So, with nothing better to do today, I decided that I'd start another series on this blog that I'll be making updates too periodically, and I also figured I'd start it with one variation that I feel a lot of GMs just don't do enough of in their RPGs. Namely, shaking up how combat works by changing the setting.
See, when it comes to table top games a things can have a tendency to become routine in a lot of ways. Even the best of GMs can get bogged down by mechanics, and with the emphasis so often being on the story the very idea that you can make something as mechanical as combat fun can just slip by. Think about it, and think about it honestly. When was the last time you were in a combat that was different from the other combats in the game, in a way aside from the number and kinds of enemies? That is exactly the kind of monotony I am talking about that can live in a perfectly good game, but when dealt with can give a good game that final kick over into being a great game.
The first suggestion I have for sprucing up your combat? Throw your players out of an airplane. It is something that Hollywood has been doing lately as well, most recently I believe in the movie 'Get Smart' and 'Shoot 'Em Up'. You have your normal combat encounter, the PCs versus a group of mildly challenging to slightly easy to beat opponents. It is just a normal fight, except for the fact that everyone is 9,000+ feet in the air while fighting. No one is on the ground, but everyone is hurtling towards it at speeds quickly approaching terminal velocity. Suddenly it's not enough just to win, the PCs need to win fast. They need enough time to pop chutes and land safely. They also need to win save, a win in combat at the cost of the chutes is just as bad as a loss after all.
So what do you have now? You have a timer in play on the combat, X rounds until fairly assured death via impact with the ground. Y rounds until a landing that is survivable but will be painful. You also have to be careful, popping a chute early exposes your life line. Makes you vulnerable to being taken out of the fight in a way that it doesn't matter what else you do, because you are dead anyhow. Finally, everyone is moving at a quick speed, air is rushing by everyone, so even an easy to hit opponent is going to be harder due to the way everyone is falling. Making an easy to average fight just that little bit more difficult.
On the other hand, the enemies have the same issues to deal with as the PCs, which means PCs who think creatively can solve the problem faster. You don't need to hit people if you can damage their chutes. Tackling a guy in mid-air and pulling their chute cord can set them up to be much easier to hit or deal with in subsequent rounds. Characters with more athletic than combat focused build also get a chance to shine in combat, using their greater airborn maneuverability to become more of a factor than they ever could on level ground.
Through it all, the GM can keep things going at a quick pace. You don't need to describe the combat as much as the fact that the ground is rushing up to greet them. Play up the intensity, and your players should respond in kind. The end result, if you do it right, is a combat that will stick out in your players head.
Now, you shouldn't do this all the time, after all if every combat is super special, than none of them are, but do it on occasion. Spice up your combats and don't let them be monotonous dice rolling and stat crunching. Throw your players out of an airplane on occasion, and maybe you can stop combat from being "that thing where we lose out on the fun in exchange for dice".
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