Friday, February 23, 2018

Exploration, Hold the Violence

It's a common reframe that old school games are less about killing that later D&D. This idea is supported by an experience system that favors treasure acquisition over killing. Still, the idea of killing something and taking its stuff, or the description of characters as "murderhobos" seems pretty ingrained.

A fair amount of fantasy fiction suggests a different approach. The characters in the short stories that make up Vance's Dying Earth are not adverse to employing violence, but it isn't their first resort, nor are an of them warriors by trade.The number of kills attributable to the protagonists in these stories is pretty low. A number of Clark Ashton Smith stories are similar, as is Lovecraft's Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, just to name a few.

I wonder if the sort of adventure found in these stories would be adventurous enough for players accustom to heavy monster slaying? I think it would be interesting to really focus on the exploration and social encounters (and a bit of treasure). It would challenge both players and DMs in a sort of different way. The XP system as currently constituted doesn't necessarily support this (5e has a variant that might, but it's fairly loose), but I think it's worth thinking about.

8 comments:

Gus L said...

I remember playing in a OD&D campaign where combat was so deadly that skulking about and stealing things seemed the way to go. Being less adroit, less lucky and less cued in to the authorial intent, world fiction and skills of the fantasy scoundrel then Vancian heroes the party often failed its clever schemes and ended up in bloody battles.

I think that's the hard part, player mistakes leading to combat (combat is a fail state of course) - but simply making monsters terrifying and dangerous really does push the game towards non-violent (or setting traps I guess) shenanigans after a TPK or 3.

Trey said...

@Gus L - I think the DM is a participant here too, definitely. Monsters and deadly monsters play a part, but deadly monsters and easy death can just as easily result in survival horror and character funnels. "Monsters" or encounters, I feel like should be less likely to have killing the players as their agenda--or at least no immediate killing. This would suggest more opportunities to talk one's way out or not fight to the death to avoid capture and then try to escape later.

Adam Baulderstone said...

I'd be fine with it. If there is a point in a session where I start to lose interested, it is usually during combat. I'm not opposed to combat in RPGs, but too much RPG combat is rote. "We have to fight these guys to move forward in the adventure" rather than either side having any personal investment in this life of death battle.

I'm playing in a sandbox wuxia game at the moment, and when I get into a fight, it's either because I picked the fight or because my previous actions brought the fight on me. They've all felt very personal. There have been no placeholder battles.

frijoles junior said...

It wouldn't take much to bring the XP system in line. Just give XP for the encounter, regardless of the outcome. If talking, sneaking, or fleeing have the same reward as fighting, I'd expect the risk and potential consequences would make violence a last resort.

Joshua Burnett said...

Jeff Rients has a great old blog post about exploration XP that I've always wanted to port into my games:

http://jrients.blogspot.com/2009/12/exploration.html

JB said...

I've blogged about this topic myself: there is a LOT of fantasy fiction out there (much of it pre-D&D) where combat is NOT the answer to the conflict found. In Tolkien's The Hobbit, the dwarves spend the entire book running away from fights (until the end, of course, where they are willing to go to war to defend their golden hoard). The ENTIRE book. Combat is never a first course of action...but then, while the characters in the novel are adventurous, none of them are fighters or "heroes" (per their own admission).

It's one of the biggest failings of the last several D&D editions, making combat the emphasis of the game. It comes from a video game mentality (fighting and defeating creatures being just about the easiest objective one can code into a static computer world, and thus being the prevalent form of counting "points" since the earliest days). Tying it to the game's reward system shows a surprising lack of imagination (and, I think, can dull the imagination of the players...giving them little reason to think outside the box).

However, it's pretty worthless to keep harping on about this to people who simply have no ears to hear. At this point, I'm beyond "thinking about it;" I simply refuse to play 5E (or 4E or 3E). Good luck, man.

JDsivraj said...

I don't get the whole old-school campaign didnkt focus on combat meme. Yes players in the old days did seem to be more willing to have their characters run away but beyond that I'm just not buying it. The game grew from a wargame and called itself a wargame when it first was. The lion's share of the rules were about combat even when not as insanely picky as later edutuons could be. All of the original monster stats were about fighting, who you should fight (alignment), and how quick you could run away from or get to a fight (movement). Yes there's room for so much more but the game is about defeating monster and taking their loot at it's core.

Redbeard said...

In my 2 5e groups, experience is for treasure ONLY, at 1gp per exp. They can also double dip those gps on carousing or philanthropy.
Unfortunately, they had some long hex crawls with only random encounters (with very little treasure) and they grew frustrated. Yes, "sometimes you et the bear, but sometimes, the bear ets you." Even so, I think they had a point.
So here are my exploration exp awards:
Wilderness Exploration:
Per hex (new hexes or just travel? that's another question): Average party level x5
Per significant location discovered: Average party level x 20 (more for more significant areas?)
In dungeons:
Per room: Average party level
Per new area/level discovered (such as the entrance to the catacombs): Average party level x 20