Make combat interesting

Make Combat Interesting

three-musketeers1

Here are some useful tips on ensuring that fight scenes are more exciting and fun.

  1. Make it more about the conflict itself and less about number crunching.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Dish out conditions and status effects instead of damage if appropriate or cool.
  5. Don’t get bogged down with “realistic physics”. Use cinematic short-hand to keep things flowing.
  6. Use enemies that inflict HIGH damage, but who have very few Hit points.
  7. Always plan for interesting terrain. Always give the characters things to work with, like improvised props for weapons, defense and distraction.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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…).

Memorable NPCs

NPC portraits

NPC portraits

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.

How to handle research

Call_of_Cthulhu_Professor_Armitage,_Venerable_Librarian

Skip the boring, 3 hour long library sequence.

Instead just hand wave it away and say that it happened. Don’t specify exactly WHAT gear the party acquires based on the outcome of the research, just say that they acquired it already.

Cut to the actual encounter. At pivotal moments, have a flashback to the actual research time. Have the scholars make their rolls on the spot. The outcome of their roll (success OR failure) dictates waht the player characters pull to defeat the challenge.

Eg.:

The PCs have tracked the monster to its lair. They wish to set up an ambush using their newly acquired monster hunting gear. Flashback! Corbin rolls. Failure. Oh well, he thinks that making a ring of salt will defeat the monster! Cut back to the present. The party readies handfulls of salt packets.

The Vampire appears! Flashback. Miter’s character rolls History. Success! Fire will do the trick. Cut back to the present: all of the party’s weapons have the flammable quality.

The actual flashbacks don’t all have to be on the spot if it doesn’t make sense. If the monster of the week has a weakness to FIRETRUCKS, the party will obviously not pull one out of nowhere. Well, they COULD, that would be HILARIOUS: “suddenly, there’s a loud honking sound before the wall bursts in and a firetruck smashes into the monster! Everyone cheers!”