Pretty much all of his points are spot-on. I’m very much looking forward to his followup article.
I learned much of what he talks about in the crucible of GURPS, due to the nature and flow of GURPS combat. I learned, through necessity, that your game will not suffer if you allow your players to look for ways around and out of combat, and that you don’t need to let everything go on to the bitter end, taking full combat turns the entire time. Your players will have more fun, you’ll have more fun, and things are generally improved.
Let me tell you about GURPS combat: In D&D, if a goblin hits you in the arm with a sword, you take damage. If you take 5 damage, and you have 20 hit points, you now have 15 hit points. In GURPS, if a goblin hits you in the arm with a sword, you take damage. You might also have that arm crippled or severed. You might still be down to 15 hit points, but your sword arm might also now be useless for the rest of your life. It gets even worse when you play games with firearms and lasers. Being out in the open is pretty much a death sentence against trained marksmen.
The end result is that, in GURPS, even winning a combat means people on your side are wounded, maimed, crippled, or dead. And since in roleplaying games your side is typically made up of your players, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
What it did do for me, as both a GM and a player, is to drive home the fact that combat needed to be the resolution to a conflict, not the conflict itself. Because of the sheer lethality of that combat, a natural flow in the game developed. As the game matured, it became natural for players to question, first, the purpose of combat, strongly weighing the potential risks against the rewards. Should combat be chosen, it was then to the players’ advantage to setup a battle in which they’d have an advantage against their opponents. This forced me, as a GM, to work hard at developing encounters as opposed to developing combats. I could never count on combat breaking out, but if it did, my players always wanted it to break out on their terms.
The other characteristic of GURPS combat is that it’s mind-numbingly complex, meaning that it’s mind-numingly slow. There’s a spreadsheet developed by The Mook that helps guide you through the combat process. While it was originally developed as a playaid, it’s also a useful humor device at the overly-complex combat system. It’s 53 tabs worth of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style pathing (that is, you don’t use all 53, but they’re there!), and you’d run through that for every character’s combat turn. Oh, and it doesn’t even include sourcebook rules such as the quite-popular GURPS Martial Arts or the amazing GURPS High-Tech. That’s frankly absurd.
Because the combat is mind-numbingly complex and slow, it becomes mind-numbingly boring for the other 5 people at the gaming table. It’s even worse when GM-controlled characters are acting, since a huge amount of the time doesn’t involve actually interfacing with the players. As a GM, you need to have a great feel for this. All the complexity is somewhat subsumed when the combat is in doubt, and laser beams are cutting back and forth across a battlefield, and players are hoping a lucky (or unlucky) die roll doesn’t result in their head getting blasted off while they secure the shuttle landing spot. But as soon as combat becomes uninteresting, as the players are mopping up stragglers, that complexity will lose to cell phones with Twitter.
Again, what it did for me, as a GM and a player, is to understand when combat had ceased to be a meaningful driver for conflict. Wading through a 53 tab combat spreadsheet in order to mop up injured and retreating goblins that just watched a bunch of their comrades die isn’t fun for anyone involved. Yes, technically one of those goblins might score a lucky hit on the players as they mop them up, but actually that’s stupid. Recognition when the conflict has been resolved and moving on with your game helps keep things moving.
None of what The Angry DM said, or what I’ve affirmed above, is system specific. I learned my lessons from my experiences with GURPS because it was necessary for survival. A game where characters wade into every situation swinging swords and shooting arrows is a game where you’ve got a constant carousel of new characters, because the old ones are retiring maimed or dead. And if that game also includes the tedium of “complete combat resolution,” you’re not even going to have to worry about that problem, since your players will have long since moved on to more fun endeavors, like stabbing themselves in the thigh with a knife.
The problem is that “modern” roleplaying games don’t encourage such variation. D&D 3.5e, 4e, and Pathfinder are all notorious for their “crunch” when it comes to combat rules, but they never reach the level of absurdity that will train people to use those rules sparingly. Rolling initiative becomes a Pavlovian response when miniatures are placed on the board, everything is hacked at until it’s dead, and if that accomplishes whatever it was that was supposed to be accomplished, good. If not, well, we get XP for it anyway because we killed things, right?