4. Combat (1)
Engaging an enemy should be exciting, it should thrill the players – no matter who the foe is. Even a pack of ratpeople can prove a challenge to the characters, and it must be played out as such.
Nothing can kill excitement as easily as a dull description of combat. “There are orcs ahead of you. Roll your attacks.” Uh-huh, I’ve got a chill down my spine. Yeah, right. Or how about, “Hit scored, long sword, right arm, 12 points of damage – next attack.” How quickly do you think your players will long for a nice movie, or a computer game?
So try to put a little more excitement into your descriptions. If you lack imagination, prepare yourself by reading some good adventure books. They always have decent combat descriptions, and you might help yourself to some of the juicy bits. (And other than the authors of these books, you won’t have to worry about copyrights. I doubt there’ll be a representative of the publisher at your table. And if so… uh-oh… You never read this, this passage doesn’t exist, and we will deny any knowledge thereof. And, by the way, this book will self-destruct in five seconds.)
Think about why combat ensues from a chance encounter. Of course your characters might run into an ambush, when there isn’t much time for any great speeches or the like. Even then, you can do some work to prepare the encounter. Make some off-hand remarks about odd noises (i.e. the foes pursuing the party), enhancing tension. And when the ambush occurs, make sure to give a gripping description of the enemies that fall upon your party.
Some combat situations are more interesting. Think of the good old bar brawl. It doesn’t come out of nowhere; there usually is some verbal disagreement which leads to it. There might be a tavern bully who does his best to taunt the characters (and you can have a lot of fun exploting physical faults of the characters, or making racist remarks about elves and the like); or one NPC in the bar could be just so obnoxious – without targeting the party – that the characters decide to shut him up once and for all.
Another example: The party encounters a band of orcs. Although neither attacks right away, they trade insults for a bit. The orc leader might generously explain what he will do to the dead bodies of the party, heightening the player’s interest in seeing the orc splattered all over the ground. (You need not go into the violent bit, there are quite enough other, more tame ways to handle this.)
Always make sure that you mention the reactions of both the party and their opponents. (Describing the party gets a bit difficult, for the players will reserve themselves the right to decide their own actions. On the other hand, you can use lines like “You are stunned to see the orc opposite you shake off the wound with a grin”.) How does an opponent react to an attack? If it succeeds, does he scream in agony? Or does he ignore the pain and relentlessly fights on? Or, consider the shame when one of the characters slashes vigorously at an opponent – say, an elf -, and his blade cuts only air. Won’t the elf be likely to chuckle viciously and comment on how inferior the character’s fighting style is? “Humans! You will never learn how to hold a blade!”
See how this is getting more interesting? Taunts are an especially good way to keep the players interested in the combat – if a player finds herself insulted, her own attacks get more vigorous, and she’ll have a pleased smile painted all over her face once she takes out the offending foe.
Combat in GRPG is very much dependent on random factors – i.e. the falling of the dice. Of course they are influenced by the attack values; the higher they are, the better are the chances of hitting your opponent. But then, for instance, it becomes a matter of the dice where your hit your opponent.
As a reminder, there are various hit zones on the body of any character. You can hit either the head, the torso or either of the limbs; each having their own number of hit points.
On the other hand, there is the possibility of making a called attack on a specific hit zone. A character could announce that he is aiming for the head, e.g. “to cut that smile off his face!” Other reasons for making called attacks are to hit an injured part again, or to knock an opponent out (cf. 4.3. Unconsciousness).
A called shot is more difficult than the ordinary attack where the character will exploit a random opening in the foe’s defense (assuming a successful attack) and strike whatever he can.
Attacking a specific hit zone means that the character cannot exploit any random opening, but will attack that very body part, no matter what the defenses are. There are some limits you need to consider when one of the characters makes a called attack:
· Even though the character may have purchased the class ability to execute more than one attack per round, he can make only one attack when he calls for a specific hit zone
· The opponent will quickly become aware of the character’s intent and concentrate on defending that body part. (For instance, a character might decide to strike at an already wounded body part, and the opponent will naturally protect his injury.)
Of course the regular defenses, like armor or magical protection apply in this case as well. But, as a result of the limits stated above, the attack value is decreased. For that you need to consider the percentage of hit points in the specific hit zone:
Percentage: Deduct from Attack Value:
An example: The head has a percentage share of 10% of the overall hit points. Therefore the attack value is decreased by 40 points. If the character’s normal attack value is 78, it gets now lowered to 38 – and must still pierce the defenses of the opponent.
There aren’t many ways to take someone prisoner if the opponent isn’t cooperative and surrenders. Unfortunately, many adventures depend on the characters being taken prisoner and having to free themselves. Even less fortunate, some players tend towards defending themselves to the death and never consider surrender as a viable option.
Of course there can be very good reasons for this. Sometimes being taken prisoner can lead to a terrible fate. Let’s say there is an evil priestess waiting at the altar with an unpleasantly sharp dagger who wants to present a sacrifice to her god (quite probably Shenaumac), and the soul of the character might be in peril (not just his life). In that case, dying at the hands of the priestess’s disciples is certainly a preferable fate to being sacrificed.
On the other hand, the characters might want to take an opponent prisoner, e.g. to question him. (Questioning a dead opponent is rarely effective, unless there is a priest in the group who can talk to the deceased spirit. Since the latter is a high-level ability, this option usually isn’t readily available.)
But there is always the option of knocking an opponent out by hitting him over the head.
Here we have to ways to attack an opponent in this way:
· Making a called attack to the head: As indicated in the previous section, this is rather difficult during normal combat and brings a penalty of –40 to the attack. It is possible, though, and sometimes very suitable in combat. (Of course there is a certain danger involved if the attacker is rather strong. He might wind up bashing the opponent’s head in, and then the party is faced once again with the problem of talking to dead spirits.) Please note that the deduction doesn’t apply if a regular hit is scored on the head randomly. In that case, of course, the character has not made a called attack.
· Surprising the opponent – and then making a called attack during the surprise round. (Cf. 4.4. Surprising opponents) In this case, the character can use his full attack value for a called shot, and the opponent doesn’t have a chance to parry. An attack of this kind has a 95% probability of knocking out the opponent. The GM rolls in secret for this probability. (This method is best used by thieves: They can employ the class abilities of hiding to escape notice by the foe, or they can sneak up to him by moving silently.)
Also note that the opponent might be wearing a helmet. The full 95% probability stated above only apply if the foe has no helmet. If he does, then the damage points are of interest: For each damage point, there is a 2% chance of knocking the opponent unconscious. For instance, if a character scores 9 hit points worth of damage on his opponent, there is an 18% probability of knocking him unconscious.
Managing to sneak up to an opponent and surprise him is a great advantage, as any can readily imagine. The problem is that the same can be done to a character as well. The latter is important to remember for the GM: Surprising your party with a sneak attack is a nice way to spice up the adventure – and remind the characters that they are far from invincible.
Think up a proper situation how you want to shock your party. To see whether the party is successfully surprised, roll a 1d10 and check the table below. We have prepared a number of basic situations from which you can pick the one closest to the one you have thought of.
Remember, this table is not mutually exclusive. Each row is for a separate situation. So, if you have a surprise ambush planned, select the second row: If your 1d10 roll results in 1 – 4, then the party is surprised, otherwise combat begins according to the normal rules.
Should a character be surprised, he cannot react during this round. The surprise lasts only for the current round; afterwards normal combat resumes as described in the Player’s Handbook.
Note: If the party decides to surprise someone else, e.g. to silently take out a guard, simply reverse the process. Then the 1d10 roll aims at the opponents that the party wishes to surprise.