John Wick is doing an interesting project over on You Tube called Santa Vaca. Basically, what he is doing is transforming D&D into a game that he wants to run, something he would have made, with the caveat that he can't change the character sheet at all. He can repurpose the stats, but he can't remove anything that is already on the sheet. Now, he's had a few little errors to this, but nothing huge, and whether you like it or not, it is an interesting project. In his most recent video update (provided below), he is reducing combat down to one die roll. Making it more on par with say, seducing a bar maid, and most of the other checks done in D&D. Now, I'm for the idea of simplifying things, but one of the comments made me stop and think, and that is what I want to talk about today.
First, here is the video so you know what I am talking about.
Watched it? Good. Now, the comment that made me stop and think is - summarized - this. "How would you handle a situation where a character is in the eye of the storm? Like the end scene of Kill Bill Volume 1". The response I saw was a comment on Wesley taking out the 4 guys around Humperdink in the Princess Bride. Which, while similar, isn't exactly the same situation. In one, we have a desperate fight as a group of people try to stop one crazy lady with a katana from killing their boss. In the other, we have a swashbuckler handily dispatching 4 people in one go.
See, what the commenter is getting at, or at least what I think they're getting at, is that by lowering combat to a single die roll, you remove a lot of the tension from certain types of scenes. Rolling once, and stating the results of the fight, however quick - and narratively or realistically appropriate - it can be, also removes the tension. I mean, we've all been there. Our character on their last few HP, desperately needing that good roll to come along and let us pull off the win. We've had it happen, we've had it fail, but by and large it has made the fight more exciting.
I'd argue that a good GM could bring some of that tension back, especially in the pre-roll, but in a big way it just isn't the same. When you simplify things, you lose something that is there when it is more complex. You lose all the intricacies and details. This isn't to say that the simplification is bad, just that you need to be cautious when you do it. Employ it selectively. Let Wesley use one roll to beat 4 of Humperdink's men, but at the same time, give Beatrice Kiddo her epic fight in the restaurant as she takes on all comers.
There is a happy ground somewhere in the middle, but I don't think any system has properly found it just yet. So, for now, the GMs of the world should be aware of both approaches, and not be afraid to employ either method when the tension and drama of the scene demands it. Use a single roll to make the player feel powerful, and show their growth, or to represent a particularly quick and bloody fight. Use multiple when you want the tension to rise a bit more, and each move a bit more thought out. There is room for both here.
But, maybe I'm wrong. What are your thoughts on the matter?