“I run over to the goblin and attack.”
“The one with the bow.”
“Okay. Roll your attack.”
“A 13 plus 5.”
“You hit. Roll damage.”
“Okay. Selena, your turn.”
“I fire magic missile at the wolf.”
“Roll damage dice.”
“Okay, Chiron, your turn.”
“I cast healing word on Andariel.”
“Okay, roll. Andariel, your turn.”
“I drop my short swords, swearing in goblin at the foul creatures. I’ll draw my bow and fire an arrow at the goblin chieftain’s throat!”
“A natural 20! Huzzah!”
“You kill him. He gurgles as he drops to the ground. Back to you, Ahkmet.”
Hello All. Welcome to Always Split the Party! I’m Jim, same as last time.
How many of you dread long battle encounters? How many of you have noticed your players, one by one, lose interest in the events at the table during the seemingly endless turns of combat? How many of you have bemoaned the static nature of said combat? Then this post is for you!
Now a quick disclaimer: this technique won’t completely fix boring combats. Encounter design is an art, and this is merely one tool you can use. It can help to make battles more dynamic and more of a group activity, instead of a static, stagnant, collection of individual turns and actions, but a bad encounter will still be a bad encounter.
The technique is called Collaborative Combat Narration™. CCN is my own invention (false) and I credit no others with the idea. I came up with it first. (citation needed)
In reality, I did not come up with this. I first heard it on DawnForgedCast’s Youtube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TUX99bNAVk). It’s a brilliant technique and I think it can help make encounters much more interesting and engaging to your players.
It works like this: each time a player declares his or her action, they have to connect it to the other actions done that round by referencing the actions of those who had higher initiative. They do this by using words like “as” and “while”.
Here is an example. I will use the same scene as I used in the opening.
“I run over to the goblin with the shortbow, and swing my greatsword at him.”
“Roll your attack.”
“A 13 plus 5.”
“A hit! Roll damage.”
“Your greatsword cuts deep into his shoulder. Selena, what are you doing?”
“While Ahkmet swings at the goblin, I turn and cast Magic Missile at the wolf.”
“The bolts of energy fly from your hand and engulf the wolf. Roll damage dice.”
“The smell of burnt fur and seared flesh fills your nose, Chiron, while you take your action.”
“While Ahkmet and Selena engage the minions, I turn to Andariel and cast Healing Word.”
“You breath the holy word of healing. Roll. Andariel, you heal…5 HP. What are you doing?”
“As I feel the healing magic knit my wounds back together, I drop my shortswords, swearing in goblin at the foul creatures. I’ll draw my bow and fire an arrow at the goblin chieftain’s throat!”
“Your arrow flies from your bow, past the head of Ahkmet who is bringing his sword down onto the minion’s shoulder. Roll.”
“A natural 20! Huzzah!”
“Your arrow pierces his throat, and he gurgles as he falls to the ground. His gurgles mingles with the moans of the minion and the sizzling sound of burned wolf. A new round begins.”
Can you feel the difference? Go back and read the original example I gave and then read through this one again. Compare the “mental movies” you got from each. Wasn’t the second much better than the first? Wasn’t it much more dynamic and engaging?
This is because the first example presents combat as a series of stand alone actions, each of which comes in order, one after the other. Ahkmet attacks the goblin minion, then Selena casts magic missile at the wolf, followed by Chiron’s healing spell, and finally Andariel fires at the chieftain. One after the other.
The second presents an active scene, where each player is acting in the same timeframe as every other player. Selena casts magic missile WHILE Ahkmet is slashing the goblin minion and at the same time as Andariel is firing an arrow past them into the throat of the goblin chief. At the SAME time, Chiron is speaking his Healing Word, granting a few more hit points to the archer, while she is firing.
Each round of combat in D&D is supposed to be about 6 seconds in the gameworld. And yet, all too often, combat seems like it should take an hour or more. This is simply because everyone is picturing a static series of images, where each player acts one after the other. If this were the case, if each character actually acted one at a time, then combat WOULD take forever!
CCN presents combat as fluid, fast-paced, and interconnected. Maybe the arrow flying over the goblin minion’s head distracted him and allowed Ahkmet to bring his sword past the goblin’s defenses. Maybe the feeling of magical healing repairing her broken body gave Andariel the strength and determination to fire the arrow which slew the goblin chief. That’s up to you, as the DM, to decide.
Now CCN is partially your responsibility, but also partially on the players. If they don’t participate, then there is only so much you can do. However, there are some ways of encouraging players to do it. Maybe, if they can connect another action to their own, they can get a bonus on their roll. That would give a consolation for those who go later in initiative as well, since there are actions taking place around them which they can take advantage of. In the above example, Selena connected Chiron’s healing to her own description. As a DM, you could decide, “That’s enough to gain her a +1 on her roll.” Or maybe she gains advantage, or maybe even inspiration!
The point is, there are quite a few benefits to this technique. More immersive players will be drawn to the dynamic, living feel of the battle narrative, while the added incentives like the possible +1 or advantage will appeal to the power gamers/metagamers out there.
I hope this helps you bring more excitement back to your combat! At the very least, it will provide a little more narrative to your sessions, and that is never a bad thing.
Until next time, happy gaming! Remember:
Always Split the Party!