Just a few thoughts on combat today. I’m pushing toward the final deadline for my thesis Monday and so I hope to be more active again afterword, but I didn’t want to leave the week with only one post under my belt.
With that out of the way…
I’ve been thinking a lot about combat in games — and I’ve been following the conversations about weapon types and the effectiveness of shields on several of the old school blogs. Several writers mention the need for more complicated matrices for combat — taking into account weapon types vs. armor types, heightened effectiveness for shields (and how different weapons are better against them), fighting styles, and I add to that list — combat conditions (such as using a six-foot sword in a 5 foot hallway). This list could go on, but it makes the point.
And I remembered, somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind, a time when combat rounds were longer than most modern games make them (and I was both wrong and right about this*). To me, the answer to this whole thing comes down to that longer combat round and the cumulative build of modifiers vs. an abstract but narrative system. That is to say, I picture the issue with shields (for example) coming down to an averaging effect. Some weapons are better, some are worse, some rob shields of their advantage pretty effectively and some are terrible at getting past a shield… But for me that’s the point. Since combat is supposed to be taking place at length, with lots of action packed into a round, and the final attack roll representing the cumulative effectiveness of that round of combat, not just a single weapon hit, it really puts the burden (and the pleasure) of describing combat on the players/DMs while at the same time simply accounting for all the variety of weapon vs. armor interactions in a manner which allows the game to continue with more action instead of less.
This is, of course, only one opinion, but the abstract nature of hit points, damage rolls, time, and the other very open aspects of older D&D combat is one of it’s great strengths (to my thinking) and only when we try to bolt on optional packages that the chassis is not designed to support the system starts to break down into nonsense. That is not to say that players/DMs can’t modify or scrap the combat system if they prefer something different, why shouldn’t they? My thought is just that the system itself is designed to support that particular level of abstraction and narrative combat structures, and my own opinion is that embracing the narrative opportunities could help alleviate some of the dissonance players feel when they attach a more “one-to-one” way of thinking to the existing system.
As always, thanks for reading — and if you happen to have a spare minute on Monday, I wouldn’t mind a few fond wishes of good luck sent my way as I turn in the monstrosity that is now my thesis…
*Strangely, it was OD&D that I remembered longer rounds in — but pulling out my old blue cover book I found rounds to be 10 seconds long. In my 2E PH rounds are a minute long. In 1E rounds are also a minute long, but then divided up into 10 second segments so it’s a little more complicated. At any rate — I’m a big fan of the idea of longer rounds and this will carry into my thinking as I move on in my own projects.