May 17th, 2013 | 3 Comments
It’s a common lament:
Once the minis come out, the role-playing stops
And it’s very often true. Many games — GURPS, HERO, Savage Worlds, DnD4e — start life as any other role-playing game, but once combat starts, in-game time slows to a crawl and what we do looks more like a tactical board game.
Is there a way to keep on role-playing during combat?
I think there is, but often it’s an uphill battle, and success needs to be measured in small portions.
Don’t think combat role-playing is going to be at the level of a social encounter. I think you need to set your expectations for role-playing during combat low. Don’t think that you’re going to have an intense and personal role-playing scene in the heat of battle.
Encourage dialogue. I’m not talking about metagaming dialogue, like “hey, Bob, you keep attacking and I’ll go around and flank him.” No. I mean smack talking between combatants or maybe witty repartee. If you, as the GM, do this, it will encourage your players to do the same.
Allow for characterization and tactics to conflict. Don’t forget that your PCs’ disadvantages, drawbacks and hindrances can be applicable during combat as well. If someone has “always protects innocents,” have a bad guy way in the back grab up an innocent bystander and put a sword to their throat. Maybe going after that guy at that moment wouldn’t be the best tactical choice, but a good role-player, depending on the disad, might throw tactics out the window to rescue the bystander. Perhaps you’ve got an overconfident character, with a bad temper. Have the BBG trash talk him from the rear, trying to coax the PC to charge him, thereby cutting him off from his companions.
If your game has an RP reward mechanic, use it to encourage combat RP. If the bad-tempered character does take the BBG’s bate, throw him a benny for playing to his characterization rather than sound tactics. It *is* a disadvantage, right? Bennys and like are a great way to encourage bad, but otherwise interesting choices.
Keep combat quick. At some point, if combat drags on long enough, even the best role-player will descend to the “I swing. (roll) I hit” level of role-playing. You can shorten just about any combat system by having the bad guys give up or run away. If victory looks inevitable to you, it probably looks inevitable to your bad guys too.
Written by Stu
Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of DoucheyDM.com. He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.
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