6 Ways to Improve your Fight Scenes

In Table Top RPGs many players live for combat. Being able to test your skills and character build in the struggle for life and death on the field is the best part o fthe game to them, and they will seek every opportunity to find it!

For The excitement! For the glory! For... The tedium?

When it comes down to it, Combat in RPGs is little more than rolling back and forth to see who hit who and what damage they have done. For many new Game Masters it is hard to take it beyond that simple mechanic, and their combat scenes end up monotonous and predictable slug-fests.

Perhaps the issue is that you have given your players no reason to move in a fight, other then to go to the next target, or no one is using special abilities, or maybe your villians are simply too easy. But either way, your combat is not engaging. So how do you create a combative situation that has more then just rolling back an forth between two parties?

Before we begin, we need to establish some parameters. First I consider combat to have the following segments (which is based heavily around AD&D - D&D 3.5 but will work for a lot of RPG's):

A. Surprise round
    -Anybody who managed to attack a party unseen, gets a free combat round before a standard round begins.

B. Roll initiative
    -All combatants roll to determine what order they act in

C. Actions
    -Each player takes there action in the established order.
    -There are also 4 major types of actions: Non-Combative Actions, Ranged Combat Actions, Melee Combat Actions, and Magical Combat Actions.

Paying attention to these four aspects of combat will help you design more interesting combat scenarios. So here are 6 ways to improve your fight scenes.

1. The Surprise Round

Two bandits sneak up on Lord Alex
The surprise round does not always happen. For example if everyone sees everyone else, then that free round disappears, and normal combat begins. However, the surprise round is used when one party successfully sneaks up on another or catches them unprepared.

It is up to the player to sneak up and surprise an enemy, but don't forget to make your monsters sneak up and surprise the players.

Every rule set uses different rules for "surprise" but generally the GM rolls for the players: this makes the attack actually surprising. To give an example, if the party was walking down a dark alley, and unbeknown to them a group of bandits lurk in the shadows, the GM should roll a surprise roll for each player. When the bandits attack for their hidden place, every player that passed the surprise roll may fight in that free round of combat, Every player that doesn't is stunned for a round.

Catching your players off guard is a great way to add a rush of excitement and add tension to a situation! However, as a GM you must use this power wisely. A successful surprise attack can wipe out a party if they are attacked by powerful enough creatures, which may not be what you intended with the encounter.

Surprises are also wonderful story driving tools. A successful surprise doesn't necessarily need to lead to combat. You can use a surprise round to make demands, initiate a conversation, or cast a spell on the party.. Perhaps any one who puts down their weapons will be spared, or the bandits need their help, or maybe a wizard curses half of the party causing them to fight each other. Either way a Surprise round will create an interesting scenario for the beginning of your combat!

2. Rolling Initiative

Yay Dice!
There really isn't anyway you can make initiative more interesting, it will always be rolling a die and adding modifiers. As a GM though, you need to make this run as smoothly as possible. Have a list of who goes in what order, and be mindful of everything's health, what they need to hit and their armour class. Having this information close at hand will make your combat run smoother.

The better prepared you are for each fight, the faster this will move. Make your lists of encounters before hand if possible, and make it a less painful experience for everyone.

3. Non-Combative Actions

Lord Alex must reach the metallic orb to return the skeletons to their slumber.
This can be anything from movement, to skill checks, etc. Force players to do these! Make them pick up their swords, make them run for cover, make them push buttons and pull levelers, etc, etc. The best way to achieve this is to point out important or strange features in the area. Make the players want to investigate the scene so they understand where they are.

Use these Non-Combative actions to effect the fight itself. Maybe there is a lever on the other side of the room that will stop more guards from entering, maybe the player or NPC drops their sword at a really inopportune time and they get seriously wounded for it.

When using these actions however, remember to make sure they make sense. If your Bandit fumbles, drops his sword and it goes flying across the room landing in a throng of enemies, he is not going to do dive in to them to get it. In the same way that a seriously wounded person (for the most part) is not going to fight to the death. They are going to retreat if they can.

Everyone should always have something to do in combat, and it should always be what is best for their survival.

4. Ranged Combat Actions

Ranged Orcs. Always Deadly

Ranged combat can become quiet easy for the player, they just stand in one spot and endlessly fire a stream of arrows from a safe distance. To make Ranged combat more engaging, there are a couple things you can do:

1. Make sure your monsters have ranged attacks as well.
     -If both parties have the ability to launch these attacks, the advantage given to the player party is nullified.

2. Use all your ranged attacks in one powerful strike.
     -If you have five archers, have them all fire simultaneously at one target. This will make anything standing still want to duck and run for cover.

Have your monsters react to ranged attacks.
     -Have monsters with shields put up them up, have monsters without them duck for cover. When someone gets shot by an arrow, the group's first reaction should be to hide, or increase their defense.

4. Keep track of everyones ammunition
     -Players and monsters do not have unlimited ammunition. As the DM, you should record how many projectiles each player and monster has at the start of each game, and also keep track of how many they have fired.

5. Melee Combat Actions

One of JADE's most powerful fighters Arthur Cross.
Melee combat can quickly turn into an uninteresting slug fest; simply rolling back, and forth and back and forth. This can get pretty boring, especially in a larger conflict. Here are somethings you can do to spice up combat:

1. Use the special attacks.
     -Bull Rushing, Parrying, Charging, Unarmed Combat, Grappling, Improvised Weapons, etc. look these rules up in the combat section of your players handbook, or DM's guide and use them spice up a fight!

2.Have your characters move.
    -Force characters to move around in combat. Throw things at them that will force them to move out of the way or into a better position. This will make combat more dynamic.

3.Encourage players not to fight.
    -If there is away to get around an enemy without blood shed, that should almost always be tried first. It will usually be the best course of action for the party, and if combat starts they will be in a more interesting position.

6. Magical Combat Actions

Magic Users always have a trick up their sleeve
Spells can take a lot of time to look up and have their effects properly resolve, and when they do they can also totally blow an enemy away. Here is how to make the process smoother:

The most important thing here is to be familiar with your spells.
    -This is important for GM and player's a like. Actually look up the spell in the back of the book. Does it get a save? What radius does it cover? How long does it take to cast? What do you have to do to cast it?  Being a proper spell caster is a lot of work in and out of game. You will need study your spells, only then will you truly understand how they work, and when to use them to the greatest effect.

Make players roll to concentrate, base this role on their constitution stat, if it is not a skill.
    -When in combat or a tense situation, a caster may not be able to focus enough on remembering the components to a spell to cast it. Now 3.5 has a concentration skill, but that doesn't mean the concept shouldn't be brought to other editions. If there are no proper rules, have a character roll below their constitution stat, and add any modifiers you see fit.

3. Accept that spells are powerful and work with that.
    -As a GM, if you know that magic users are powerful, then reasonably wouldn't every monster know it? Or at least immediately recognize it? Clearly identifiable casters should always be the primary targets for any attack. They are always the most powerful character or monster, and must be stopped before victory is ever possible. This is true for both players and monsters. So accept that casters are powerful and throw everything at them.

I hope that helps make your combat scenes a little more interesting, and engaging for your players. Happy Gaming!

6 Ways to Improve your Fight Scenes 6 Ways to Improve your Fight Scenes Reviewed by JADE Gaming on 8/13/2014 12:17:00 pm Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. So...having monsters all act simultaneously is boring. Having them always have a coordinated ranged alpha strike on the same character isn't just unrealistic, it's also a bit overly lethal to that PC. And tracking ammunition is super-boring spreadsheet work - gaming should be fun and cinematic, not silly accounting.