Posts Tagged ‘combat



11
Jul
10

the fighter is the thief of fighting

Two examples of D&D play.  First example:

Dungeon Master: The treasure chest looks to be made of an unearthly metal: it is a deep, slate grey color, but in your flickering torchlight it shows tints of magenta, lime green, and a nauseating purple which, when you gaze at it too long, seems to shrivel your eyeballs.  The clasp is worked to resemble a face somewhere between that of a preying mantis and a giraffe.  If the chest isn’t locked, it sure as hell doesn’t look inviting, either.

Fighting-Man: I’m gonna try to get that chest open.

Dungeon Master: How?

Second example:

Dungeon Master: As you and your allies try to scramble down from the Titan’s bookcase with the scrolls you found, its bookends–worked in brass to resemble an otherwordly hybrid of a purple worm and a lion–begin to roar in alarm.  As the Titan’s pet wyvern, hearing the noise, beats its wings furiously against the bars of its cage, hissing at you, the worm-lion bookends detach from their bases and come slithering toward you.  Now what?

Fighting-Man: I attack.

Dungeon Master: Okay, roll.

The first example cannot be resolved without obtaining additional fictional inputs from the character.  This can slow down the pace of the game to an absurd degree, but it leads to a richly imagined scene.

The second example may have some pretty nifty things operating on your character sheet (exhausting your spells one by one; losing hit points; getting enhancements due to your magic items), but usually the fictional events in the game are imaginatively anemic.

Gygaxian Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t require much in the way of fictional inputs for combat.  In the worst case scenario, the situation in the second example can degenerate into “I hit . . . 6 points . . . You miss . . . I miss . . . You hit, 5 points.”

This isn’t inevitable – a good Dungeon Master or good players can always gussy up this basic exchange – but the rules operate without that degree of creativity and imaginative investment, and there’s always a drift toward laziness which can result in less scintillating play.

(Case in point: in Tavis’s White Sandbox game, Tavis allows players to narrate how they land the killing blow against an enemy.  Sometimes this results in some very nice additions to the fiction: although Eric’s Halfling Archer was the one who reduced the Beast Lord to 0 Hit Points, Eric used his narration to describe that it was Adrian’s character who lopped Stronghoen’s head off.   But often we’re too lazy to say more than, “Um, I just totally kill him.”)

Giving some situational modifiers (+2 for high ground) is a step in the right direction, but these tend to get lost in the spread of a 1d20 roll.

Contrast Gygaxian combat with D&D 4e.  Fourth edition requires zillions of fictional inputs in order to work, it’s just that the fictional inputs are largely confined to relative positioning on a battlefield.  I find it hard to imagine how 4e could be played without figuring out exactly where people are standing, and exactly how they’re attacking.

As a result, combat in 4e is imaginatively rich, in the sense that how you attack someone both requires input from the imaginary environment and also changes the environment in a way that impacts later decisions.

The downside is that in 4e there are so many inputs to track that fighting slows to a crawl.  This isn’t a problem if you’re fighting the Beast Lord, but it stinks when you’re just mowing down encounters that only exist to bleed resources prior to the big showdown.

What would be nice is a version of D&D where resolution has a scalable complexity.  When you’re frustrated by bullshit caltrops on a staircase, just roll the Remove Traps skill and get it over with.  When you’re trying to do something really complicated, like blowing up a Lich by re-binding its booby-trapped spell books to deceive it (as Maldoor did), do something pretty freeform to enable the players to show creativity.  Stupid fights against lame-o’s, use the baseline combat system.  Big fights against major enemies, adopt a system where, say, special abilities or feat-type things come into play, allowing for some more tactical complexity.

Credit where it’s due department – Vincent’s making the same point here, over a year ago.

28
Jun
10

Fighting Blind

“It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye.”

So someone’s swinging a sword at a target they can’t see. This isn’t as unlikely as it seems! Aside from hiding beneath a blanket of invisibility or blinding foes with light or darkness spells, the party may simply find themselves in the dark without a torch.

