problems.

Personally I have struggled with combat in RPGs from time to time. Often combat takes a whole evening in real time while it’s just a couple of minutes in game time. Combat is also often the part of gaming which involves the most rules. Personally I also found the adventures the most memorable which didn’t include any combat at all. I have fond memories of a heist in Shadowrun which went flawlessly without shooting a single bullet. Combat is usually what happens when things go awry.

While I don’t agree with everything said in the thread, I still think it’s worth checking it out.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

6 thoughts on “Fuck Combat!”

  1. Posts like these seem fairly common. If you group is a hack and slash group then combat is not only not a problem but something they actively enjoy.

    If you are playing a non-violent genre then you can not worry too much about combat. I find the deadliest combat systems work best for the least violent genres. StarTrek never degenerated into a gun fight at the OK Corral but a phaser set to kill did exactly that.

    Games with hit points or equivalent are the worst, in my opinion, it is hard to role play having 85 hit points as opposed to 90 hit points. Even when people get down to 30 hit points they are still running around like Usain Bolt.

    I also do not like combat as resource erosion. If the fight is not a life or death situation then there is no dramatic tension.

    The flip side is that combat can add a great deal of drama to an adventure but only if the combat means something. I think the time it takes to play out the combat can be an issue in some games. If the scene becomes too drawn out, taking hours to resolve then it can dominate the game session. I played with one GM who always insisted in making every roll for every NPC and it felt like check every rule and modifier. In a game like Rolemaster that could mean you got to have a go once every 20 to 40 minutes and players would leave the room to make tea once their attack was over. That is not what I call player engagement.

    I play the same system mostly and my combats are fast and keep the momentum. I avoid unnecessary combats and each one advances the story or provides a branching point.

    I played in a PBP post game last year and in three months of play there was just one combat. I played a medic in the game but I was armed and I fired 3 shots and I think I hit with one or maybe two.

    In the PBP game I ran there were three fights. One of them the player set up to take out and assassin and take his place as part of an infiltration. The fight was a bar room brawl that turned nasty. The second took place in the sewers under Waterdeep and the lone player was attacked in ‘self defence’ by homeless people sheltering down there but being preyed upon by undead monsters. The fell upon the player thinking he was one of the undead. The character managed to end the fight without killing any of the innocent people. The final fight established the player as a ‘hero’ in the publics eyes as he saved some sewer workers who were cornered by undead monsters. He fell upon them from behind and saved the day.

    I don’t think you need to avoid combat but at the same time you don’t need to use it gratuitously. A pointless combat is exactly that, pointless.

    1. Actually Star Trek had one episode that was exactly a gun fight at the OK Corral, in the original series, with the Enterprise crew playing the role of the Clantons (Shadow of the Gun?). And many episodes included the possibility or actuality of combat. It shouldn’t be the main focus of a typical Star Trek game, though.

      I think my big problem with RPG combat is how often it’s treated in the rulebook as the most significant part of the game, with a huge amount of the rulebook devoted to how it plays out, and combat takes up long stretches of a gaming session where weeks of problem-solving science/engineering is resolved in one die roll. Then you spend hours or days repairing your spaceships drives so you won’t fall into the sun and resolve it in one die roll. It’s not true of all games but rather more than I’d like follow that pattern.

  2. Sounds like the typical D&D or derivative problem – HP bloat, whiff factor, kewl powaz, and the old adage of every problem looking like a nail.

    If the table is in favor of this because they like things the way they are, then you’re most probably SOL and you’re going to have to adapt or change groups.

    If not, then the group will have to brainstorm about about adventure design, the game engine or – worst case – switching games.

  3. I couldn’t agree LESS. As I roll initiative, my adrenaline soars! I immediately starting planning my tactics. I watch the other players’ turns and I enjoy cheering them on. I love the synergy between the characters as we work to defeat the threat. We all cheer when crits are rolled and we “dig deeper” when things go sideways. Combat, for me, is the best part of rpgs.

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