Can we move the roleplaying hobby past the DPS obsession?

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#1

Megaturtle

This question has come up a lot in various Drunkens & Dragons videos: the OP video, the Last Flight of the Red Sword playthrough video, and other videos undoubtedly.

It’s more of a deep thinking GM philosophy question regarding game design than a problem I’m having with my particular game. More it’s just fun to think about:

Do we as gamers want damage dealing (DPS is the video game term for it, Damage Per Second) to be the primary thing we value in our characters? Certainly it’s the best tool for solving combat encounters. There’s a big monster with a super cannon growing out of it. If it hits you, you’ll all die! Well if you can hose it with enough damage that you kill it in a single turn everyone will cheer and lavish you with praise. That certainly rewards damage as the primary trait we want in our characters. It’s always more fun to hear that we lop the heads off of enemies or split them in half than it is to hear that our shots bounce off or leave tiny cuts and bruises that the enemy shrugs off. High damage seems to make for better stories.

Yet high damage characters seem to have to sacrifice so much in order to get there that they become pretty boring. You’re usually the combatiest of the combaty classes in order to get some special ability, some bioform that gives you a bonus to damage which is usually some squat, square-jawed type being–which encourages a grim, silent, scornful type character (which just isn’t fun to play or be around). Conan is fun to read or watch in passive media, but not a particularly pleasant guy to hang with in a dynamic storytelling game. All their gear ends up being focused on dishing more and more damage, which means less colorful stuff that could be used in clever ways. Their action economy tends to be optimized into whatever combo gives the best damage yield each turn. Move, Aim, Fire rinse and repeat until the adventure is over.

As I write this a few solutions come to mind: the simplest is to take damage off the table as a distinguisher between different characters. Make all the weapons in the game do enough damage (either by increasing all weapon effort or decreasing enemy hearts) so that a character who builds themselves all around damage just wastes most of it in overkill and most typically built characters can get satisfying damage results every turn. Encounter design would feature lots of enemies that could each go down in a round no matter if the supercannon character hits them or if it’s the team medic.

I like this idea. Just thinking about it combats feel like they’d be more dynamic because there’d be more badguys running around. Characters would want to do other things other than do lots of damage because there’d be pressure to move, to manipulate the battlefield.

It can’t be that easy. Guys check my work here. Would cutting the number of hearts enemies have cause players to stop fixating on damage dealing? Is there some obvious thing that power players will do in response that will just move the problem somewhere else? Are there other good solutions people have?

I just want to see games move out of this Max Damage rut that we seem to be in without having to try to talk people out of making fun characters, or having to design encounters that are less fun to play and stories that are less fun to tell.

Let me know what you think!


#2

There is no reason mob can’t be 5 individuals sharing the heart. Ya, do your best to stop the Arms Race. Try to focus flexibility.
DPS is a constant issue, my main attraction to ICRPG was the concept of a 2 heart black dragon. 20 hit points on a major boss??? Why the hell not? We have the keys to the kingdom, D8+4 + D12+6 so 30x 5 damage should be tops and high end ever.

Thinking of the next campaign you play, not 5 sessions in. We could have 200 hit point monsters, but why? We are just making combat longer.

Issue is engage the PCs before revealing the big baddies. Let the baddie get a shot in, now the PCs need to overcome, one guy on deaths door, hitting the monster, or getting out of the acid pool they are standing in. And at most they have 30 hp. In 5 turns the combat should be resolved, but if done right it was a razor thin margin.

ICRPG might need to slow down progression a bit, it needs a money sink for the PCs. In this case it is a bit too stream lined.


#3

As a general thing, if your game is about adventuring and killing monsters, expect the fixation on being good at killing monsters to stay.


#4

Sure. That’s kind of what the question is:

  • You have a game that’s largely fighting.

  • Fights are won by dealing lots of damage.

  • So characters that do lots of damage do best.

  • So players prioritize those few different combinations that get them the biggest damage bonus.

  • So a lot of characters look and play really similarly.

  • Which gets boring.

The question is how to break this cycle to get more diverse kinds of characters–ones that aren’t so obsessed with dealing damage as the one thing they do.

