Today we take a look at Combat in RPGs, and the importance of imparting context to physical conflict. At first glance, it seems rather obvious. After all, who just gets into fights for no good reason?
Surprisingly, a lot of RPG characters do. However, with the exception of the beer-and-pretzels approach to gaming, combat shouldn’t exist for its own sake.
If anything, every conflict should come with the context for it. This lends gravitas to the battle, and enhances the urgency and importance of actually winning. Sure living to see the next day is a powerful motivation, but there are higher goals to be had.
When framing confict, it’s important to ask the following questions:
How / Why are the players involved?
Combat doesn’t just happen. Most of the time, there is an escalation from a social confrontation to someone deciding to escalate into physical conflict. Are the players the ultimate target, or will killing them be a stepping stone to a greater goal? Players will respond better to a fight knowing why they’re being attacked even if their characters are still relatively clueless.
What is at stake for the winners / losers?
People enter conflict because they are motivated to win. They are supposed to gain something. Influence, love, riches, there are countless possible motivations for entering combat. Likewise, losing means that they forfeit more than just their health and welfare. The destruction of their families, their society and way of life or their ideals might be at stake as well.
What effect does this actually have on a game? Well for one thing, fights start to matter more. Combat becomes more personal, more meaningful. In addition, combat becomes the highlight it deserves to be in a session. No matter what genre is involved, from Space Opera to High Fantasy and even Superheros, combat is meant to be special rather than rote and mundane.