So I'll admit, I'm a homebrew addict. I've been working on a system with a number of folks for about... oh, say 14 or 15 years now. It's gone through a lot of revisions and changes, faltered into stability, faltered out, and is now in the middle of a massive rules revision to try and iron it out yet again.

But I don't want to talk specific mechanics, I want to talk player satisfaction in combat, keeping options open, encouraging creativity and role-playing, but avoiding MMORPG-esque button mashing.

So first I'll start at the end, and work to the beginning, because that about as logical a place as any to set off from.

Button Mashing

I hate button mashing, I think it seriously dumbs down combat, limits role-playing and leads to situations in which I can't suspend disbelief. What do I mean by button mashing? Basically D&D 3.0/3.5/4.0 type combat where you announce that you "Power attack for 3", or "bull-rush", or what have you. When combat is reduced to a series of actions which you can perform, I think it limits player creativity, and realism in role-playing.

Sure you can have players describe what they are doing, and then as GM decide how to mash the buttons to make it happen, but that seems to lead to player dissatisfaction to me. If the GM misinterprets the players intent, or doesn't mash the right buttons, the player feels cheated or gyped.

I also feel it limits creativity and immersion. When you, in real life, are in a room trying to accomplish a task, you don't think in terms of buttons, the world is a continuum of options, not a set of buttons on a game controller. I try and get my players to do this in the game. Don't worry about how you'd leap on the table, kicking a drink into the orc's face, just go and do it! With buttons, however, it's usually far more advantageous to just push the buttons in your combo order and min-max a boring combat.

Player Satisfaction

Ok, forget about any semblance of order, I'm just moving to the counter point to my button mashing rant. Player satisfaction. Almost all players like button mashing to a degree. They like learning a chain of combos and executing them because it tells them specifically what they can do, differentiates them (to a small degree), and makes them feel special and excited about combat. These are all good things, and of course player satisfaction is important. Also, as much as I hate button mashing, I have to admit, playing a Paladin with the feat chain to make him an effective lancer was damn fun for a few charges.

Take away the buttons, and players often feel their only option is to "Attack" "Magic" "Item" or "Run". Rules tell them what they can do, and they like calculating the odds ahead of time. But take away the buttons and their options also open up. If you're assigning bonuses on the fly, suddenly everything is possible. A player can swing off the chandaleir, swinging a rope with a sword tied to one end. They can break off a leg of a table by kicking it, attempting to knock the orc on the table off balance. The possiblities are endless, because unlike when playing a computer game (where you must button mash), table top games have a real live human adjudicating.

The Real Issue

The real issue here, I suppose, is the level of granularity of the rules. On one end you have button mashing, which gives a player known options, obvious advancement and specialization, but limited options. On the other end you have limitless possibilities, but no known outcomes or easy starters.

How do you solve the problem? What do your players like? And what are your thoughts on this problem?