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Thread: Is The D&D Combat System Overcomplicated and/or Broken?

  1. #1
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    Question Is The D&D Combat System Overcomplicated and/or Broken?

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    The inspiration for this thread can be found in the first four posts on this page. One of the top three reasons I have chosen GURPS over D&D is that I feel the D&D combat system is overcomplicated. So much so that I think it can bring a good RP D&D session to a screeching halt. It just takes too damn long to play. When I come to a dungeon I shouldn't be fearing how long it could possibly take to clear. At the same time, as a DM, I don't think I should have to minimize the amount of encounters or have fewer enemies present just so combat encounters don't take a long time to complete.

    However, nothing with me seems to ever be set in stone though and I haven't started reading the GURPS rulebook just yet. Maelstrom suggested I start a new thread so he could set the facts straight. Maelstrom, and everybody that has an opinion (pro or con), I invite you to do so now.

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    This title won't invite flames at all.

    Having said that, I think D&D 3.5 has several warts, notably:

    • Attacks of Opportunity
    • Grappling
    • A number of special rules combined with Feats to ignore said rules

    These are known problems, and D&D 4e will explicitly address at least the first two.

    There's no reason you can't design a streamlined combat system around the d20 mechanic, on a par with GURPS, Basic Roleplaying, or any other system including PDQ. Star Wars Saga Edition and True20 have apparently done so, although I haven't played either to verify the claims.
    "On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."
    - Charles Babbage (1791 - 1871)

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    eh, I've got no problems with it. I don't think it's overly complicated, and certainly not broken. I've got no problems with AoOs or grappling.

    At high levels with multiple attacks, it can get a little bogged down if you don't stay on top of it; meaning you don't have all your relevant bonuses/penalties factored into a single attack and damage modified number beforehand.

    For example, I have a 16th ECL Thri-Kreen named Pak'ca in my friend's Istys campaign who has 12 attacks per round (4 arms, high BAB, and Two-Weapon Fighting feats). If I had to add the numbers up in my head every attack, it would bog things down and get tedious. Fortunately, I have already done the math in a handy chart on his character sheet for easy reference. So all I have to add is any miscellaneous bonuses/penalties to my modified numbers.

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    BattleTech had a lot of adding of modifiers but all you need were 2D6 to determine everything. Lots of rolling but the math was pretty easy to do in your head. With D&D it seems a calculator or scratch paper is very necessary in most cases. I was over at DMGenie and I read the following which I found quite scary:
    Your PCs are in the middle of an exciting adventure. They've tracked the evil monsters down to their lair, deep in the dungeon, skillfully avoiding deadly traps. Suddenly, the monsters spot them!
    Time to start a battle. You roll, roll, roll. Check the rulebook. Roll again. Another rulebook - where is it? Roll yet again. Meanwhile, your players are starting to get bored.
    Combat finally begins. A PC makes an attack against an orc with 50% cover. Does he hit? The orc falls prone. What's his AC now? An evil wizard turned himself invisible. How does it affect his stats? A PC casts fireball on 3 goblins, 2 trolls and a level 5 wizard. Time to roll 6 saving throws. What is the wizard's reflex save bonus?

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    hehe...not at all. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy to pull the numbers out of your arse

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    True. Farcaster just explained the above quote to me. Not as complicated as it seemed but still a bit native to me. There are a couple other things holding me back from settling on either GURPS or D&D right now. However, so far I haven't posted about it because it will bring opinions out of the wood work that may not be to pleasant to hear. Bah I'll post about it soon. More of personal fears about DM'ing and players than about the game systems themselves. I'll link here when I finally post it.

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    D&D 3.5 is a complex RPG system. It takes three core rulebooks of approx. 300 pages each to describe the game. That is complex. Most other RPGs get by on a fraction of that page count.

    Whether it is too complex or not is a matter of taste. You can overcome that complexity by memorizing rules. I find that no fun.

    My biggest problem with the game is prep time. If I want to create unique monsters exactly to my taste, it takes forever.

    Or I can just wing it as was pointed out. But a system you have to ignore to actually play is a system with a problem, in my estimation.

    Gary

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    The thing is, you don't need to have every rule memorize to enjoy the game. If you are a maximalist that wants to understand the whole system before even trying a small part of it, then I can understand that D&D can be overwhelming.

