From Chainmail to D&D Next
Issue with D20
D&D combat can quickly fall into a rut, where each character uses their favorite weapon to hit the enemy, again and again, until one side runs out of hit points. There are some tactical options, and a good GM or Player can add detailed description to each attack. But mechanics wise it’s a game of roshambo. This is a common problem in most main stream games including d20, Hero, GURPS, and Savage Worlds
Some games like Burning Wheel, High Valor, Fate Core, Sorcerer, Centurion and Dungeon World reduce the chance that combat becomes a game of roshambo or they add consequence other than hit point loss.
I sometimes play a game of WuShu with new players, it help get them to thinking creatively about conflicts. I also find Sorcerer help players think of conflicts and combat differently.
The tendency of combat to become repetitive, and that It makes a better narrative is why combat should rarely be about kill the enemy and their should be something else at stake. This is good advice for any game.
- Give each NPC one Unique Thing
- Play tactically
- Use Moral Rules and have the NPCs retreating, so you can have them recur
- When Critical hits, or power are used make it special.
Combat is generally supposed to be over quickly so you can get back to exploring. I would advise not spending a lot of time with florid descriptions in combat. Keep the morale rules in mind. (Even if you don’t roll but just decide.) Most combats, in my experience, end in retreat or surrender before they can begin the grind.
Tactically, maneuvering and how you concentrate/spread your efforts works pretty much as it does in real life, and is much easier for everyone to grasp that tactics that require “system mastery”. Maximize the damage you can do while minimizing the damage the enemy can do. Find (or create) and exploit choke points. Divide and conquer. Etc.
Burning oil, spells, and monster special abilities are all things that liven up the tactical situation in B/X