130 – Describing Combat in RPGs

The Mythcreant Podcast

It’s one thing to master the rules of combat, but how should you describe it? Sarah joins us for a third time to discuss the delicate business of depicting combat in words. We talk about the disconnect between a badass description and a failed roll, letting players narrate their own failures, and what level of gore is appropriate. Roll initiative and join us!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Mage: The Ascension

Psycho shower scene

The Iliad

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  1. Ty

    This podcast just feels like thoughts of three people who clearly don’t enjoy combat. I don’t think there is anything necessarily wrong with holding this viewpoint, but I’ve always prided Mythcreants for being able to showcase multiple points of view. This one-sided podcast did not do a great job of this. Furthermore, I believe that vast majority of role-playing gamers do enjoy combat, which partly explains why combat is so prevalent in mainstream RPGs. I guess, as a person who enjoys both combat scenes in RPGs and Mythcreants commentary, I was a bit disappointed to see the topic of podcast treated so flippantly by commentators that are clearly not very enthusiastic about the subject. While I will conceded that there were a few good points, the attitude around the subject was a bit condescending.

    • Alverant

      “Furthermore, I believe that vast majority of role-playing gamers do enjoy combat, which partly explains why combat is so prevalent in mainstream RPGs.”
      I have to disagree. In my experience combat can easily take up the whole session (especially for powerful PCs) which limits the “role play” in “role playing games”. I think the reason why it’s so prevalent is that it’s easy to explain in terms of game mechanics. You roll dice to determine if you hit and if you did you roll dice to determine how much damage is done.

      But how many games give such rules about social situations? How does any game deal with negotiating a deal apart from making a skill roll? What’s the “social hit points” of a bar maid your character is trying to convince to give him a free drink? In video games that sort of thing is reduced to a “fetch quest” as in “I’ll let you cross my bridge provided you do me this favor”.

      It’s just a matter of what is easier to explain to an outside person. Yes, there is combat for the sake of combat. The problem is making it more exciting than the phrase “roll to hit”.

      • Dave P

        Well, I think that the problem is that you are separating combat from role-playing. They’re not separate entities, in fact you can learn more about a character from a well done fight than you ever could from things they say about themselves. You learn how much they actually value honor, particularly in terms of not using tactics that might be considered dishonorable, are they genuinely brave, or just a lot of talk? Are they adaptive? Are they aggressive?

        Heck, it can even answer deep questions about the character, things like… are they conservative and traditional or more liberal and radical? Are they the type of person who would follow orders, even if they disagreed with them? Are they the type of person who would disobey orders even if they were reasonable?

        I think that the significant issue here is people who look at combat as being somehow a separate minigame and not related to character expression. In terms of D&D, for example, your characters are combat specialists, all of them, that’s very heavily what they train for, that’s their job, and how somebody does their job tells you a great deal about that person and their philosophy, and that’s not even getting into the additional philosophical implications of combat.

  2. Byron

    13th Age has a good system for adding mechanical flavor to attacks. It has “flexible attacks” which you choose based on your natural d20 roll. So you attack, roll a d20, and then based on if you hit, if the roll is even or odd, or if it is above a certain threshold you apply additional mechanical effects.

    You might miss with an even roll which triggers a flexible maneuver that increases other players chances to hit. Which can be visualized as your strike missing the target but forcing them to twist out of the way where they are less able to defend themselves.

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