Jump to content
TheTenaciousYuzzum

How to Make Combat Interesting

Recommended Posts

So I've been noticing that a lot of my combat encounters have been very repetitive and boring. They are often simply a pattern of Pc rolls, resolve results, NPC rolls, resolve results, and so on. I have been struggling to make each encounter unique and engaging. Does anyone have advice on how I can accomplish this?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a few ideas that I learned along the way as a new GM:

 

1. Use the dice to their full effect: narrate the NPCs actions and any environmental effects creatively, and ask your players to do the same.

Check out Skill Monkey for examples of creative narration. They are short, enjoyable listens with fun in-game examples fueled by the narrative dice. But don't overlook your players as narrators. Their minds are resources: they can inject imagination and life into your shared experience. Allow your PCs to be cool (or to fail spectacularly!); encourage your players to take narrative part.

 

2. Make sure your combat encounters occur in interesting locales. 

Bottomless pits surrounding reactor cores are cool for sword fights. Explosive crates strewn about the cramped confines of a starship corridor are cool for blaster fights. Shipping facilities with movable cranes and conveyor belts are always cool. By contrast; large, empty fields, with no cover, are not usually very cool (likewise, empty space for starship encounters is lame). Set the scene and allow your PCs every chance to affect the environment. 

 

3. Ensure that there is a goal to your combat encounters other than "kill all enemies" (for at least one side, anyway).  

Making your combat encounters all about destroying the opposition is, in my experience, the #1 cause of staleness. Consider what things might cause your NPCs to run away, or surrender, or beg for their lives, or do something other than "fight to the death!" Consider what the bad guys are trying to protect, or trying to take from the good guys, or trying to destroy. Consider if there is an overarching tactical or socio/political situation, and how this fight figures into the mix. Putting the fight in the context of what's going on in your world can give you automatic "points of interest" in an otherwise uninteresting encounter. 

 

Putting these three things into practice should give you and your players the tools you need to make combat interesting. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

+1 for the Skill Monkey recommendation, and all of away's points. FFG SW's dice results are purpose-built to produce narrative and unexpected consequences. Combat in real life is chaotic and messy -- same should be true here.

 

So your PC rolls to hit a minion group of Stormtroopers with a blaster pistol, and gets a triumph. Sure, you could fuddle around with criticals and take out an extra trooper or two, and just chalk up a few more kills. Or you could hit the grenade on the trooper's belt, causing it to explode, possibly taking out even more troopers, or at least causing damage to many of them, and forcing them to dive into prone positions. If you hit the trooper and roll a despair, maybe the shot pierces the hull of the shuttle, which starts venting air.

 

Don't just roll to hit!

Edited by GreyMatter

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Believe me, it is VERY easy to fall into this trap! 25 years of role playing game Roll-and-Resolve is a very hard habit to break. So I have been trying to use the question "why?" a whole lot.

 

"Shooting the Stormtrooper, I got two successes and two advantages. I want to use the advantage to pass a blue to George for his roll."

 

"Okay, why should george get a blue?"

 

"Um. . . because the control panel next to the Stormtrooper just blew up?"

 

Or the ever popular

 

"I've got a sucess, 6 advantage and a triumph!"

 

"Fantastic! So tell me how awesome you are!" 

 

. . . and let them narrate the outcome of what happens and why.

Edited by Desslok

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Chases.  It's hard to overstate how valuable it is, and how it makes the system shine.  Combats should never be static.  Just MHO, but if you can play the whole encounter on a single Map of Mastery or something, you're doing it the boring way :)

 

That's why I opted into MoM's last Kickstarter, and got those maps that were essentially overlays of each other, one floor on top of another floor with the little starship at the bottom of what amounts to a long drop  :D

 

I'm looking forward to running a multi-floor combat encounter...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's a lot of threads about this already in circulation, heck those D20 radio guys made "THE LIST" specifically for this.

 

My input:

 

