Making combat more "cinematic"


Advice


There's a lot I like about PF, but there's one thing that I have found can be lacking (or at least seems to be). That is, the more cinematic element of combat.
There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of mechanics to support doing wild stunts, and the affects of more specific injuries, and to encourage combat to be something more, I guess, descriptive. My players like getting descriptive with their fights, and the mechanics don't really stop them from handling combat that way, but I know some of them would really appreciate good mechanics that support doing more crazy hairbrained sorts of stunts in combat, or targeting monsters in particular ways.

Now, I know there's an optional rule for targeting specific parts of monsters, but I'm a little wary of introducing it, without hearing about how it has handled for anyone else. So anyone try that? Did it make things more interesting? Was it beneficial to your game overall, or did it really screw up combat?

Are there any other rules that could make combat more cinematic/descriptive/generally interesting that I should look into?


Kobold Quarterly had an article in it's third issue titled "Up the Action! Cinematic Combat" by Benjamin Hayward.

It had some feats and ideas on how to get away from just hacking and slashing mechanics.


Called shot rules from Ultimate Combat are a little wonky IMO. Not so much because they're over powered, if anything, some of them are under powered from a 'logical' stand point, but because of the kind of damage you have to do in order to get a single Debilitating Blow. That is, they basically follow the Massive Damage rules for it.

Half of a creatures hit points, minimum 50 damage. The effects are awesomely bad ass and definitely cinematic. It's just that if you're using Massive Damage rules, which I always do, they kind of interfere with one another.

That said, if you want to make it really cinematic, but in a totally gritty way, do what I did. Keep the requirement of doing half of a creature's hit points, but take out the minimum damage. This makes sense in that as the PCs are going up in level, doing called shots gets harder because creatures get so darn tough. It also promotes the cinematic aspect of as the creature gets more damaged, it's visibly getting more and more injured. While the pcs and creatures are low level, they're weak and vulnerable.

Of course, I run my as 'whats good for the goose is good for the gander' on the GM side, so certain creatures start doing called shots on them too. The folk I've used this with actually found they loved it, but YMMV.

Beyond that, set up some environmental things your PCs can use to make games more cinematic. Fighting on cliffs or rooftops? Position the NPCs/Mobs around the edge for the PCs to shove off. Fighting in a castle of dungeon with chandeliers? Let the PCs hack the rope to drop the chandelier on some mobs placed under it. Stuff like that really add some cinematic to the game, and makes it more than a 'I hit him' 'mob hits you', blah de blah.

Encourage your players to find certain things that would be cinematic as hell. Feats like Clustered Shots, the Deathless Tree, and the Dimensional Tree work wonders. The archer fires off a bunch of arrows in rapid succession, grouping them all in the dragon's chest; The fighter's surrounded by mobs and getting the mother lovin' kicked out of him, but he just keeps on goin'; (Using my Gunslinger/Horizon Walker for an example), the gunslinger whips out his Dragon Pistol, and teleports around the battle field, blasting creatures away with a hand cannon.

Things like that are certainly cinematic, especially if your players are big into the role play aspect of combat. Try and encourage them to banter in game in a manner similar to Legloas and Gimli, or any other number of characters I could name. Maybe be a lenient a bit and don't enforce too much of a speaking limit as the character's free action (certainly don't limit it to 6 words like a previous GM I've met). Probably one or two quick scentences, since you can actually say a lot in 6 seconds, even while active and fighting. Fiction characters definitely can, so why can't the PCs? They're trained fighters, who's to say they can't hold a conversation while stabbing an Orc in the eye and blocking a hammer from his buddy with a shield?

Hope these suggestions help ya buddy. Lemme know how it turns out, yeah?


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This may be just my opinion, but if you need mechanics to make combat cinematic then you're doing it wrong. It's like saying you can't tell if a movie is any good because there are no rules that define what makes a movie good. Total reliance on rules for everything is a bad thing.


