member, 119 posts
Fri 12 May 2017
at 19:55
Describing Combat
How do you folks describe the action in your combat?  What determines how you describe the action?

As an example of this, here is what determines how I personally describe near misses in the games that I run.  In D&D, there is a basic formula that determines a character's armor class, and I use that as a baseline for how to describe the action.  The equation is provided below.

Armor Class X = 10 [base value] + A [armor value] + S [shield] + D [Dex mod] + M [Misc values like feats or class features]

I look at that equation as a spectrum or range of misses.  To me, it describes the order of values that an attack must overcome to strike a character.  And at each modifier, there is a distinct type of "miss" occurring.

Note, remember that attackers win ties in D&D; in other words, the AC is the minimum value required of a dice roll to confirm a hit.  So, the following numbers being 1 point lower than your expectation is on purpose, because these values represent misses.  So, what does this looks like?

Example: AC 19 = 10 base + 4 armor + 2 shield + 2 Dex + 1 class feature

Using the example above.  If a monster rolls a number 9 or lower, then I describe an incoming blow as a clumsy attack with no chance of hitting: the ogre swings his club upward and straight as though it expected you to simply let yourself be hit because you were too frightened to move.  If the attack roll yields an 10 to 13 (the bonus range provided by the armor), then I describe the attack as encountering the player's armor: the opposing duelist's rapier slides harmlessly past your breastplate.  On a 14 to 15, the character's is responsible: you instinctively angle your shield such that the angry paladin's hammer merely glances harmlessly downward.  On a 16 to 17, the character's dexterity defeats the incoming attack: you throw yourself backward from the slinging side-strike from the orc's greataxe and narrowly miss being eviscerated.  On an 18, the class feature, whatever it is, becomes the engine for the description: your training takes over and you strike out with your own weapon to completely parry a swordstrike and set up an opportunity to riposte.

This is a level of thinking that mostly gets overlooked and isn't necessary, but I think that this kind of detailed standard helps add some realism to the game.  I've only ever had two or three players in the ten years that I've adopted this system realize that I was even doing it, and they appreciated the added realism that came from the descriptions I was giving to combat.

What other quirks or standards have you folks come up with or utilize for describing combat?
 member, 330 posts
Fri 12 May 2017
at 20:55
Describing Combat
Great topic.

In brief, I describe it as much like a movie as the system will allow. I'm one who doesn't go for "reality" but more for cinema realism. Systems that have "stress" or hit points that are abstract enough to be considered "stress," are therefore what I prefer to use.

Mostly I play 4th Edition, which took a step toward the abstract for me. I find that I can explain or describe hit point lost without any physical damage, in almost every circumstance. In a lot of ways it works better that way, since I don't have to concern myself with exactly what the effect of HP recovery looks like, or why minions work the way they do.

Basically, the way I see it that being at full HP doesn't mean one looks pristine, and looking wounded doesn't need to mean that one has lost HP.

I'm happy to discuss this more, if anyone wants to.
 member, 2931 posts
 Love D&D,superhero games
 Not very computer savvy
Fri 12 May 2017
at 22:31
Describing Combat
In reply to W0LF0S (msg # 1):

I do something similar,  but I go on the opposite direction.
If the monster misses by one, the it is absorbed by armor, meaning "it was a good shot that should have done damage,  but you were saved by your chain mail".
A hit that misses by more is avoided by a shield, or dex, with other protection applying as applicable.
Though a bad miss is still just an "clumsy or mistimed swing"
 member, 588 posts
 Creator of HeroForge
Sat 13 May 2017
at 02:18
Re: Describing Combat
why minions work the way they do.

For the uninitiated, minions in 4E had a single hit point, but were immune to attacks that did something like half damage on a miss. Basically, one good solid hit took them out of the fight, but you had to actually hit them.

