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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Me and my chums are playing various campaigns, sometimes DnD, sometimes WFRP 2nd, and sometimes The Riddle of Steel.

I'm usually a good DM, except for fight scenes. My players avoid to fight in encounters, not because they are risky, but because they are boring as hell, and I reward more XP for not fighting anyway. I mean, fights usually take a long time to carry on, many dices are rolled and failed more often than not (especially in WFRP !). A standard fight scene can last upward to 10 minutes, which is an incredibly long time just to see who defeats who.

So... Anyone who had sucessfully DMed fight scenes can give me tips on how to run them effectively? Any player can tell me what they expect to find/what they enjoy in a fight scene ? Anybody who's had similar concerns in the past ?

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
That does not help me at all.

I know how to do a good narrative. I know how to describe the layouts to the PCs and how to engage them in my stories. In my current campaign, one of my PC is of royal blood an is preparing a coup-d'état against his uncle and his cousin (and everyone in between) to get the throne for himself. It's not unlike a tragedy in which the focus is on the bad guys (PCs), their rise to power and their inevitable downfall. It's got strong theme of love, faith, betrayal and revenge. There will be plenty of opportunities to lead up to fight, many high borns to whack.

I know how to throw in a plot twist. What I don't know is how to make the rolling of a dice to actually be... you know, more than just rolling a dice.

This is what my fight scenes look like :

GM : You've been discovered, you must break out of the stable before reinforcements arrive. There are three guards between you and the exit, roll initiative.
P1 : I move up to guard 1. I attack. *roll* I miss.
P2 : I move up to guard 1 as well, I attack *roll* I hit. For 5 damage.
GM : ok, 5 damage.
P3 : * was not followig *
GM : 3, it's your move.
P3 : huh? what's going on ?
GM : You've been discovered, you must break out of the stable before reinforcements arrive. There are three guards between you and the exit, 1 and 2 are picking on the first.
P3 : hu... I guess I'm gonna pick on the first as well *roll* miss.
P4 : My character is afraid of blood, I go hiding. * makes a hide check *
GM : The guards roll to see if they see 4. * roll *. Guard no 1 is stalling for reinforcements and adopt a defensive position, gaining a defensive bonus. Guard no 2 gets into melee to help his chum. Guard no 3 still guard the entrance. *roll* You notice he's the one giving the orders.
P2 : who?
GM : guard no 3
P4 : what does that mean ?
P1 : it means he's in charge, probably more powerful than the others.
P2 : who ?
All : guard no 3!
GM : ah yes, P3, you got attack by no 2, *roll* 4 points of damage
P3 : no fair ! I was aldready wounded!
GM : yeah, and the guard noticed you'd be an easier target.
P1 : My turn, P3, back off as I hold them out with 2. *roll* I miss
P2 : My turn, keep attacking *roll* I miss.
P3 : okay, I back off holding my arm from the injury.
GM : you sucessfully avoided attacks of opportunity.
P4 : can I cast a spell ?
GM : You're not a mage in this campaign!
P4 : so can I?
All : no!
P4 : okay, than can I shoot the bad guys?
GM : with what ?
P4 : I don't know, any projectiles of opportunity here ?
GM : why yes, there's horse shit and a pitchfork you could throw at him.
P4 : okay I aim the bad guy 1 and throw a horse at him.
GM : the whole horse ?
P4 : no, the road apples.
GM : good of you to specify
All : laugh

okay, so it's been two turns and at least 4 minutes out games and basically, nothing happened. I mean, . On the next turn, one or more player is gonna stop to pay attention and none of the bad guys are seriously injured yet. They don't pose a serious threat to both P1 and P2, but P3 was injured to begin with and P4 is a non-combatant. The PCs can (and will) off the bad guys in a couple of more rounds of combat, and escape just in time to flee from the reinforcements (because it's an important plot point that they escape just in time.)

How I feel is that I might just as well have asked the players : what do you do ? they answer : we fight our way out ! Give them an arbitray penalty for chosing to fight and then move the fuck on with the plot.

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
I mentionned I play DnD sometimes, but it's the game I like the least, so I can give my player the excuse that I can't DM fights to have them play a different game =P.

Not all my players like the miniature thing. We have found manipulating minis become tedious after the first few rounds of combat and I prefer to terrain to not be exactly defined. That way, players can use terrain features I did not think about or make manoeuvres that would normally be impossible due to movement restrictions. Maps can come in handy sometimes thought. Maybe I could make a couple of variations of tactical maps, Castle, Prison tower, tavern, stable, city streets, open plains, river crossing, mountain trail. Maybe 2 or 3 of each and chose a map randomly each time.