    When you build a 1st level fighter, what do you need to know? You have to calculate your initial ability scores (just a few rolls), pick out a feat, or two if you're human (at 1st level the list is limited to what you'd want to choose), choose a few skills (which are pretty limited for fighters), and you're pretty much set to go.

    Certainly you can spend a lot of time figuring out what equipment to buy and calculating the encumbrance, figuring out every fighting option available to you and memorizing the appropriate rules, but the point is, the first goaround, you don't need to!

    The same is true for a DM... you can spend years crafting a world, building up all the different connections between dozens of factions vieing for power, and statting out any NPC the players might possibly run across.

    Or you could buy some Tiles or a battlemat, and make up a dungeon on the fly, only reading the rules you need to understand to make those basic goblins swing their shortswords.

    After you've done that, you learn a little bit more. You get to understand the classes that the players have chosen so you know how to customize the challenge for them.

    Here's an analogy... if you've ever wanted to write a computer program before, do you go and read about every last function available to your language of choice before you start writing some code? No, you look for that one function that will do what you want it to do. You start by writing something which only writes "hello world!" to the screen. And then you get a little more complicated, piece by piece.

    What I like most about 3.5 over previous systems is that it takes the understanding of a few concepts (how do you make an attack roll, how do you calculate your armor class), and once you understand these in practice you are ready to branch out. 3.5 is very open and modular that way. There are enough options to give you freedom to create your ideal character, but those options don't require you to understand all of them to get started.
    Last edited by Maelstrom; 01-18-2008 at 05:00 AM.

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    Maelstrom,

    I really don't disagree with your post. A system so complex that you can't play it straight away and you must introduce levels of complexity in a staged learning environment clearly appeals to you. That is fine. There is nothing wrong with that.

    But I can also see how that would be unappealing to many players. I know that d20's complex rules set (in particular conditions, spells and nonstandard attacks like grappling or disarms) really bogged down my last campaign. I wanted fast, furious action. What I got was sluggish meticulous combats. It was still a fun game, but my group was ready to try something else by its end.

    The OP asked if D&D is Overcomplicated and/or Broken. My answer is clearly no to the second ... you can definitely play D&D 3.5.

    To the first, I would say 'yes, it is overcomplicated for my tastes.'

    Gary

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    Why were your combats meticulous? Did you have rules conflicts? Or were your players full of indecision?

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    Red face Sadly this post is the condensed version

    Maelstrom comparing a computer language to D&D isn't quite a fair analogy. They aren't even in the same league. I would argue that they aren't even in the same universe except that technically both can be learned so they share something in common. It is theoretically possible to learn every possible command for a programming language but I think such a challenge would prove near impossible to most human beings, minus the true genius that walk among us. Not to mention programming languages evolve on a very regular basis, much like computer technology. I have no interest in just learning enough to get by. My very first time out will be at the beginning of what I hope will be a multi-year campaign. I would never be satisfied just running an adventure or module I picked up, not unless that product had the potential to last me years. The only products I ever mention I am interested in are the super large products that meet that criteria; Ptolus, Wilderlands Of High Fantasy, The Bards City, The City Of Brass, etc...

    I've been playing video games set in standard fantasy for the last two decades. While D&D is a different type of game the setting is something I am extremely well acquainted with. Before I learn D&D I want to make sure the base system isn't overly complicated. Once I have a firm understanding of the game system I can begin to house rule, variant rule, and alternative core content the system. While I love the settings I mentioned above I am really not interested in playing within them using the D&D core material. I want to use them as settings with content introduced, sole product - no mixing and matching between, the following; The Book Of Eldrich Might, Arcana Unearthed, Arcana Evolved, The Book Of Iron Might, Iron Heroes, The Book Of Hallowed Might, and even The Year's Best D20. Even when considering GURPS I primarily look at it as a system that will allow me to add role playing to my favorite wargames; BattleTech (entire product line), Warhammer FRP, Warhammer 40K, Heavy Gear, Exalted (fighting system only), Car Wars, VOR: The Maelstrom, and Starship Troopers.

