No Heroes When You're Handed a Victory
Raymond Long's blog: 2016-Feb-04

If I play a wargame against a single opponent, and I think my opponent has deliberately let me win, there's no sweetness in the victory. The joy of winning comes from defeating an opponent who's trying his hardest to beat me.
But in RPGs, it's the norm for the GM to let the PCs win. In most RPGs, PCs can die in fights but it's fairly rare. PCs get in fight after fight after fight, but they keep surviving because GMs generally make the opposition weak enough to beat. If this isn't handing the PCs victories on a plate, it's the next thing to it.
If you play wargames with only two players, and the average player has similar ability to you, you expect to lose roughly as often as you win. In an RPG, if you typically fought opponents equal to you, you should also expect to lose fights as often as you win. But GMs keep running games where our PCs win and win and win, hardly ever losing. This can only be because GMs are giving us weak opponents - handing us victory on a plate.
Yet gamers describe such victory-on-a-plate hackfests as "heroic". Really they're the opposite. Heroism in battle is about being in danger, not being safe.
Suppose a unit in a battle holds a hill despite taking 70% losses. That's a heroic stand. That's military heroism. If the same soldiers had energy shields which made them invulnerable to enemy attacks, and held the hill without taking a single casualty, there'd be no heroism.
Victories on a plate encourage stupid play. Players get the idea that they can blunder into any fight and it will always be survivable, so they charge ahead without thought. (This is made even worse by GMs who "retcon", weakening the opposition if they think the PCs won't win.)
Imagine a GM who doesn't routinely set the opposition weak enough to beat. Then PCs would have to choose their fights. Instead of charging in blind, they'd have to evaluate whether they could win. They'd have to gather intelligence on potential opponents. They'd have to use their brains as well as their swords. It would become a thinking game instead of a mindless hackfest.
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