Modifying Combat Encounters on the Fly

You plan a combat encounter, but the party walks through it, or it knocks them down too quickly. We talk about modifying encounters on the fly.

Thanks to Eric Salzwedel for the inspiration!


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Random Encounter

Todd Crapper comments on Changing the Setting

My comments on this episode are almost the same as for “Episode 342 – How The GM Can Say No And Still Make Friends.” Therefore, if you’re going to read this one on air, you’ll have to do it twice.

Finding that right balance of blocking players with an outright no (or a no, but…) and adjusting existing settings involves the same technique for me. It’s one I developed for my game, ScreenPlay, that involves the use of “initiatives” presented at the table during play. Basically, whatever is presented in game about the game and its setting remains within control of the player who initiated it in the game. So once a player states a fact about this world, it’s valid unless it contradicts an initiative already placed into the game. But that initiating player has final say to accept the change if they like this change. Of course, this includes the GM.

For example, Brett comes up with an idea that all paladins have tattoos as a symbol of their permanent faith to the gods. Then Sean later describes a paladin who doesn’t have any tattoos. As that goes against Brett’s initiative of inked holy warriors, I (their illustrious and noble GM of the ages) can say, “No! Paladins look like bikers in the world. Tat that pal up, buddy!”

BUT… it also provides room for Brett to say, “Hold on, why don’t they have a tattoo?” And Sean can answer with a quick tale of how this paladin changed their deity after finding out their last god was actually Hydra, goddess of serpents and deception, and so they had their tattoos removed. Brett says, “Holy shit, Sean, you magnificent bastard, I love it! Let’s do it.” And now these two finally have something they can share as they glance at each other lovingly across the table.

As the GM, that means it’s my job to introduce the setting and its core possibilities, establish any Lines & Veils we want, and anything else fundamental to this game. In short, you’ve got to nail down the key initiatives in an elevator pitch and across Session 0. For some settings, I have stipulated that anything in the core rulebook is locked in stone, but my personal preference in play and by design is to allow everyone to pitch in to make this world their own. (As per my parallel dimension theory of campaign settings.) This approach allows me to enforce what I need to enforce in the game and provides me that opportunity to give a hard “no” without being a dick about it. It also allows me to adjust our safety tools in play and encourage all players to take ownership of their part of the world.

It’s a technique that’s worked out well over the years and helps encourage creative input in a writer’s table game or help convert a “GM-controls-the-world” game to something more collaborative.

Spook408 commented on Changing the Setting

I’ve really only have done that once. I was playing The Fantasy Trip and decided its deadly and uncompromising system had to go. So, I ported it into Blade in the Dark. The players were a crew of scoundrels doing jobs and it felt like a match… mostly.

First it became a traditional fantasy setting, guns became crossbows, people rode horses and not donkeys, and it is nowhere close to how dark and desperate their setting is. I also threw out what I perceived as some of the best rules of the game. Principally, because my players did not take to it. Much to my surprise they enjoy taking hours to set up the job perfectly, rather than a few minutes and a roll that casts them into the action. Players, go figure.

But without a doubt the biggest aid I got was from the digital map of the city of Doskvol that I bought. The first thing I did was toss the city’s name. I wanted the macro view to disappear and the focus to be on neighborhoods. Now it’s referred to just as the “city.”

Then to my surprise I found I could digitally edit it. That alone has helped with the player immersion. I don’t know if that was intended or not, but what a great aid. I have colored their territory so they can watch it grow or shrink. All the places they have visited are red starred as well as where NPCs live. This alone has made the city a dynamic place. Players can literally see how they are changing their world. It has been a blast and has become one of my favorite games I’ve even run.

Going back to January to Pete’s question

My groups typical gaming sessions are around 4 hours. We mostly play something dark like CoC, post apocalyptic or a zombie game where we sometimes are the lesser of two evils. Although the games are usually great, we decided to lighten it up a bit.

Mini games: Before each session, another player, (not the GM for the main game of the night) runs a mini game. This game usually lasts 15 min and is light and ridiculous. Here are some examples:

Your band just got their big break. Beyoncé is unable to perform at the super bowl last minute and you get a call. You must arrive before anyone else does. On your way you must take out snoop dog, caddi overflowing with smoke, Shakira, Marilyn Manson and so on. (Funny, stupid, light)

Twilight Zone 5 characters in search of an exit (mind f*ckey)

-Next will be a few characters from Robert Rodriguez’s films, Seth Gecko/Clooney, Machete/Trejo, EL Mariachi/Banderas, Cherry Darling/ McGowan. They are fighting their way through the night (vampire apocalypse) at a bar where Salma Hayek is the entertainment. (Stupid, light, funny)

Other benefits:

Multiple GMs. Everyone in my game group is a GM that wants to run every session. This, although brief, allows 2 GMs to run in one night.

New GMs: This is the biggest plus. Some players have never GMed/DMed/Kept/Mothered a game. This broke the ice for some of my players and was nice because it only lasted a few minutes. Also, no one was bummed due to their character dying (mini one shot game). Now I have a lot of GMs and good games where I can also play!

Die Roll

  • New Marvel RPG, being done by Matt Forbeck using the D616 System
  • Wizards of the Coast to release a first edition Gamma World bundle
  • DURF, an adventure game for brave adventurers by Emiel Bowen, grab it
  • Goodman Games is doing Dying Earth boxed set for DCC
  • The Monsters Know What Theyre Doing, by Keith Ammann on Amazon Thanks Zweefer

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About the Author
The 'S' of Gaming and BS podcast. Besides producing and hosting the show, Sean enjoys long walks on the beach, running rpg's, and killing player...characters.