In WFRP 2nd edition, when you start with WS at 35 on average, it takes about 3 rounds just to land a hit! And then, to inflict significant damage, you need a good roll with the d10. I could run enemies with basically 1W so that we can go directly to the critical hits. Which is actually rather fun. Once, our squire got the critical hit : the head goes up in the air for 4d10 yards in a random direction. Then, the cook said : I wanna see the head! I botched his perception test, so he set fire to the cooking cart when he was distracted ( and got a beating from his liege in the aftermath). And the squire who beheaded the monster got lost in the woods trying to find it to have it as a trophy. And of course, it was his knight
who got all the credit from the NPCs about the kill ( Sire Knight, you are to be commended for the bravery of your squire! )

I don't know what combat in WFRP looks like at higher level because we always got bored with combat before we made it to the first 1000 XP.

There is also the significance of combat that must have some part of it I guess. I have found that battles that the players choose, battle against an adversary they really want dead, are more enjoyable than a random encounter. The latter, I rarely use them.

What could I use as criters in my games? Maybe I shot my own foot, but there are no monsters in my current game. The closest thing to a kobold I have are looters, conscripts and farmers. Looters ambushing the players make sense, but players actually wanting to hunt down looters, less so. hm... Maybe they could hunt down local looters to help a lord whose loyalty they would want in the upcoming coup-d'état... Then again, against weak enemies, they may chose to just send in their soldiers, especially since none of them are dedicated combattants for this campaign ( Now, they tend to hire their muscles to do more brain because I can DM court intrigues so much better than fight scenes. )

Seriously I find ten minutes to be overly long, especially when it does not drive the plot (random encounters) or when the PCs are supposed to win in the first place. Ten minutes + could be reasonable if the PCs are supposed to lose (they can make a dramatic and desperate last stand, maybe in wait of reinforcements they called beforehand), But I can't have PCs losing all the time, that's not what playing a RPG is about. My sessions typically last between 3 and 4 hours, ten minutes is a good chunk of that when it's just a fight, in the same way 10 minutes would be overly long if it was just to navigate an alley, climb a stairway or scale a cliff.

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I might suggest then making sure that there are ramifications for fighting. By this I don't mean punish players arbitrarily for choosing to fight - it should be an option open to them, make sure they get just as many rewards/XP, which ever way they choose to solve a problem, as long as it's done appropriately.

Rather I mean make fights have consequences later on, in the narrative, or ongoing consequences for the players. For example, your PCs are involved in dubious black market dealings, and and meet a corrupt Guard Captain. A fight develops for some reason, your PCs might Kill the guard captain and his thugs, injure him and he gets away or be beaten by them - three options. If they kill him, this could have serious consequences, such as blackmail by nearby blackmarketeers, other corrupt guards looking to kill them, and so on. If they Let him live or he gets away, perhaps they run into him later on during a court intrigue part - he won't say anything because you have the dirt on him (he's corrupt), but he will try to make your PCs lives difficult. Finally, if they get beaten, perhaps they're taken to a prison and arrested for affray, which could damage their reputations, or he could blackmail them to do some dirty deed for him. All are possibilities, depending on the outcome of the fight, rather than just making fights where the PCs just kill everyone and move on, or have the PCs meant to lose, it could go either way.

Poisons, or other ongoing effects, can also make PCs feel the effects of combats outside of the brief fight. A fight against a few inept assassins might be easy, but if one or two of the party gets poisoned, the effects of that fight can last for a while, and spill into other parts of the story. If you can't find a poison listed in your system that would have after combat effects, make one up. It could affect their interactions with people, perhaps they'll have to try to find an antidote for it and so on.

It's also possible to have more narrative combats, with less dice rolling. For example, it sucks if your PCs want to do a quiet/stealthy mission, such as an assassination, under the normal rules, as it takes so much effort to kill any enemy, there's no way to make it feel quick and silent. So then, you have to change the rules around to make it possible. A rouge like character might never take down a guard, even from behind, in a single shot - so instead, make up rules for instant killing, if the PCs do it right. Give them a good bonus to hit, and make them able to instant kill/stun most of the time, so they can have the movie like feeling of sneaking through a building, taking out the guards. Get them to roll a dice to do it, but have them explain how they're doing it (I sneak up and slit his throat quietly), roll a single to hit with bonuses, and let him get the kill. Don't make them too good at early levels, but make it possible to do.