  1. No more Team Deathmatch. Yes, fighting until one side dies or retreats is boring. Provide new objectives that require more than just killing the enemy. There's plenty of variations you can use. Capture the flag, escort the VIP, the chase. It's all good and well if you can shoot all the bad guys, but it won't help you much if that "non threat" scout trooper with the light pistol the players are ignoring just runs in, grabs the briefcase, and runs off while yelling about how he's a "Force a' nature!" Congrats, you killed all the other stormtroopers, but without the briefcase you still lost.
  2. Get out of the dungeon! Star Wars doesn't' happen in an underground dungeon full of rooms with soundproof doors (usually). Get the encounter out and about so you can have reinforcements, weather, ect.
  3. Plan the baddies! Ok.. there's "A squad of stormtroopers" here... why? What's a "squad"? What are they doing? What's that actually look like? 8 Stormtroopers in two groups of 4 is technically a "squad" but it's also boring as heck. Lets lay it out. There's a squad of troopers guarding a gate. One Squad is now two groups of 3 (or three of 2), one Sgt., and one Rival grade "specialist" with a light repeating blaster (or grenade launcher, or whatever) (modify the Sgt stats to get this). Make sure they work off each other! Have a group and the repeater lay down supporting fire (use all Advantage/Triumph to apply setbacks the players) while the Sgt. uses his special ability to push the other group around to flank the players.
  4. Environmental effects! Rain, snow, hail, fog, fire, darkness anything that will spice things up. Apply this to the encounter, add setbacks and boosts.
  5. Call for back up! You ever gotten in trouble with the cops? How many showed up? For a relatively minor thing I bet you saw 2-4 cops. Same thing here, when you first encounter those troopers, odds are they'll call for backup. If you want to get really fancy, use Despair and Threat to make it happen.
  6. Make the encounter more unusual. It's a bit of an extreme example, but when is the last time you had the players get strafed by a TIE fighter? It's tricky, and a tough encounter, but it changes things up. Fortunately  the way the system works allows this to be survivable.
Edited by Ghostofman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much you guys! There is legitimately some great feedback here. So, basically, the key is interesting locations, NPCs, and objectives, correct?

I will try this stuff out next session and see how it goes.

And make it all work together, both mechanically and narratively.

 

  • A Rival NPC with an ability that allows "All minions within RANGE to DO STUFF" is only at full power when he's got minions in range.
  • It's rare to enter combat without at least a minimum plan, so when laying out the encounter look at what's there and decide in advance what they are most likely to do. It can be complex (This guy will form up a squad like so, which will do this, while those guys do that, and slows the players by doing this so this Nemesis can do that and...), or just a simple sketch that ensures there's more to it than shooting (OK, these guys will take cover and shoot, that guy will grab the spice crate and run [see back alley chase in section III], those guys will shoot once and follow down the alley as running cover)
  • When developing the environment, consider it's effects on all characters involved, and possibly adjust the encounter to match.( The NPCs are Mercs hired to [whatever], and know the mission was in old Sith ruins in a jungle. Long weapons [blaster rifles+] will get an automatic setback on all checks for snagging on vegetation or just being too bulky to maneuver in the ruins. Heavy armor will also give 2 setback on all checks due to the heat and humidity. The Mercs, knowing this, are generally equipped with Carbines and Heavy Pistols, and heavy clothing. Only specialists carry heavy weapons (and even then, look for smaller or especially fitting special weapons), and no one wears armor better than something like a blast vest, with Nemesis maybe taking armored clothing or an equivalent).

Also you can have the fight move. Think of the duel between Anakin and Obi-wan and how even though it likely only lasted 5-10 rounds tops, it moved from interior control room, to exterior catwalks, to collapsed... thing, to magma harvesting platforms, to the edge of the magma river. Just use Triumphs and Despairs to create narratives that alter the location (This catwalk collapses, that wall gets completely blown out, a TIE crashes clipping the building and removing the roof, that stay blaster shot ignites the chemicals and now the whole factory is on fire.)

Edited by Ghostofman

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once again, Ghostofman has nailed it. Lots of great tips so far, but I'd like to share a set of "rules" I utilize for encounter design:

 

  1. Don't bunch up! - groups of baddies congregating in doorways or behind cover to be taken out by a single grenade should be rare. Use it as a reward for the party manipulating the battlefield & encounter
  2. Large Area(s) - long lines of sight and room to maneuver allows the players to plan and utilize their surroundings much more than the standard 10x10 room "dungeon encounter"
  3. Provide Cover - things that shield combatants from enemy fire. Cover & concealment will make the encounter much more interesting. Determining line of sight can be as complicated as a table full of minis or as simple as a coin flip
  4. Provide Concealment - things for combatants to hide behind. Concealment may also be cover (like hiding behind a wall) or it may not be blaster-proof at all (like smoke from a fire, fog, curtains/tapestries, nebulae)
  5. Include Terrain - hills, craters, asteroids, rivers, bridges, parks, fountains, monuments, etc. A battlefield with a power transformer substation plopped down in the middle of it is much more memorable than one taking place across a featureless plain
  6. Include Doors and lock some of them - use some common sense. Having the party waste a bunch of time breaking into a heavily-secured system with layers of encryption, or forcing their way through an enormous blast door only to find a featureless room isn't funny. Well... maybe once.  ^_^ 
  7. Include Hazards -  some of this will fall into the terrain category as well, like rivers, lakes, lava, icy slopes, etc. but they can be dynamic, too. A prairie- or forest-fire that chases the combatants across the battlefield, toxins pooling in low-lying areas, and so on. Traps usually fall into this category
  8. Include opportunities for Skill checks - this should almost go without saying, but there needs to be multiple ways for PCs to affect the encounter other than just engaging the baddies directly. If I have a PC that's invested in a particular skill, I try to give them an opportunity to shine in roughly 3 out of every 5 encounters
  9. Include different elevations - with speeders, jet packs, ascension guns, Force powers, etc. combatants in the Star Wars universe have a great deal of mobility. Allow them to display it and utilize it. Capturing the high ground is tactically important for a reason, and if the PCs don't do it, the baddies definitely should.

