Friday, March 17, 2017

Some Thoughts on Narrative vs Tactical Combat


I wrote this as a comment in relation to this post, but thought it enough of an interesting point that I might post it also to ye'old Elthos RPG Blog, so here you have it...

The problem with Theater of the Mind is that it's fine so long as people feel like they are not unfairly disadvantaged by not being able to execute actual tactics, which may increase their chances of survival if they're good at it. So once a TotM game starts to feel to the players like the battle is going against them, at least in my experience, the Players then tend to want to resort to tactical maps. So long as they're winning, though, they don't care. The problem of course is that a lot of times they would have had to have looked carefully at the tactical situation before the battle started, and by the time they are switching over to Tactical Mode after the fact often as not it's too late - the mistakes are already made.

The key to tactical maps, and the reason people like to use them, is that they make the battle very clear to everyone, so no one can say after "that couldn't happen" or "you didn't explain that they enemy could xyz", etc. It's a fairness measure. The problem, of course, with tactical maps is that they break immersion by forcing everyone to think in terms of stats and numbers, distances and damage. Once that happens then the narrative aspect of the game gets curtailed.

So... trade offs.

I like to take a mixed approach. I may show the tactical map at the beginning of the battle to get them oriented, and then put pieces on it and move them around in a general sense until things get complicated, and then resort back to the tactical map. This is an imperfect solution prone to problems of deciding when to do TotM and when to go Tactical, but it is manageable. At least for me with my players. Sometimes, though, we go full tactical, and other times full narrative. It depends on what the mood in the room is.
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