One option is to make damage dealing an easier thing for all characters to get–so you don’t have to sacrifice to get it, which means you can spend your choices on things that make your character unique and fun rather than things that do more damage.

But for sure there’s other options. One option is to make a game that’s less about fighting so that the max damage option isn’t always the best. The question is, is that as fun a game?

You could change the way combat works so that rolling damage isn’t part of the game. Games like Burning Wheel go this route, turning combat into a minigame with a rock-paper-scissors style resolution mechanic that emphasizes luck and strategy over stats or gear. But that can be weird and unsatisfying to play. Folks like to roll that d20 and then roll a big handful of damage dice.

There’s systems out there that numerically encourage being bad at things. If you fail, you get experience points, or Fate points, or some other kind of currency which you then use to get cool things later–so there’s a reward for not being good at fighting or whatever, on purpose. But that’s always felt terribly meta in an unsatisfying way.

So yeah? What to do. Stick with a game that’s all about racking up big damage pools because it gets the problems solved, even if the characters are less varied? Or try to fix it somehow?


#5

Dungeon Craft has a recent video on getting rid of hit points on the baddies. Just count hits. Goblin? 1 hit. Ogre? 5 hits. Dragon? 8 hits.


#6

The easiest solution would be to vary your encounter designs. Have plenty of encounters that aren’t combat, or aren’t combats that can be resolved by sheer amounts of damage. That’s what I would do! Or, embrace the idea that damage is important, and allow play to explore other things too (exploring the wilderness, character development, etc.).


#7

I was about to assault this thread with my big ass guns (ha ha) but @Anthony_C nailed it and preempted my orbital strike. Therefore I don’t need to blast you all from orbit.

This DPS and damage question is a great question to ask (and a great complaint) in RPG land and it is has been asked and complained about over and over for decades, probably since the invention of the hobby itself. There is a reason for that: lack of critical thinking. People tend to question symptoms rather than the underlying causes because symptoms are apparent whereas causes usually are not.

In this case the symptom is the combat heavy characters and people tend to focus on that. Players gravitate towards more and more towards DPS and somehow that’s a problem.

An RPG consists of series of challenges and encounters for the players to overcome. This is where the fun lies. GM presents a challenge and players try to find solutions. This is the core of any RPG, no matter its system.

Imagine a story driven RPG where most encounters are social. You don’t cut the enemies to pieces to win; you win by outsmarting them, persuading them, bluffing them and so on. Would anyone expect to see a DPS heavy character there? Would anyone complain? No.

As the above example shows, combat heavy PCs simply mean that the GM and/or the group values combat more than any other type of challenge. If this is a problem for the GM, he should vary the encounter types like Anthony_C said.

Don’t look for problems where there are none.


#8

This didn’t seem like a “shout down the guy with a philosophical GM question” forum, but fair enough. Lesson learned.


#9

That seems more like renaming and streamlining hit points rather than getting rid of them.


#10

You could even change the targets of PC damage. Pillars, doors, etc.

And suddenly the bad guys don’t die so fast anymore!


#11

As long as the primary focus of the scenario is combat that what you will have. Add in puzzles, traps and social dealings and characters become less dps focused. The effect mechanic adds a lot to that as well. Others things are enemies that are unstoppable but have a fatal flaw (like in War of the Worlds or Day of the Triffids). The game becomes escape and evading rather then combat.


#12

Lol, this is a bit, “don’t hate the player, hate the game” concepts floating here.
Like said above, varying room design (some none combat rooms), change loot to not be so combat intense, have 1 combat per session with most rooms being other things. If your session is scrounge the broken spacecraft so we can repair the shuttle and escape. Combat skills are not so fun. I was a player in a group with a player who would nap until combat. The GM ran a few sessions of non-combat and the player stopped coming.
Let’s face it. Life and death is the most dramatic, everything on the line. Combat is the easy grab for that, but there are alternatives.


#13

I don’t see the contribution of your comment. However, transitioning to measuring Hits, as opposed to Damage Output, removes player emphasis on damage output. When one hit is as good as any other, players stop crunching Polearm Mastery (5e) and such. A hit is a hit is a hit. This is one way of still playing lots of combat but removing dps-centric characters, and allows them to focus more on investigation and social skills or whatever.