The best example I've seen in the media is the throne-room scene in The Two Towers, when Aragorn and his pals beat up all the guards in just a few seconds. Every guard is taken down with just a single hit; not necessarily killed outright, just knocked out, driven off, or otherwise turned into non-combatants.

Fights with minions really encouraged colorful descriptions, 'cause you could get away with showing off.
 member, 143 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Sat 13 May 2017
at 03:52
Re: Describing Combat
This is a great topic.

I don't do D & D past 2E, but I do play a lot of Traveller, and am dabbling presently with The Petal Hack.

In a task oriented system like Traveller, it's easy to develop a "Task Spectrum".  Since defense is handled as an opposing task, I use the difference between the tasks as a measure of how successful an attack is.  Task Throws are done on 2d6 with die modifiers for applicable skills and/or traits, hence the spectrum I use looks like:

Critical Success:         Task Throw is a Natural 12 (Boxcars)
Spectacular Success:      Task Throw exceeds Difficulty/Opposing Task by 3+
Success:                  Task Throw meets or exceeds Difficulty/Opposing Task
Failure:                  Task Throw does not meet or exceed Difficulty/Opposing Task
Critical Failure/Fumble:  Task Throw is a Natural 2 (Snake Eyes)

This sounds very similar to what nuric and engine are describing:

A Crit does a heavy amount of damage, and, depending on circumstances, can kill outright.

Spectacular Successes tend to do visually impressive damage, and may have more cinematic effects associated with them.

A mere Success will still do damage at standard rates for the weapon and armor in use.

A Failure misses completely, or glances off armor or cover.

A Fumble, well...  Bad stuff happens to the Attacker or his/her weapons.

All this is done in a sweeping cinematic description.  I never tell players, "your character just took XX hit points of damage".  Instead, I tell them what has happened, where and how relatively severe any wounds are, and how the character feels after taking the damage.
 member, 4 posts
Sat 13 May 2017
at 04:06
Re: Describing Combat
I haven't run a pbp game before, but in my RL games I usually get my players to describe their attacks. If they don't, then I improv descriptions on the fly for them, but only when it feels right to do so. I improv all of my enemies' actions.

I know that doesn't really contribute much to this topic, but maybe this next one will.

When a significant enemy is defeated, I will tell the player that landed the killing blow to "tell me how they go down". This almost always gets a satisfied smile out of them in addition to some of their best combat descriptions.
 member, 174 posts
Sat 13 May 2017
at 09:10
Re: Describing Combat
The way I'm running combat in my game (DnD 4th), I get input from both the players first as to what they'll be wanting to do on their turns, then just write one big post containing everything that happens in that entire round. This is mainly to avoid having a single combat last like, three weeks of real time by which point everyone's forgotten what was going on beforehand.

I write hits and misses based on how much they were hit or missed by, though I don't look too deeply into the exact calculations of whether or not it was the AC bonus that caused the miss or whatever. I just come up with some narrative reason for the person being attacked to not get hit, whether because the attacker swung badly or because whatever protection they have managed to let them absorb it without taking damage.

I do phrase the descriptions around which defence the attack is being aimed at, so if it's against Reflex then it's likely to miss because the person dodged out of the way, whereas with AC it may be described as "hitting" but actually just bounce off the armour/shield or else just not hit hard enough to have any effect.
 member, 1169 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Tue 16 May 2017
at 17:37
Re: Describing Combat
In the beginning I tried to do super descriptions for every swing of the blade but after years I tend to do 'simple but functional' for maybe 75% of the combat and really pool my energy for the big finish or awesome events.

If you think about how you re-tell the story, you don't mention the 18 times you hit for average damage or missed, but you do spend 90% of your time telling about how awesome it was you got a critical hit that did blah so the monster couldn't do blah and you guys could finish it off.

I do try to keep some roleplaying in mind so I will re-skin monster attacks to keep things interesting and try to encourage plenty of banter but overall just a sentence or two for most of combat actions and again save up my energy for the big set piece moments.