As a side note, most of these "rules" are just as applicable in starfighter encounters as they are on terra firma. Good luck and have fun! I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Edited by SFC Snuffy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Also you can have the fight move. Think of the duel between Anakin and Obi-wan and how even though it likely only lasted 5-10 rounds tops, it moved from interior control room, to exterior catwalks, to collapsed... thing, to magma harvesting platforms, to the edge of the magma river. Just use Triumphs and Despairs to create narratives that alter the location (This catwalk collapses, that wall gets completely blown out, a TIE crashes clipping the building and removing the roof, that stay blaster shot ignites the chemicals and now the whole factory is on fire.)

 

 

This. And also don't feel the need to automatically make your PCs burn maneuvers just to "keep it moving." 

 

Movement is a key factor in giving energy to a scene. Even during turns. To further use Anakin and Obi-Wan as examples, in their duel, there are only a few moments where they both stand still, feet planted, swinging their lightsabers. At almost every other moment in the fight, they are constantly pacing, incorporating footwork into their swordplay. A simple mention of defensive/offensive footwork, while not spending a maneuver to "move within short distance," can make a world of difference. Players will feel freed up to expand their narrative a bit when they realize they don't have to spend a precious resource just to narrate with a bit of style. 

 

(Obviously there are times when you should require maneuvers to be spent...but I'd argue those times are when it would provide an actual mechanical advantage, instead of just giving the scene some energy)

Edited by awayputurwpn

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Don't let your combat encounters overrun.  If the PCs have clearly won, don't make them roll to kill every last minion - give them a final roll and wrap the combat up.  You can adjudicate this the NPCs surrendering, or running away, or taking cyanide rather than facing capture, or whatever you like.

 

This has the mechanical advantage of preventing combat from dragging on and becoming boring, but also works narratively - very few forces, no matter how well trained, will fight to the death when they obviously don't stand a chance.  And having them surrender or run away suddenly gives your PCs choices to make, and a potential new scene.  Do they take the surrendering stormtroopers prisoner?  Do they tie them up and leave them in a closet?  Do they cold-bloodedly execute them?  When the Gamorreans run away, do they give chase or let them escape?  What are the consequences of them escaping?  Where is this chase going to occur?

 

Alternatively, have that final round be a "mop up the dross" roll, where the player finish the fight in whatever manner they see fit.  Can't think of a good example from Star Wars off the top of my head (I'm sure there is one, but it's eluding me at the moment), but think about the LotR movies.  One-on-one, Uruk-hai are pretty deadly, but [spoiler alert, in case you've been in a coma for 15 years] after Gandalf appears at Helm's Deep, they mop them up pretty easily.  This is because, narratively, the battle's over - making the viewer sit through the gruelling combat with each and every Uruk would have made the movie even longer!  Instead, we get montage, we get fleeing Uruks, we get victory music, cut to Gollum, roll credits.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Think of the duel between Anakin and Obi-wan and how even though it likely only lasted 5-10 rounds tops, it moved from interior control room, to exterior catwalks, to collapsed... thing, to magma harvesting platforms, to the edge of the magma river.

 

Nine rounds, by my estimation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

If you can provide dramatic tension without combat, that's also an option. I've played in too many games - and I was guilty of this in my early GMing career - where combat was used to pad out a session.

 

Take a look at newer, more narrative driven games, and study how rules are used to create interesting investigation or diplomatic scenarios. I've started using tricks I learned from the various Gumshoe suite of investigation games.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I've played in too many games - and I was guilty of this in my early GMing career - where combat was used to pad out a session.