What happens then? Various old-school rulesets have little to say on the subject, and they often disagree.

—-

OD&D and Red Box don’t seem to cover the question of blindness.

The Rules Cyclopedia gives the following penalties to blind characters:
* -6 penalty to attack rolls;
* -4 penalty to saving throws;
* +4 penalty to Armor Class;
* Move at 1/3 speed (this is in feet, even outdoors); increased to 2/3 if led (this is in yards if outdoors), or to full speed if on a horse that’s being led.

Against an invisible foe, the Rules Cyclopedia only applies the -6 penalty to hit.

Labyrinth Lord imposes a -4 penalty to hit for both blindness and invisibility.

OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry impose a -4 penalty to hit for invisibility, but provide no rules for blindness.

—-

In all cases, one must know the approximate location of an opponent in order to attack. Obviously this leaves a lot of room for DM rulings. If a distant opponent is standing in one place and making a ruckus, can it be targeted by a blinded character with a bow? If so, where do you draw the line at which you do or do not know a foe’s “approximate location”?

The Rules Cyclopedia seems to be a bit of an outlier in terms of the effects of blindness, but it also covers some bases that might be worth considering.

—-

So here are my own tentative rulings on blindness in Red Box:
* -4 penalty to attack rolls;
* Move at 1/3 speed, or 2/3 speed if led—may attempt to move faster by making a 3d6 Dexterity or Wisdom check, whichever is better;
* May be backstabbed from any direction, not just from behind.

How do you see yourself handling blindness in your old school game?

16
Jun
10

Tactic Table: Ghouls

Ghouls have descended on the party! Their bodies reek of rot and corruption. Claws rake an adventurer’s flesh — paralysis! A victim falls prone, frozen but conscious.

What do the ghouls do next? Roll on the following table!

* * * * *

Roll 1d6 the first time any member of a group of ghouls paralyzes a party member. Apply an impromptu penalty if the ghouls feel outmatched, or a bonus if the ghouls feel they outmatch the party.

Less than 1: The ghouls flee for safety, hoping the other adventurers will tend to their paralyzed comrades instead of pursuing.
1: The ghouls flee in hopes of luring the party after them (possibly into a trap), then double back to seize the paralyzed adventurers.
2: The ghouls tear out the throats of paralyzed adventurers to ensure that they stay down. This coup de grace takes one round.
3-4: Whenever an adventurer is paralyzed, a ghoul will pick up the adventurer on the next round and carry him or her off to the lair.
5-6: The ghouls ignore the paralyzed adventurers, leaving them alone until the battle is over so they can feed on their still-living bodies at leisure.
More than 6: Any ghouls not engaged in melee spend the rest of the combat glutting themselves on the flesh and blood of paralyzed adventurers, stopping only if attacked.

27
May
10

we killed the beast lord. you missed it.

The Beast Lord enjoys his last meal

Tavis’s White Sandbox campaign is largely centered around Paul Jaquays’s 1979 masterpiece, The Caverns of Thracia.  On Saturday night, we defeated its arch-villain, Stronghoen the Beast Lord.

Thirty-seven players and fifty-five characters have played in the sandbox over its twenty-two session lifespan, and they’ve all been gunning for this moment.

What was most impressive to me is that defeating the villain was a beautiful team effort, in which everyone at the table that night played a part.

The Cast

Ookla the Mok, Elvish Ranger
Theos, Dwarven Magic-User (played by JoeTheLawyer)
Lotur the Scurrying Cur, a Fighting-Human (played by Greengoat)
Thales, a Faun
Arnold Littleworth, a Human Magic-User (played by me)
John Fighter, a Fighting-Human
Merselon the Magnificent, a Fighting-Human
Lucky, a Fighting-Hobbit (played by Eric)
THE SPIRITS OF ALL RED BOX CHARACTERS EVERYWHERE

Snapshots of Awesome

Ookla the Mok

Fred the Talking Fish (billion years old, made out of wood, you wear it around your neck, it never shuts up–in short, don’t ask!) cast an illusion on Ookla so that he looks like an Ixchel wearing a sombrero. Ookla would spend the next several hours going “Boogita-boogita-boo!” to every NPC in the game. (Dave had another awesome moment below, but I’m not sure if it was OOC brainstorming or in character.)