As for what critters to use... well, I'd need to know a bit more about your settings to give much imput on that. It sounds like you're playing a more realistic game, and mostly dealing with humans only. I prefer a bit of a fantasy theme, which allows a lot more breadth for introducing monsters and gribblies. Just having humans can work, but it's easier working with a larger range - when you can send a giant against someone, it can make for a much different fight than sending a bunch of goblins, but it's hard to get the same epic feel fighting against a single, powerful human. If you have magic in your setting, that can be used to great effect for making fights interesting and unique. Any setup that can make your players think and have to plan to take him on can work well - a sorcress in a maze of mirrors, who can shift them around so the PCs are always guessing where she is, A din-jinn who can transform into a whirlwind, a wizard who can reverse gravity and so on. If just with basic humans though, you have to use a lot more description, find a way to let the PCs know how tough an enemy is without just saying it straight out. A plate armoured knight should be hugely tough to take out, especially if you've built him up in the story line a bit, while a street thug should be reasonable against some things, but fold easily against most combat characters.
For some battles, ramifications are a given. Those battles that are central to the plot against full-fledge NPCs always have ramifications. For random encounters, or fights against mindless skeletons or monsters out to kill them, or just maybe a chance encounter with a mother bear defending her young, an ambush by the local looters, it's less evident to even do : if the PCs lose that fight, they get killed (or left for dead if they have a fate point) simple as that. Survive or get killed. Therefore, having them roll something like a combat saving throw (DnD) or a combat skill test (WFRP) would tell us if they survive the combat or not, give them injuries and move on without actually running the fight.

It's the fight itself that bores us. We feel like we're just looking at plastic men and rolling dies until an arbitrary limit then removing one from the table. It feels like 40k, only just the assault phase, with only 2 models, no special rules, and an insane W count.

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
That's why I said to make it enjoyable, if something's entertaining, people look forward to it. Rather than just looking at the figures, use your imagination a little, the people playing too, to use things in the environment, tables, chairs, if it's there it's fair game!
Dude, this is out of my control. It's up to the players to pick up stuff to throw at the mooks and use the environment. As a GM, I can't just tell 'em : you know, fights would be more fun if you threw furniture at the bad guys. Because then, it won't be his idea, therefore not fun.

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
My last piece of advice would be to keep things moving, and keep them simple. In your example with the bar fight, rather than rolling for the guy to hide under the table, and then for the guards to see him, just let him hide. A guard in a bar fight wouldn't be looking for people cowering under tables, when there are far more obvious targets around - if he started stabbing/shooting people, and ducking back into cover, then they'd go looking for him. Only roll hide when someone is looking for them, only roll move silently when someone is listening. Less dice rolls are better, think about any way you can take them out of the equation.
Just one thing thought, even if I claimed it was a spot check to see if P4 successfully hided, it was in fact a secret leadership test by the captain. He has a special ability that makes his henchmen impossible to flank for one round when he makes a successful leadership test (because they fight as a unit and all), but I did not want to tell the players. I had a disastrous experience with dice rolls, so I only call for them when I actually want the PCs to fail or in contested situations.

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Well, if in WFRP, the characters could get a 60-70% stat boost across the board, the game would be much more enjoyable.

I find that, in normal circumstances, an "Average" test should be sucessful at least 90% of the time even by the most basically untrained character. An easy test, a drunk character should still be able to pull it reliably (in my book, if it fails more than 5% of the time, it's not reliable).

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
When I said "give them an arbitrary penalty" I meant that I would resolve the combat in a single attack roll for all players, and they receive a penalty to their attack bonus until they can rest, making multiple combat encounter over the course of an adventure very risky.

Personally when I DM fights in D&D I tend to resolve them as fast as I can, even if it means fudging numbers to make the fight go faster.


Level 1 Fighter is rolling to hit a goblin.
Goblin has ac of 12
Fighter rolls a 11. Fighter hits due to an explained enviormental factor. Tumble checks were great for this :laugh:

Fudging numbers will allow you to control the pace of battle.

I'm also not a big fan of "Roll for inititive" either. I let my players roll to see which of them will go first, then I put the people they're fighting in between the players. This keeps players from stacking inititive to go first. It also creates a point, counter point idea to the match and may require more tactical thinking on behalf of the players.

Use descriptive dialoge to describe what the die rolls mean.

This is not what you want:
Player 1: Rolling dice. 14. Adding Atk bonus. 16. Adding weapon bonus 17.
GM: No hit.
Player 2: Rolling dice. 18. Adding Atk bonus. 21. Adding weapon bonus. 21
GM: Hit. Please roll for damage.
Player 2: Rolling Dice. 6. Adding bonus. 10. Damage total. 10 points.
GM: Monster is not dead. Rolling his attack.

THAT IS LAME!!! I would kill myself if combat was done in that way. :headbutt:

What you want is something like this.
Player 1: Rolling dice. Total attack 17.
GM: The Golem takes the hit to the shoulder with out notice and continues lumbering towards it's target. Player 1 notices a chip of the golems form came away from the attack.
Player 2: Rolling. 21 total attack.
GM: Golem takes the shot in a vunerable spot in it's joint resulting in a portion of it's body being disabled. (Attack/movement reduction at DM's decision)

Stuff like that makes the combat interesting. Even asking the players to tell HOW they will attack adds to the atmosphere.

