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Making Tabletop Combat More Exciting
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pjrake
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 1:42 pm    Post subject: Making Tabletop Combat More Exciting Reply with quote

I love Savage World, it's my fav RPG by far! But lately I'm running into a problem GMing a fantasy dungeon crawl adventure.

All of the battles are ending up the same, tactical-wise. The players start at the entrance of the door, they move up to the monsters, and basically just stay there. Given, most of the rooms where the battles are taking place are small (20x20 or 30x30), but I want to liven up the battles; make movement a fun part of the game. As soon as the players move up to the opponent, everyone just stays there.

Any suggestions?

-PJ
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Boldfist
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Give your monsters First Strike and/or Improved First Strike. Then when the players run up have them go Defensive and retreat. When the players charge them again they get another free Attack.

This can be used with traps in the room too. Players are not going to spend a round looking for traps during combat so move your baddies into spots that will get the players into a trap.

I'm assuming you are using the Gang Up bonuses for your baddies? How about Tricks and Tests of Will? These work well with the above option too. Once a character is Shaken have your baddies retreat and get the free Attack with First Strike.

Most dungeons are dark and most monsters should have the monstrous ability infravision or low light vision. So have a baddie or two put out the character's light source! That will get your players moving... either out of the room and back to the light or spending some time relighting their light source and giving the baddies time to move away.
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JoeGun
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

burst and cone spells ( if they roll there agility check to get out of the way they are moved to the edge of the spell area ), any ranged attacks, firing arrows and such, is a quick way to get someone to take cover. Although this would require the room to have cover to take.
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Thasmodious
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Give the players something to work with. If a room is 20x20, stone, with monsters and a treasure chest, all they are going to do is rush to fight the monsters and open the chest. Give them a dynamic setting, where the trappings are part of the encounter - areas and items useful for cover, traps, natural hazards, monsters with plans (if they are the type to make plans). It doesn't have to go room by room by room either. In a goblin area of the dungeon, for example, the first room could be a guarded antechamber where as soon as they see trouble, they retreat, sound an alarm and institute defenses in the other areas, so you have a roaming four room fight on your hands. Monsters living in an area will have the area playing to their strengths (little guys will dig small tunnels, large burrowing creatures will lair on areas with soft ground, fire resistant or immune creatures will utilize fire traps, etc). Also, the more the monsters move, the more the PCs will come after them. Don't worry about the monster taking opportunity attacks, have them move anyway. Put monsters in areas of the room that the PCs can't get to (like a high ledge in a cavern, 30' above the battlefield, with a supply of alchemist firebombs on hand).
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77IM
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Off the top of my head...

1) Multiple rooms. The noise from the fight lures monsters from another room, possibly attacking the "back row" party members.

2) Interesting terrain. I find that things as simple as ledges, pits, and walkways can add a lot of strategery (especially if you have a rule to allow people to push each other off of stuff). But there is a ton of more interesting terrain you could add (you could loot D&D 4e for some good ideas).

3) Interactive elements. Like a lever that opens a trap door or something, or a button that shuts down trap (an auto-turret or swinging pendulum or whatever). This way the players have to move up to those element(s) to interact with them.

4) Varied monster abilities within a single encounter. A room full of goblins with spears will turn into a slugfest. A room with several goblins with spears, surrounding an ogre with Sweep (he has no qualms about Sweeping goblins, either) and some goblin sharp-shooters up on a ledge with crossbows, suddenly requires more tactical consideration.

5) Alternate encounter goals. "Kill all monsters and don't die" can be done very systematically, but "grab ruby from pedestal before lizardmen kill the sacrificial victims" requires a different approach.

6) Vary monster tactics. If your monsters use movement and tactics effectively it can be an example to your players.

7) Encourage creative use of the environment, even if it's not something covered by the rules or something you anticipated ahead of time. If the players want to topple a statue to squish a bunch of guys, make sure that it is a) doable and b) reasonably effective. (In this example, I'd say something like, Strength check to topple, Agility-2 for enemies to evade it like an area attack, 4d6 damage.) If someone wants to cut a rope-bridge or swing on a chandelier or something, give them a reasonable chance to succeed and make it worth their while, to encourage that behavior. I often worry that allowing such moves will make the encounter too easy, but that's OK. Players do those stunts both because it's cool and because they want to win. There will be plenty of unexpectedly difficult encounters later...

-- 77IM
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BluSponge
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

The obvious comparison here is DnD4, which prides itself on "dynamic, fluid" (and unbearably long, IMNSHO) combats. There are two things it does that you can easily apply to your combats to juice things up a bit.