Theos the Renegade Dwarven Magician

Armed with our wand of paralyzation, Theos – unafraid to scout ahead – immobilized half a dozen slime-monsters which exploded out of barrels dropped by an especially pesky group of vines.  (He later made a pretty strong bid to operate the wand of wonder while high, which given Tavis’s glee at the idea would have been disastrous but showed massive courage.)

Lotur the Scurrying Cur

After overcoming a swarm of slime-monsters, Lotur ran up the side of a cave wall, and jumped down in front of a female Minotaur so impressively that she decided to worship him.

Thales the Faun, a Faun

Being half-goat means you can haltingly communicate to half-cows. (Who knew?) Thales managed to interview the female Minotaur, discovering much about their lair.

Arnold “Zolobachai” Littleworth

Armed with this information, Arnold cast Zolobachai’s Impertinent Invitation and strolled into a Minotaur Sorority Party. When his attempt to poison everyone failed, he made friends with their Druid-Queen Raven Gargamel.

(It turns out Raven’s gang views the Beast Lord as a sell-out to the lich roaming the dungeon, and she agreed to help fight the Lich if we first neutralized the Beast Lord.  She gave us a straight line of access to the Beast Lord’s palace.  I am pretty sure she didn’t want us to kill him, cannibalize his body for trophies, and then cook what was left in Arnold’s trusty frying pan, but all good relationships are built on keeping some facts strictly to yourself.)

John Fighter, True King of Thracia

With the help of our scouts, John found a group of ten were-bears whom we sorta knew.  After getting the bears good and drunk on Lucky’s dwarven ale, he promised them half the Beast Lord’s treasure if they would help us fight. Were-Bears are 6 HD monsters who cannot be injured by normal weapons – in other words, far more bad-ass than we are.

(So, with 8 of John’s soldiers, and 10 were-bears, we stormed the Beast Lord’s citadel. Everyone did brave things. Kudos especially to Ookla’s player, who ingeniously suggested using illusionary Harpies to trick the victims of a real Harpy’s mind-control powers. I don’t know if this was suggested in-character, so maybe it’s not an Awesome Thing for Ookla, but it was still damn clever, and built on an idea Joe had.)

Merselon the Magnificent

After the gang demolished six Gnolls, five Harpies and a Hydra, Stronghoen the Beast Lord and his group of Gnolls charged out at us. Though Theos managed to paralyze most of the Gnolls, Stronghoen incinerated all eight of John’s soldiers (including like 3 George Foremans) with a fire ball, which also put 5 of 7 party members at death’s door. When Arnold blinded the Beast Lord with the wand of wonder, MERSELON THE MAGNIFICENT magnificently vaulted into melee combat alone, and was the first of the Grey Company to draw the Beast Lord’s blood. For a round or two, Merselon fought the Beast Lord alone … until the Beast Lord slew him with single stroke of his enormous battle axe. It was an epic death.

Lucky the Hobbit

With Merselon down and the Were-Bears running away in terror, things looked grim. As Arnold desperately tried to revive the others, Lucky kept nailing the Beast Lord with critical after critical. As John, Ookla, and Lotur – all with 1-2 hit points – swarmed into melee, Lotur’s preposterous fumble managed to distract the Beast Lord long enough for Lucky to nail him straight through the throat with one of his deadly arrows, and as the Beast Lord fell to his knees, King John ran Stronghoen through with his blade, Heart of the Mok. (Then Arnold hit him upside the head with the busted frying pan.)

