From the current playtest package for D&D Next:
Instead of having players choose their alignment from the usual list, have them use this:
Please choose your preferred reward structure:
- Weird Equipment
Please choose your preferred method of conflict resolution:
- Direct Violence
- Indirect Violence
- Adventure Game Logic
Here are some useful tips on ensuring that fight scenes are more exciting and fun.
- Make it more about the conflict itself and less about number crunching.
- Use morale for enemies. Rarely do people fight to the death. They’ll probably just turn tail and run or surrender. Those who fight to the death should be SERIOUS BUSINESS.
- Allow clever use of non-combat skills. Let social and mental skills be put to good effect. Perhaps instead of just punching people, let a character use manipulation to “dodge” through trickery and feints. Let someone use Athletics / Acrobatics to swing around and hurt people. Allow someone to use empathy to “predict” where the enemy is going to move/attack.
- Dish out conditions and status effects instead of damage if appropriate or cool.
- Don’t get bogged down with “realistic physics”. Use cinematic short-hand to keep things flowing.
- Use enemies that inflict HIGH damage, but who have very few Hit points.
- Always plan for interesting terrain. Always give the characters things to work with, like improvised props for weapons, defense and distraction.
- If the party is split up, allow players to run the enemies for you and roll their attacks. Less book keeping and keeps everyone involved.
- High Stakes! The fight has to be over quickly before the police arrive. They’re inside a burning building or sinking ship! Getting knocked over means you fall off the bridge! The monster has a poisoning/disease attack! Have the fight become a chase scene!
- Use a tracker to manage the ebb and flow of a fight instead of tracking HP. When it reaches key milestones, have something important happen (terrain changes, environmental effects, the bad guy changes form, allies come in, extra minions appear etc…).
I think the best way to do it is to have lots of very broad brush npcs, which get painted with finer strokes as the players get to know them.
So an npc might be
Bonce Slopford, Baker, bald/sweaty, nasal voice.
That’s a memorable character in 7 words. If he never plays a part in the story – win! If he does play a part in the story, say by baking silver pennies into tiny buns then using them as sling-stones to defeat the Werewolf of Vampiretown – win win! Go Bonce you sweaty legend!
One trouble with a huge long backstory is that unless you’re a master actor it’s just not going to come across except as (tedious) guarded ambiguity. And if you are a master actor, then you can convey the impression of a huge backstory with an inflection or an expression.
Another one is that you’re closing off elements of the future story based on what you’ve already decided for the character.
I know that making characters is an entertaining game in its own right, but even if that’s the way you roll I’d strongly recommend slapping a seven word description on top of that once you’re done, because that’s who your characters are going to meet.