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RPG» Forums » General Discussion » General Role-Playing

Subject: QOTD FEB 4: What's your balance between combat and roleplaying per session? rss

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William Hostman
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E Decker wrote:
enduran wrote:
It bears repeating: Combat is not the opposite of roleplaying.

Sure. But we all know plenty of people who do play as if that were the case, right?


I know plenty of people who use minis games as RPGs.
I know plenty of people who use RPGs as minis games.

All three are irrelevant to the spirit of the question, unless you're one of those.
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Patrick Zoch
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I took the combat vs roleplay to mean combat vs social interaction (as opposed to other non-combat activities).

I like Mark's "three pillars" approach to D&D. And I agree that roleplay could (should?) happen during the entire game and that combat is not an excuse to fall out of roleplaying.

Some have said it depends on the system, the game, and the group. I am certainly inclined to agree. My group consists of a handful of wargamers, so I tend to run a more combat oriented game. Unfortunately, I do not have a player who actually role plays in character (IF that be the purest definition of roleplaying). Every now and then, I will get one who speaks in character (as opposed to paraphrase) and will describe their character's action in wonderfully theatrical narratives, and those are golden moments during the game. -- But I think I am deviating from the question at this moment.

Combat is a large portion of my D&D game. There is a strong narrative told by both me and my players, but it is generally a narrative that leads to the conflict (with smaller conflicts along the way). It is a rare exception that my session does not have combat, so my game is probably closer to 60% combat.

My social interaction in the game is closer to 10% and the rest is exploration. so 60:10:30 combat:social:exploration using Mark's pillars.

We also use miniatures, but is because of both our combat focus and the wargamer background.

My latest adventure was very different for my group. Most of it was social interaction, then exploration, and finally combat (they were itching for it by the time it happened). so 30:50:20 (combat:social:exploration). I had to mentally prepare them ahead of time for the social heavy game. They were out of their comfort zone, but they really enjoyed it.

I'm not 100% sure that the system is a pure driver of combat:non-combat ratio in a game. I am certain that a game that is combat focused could be played socially focused, and vice versa. D&D is probably considered as combat focused game, but I known groups who have had surprisingly little combat in their adventures. D&D 4th Edition was known for its skill challenges that could turn any social engagement into a contest resolved by more than a single die roll. I do not know a whole bunch of different systems, so I could be wrong about any RPG supporting both combat heavy and social heavy styles of games.
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True Blue Jon
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I consider social interaction in an RPG to be a kind of combat.
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Roger Hobden
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Indeed, some people consider social interaction on RPG Geek to be a kind of combat. whistle
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quozl wrote:
I consider social interaction in an RPG to be a kind of combat.


"Verbal jousting" if you will.

Reminds me of the rhetorical stance, Everything's an Argument.
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Mario Silva
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Combat vs non-combat is still pretty tricky for me, because rules wise I like resolving everything with combat mechanics & setting wise DBZ is combat or combat training which still has combat in it. They use fighting styles as means of transportation...
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Ben Vincent
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I thought the question was pretty obviously intended to be what percentage of the session do you spend on combat vs. everything else. That said, I have no idea.

The "three pillars" comments piqued my interest, though. Is that a generally accepted framework? In my mind it seems to leave some things out.

Where do skill challenges fit in?

Some games have a lot of Investigation, which may overlap with Social Interaction or Exploration, but may involve something completely different.

Some games have clearly defined Maintenance phases/scenes, like camping in Torchbearer or domain management in Pendragon. Even those games without a formalized maintenance structure will have some amount of time taken up by maintenance activities (choosing daily spells in D&D, for example).

How do you classify Planning and Analysis? It may not be a separate scene or interaction with the GM, but I know in my groups there have been times we've spent a significant amount of time discussing how clues fit together to solve a mystery or planning how to accomplish a difficult task.

And if we're talking about how time is actually spent at the table, there's always a certain amount of out-of-game banter.

I'm sure I've missed a few major activities. Hmm... maybe this is better as a separate QOTD.
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Thomas Dylan
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If my players would just comply with my villains unreasonable demands we could cut combat almost in half!


Otherwise it's as others have said... depends primarily on the group, then probably the genre...
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pdzoch wrote:

I like Mark's "three pillars" approach to D&D. And I agree that roleplay could (should?) happen during the entire game and that combat is not an excuse to fall out of roleplaying.
It's not Mark's, per se; it's in the D&D 5E rules, PHB, p. 8. I don't know if he used those terms prior or not, but they became common parlance in D&D 5E.
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It depends on the group. Some groups are happy with 3-4 hour combat sessions. Others and we gloss over the combat to get on with the rest of the game.