Lucky is more of a bad-ass than I'd previously assumed

Aftermath

We pretty much stopped right there: six survivors, each with one foot in the grave, gathered around the Beast Lord’s corpse in the depths of the Lost City. Though a Dog Brother was gathering reinforcements deeper in the palace and casting nefarious spells, the Slayers of the Beast Lord bowed their heads to honor all the brave souls who have soldiered at their side:

Merselon the Magnificent (Acrobat)
Christos, Assassin
Maldoor the M-U
Obscura the Illusionist
Lydio the Spider-Dwarf, M-U
Thisilyn, Cleric
Fostra, Archer
Caswin of Aeschlepius, Cleric
Emurak the multi-classed
Bartholomew Honeytongue, Cleric
Brother Gao, Cleric
Into the Mystic, Cleric
23, Robot Cleric
Myggle the Priest
Mallo Beer-bane, Cleric
Thorsten Skullsplitter (Fighting Man)
Garrett Nailo, (Cleric)
David Carradine, Monk
Colin, F-M
Tommy, M-U
Argus the Rat Knight, F-M
Narcissus, M-U
Elston, Elf
Sir Hendrik the Halfling
Garrock, Alchemist
Obamabiden the Druid
Fark the Dwarf
Dirk
Orb the M-U (and his spider)
Fletcher the Fighting Man
Janape
Bluto, F-M
Morena, F-W
Chance, Cleric
Billy the Rat
Nicholas, Cleric
Axum Maldoran (Axum)
Dr. Meridian Kaine the Cleric
Doghead the M-U
Tiburo, F-M
Wolfrey, F-M
Rebmik the Cleric
Balint, Sapper
Goo the baby Elf
Mariano the Fighting Man
Renaldo the Cleric
Florin the Dwarf
Oban the Cleric
B’Var the Fighting Man
Wallace the Caged (Fighting Man)
Mungar the Fighting Man
Tusk the Fighting Man

We could not have slain Stronghoen without their bravery, creativity, and fellowship.

14
Mar
10

looking for death in all the wrong places

Confession: I’ve spent a decent amount of time playing Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve never fought a dragon.  Or a beholder.  Or  mind flayer.  Basically, if you look at a list of the fall-down-awesome D&D monsters, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered them.

if only that could be ME getting my brains devoured

Quiz time!  How many of these things have you encountered?  And, if you did, what happened?

  • Aboleth
  • Beholder
  • Berbalang
  • Black Pudding
  • Bulette
  • Demons (any – though my party met a Type V one time when I missed a session)
  • Devils (any)
  • Dragons
  • Drow
  • Githyanki
  • Kuo-Toa
  • Lich (though my party met one when I wasn’t around)
  • Mimic
  • Mind Flayer
  • Owlbear
  • Purple Worm
  • Rakshasa
  • Roper
  • Rust Monster
  • Salamander
  • Slaad
  • Umber Hulk
  • Xorn
  • Yellow Musk Creeper
  • Yuan-Ti

It’s a shameful, disgraceful list!  I’ve fought like a zillion freakin’ goblins, gnolls, stirges, and a gelatinous cube once or twice.   But I’ve never fought any of those.   Where the hell are the Mind Flayers?!

Part of the problem is that all these really great monsters are hiding out toward the end-game as juicy rewards to people who have put in the time, and I’ve never gotten past Level 7.  But dang it, Beholders are totally fucking beast!   Just throw one at us!  Make us run away!  Even if I get killed, I can die happy knowing that it was one of the greatest monsters in the history of RPG’s that killed me!  (Notice that a huge percentage of these things have crazy-ass ways to kill you, just like a James Bond villain is defined by his goofy weapon.)

I’m really hoping that, as Tavis’s campaign heads off into the Outer Planes and into the Underdark beneath Thracia, that we start encountering some of these guys.

Tavis, Eric –  hook a brother up with a grisly, trademark-related death!

And the rest of you – are these critters awesome to play against, or am I building them up too much by ogling the Monster Manual?  What were they like in play?

