How does each edition's combat system play like?

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zontoxira
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How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by zontoxira » Sat May 11, 2019 7:19 pm

Combat is an integral part of D&D; it feels like it's always been this case, since its founding days as a wargame spinoff. And, even though in the 80s and 90s emphasis was put more on the game's roleplaying aspects, combat and fighting your way to victory or survival was a staple.
From OD&D to D&D5e, we've seen various combat systems being implemented. Some were quite similar, others drastically different. I had enough experience with 2e and 5e; both seemed simple enough but with, sometimes optional, added complexity: initiative variants (weapon speed or casting time), grappling, combat maneuvers (parry, disarm, movement in combat), conditions (blinded, stunned, paralysed), the list goes on. In 5e, being able to easily hit and deal massive amounts of damage, fights were typically short, taking about two to four rounds. By contrast, a fight in 2e could drag on for a dozen rounds, as it wasn't that easy to hit low AC and the amount of damage remained somewhat static.
I get the feeling that 1e and 3e played similarly to 2e, albeit with more confusing and elaborate mechanics. Original, Basic, and 4e elude me, however, and I can't really tell whether they're simple, too mechanical, or overly complicated.
So how does combat in each edition play like? What are your experiences? How different each combat system feels like, compared to other editions?
Have a look at my Dark Sun 5e Reconstruction or Planescape 5e Belief System
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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by shesheyan » Tue May 21, 2019 9:18 pm

Basic, 1 edition played like old 70-80s wargames with per side initiative which can lead to one side having two attack turns in a row. The last activation of the round and the first activation of the next round. This could cause TPKs or creatures to die very fast. Another staple of wargame-like combat is the activation by phases. Movement, missiles and spells first and melee attacks are done in that order. Rounds of combat were very fast.

IIRC I think 2e introduced individual initiative which made combat less predictable. This slowed down combat a bit, but not much.

3e introduced in the PHB many rules to clarify play with miniatures. But playing with miniatures remained elective. The introduction of feats and other powers slowed down combat because most players have to constantly re-read their feats/powers before activating. I call that the wizard effect. 3e also introduced the multiple action economy which slows down combat.

This continued with 4e, but forced you to play with miniatures. The game was designed to be played using a 3D isometric internet interface that never materialized. I enjoyed the system at low levels (1-5) but after that it became a big headache to track monsters powers and players spent to much time arguing in which order they should use their powers. 4e is the version of D&D with the slowest combat rounds from my personal experience. I felt very tired after each game I DMed. I thought at first I was getting too old but played other RPGs, after playing 4e, and determined it was the 4e system.

I would say 5e has made combat faster by not putting so much emphasis on powers and feats. Also, miniatures are optional once again. Combat in 5e is faster than 3e and 4e. 5e still has the multiple action economy. Combat rounds are faster than 3e but slower than 2e.
Last edited by shesheyan on Tue May 28, 2019 12:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by zontoxira » Mon May 27, 2019 7:12 pm

Thanks for the useful info shesheyan, that wargaming aspect of the olden editions feels intriguing. But OD&D, Basic, and 1st didn't utilise miniatures and grids, did they? How would a combat system suitable for wargames work in a Theatre of the Mind battlefield?
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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by shesheyan » Mon May 27, 2019 7:30 pm

zontoxira wrote:
Mon May 27, 2019 7:12 pm
Thanks for the useful info shesheyan, that wargaming aspect of the olden editions feels intriguing. But OD&D, Basic, and 1st didn't utilise miniatures and grids, did they? How would a combat system suitable for wargames work in a Theatre of the Mind battlefield?
The single initiative per side and attack per phases work very well with Theater of the Mind. In fact because everything is Side A then Side B its much easier to keep track than with a more modern system that promotes individual characters initiative mixed with monster initiatives.

The 1e DMG does contain diagrams for the use of miniatures. Hexes for outdoors and squares for indoor. Flanking and other stuff like that. But miniatures are not required for any of these editions.

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by Mike » Mon May 27, 2019 10:55 pm

I love per side initiative as it keeps things unpredictable plus it is very easy to do. It puts a sharp emphasis on tactics, round-to-round. Old D&D also has individual initiative as an option, also re-rolled every round.