    Each game line (GURPS and D&D) offers me benefits the other isn't capable of providing, the same way each system provides me access to a particular genre far better than the other game system could dream of. The majority of D&D related gripes, on this board, that I have seen people mention have to do with the combat system of D&D 3.X. Other than fear of 4E, it is the only truly common occurrence that I see D&D'ers mentioning, regardless of the topic of any given thread. Because of this I am quite cautious learning the system. In the end it isn't so much that I don't think I can make due with whichever system I choose, but deciding which system I will most likely spend the next few years enjoying. Choosing a setting/genre, time investment, ease of learning, campaign creation time, difficulty of finding players, possible problems and limitations of a given system, and likelihood of system not being what I had hoped it would be, are all things I feel I need to consider before making a truly final decision.

    While not the deciding factor, I am currently concerned with how complex the D&D combat system is. Regardless of whether I can tone down the rules if needed, I still will need to know all the rules well before I can start house ruling or modifying combat to make it more streamlined for my tastes. Combat alteration within D&D is inevitable if I go with it and the same can be said for GURPS. Due to my insatiable need to modify any given setting to truly suit my tastes, and this goes well beyond pen and paper gaming, being a maximalist is unavoidable. Before I can overcome the beast, I must understand its ways.

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    You have a much different approach to new games than I, perhaps diametrically opposite. My memory is short, so my tack is to learn what I need to to get by and practice. I could and have read the core through, but my retention is terrible, so reading through the whole system doesn't do me any good until I put it into action.

    I can understand better why you could see D&D as overcomplicated. At its very core it is simple and intuitive, but if you want to understand the nuances and options available to high level characters from the getgo, D&D is daunting indeed.

    For me, combat in D&D is a means to an end, the end being fun and challenge for the players. It is a tool to be used with just the right complexity for the situation at hand. The rulebooks are merely tools in the chest, to be taken out one by one and put back as needed. Your approach is completely different.

    As far as the brokenness of combat is concerned, I know I can't speak for others, but a lot of the discussions that we've had is about the veterans lurking in this board griping about things that could be improved. You'll find that about any system anywhere, when you get enough old farts together . The elements I have complained about haven't stopped me from thinking that D&D 3.5 with its flexibility and ability to incite fantastic realms is a really, really dang good fun game.

    If you are interested in seeing how it has worked for me, I'll be happy to share more AARs about specific interesting combats and situations my players have been in, at the risk of boring everyone on this site...

    Developer for Darkage Warlord, a Pen & Paper Games exclusive Medieval Wargame.

    If you are in the DC metro area and like to trade D&D minis (1.0 or 2.0), please send me a PM!

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    Realize that D&D is a combat oriented game. The combat rules are meteculously defined, and I'd estimate 80% of the total material is combat oriented.

    The core system is still pretty straightforward, in my mind. Roll to hit, add a bonus that you've pre-calculated and then roll damage. I encourage my players to color-code thier dice and roll all thier attacks and damage dice at the same time.

    The quote you have from DMGenie is designed to scare you, because they want you to buy thier product. As I read through it, I was spitting out the answers to each question without having to think about it, and a little discouraged that the DM they describe wasn't prepared. If the combat starts with the DM doing a dozen rolls and looking up *anything*, the DM is doing it wrong. This applies to any game system.

    I will admit, though, the special case rules of 3.5 were designed with an emphasis on "realism" and they sacrificed a little in playability by not making them consistant with each other. Most of them are ok, but there are a few of the uncommon ones where I think "why did they do it like that?"

    Here's my secret for fast play; Player Alex does something unorthodox. I know there is a rule somewhere for it, but have no idea where. I say "Alex, I don't know that rule off hand. I'm going to wing the answer so we can move on. You are welcome to look it up after your turn is over, in case you want to ever do it again." 99% of the time, they are ok with it. That last 1% is the player saying "DM, I understand that we need to move this along, but this is a life-or-death call for my character, can we please look it up now?"

    I've also noticed that the indexed SRD online is full of win and awesome for looking up rules quickly.
    Contact me via PM -- email from this site isn't working for me.


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    My opinions falls in line with Maelstrom and DrAwkward.

    In my opinion, it's not broken or overly complicated. At it's core it's very simple. Although, it can be complicated if you're running a serious munchkin game. You don't have to have every rule memorized. Having a good knowledge of where to find a rule is priceless.

    Oh, and I liked Maelstrom's analogy- it fit for me.

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    overly complicated - can be
    broken - can be

    what a horrible answer

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