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Farastu wrote:
Are there any other rules that could make combat more cinematic/descriptive/generally interesting that I should look into?

Best thing I've found is to make things up on the go. When a player wants to do something cool you work with them and reward them for it. Probably not the most helpful or direct thing to say, but its worth mentioning. I've played with plenty of GMs who are totally by the books or even punish you for trying to do something that doesn't have an attached mechanic. I've been told stealing stunt mechanics from other games works too, though that's hit or miss and has been from biased sources. A lot of what I've seen involves investment, and to be honest when someone wants to do something like flip a table they don't want to have to take a feat to do it.


Oh I definitely want it to have a gritty feel. I've actually not made use of the massive damage rule, and have in fact never ever been in a game that used it. But... the idea of using it for called shots specifically, and doing away with the minimum requirement of 50 points of damage is tempting me now (I hadn't even thought of doing that).

I do think I'll need to make much more use of environment too, more so than I have in the past. I do really like the idea of PCs (and NPCs) being able to use the environment a lot, especially if I do end up with combat being much more potentially lethal as a result of some of the other rules I use that could be of big help while making things more interesting (ie, provide more opportunities to use cover, use objects that are around them, etc...)

There will likely be a lot of urban combat, so fighting on rooftops could be a great idea.

I'll have to checkout that Kobold Quarterly 3 article as well.


Don't let rules get in the way of pace and the action. Let the players contribute their ideas and only rear them in if they go too far in what crunch they add


Simon Legrande wrote:
This may be just my opinion, but if you need mechanics to make combat cinematic then you're doing it wrong. It's like saying you can't tell if a movie is any good because there are no rules that define what makes a movie good. Total reliance on rules for everything is a bad thing.

You are correct, and players will get descriptive anyways (they do), but I've found that when the mechanics support what they are describing themselves doing, they really appreciate it, and it helps to encourage it even more... kinda like giving them a delicious cookie I guess.

Technically, you don't really need any rules for an RPG (or, as most people need at least a basic conflict resolution rule of some sort, it really can come down to just two people roll dice, whomever rolls better wins), but they are around and support certain things for reasons.


PF really doesn't fit with its 5ft steps, loads bonuses, to a fast paced game

Get rid of the battlemat, and anything that needs it, and you should fly


MrSin wrote:
Farastu wrote:
Are there any other rules that could make combat more cinematic/descriptive/generally interesting that I should look into?
Best thing I've found is to make things up on the go. When a player wants to do something cool you work with them and reward them for it. Probably not the most helpful or direct thing to say, but its worth mentioning. I've played with plenty of GMs who are totally by the books or even punish you for trying to do something that doesn't have an attached mechanic. I've been told stealing stunt mechanics from other games works too, though that's hit or miss and has been from biased sources. A lot of what I've seen involves investment, and to be honest when someone wants to do something like flip a table they don't want to have to take a feat to do it.

Also, this too. So very much this. Try and get your players to do things outside the box, and adjudicate rules on the fly (like we did in the old days). Eventually your players will get a lot more comfortable with it, and start doing things like running on the wall, leaping off, and spearing the Ogre in the face. What's that take? An acrobatics check, probably DC 20 or so, and an attack roll with a +2 for what is effectively a charge. Might even get another +2 for higher ground.

Remember. The DM can always change stuff or rule things on the fly. There doesn't have to be a mechanic for every little thing in the game. Just throw out whatever DC number you feel appropriate for appropriate shenanigans, and since the game's meant to be fun, if it's something the player seems excited about and won't one-shot the entire encounter, make it something they can pass easily enough.


thenovalord, you bring up a good point. It can be really hard to get players away from relying on the visual of the battlemat, but there's something about it that does bog things down, and sort of distance players somewhat more from their own characters (I've found this to be the case both when I am a player and a GM).

Yet, I'm torn on it the battlemat thing. Battlemats do help with keeping everyone on the same page as far as where they are in relationship to other things in the environment, and some people need a visual aid for this much more than others, and some times there is the issue of two people imagining different enough things from the same description that it can matter.

