Check for Traps
Violence & Viscera

Alexander Macris | 16 Nov 2010 21:00
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Near Misses: If you roll a near miss on the player, a great rule of thumb is to vividly describe the attack before you provide the mechanical outcome. If the player knows you missed him, there's no tension no matter how vivid your imagery. But if he's not sure yet whether you missed, he will hang onto every word for a clue as to what's coming.

Player Character Death: If you're following my recommendations for play with real consequences, player character death can and will happen. Here's what not to do: Don't focus on the numbers and then express contrition, and don't move quickly on to the next event. A player character deserves a death worthy of the sagas, a memorable death that will be talked about forever. Now is the time to pull out all the stops! Combine all of the recommendations in brutal blows above with foreshadowing of darkness, vengeance, and rage. If a troll rends the character to death, then what happens is that "you scream in agony as the trolls claws dig deep into your shoulders, deeper until finally it tears outward and your torso is rended into three parts, left and right arms spinning outward as a torrent of blood and lymph flows from your shattered rib cage. As death greets you, your last thought is of the vengeance your comrades will take for you."

Slow Motion: One of the coolest techniques you can achieve through vivid narration is the effect of 300-style fighting, with its alternating sequences of slow motion and high speed violence. The trick here is to use the present continuous verb tense ("is cutting") when describing slow motion sequences, and the present tense ("cuts") for fast action. "Marcus is leaping through the air, his blade is cutting to the left and right, gutting an orc with each slash, and then suddenly he lands and thrusts forward and his sword impales the orc chieftain through the heart."

As you can guess from my descriptions above, my campaigns run more towards "Conan" than "Lord of the Rings" but even if you enjoy PG High Fantasy I've hopefully provided some useful insights. If these ideas don't directly help you, turn to your favorite books and movies and take notes on how the authors and directors show fight scenes. Take your notes into your next session, and make things visceral! With practice, you will develop your own repertoire of techniques to make your RPG battles come alive. It's worth the effort.

Alexander Macris has been playing tabletop games since 1981. In addition to co-authoring the tabletop games Modern Spearhead and Blaze Across the Sands, his work has appeared in Interface, the Cyberpunk 2020 fanzine, and in RPGA AD&D 2nd Edition tournament modules. In addition to running two weekly campaigns, he is publisher of The Escapist and president and CEO of Themis Media. He sleeps on Sundays.

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