Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Wasting" Combat Rounds

A lot of RPGs when you look at them are actually two games in one. The first is the actual Role Playing Game that you may or may not have signed up for. Making a character, rules for advancing them in power, rules for conflict resolution, and so on that lets you tell a story with those characters. The other game is the combat simulation where, while using the same rules, all the action really slows down (often into 6 second or at least <1 second chunks) and you have a whole wide array of options to choose from for everything you do. The difference can be severe, and the impact it has on players and GMs a like can be sudden and jarring. What starts as a high adventure story with cavalier swash bucklers is suddenly a grim and gritty tactical encounter where a wrong move is severely punished and so everyone does their damned best to destroy the opposition as fast as they can. And why not? Its fun, it gets the job done, and if it ain't broke don't fix it right? Well, I disagree.

First off, let me clarify. I did mean it when I said combat can be fun. However, in a story based game the usual rules for combat take something from the game. Most RPGs now a days say that they are about story so why is it as soon as someone pulls a knife that it isn't about story and it is about ending the other team as fast as you can with a plethora of assault options? For one, that is kind of how RPGs have always done it. Two, and this is more speculation, I think a lot of designers get caught up in putting options in so that players and GMs can create the feel that they want. The options are there, but you don't have to use them all. I know with M.A|C.C that is one of the big reasons combat has a more 'traditional' structure to it.

So today, I figured I would take this opportunity to ask you to try something new next time you're in a combat. "Waste" a round or two. Thats right, take a couple of rounds and don't do anything combat related with it. How? Why? Well, the how is easy. Grab an enemy and throw him/her/it to the ground then back off. Let them get back up, grab their weapon and come back at you. Stun someone and don't capitalize on it, just back off and let them recover and come back on you at it. If you get stunned and go down, just stay down an extra round and 'play dead' so that you can get up and attack from behind in another couple rounds. Or use the time for recovery checks if your system allows it.

So why would you want to do this? It sounds crazy doesn't it. You're letting up on an advantage, giving over a round - a round that could be the difference between life and death - to doing effectively nothing. So why? Because for one it is also a lot of fun, for two it can really increase the flavorful imagery of the fight scene (the cinematic quality), and for three it is a great way to show character development and who your character really is. Your Paladin knocks the guy down, but will not finish him off when he is so disadvantaged. Your swashbuckler disarms the princess, but then gives her back her sword in that almost mocking way for fun. You knock the guy down, and then take a second or two to gloat over them. It is fun, and you'll be amazed at the reactions you can get from other players to it if done right. Especially as suddenly the fights change from just "beat them, beat them to death. Beat them to the ground, Beat them through the ground!" to an actual exchange of blows and showing how a character really acts.

It isn't even unrealistic. A lot of people in real life give people chances to recover. They take moments to catch their own breath. They stare each other down and wait for the next opportunity to get a move in. You don't have to look much further than a boxing match for that. So why not give it a try?

Happy Gaming!


  1. Thoughtful and interesting take on developing a character during combat :)

  2. I'll be honest, I've only done it a few times myself but it has been a lot of fun everytime I did it. Whether it was my Sister of Battle standing in the open and telling people to surrender or face the Emperor's Wrath. Or my ship captain who wasted a round because he couldn't decide how to kill the three people who were attacking him.

    It was good times.

  3. As a player, I'll do this every once in a while, just to break up the monotony of the encounter drag.

    As a GM, I do this almost every fight. I do it for fun, realism, and to get the other players to do it. If they see me do it as the GM, then when they do it, they don't think they are wasting rounds. It all balances out. Also, when the players do it, occasionally I'll subtract hit points from certain enemies, representing "intimidate damage."

    Nice topic.


  4. I do this to some extent and I agree that it makes the game seem more realistic and more fun. Things like backing off when an enemy is knocked prone, bull rushing an enemy against a tree, or helping an ally stand up.

  5. All good examples, and really glad to see that this is far from a new idea (even if it still merits the post :D ). You can also do a lot of stuff for playing to the genre.

    There is also things like the classic "Take your best shot" or something like in Kick-Ass where Hit Girl watches the guy get ready with the knife before going "Hey I have one of those!"