Maybe I'll have to just play test some of these different options out when I have the chance... every once in a while I have had the group just break into random combat scenarios that don't impact the main campaign to try things out.

That said, the rules on the fly thing for a lot of these, does sound like it would be the easiest approach.


Could steal stuff like "Stunt Dice" from Exalted, and have them mate with Hero points and stuff. Player describes a really cool action? Give 'em a +1d8 to the d20 rolls involved. It encourages them to try stuff that might be a bit harder.

Kind of an enticing idea.


I think the biggest problem is disassociated mechanics.

An attack is not a single attack because the timing doesn't work out, but high level characters get multiple attacks.

If an attack is an attack sequence it must include feints, but feints are a special mechanic that consumes an entire attack sequence.

But archery attacks are single attacks because they use single arrows.

And HP are what? They can't possibly be wounds because there are too many of them, but sometimes they act like they are wounds.

When you full attack what is actually happening? Are you just whiffing but dealing metaphorical damage anyways unless your weapon is poisoned?

The key to making combat cinematic is to resolve all of this somehow. Go to a wounds vigor system, shorten the combat round so that an attack can be an attack, and probably go to an action point initiative system of some sort.

There's a problem when it's easier to imagine what's going on when someone casts a spell than when someone uses the feint combat option.


Atarlost wrote:
The key to making combat cinematic is to resolve all of this somehow. Go to a wounds vigor system, shorten the combat round so that an attack can be an attack, and probably go to an action point initiative system of some sort.

At that point you might as well be playing another game though, maybe one that's actually built to be more cinematic. Outside of actual mechanics, about as much as I usually see is the occasionally narrative describing of an attack or killing blow, but... the how much people around you enjoy it may vary pretty greatly.

Sovereign Court

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MrSin wrote:
Farastu wrote:
Are there any other rules that could make combat more cinematic/descriptive/generally interesting that I should look into?
Best thing I've found is to make things up on the go. When a player wants to do something cool you work with them and reward them for it. Probably not the most helpful or direct thing to say, but its worth mentioning. I've played with plenty of GMs who are totally by the books or even punish you for trying to do something that doesn't have an attached mechanic. I've been told stealing stunt mechanics from other games works too, though that's hit or miss and has been from biased sources. A lot of what I've seen involves investment, and to be honest when someone wants to do something like flip a table they don't want to have to take a feat to do it.

In the 3.5e core books there was an example of a player wanting to jump up to grab a chandelier and swing over to double-kick an opponent in the face. That's pretty cinematic and can be done with just a little on-the-fly GMing - Acrobatics to reach the chandelier, modified grapple to grab it, and "two-handed" unarmed attack with a charge for the swinging kick. That's what's so great about tabletop games over computer RPGs. Not everything has to be spelled out in the rules, and there's tons of room for improvisation.


Introduce a quality Parry Mechanic. Paizo published some pretty good ones in Dragon Magazine 301, pages 33, 36, 37 and 38 (in the brown sections at the bottom of each referenced page)

aaand then they went and screwed over the Pathfinder Duelist PRC with its s+$+ty parry mechanic.

NOTE: this issue was printed for 3.0 and requires a little adaptation due to differences in what Weapon Sizes means.

Sovereign Court

Atarlost wrote:
Lotsa stuff

The problem is that we're using abstractions which always require interpretation and muddy up what would be going on "realistically". Abstraction and realism are a spectrum and the trouble is that you want a system that falls further on the realism side of things like GURPS (more or less). The trouble with more detailed and "realistic" combat systems is that A) they almost invariably require more number crunching, and B) they can slow things down even more since less can be done in a turn and you then have to go through more turns.

Personally, I find a slightly more abstracted system to be the more cinematic one since it keeps things flowing. "I charge and attack." as opposed to "I charge." *next turn* "I attack."

