(art by piofoks)
If you’re anything like my players and I, then you enjoy emphasizing the narrative aspects of role playing. This post is meant to focus on one area where story-telling tends to take a backseat to the die rolls: combat.
During combat it’s far too easy to fall into the habit of players taking turns rolling a die, the DM declares success or failure, damage is calculated and noted, and then the next player gets a turn.
For some groups this works - it keeps combat fast, the die rolling and the strategies coming. But for my group, and I suspect other groups that are really in it to see a story grow and develop and take precedence over the “die rolling, numbers game”, this is a missed opportunity.
I have two suggestions that help players and DMs alike take hold of that missed opportunity and make it work in the favor of flavor.
Suggestion 1: Use of Flavorful Description
Liven up your “you hit” or “you miss” with flavorful descriptions of the actual action that’s taking place. The following are suggested combat action descriptors, most of which came from a discussion on this very topic that can be found HERE.
“The enemy falls to the ground biting the dirt with its teeth as its life fades away from its body.”
“You slash at the enemy. It strikes him clean in the throat tearing out his jugular. He chokes on his own blood as he tries to breathe in agonizing gasps then falls lifelessly to the ground”
“Your arrow glides through the air and gracefully slides through the creatures eyeball with a squelching sound. It falls to the ground with a shocked expression on his face”
"Swinging your blade in an arc you cleanly decapitate the foe."
"Your arrow pierces the creatures skull splattering its brains against the wall"
"Your sword cleanly breaches the creatures defenses and pierces its heart causing it to collapse."
"Your fireball explodes on the huddled group of enemies they are incinerated leaving nothing but ashes and smoke
"A brilliant ray of energy impacts on the creature causing its head to pop with a wet and gory thud."
"You slice the creatures leg clean off. It screams in pain and lies dying clutching its bloody stump."
"You slide your weapon swiftly into the creatures exposed back tearing at its spine and killing it instantly."
"Your spell detonates on the group of enemies spraying gore and remains all over the dusty floor”
“You swing your weapon towards the creature however it dodges and simply grazes its thick hide instead.”
“You slam your weapon into the creature however the blow crumples onto the enemies shield”
“You swing your weapon but it is deflected by the enemies’ blade”
“The enemy thrusts at you with its weapon snarling in rage however you skillfully dodge the blow”
“The creature roars and charges towards you leaping into the air and lunging with its weapon. You skillfully sidestep it and the enemy crashes to the ground instead.
“The mage conjures a ball of flame and sends it forcefully to your position. However your reflexes are in tune and you deftly dodge the flaming orb as it dissipates harmlessly off the dirt.”
“The animal growls and slashes at you with its claws which you easily deflect with your shield.”
”You abort your swing and flatten yourself against the wall as an arrow/javelin/magic missile flies by, passing through the space where your head just was.”
”Your arm aches as the club/hammer/mace/giant fist pounds repeatedly against your shield.”
“You duck and the spell impacts the wall behind you, sending a stinging spray of stone shards into your spine.”
"The enemy roars and swings at you widely. You easily dodge his attack."
“The enemy strikes your armour with full force however there weapon simply bounces off.”
"The orc points a finger at and chants, however you steady yourself and your inner will prevails defeating the foul magic for now."
“The orc strikes you with it’s club, you bring your arm up to defend and recoil in pain at the blow.”
“Your arrow soars through the air impacting on the creatures shoulder. He pulls the arrow head out with a roar and continues to fight unimpeded.”
“You bash the enemy with the butt of your weapon denting its jaw but not phasing it “
“You strike the creature with a mighty blow it falls back dazed.”
“The mage focuses on you his eyes piercing as he utters a word and sends a brilliant ray of pure energy towards you. It crashes into you sending your body into spasms of pain as you try to recover.”
“With a sudden and unexpected burst of strength the creature breaches your defensive and lands a forceful blow sending you reeling in shock and pain.”
“Shouting a battle cry the creature runs towards you with incredibly speed and power, raising its blade it brings it down in a shuddering crack knocking you to the ground and making your vision dizzy.”
“Your weapon hits home with a sickening thud you notice the creature bleeding deeply from the wound.”
“Your arrows leave multiple puncture wounds in their victim causing them to bleed profusely.”
“You send a ray of lightning at the creature. It begins to spasm in shock as lightning races through it’s body. It recovers but is left singed and shaken from the attack.”
"You lock blades with your enemy and push him down to one knee before he forces your weapon aside."
“Your magic missile slams into the exposed foe it looks wide eyed in fright as blood begins to pore from its eyes, nose and mouth.”
“The creature staggers back clasping at the deep bleeding gash in its chest as it roars with pain and frustration.
“Your arrow tears a great bloody hole into the creature.”
"The arrow grazes the creature causing it to flinch in pain but continue battling"
"The Orc stares at you sending a sudden and cold chill through your spine."
“The arrow hits your armour with a crack, you gasp as you tear it out. It has left a deep hole in your armour but you fortunately only suffer a minor wound.”
"The Orc swings his great axe in a heavy arc, it catches you on your exposed side and tears at your flesh. You gasp in pain."
"Your weapon blow smashes down on the creature, it brings up its weapon to defend but the weapon is crushed by your blow."
"After an intense parry of blows the creature looks visibly exhausted."
“The creature staggers back clasping at the deep bleeding gash in its chest as it roars with pain and frustration.”
"You shoot past and above your enemy, sending the tapestry falling onto him. He struggles and throws it off, looking rather annoyed."
"Your foe parries your longsword only to find your elbow connecting with their face with a solid, loud crack.”
"Your enemy smirks as your shot seems to fly wild. As he opens his mouth to taunt you, the chandelier crashes onto him from above."
"As your enemies lunges, you slash his belt and take a sidestep. His pants fall and trip him, with his momentum sending him face-first into the wall. He’s not likely to stand up again anytime soon."
"The enemy raises his weapon to strike you, then suddenly stops. He falls to his knees, then to the ground, revealing [PC who finished the enemy] behind him with a large club and a wide/sheepish/psychotic grin."
“You bring your weapon down on the enemy with a great force. It attempts to bring its weapon to defend but is too slow. You slice straight through it.”
Suggestion 2: Reward Them for Creativity
Either as a starter to get the ball rolling, or a fun mechanic to help motivate creativity, I suggest using a small but appreciated reward system for any use of flavorful descriptions during combat.
We started using a +1 to damage rolls reward, and our group has been loving the outcome.
Essentially, it plays like this: The player determines their action and then describes it in a flavorful way with a short (about a 10-20 word standard as a guideline) description of the actual action their character performed. If they do that, instead of simply saying “I attack with my sword” or “I bullrush him” (etc) then if their attack is successful they gain a +1 to their damage roll total this round. We do add a little caveat that they can’t just say the same thing over and over, but we’re not very strict with what counts as a repeat, as really we appreciate creativity but anything is better than the bland “roll to hit, I miss”.
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