Combat is as fun as you make it. If you don't push your players to roleplay in combat they will not follow your lead.
I do add flavor to my combats. The problem ain't the flavor, it's the lenght. My players don't want to fight. They feel it takes away time that could be used to advance the plot. They don't find it a source of suspense.

It's probably because I have difficulty to adjust the difficulty of the fight. When it's too easy, it's a pointless waste of time. When it's too hard, we might as well not play if we are going to fail anyway, and when it's in-between, well the time it takes to recover is debilitating to the story. ( I usually play in worlds where magic does not exist, so there is no healing spells or potion, only good old fashionned rest. I could play in a world that include supernatural, but it's not the same feel, and my players love the historical medieval theme there is in my games.)

So I usually don't do any random encounters. The only fight I do are when it's important to the plot, or when NPCs are actively wanting them dead. However, it's hard to have the NPC appear as a threat, it's difficult to make it appear competent if he send incompetent lackeys.

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Discussion Starter · #23 ·
how do you play without fighting
Well, you see, we don't often play the damn big dashing heroes comin' in to save the day.

Usually, my PCs are powerful compared to most NPCs, but when compared to a Noble, well, then sucks to be them (authority equals asskicking in my games). So, usually, they'll get the NPCs to fight one-another and come in to claim the spoils.

In fact, most PCs we play are manipulative bastards, or bastards period.

So plotwise, it's usually more about intrigues, seduction, blackmail, treason and trust more than acts of bravery.

As for gaming, we like to get up and act out the scenes we play. In the end, it looks like a play, except with no rehersals, no text, no props and no audience...

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Discussion Starter · #26 ·
Well, I design the world mostly as we play in it, the cause of any event can easily be retconned to suit our need.

But the most important part is this : First, I ask my players, as a group, what kind of story do they want to tell with their characters and what do they whant to happen to them. One wanted to have a story where he twart the arranged marriage of his one true love so that she may be with him, another player wanted to play a noble struggling to find a way to finance his gambling addiction while not giving shame on his family, another player wanted to play a rich merchant, a member of the gnostic sect hunted down by the inquisition who lost friends and family because of it and is bitter of the world, and the last one wanted to play a spy.

Then, we decide on the plot : The kingship in the kingdom is matrilineal, Foreign princes become king of the kingdom by marrying the princess, who is the cousin and true love of character 1. However, Character 1 is rather naive and dim-witted, and the other Characters will want to have him become king of the kingdom instead of the foreign prince, hoping to control what an incompetent king character 1 would become.

Then, we agreed to have the player character cooperate until character one finally become king, and then they will antagonize each other, until most characters get killed. We agreed to let the story unfold like a classical tragedy, with the focus on the villains, their rise to power, and their downfall because of the heroes.

We played a system that the other players did not know how to play. So, I asked of the player, before I revealed how character creation works, to find about 5 things that their characters would like to gain from the coup d'état, and that would be the focus of the story from their perspective.

This is when player 2 had his character become more complex than simply a gambler. He decided he wanted his character loyal to his friend the prince, but in the same time, secretely in love with the princess : by making the princess and the prince closer to get together, the princess also became closer to him. We decided we would later on have this character torn between his lust and his loyalty, which the player actually playing it gleefully accepted.

So know, we have a plot, and we have flesh-out and complex characters. Next, we need the stats for these characters. We know what the characters will do, so it does not matter what they can or can't do. We assume they will drive the plot we agreed on. Stats, however, will dictate How they will drive the plot, and that choice is up to the players.

Then, we have Npcs. When a Npc is important, I always try to give out their names first, let the players imagine what this character is like.

Then, when a Pc and a Npc met, sometimes, I will, more referee than game master, tell the players : your character meet with Lord Falsevor. Tell, me, what does the guy look like, and what have you heard on this guy?

The player will then tell me some details and juicy gossip about the Npc, and then, I will ask :

What is it you don't know about this character? what is it that you don't know about him, but will be relevant to the plot, and how?

The trick is to be more a referee than a storyteller. The players are the storytellers. It is not up to me to initially dismiss an idea because it is "not original" or because it makes the Pc "overpowered". That is up to the other players.

This is probably why they don't like fight scenes : when a fight erupts, I retake control of the game. They lose that control and a lot of freedom. Suddenly, their stats become limits instead of being inspiration. And, more importantly, the more we play the fight by the rules, the more likely the plot we agreed on will become impossible as a result, and this is not an issue we want to happen, as a group. That basically means that we know in advance how the fight will go, and that makes it not interesting.

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Discussion Starter · #27 ·
God, I look like a dadgum crybaby in the early posts of this thread.

Mea culpa guys.
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