Monday, June 3, 2013
Save vs. Monotony -- Let The Fight End When Its Over
However, both styles also have drawbacks. Often, build systems lend themselves to a "one-trick pony" mentality where players optimize to do a single trick in combat very well (trip or disarm for instance) and then try to pull the same trick every single battle. Positional systems can also fall into a similar trap when the group uses the same set of tactics over and over.
The key is that combat in any system can bog down in play, or become monotonous over the course of a long campaign. However, with a little creativity, we can avoid most of the problems and keep our fights fun and memorable. Here is one important tip that I think many GMs could use...
I came up with a simple solution. After a few rounds passed, and I was convinced that the outcome of the fight was decided, I simply stated that the enemies fled into the woods and that the fight was over. The PCs were satisfied with their victory and the story had been move all in a reasonable amount of time. So, our first lesson is ...
Let The Fight End When Its Over
This was a bad mistake on my part, because the fight was actually over in something like three combat rounds. The PCs had smashed two of the bugs and injured another. Had I made the last two beetles flee for their lives, the combat would have gone 10-15 lively minutes, the PCs would have felt like bad asses, and we could have moved on with the game. I had the beetles fight to the death and drew the fight out several more boring rounds.
The leader of the bandits might yell for a retreat, drink a potion of invisibility, and take to the hills with as much loot as he can carry. The goblins might surrender as soon as a couple of them fall. The thugs sent to rough up the PCs might only fight for a couple of rounds before they slink back into the dark alleyways. Not only is there no logical reason why such groups would fanatically fight to the death, but doing so is likely to drag the fight past the point where it is interesting.
Try this for your next set of encounters. For each enemy group, write down a circumstance under which they would disengage and flee combat. The goblins might flee once three of their number were downed, or the leader of the pack took a significant wound. The bandits might take to the hills once their leader gets to a specific sack of treasure.
This does three things. It shortens combats, and more importantly, it cuts off the less interesting parts of the fight. It keeps things somewhat realistic in terms of how creatures with any self-preservation instinct would approach combat. Finally, if your game has skills like combat sense, or tactics, it gives you more to do with those skills, since now players could use them to learn the conditions under which their opponents will try to break off combat.
So, if we are going to endeavor to make combats shorter by having enemies NOT fight until they are all dead, we need to figure out exactly how they are going to run away. Most games make it very hard for a combatant to disengage and leave the field of battle. Also, many players have been trained by years of gaming to think that winning a fight means wiping out the enemy.
My suggestion is very simple. When you feel a combat is done, tell the players, "I am pretty sure you guys have won this battle, and so are the bandits, so the remaining thugs scatter into the woods. Is that OK with you guys?" They might be worried about XP, or about the state of future encounters if they let any bandits go, so be prepared to answer their questions. If they seem unwilling to allow the fight to end, either let them play it out, or perhaps you can just rule that the PCs have mopped up the remaining opposition without any significant trouble.
And remember, use your judgement. This isn't for every battle. Your goal is to avoid the boring rounds when a fight can't be lost, but rolls have to be made. If the battle is exciting and going down to the wire, fight it out. But if it is a group of 6 against two injured but heavily armored beetles and the dice have turned and you can see interest flagging... The combat is over, so end it.