Monday, June 02, 2014

Can it be tactical if it's balanced?

Tactical: of, relating to, or used for a specific plan that is created to achieve a particular goal in war, politics, etc

By tactical I don't mean running the game on a grid with miniatures. I mean building a plan and executing it with success. When asked Arneson said the following.

What makes for a really great encounter?
Arneson: That the players overcame the obstacle by wit and not muscles.

What's the point of having a plan if the encounter is already balanced? If it relies more on "balanced muscle" than wit.

Does balance mean that unless the players do something really stupid the party will succeed?

Does this also mean that no matter how well planned the actions are the moment the party enters the room it will all depend on the initiative roll, the damage rolls and the mechanics? After all if the GM knows an encounter is balanced because he rolled it on a table and the outcome is known (with a high degree of certainty) before the first die is even rolled. Otherwise it wouldn't be balanced, right? The rules will work as a safety net around the character.

One of the issues I've got with the current D&D combat mechanics is the lack of urgency and planning in high level combat. It's something that's been in the game for years and we notice its lack of more when we meet level draining monsters or such critters as the rust monster. Get touched once and wham, lots of pain no matter how many hit points your character has. Ever sat down to think how differently those encounters are handled vs the average monster. Even breath weapons and regeneration don't convey that sense of urgency and instill the fear a level draining wight does.

That sense of fear, of need to plan and really stay ahead of the monster, or even run if it comes to that, is something we begin to forget as players as our characters reach mid to higher levels. We're in the 40 to 50 hp range, we've got fireball, some serious armor and cure serious wounds. We are rocking!

What would it take to keep encounters challenging throughout all levels? Without it boiling to some sort of calculation we do in our head: hit points delivered minus hit points received on average, number crunching, ok, let's attack it. Or worse yet, let's attack because the GM surely planned it for our current character level and adventure difficulty. So it should be safe to attack. Even worse yet, have to hear the complains of a player or all the players as some members or the whole party gets killed because they engaged an opponent they were not supposed to engage. They did so because the encounter was there and it was supposed to be balanced, right?

Does this bother you as it bothers me? How do you handle it in your game? Is the fix possible within current combat mechanics? If not, would a game that does a grass roots change to the mechanics still be considered OSR?


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