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Author Topic: Combat as war vs. combat as sport  (Read 475 times)

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Offline Silveressa

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Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« on: November 08, 2014, 07:39:49 PM »
Something I briefly talked with Murometz about the other day, combat as war vs. combat as sport and how the two approaches within a group can have a significant impact on play style and encounters.

For those unfamiliar with the two approaches let me give you an example of a specific situation to illustrate the differences: The PCs want to kill some giant bees and take their honey because magic bee honey is worth a lot of money. Different groups approach the problem in different ways.

Combat as Sport: the PCs approach the bees and engage them in combat using the terrain to their advantage, using their abilities intelligently and having good teamwork. The fighter chooses the right position to be able to cleave into the bees while staying outside the radius of the wizard’s area effect spell, the cleric keeps the wizard from going down to bee venom and the rogue sneaks up and kills the bee queen. These good tactics lead to the PCs prevailing against the bees and getting the honey. The GM congratulates them on a well-fought fight.

Combat as War: The PCs approach the bees but there’s BEES EVERYWHERE! GIANT BEES! With nasty poison saves! The PCs run for their lives since they don’t stand a chance against the bees in a fair fight. But the bees are too fast! So the party Wizard uses magic to set part of the forest on fire in order to provide enough smoke (bees hate smoke, right?) to cover their escape.

Then the PCs regroup and swear bloody vengeance against the d**n bees. They think about just burning everything as usual, but decide that that might destroy the value of the honey. So they make a plan: the bulk of the party will hide out in trees at the edge of the bee’s territory and set up piles of oil soaked brush to light if the bees some after them and some buckets of mud.

Meanwhile, the party monk will put on a couple layers of clothing, go to the owl bear den and throw rocks at it until it chases him. He’ll then run, owl bear chasing him, back to where the party is waiting where they’ll dump fresh mud on him (thick mud on thick clothes keeps bees off, right?) and the cleric will cast an anti-poison spell on him.

As soon as the owl bear engages the bees (bears love honey right?) the monk will run like hell out of the area. Hopefully the owl bear and the bees will kill each other or the owl bear will flee and lead the bees away from their nest, leaving the PCs able to easily mop up any remaining bees, take the honey and get the hell out of there. They declare that nothing could possibly go wrong as the GM grins ghoulishly.

(The previous example originating from a similar discussion on EN world back in 2012 http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?317715-Very-Long-Combat-as-Sport-vs-Combat-as-War-a-Key-Difference-in-D-amp-D-Play-Styles)

For those who want more on this here's an article covering in better depth the two play styles:

http://wanderinggamist.blogspot.com/2012/02/combat-as-war-vs-combat-as-sport.html

I'm just curious where others lean in their approach to combat, and if it changes depending on the rule system or setting?

Personally I've usually defaulted to a combat as war approach in most games, simply because a "fair" fight includes a "fair" chance of losing, and unless my character happens to be a paladin or other honorable sort keen on facing enemies "fairly" in some kind of duel, entering battle without taking steps to tip the scales to my/my groups advantage as far as possible just seems short sighted, especially if the cost of failure is a swarm of Tyranid over running an entire colony or other large scale loss of innocent life.
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Offline MoonHunter

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #1 on: November 08, 2014, 09:12:40 PM »
In wargame terms, this is Discipline and Morale. 

Morale, well self explanatory.  How well does your crew (be it a party or platoon) hold its ground under the face to a threat?  How cohesive is the crew?  Do they stick together and trust the plan, or do they bug out the moment things go south? 

Discipline is how well thought out the crew's (be it a party or platoon) strategy. How well does the crew know what everyone can do?  In games this is easier, because all the rules involved are quantified - everything is easy to measure, we know exactly how it is going to work, we don't have to worry about excessive factors (wind, wet ground, someone eating bad bacon the morning before the fight,)  because the rules don't add those complexities and random elements (and if they do... they are usually hard to implement and most people ignore them).  In reality, the measuring of distances is hard to eyeball. There are more factors that the rules ignore (simplification is not a bad thing... as reality is complicated).   Discipline is part of morale, but the parts mentioned above includes that. 

Combat as a sport is how most Encounter Based Gamers think of things.  They know their capabilities, they have thought things out, and they seldom have fog of war issues (look the Bees are on the map, so I know they are 12" away).

The moment things become dicey (yes pun intentional).  Those special abilities or exact results become unsure things, then it become more real. Once you can't plan on things 100% some of those issues ignored when war is a sport... start to come into play.     