#14

Grim, who do you feel is shouting you down? Every comment I’ve read, which is every comment on this thread, has provided you solutions to what you consider a problem: DPS fixation.

Paxx: Reduce Hearts so that players don’t try to focus on getting that extra +1 damage all the time, since they’re already effective enough. Provide engagement outside of combating the big-bad.

Me: If your game is about killing monsters, expect players to want to be good at killing monsters. (Implication: Vary your encounter design)

Shady: Use hits instead of damage. Every hit is worth the same any every other hit, so players can focus on other things.

Me: Clarifying the “expand encounter design” idea.

Khan: Acknowledges your question is good and important, then says to use other non-combat challenges so players can feel like investing in non-combat things is worth losing out on combat things. He then notes that players being combat-focused isn’t necessarily a problem, and that the GM/Players could just enjoy combat more than other things.

Where exactly did you feel “shouted down”?


#15

I’m not sure that it’s helpful dressing down particular folks for their individual comments.

I think mostly when I came up with the question I was probing what looked like a weird paradox in Hank’s game style versus his stated goals–and I wanted to look at that question within our community.

He has mentioned in a bunch of his videos that he’s bothered by players building their characters in order to take advantage of the math in games to make characters that do a lot of damage: See O.P. Cheese and Tiny Toast. “Damage is the key stat of the boring.”

I wanted to toss the question out to see if we could work something out to fix this problem, or at least to examine it and try to understand it. That’s interesting to me.

But the vibe I’m getting here on the forum is that not only is there a disconnect with the folks who have responded, that they don’t see this as a problem, but that there’s a large emotional challenge to even raising the question.

“Don’t look for problems where there are none.” Games are meant to be visceral ribcage busting exercises bathed in blood and glory. Don’t harsh my buzz! Lest I orbitally bombard you with my LAZORS!

And far be it from me to try and do that guys! I love a glorious fight scene like anyone. I play a mix of different encounter types, deep character focus and worldbuilding secrets. But also my native school of gaming is very different from ICRPG with a different philosophy behind it.

But the thing is, if the answer to that question is that the question is illegitimate and “boring” damage monster characters are awesome. I’m not sure where to take the conversation other than to scrap it and try a different question.

If the answer is that I’m doing it wrong and running the wrong kinds of encounters. Well that’s an answer, sure, but it’s not the answer to the question I was asking. It’s also wrong as it turns out, but that’s somewhat beside the point. But again, I’m not sure where to go from there, because this was always a philosophical exercise, not really about me seeking advice for my personal game. So I might internalize the advice–but it’s preaching to the choir. I already do that…

The question was more in the context of a game like Warp Shell or Children of Azatoth or Mines of Molok, where it’s a bunch of rooms filled with creatures, treasure boxes and exits–if that’s the kind of gameplay ICRPG is about generating–the kinds of adventures where success is measured in piled dead monsters and finished board setups per night–really it seems like damage output is the answer to every question. Which brings us back around to the original question:

In that realm, do people care if all the characters are all big gunners with the hugest possible gun and bioforms and gear that buffs damage and rate of fire (or the fantasy equivalent). If that’s the best/most effective/winning character that you’re rewarded for picking and any character fleshing out happens only around the edges–is that something that bothers people? Does that even register as a legitimate concern?

If not, if it’s wrongbad to even bring it up in these forums, then that’s pretty much as far as this discussion can go.


#16

I watched that video, and while I think that’s a step in the right direction it does some weird things to the underlying story of the game. If a hit is a hit, regardless of damage source you end up with one of two problems:

Either a dagger does the same damage as a fire wreathed magical greataxe or the axe does more damage, just measured in multiple “hits” worth of damage. The first choice makes the game feel kind of wonky and unreal–the second one takes us full circle back to characters always wanting the big weapon that solves the problems best by doing the most damage.

I’ve seen a similar fix in Dungeon World, where weapons aren’t what determine damage–but instead damage is tied to character class: so a wizard with a greataxe (1d4) will do less than a fighter with a sap (1d10). It gets weird.

