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My Problem is split in two parts: Realism and Counterplay.
I am the DM (we play Rule of Cool's Legend, which is pretty similar to D&D, and D&D 3.5e). Every fight my Party take one target and focus this enemy down; in the best case they get the target down and there is no way to heal or recover the target between the turns. I understand it's a pretty simple but effective way to win your fights, and deal with heals.

My Problem with Realism

In the real world even with the existence of magical fireballs you would be punished to just ignore enemies on the battlefield. You can't just ignore 3 other enemies to kill one of the four, because your "open" backs would result in 3 dead allies.

My Problem with Counterplay

The Party has a lot of sustain and small selfheals, so everybody can survive pretty good on their own. It's an invitation to do the same, because they could not do anything to rescue a focus fired ally. But this would, I'm pretty sure, kill one of the party.

How can I deal with this problem? Even if the players agree to the problems it's just the easy way to win the encounter. There are no punishments nor rewards to not "abuse" this shortcut to victory. How can I encourage (I prefer encouragement over punishment) my player to fight more 1vs1 or give attention to the attacker, than the target. Have some DMs experienced the same problem? Do you use homebrew rules? Are there any rules that are often not noticed?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Sep 30 at 21:23
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Issues with realism

So the fundamental problem with realism here is that you’re dealing with hp. Because of the hp abstraction, players can both survive ignoring the other enemies, and also need to focus one enemy down if they’re going to eliminate a threat. Cooperation to eliminate threats is very realistic, but the way that works in Legend is very different from real life because in real life we don’t have hp to soak damage. In real life, that cooperation would largely entail covering for an ally (cover fire, shield walls, whatever) while an ally gets in the one necessary lethal blow. In Legend, you need a lot more blows, but can also take more blows, so instead of covering for each other you mostly just gang up on the target.

And honestly, even that can be realistic; in a less-disciplined, less-well-trained scenario, that’s largely what you see combat turn into. At some point, you just rush someone en masse and hope one of you gets them before they get any of you—with some security knowing even if they do get one of you, it probably won’t be you, personally.

Ideal solution

The ideal is that Legend provides options for you to produce covering effects for the NPC combatants, so that they cannot easily be ignored and/or cannot easily be dealt with before you deal with an ally. That would then force the players to bring their own special features to bear to isolate a target from allies’ protection before they can focus them down, which might require doing something to those allies to keep them from offering the protection (or retribution) they try to promise. And the enemies do much the same, and both groups have abilities to prevent the other from achieving it. That provides a challenge that the players (and you) have to figure out how best to open up the cohesive enemy party.

Now, unfortunately, while I worked with Rule of Cool on Legend, it has been a long time since I have actually played it. It’s been a long time since anyone from Rule of Cool has played it, to be honest; it is a rather abandoned project (I believe there was another group that took it up with an aim towards producing a 2e, but I don’t know how far that’s gotten). The reasons for that abandonment are varied and some of them are personal or private, but one thing is that Legend never quite performed up to the ideal that the designers had in mind. For myself, I tend to think that D&D 4e does what Legend wanted to do, but far better and with far more available content. I know for a fact that D&D 4e can handle the kind of play I describe.

That said, I can tell you that many of the classes were intended to enable this kind of thing. The paladin’s bastion track, the ranger’s battle’s tempering track, all of the shaman’s tracks and tactician’s tracks, as well as the knight, mechanist savant, and runesong scholar tracks were designed for this. They weren’t the only ones but to my recollection they were the most effective ones. I would try to see if you can use some of those (probably not just one lynchpin support character but a group of interdependent partial-support characters) to create encounters where targets the PCs can reach are difficult to kill, while the squishier targets they could kill are out of reach and protected. Ignore that protection to reach them, invite punishment. Focus on the frontline, have a hard time getting through it.

And hopefully the PCs are building in a similar way so that you can apply a version of counterplay.

You’ll note that what I’m suggesting here is an enormous amount of work. Each foe has to be carefully designed to fit within the unit and work together to keep them safe from the PCs. This is, to most people’s minds, the biggest failing of Legend—DMing is exceptionally time-and-effort-intensive. By the time Rule of Cool realized just how massive a problem this was, things were far enough that even they (I didn’t particularly work on this particular problem, I just contributed some tracks) couldn’t manage it—the intended Monster Manual analogue that was to help with this never got even close to completion.

Band-aid approaches

The problem here ultimately comes from hp; in theory, you can devalue hp and make it more dangerous to ignore foes in general. Variants like this are fairly common for D&D—wounds and injury systems and so on. But this is going to be very difficult to do well—Legend was not designed for it, at all, and furthermore no one has attempted to design such a variant for Legend. Your only hope here is to find a variant of this kind for D&D 3.5e, and try to apply it to Legend. I strongly suspect this is going to work poorly, and even if it does work, it’s going to change the nature and tone of the game pretty sharply compared to what Legend is supposed to be. But if you found one that worked, or worked well enough, you would vastly cut down on the massive workload Legend otherwise requires of the DM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks a lot for your ideas, you are totally right that legend is a hell of workload for the DM, and i was afraid that the solution will be throwing more time at preparation and even more carefully planing the encounter. \$\endgroup\$ – Captian DM Oct 1 at 8:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ It is somewhat relieving that the NPC-building problem, which I've been very vocal about, was not just my idea. At the same time, it's really sad to hear that the whole thing disbanded. Back on track: how do you think the first part of your answer applied with the "HP as stress, death as the only hit that gets in" approach to describing HP? \$\endgroup\$ – Zachiel Oct 2 at 18:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Zachiel You were far from the first or only to complain about NPC-building in Legend; two members of Rule of Cool were literally brought on board over it, and one of those basically took over after the founders bailed. Anyway, I don’t think any one description of hp and/or hp damage will ever really cover things. You have to do it on an ad hoc basis depending on how the damage was dealt and/or healed—and they’re not always going to line up and that’s going to have to be OK. This is true in just about every game ever that features hp—and I doubt it could be any other way. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 2 at 21:32
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The question itself is I would say indicative of a deeper problem here, and that is a mismatch between different expectations the players have of the GM (or of the game in general). Most likely, there are two statements applying to your gaming group at the same time:

