Thursday, September 8, 2011

Prolonged Combats

If you're anything like me, than you like trying to spice up the combats in your game. This can put you into problematic situations though, especially when the PCs need to hold a location for 3 minutes while a download finishes. I mean, do you really want to run through 30 rounds of combat? Do you even have time to do that and still get something else done that night? Not to mention all the carnage that PCs can cause, or have caused on them, in 30 rounds. So, let's look at some ways you can spice this up and make it work.

Method 1: Round Timers
The first way to mess with this is to play with the round timers. Instead of doing 6 second rounds, like most systems now a days use, you do minute rounds. Scale things accordingly, but handle it quicker. This is honestly one of the more awkward ways to do it, as the fight will either feel really easy (3 rounds can be a cake walk for some groups) or the exact same as if you did 30 (don't just condense all the bad guy attacks over 10 rounds into one round when you change the round timers.) Still, in a pinch it can work if you want to get things done quickly.

Method 2: Gloss Over
This is one of the methods I've been using of late. Give your players a few rolls to make. I normally use an attack roll, a defense roll, and some other random roll chosen by the situation. The attack rolls determine how well the PCs did over the three rounds of combat. How many people they killed/injured, and how many rounds of ammunition they used. When choosing their attack roll,t he player also chooses how they'll be doing their fighting. Someone going into Melee is going to get hurt more (most likely) than someone at range using cover, so scale the next rolls accordingly. The defense rolls do the exact opposite, and determines how well the person defended themselves over the time line. Generally how I do this is to assign a damage pool that is the default (say 5D10) and then some thresholds. For every threshold above the player gets, the damage pool is reduced. For every threshold below the player gets, the damage pool is increased.

This can get deadly if the players roll badly on their defense, but then again these situations can be very dangerous. Still, if someone is going to balk about stream lining combat and taking individual choice of action out of their hands, you may want to do something else.

Method 3 - The Highlight Reel
This is something I've been noodling over lately, and I'm not sure how well it would actually work. How it works is basically this: when you see these big fights in the movies or tv, they always do quick cuts to the characters when they're doing cool things with lots of generic action in between. But generally some special things happen that deserve mention. A grenade bounces into the room with one person. A mook lines up a rocket launcher to shoot someone else. Something, you get the idea. So, basically, instead of doing all the combat, you just describe the generic action (perhaps using the above method) and give each player a highlight or two when things go wonky. Mold the rest of the situation around their action (things should play out differently if Bob throws the grenade back than if he jumped out of cover to avoid it.)

I'm sure there are more ways to handle it, but three should be good for now. I'd be interested in hearing any methods you've used to handle this situation. Sound off in the comments below.


  1. My group always looked forward to the huge boss fights in the 4E games I ran, using the Angry DMs boss fights template with a few tweaks here and there.

    We've never used any method to speed up combat, we would just prepare for that session to be all fight and little else, though we would make sure cool things happened and they always felt accomplished after hours of combat and coming out just barely the victors.

    I wouldn't recommend it for everybody since it is super exhausting, but since our usual sessions involved little combat and since the characters leveled far too quickly (once per session or every other session), the ability to use everything they had against a formidable foe and some minions was a good change of pace.

    A few methods I have used in the past, I believe you've mentioned on this blog before. If the enemy was sure to lose without any mishaps, I would say what happened in the last couple rounds and end it there. I would also kill off an NPC if it was hit down to 1-5 hit points depending on level, so I could just get it off the field and get past the fighting more quickly.

  2. Boss fights are there own thing, and if I recall right, that template is fairly awesome. The rest of the stuff is fairly golden, which is awesome :D