09
Mar
10

Mastering Morale: Know When to Fold ‘Em

Conan wheeled, to see the girl standing a short distance away, staring at him in wide-eyed horror, all the mockery gone from her face. He cried out fiercely and the blood-drops flew from his sword as his hand shook in the intensity of his passion.

“Call the rest of your brothers!” he cried. “I’ll give their hearts to the wolves! You can not escape me—”

With a cry of fright she turned and ran fleetly. She did not laugh now, nor mock him over her white shoulder. She ran as for her life…

— Robert E. Howard, “Gods of the North”

When I played D&D as a kid, monsters had a habit of fighting to the death. After all, wasn’t that what they were there for? Realism—Gygaxian or otherwise—didn’t rank highly on our list of gaming priorities.

I got back into D&D in my early thirties, playing a heavily house-ruled version of Third Edition under a DM marinated in Second Edition tropes. Our enemies often fled or surrendered, but there were no rules for it; morale was a matter of DM fiat. Sure, it worked for our DM, but the effect wasn’t easily replicable.

Imagine my surprise, upon cracking open a copy of Red Box D&D, to discover a set of simple and straightforward morale rules! They tell you exactly how to determine when monsters decide to flee from combat. This has an enormous influence on play, both adding a valuable naturalistic element to combat and allowing the PCs unexpected victories.

A year and a half after starting my Red Box campaign, I decided to take a closer look at the details of the morale rules. Imagine my surprise at discovering that they aren’t quite that simple or straightforward. In fact, they’re both deeply mutable and—get this—completely optional.

At last the trolls broke and fled. Hotly did the elves give chase, cutting them down, driving them into the burning camp. Not many escaped.

— Poul Anderson, “The Broken Sword”

It’s right there in the section title: “Morale (Optional)”. You can completely ignore the morale subsystem, either determining for yourself when monsters flee or simply making them all fight to the death like the aliens in Space Invaders, and still remain completely within the rules.

If you do employ the morale rules, you still have a lot of control over how to use them. Check it out:

* The rules indicate that you should check morale after a side’s first death in combat and when half of the side has been incapacitated, but these are explicitly called out as “recommended times for morale checks.” You may decide that one or both of these conditions doesn’t apply to a particular group, replacing them with new conditions of your choice. E.g.: the Five Ogre Brothers check morale each time one of them dies, while Morgan Ironwolf’s Irregulars only check morale if their leader falls. You may also call for morale checks on the fly if the situation calls for it; green hirelings are liable to bolt upon encountering the eviscerated remains of a prior adventuring party, while a gnoll warband may flee in the face of a dramatic phantasmal force.
* The DM is free to apply pre-planned or ad hoc modifiers to morale checks. The rules recommend that such modifiers don’t exceed +2 or -2, but otherwise the referee has a free hand to apply such modifiers. Such modifiers are easily suggested by circumstance—or by the players. Are the monsters winning or losing? Do they think they can outrun the party? Are they driven to fight by habit, hunger, greed or a desire for revenge?
* It’s up to the DM to determine what a morale failure means. Do the enemies fall back en masse to a more defensible position? Do they scatter in terror? Or do they lay their arms down and surrender, throwing themselves on the player characters’ unlikely mercy?

Interestingly, aside from the general optionality of the rules, the only inflexible component is retainer morale. After an adventure, each retainer must make a morale check. A retainer who fails the check will never work for that employer again! Of course, this check can be modified just like any other morale check, so be nice to your retainers if you want to keep them.

Hoom Feethos was beyond all earthly help, and Quanga, now wholly the slave of a hideous panic, would hardly have stayed longer to assist him in any case. But seeing the pouch that had fallen forward from the dead jeweler’s fingers, the hunter snatched it up through an impulse of terror-mingled greed; and then, with no backward glance, he fled on the glacier, toward the low-circling sun.

