This is something I know +Jonathan Henry and I have talked about at length before. It’s been included in our personal discussions as well as part of Giant Dragons Gamer Chat (if you haven’t checked that out before, be sure you do—a bunch of guys and gals sit around between 6pm and 9pm Wed thru Fri and talk about gaming). There is a certain bit of intensity that you get when you are in a dangerous situation or even when you watch an action sequence in a movie. A good writer can even make that tension palpable in a book. And, let’s face it, combat is an integral part to many a roleplaying game. Even if you play to the intrigue of a setting, there is typically going to be at least one combat in most RPG game sessions. Combat can be a complex process with square or hex grid maps, measurements, a variety of tactical choices, etc. It can also be relatively light and freeform. It seems that this combat is missing the adrenaline influx and blood pumping we get in other fast paced, high tension scenes. There is regular meta gaming going on while we discuss options and have side chatter. In fact, combat is often full of laughs and moments of awe when players make an unbelievable roll or come up with a cool idea. But, where is that ticking clock, stressful feeling we get from combat.
Okay, I know RPGs are supposed to be fun. And, I go so far to say if you’re not having fun, someone is doing something wrong. And, being in a death defying situation in real life isn’t fun. However, we have fun when we see these fights in a movie, read about them in a book. People have fun scaring the hell out of themselves on roller coasters and in haunted houses. People can have fun by raising their blood pressure a little, making game combat a bit more tense. But, how do you do that?
I know +Jerrod Gunning has times where he does a very disruptive and loud countdown—don’t call out your action within that three seconds and lose your turn. Some people hate that, some like it. Others use egg timers, set for a few or thirty seconds. It was even discussed to base a modifier on how long it takes someone to decide what to have their characters do. Others use cards, slapping them down quickly—almost like a game of Speed—to help keep things moving quickly.
Personally, I haven’t found a method that works for me yet. Maybe it’s because most of my games are so laid back. But, I’m interested to hear what thoughts others have and what others have used to keep the action tense, fast, and fun. Do I need to start playing the part of Sam Kinison or Bobcat Goldthwait to get people to sweat a little during combat? And, it’s not just for combat, but trying to make that swing across a bottomless chasm on a vine or being involved in a car chase or anywhere else our where we would be excited and doing things quickly in order to survive.