"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."
Saturday, October 16, 2010
B/X Combat - Fast, faster, fastest
One of the benefits (at least in my mind) of B/X combat is the speed at which it is resolved.
Recent editions have focused on taking long duration combats and giving the players enough "fiddly bits" to make the combats interesting. However, I prefer the fast, abstract combats of B/X. A few reasons why:
1. Initiative is rolled every round - I much prefer this to the cyclical initiative in the most recent editions. I like the uncertainty and I really like the fact that it eliminates the need for such things as Attacks of Opportunity. It is also instrumental in balancing spellcasters and fighters.
2. Declaration of actions prior to initiative - I find that this and the fact that initiative is rolled every round keeps players at the table and interested. it also speeds things up. It eliminates the "what am I going to do this round…" when it cycles to each players' turn.
3. You can really try anything - I know that free form actions in combat are not restricted in 3E or 4E but I find that feats and powers have the unintended consequence of focusing a players decisions to a relative narrow scope of actions. There are no such mechanical focuses in B/X.
3. Fast feedback - Tactics in B/X are very different than in the most recent editions. Proper tactics in B/X are really focused on the decisions made prior to combat - things such as marching order, choke points, resource management, etc. But there are still enough decision points after entering combat to give players some control over what happens after combat begins - such things as trying to trigger opponents morale checks, when to withdraw or retreat, etc. The speed with which B/X combat is resolved allows for quick feedback of these larger macro decisions. There may only be three of these large scope decisions to be made each combat but the speed of B/X combat allows for these decisions to be made in quick succession. The longer combats of recent editions instead focus on micro decisions such as 5-ft steps, avoiding attacks of opportunities, etc. I would rather have a 10 minute combat where there are three important decisions that impact the outcome of the combat and then move onto the next encounter instead of an hour long combat where there are thirty decisions each of which has a minor impact on the outcome of the combat.
4. Onto the next encounter - I much prefer a series of short interesting encounters than a long encounter with a series of variables. Maybe it is a lack of attention span.
However, recently I have been finding myself getting wrapped up in the narrative description of what is happening in a combat. I am beginning to think this is actually a "bad" thing. Why would describing the action be bad?
1. Slows things down - if one of the key benefits/strengths of B/X combat is speed, anything which detracts from this is harming the action.
2. I can't compare to players' imagination - How can the words I use compete with the image in each player's head? Any verbs or adjectives I use may be counter to how a player imagines the action. My descriptions cannot be as vivid nor as interesting as what a player can have in their mind's eye.
3. It takes focus off of the important decisions - who cares if the orc hit with an overhand chop or a sweep at the legs? it doesn't impact the decisions that the players can make to affect the combat.
4. It takes focus off the things which do create tension in B/X combat - Tension in a B/X combat is not created by intricate description of the action but instead by the attrition of the party's resources. Quick combat keeps the focus on how many hit points you have left, what spells you have remaining, how many retainers have fallen, etc. Me describing how a bunch of hobgoblins press the attack does not create tension as much as a player seeing their hit points dwindle under the on-slot of those hobgoblins.
What do you think? Do you prefer fast abstract combats with only a few significant decision points or long combats with a large number of intricate decisions? Do you use colourful descriptions in your combats or instead stick to the basic, "you are hit for 6 points of damage"?