CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Fists of Fury

The Art of Exciting Combat

One of the things that I mentioned in last week's article on dungeon crawls is that some people dislike them because combat can tend to drag. There are many ways to make combat more streamlined and there are even ways to make it seem shorter. This week we're going to talk about a few methods of making combats more exciting and useful tools for character development.

The first thing I'll touch on is ways to actually streamline combat. Especially helpful for new players are printed sheets with their character’s special abilities already on them so they don't have to look in a book every time they want to remember what they can do. Asking people to have their action ready before their turn begins can also be helpful and should be something GMs help ingrain in new players. Time limits on turns, sometimes using board game hourglasses, often helps move things along as well.

Regardless of what methods you might actually use to shorten the amount of time spent, combat will require a certain amount of time investmentespecially in games like Pathfinder and D&D, where characters get more attacks and more abilities as they gain levels. What you want to do as the GM is make this time more memorable for your players and yourself. One way in which I try  to accomplish this is to guide players into describing their actions is by summarizing each round of combat descriptively after it is over. I find that after a while the players will begin to give their own vivid descriptions of their character’s actions in battle.This includes spells as much as martial attacks.

Watching many other GMs, I have also adopted the practice of asking my players to describe their kill shot. There's nothing that players like more than being allowed to get graphic with how they take down the enemies they face. For some reason I find that decapitation is a personal favorite of many gamers.

Although not applicable for every table, especially if you're playing online without video, I find that pantomime can also liven up combat. I usually see a smile on my players faces when they talk about sword thrust or hammer hits or even a well aimed bow shot as they stand and wave their hands as if performing the action themselves. In some home groups I've had players have even had foam weapons to represent the weapon their character uses.

Many times combat is written off as not having much in the way of character development. But things like fighting style, footwork, whether a character presses an attack or retreats, all of these things can be tied to a character’s personality. Training is an important aspect of most martial characters. How they train, why they train, and what they train in speaks volumes about who they are as people. The monk with the methodical and precise fighting style is a vastly different character than the rogue who takes quick and opportunistic shots. The barbarian who presses his attack regardless of the damage he's taken shows different traits than the paladin who is more concerned with the struggling ally than pressing his own combat advantage.

If comic books have taught us nothing, it's that combat is not only about how hard you hit, but how good you look doing it and what you say to your opponents. Snappy one-liners and vicious threats can turn combat into more than just the trading of blows. I also find that horrible puns are a staple of any good combat.

All the ways of livening up combat can make the game seem to run faster than it already does and allow you to have both combat and character portrayal happen at the same time.

What methods do you use to outright shorten combat? How do you make combat a more immersive experience for your players?

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  1. Very nice article. As a DM, I do love the strategy of a good fight, but for certain players it's a bit of a slog. Encouraging them to get creative and stay engaged is super rewarding for everyone at the table.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the piece. I love a good combat, the ones that have memorable events and move along smoothly can really add to the storytelling.