Archive for November 25th, 2009


Flavorful Fighting: Breaking the Illusion of Suck

Rolling badly can suck for immersion when you have a really long streak of failed rolls. (This is one reason why computer games use streak-breaker algorithms.) Suddenly your trained warrior can’t hit the broad side of a barn! Even worse, the bookworm magic-user is making you look bad by kicking more ass than you are. This can be seriously disempowering to players with traitorous dice.

The problem here is color text—or, rather, the lack of it. Adventurers don’t just stand there and swing their swords at immobile monsters, like trainees whacking away at a wooden post! Combat is full of movement and action, and the DM—or the players—can use their descriptions of a fight scene to turn even poor rolls into dramatic maneuvers that don’t make the PCs look like chumps.

Here are some basic methods for translating those bad rolls into cool moves:

* By the Skin of Their Teeth: Describe how the target of an attack only barely escapes harm. Perhaps the PC hacks chunks of wood out of an opponent’s shield, or the opponent staggers clumsily backward to evade the PC’s sweeping blade. This is a good way to indicate that the PC is facing an inferior opponent!

* Line ‘Em Up, Knock ‘Em Down: Instead of trying to score a hit on the target, describe how the PC is actually maneuvering the target into position to be hit by a fellow party member. This can range from distracting the target with fancy bladework to feigning incompetence to lure the target into overextending himself.

* Don’t Point That Thing at Me: If a melee is getting crowded, you can always blame a missed attack on the chaos of battle! Either the attacker or the target may be jostled out of position by the press of bodies or slip and stumble in a pool of someone’s spilt blood.

* Ow, That Really Hurts: Losing hit points has no actual effect on one’s fighting ability, but it’s still a convenient explanation for misses. A cut on the PC’s brow drips blood in the eyes; a blow to the head results in dizziness; lacerations or cracked ribs cause spasms of debilitating pain.

* Danger, Will Robinson: When facing a superior foe, play up the target’s superiority! The PC’s blows are easily dodged or casually turned aside by the target’s exceptional armor, skill or magic. This is a helpful way to make it clear to the players that their characters are outmatched, giving them a chance to either step up or get the hell out of Dodge.

Past Adventures of the Mule

November 2009

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