Zones, not rooms: Instead of limiting the action to one 20x20 ft room, open it up to a zone. Confronting opponents in any room in the zone risks triggering ALL the opponents therein. This suddenly opens up 3-4 rooms, including inter-joining halls, choke-points and whatever features you choose to add.

Traps as opponents: Traps are no longer stationary obstacles but become active participants in the combat.

Some suggestions of my own:

Multiple ranks of opponents: The first rank employs melee weapons and engage the players directly. The second rank use missile weapons and engage the players indirectly (forcing them to consider cover as well as their relative position to the first rank). A third rank employ powers or highly accurate hit and run tactics that are less predictable and more difficult to defend agains. Use cover to your advantage – make the players fight for every inch.

Mix up your opponents: Don't have the players duke it out with a dozen orcs with spears. Throw in a variety of critters that fight differently. The players have to change tactics between these opponents, sometimes radically.

Think in three dimensions: Nothing stops you from having the players engage a squad of orc warriors only to discover a wall-walking spell caster hurling bolts at them from the security of a darkened ceiling, or shadows reaching up from beneath the floor to disable them from cover.

Have fun!

Tom

EDIT: Dammit! 77IM beat me to the punch!
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Pariah74
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 2:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thasmodious wrote:
Give the players something to work with. If a room is 20x20, stone, with monsters and a treasure chest, all they are going to do is rush to fight the monsters and open the chest. Give them a dynamic setting, where the trappings are part of the encounter - areas and items useful for cover, traps, natural hazards, monsters with plans (if they are the type to make plans). It doesn't have to go room by room by room either. In a goblin area of the dungeon, for example, the first room could be a guarded antechamber where as soon as they see trouble, they retreat, sound an alarm and institute defenses in the other areas, so you have a roaming four room fight on your hands. Monsters living in an area will have the area playing to their strengths (little guys will dig small tunnels, large burrowing creatures will lair on areas with soft ground, fire resistant or immune creatures will utilize fire traps, etc). Also, the more the monsters move, the more the PCs will come after them. Don't worry about the monster taking opportunity attacks, have them move anyway. Put monsters in areas of the room that the PCs can't get to (like a high ledge in a cavern, 30' above the battlefield, with a supply of alchemist firebombs on hand).

This.

The tactics used by your players are direct result of your dungeon. They're using what works, which is what players will always do in a dungeon crawl setting.

I frequently tell new GMs this. When playing encounters, especially those of the boss variety, it's best if the encounter doesn't just happen in a square 40' x 40 room. You need to put some drama in!
Make the final creature something that is vulnerable to fire, and have the encounter happen on a bridge made of rotted wood and rope, or ice!
Every hit either weakens the ice, or could set the bridge on fire.

When they fight goblins or kobolds don't make the height and width of the halls and rooms of the kobold lair 10' x 10'. Make them 4' high and make the characters crawl while they fight the little buggers (with all appropriate penalties)!

Put goblin archers and the treasure on one side of a "bottomless" chasm, and the PCs on the other. Make the chasm small enough (but difficult) to jump, describe planks of wood laying around, a bunch of roots and vines growing down from the ceiling, or against one wall. Now they have choices, but the whole time they are being shot at.

Put time limits on battles by filling the room with water or gas or worse.
A trick I use quite often is to say the dungeon is an old dwarven mine, complete with an aqueduct system for sifting, and flushing. Have the an intelligent monster rig the aqueduct to begin filling the room with water during the fight.
Round 1 the water flows
Round 2 it's up to your ankles.
Round 4 it's up to your knees (-1 pace)
Round 6 it's up to your waist (-2 pace -1 Fighting)
Round 8 it's up to your chest (-2 pace, -2 Fighting)
Round 10 it's up to your head...start swimming!

Hostages as shields are always great too.

You get the idea. The terrain isn't just for traps. Use the terrain to make the fights more dramatic. Watch movies, they never just fight on a plain surface.
Also, don't just have the villains fight in the final battles. This is much better for games with lots of roleplaying, not really dungeons, but the villains should be "monologuing" during the fight, or trying to sway one or more of the heroes to his side, or even just taunting them. Watch an old trilogy Star Wars lightsaber duel, especially in ESB and RotJ. Vader is always talking, trying to push Luke's buttons and win him over.
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Takeda
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree with most of the posters here ... one thing I remember from the Sunken Citadel (3.0 D&D) scenario was an area where the Goblins had built up a low crenalated wall (they are short). Try to put yourself in your baddies shoes and do what someone of their Smarts would do. If you would fortify the school where you are taking cover from the Zombie hordes ... if they have time they'd do the same to protect themselves from the rampaging human hordes ... or what have you.

