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Ways to make combats more interesting

XCorvis

First Post
Nightcloak's recent post in the DM's Notebook thread got me thinking about this. Help me fill out this list:


Fights in your game are getting a little dull. How do you spruce them up and make them fresh, interesting and memorable?

Mixed groups of monsters - Instead of two of one type of creature, use two different creatures. They have different tactics, and may work together differently than two similar monsters. Two monsters that normally don't work together can create a lasting impression on your players.

Three-way fight - The PCs stumble upon two groups of fighting creatures and a massive melee insues. Or, the third group is the one that stumbles upon the PCs fighting another group. This is a good way to change the difficulty of a battle mid-way through, depending on who attacks who.

Interesting terrain feature - Add one or two special obstacles that enhance or impede a fight. A fight in a wizard's tower is OK, but it's more interesting with teleporters, or a magical fountain, or a permanant Wall of Force.

Interesting location - Make the fight take place somewhere unusual - inside a brewery, the roof of a building, on the floor of a senate chamber, in a pool with a waterfall, etc. Usually, interesting locations also have some interesting terrain features.

PC levels - Add some PC levels to your monsters for some unexpected suprises. Players shake with fear when you utter the phrase "the troll rages", or "the mind flayer casts a spell". Even just one or two levels can be important: five 1st level goblin fighters and a 1st level goblin bard can be suprisingly effective against a low-level party.

PrCs - Add a prestige class level. Many monsters can qualify for prestige classes "out of the box," or with minimal advancement.

Deceitful Monsters - Choose a monster, then have it pretend to be some other kind of monster. It may be using a Polymorph spell, or a simple disguise, but many players know monsters by their description and you can take advantage of it. Have a white dragon use "Change Self" to make his scales red - the players will abandon their fire spells and wonder why cold spells aren't working, giving the white dragon an advantage. It's most effective when the disguise has well-known weaknesses, but having a drow disguised as a normal elf can be very disconcerting for the players.

More?
 

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LogicsFate

First Post
Anything that forces the PCs to change tactics part way through the fight, Like very decitful monsters or shifting locations collapsing floors or traps in the area are allways fun
 

JimAde

First Post
Adding class levels is a well-known approach, but it never occurred to me that some monsters could qualify for PrC's without taking regular classes first. That's brilliant. Any examples?
 

derbacher

Explorer
Well, I think this is one way to make more interesting combats...

Remember the consequences.

Use of force should be appropriate to the situation. Lethal force should only be used when faced with little recourse, unless the character is a deviant, or a native of a particularly violent culture, or race, such as an orc.

For example, someone using a knife in a barroom brawl would be considered a sick thug, unless their assailants were also brandishing such lethal weapons. Characters who behave in violent fashion, or react with disproportionate force, should expect to be reviled, hunted, imprisoned, or executed, by local authorities, relatives and allies of their victims, and so on. Consequences are something every character should expect.
 

XCorvis

First Post
JimAde said:
Adding class levels is a well-known approach, but it never occurred to me that some monsters could qualify for PrC's without taking regular classes first. That's brilliant. Any examples?

Thanks, but I can't take credit for it - I've seen it several times.

A Medusa can qualify for Assassin by rearranging some skill points, and Duelist has pretty easy requirements too. Don't be afraid to rearrange some of the monster's skills and feats. Sorry, I can't recall any more immediately, but the easier the requirements are, the more likely that it is that a creature can take it with minimal requirements. Some of the Complete Adventurer PrCs should be pretty easy for intelligent monsters like Mind Flayers.

Here's another couple:

Divergant Monsters - Give your monsters a little twist by swapping out some of their skills and feats for different selections. Or go even farther and swap out some major abilities. An Umber Hulk could trade off it's confusion ability for some energy resistance without drastically altering its CR.

Unusual Tactics - Have the monsters use tactics that the PCs don't normally expect from them. Ogres who usually rush screaming into melee might have some military training: they could form ranks with longspears in front and longbows (ouch!) in back. A mind flayer with a potion of water breathing might attack from an underground stream, or flying kobolds could drop rocks (or incendaries) on the pcs.
 

XCorvis

First Post
LogicsFate said:
Anything that forces the PCs to change tactics part way through the fight, Like very decitful monsters or shifting locations collapsing floors or traps in the area are allways fun

Good points! You've given me more ideas!

Changing Locations - Change the location part way through the fight. This could be as simple as having your villian run up a flight of stairs to his lair, or more complex, like having a floor collapse and dump everyone into the chamber below.

Split the Party - Similar to Chaning Locations, except only some of the PCs are moved. Traps are a good way to cause this, and smart villians love this tactic - divide and conquer.