So long as there isn't too much down time, I don't mind either approach.
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Peter Robben
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Depends. Sometimes we have interaction and planning for sessions on end, sometimes we have a 5-minute combat that takes an entire evening.
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This thread kind of mimics my answer... it depends - there are different preferences for different systems and situations and groups.

For me personally, I like combat AND I like non-combat situations, including interactions with NPCs (perhaps a shopping scene and perhaps a scene in the throne room of the castle) as well as wilderness exploration (with or without combat), puzzle solving, and big picture strategics (i.e. trying to suss out the major plans of the main villain and who seems to be their allies).

So I guess I would rate all of those equally - I enjoy them all to some extent and they are all appropriate at different times depending on the game/group/genre/campaign.
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Michael Ink
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It is easy to add unscripted rpg scenes into any game but it is not always easy to go the other way.

Apocalypse World is a system where an entire battle could be decided by 1 roll or at least each one on one combat is and everyone will likely take a little damage regardless of the role without PC buffs. In addition, a PC is likely to be dead with 2 -3 bad combat roles in 2 sessions because healing is realistic. So, you have to really work to make that game more than 1/3 combat.

Meanwhile, Dungeon World can have a whole session of conflict but it is not nearly as likely as D&D as the fights generally take half as long (and are usually more dynamic AND characters don't increase much in HP throughout the game).

So, yeah, systems where HP are not increased at leveling should probably have less combat.

Generally, I prefer 1 major battle and 1 - 2 minor skirmishes and play about 5 hours. This would be between 1/3 to 1/2 in D&D, and 1/6 to 1/4 in grittier, more deadly combat systems.

So, Supers: 2/3 battle, 1/3 everything else
D&D: 2/5 battle, 2/5 exploration, 1/5 social interaction
Dungeon World: 1/3 battle, 1/3 exploration, 1/3 social interaction
AW: 1/6 battle, 1/3 exploration, 1/2 social interaction
Uncharted Worlds (AW meets Traveller): 1/4 battle, 1/4 exploration, 1/2 social interaction

But always at least one significant physical / space fight per session and always a little exploration and social interaction. The ratio depends more largely for me based on how violent and deadly conflict tends to be.
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SabreRedleg wrote:
I thought the question was pretty obviously intended to be what percentage of the session do you spend on combat vs. everything else. That said, I have no idea.


Woudn't that be 'balance between combat and non-combat'?

Seriously, not sure. I know of players that don't roleplay in any situation, combat or not.
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Mallet wrote:
Indeed, some people consider social interaction on RPG Geek to be a kind of combat. whistle

Wait, you mean some people are raised so that social interactions are not the opening salvos in skirmishes?

I can only dream of what such a childhood would have been like...
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Michael Ink
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rebuscarnival wrote:
combat vs boring


But you are playing Microscope on forum right now?!
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Benj Davis
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We tend towards very little combat.
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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Robb Minneman
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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aramis wrote:
pdzoch wrote:

I like Mark's "three pillars" approach to D&D. And I agree that roleplay could (should?) happen during the entire game and that combat is not an excuse to fall out of roleplaying.
It's not Mark's, per se; it's in the D&D 5E rules, PHB, p. 8. I don't know if he used those terms prior or not, but they became common parlance in D&D 5E.


It should be noted that WotC started using the "3 pillars" approach to D&D as part of their research into what people wanted from playing RPGs, with a specific emphasis on D&D. They saw the negative reaction from some quarters to 4e and then went out and did a bunch of market research among their players. They condensed that down to, "These are the three things that people are most commonly looking for in games: Combat, Exploration, and Interaction." It's a good shorthand for creating adventures that satisfy a broad population.
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True Blue Jon
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I'd think Combat and Exploration are kinds of interaction.
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Jackasses? You let a whole column get stalled and strafed on account of a couple of jackasses? What the hell's the matter with you?
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quozl wrote:
I'd think Combat and Exploration are kinds of interaction.


If you call it Roleplay you get the same response. Yes, any single word that you could use for the concept of, "Talking to NPCs," is going to have overlap with Combat and Exploration.
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True Blue Jon
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Is that what they mean by it? Fightin', explorin', and talkin' seems clearer to me.
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SabreRedleg wrote:
The "three pillars" comments piqued my interest, though. Is that a generally accepted framework? In my mind it seems to leave some things out.

I only saw that spelled out when 5th Edition D&D was coming out. I saw it as a reaction to the common (and facile) complaint that 4th Edition was highly focused on combat, to the exclusion of other aspects of adventuring.