Murder Holes from above, trap doors, etc. If they really want to play the kick-in the door style game let them but it won't be without some really basic really realistic consequences. the Kick-In-The-Door style players in a realistic situation would probably get their tail kicked a lot ... assuming they survive they'd learn and adapt or die.
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pjrake
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

All great ideas!

Right now the PC's are crawling through an abandoned castle (old wizard school) and I filled it up with skeletons (remains of an old battle) which animate when "living" flesh are near.

What other monsters can I throw in that would be fun, do what many described above, and still make sense to the story?

-PJ
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Takeda
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

An animated (dehydrated) zombie that was chrushed ... now no part of it is more than 1" square so it's a solid creature but has an ooze-like resistance to damage. Sort of like going ofter the Mummy when he's just animated sand ... would have to be destroyed with magic or fire?

Animated Armour.

Animated stained glass like in the Young Sherlock Holmes movie.

Any number of weird things that could have been trapped in dimensional pockets and have 100+ years of hate to burn off and don't care on whom, etc.
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Poor Wandering One
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 3:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

pjrake wrote:
All great ideas!
What other monsters can I throw in that would be fun, do what many described above, and still make sense to the story?
-PJ


Spooky eyed child-ghosts. They seem to be helping the party, say their presence prevents the skelleys from activating, but do they really want to help? Or are the children luring the party into a store room littered with bones. Where they will not realize they are trapped until the door closed and the bar falls into place. Then the children gather to watch the party starve until madness and canniblism finishes them off.

You see when the school was attacked these children were placed in this fortified storeroom in a last effort to keep them safe. No one ever came for them and they are very very annoyed.

Other ideas.
Demons and things may have been given the run of the grounds by desperate defenders.

Ghost teachers teaching rooms full of skelletons. Maybe the ghost is saying something important. Maybe if the party acts like students. Sitting quietly scattered among the 20 - 30 skelletons in the 'class' they will learn something. But what happens when a skelleton tries to pass a note?

Goblin infested dormatory wing.

The possed animated corpses of other folks who tried to get in and loot the place.

An earthquake. Now they have to find a new way out and all the skellys are active!

Maybe the school was built to contain something and the wards are wearing out.

Random ideas
~Will


Last edited by Poor Wandering One on Tue Nov 17, 2009 11:45 am; edited 1 time in total
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Pariah74
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Parts of the castle are burned or rotted. Make the floors on some of the upper levels wood (which they frequently were) and make them burned (from the old battle) or rotted from centuries of disuse.

Walking, fighting, or doing anything but standing still on those floor boards requires an agility check to avoid falling through to the lower levels for falling damage. Skeletons are light enough that they don't have to check. Make armored characters have a penalty and small characters get a bonus.

You could also have the same situation except make the area beneath the floor filled with water and contain some sort of tentacle beast. Once one person falls through the floor a hole opens up for attacks from a tentacle. Tentacles grapple players and try to drag them down to the gaping maw below.

Hide the skeletons in walk in closets, suits of armor, behind tapestries, and under beds. Wait until characters are searching (no weapons out) to attack, or get the from behind (the drop)
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Jordan Peacock
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 4:47 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Takeda wrote:
Animated stained glass like in the Young Sherlock Holmes movie.


I just wanted to note that I did a similar thing for a fantasy game, and made some custom "miniatures" fairly easily: I just used some clear "blister plastic" (clear thin plastic from product box packaging) and used acrylics to paint a "stained glass window" pattern in black, and then filled in individual panels with different colors, and cut the whole thing out - then bent the plastic at various points ("joints" on the flat figure) and mounted it on a regular miniatures base. It was a bit cheesy, but it did the job, and was a fairly cheap project. Smile

(More importantly, it was a surprise to jaded PCs who were all too used to the cliche of STATUES animating to attack them, while not violating their sense of magical fair play. Wink )
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Quark35
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 6:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some great ideas here folks! Kudo's!

I think a lot of the main points are covered.

I particularily like encounters where opponents are hard to get to without the use of other skills or out of the box thinking. As a GM I always reward crazy schemes, at least with a chance of success. Lets face it, 4-6 players versus 1 GM, they SHOULD be able to outthink you! Smile

As a player I love an encounter where you have geniune fear for your characters survival, and an encounter that involves more than a run in, fight toe to toe, and loot.