The d20 style fixed initiative only affects the first round and I feel it is not worth the bother, better to just not use initiative at all. But it works well for the style of combat where the first round is decisive, and combat might not even get to round two or three.

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by Mike » Mon May 27, 2019 11:45 pm

I think 3rd and 4th edition had the strongest war game style, from a rules POV. They had the grid and minis and detailed combat rules.

0/1/2e had rules derived from old 70s wargames, and few rules for anything other than battle... but they had already evolved to role playing games. You generally didn't get XP for anything but looting and fighting. (Although modules sometimes had story awards and it was a common house rule). There were no rules for minis, and no grid; movement rates were given but it really only mattered for how often you checked for wandering monsters, how often you needed a new torch, and whether you could withdraw from combats and escape pursuit. But play was all theatre of the mind. There were no skills, often only the GM had any clue of relative positions and might fudge things for dramatic purposes. Combat was entirely abstract, just a hit roll and damage roll. All the tactical details were ad-libbed by both players and DM. That doesn't mean that tactics didn't matter, just that there were no specific rules, it was all theatre of the mind. It was the DMs job to make tactics meaningful.

Another wargames aspect was the low hit points, emphasis on parties of 10-20 characters (basically a band of Heroes leading a small army of mercenaries), tactical spells like Fireball, actual wargame rules like initiative, armor class, morale, or AD&D's "firing into melee" rule. The emphasis on conquering territory, building a castle, and engaging in politics and wars with neighbors was also very wargamey. Having rules for naval battles and mass warfare built into the core rules of course is straight-up wargaming, although D&D's mass combat rules are greatly simplified from even a simple war game.

And although there was no grid for personal combat, hex maps reviews for Wilderness Travel with specific rules for hex crawling and getting lost. Pretty sure hex maps came straight out of war games. I don't think newer editions of D&D really make use of them or even encourage them anymore.

Overall I think old D&D most closely resembled the "let's pretend" games that children play. Almost no rules for anything except "did i get killed" because no one wants to get into an argument about that. The main rules focus was not combat at all, but resource management. It was a game about planning and conducting dangerous expeditions. (Back in they day we did think it had a lot of rules and we liked it that way. But we didn't really understand what "a lot of rules" is it what it does to gameplay. So we were ignorant and i don't think our naive opinions then mean much now.)

Story gaming started in the 2e era, when it was the new hotness. It had little or no rules support until 3rd edition where the rules supported a level of scripting, largely discarded arbitrary "game" restrictions, added story awards, and shifted focus from "the party" to "the character". 5th dropped much of the rules crunch but doubled down on the story support. I feel that 5th still haa more war game than old D&D, but also more story support. Basically it does that same thing but with more rules, so you're not relying quite as much on theatre of the mind to make things up, or the DM to interpret things. It is more defined and buttoned down, but much less than 3e/4e was.

The 5e campaign I've been playing is not far from old D&D play. My main complaints are... you guessed it... too many rules and too much "doing my imagining for me." That may not be accurate or fair but that's my subjective takeaway. I'm starting to feel like a crusty old fart and this post is feeling soapboxy, so I'm done.

Edit: egad, what a wall of text!

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by shesheyan » Tue May 28, 2019 11:47 am

Do I think D&D Basic is closest to «lets pretend child play»? Not at all. That is not what I remember from that era. Childs play is fluid, dice less and code less. If you want a RPG that is like that it's best to play a narrativist RPG popular these days among some groups of players - but not among D&D grognards. Which is ironic from a certain point of view. :lol: ;)

D&D Basic is a very codified game with many rules to handle combat - that is the topic of this thread after all. There is a surprise round. Parley. Initiative. Range penalties, Cover, Evasion, Running, Fighting withdrawal, Retreat and Moral. There is even the optional rule of having individual initiatives per character and monster. Other expansions of BECMI go even further by providing more rules for combat, like setting a spear against a charge.

For the benefit of the OP's author here is the combat sequence. Everything is ordered and fixed. Movement, missiles, spells and melee. It is in fact a very rigid system as opposed to child like fluid play.