As for all your other nitpicks, they can be explained:
HP: Represents both the character's physical health as well as their psychological resiliency, morale, and stamina. Even if you block a blow, that block absorbs and requires some energy that will eventually exhaust you more than if that blow had missed entirely.
Now, given that fatigue, exhaustion, and non-lethal damage are all separate things in addition to hit points, this isn't a perfect, ends-all-questions explanation, but there's where I will point you back to "it's all an abstraction".

Attacks: As any kid who has taken karate or play-fought with sticks can tell you, swinging wildly will result in few hits and even fewer that actually mean something. As such, at lower levels (and so having less skill and experience), a fighter can only make a single strike that has a decent chance of actually hitting and doing anything. As they become more skilled, they can basically learn to chain together attacks to get in an extra well-aimed strike or two. For an inexperienced fighter, one good strike every six seconds is a respectable rate of attack, so there's really no problem there. Sure you could swing your sword back and forth a couple more times in the same time frame, but like a fresh boxer trying to throw a dozen jabs in three seconds, those extra strikes won't really do anything. But then you look at a more experienced boxer whose jabs actually do break bone. For a particularly stark contrast between experience level and attack frequency, look at Japanese kenjutsu/kendo. As a beginner, you do one strike. One strike. One strike. With more experience, it becomes one strike, and backstroke. Thrust, up-stroke. A little later, strike, backstroke, thrust. Thrust, up-stroke, down-stroke, thrust. And so on. But you don't start out as a beginner learning those multi-strike moves.

And then remember that technically, everyone's turns are happening simultaneously in a round. It's just that it isn't feasible to manage everyone making their moves simultaneously, and so things are abstracted to provide for a more manageable system. Short, bite-sized chunks of time, just long enough to do something meaningful, taken one at a time to help prevent conflicting actions and minimize the headache of parsing through exactly who does what when.

Of course, ultimately, it all comes down to taste. Whether you prefer a more finer grit to make sure you know exactly what is happening at every moment, or if you prefer something a little coarser that makes things easier to deal with and arbitrate at the expense of some detail.


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Three things:

1. I'm in agreement w/a lot of folks - make it up. Encourage your players to try weird stuff and when they do just wing it. Leaping charge; sure it's not RAW but it would look really cool!

2. Use some 3d terrain. I know its a pain in the rear to set up but imagine how much more into it your players and you will be when you can actually play in 3 dimensions with ledges, rocks, and carts for your guys to jump up on and off of.

3. Act it out. Combine 1 and 2. No, I'm not suggesting LARPing or pro wrestling. I'm saying grab your minis like you used to grab your GI Joes as a kid and mash it against your opponent and scream "I go like THIS!" If you can visually approximate a high-kick to the face without injuring yourself and others... do THAT too!

My players have accused me of being too wordy in exposition. However they've really gotten engaged in combat because, even when we play in a public space so long as I'm not overly disruptive I do this stuff. I jump in the air; pretend to swing axes while providing sound effects; cry out epithets in screechy goblin voices as one of their minis comes flying across the table. If you want theatrics, provide them.


Mark Hoover wrote:

Three things:

1. I'm in agreement w/a lot of folks - make it up. Encourage your players to try weird stuff and when they do just wing it. Leaping charge; sure it's not RAW but it would look really cool!

2. Use some 3d terrain. I know its a pain in the rear to set up but imagine how much more into it your players and you will be when you can actually play in 3 dimensions with ledges, rocks, and carts for your guys to jump up on and off of.

3. Act it out. Combine 1 and 2. No, I'm not suggesting LARPing or pro wrestling. I'm saying grab your minis like you used to grab your GI Joes as a kid and mash it against your opponent and scream "I go like THIS!" If you can visually approximate a high-kick to the face without injuring yourself and others... do THAT too!