I will be using many of the great ideas listed here, cheers.
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Takeda
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 16, 2009 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Having skeletons pop out of concealed compartments on the 'flank' of the party to surround them should be a good time too ... don't forget Gang-Up bonuses.
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VonDan
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 12:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

pjrake wrote:


Right now the PC's are crawling through an abandoned castle (old wizard school) What other monsters can I throw in that would be fun,



A nest of weird misshapen mutated creatures the results of past magical creation experiments.

The test garden for the botany class over grown with flesh eating plants

A coat room full of moth eaten cloaks and animated flesh eating lunchboxes

The school nurse warped in Magical Medical Mummy bandages

Flesh Eating Lunch Lady Cannibals

Cheerleading Ghule Gurls

The school stable with a nest of feral flesh eating griffins

A ghostly bespectacled temptress to lure the party to their doom

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Sadric
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 3:41 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

To your first question: buy Savage Worlds Handbook: Perilous Places & Serious Situations from TAG. Its cover rules for many of the unusual combats the other mentiones. The Daring tales of.... have good examples for such unusual situations, especionally the Dto Adventure.

Your old wizard school is ideal for some really weird places.

My first idea was the great library.
Think a large library, with siderooms, balconys,small spiral staircases,
rows of bookshelfs and so on.

A bunch of goblins live today in this area. They have build bridges and platforms on top of the bookshelfs. They live on tops of the bookshelfs.
Most books are destroyed by them. Some of the platforms are build from
book covers.

Imagine 20or 30 goblins that throws spears after you, from above.
your close combat guys couldnt reach them without climbing the 3-yards bookshelfs-or searching on of this rolling ladders. Or can they try to overthrow one shelf. Its really heavy, say a strenght roll-4 but three people could work together. With a raise you get a domino effect with the next shelf and flying goblins everywhwere.

Imagine building this room with paper scenery like from worldworksgames.

And while your fighting this goblins you meet the reason the goblins choose this unusual habitat on top of the sehlfs (and why no stronger monster use this room). What reason? I dont know, some old guard that cant climb, a large mechanical bug, earth elementar or such thing. Strong and hard to kill, but unable to reach the top of the shelfs.
Suddenly your ranged/magic combatants like to get on top of the bookcases, too. Smile

You could try to give some clues about this monster if the player aks questions. ("only goblins are so foolish/despaired to live in THIS room.")

Somewhere in this room is a secret door to the magic library so the players have a reason to search this room.

Be aware that this could be a dangerous encounter-your close combat buddies up on the shelf, your ranged combatant suddenly forced to engage a strong enemy-and because the area possibly at short range!


Last edited by Sadric on Tue Nov 17, 2009 5:17 am; edited 1 time in total
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VonDan
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 4:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sadric wrote:


a large mechanical bug,

You could try to give some clues about this monster



Yeah like a giant mechanical armored Beetle (watch the Dark Crystal then use the mech stats from SW EX and adjust with imagination) All the weapons and devices are clockwork, replace the machine gun with a auto crossbow or dart shooter and add giant slicing beetle claws

The evidence is that the floor of the library has piles droppings made from motor oil, nuts & bolts and bone fragments

When the battle with the players starts the goblins treat it like a gladiator match with sky box seats

Yeah Myrtle can Lure them to the Library because as a nerd it was her favorite room and she wants a Ghost Date
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DerFinsterling
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 4:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sadric wrote:
Your old wizard school is ideal for some really weird places.

My first idea was the great library.
Think a large library, with siderooms, balconys,small spiral staircases,
rows of bookshelfs and so on.

A bunch of goblins live today in this area.


Or, another variant... while the goblins live now in the castle. they don't go near the library. So everything there, while dusty, is still prefectly in order. Maybe there are still some books open on the reading table. Maybe there's an unfinished (and molded over) cup of tea somewhere.

Now you can either use this just as a creepy encounter where nothing happens. The goblins are just afraid of the room for now reason.
Or they do have a reason: the library is possessed by the malevolent spirit of a former wizard, who uses his telekinesis power to through books at the characters, to tople shelfs...

How do you fight something that you don't know where it is?
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VonDan
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 17, 2009 4:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

DerFinsterling wrote:
the library is possessed by the malevolent spirit of a former wizard, who uses his telekinesis power to through books at the characters, to tople shelfs...


It's the spirit of the former Librarian punishing the naughty adventures for making noise. The only way to find her is on reveil arcana roll a -2 roll and you see the glint of her ghost glasses
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