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Over the years, I noticed that some games produce a very 'trench warfare' or 'shooting gallery' kind of feel. The 'trench warfare' variant is where once a combat starts, nobody really cares about manoeuvring much, and at best runs for the nearest cover and stays there. The 'shooting gallery' variant is even more radical, where nobody even bothers to get to cover, usually because the effort:benefit ratio is too high. GURPS Spaceships and generally TL7+ GURPS firefights are like that; my experience with AD&D, D20 Modern (3e or 3½e equivalent, I think), and FATE games seems to put them into this category too.

I've also seen some games that aren't like that, where the positioning game has at least moderate importance. Rogue Trader spaceship fights and some mêlée combats in GURPS gave me such an impression. It's also the impression I've had from TTRPGs' older sister - tabletop wargames like Infinity.

But I have a hard time recalling any TTRPGs where the positioning part of the game is of strong importance, and where fire-and-manoeuvre is essential to winning. The examples of a strong positioning game I can think of fall outside TTRPGs - instead they come from old table games like Baduk or Chess and CRPGs like Divinity Original Sin. (Maybe I'm somehow just missing the right RPG examples.)

So it makes me wonder:
What design decisions produce (or can produce, or are more likely to produce) RPGs with a good, strong positioning game in combats? Preferably of the sort that's easy to learn but hard to master or 'solve'.

(At first I thought that it's a matter of attack range to movement rate per turn, but as noted above, some counterexamples with high movement-rate-to-engagement-range ratios seem to undermine that position.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ (By the way, thank you for a question I found fascinating and really thought-provoking. If you take this question to a forum—which I recommend—, please link to it from here so others who upvoted it (like me!) can continue following along.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 13 at 21:51
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I have been a player of D&D fourth edition for several years now and, since I dislike shooting galleries as well, I have been on the look on what works and what does not.

While these tactics might be specific to D&D 4e, most are easy to apply to a general case.

Things that encourage players to move their characters around the map

  • Area effects that keep doing damage to characters who keep standing there.
  • Attacks that require you to move a certain distance if you want some additional effects (charging into melee or defense bonuses for mobile targets).
  • Conditional bonuses that depend on the distance between you and your foe (a cloak that gives you more protection against long range attacks).
  • Enemies that have an optimal engagement distance different than yours (you want to stay away from combat, enemy wants to come close or viceversa).
  • Melee player characters versus spread enemies. Kill one enemy, move to the next one.

Things that encourage players to have their characters stand still

  • Cover is too effective (players will plant themselves there).
  • The advantage given by positioning correctly is too small to be worth the effort of thinking tactically.
  • You are greatly rewarded for standing still (aiming or better defenses).
  • Flanking is hard to break (and you get into a conga line of characters).
  • Time spent moving prevents you from taking different, more interesting actions.

On a side note, how does chess mandate movement? All pieces are melee pieces, they must move to capture. Even the pieces who can move a lot in one turn can only do so if they were in the right position beforehand because they can only move in some directions.

How does Divinity do it? I have only played a tiny percent of the game but from what I remember it's mostly because there are areas on the ground that you want to avoid.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In my experience, effective cover has the opposite effect - if you can't shoot the enemy through their cover (and vice-versa), then you have to move to flank them and attack from a direction they don't have cover from. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Feb 14 at 10:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman I meant effective cover for the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Feb 14 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING YOUR PLAYERS!!??? \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Feb 14 at 19:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ "On a side note, how does chess mandate movement? All pieces are melee pieces, they must move to capture" furthermore, any action taken is movement. So not only do pieces have to move into melee range in order to attack, but their attack is also involves moving into the square occupied by the enemy pieces. Couple that with mandating of taking an action each turn, and you cannot have a turn where the board stays static. There is literally no option for that. Therefore a system that wants to discourage staying should not have it as an option or as preferable option. \$\endgroup\$ – VLAZ Feb 15 at 11:19
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I can think of multiples design features/decisions

  1. Obstacle creation: If the game include many ways of creating obstacles, positioning become more important. Because the players/opponents will create their own mazes and their own cover. This design can include spells/items that create a damaging zone (like a fire circle spell for example). In an extend, it can also include barriers/shields spells.

  2. Directed shield: In some space opera RPG, spaceships has 4 shields (front, right, back, left) and each shield can take damages. Some game also provides a system where you can redirected the shields energy on others shields.

  3. Boost damages from behind: If you gives bonus to backstab attacks or just every hit from behind, players will try to position themself for that case.

  4. Ambush attacks: I only saw that kind of design in one rpg games, but i saw it in many video games. An ambush attacks is when the player just protect a zone, waiting to ambush the first opponent coming. This design can helps players to cover other players so they can move easily. This way, players will position themself into their allies cover.

  5. Weapon range: Most games provide a range table for weapons, but in many games the range is so high (even for small pistols) that we don't really use it. You can tweak the weapon ranges to improve positioning in battle.

  6. Pickups: If players have to move to pick an item, they will probably move for it. Let's imagine a game where when you kill a bad guy, you have to harvest his soul immediately or it will vanish.

But if you want a game where positioning is important, you also need to just avoid designs that will force players to be static. For example, you should avoid static traps.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might add attacks that either take time to land or have to be called in to a given location. If there is plunging Greek fire/napalm, you're not going to want to hunker down while the enemy walks their shots towards you. \$\endgroup\$ – Kieran Mullen Feb 13 at 18:21

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