Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tactics not Feats

Why I like Olde School

OK it's been ages, but you've got to start somewhere right? So here goes.

I was reading a post over at the Swords and Wizardry forums and I came across a post about old school games (no surprise there) where the OP was speaking about how combat was run in OD&D. And it occurred to me, the newer editions and the feats and skills that they brought to the table, have unwittingly steered the game away from tactics.

Most modern players (Editions 3+) look to the mechanics of the game to inform them of options in a scenario. No where does this type of behavior show up more than in melee. Cleave, tumble, combat expertise, combat reflexes, improved trip, improved feint, spring attack, and on and on... These have taken the place of what used to be common tactics based upon miniatures warfare, which in turn was based upon history and how best to leverage each weapon in a certain situation.

Example: In earlier editions it was common to place archers to the rear, and pike men behind a sword and board front line. Archers fired prior to engagement to thin out or weaken onrushing opponents. They then drew melee weapons and were free to either bolster the center or move to a flanking position. All the while the front line took the brunt of the charge while the second row of reach weapons (pole arms) added a second set of teeth.

Maybe a bit oversimplified, and not always tenable, but when possible this was a solid tactic that worked well in many cases. We thought about positioning, support and movement. Terrain and cover were paramount, when appropriate. It was a chess match heavily influenced by the fickle roll of the dice.

With the advent of third edition though this type of play fell off, to be replaced by a list of what you "can" do. Now instead of thinking hard before engagement you read off a list of things and thought about how you could stack the perfect combination in order to pile the damage high. The players thought a bit less about the others in their party and turned more towards themselves and all of those special things their character could do. Less team effort and more individualistic achievement.

And this was the way of things, for better or worse. The game became less "gritty" because your character was stronger on their own and less reliant upon the party as a whole. Less reliant upon tactics as a whole. This, in my opinion, took away from the choreography of party play. In the old days, when you dropped a member you were immediately alarmed. Imagine a flank collapsing and your line folding... Magnify that times 10 when there are only 6-8 characters on the field and you lose one of your fighting men. Uh oh!

Today though, it's not quite that way. Funny thing... you talk about tactics in a game today and you don't quite get the same response that you used to. Sometimes it's blank looks, but often it's "Oh, I totally 'tank' and soak so that the squishies can blast." It's just much more abstract. Not worse, just different.

I prefer the Olde School Way myself. I grew up with war games. Avalon Hill and then into miniatures prior to playing any RPG. This colored the way I approached things. It was common amongst those I played with to have an understanding of simple military tactics. So coming up w/ the best way to stomp those onrushing orcs was based upon a lot of factors, none of them being a feat or ability.

Ah the good old days.