 

Been there! "Great, this combat will stall them for at least 30 minutes, while I think of something interesting to move the story forward."  :lol:

 

When I hit a mental wall I just take a water and/or poop break.  :lol:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I hit a mental wall I just take a water and/or poop break.  :lol:

 

 

Heh. My PCs often will bring beers to the session and have a casual drink while we play. I've had to stop drinking booze when I GM because I find when I hit that wall, I drink more/faster. And by the time I've come up with a brilliant idea, I'm half in the bag.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A few thoughts (many of which have already been stated or touched on):

 

1) Play "cinematic." Establish the situation and narrate it to make it feel like a movie.

 

2) Establish a ticking clock, as most good movies do. In Star Wars, the Rebels don't just have to stop the Death Star -- they have to stop it BEFORE IT BLOWS UP ALDERAAN.

 

3) Establish real consequences... but don't be afraid to let the players fail once in a while... but don't fudge the consequences too much if they do.

 

4) Keep things moving, but geographically and time-wise. I LOVE the mechanics of this game because combat really flies by compared to the various d20-engine games I've played for the better part of this century.

 

5) Split the party. This is HUGE, and this is Star Wars. Split the party and give people stuff to do.

 

6) Make combat goal oriented. If you look at the Star Wars movies, many of the sequences are about escaping. This ties back to both #2 and #3, where the players must escape before the clock runs out, or they risk capture. I mean, just looking at Star Wars, from roughly the midpoint:

 

  • The crew wants to get to Alderaan but encounters TIE fighters. The TIEs are an obstacle to be overcome/outrun. No real ticking clock here, but this sequence is really prelude to encountering the Death Star anyway.
  • In the prison, Han and Luke have the objective of "escape with the princess." They don't win by killing all the stormtroopers - because there are always more stormtroopers - but by leaving the area.
  • Then, after the group is broken into smaller groups, the objective is "get to the ship." Any fights are just obstacles to that goal. The ticking clock implied here (as in the bullet above) is "before being captured." Again, this is a very real and meaningful consequence,
  • Even when Kenobi fights Vader, he's not fighting to WIN. He's fighting to delay and distract Vader so the others can get away: ticking clock and consequences. Delay the enemy for long enough for your allies to escape.

I hesitate to sidetrack this thread with an example, but we just played a session of my Firefly RPG (which uses the Edge of the Empire rules) last night, and I think the final action sequence went very well. To set things up, there were a lot of characters involved:

 

MEL ZHU is our captain; she's sort of a grifter/smuggler type.

SMILER GROGAN is our pilot.

REMY LIANG and SWINDON GAO are, respectively, the crew's hacker/info guy and mechanic. One thing to keep in mind is that these guys are really non-combatants.

 

The crew also has two NPCs, both of whom are combat savvy: EDWARDS, a "gentleman enforcer," and RUBY, a melee monster. For this encounter, there were two other NPCS: JACE (Smiler's son, also a pilot) and GIBBS (Jace's sidekick, who has no real skills).

 

Jace's ship, full of ore that he needs to sell to feed his mining colony, was stolen by thieves. The players volunteered to help get the ship back. The TICKING CLOCK was that the thieves are bringing the ship to a chop shop, and once there, they players lose because the thieves have reinforcements. The CONSEQUENCES are real, if not directly for the players: without the ore to sell, the colony will starve.

 

The players decided on a daring ship to ship raid as the stolen ship was about to enter the atmosphere of St. Alban's (where the chop shop is). 

 

To kick things off, SMILER made a daring Pilot check to link the two ships. Most of the others went through the airlock, with REMY staying on the bridge (to aid on the Pilot tests) and GIBBS working the airlock door (because he had no other useful skills). The crew was afraid they might have to retreat to their ship, so SMILER had to make a new Pilot test every round, or the ships would come apart, potentially spacing all parties (if GIBBS had the doors open).

 

On the stolen ship, the group wound up in the long, dark corridor, the "spine" of the massiv cargo ship (think ALIEN/ALIENS in feel). RUBY immediately rushed back to engage some minions, while MEL, JACE, EDWARDS and SWINDON all moved forward toward the cockpit, intending to take over the ship.

 

However, the main ENFORCER for the bad guys appeared from a side entrance and quickly took down EDWARDS. SWINDON, knowing that he had no chance of taking out the ENFORCER, used his mechanical expertise to bring down a pipe filled with caustic liquid. He wanted to hurt her, but he actually failed the roll. However, he did so with FIVE Advantage, so I told him he could use the caustic acid to block the hallway, either in front of, or behind, the ENFORCER. He chose to put it behind her, "protecting" JACE AND MEL, and then he started to drag EDWARDS back to the airlock.