Reinforcements - Part way through the fight some enemy reinforcements arrive. The PCs have already used up some of their resources, and they need to adapt to the newcomers. Using Summoning spells is a good way to bring in custom reinforcements. If the PCs use a lot of fire, summon a fire elemental or salamander.

Smart Enemies Fight Smart - Be careful not to play intelligent monsters like any other bruiser. Smart enemies will try to anticipate the PCs. They use information to their advantage - they want to know who the warriors and spellcasters are, what their specialties /spells are, common party tactics, etc. They make plans for the PCs coming, have minions, lay traps, make sure they have time to prepare, have spells/magic items to defend against the most likely attacks and to take advantage of PC weaknesses. There's lots of room to expound on this topic...
 

XCorvis

First Post
derbacher said:
Well, I think this is one way to make more interesting combats...

Remember the consequences.

Great idea, but it's one of those things you have to build up to. The first time you use consequences in this way, the fight itself is not very memorable. Once the PCs understand what's going on, then fights can be more interesting as they try to take people alive or subdue them, or have to deal with non-combatants.
 


derbacher

Explorer
Use all the combat rules. Trip them to the floor. Disarm them. Grapple and pin them down. Sunder their weapons (watch the paladin cry :( ). Don't have the (intelligent, at least) monsters just stand there swinging! Keep them moving, frustrate the full attack options of your players, jump up on furniture and swing from the chandelier! Run away, drink a potion, and come back again refreshed!

Don't forget to talk while fighting! Witty repartee is always fun. ("I am the greatest swordsman in all of Spain. Prepare to die.")

Don't let the PCs know how damaged the opposition is, just describe the wounds, how badly staggered the orc is from that last sword blow, how the evil lich just laughed when you hit it with that fireball. Always keep them guessing as to how long the opponent will last.

-----
Mission continues.
 

Mr_GrinReaper

First Post
lol. The princess bride?
Score!

Yea. That especially goes hand in hand with strange places for battles, like on a boat about to fall over a waterfall. (With pirates in it) That would be a fun little scenario to spring. Fight your way out of the boat before it falls and everyone "dies".

That would be veeeery interesting. I have just intrigued myself with my own suggestion. Thats kind of annoying.
 


Have big dumb ogre minion do something big and dumb, like getting mad if critted and bull rushing a PC into the wall. Of course there was a brazier next to the wall, and now both the PCs and the BBEG are cringing as the place catches fire. Not only could it make the fight more interesting, but it could also help the PCs as the bad guy takes a round or to to hit the flames with ice spells, so as not to lose his castle.

A lot is said about smart villians, but dumb moves also add to the story.
 

derbacher

Explorer
Originally posted by Jondor_Battlehammer
A lot is said about smart villians, but dumb moves also add to the story.

Amen! Play the critters as smart or dumb as the critters are supposed to be. Mindless undead zombie? Stumble straight at 'em. Hobgoblin hunting party? Disciplined tactics for military maneuvers. Evi9l Necromancer lich? Every option in the books and then some! Always have a back-up plan/escape route.
 

Mr_GrinReaper

First Post
LOL. That reminds me of something I sprung in a dungeon crawl. Can you say giant spider anyone. The PC's weren't exactally smart about it though. They cast light on his eyes...

He was blinded and charged them, smashing them against the wall, and almost killing them, fortunately our archer managed to get him before he did any more damage.

Not to mention he left a huge pool of acid all over. (Stomach Acid :confused: )

~
GrinReaper
"The Counterattack is slowing down"
 

XCorvis

First Post
I think I've used most of the suggestions and converted them into the paragraph form I started with. I'm thinking of posting the complete list in the regular EN World forum, with credit going to everyone involved (as a group, not by individual item).


Remember the Consequences - This can apply to other circumstances, but the most common situation is when the PCs step outside the bounds of the law during the course of a fight. They may end up killing some folks in a "harmless" tavern brawl, or attacking someone who isn't actually an enemy. If you come down hard on the players after these situations (like with a trial or jail time) they will be more reserved in the future. The fight will be more difficult (and hopefully interesting) if the PCs are trying to take their opponents alive or avoid certain tactics.

Do More Than Just Hit Things - Most creatures are smart enough to try to gain a tactical advantage in combat. Have them trip PCs to make them easier to hit and sunder their weapons. Grappling is good when monsters are having a hard time hitting the PCs. Monsters also have some self-preservation instincts - have them run to safety, drink a potion of healing and return to combat.

Add Color Commentary - Describe the action with more detail: "The hobgoblin's longsword swings in low but deflects off your greaves." Have the monsters comment on the fighting and engage in witty (or not so witty) banter with the PCs. The ogre who shouts "Thag smash you like he smash his mother" is far more memorable than the one who says nothing.