— Clark Ashton Smith, “The Ice-Demon”

Like a Bizarro-world equivalent of the Tenth Amendment, old-school rulesets reserve all powers to the DM that are not otherwise placed in the hands of the players. (This stands in sharp relief to new-school games which transfer much of this authority to the players.) As such, the DM should use the morale rules to supplement and enhance gameplay without letting them override one’s own understanding of the milieu. That gnoll is charmed? Let him fight to the death to defend his master. The enslaved goblins are trying to escape? Don’t roll a morale check to see if they keep fighting when you know they’re going to run away anyway.

Use the system. Don’t let it use you!

04
Mar
10

i’m going to hell for saying this…

…but I like Milius-Conan better than Howard-Conan.  By a pretty wide margin.  Everything about that movie is awesome.  But James Earl Jones is especially awesome.  And Mako is extra-especially awesome (in this and in all things).

If a movie has this in it, I am okay with trademark dilution

24
Feb
10

By the Book: Movement Rates and the Chain Mail Problem

According to the Red Box rules, an unarmored character moves at a rate of 40’/round, one in leather armor moves at 30’/round, and one in metal armor moves at 20’/round—or a mere 10’/round if also carrying treasure. But how fast is that?

A round is ten seconds, so an unencumbered man walks at a rate of four feet per second. Running triples one’s movement rate, albeit at the cost of temporary fatigue (-2 to attack and damage rolls and to AC), so an unencumbered man runs at a rate of twelve feet per second. These are reasonably accurate numbers, all things considered. (Sure, some people will walk or run faster than others, and there’s jogging and sprinting and so forth, but this is Basic D&D; we’re not going to fret the details.

How about a character in metal armor? Halved movement speed is pretty extreme. Personally, I don’t have much—or, in fact, any—experience with moving around in plate mail. A bit of casual internet research (and we know how accurate that is!) suggests that heavy armor doesn’t slow one down significantly; the main effects are an increased demand on the wearer’s stamina from hauling around the excess weight.

But let’s face it: sometimes we deliberately ignore realism to keep gameplay simple and to produce interesting tactical or strategic choices. The movement rules may not reflect reality terribly well, but they’re simple and they work. Want to move fast? Wear light armor or none at all, or run in armor and accept the resulting penalties. Want to hang tough on the front line? Wear heavy armor. Can you make it out of the dungeon laden with treasure? Let’s find out!

And here we encounter the one fly in the ointment: chain mail. By the book, there’s little reason for player characters to ever choose to wear chain mail. It costs only 20gp less than plate (a trivial savings) and weighs only 100 coins less than plate (allowing one to bring out a little more treasure), while providing significantly less protection in battle.

My solution has been to house-rule the movement table. In my game, characters in plate move 20’/round, characters in chain move 30’/round and characters in leather or no armor move 40’/round. Accurate? Unlikely. Playable? Definitely! Chainmail suddenly becomes a viable choice, as the character wearing it gives up protection to gain significantly increased mobility. (My players had an example of this last session, where the plate-wearers slogged slowly through a storm of arrow-fire to reach their opponents.)

Other solutions are certainly viable. One could use AD&D-style tables indicating which weapons are best against which types of armor, or one could modify the exhaustion-from-running rules to impose greater penalties on plate-wearers. I’m curious to see what approaches individual referees have taken in their own campaigns!

16
Feb
10

Flavorful Fighting: Behind the Screen

Player #1: I flank the bugbear. What bonus do I get?
DM: Bonus?
Player #1: To my attack roll. For flanking.
DM: Uh, none.
Player #2: We don’t do that third-edition stuff here.

One of the great strengths of old-school D&D play is the speed at which combat is resolved. Later editions add a bevy of maneuvers and modifiers, and reading and calculating their effects can slow play significantly. But you don’t need codified rules for this! It’s part of the referee’s job to incorporate the actions of the player characters into the system, either as house rules or by adjudicating on the fly. (For Moldvay Red Box players, this is explicitly stated on p. B25: “The score needed ‘to hit’ may be adjusted by … occasional special situations.”)