Then things become more like War. When things are unknown, random, and often without explanation (at the moment - "Leonardo's down?  How did that happen he is so tough? I donno, just grab him and lets get out of here"), it becomes different.  Now some crews have discipline and moral, even if things are not perfectly defined.  Some crews do not.  It depends on how they play and the system used.   





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Offline Scrasamax

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #2 on: November 08, 2014, 09:20:33 PM »
I would ask about the level of influence video games and video game design has had on the traditional pen and paper RPG. Video games are built around the GAS model, with balanced encounters, calculated DPS and all that other stuff, and in the milieu of modern generation games, are there any that had scenarios that pull the Kobayashi Maru Card, aka cannot be won, or the main outcome is your are supposed to retreat from them, rather than overcome them with tenacity, grinding levels, and completing side quests to unlock special items and weapons for the specific purpose of defeating said encounter? It's fairly obvious that the newer editions of D&D are cross pollinating with MMOs, themselves offshoots of the basic fantasy RPG.



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Offline Pariah

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #3 on: November 08, 2014, 10:18:34 PM »
(I)n the milieu of modern generation games, are there any that had scenarios that pull the Kobayashi Maru Card, aka cannot be won, or the main outcome is your are supposed to retreat from them, rather than overcome them with tenacity, grinding levels, and completing side quests to unlock special items and weapons(?)
Dark Souls had the first battle with Seath where you were forced to die.  Other than that, I can't really think of any game in the PS3/XBox360 generation that had unwinnable scenarios as a straight part of the story.  There were a couple (Halo:Reach off the top of my head) where post-game you faced endless waves until you finally died, but those all happen after the last mission and you know that you're fighting a hopeless battle cause someone always says something stupid like "Hold the line!"

In most RPGs, I'll approach combat as sport rather than war.  If the system is particularly brutal or the GM is a hateful being of pure burning hate I'll switch to combat as war and proceed to scrounge up every single advantage possible, but I generally wait until I can claim "the game started it."
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Offline Lady Wolf

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #4 on: November 09, 2014, 10:47:50 AM »
Quote
In the milieu of modern generation games, are there any that had scenarios that pull the Kobayashi Maru Card, aka cannot be won, or the main outcome is your are supposed to retreat from them, rather than overcome them with tenacity, grinding levels, and completing side quests to unlock special items and weapons?

Dragon Age origins has a scenario near the beginning of the game involving a scripted defeat of a pivotal battle due to betrayal of a major NPC and uses the fallout from that conflict to shape  much of the rest of the campaign, although you don't really have control during said fight.

My take on combat as war/sport is it depends on the genre and how deadly combat is expected to be, (For example in Shadowrun 1-3rd editions, any 2 bit punk with a basic pistol and a smidgen of skill and/or the element surprise can be a deadly threat to anyone.) The more deadly the system, the more you need to take a war approach to survive the battle. That said, it also helps if the players and GM clearly communicate their preferred approach to combat before the campaign progresses to far so everyone is on the same page and can properly run with the differences without slowing up the campaign or frustrating anyone.
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Offline Pariah

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2014, 07:17:13 PM »
Quote
Dragon Age origins has a scenario near the beginning of the game involving a scripted defeat of a pivotal battle due to betrayal of a major NPC and uses the fallout from that conflict to shape  much of the rest of the campaign, although you don't really have control during said fight.

Not really sure if I'd count that one though, you as the Warden still defeated the ogre in your boss fight, thus not destroying the illusion of undefeatability, it's just that the greater conflict around you is lost.  It's just like "losing" a fight in a cut-scene, it doesn't actually put the player in an unwinnable situation.  If they'd had you go down and fight in the unwinnable battle, knee deep in dead orcs, screaming defiance at whatever gods would listen then I'd be all for counting that one as a "defeat" but as-is it's just gameplay/story segregation.
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Offline Silveressa

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2014, 08:56:55 PM »
The opening scene of Mass Effect 2 would be a good example perhaps? You start off on the ship being blown to pieces by an undef-eatable foe and can only try to escape the near certain death.

I recall a couple of boss fights in the old Playstation Game Final Fantasy Tactics that were scripted as losses as well if that counts?
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Offline Lady Wolf

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Re: Combat as war vs. combat as sport
« Reply #7 on: November 09, 2014, 10:18:40 PM »
The entire Starcraft series has a few no win missions here and there, the mission where Kerrigan gets first captured by the Zerg springs to mind.
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