Keep Secrets - Don't tell the players things their characters wouldn't know. If they need to know what spell is being cast, (and there aren't obvious effects) they should roll spellcraft. Hit points are another secret. Use descriptive terms to describe the enemies wounds rather than numbers - "the orc is barely standing," or "he shruggs of the scratch you gave him." Keep the players guessing as to how long the opponent will last.

Give the Fight a Goal - Sometimes you're not fighting to simply kill your opponents but instead are just trying to accomplish a goal. A free-for-all race is a good example of this, with the PCs fighting their opponents to try to slow them down, rather than kill them. Another is the PCs attempting to disrupt a ritual - the PCs need to attack the enemies in the ritual, but the defenders are delaying the PCs, who are running out of time...

Dumb Enemies Fight Dumb - If smart enemies should fight smart, the reverse should be true. That big dumb ogre or hulking construct isn't going to use a lot of strategy - it's going to walk up to PCs and hit them. The PCs should have a chance to take advantage of it. This might not seem more interesting at first, but it is better for the players because they have a chance to out-think their enemies and use feats, abilities and skills to their advantage.

Accidents Happen - You might already have a house rule about critical fumbles, but you can use them more creatively than "you drop your weapon" or "the orc hits himself with his axe." When that big dumb ogre rolls a 1, he knocks over a braizer and it starts a tapestry on fire, creating a hazard for everyone.

Use the Enviornment - Have your monsters take advantage of the terrain and objects in the room. Fight with your back to a small chasm or wall to avoid some flanking. Jump on that table to gain a height advantage, or flip it and use it for cover. Something as simple as closing a door can have major implications on combat.

Alternate Spells - If you're sick of just having spellcasters use fireball and lighting bolt over and over again, try a different selection of spells - Wall spells, Rock to Mud, Slow, Haste, illusions and many other spells can all be used to make the PCs make less than optimal choices on the battlefield without dealing direct damage. You can also take a rarely used spell and design a fight where it becomes very potent, such as PCs fighting on a greased stairway.

Advance the Story - Roleplaying is often referred to as Collaborative Storytelling. Combat is no different than any other part of the game. NPCs don't stop "acting" just because they're fighting. Have the villian drop a plot point in the middle of combat - he's stressed out and not thinking about what he's saying. Maybe that big dumb ogre is actually a pyromaniac and knocked that braizer over on purpose, and now the BBEG has to get that fight put out while simultaneously fighting the PCs.
 

Mr_GrinReaper said:
LOL. That reminds me of something I sprung in a dungeon crawl. Can you say giant spider anyone. The PC's weren't exactally smart about it though. They cast light on his eyes...

He was blinded and charged them, smashing them against the wall, and almost killing them, fortunately our archer managed to get him before he did any more damage.

Not to mention he left a huge pool of acid all over. (Stomach Acid :confused: )

~
GrinReaper
"The Counterattack is slowing down"
YOU BASTARD, VINCE TOLD ME TO CAST LIGHT ON IT'S FRIGGING EYES, IT WAS 3 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING, WHAT THE HELL DID YOU EXPECT ME TO DO, FIGHT SMART???
:( Look, now I'm crying, you heartless bastard. :(
 

Anything involving pirate ninjas riding half-fiend dinosaurs. Now THAT'S interesting.

XCorvis said:
Add Color Commentary - Describe the action with more detail: "The hobgoblin's longsword swings in low but deflects off your greaves." Have the monsters comment on the fighting and engage in witty (or not so witty) banter with the PCs. The ogre who shouts "Thag smash you like he smash his mother" is far more memorable than the one who says nothing.
Reminds me of the time when Mr. Grin Reaper's swashbuckler had the fight with the bugbear bandit king. We had an entire banter session between them during the fight.
 
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Mr_GrinReaper

First Post
Yeah, that was called to my mind when I read the witty repartee section XD
That was definitly cool, but I felt sorry for the others... lol had to sit and watch me massacre him. (Well, not exactally)





Well, The spider thing was funny all the same. :p

~/ ^^
 

Mr_GrinReaper said:
Yeah, that was called to my mind when I read the witty repartee section XD
That was definitly cool, but I felt sorry for the others... lol had to sit and watch me massacre him. (Well, not exactally)





Well, The spider thing was funny all the same. :p

~/ ^^
Dude, you did not massacre him. If I recall, you were almost dead when he finally surrendered, and were only kept alive by your extra healing potion.
 

Nightcloak

First Post
This is some really great advice in this thread. I tried some of it in my last game and it worked wonderfully.

Great Job!




One idea to add that I have used:

Reach Weapons: Creatures with reach weapons get an AoO when players move in on them. This makes a fighter with a readied action capable of hitting twice. Give to ogres for extra fun.
 

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