My players have accused me of being too wordy in exposition. However they've really gotten engaged in combat because, even when we play in a public space so long as I'm not overly disruptive I do this stuff. I jump in the air; pretend to swing axes while providing sound effects; cry out epithets in screechy goblin voices as one of their minis comes flying across the table. If you want theatrics, provide them.

Dude, you sound like you'd be fun to game with. +1 to all that, and you get a cookie.


Lawrence DuBois wrote:
Atarlost wrote:
Lotsa stuff
The problem is that we're using abstractions which always require interpretation and muddy up what would be going on "realistically". Abstraction and realism are a spectrum and the trouble is that you want a system that falls further on the realism side of things like GURPS (more or less). The trouble with more detailed and "realistic" combat systems is that A) they almost invariably require more number crunching, and B) they can slow things down even more since less can be done in a turn and you then have to go through more turns.

Realism and associated mechanics are not the same thing, nor are abstraction and disassociated mechanics. An actual abstract mechanic continues to describe actual events.

You can abstract combat down all the way to a single opposed skill check per battle and it can be an associated mechanic. It represents actual fighting happening. You can describe what's going on associated with the check. It might be a five hour battle, but the roll tells you the outcome and the context tells you who's fighting and where. You are free to make up everything else and not be wrong.

Pathfinder combat is not like that. The worst culprit are the long, non-simultaneous rounds and the hitpoint system. Hitpoints do not describe anything sensible. The mechanic does not reflect how actual or fictional people behave, instead you have to alter the laws of biology to fit the action to it. This seriously interferes with verisimilitude and the players' ability to grasp what is supposed to be happening. All of their intuition is based on real biology and physics where wading through magma is lethal before you even touch the stuff.

Yes, you probably need a different game system, but it doesn't need to be bogged down with math. The important thing is not how much math is required to model a sword stroke, but that a sword stroke is a sword stroke, not some ambiguous thing that may be one or more attacks, and that if it hits it hurts rather than a hit not representing a hit because the hitpoints it removes are not an abstraction of just health.


Of course many people (myself included) use hitpoints as a simple abstraction of health.

Sovereign Court

Except that I just spent half my post describing how they are associated. If you still don't see it, I can't help you.
It's like you're looking at a cubist painting and saying it's not abstract because abstract would be impressionism. There's more than one way to abstract something, and varying degrees by which to abstract it.


Cinematic combat comes from the participation of all players at the table, which includes the game master and everyone with a character sheet. In this way, cinematic combat is no different from immersive role-play. I consider it the duty of game masters to lead the way in both of these realms, so I respect that you are looking to step it up. However, I can attest from personal experience that if no one else at the table chooses to step into their character's shoes, then you will be fighting a losing battle. Have a discussion with the people at your table about what you would like to encourage in your game.


Ciaran Barnes wrote:
Cinematic combat comes from the participation of all players at the table, which includes the game master and everyone with a character sheet. In this way, cinematic combat is no different from immersive role-play. I consider it the duty of game masters to lead the way in both of these realms, so I respect that you are looking to step it up. However, I can attest from personal experience that if no one else at the table chooses to step into their character's shoes, then you will be fighting a losing battle. Have a discussion with the people at your table about what you would like to encourage in your game.

Some games support cinematic combat better than others though, hence the chat upthread. Sometimes a game can even work against narrative.


I suppose my point was that mechanics alone won't do the trick. A table full of people describing actions even part of the time, instead of just rolling, will be more enjoyable.


Farastu wrote:
Are there any other rules that could make combat more cinematic/descriptive/generally interesting that I should look into?

My house rules

The Exchange

Spitballing here, but you could allow the Dirty Trick combat maneuver from the APG to be an exception to the 'draws an attack of opportunity' rule of other CMBs (in essence granting half the benefits of Improved Dirty Trick to everybody.) It's a very open-to-interpretation combat maneuver with a lot of potential effects. If you find that players are still not willing to give up their ability to inflict damage just to impose a condition, you could then 'improve' Improved Dirty Trick itself by allowing a Dirty Trick attempt on any confirmed critical - though this may step on the toes of certain fighter feats.

