Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tabletop Recipes: The Bloody Beef of Battle

Or the Beet Broth of Battle if you're a vegetarian.

For a game that has a lot of readers who complain about its over-simplistic combat system,  it's amazing how self-limiting approaches the approaches to fixing the problem can be. Once in a while, I do get to watch other people run T&T, which I do with unrestrained delight, because the game attracts the best storytellers ever. Combat does seem a touchy area, especially when the GM is fairly new and the players at the table are straight up D&D players and rather uncompromising towards the game that makes That Game look rather silly. So here's some tips to serve up melee. Note that I've discussed a couple of the points before, at this very blog, so be patient long term readers (except Bennet, you don't have to).

Break the phases of combat up. One of the best things about Our Game is that strike rank, initiative are mostly irrelevant. There are three parts to every combat turn; Magic, Missile and then Hand-to-Hand. One reading of the rules is that this is only an administrative separation. I decided years ago, that I'd do it different than that. Each phase of the turn gets its own spotlight. Someone cast a spell and a target gets zapped, the effect or damage is calculated immediately. Someone let's fly an arrow, another gets an arrow in the leg, damage is incurred. Don't forget GM that a little dramatic narrative on your part really pulls the players into the scene, and makes the up-close melee more anticipated. Now the Hand-to-Hand portion can be given as much detail the GM wants, but I find doing the math quickly and coming up with a colorful description for the players works better than anything. Which brings me to the next point, portion size.

Illustration by John Armbruster. Not to be reused without his permission.

For the most part, keep combats quick. In less than four turns, the delvers need to know if they're winning, losing or at a draw. This keeps the session lively. People should not be going for soda and chips during combat. This is the major difference between Our Game and That Game. When violence is going on this should be the most important thing in the players' mind, if for nothing else than their PC can be killed with just a bunch of Spite damage if the opponent has enough dice. If you see one of your players getting bored in combat, you're doing something wrong. And it probably has to do with pacing, not the mechanic of the game system.

Now in some cases, like as a series wrap up, long running battles should go on. I am just saying that if you as the GM are calling for "Magic" phase of attack four times in a row, and no one is coming up with clever strategies to optimize their survival, someone is getting bored. If nothing else, have your monsters (err combatants) start taking cover and developing kill zones. This will get the audiences attention. And it makes a better scene for the playing of it.

There are ways to get sessions of purely combat game mechanic driven, but this a gimmick, and shouldn't be the point of every session. At least not if you're playing T&T. I'll get more into this onion later.

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