Tabletop Tales: Dynamic Combat

Despite a few pointed efforts to the contrary, Brithangel Malraeneus survived to fight another day. The human he had cornered fled deeper into the mines, and the party decided to pursue. There they discovered strange machinery left behind by an older civilization. What at first blush appeared to be a frivolous attempt at increasing the rogue’s wealth had proved something else entirely.

Within the center of the mine, Brith and his companions found a large room containing six cylindrical chambers. A human woman was there, as well as a few guards and—naturally—another minotaur. They had prisoners who were bound. When they saw our heroes, the minotaur lifted up one of the prisoners, opened one of the middle chambers, tossed him inside, and slammed the door shut.

We rolled initiative, the party steeled themselves for battle, and on Brith’s turn he… ran right for the nearest chamber! Minotaurs, after all, had proven bad for the health of other party members, and the alchemist wasn’t sitting on a stack of hit points.

It’s important to me to play in games where combat happens in interesting environments. I do enjoy bashing some skulls in as much as the next person, but I’m always happier when there are other things going on. Decisions that need to be made, secondary objectives needing fulfillment, and so on. When I can put my character’s skills to use in a way other than bluffing to feint, tumbling to avoid attacks, and climbing to higher vantage points, I enjoy the game all the more.

Brithangel happens to be an incredibly intelligent alchemist, so his goal was to figure out what exactly the human and her entourage intended to do with these strange devices.

“There was a harmless way to extract a brain, and a way to keep the organic residue alive during its absence. The bare, compact cerebral matter was then immersed in an occasionally replenished fluid within an ether-tight cylinder of metal mined in Yuggoth, certain electrodes reaching through and connecting at will with elaborate instruments capable of duplicating the three vital faculties of sight, hearing, and speech.” —The Whisperer in Darkness, by H.P. Lovecraft

Now, what we had found wasn’t quite a Mi-go brain cylinder, but they were rather sinister. Brith gazed through the crystal matrix of the chamber’s door and saw inflow pipes for… something. Whatever it was, he knew it wasn’t good. That’s precisely when he made a mad dash across the battlefield, past the cleric, past her minotaur guards, to the cylinder holding the prisoner.

Liquid had already flooded into it, and metal claws had grasped the man’s arms and pulled them into a position similar to crucifixion.

“Can I open the chamber?” I asked the GM.

“Roll a Strength check.”

Tumble, tumble, 19! (Brith’s Strength modifier is an unsurprising +0.)

With a mind-grating screech the door slid open, and the ooze inside the device flooded out, soaking the alchemist. The arms retracted and the poor man slumped to the ground. Now that he was free and (as a quick Heal check revealed) alive, Brith turned his attention to the gagged prisoner. The rest of the party harried the cleric and her guards in a toe-to-toe fight.

Eventually we’d win. Brith only fired two shots from his longbow, since previous battles in the day left his supply of bombs depleted.

You can create interesting, engaging encounters where there are options other than merely bashing away until one side lies bloody at the feet of the victors. Naturally it helps when players are engaged. I am the kind of player who generally seeks to subvert combat whenever possible. Being mixed in with those who love bashing some skulls in or putting on big displays of magical might is good, because it provides for dynamic encounters that end up a bit more memorable.

I enjoy writing these. I hope you enjoy reading them. Drop me a note in the comments!