By NPC Aaron
Today will be a quick one due to time constraints but I really wanted to talk about something simple that will help any sort of action-heavy game. In our last session Del’s character Jon convinced the party to head into Blackgate, the domain of his former vampire master, to save his parents. After sneaking over the wall, the session was devoted almost entirely to that single encounter, but it didn’t seem to drag horribly so I thought I’d go over how to make that work.
Giving Your Bad Guys Goals
When they got to the house two of the villains were inside, but were using an illusion to look like Del’s parents. The party split, so that two of the stealthier members could sneak around back and see if it was a trap. They looked in the barn and saw a bunch of armed mercenaries, but unfortunately the other half of the party grew bored and went in the front door, falling prey to the illusion’s trap.
The fight that ensued lasted awhile, with some of the party fighting the mercenaries in the back and others fighting a dark cleric and a shadow in the house. The bad guys were trying to bring Jon to Shindrogon alive, so he could be punished for his betrayal, and at one point one of the mercenaries had Jon on his shoulder running away, but the party’s zen archer managed to stop him.
Whenever you design an encounter, make sure your bad guys have motivations. Even in a dungeon crawl running into a room and hacking at the monsters until they are at zero hit points isn’t acceptable. Most living things want to survive and will attempt to flee or bargain for their lives when things turn hopeless. Predators want to pick off the weakest link and drag them away a lot of time. If the enemy is part of the plot, give them correct motivation.
The more separation between the narrative and the combat, the less entertaining combat will be if it starts to go long. If the combat serves the story then your players are going to be more invested in it.
Make An Interesting Battleground
You don’t want to fight in blank square rooms all the time, but I don’t mean that everywhere needs a river of lava or a spike pit. You don’t need to think of an intended combat purpose for scenery. If you put interesting scenery in your encounter then the players will think of ways to use it. Using scenery in clever ways is often the foundation for memorable player moments in combat. Simple things like windows, stairs, torches on the walls, balconies, etc. will do a lot to spruce up your encounter.
In the encounter of the last session, Jon’s house had a barn and backyard and made for an interesting situation. NPC-Chris’s character and the parties healer were able to keep the mercenaries from coming into the house and helping with the main fight by standing in the door and fighting them off. Adding things like choke points and making your battlegrounds larger will generally make for far better combats.
If you have any questions about making combat interesting, or if you have any stories about awesome combats you have been a part of, or even if you have tips of your own please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know. You can also find me on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/npcaaron or post on our Facebook wall at http://www.facebook.com/npccast . Next week we will talk about how to build epic story lines into your games.