SabreRedleg wrote:
Where do skill challenges fit in?

For me, in most games, skill challenges cover anything the rules don't cover, and even some of the things they do. I'm familiar with games that have extensive and reasonably functional rules for combat and much looser (or at least much less functional) rules for everything else. I figure this is in part because there's deemed to be only really one way to execute combat, and many ways to execute everything else, making combat the only thing it's reasonable to try to codify. Combat also seems to be a very common event in many games, though it's hard to pick apart whether detailed combat rules exist in response to this, or whether it exists in response to detailed combat rules.

In any case, skill challenges are for when specific rules can't or won't cut it, and simply deciding how something plays out isn't adequate. I commonly use them for situations involving "interaction" and "exploration" and I'd be willing to use them to handle "combat," in certain situations. I think they're also good for travel, crafting and research/investigation.

SabreRedleg wrote:
Some games have a lot of Investigation, which may overlap with Social Interaction or Exploration, but may involve something completely different.

I don't think the "three pillars" are meant to be separate. I think "Investigation" is definitely a mixture of "Interaction" and "Exploration," and possibly even "Combat." Personally, I think Combat should generally involve some Interaction with the enemy, because just pounding on the other side is fairly boring, but Interaction in Combat could also be about rallying troops, or evacuating non-combatants. Exploration and Combat could combine interestingly, too, I think.

What's a "completely different" thing you think Investigation would involve?

SabreRedleg wrote:
Some games have clearly defined Maintenance phases/scenes, like camping in Torchbearer or domain management in Pendragon. Even those games without a formalized maintenance structure will have some amount of time taken up by maintenance activities (choosing daily spells in D&D, for example).

The three pillars were really meant for D&D, but I'd chunk camping and any other survival activities under Exploration. Domain management, doesn't sounds like adventuring at all, so it's outside the scope of the three pillars.

SabreRedleg wrote:
How do you classify Planning and Analysis? It may not be a separate scene or interaction with the GM, but I know in my groups there have been times we've spent a significant amount of time discussing how clues fit together to solve a mystery or planning how to accomplish a difficult task.

It depends what the planning and analysis are for. One can plan for combat, exploration or interaction, and one can also analyze each of those. What worked against those monsters? Are we getting deeper or heading up? We know they were lying, but why?

SabreRedleg wrote:
And if we're talking about how time is actually spent at the table, there's always a certain amount of out-of-game banter.

That's outside the scope of the three pillars. They only refer to the actual adventuring.

That's as I understand it, anyway. I like the concept, but I have never played 5th Edition to see how it might actually be handled.
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robbbbbb wrote:
aramis wrote:
pdzoch wrote:

I like Mark's "three pillars" approach to D&D. And I agree that roleplay could (should?) happen during the entire game and that combat is not an excuse to fall out of roleplaying.
It's not Mark's, per se; it's in the D&D 5E rules, PHB, p. 8. I don't know if he used those terms prior or not, but they became common parlance in D&D 5E.


It should be noted that WotC started using the "3 pillars" approach to D&D as part of their research into what people wanted from playing RPGs, with a specific emphasis on D&D. They saw the negative reaction from some quarters to 4e and then went out and did a bunch of market research among their players. They condensed that down to, "These are the three things that people are most commonly looking for in games: Combat, Exploration, and Interaction." It's a good shorthand for creating adventures that satisfy a broad population.


Ha, yeah, I don't make claims to having used the 3 Pillars prior to WotC. I just got it from them. I think Patrick meant that as well, and was just referring to my use of those ideas to answer the OP. I think it's a handy way to break down D&D, at least (and potentially some others?). Everything should feel like one fluid experience, and we could create sub-categories within each of the three. But yes, I think most or all of the game can be put into one of those buckets for comparative purposes.

We do also have to remember the context in which the terms became popular, which Rob mentions, which was in reaction to 4e, which was perceived as combat heavy. It's not perfect, but I think it was a necessary correction to reframe broad areas of gameplay. The more mass market something is, the more it needs easily digested, generalized concepts in which to frame the crunchier stuff.
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mawilson4 wrote:
We do also have to remember the context in which the terms became popular, which Rob mentions, which was in reaction to 4e, which was perceived as combat heavy.

As far as I can tell, 4e was perceived as combat heavy because combat was fun and people enjoyed playing combats in it so bothered to do more combat rather than any actual reduction of support for non-combat.

That and a generous dose of "my wizard can't automatically defeat any non-combat problem with a spell anymore, therefore the game doesn't support non-combat problems!"
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