Other Kinds of Combat

Combat in roleplaying games is almost always a central part of the experience.  Especially in new games like 5th edition or even Pathfinder, combat is the mechanical focus.  An unusual problem emerges with this state of affairs.  It creates the illusion that all combat must be "balanced."  Balanced combat is ultimately made to be beaten.  Through some strategy and better than terrible rolls, these encounters are momentary roadblocks along the path of adventure.  These encounters get old.  Once you learn that these encounters pose little real threat, they become stale.  Varying up combat ought to resolve some of this monotony.  Therefore, I am making a list of some alternate kinds of combat encounters.  These promise to demand more than the basic tactics and good rolls that "balanced" combat and excite your player's sense of adventure.  This list will not ultimately solve the problem that the modern games are made for combat rather than dungeon exploration like OSR games.  If you are experiencing boredom of this nature and do not find it relieved by the use of this list, it may be time to try out some different kinds of games.

Too Many Cooks:  Purposefully face the players with too many weaker enemies for them to conquer and make it clear that this is the case.  The players will then have to decide to lead their adversaries on a merry chase or search for better terrain to make their stand.  Give them a way to escape by running or some environmental advantage to resolve the conflict.  For example, to take a trope from adventure movies, the tribesmen are chasing your party through the jungle.  The party recalls a rope bridge over a chasm that you placed along the way here.  They go in the direction of the bridge to cut the bridge away and lose their pursuers.

We're Going to Need a Bigger Boat: Send a bigger baddy than your party can face after them and make it clear that it is too difficult for them to face.  This is much like the last one, but it allows for some different possible solutions.  The party may have to ascertain the creature's weakness.  The creature could be guarding the weapon capable of killing it.  The party might need to hide out in a place the creature cannot get to but they cannot leave until the creature has been dealt with.  

The Chandelier!: Sometimes combat is just more than balanced, but you offer a way to even the odds.  Face the party with an encounter that is just a little too much for them.  Provide them some environmental assets that they could make use of to even the odds and continue with combat as usual.  To use the title, a ton of goblins attack the party in a room where there is no escape, but there just happens to be a chandelier in the room.  The swashbuckling bard cuts the rope after the fighter has lured them beneath the fixture, thus crushing many of the goblins.

If you can think of any other kinds of encounters, leave a comment.


  1. One thing I've learned from Stars Without Number is that sometimes, evenly matched combat encounters can be terrifying. A gang of well-armed thugs or a party of rival adventurers could present a great challenge, especially given appropriate narrative context. ;)


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