raging_swan (raging_swan) wrote,

GM Advice: Enhancing Combat Encounters

Writing a combat encounter is easy: stick a couple of orcs in a  room and you are done. Creating an exciting, engaging encounter, though, requires a little something extra, beyond interesting foes.


(Art: William McAusland [Outland Arts])

Encounter enhancements can add an extra level of excitement to a battle. Don't add these to every combat encounter – they'll just become the norm – but use them to spice up important battles – perhaps an adventure's climax. When designing encounter enhancements don't do so with the goal of screwing over the PCs. Design enhancements that clever combatants can use to their advantage.

Enhancements fall into several basic categories:

  • Time Sensitive: Applying a time constraint to an encounter adds a level of urgency otherwise not present. For example, if the PCs must slay their enemies before the ceiling caves in, they don't have time to hang about! Similarly, if their foes are giving time for the main villain to escape, the party must cut them down as quickly as possible.

  • Interesting Terrain: A battle fought on a bridge spanning a chasm is intrinsically different to one fought on a road. Interesting terrain should both set the theme for an encounter as well as providing interesting tactical options to employ or overcome. Even furniture can be interesting. For example, PCs fighting in a library could push over bookshelves onto their enemies or leap atop them to gain other advantages.

  • Hostages: If the PCs' enemies have hostages, it is likely the party won't be able to use the full range of their abilities. Spellcasters in particular will probably not be able to use their area of affect spells for fear of injuring or slaying the hostages. Neutral observers, such as townsfolk, can also add the same restraint to the party.

  • Changeable Battlefield: This is related to interesting terrain above, but in some cases the battlefield may change from round to round providing a unique set of challenges. Are PCs fighting on a beach as storm-lashed waves burst about them or are they battling on a high moor as strong winds batter the battlefield? Both situation force the combatants to adapt and provide an on-going level of uncertainty.

  • Weather: Weather can be a boon or a curse to combatants. Winds make ranged attacks harder, while fog and mist can make sneaking about easier. Canny combatants work with the weather, not against it.

Do you use other methods to enhance your encounters? Share what they are in the comments below and remember you can download this – and every other advice article – for free at ragingswan.com/articles.

Tags: advice articles, gm advice, raging swan press

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