Some of these “special situations” might include:

  • Flanking/Encirclement: The thief’s backstab ability makes it necessary to consider the possibility of striking from behind, so why not look at it more generally? It’s very difficult to defend against multiple attackers, something that appears clearly in much of the sword & sorcery source material (especially that written by trained fencers like Fritz Leiber or Roger Zelazny). One might impose a penalty to AC equal to (defender’s HD – number of attackers). Additionally, attacks from the rear might ignore the defender’s shield entirely.
  • Charge: Barreling at full speed into the fray might give an advantage to one’s attack and damage rolls, or might even yield a bonus to initiative! On the other hand, being off-balance from the charge should result in a penalty to AC, and a defender who’s prepared for a charge may get similar bonuses on the counterattack as she uses the force of the attacker’s charge against him. The extra momentum provided by heavy armor might increase the charge’s bonuses and penalties.
  • Higher Ground: When you’re standing above your opponent—on a slope, stair, table, dais or whatever—gravity’s doing some of your work for you and you have easier access to your opponent’s head and torso; this may provide a bonus to attack and damage rolls, especially with heavy slashing or crushing weapons that depend on a powerful downstroke. The opponent on lower ground may suffer similar penalties.

Player: I charge into the fray!
DM: Okay, if you’re really going all-out, that’ll give you a bonus to hit and damage, but a sizable penalty to your AC.
Player: Um, in that case I’ll just attack.

If, as a DM, you’re going to make a practice of incorporating the minutiae of the imagined combat situation into the mechanics of play, I strongly recommend that you keep all of the modifiers to yourself. This isn’t about the DM being “in control.” In fact, an inflated sense of authority is a risk of this method! But hiding the modifiers has two big advantages:

  1. Speed of play: Codified modifiers slow down play as you and the players flip through the rulebooks to figure out exactly what modifiers apply. As long as you wing it, play should keep going at a rapid clip.
  2. Let it flow: If players know exactly what bonuses and penalties they’ll get from a given maneuver, they’ll be tempted to crunch the numbers in their heads before acting. Not only does this slow down play, but it takes them out of the action as they concentrate on the stats rather than on the imagined scene. By keeping the modifiers hidden, you help everyone focus on the action!

In general, it’s best to err on the side of the players when applying hidden impromptu modifiers. The power in your hands is all too easy to abuse. Don’t abuse it.

In addition, if an attack or other action succeeds or fails as a result of a specific combat tactic, remember to include that in your description of the results! If they only hit and downed the orc because of the force of their charge, let ‘em know; and if they’re pincushioned afterwards because they were off-balance from the charge, let them know that too! Feedback is critical to engaging play.

04
Feb
10

Flavorful Fighting II: Retroactive Justification

You know how when a cat trips or runs into something, it gives off this look of wounded dignity that says, “I meant to do that all along”? This is an important principle when handling combat in a tabletop role-playing game. Don’t worry what your character (or NPC) intended to do when you rolled the dice! When describing the result of a roll, act as though that’s what you intended all along.

Did you miss that club-footed kobold for four attacks in a row? Are you really such an inept fighter? No, you were just toying with him. Really!

How does she keep hitting you? You’re in plate armor and have a 17 Dexterity! Could it be that she recognizes your fighting style, perhaps from training under the same swordmaster that you did? Then again, it could simply be that the cobra bite that you thought you shrugged off earlier is still slowing your reflexes.

So you were trying to take that bandit alive, but you punched him too hard and now he’s dead. Sure, maybe you just don’t know your own strength, but it could also be that knowing smirk on his face that dared you to do it. He must have wanted to die. Why? What secret do the bandits hold that’s worth dying for?

The game’s fiction need not be wholly defined in advance. Adding things retroactively can be a good thing. Writers and storytellers do it all the time, so why not do the same in your game?




Past Adventures of the Mule

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