5 Tips for Online Combat

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Whether your game is a roleplay heavy, dice light game using a simple system like D3 or more accurately described as a wargame with a bit of roleplay based around a more gritty version of D20, every game will have conflict and sooner or later it will involve a physical confrontation.

Though we continue to work on RPGpad, there are no major features being released this week, so I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a bit about this exciting aspect — to many players at least — of roleplay, and in particular, combat in an online environment, and give five tips to help spice up the battle and make it progress smoothly instead of bogging down into a long wait for all involved.

1. Over-communicate

Communication is key for any battle, and while your Game Master may limit tactical discussions during the heat of battle, clear communication is even more important during online combat than it is at a regular tabletop. As players anxiously await their turn, they may miss vital clues in descriptions unless they are made extremely explicit. This can, and will, cause confusion and bad decisions.

So if your character is knocked unconscious and slowly dying of blood loss, don’t just describe their cries of agony and pain as the pool of blood around their body grows ever larger. Explicitly (and in OOC markers) note that you are bleeding to death. Bold font might seem excessive, but it is better to overdo it than risk people missing it as they are excitedly planning out their next spell sequence.

This goes for Game Masters too. If the bridge the heroes are fighting on is about to collapse, don’t just subtly hint at strands of the rope snapping, explicitly say that the bridge is going to collapse at the end of the round, or if another warrior steps onto it, or whatever condition applies. This doesn’t just protect inattentive players, it also covers your ass against later complaints that the situation was unclear.

2. Know the Rules and Share Them Pro-actively

Save time by listing the rules as they apply in your post — especially if other players or NPCs are affected. For example, if you cast a fireball, describe where it detonates, but also that it allows a saving throw, and what the difficulty is.

Most of the time, other players and game masters don’t know every detail of every rule, especially if numbers are affected by your other abilities. Having a clear reference is very helpful to quickly resolve it, and saves the game master from having to look everything up.

Game Masters likewise should look up rules for expected combat antics ahead of time. If the battle takes place on a rope bridge, look up the rules for pushing people off of ledges, slicing ropes, and falling damage ahead of time. You can’t anticipate everything, but you should know the obvious so you can make rulings quickly.

3. Describe the Current Situation Regularly and Explicitly

Be sure to regularly recap the current situation. Where is everyone in relationship to one another, who is down and out (and who is still alive and kicking), and what is the status of crucial objectives in the battle. Often players have different ideas of what is going on, and summarizing can help make sure everyone is on the same page, and clear up any unspoken misunderstandings.

For players, be sure to read the summary carefully instead of presuming what it says. You don’t want to end up discovering your team mate was still down in the pit with the enemy when you fill it with lava. Feel free to scroll back

4. Describe Your Goals, Not Just Your Actions

Be sure to list why you are taking an action, not just what you are doing. This doesn’t just help your teammates understand you are moving to flank so they can make their sneak attacks, but it also communicates to the storyteller what you are trying to accomplish.

As misunderstandings are more common in online play, having your goals clearly laid out lets the DM pick up on any mistaken understanding and correct it. Most storytellers will let you repost or adjust if you believed the child had fallen into the water and you jumped after them when in fact they were about to fall into the water but hadn’t yet.

5. Keep the Flow Going

Flow of combat is a lot slower online than it is in tabletop — and it’s not that fast in tabletop usually. Try to do what you can to keep the flow going.

If at all possible, try to pretype your post — graphical descriptions of your attack can be written before your turn and posted when you are up. If you need to make last minute adjustments, try to avoid too many elaborate descriptions — people are waiting for your post.

Likewise, ask your questions when it isn’t your turn, or at the end of your post so you have answers when your next turn comes up. Don’t wait until it is your turn to ask if the orc you are fighting is the one with the hostage or not. When the initiative is assigned to you, it is time for actions, not questions.

And on that note: Game Masters, don’t drag the combat out when it is clear the battle has been won. Once it is clear the players have the upper hand and the enemy is beaten, end the initiative. The combat is over.

Do you have any additional tips for online combat, or online roleplay in general? We’d love to hear your suggestions in the community forum. While there, why not check out this weeks small changelog as well!