 

So, at this point, we have give distinct things happening:

 

  • MEL and JACE, safely isolated from the rest of the action for now, are trying to break into the cockpit.
  • SWINDON is trying to flee from the ENFORCER, dragging a wounded and unconscious EDWARDS with him.
  • Further back in the hallway, RUBY is taking out a group of goons, preventing them from attacking the others.
  • On the bridge of the PC's ship, SMILER is trying to keep both ships flying in sync.
  • Between the ships, GIBBS opens the airlock in preparation of EDWARDS coming onboard. REMY (who acts as the ship's medic) rushes down to the airlock to help EDWARDS once he arrives.

Mel and Jace break into the cockpit, but now must face the HEAD THIEF and more goons. Actually, MEL is pretty much forced to fight them on her own, since JACE has to pilot the ship once the HEAD THIEF (winged by MEL) decides to flee, leaving the ship to crash.

 

The ENFORCER (based visually on Two from DARK MATTER) and RUBY ("played by" Zoe Saldana) recognize each other as apex predators and begin a fight that I didn't roll but described as basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Black Widow doing so crazy Jason Bourne stuff. Meanwhile, SWINDON  tried to get around the fight to get to the engine room to do some good. Unfortunately, his rolls largely left him stymied.

 

REMY and GIBBS get EDWARDS to safety and stabilize him.

 

In the cockpit of the stolen (and now partially recovered) ship, MEL and JACE realize that, without assistance, the ship is going to crash. JACE refuses to abandon ship beause he needs the ore to feed his colony. SMILER, on the PC ship, realizes that if he can do some fancy flying, he can help lift up the stolen ship just enough that it can probably land safely.

 

SMILER orders GIBBS and REMY to close the airlocks, detaches from the stolen ship, and circles under it-- 

 

While he does this, MEL takes down the last few goons in the cockpit, causing some of them to surrender. SWINDON braces for impact, and REMY makes sure the unconscious EDWARDS is safe...

 

SMILER made a fantastic piloting roll, working in concert with his estranged son to safely ground both ships.

 

(The HEAD THIEF and ENFORCER both got away. The players are already assuming there will be a rematch.)

 

Now, something like this isn't going to work every time for everyone one, and we got VERY lucky (EDWARDS being taken out prematurely gave REMY something to do other than assist SMILER), but I think it's a good example of how you can keep things spicy. I think this all took 5-7 rounds, and you'll note that in this "combat," I think the players, collectively, only made 2-3 actual combat rolls, with the lion's share of things being skill tests to try to move their goals forward.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting that someone just like this post. 

We played this past weekend, and in an episode that wound up being something of a sequel to this one, the players were forced to actually hire the shipjackers!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/27/2016 at 3:29 PM, awayputurwpn said:

 

That's why I opted into MoM's last Kickstarter, and got those maps that were essentially overlays of each other, one floor on top of another floor with the little starship at the bottom of what amounts to a long drop  :D

 

I'm looking forward to running a multi-floor combat encounter...

Tell me how you get that set up. I'm curious.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎7‎/‎27‎/‎2016 at 3:37 PM, awayputurwpn said:

 

This. And also don't feel the need to automatically make your PCs burn maneuvers just to "keep it moving." 

 

Movement is a key factor in giving energy to a scene. Even during turns. To further use Anakin and Obi-Wan as examples, in their duel, there are only a few moments where they both stand still, feet planted, swinging their lightsabers. At almost every other moment in the fight, they are constantly pacing, incorporating footwork into their swordplay. A simple mention of defensive/offensive footwork, while not spending a maneuver to "move within short distance," can make a world of difference. Players will feel freed up to expand their narrative a bit when they realize they don't have to spend a precious resource just to narrate with a bit of style. 

 

(Obviously there are times when you should require maneuvers to be spent...but I'd argue those times are when it would provide an actual mechanical advantage, instead of just giving the scene some energy)

This is an interesting point. The GM does have the power to give free maneuvers beyond the limit or circumstances if you want to approach it that way, but I am intrigued by this idea of movement as description for the purpose of the energy of the scene. Thanks this was a great suggestion. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎7‎/‎29‎/‎2016 at 8:40 PM, robus said:

Posted in another thread but it bears repeating: http://theangrygm.com/manage-combat-like-a-dolphin/His style is not for everyone and yes it's oriented to D&D but the core info about narrating combat, urgency and exigency is well worth reading.

Just skip down to where he says You are in Control, despite his claim the first part of the article is useless posing. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


×
×
  • Create New...