Image

The rules also mention using figures. I've been using dice, pennies, glass beads and miniatures in my D&D games since 1981:

«USING FIGURES: Miniature figures are useful during combat for both the DM and the players, so that they may "see" what is happening. If miniatures are not being used, the DM should draw on a piece of paper, or use something (dice work nicely) to represent the characters in place of miniature figures.»

ALSO :
«FIGURES: If miniature figures are used to represent the characters, the players should choose figures which look like their characters, and should make sure that the DM knows which miniatures repre- sent which characters. The miniature figures should be lined up in the same order as the marching order. When special situations occur, the players should change the position of their figures as they desire. File cards with names on them, pawns, and other markers may be used instead of miniatures, or the marching order may simply be written on a piece of paper.»

AND:
SCALE MOVEMENT: If miniature figures are used, the actual movement of the characters can be represented at the scale of one inch equals ten feet. A movement rate of 60' per turn would mean that a miniature figure would move 6 inches in that turn. Scale movement is useful for moving the figures on a playing surface (such as a table).

While the rule don't mention using a grid battle map it easy to deduce that 1" square/hexagonal grids would be helpful.

NON-COMBAT:
Anything else was handled using rolls against your character's six abilities (which 5e brought back) :

«There's always a chance: The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on ld20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to +4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail.»

EXPERIENCE :
Characters also gained Xps for using their «wits» to defeat the monsters. Not just by killing them.
«Experience points are also given for monsters killed or overcome by magic, fighting, or wits.»

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by Mike » Tue May 28, 2019 3:19 pm

I don't know, as kids I remember arguing about who shot who. It would have been nice to have dice and hit points to resolve such situations. I remember playing "role playing games" with the chess pieces or star wars action figures are green army men where we just kind of made up what happened. We would still argue about who shot who, but we would make up simple rules like line of sight and taking turns and so forth. That wasn't completely unstructured, and it needed a resolution mechanic even if we didn't realize it or know how to do it.

I'm just relating my experience is not arguing. I can see your point. There are some rules in D&D that we never used because we never noticed they existed. Wasn't until around 2005 that I really started reading the rules closely and paying attention. That was during the early days of the osr, when people were rediscovering and rereading the rules and realizing we'd been doing it wrong all along. But then again the rules Proclaim themselves to be on the guidelines and even sample combat in the rulebook doesn't precisely follow all the rules, so maybe it wasn't so wrong. I never really treated combat as a rigid sequence in the 80s. I had read the combat sequence of course, but I thought that was just providing an unambiguous guideline, rather than prescribing it rigid sequence to follow every turn. For a year or two in the 2000s I tried running the rules as written and being a stickler, but it was really weird and nobody really liked it so it didn't last very long.

We used figures occasionally but in pretty much the same way I use them in fudge or Dungeon World... as toys and visualization aids. Savage Worlds and 3rd edition are the only games I have ever measured distance or counted squares. Maybe Gurps too.

I remember parlay being a thing in ad&d but I didn't think it was in basic. We rarely used range penalties because there's no objective way to determine range. Usually ranges were handled kind of like fate, if something "seems" real close or far away then we toss in a modifier, otherwise it was all considered medium range. Fantasy hero and Gurps were the first games that I was really aware of range penalties as any kind of precise thing, but that was after I pretty much stopped playing DND.

I only played played Moldvay and Cook and that was pretty loose compared to rules as written, even ignorant of some of the rules. The game captured my imagination and I read enough to have a sense that's how it worked, but I didn't tend to read it closely. Really I just read enough rules to support what I was visualizing I figure out how to resolve it.

When I started playing AD&D I still basically played BX I just added the classes and spells and monsters and rules that I thought were interesting, rather than playing it as written. And actually I don't think I really even understood that there was a difference between BX and AD&D, not until the 2000s when I learned about the lawsuit and read some of Gary's old Dragon editorials. I loved reading the the DMG but I saw it more as Gary explaining how to ad-lib and reason things out, using the rules as an example, then laying down the law. The whole town of basic also gave me that sense that this was a malleable game being played loosely and modified as needed.

