Monday, January 12, 2009

Response to post on parrying game mechanic

I thought I’d add to a nice post from Thoughts of the Arch Chancellor about the parry mechanics. Some of these comments were rather similar to what I might have written - describing the various forms of parry rules and the effect they have on the game.

I would add that rules which give you the option of reducing your offense in order to increase your defense (“parry”) against a single foe, tend to discourage any use of parry at all. If you are outnumbered, as PC’s often are, you are lowering 100% of your attack but only partially increasing your defense (since some of the foes will ignore your parry). If you outnumber the foes, you are lowering your attack but you don’t even know if defense will be useful because the foes might attack someone else. If you are in a confused melee, you are lowering your attack but it might be the case that no foes attack you, or multiple foes attack you, and either way you aren’t really breaking even. Finally, even when you are one-on-one, it is to your benefit to go “all out”, because you might just kill the opponent instantly, and then you won’t need defense anyway.

Of course, there are still some reasons you might go on the defensive. If lowering your offense doesn’t really affect your attack, because you greatly outskill the foe and the game doesn’t give you much bonus for having much more offensive skill than the foe's defensive skill, you will go on the defense. Or if the tactical situation calls for extreme defense, you are holding off the enemy or something like that. Or if you are positive that you are one-on-one with a foe. But most of the time, you just don't want to lower your attack in order to increase your defense against only a single foe.

Rolemaster was had this exact mechanic, but it was also somewhat extreme in that, as you gained levels, your defense didn’t really increase while your offense did. So you didn’t want to parry, for the reasons I give above, but it was the only way to gain any sort of decent defense. I found the whole idea rather unpleasant, but the truth is that I never played at high level, just at low level where you could attack all out and forget about the parry rules.

A game where you have parries automatically doesn’t suffer from these difficult choices. But I have to say I dislike any single parry system because it strongly encourages concentration of fire, something games tend to encourage too much anyways.


  1. Have you ever toyed with any disincentives to focus-fire? As the DM, I've secretly always thought it a little bit non-epic or non-heroic that the players, and most intelligent monsters, generally attempt to gang up on one creature and beat it down before it does anything. Luckily, my players have never really given it a second thought, so even in our most immersive, roleplayed sessions or combats, it doesn't jar them or their sense of immersion.

    In a movie, each hero (unless he's in a supportive role) tends to be standing on his own and facing down one or more baddies on his own steam. I can really only see that working in a party full of defenders and strikers, though maybe a druid could hang out with them as well. It certainly looks more awesome to do so, and in some situations it can be achieved if you throw an encounter at the party composed of minions and/or strikers and you spread them out against the whole party, who is preferably spread out.

    Encouraging that kind of behavior, however, doesn't mesh well with 4e's focus on teamwork. Would doing so be counterproductive? Is attempting to do so a lost cause?

  2. Actually, preventing focus fire is one of my areas of primary interest when designing game rules. It is a challenging and difficult problem. I've designed various different game rules to deal with this issue over the years. I'm currently playtesting some promising new rules to do this in D&D.

    Because D&D has so much focus on teamwork, you wouldn't want to structure the rules such that players wouldn't want to flank or use their special teamwork powers. My goal, rather, is to structure the rules such that there is no benefit to concentrating fire EXCEPT for getting bonuses from clever teamwork.