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It's not an "I Win" Button, It's a "We Win" Button

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I notice a lot of people who do not like the fact that casters have spells that can end a combat encounter (or other encounter that matter) call these spells "I win" buttons/spells/etc. For example this statement from a thread on RPGnet:

A lot of fans of 4e lament the Vancian Wizard's access to "I Win" button spells. Regardless of how the exact spell loadout if "balanced" vs expected encounters per day (and whether or not there are adequate mechanisms in the system for enforcing those expectations), the very fact that the wizard has access to unique tools which can utterly trivialize encounters in a single round is problematic.

I simply do not understand this claim.

First, why is it called an "I win button"? The caster casts "Cloudkill" (or whatever) and all the opponents die or are injured so badly that they are out of action. The encounter ends, not with a "win" for the caster, but with a win for the entire party who do not have to risk their lives, use up magic items, etc. to fight it out. The party can gather the treasure and proceed on with out risking their lives or their resources in a potentially dangerous combat encounter. This does not sound like a "Caster wins, rest of party loses" situation to me -- it sounds like a "Party Win".

Second, isn't the point of most adventures to save the princess/get the treasure/kill the bad guys/whatever the adventure objective is? In real life, I'd sure consider it a good thing if my group could achieve such objectives with as little risk to our lives, limbs, and resources as possible. I don't see why any character having the ability to end a encounter in the party's favor in one action would be considered a bad thing.

If the average real world military unit or police swat team had a person with such an ability in their unit, I suspect that the unit would do their best to not have to go on a mission without this person and would go out of their way to see that he was protected on missions so he could use his ability in key situations. I can't see many complaining because his special ability allowed the team to achieve its objective with little risk to themselves.

In every D&D game I have ever ran, the players certainly never considered this a bad thing. In fact, they considered it a bad thing that the casters could not do this for every encounter. In D&D games, where the GM does not enforce limitations or casters or stupidly allows the so-called "15 minute adventuring day" or the like and thereby allows the casters to do this to 5 or 10 encounters in a row, I can see how other players might resent one character doing this all the time -- but even in such poorly GMed (or designed) games, the use of these powers is still a "We Win" button, not an "I win" button.

Quite frankly, the only reason I can see why players might find such powers truly always objectionable is if they see the primary purpose of the RPG part of the game as just a way link tactical combat encounters and the only fun the players really see in the game is playing out those tactical encounters in detail. To be fair, the author of the post I quote from above seems to be writing for people who do see it this way. That is, they don't just want to have a "party win" -- they want their character to be involved in a lengthy combat as part of that encounter win. I can understand this POV, but it really makes more sense in a set piece tactical battle game than it does in a roleplaying campaign (IMHO) and I see no real reason for the core rules of any major RPG to cater to this attitude. Optional rules catering to it, sure.

10 comments:
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1d30 said...
July 18, 2012 at 4:08 PM  

It's possible that they want the tactical "combat as sport" experience. It's also possible they view the game balance as PC vs. PC.

Not always in the sense of intra-party conflict, but in terms of character choice. Let's say you have eleven types of PC to choose from and four of them are markedly more powerful and versatile than the others, creating two castes of adventurer: powerful and not. Some players will want to play the Not Powerful types, but at some point that feels like choosing to play a quadriplegic PC just for the challenge.

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rorschachhamster said...
July 19, 2012 at 4:59 AM  

Further, with the healing mechanisms in 4e, there is (almost) no reason to keep an encounter short - in fact, the encounters are what the pcs are geared for.

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shortymonster said...
July 19, 2012 at 2:13 PM  

I think the only way they 'lose' is in that they never got the chance to show how awesome they were before the wizard beat them too it.

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Randall said...
July 19, 2012 at 2:25 PM  

@1d30: I've already allowed for those players who are playing mainly because they want lengthy tactical encounters -- it's easy to see why someone ending the combat quickly even with a win for the party would upset them. As I don't play with powergamers, I've seldom see people pick a class because it is "more powerful", players tend to pick classes because they fit the character concept they have.

@rorschachhamster -- One reason to keep some encounters short even in 4e: the party has non-combat stuff they want to get done in today's 4 hour game session.

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p1r8z0r said...
July 20, 2012 at 11:57 AM  

4e is an amazing and highly-valuable D&D system in that it keeps a-holes like that away from my table.

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Hamel™ said...
July 21, 2012 at 5:11 AM  

4E fans are just criticizing a style of play (aka munchkinism) born with AD&D 2nd Edition, standardized in 3E and supported by official TSR/WotC products.

It's not a matter of balancement, but something concerning a whole bunch of idiots playing Evil characters in an idiotic way against the classical party trope.

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The Raging Zephyr said...
July 23, 2012 at 4:34 AM  

When I play games, my character looks for the party's spellcasters to do something.

I already know my limits ahead of time; as a fighter, I can take on a handful of men my strength or beat away a horde of weaker foes, but my solutions to problems generally involve whatever tools I have on-hand to accomplish tasks. As a rogue, I rely on the rest of the team to handle fights while I do the busy work of figuring out how to disarm traps, which doors to lock and unlock, and what guards I need to silently dispatch before someone warns them of impending doom encroaching on their territory.

As a wizard, I need to think about how to best help everyone else, which generally involves taking maybe one damage-dealer to help wipe out the less-dangerous folk, as well as a lot of other spells that vary in utility (illusory wall, dimension door, cloudkill, and grease come to mind.) I don't have time to think solely for myself and what I can do in a fight; I need to think about how to avoid fights and save the rest of the party in a pinch.

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ChrisS said...
July 23, 2012 at 6:03 AM  

I think it's related to the near indestructibility of characters in new editions. If there is no/little risk of death to your character, why wouldn't you want the fight to go on so you can strut your stuff rather than have a spellcaster end the fun right away? Whereas in older editions, anything that kept you from risking your scrawny neck was a godsend.

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Rach's reflections said...
August 1, 2012 at 6:49 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
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Rach's reflections said...
August 1, 2012 at 6:52 AM  

Really Shortymonster called it-- if a fighter is specialized for fighting, not getting an opportunity to fight makes her come off as a little bit pointless.

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