Galaxian explosion!
Combat and roleplaying in D&D are two detached areas: when you roll initiative things change in many ways. Is this inevitable?

I’m critically late with articles, thousands of unexpected events crashed through the door and my free time vanished like a tear in a hurricane. So, instead of reviewing and clean up my articles in stub, I’ll write a brand new one, since I’m excellent at optimization. And sarcasm.

A thought I had since the podcast chit-chat (in italian, click here if you wanna hear them) about playing a combat encounter, narrating the fight as a story.

If you think about it, playing D&D, a combat encounter can be a game within the game, detached from roleplaying sections and hard to leave: as said with Alex a couple of weeks ago, it’s hard for a character to escape combat, it’s not really well-defined. Yes, there are rules to handle a chase, but moving from a combat encounter to a chase it’s not smooth and you need a direct intervention which is a bit too direct for my style.

So, how can I obtain a more narrative fight?

You can have a variety of approaches: remove obstacles, smooth the edges, oil working mechanics – I’ll tell you my three best working practices.

Off with the grid!

I know a lot of people love the grid, but remove it: the grid closes the mind’s eye since positioning changes from imagination to physical. If you use an abstract positioning system you’ll find yourself with more dynamic combats, since movements can become descriptions of heroic actions (and fonts of Inspiration).

If you need some tip to help visualization of combat without a grid, systems like Fate or Ex3: they can help you find your own way to view who is in melee and who isn’t with a range system easy and functional.

Keep talkin’!

A second advice I can give you is to focus on keeping NPCs talking: if they stop talking, you are setting the rythm of the scene focusing only on combat. Talking can build up tension and involvement.

If the table has the right setup of style, mood and setting, let NPCs call their moves as with the best anime tradition, working on framing and descriptions. This segment:

The fire giant enrages, gets close to your dwarf and, swinging his giant blade, attacks twice: 19 and 24, he hits twice, Bongdil gets 70 damages, not enough to set him down.

is different from this one

The eye of Firkeraad glows with a red light and the fire giant assaults the tiny dwarf, roaring: «You can’t stop the ritual, the Living Flame will consume everything… and you will not be there to enjoy the show: Sulfurean slash!». The giant blade falls down with violence and Bongdil loses 70 hps: the attack would have killed an elephant but the paladin still stands, tell us how he survived»

A more detailed description and an hp management as per the previous article about hps greatly increase the final effect. In a fight with Belashyrra in Eberron calling for a Strike of a thousand eyes was enough to surprise my players and let them remember the fight.

On the other hand, this leads to longer fights. Practice will help you finding proper balance.

Learn from professionals

Increasing the dialogue during combat opens the way for a setup change. If you try to approach a mmorpg-like bossfight design you can ride dialogues to build up tension and let the boss be his own trailer. Designing a bossfight is quite interesting and can be worth a whole article (one not-written-yet that I’ll publish ahead of others, of course).

Lich King - My first kill
Sweet merciful gods, my poor useless eyes™
My interface was awful!

I’ll prepare the bossfight design article, so.

What’s the thing that makes combat interesting, for you?