Musing: Campaign Genre Affecting Combat Frequency

Posted: April 4, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Articles, Roleplaying Games

I’ve been thinking about how I run games as of late and I’ve realized that the frequency of combat in my campaigns have begun to trickle down to a little less than one per session. I’m certain that this isn’t exactly the norm for most RPGs, but it seems to work well enough for the games that I run, so I don’t really see that much of a reason to change it.

However, I do acknowledge that this could be a function of the setting at work. Given that the two most recent campaigns I’ve run are for political settings that involve more investigation than actual combat, it is little wonder that combat doesn’t happen quite so often. Add the fact that Legend of the Five Rings has a rather lethal system, and you can imagine why players are very careful about when and why they get into fights at all.

That said, other genres will have an effect on just how often you get into a fight. Most supers campaigns will have multiple fights per session, with the heroes most likely duking it out with the mooks before chasing after or finding the Villain for a different and perhaps more tension-filled setpiece battle. Likewise, D&D and other high fantasy settings often resort to combat as something that needs to happen now and then. If D&D 4e’s facebook game was anything to go by, every room in a given location was a fight in and of itself.

Sci-fi on the other hand seems to be just a bit more tolerant of non-violent confrontation, more along the vein of Star Control 2 (Which I cannot recommend enough) as opposed to the Mass Effect Series, (which I dearly love, but cannot help to think of as anything but “Shooter does Star Control 2.”) Perhaps negotiating with sentient species is considered to be the norm in sci-fi settings, as opposed to just wiping them out on sight as it tended to be in Fantasy Settings.

Espionage and Crime stories on the other hand present a different angle, as combat is something that is often made out to be fairly dangerous if the game is played on the Realistic end of the scale. Because of this, combat is often treated with great care, as dirty tactics become the norm just to make sure that the Players are on the winning side.

Genre does seem to have some effect on combat frequency, but I think that I’m just looking at one axis. The other would certainly be the level of lethality in a system. Many players learn to play very carefully in lethal systems and would prefer to set up ambushes or other heavily stacked situations to favor them before even thinking of engaging the enemy. On the other hand, non-lethal systems tend to encourage players to take greater risks and get into fights more often.

  1. lordoz says:

    In theory character’s should be reluctant to enter into any combat unless necessary. As you pointed out, the lethality of the system will influence the players along this line of thinking. I know that also over the years that my campaigns have become less about fighting and more about RP and investigation.

  2. Hikkikomori says:

    I don’t think its completely based on the genre, but rather the Setting.
    Since even D&D characters are forced to practice a modicum of civility inside a township. It’s how the world affects the character’s (violent) action which prevents them from doing so.
    And of course, its how a Player/Character acts in a current situation or conflict which if it would result in combat.

    An example would be how I maneuvered my character in Session 2, where I ended a fight by only using Mage Armor and Emotional Urging.

    [Mage: the Awakening Actual Play] Endangered Species

    White Wolf:

  3. […] Musing: Campaign Genre Affecting Combat Frequency […]

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