The other thing, of course, is to deliberately choose battlefields in which "cinematic things" can have bigger payoffs than regular attacks. Dye vats, large laundry tubs, wine vats or floodgates might have levers that can release a flood. Rooms full of hanging chains might grant benefits to anybody who wants to use Acrobatics or Climb, or entangle enemies, or swing themselves or some heavy object at the foe. A round room dotted with pressure plates might fire poison darts at characters on either side as they fight (encouraging the use of Drag/Bull Rush/Reposition). Watch a couple action movies and pay attention to any fight where the location becomes useful to the hero or villain. For instance, in their first get-together, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker happened to have a carbonite freezing pit, steam conduits (for some reason), a bunch of loose machinery, and a bottomless pit handy, and they really dressed up what would have been a very depressing Beat The Hero To A Pulp scene if it had taken place in an empty 30x30' room.

Sovereign Court

I apologize if this is straying from the topic, but as a GM I tend to rise to my player's level of description. If the players are rather bland on their actions and say things like, "I charge and swing" or "I rapid shot" I will tally up the bad guy's hit points and run things quickly. Conversely, if the players are saying things like, "Mintarn lets loose a bellowing scream and smashes his axe down on top of the evil cleric" I will respond in kind with, "The cleric attempts to raise his shield in response, but your blow is too powerful, your axe blade manages to put a large gash in his armor and you think you see a red stain underneath"


When running a fight also remember that the environment is destructible as the players, so missed slashes and arrows don't just disappear. This is really important when running Huge and larger creatures. A fight against an Ancient Red Dragon becomes that much more memorable when the dragon's tail misses and causes the adjacent siege tower to crack in half, or the Flesh Golem chasing the party lands on the rickety Bridge the party is crossing, only to snap the ropes. These types of things can and probably should cause a few problems for the players, but not enough to make the encounter impossible. i.e. I ran an encounter with a gargantuan demon called and Ulkreth fighting a pair of Colossal Fiendish Centipedes. The Players were only 6th lvl, but were not the target of either monster. Instead they needed to make saves vs falling rocks from the massive boulders the Ulkreth sent flying, dodge trample attacks by the centipedes, and even plummet in a crevice created when the Centipede dug too close to the surface. They took marginal damage, fled an encounter, but had a blast scampering about like ants at the feet of dueling titans!


I think there are generally three ways you can add "cinema" to your combats.

Cinematic Background: "You are fighting a pit fiend while on a magic carpet tearing out of the streets of Absalom."

Cinematic Descriptions: Describe what you just did flavor-wise after the result. "My critical hit shears off both of the ettins' heads in a single swipe."

Cinematic Actions: "I slide on the ground towards the wizard, going under the legs of the hill giant, and as I come close I try to smash the wizard's ring."

Cinematic backgrounds work in pathfinder, and any game really. You just make the situation interesting and go with it. Battling on a melting glacier or sinking ship is cool, and you don't even need to add any combat modifiers if you don't want to.

Cinematic descriptions are likewise possible by anyone. When I GM pathfinder this is as simple as asking "describe what you just did". From there our monk can describe how he finished the ogre with an uppercut or our barbarian can describe how he ripped out the lizardman's throat with his teeth. You can even allow for inconsequential game impacts. For example, that the killing blow on the boss monster knocks him through a stone wall or that he gets lits on fire by a nearby torch.

Cinematic actions aren't gonna happen in Pathfinder if you play by the book. If people are playing optimally, they will almost never do anything exciting or original in a pure combat situation. The opportunity cost of a missed full round attack/haste is too high, the benefit of trying something clever too low. You will need to do significant house ruling to make it worthwhile, and even then people will only do it if they are willing to sacrifice effectiveness for cinema (which is hard to do when most combats end in 1-2 rounds- your cinematic move might be your only action). You will need house rules to make it worthwhile.

