Saturday, January 15, 2011
So, to cut out the cutesy clever crap and get to the point, when the DM plops down the battle-mat and minis - the players get ready for combat. It's an almost Pavlovian response to the smell of a dry erase marker. It's a welcome response to many players - because they don't have to think. They attack. It's easy. The DM said they could attack by pulling out the friggin box of dungeon tiles in the first place.
With earlier version of D&D, there were no cues. The DM just said "You open the door and there are some orcs. What do you do?"
The players don't know what they are going to do. They need more information. How many orcs? Three? Twelve? Makes a big difference. Should they shut the door and maybe barricade it and be on their merry way? Could the PCs perhaps want to infiltrate the dungeon quietly and not get into a fight until they have to? There are a lot of factors here and things don't have to end up in a fight. Encounters were in no way balanced or fair, and traps could be just plain sadistic.
I much prefer the "What do you do?" method. Now a DM in 4e can ask that question before she gets her supplies out. But it the last few years of playing 4e, I've noticed that any hint of combat was a subtle clue that the DM has a whole batch on minis already laid out and ready to do battle with, so you might as well just get on with the fight and stop boring everyone else.
In old D&D, you knew that the DM had a whole friggin dungeon full of monsters in that manual of hers and that if you didn't fight the room full of them in front of you, you'd find some elsewhere, and it was important to go about things in a smart way and grab as much loot as you could with as little bloodshed. Death was at zero hit points in Basic D&D! Staying alive meant only fighting when it was important and you knew you had good odds. Running away in a Sir Robin style was by no means dishonorable and was a very useful, pro-survival skill.
So hopefully that cleared up my last post. Fourth edition has the players invested in fighting, while 0e and 1e did not. The combat system in 4e is really beautiful and can be great fun. Beyond the combat - well - there is no beyond the combat. Skill challenges are a weak attempt at forcing role-playing at gunpoint. The game designers, dungeon masters, and players invest in the combat system and encounters with money and time. That investment system, or lack thereof, makes a world of difference in how the games are played.