Monday, March 9, 2015

Combat Clarity

Recently in a housemate's L5R game I had a brief...not argument, but a moment of tension in game over stuff in combat. It made me realize that no matter how down we have the basics of some parts of table etiquette down that it is also worth a review and a primer. In this case the moment of tension came because of a misunderstanding.

To be clear, I am not pointing out what the GM did wrong here. Why? Because the GM in question did nothing wrong. This is just general advice for players and GMs to keep combat clear and purposeful.

Why Clarity Is Important
Combat is a tense part of any table top session. As laid back as your players, or GM, may look if the fight is worth being rolled out and done in depth it means that there is a real possibility for a character to get laid out. I don't know the player whose been around the hobby more than five years that doesn't have at least one "goblin with a rock" story where a npc monster designed to be weak and a brush off manages to take out a moderate to high level combat character due to dice shenanigans.

Simply put, tensions can be high during combat. Players are frequently worried about their character. GMs are worried about their game, keeping things fair, and everything else like that. Clarity helps keep those tensions from flaring. How? because if everyone knows what is going on, you don't get confusion as to what is and isn't possible to happen.

For The Players
This is what I forgot, but it is important. Remember this: it is ok to ask your GM questions to make sure you know what is going on, but you need to accept the GM's ruling as to what is going on. DO NOT ARGUE during the combat.

The GM has a lot going on in their head. They may not have communicated everything clearly, but they also have a lot to do. Give them a chance and trust them (if you can't trust the GM to be fair in combat, you're probably in the wrong game btw.) Remember: the GM is the final arbiter of things. If they rule that X is possible or Y is not possible, than it isn't. if you disagree with the ruling, or want to know why the ruling came a certain way in the session, you can wait until after the game to talk about it. Why? Because after the game people can talk about it rationally. It could be that you're right. It could be the GM made a mistake. But forcing it in the heat of the moment isn't going to help anyone, and is just going to make the session worse.

For the GM
Try to be clear with your rulings if you can. This is hard. It really is. Lord knows I mess it up more often than not myself and I'm the one preaching on a soap box. Remember the "Yes but/and/or/if" rule and apply it to things.

If a player asks if they can do something, or declares an action that is impossible tell them the answer (in this case "no you can't do it,") tell them why ("because there is a wall in your way,") and tell them what they need to do in order to be able to do it ("if you make an athletics check this round, you can clear it and attack them next round.")

By doing this you aren't only telling them the answer, but the why behind it. You also show a path to accomplish their thing they want to do, which also shows that you are open to it happening.

For Both
Being clear on what is going on and why/how is a good thing for players and GMs to practice. It also can enable you to get a lot more out of the system and just see how things work. Consider the difference between these two instances:

  • I attack him with my lightsaber.
  • I draw my lightsaber with my maneuver, ignite it with an incidental action, and then attack the Storm Trooper sergeant.
Plenty of people would be, and are, happy with the first one. Even I am from my players. However, with the second one I know the player is using their whole turn. They're stating their actions, what they're doing with them, and who they are attacking. If nothing else I know not to ask the second person if they're adding an Aim action in, because I know they used their maneuver. And should something weird be going on (like a negative effect that denies the player using an incidental) it can be pointed out. Best though, is that the player also knows exactly what they've done/are doing with the second one.

This works for both the GM and PCs. Telling your players what an NPC is doing with their various actions can not only help them with keeping track of things, but can also educate them on ways the system works or where certain bonuses are coming from.

So try to be clear. It makes things a lot easier.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. My strong tendency is to keep things as in-character as possible, even in combat. So I'm hesitant to break down the foes' attacks into their mechanical parts - also because it can possibly reveal meta information about their foes.

    However, there's certainly an argument to be made about the benefits of transparency too, as you have.

    Along these lines, I go back & forth a bit on whether to roll for foes in front of the screen, though I almost always decide to roll for foes behind the screen.