I never played BECMI either or own the books so the extra rules there we're not part of my experience. The RC was the closest I ever got, but mostly i used it as more of an encyclopedia that I can pick optional rules from, than a complete game. But the basic rules hardly differed from BX, and the additional complexity was labeled optional.

I taught myself how to play by reading the BX books, and then I taught my players how to play. None of us had ever played with anyone else. I had no experience of War games. If I had had the experience of playing with other people or of war games I probably would have approached D&D very differently. In later years when I did play with other people I sometimes felt out of step with them, like the way I understood the game was completely different than the way they understood it and it made it difficult to play with them sometimes. I think other people have always had a more of a rules focus than I have, although I don't remember that being an issue, just a different style. I've played with rules lawyers and people you don't seem to realize that there are any rules, every group seems to be the same sort of mix so I thought it was normal. With 3rd Edition I noticed that everyone became very rules fixated, including myself. I assumed it was something about the game or its editorial style that put people into this mentality. I don't know but I have often wondered.

I have liked games like Fudge and Dungeon World, but I found Fudge almost too squishy, and Dungeon World lacking a sense of objective reality. Pure story games like Fate leave me cold and bored, again like they are lacking reality. Fudge is close to the way I see D&D, but the rules are not quite objective enough and I suffer from analysis paralysis during play. I like the simple tinkertoy-like rules in basic. Basic D&D is the closest RPG to a board game that I have played, and I like that aspect of it. I like to play it almost like a board game sometimes. But we used to always role play in Monopoly and Life also, we never stuck to the rules. In Basic D&D each rule is distilled down into its simple essence, stripped of options and details and flavor, leaving just a resolution mechanic... but still all in a weird fantasy context. A good example is comparing the effects of strength or intelligence between D&D and AD&D. Or comparing how initiative works in either system. AD&D is detailed and tries to present a complete system, while D&D is a bare framework that you are expected to embellish and modify to taste, because it's not complete on its own. Playable and self-consistent, yes, but I wouldn't say complete.

Anyway interesting conversation.

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by shesheyan » Tue May 28, 2019 3:55 pm

Mike wrote:
Tue May 28, 2019 3:19 pm
I'm just relating my experience is not arguing. I can see your point. There are some rules in D&D that we never used because we never noticed they existed. Wasn't until around 2005 that I really started reading the rules closely and paying attention. That was during the early days of the osr, when people were rediscovering and rereading the rules and realizing we'd been doing it wrong all along. But then again the rules Proclaim themselves to be on the guidelines and even sample combat in the rulebook doesn't precisely follow all the rules, so maybe it wasn't so wrong. I never really treated combat as a rigid sequence in the 80s. I had read the combat sequence of course, but I thought that was just providing an unambiguous guideline, rather than prescribing it rigid sequence to follow every turn. For a year or two in the 2000s I tried running the rules as written and being a stickler, but it was really weird and nobody really liked it so it didn't last very long.
I'm just providing a different light for the author of the thread. I started D&D at age 16 in 1981. We were already into wargames like Advanced Squad Leader. Reading the rules was required and playing by the rules was second nature for our group. ;)

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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by RobJN » Tue May 28, 2019 7:07 pm

shesheyan wrote:
Tue May 28, 2019 11:47 am

«USING FIGURES: Miniature figures are useful during combat for both the DM and the players, so that they may "see" what is happening. If miniatures are not being used, the DM should draw on a piece of paper, or use something (dice work nicely) to represent the characters in place of miniature figures.»
My gaming group used the "DM draws on a piece of paper" quite often. So often, in fact, they came to be known as "Jason Drawings," after the GM who most frequently scribbled. By the end of the combat, the page usually looked something like one of those chalkboard footbal play diagrams, and someone inevitably threw out the old Charlie Brown line of "Are we the Xs or the Os?"
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Re: How does each edition's combat system play like?

Post by shesheyan » Wed May 29, 2019 2:00 pm

We had a discussion about Basic's Per Side initiative on The Piazza a while back. Interesting points were made for a better understanding of its origine and play style :
viewtopic.php?f=43&t=20994

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