  • The players don't want their characters to die
  • The expected outcome of every combat scene is complete annihilation of one side

The problem is, quite simply, that those two things can't be true at once without making combat completely pointless. Trying to find some "compromise" between the two can be really hard for GMs, especially if they don't have much experience. Therefore, my advice is less mechanical and more general:

Do not consider combat a Players vs. GM situation

It's an easy trap to fall into because of the wargame-like nature of combat rules, to turn the roleplaying game into a board game between the GM and the players which has a clear "winner". This just creates unnecessary bad feelings, because once you have the expectation that somebody has to loose in a situation, you don't want that person to be you.

But a GM doesn't "win" by killing off player characters. This is true in all situations, even in combat. Putting aside the mindset of "my monsters have to succeed against the party" will help you approach the problem more relaxed.

The win state of a GM, if one can talk about such a thing, is to provide an engaging game, and that means providing people with situations and choices to roleplay. Combat which is just about "kill the other side" doesn't provide much choice. Therefore, this leads right into the next point:

Make combat have different end states than extermination

Think for a moment about why a fight happens. What do both sides want out of it? Will a group of henchmen really keep shooting at the heroes when they effortlessly pick them off one by one? Why do both sides consider employing lethal force as the right tool in this moment?

Once you know the answers to that, you will find ways for a fight to end without either side completely eradicated. If the reason for a fight is no longer valid, or the chances of success too small, people will stop fighting. Have enemies surrender, or try to run away, or stop once they have sufficiently damaged the party to "send a message" and so on. This way, combat turns from a simple "slaughter the other side" exercise into a roleplaying opportunity. What do the player characters do when the enemies thrown down their weapons and plea for their lives? What do they do when the group disengages after having knocked out one character and having dragged them off the battlefield?

And once you have internalised that, then you can get to the mechanical solution:

Switch up tactics

Right now, your game is similar to Rock Paper Scissors where you always play Paper and they play Scissors, with the obvious results. And your question turns into "How do I beat Scissors without making my opponent loose?", which is unanswerable for obvious reasons. Adapting the above mindset to combat allows you to play Rock without immediately feeling bad, and turns the question into a solvable one of "How do I play Rock?"

And there might be an answer to that, but in case nobody on this site knows it, having re-framed combat to be not automatically lethal allows you to use your player's expertise to your advantage: Let the enemies focus fire on them, and then see what tactics they come up with to counter it. Then adapt those. This sounds like an arms race, but the point here is that you're not doing this to kill the party, but to allow the mobs the successes they need to carry out whatever not-kill-everyone goal they have going into combat.

And at some point, the arms race turns into Rock Paper Scissors: The new strategy to beat the old counter-strategy is one already known. At that point, your combat will have been greatly enriched, not only by the above inclusion of roleplay, but because the decision of "what strategy will we try today?" is inherently more interesting than the constant repetition of one winning strategy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your words. First of all. I dont consider losing the fight as losing. I win, if the party talks about an encounter agains "as Awesome!". My biggest mistake was to think the solution was to play Scissors to counter Scissors - but i have to invent the rock. Thanks a lot. \$\endgroup\$ – Captian DM Oct 1 at 8:51
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Trying again - I do agree with the general idea of utilizing roleplay to better inform how opponents act and react to combat situations. I still believe the best support I can give to answer the question is the homebrew monster manual I have been working on: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1lN520Zmy5H1Z1dTS9wCiXkigbWG9po2y

Within the pdf are several "Rocks" "Paper" and "Scissors" as @AlienAtSystem has discussed. As an example, I got particularly good mileage out of a monster on page 41, the Unicorn, which made good healers. The BBEG had several imprisoned and enslaved, which meant that my groups tactic of "get the healer/caster" was no longer viable as they has reservations about killing unwilling hostages. They also had to choose opponents carefully as any ignored enemy would have free reign to harm hostages.

There are also a few homebrew tracks that may change the battle depending on your party. I have had good luck with the Blackguard class, on Page 8-11 of the PHB 2.5: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RC-R9rLMoDVVXRvziOGZpH7iFOunnWmw
Black Knight track from the class can grant substantial bonuses to an enemy that is being targeted directly. If players realize that they may be inclined to ignore them until the enemies supports have fallen or utilize less direct damage.

To more directly answer part of your question on homebrew rules. Page 144 of the monster manual has homebrew rules I use. And I have gotten very good use out of damage calculation, non-token encounters and point buy classes Rules.

Most/all of the PHB stuff is homebrew or things from the previous team I've gathered from the old forum, and the Monster Manual does use these a lot. You probably want to review anything you may use for your tables balance. I just hope it may help you find some solutions to your problem, or at least be a spring board for ideas.

as an aside, thank you @KRyan for your kind words and encouragement on my previous post, I am glad I ended up seeing the comment and tried to follow your recommendations here. The post was deleted and neither it nor any of the comments on it appear in my profile to edit to try again. I have difficulties with online communication and the deleted post with no means to correct it felt extremely discouraging to try to use this site. So again I thank you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Koeh, it seems you have accidentally created two accounts which is why the old post doesn't show up for you. You can follow the advice here to merge them. \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Oct 3 at 6:09

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