Friday, March 26, 2021

Truer Combat as War

Was thinking more about Chocolate Hammer's Boot Hill campaign, and I had the realization:

This is much more Combat as War than any OSR game I've run.

We may like to talk about how B/X or ACKS or whatever is combat as war because poison is save-or-die and you have to actually prepare when you go to fight vampires, but ultimately I am forced to the conclusion that it's still basically combat as sport.  It's a much rougher sport than newer editions of D&D.  It's more like baseball, if you were sometimes the Yankees and sometimes the Pittsburgh Pirates, depending on the situation, and yeah sometimes you lose hard and and people get cut from your roster; unfair/asymmetric sport with permanent consequences.  But it's not no holds barred, please enjoy your complimentary assassins combat as war.

And this sort of settles a conflict I've had.  I've had this gut feeling that if I were to run a B/X-y type game again, I'd kind of want to run it fairly clean; here's a big dungeon to explore at your own pace, your various classes have tools for dealing with particular kinds of threats, you don't really need to cheese because you have the agency to go where you want and avoid hard fights until you feel like you're ready, and in exchange I would like you to, you know, not cheese too hard.  Because presumably if your crazy plan to research broken-ass spells or flood the dungeon worked, every other wizard would've already done it, so there must be an in-world reason that they haven't, but coming up with reasons the game world isn't totally broken every week is a lot of work that I'm not spending on forward prep.  It's fire that prevents me from motion.  And being Basic-lineage D&D, the system wasn't written with rules lawyers in mind anyhow - and that's part of what's attractive about it in the first place!

Maybe the argument I want to be making here is that while any single combat in B/X might be won in a single round by a single character, possibly cheekily / by CaW means, when you zoom out and look at the expedition as a whole, it looks a lot sportier - each class does have a role to fill, each class has some combats that are theirs to carry.  I'm not sure about this thesis and maybe it warrants further thought and elaboration.

In any case, this desire for a nice clean game of pure, fundamental, elemental Basic D&D is in tension with combat as war, because combat as war says "if you're not cheating, you're not playing."

Maybe the right metaphor here is limited war vs total war.  Keegan would argue that just about every society that has warfare has invented limited war.  If goblins and adventurers come into regular conflict with each other, there will probably be some informal conventions that emerge.

Maybe my conclusion is that "having seen what combat as total war looks like in an RPG when you really commit to it, maybe I'm more OK with taking a sportier position for (Basic) D&D."

Which isn't to say that I don't also want to run a maximalist combat-as-war game - I just don't think it should be (Basic) D&D!

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