Yeah, it’s a thorny problem. Not sure reducing hitpoints of things to “hits” fixes it. That said, as a mechanic for speeding up combat and making it more satisfying, it is a really good idea. Certainly if there’s any foe we face in the gaming hobby it’s long boring fights that are like chopping wood all night until something finally dies. Hit point bloat is a curse.


#17

That’s sort of where we’re at, right? Full circle, as far as mechanics go. ICRPG addresses this as d6 Weapons or d8 Magic. Yup, you could make it even simpler as 1 Hit Basic, 2 Hit Magic. But, while it does seem as if it could be wonky, I’ve found players don’t mind. Look at the Tiny d6 games, huge fan base and a hit is just a hit there. Myself, I’ve grown tired of the Gun does 2d6+3 except when you use Ammo +5 type stuff. I wanna roll and move on. I have to math enough at work. But some folks love that shit, and they will crunch to get as much damage as possible because they like to feel powerful.

I’ve seen the mechanic of the Damage as determined by Class and think that’s basically a similar solution, different perspective.

You mentioned decreasing Hearts. Sure, try it. See how it goes at your table. The thing is, the game is just a simulation so it’s going to be numbers driven. If they’re not crunching for damage, they’ll crunch for armor, etc. At the end of the day, the best solution is the one that the players and DM arrive at together based on what they want out of their game.


#18

Most solutions I’ve found seem to come down to one of three different changes:

  • Abstract combat where you aren’t focusing on round to round fighting but rather describing the scene in dramatic terms. The trouble with that is it feels too much like a minigame to me. It’s like I feel like what’s actually happening is locked behind a bubble and I can’t actually play the game. FATE suffers from this. So does Mouse Guard.

  • Discourage fighting as a worthy thing to do, the domain of brute roughians who don’t know any better as a means of trying to make the game about other things. So like the game is broken, because the world is broken, but the story tends to be about other things. If you obsess on the fighty parts other players are encouraged to gently rib you or outright shun you. The result can be fun, but is often pretentious and can be infuriating. Call of Cthulhu is famous for this, as are the White Wolf games, and everything John Wick has ever worked on. This tends to be where I was raised as a gamer, my home turf for good or ill.

  • Balance the game to make all the classes have similar power levels. They all do the same damage, but they have different manifestations of that damage and other little abilities that they get to do in addition–if you’re a fighter you do your d8 damage and challenge enemies to attack you and they get penalties for not accepting, whereas if you’re a cleric you do your d8 damage and heal an ally, or as a wizard your spell does a d8 and teleports you to a location within 10 squares. The difficulty with this balancing act is that it results in a game that feels…weird sometimes. Things don’t quite make sense. This is the road made infamous by 4e D&D, and as much as people disliked it, it’s stuck around and gone on to become the pit trap that a lot of designers have kept falling into over and over ever since.

That feels like where we are.

Which got me thinking. What if the trick wasn’t to abstract combat–just to shave the top end off of it so that it mattered less? I haven’t tested it at all–basically it just hit me when I was writing this post so I haven’t had a chance…but it seems promising. If most things you ran into–most human scale threats, had the kind of hit points where a normally armed middle of the road character could take them out in a single hit–say a heart value of 4 hp each rather than 10. Well you could be a huge torton gunner with a double effort particle gun and a weapon kit–and do 30 damage a round, but you’d be overkilling everything by 26 points–which can be fun in its own way, but it doesn’t seem like it would negatively affect play. You’d get the effects of trying to balance the game, but without all the weird fake sugar taste. At least that’s how it looks to me as a purely theoretical construct.


#19

You could then get players crunching for armor. But then, it’s up to you as DM to have them face threats involving Sex, Cha, Wis, etc. to teach them the error of their ways.

EDIT: Dex got autocorrected, but imma leave it as is cuz it makes me chuckle.


#20

If you think that people disagreeing with you on a topic is “shouting you down”, “emotionally challenging” your topic, or calling your asking of the question “wrongbad”, I think you’re taking the discussion way too personally.

This is the friendliest community I’ve ever been a part of, bar none.

So, I’m sorry if you feel like the above posts were any of the things you called them. But you made a post to start a discussion, didn’t you? I’m not sure why you would have imagined that replies would necessarily line up with your opinion. The replies you got were substantive and useful if you consider them anything other than insults.