The easiest house rule is to simply let the player describe what they want to do, consider how likely it is to succeed and what the impact is, and ask for a d20 roll.

"I want to hit the wizard in the junk with this potato to make him drop his staff."

"Roll a d20. If it is a 16 or higher I'll give it to you and he drops his staff."

"*Roll* Nuts! No pun intended. I only got a 15."

"The wizard grimaces in pain as your potato connects, and he looks like he is about to collapse. Thankfully the staff he has securely in hand steadies him and he doesn't fall."

Other than that, you are looking at house rules to overhaul the game. Rocket tag is not conducive to cinematic combat.

The Exchange

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Should've thrown an apple. To quote Bertram Wooster:

"A potato, being so nobbly in shape, can be accurately thrown only by a master hand."


I think the main thing here is that your descriptions as a GM provide the cinema. In my game, I supply the color for the attacks, except if the players want to do it themselves. I'm pretty fortunate that I have a published author amongst my group, and he provides his own color, which has started to rub off on others. For those that don't want to provide their own color, I fill in the flavor. ie "Telerynn spins in his dance like fashion, scimitar flashing as he dives in at the goblin. The goblin attempts, in vain, to dodge out of the way as the scimitar opens a gash along its shoulder and chest. The reeling goblin doesn't see Telerynn's follow up slap, and you hear a distinct sizzling as his acid touch spell seals the goblin's fate with the smell of searing flesh." Would have been used to describe our Dervish Magus' attack with both a scimitar and acid touch attacks.

The point being that the "cinema" doesn't come from the mechanics of the game, it comes from the imagination of both the GM and the PCs.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Farastu wrote:

thenovalord, you bring up a good point. It can be really hard to get players away from relying on the visual of the battlemat, but there's something about it that does bog things down, and sort of distance players somewhat more from their own characters (I've found this to be the case both when I am a player and a GM).

Yet, I'm torn on it the battlemat thing. Battlemats do help with keeping everyone on the same page as far as where they are in relationship to other things in the environment, and some people need a visual aid for this much more than others, and some times there is the issue of two people imagining different enough things from the same description that it can matter.

Maybe I'll have to just play test some of these different options out when I have the chance... every once in a while I have had the group just break into random combat scenarios that don't impact the main campaign to try things out.

That said, the rules on the fly thing for a lot of these, does sound like it would be the easiest approach.

Well, I've done the reverse for a few sessions. And it has upped the cinematic nature of the game. Instead of using a battlemat, I used 3d terrain from my wargaming collection (wyrd miniatures makes sets of assemblable prepainted terrain that has subtle 1inch squares on it). By bringing the terrain up off the battlematt I found it actually added to the cinematic nature of the game because both players and gms were using it. The key here is mobile enemies and party. The enemies were attacking from balconies and ledges, the monk was jumping across rooftops, and the full plate fighter, well he faceplanted off the side of a ledge (quite funny actually) when he tried to jump down.

In another scene, when a literal hoard of kobolds was charging the party, we ran to a nearby stone staircase to a bridge, that we used to hold off the hoard (with the fighter and ranger at the stairs and the alchemist and sorceror attacking from up top). The enemies swarmed the stair and tried climbing the walls, as the party desperately tried to hold off the horde. Again, chances are if we hadnt been using the 3d terrain A the stairs wouldnt have been there in the first place, they actually were not where the party was when they first saw the enemies, and B even if they were, if they were just a 2d image it might not have occured to the party to use them.

By making the terrain more visible and tangible, it added significantly to the cinematic feel because both players and gms interacted with it more. I find that when I have little table models, or bookshelves that we see a lot more instances of players knocking things over for cover, or jumping on top or under things. It just helps people come up with interesting ideas to have more tangible things in play. Its sort of the complete opposite of the no map/theater of the mind thing, and it does require additional prep work to set up these 3d maps (both assembling the pieces and putting them onto a board as a battlemat), but I like it quite a bit.

Also if you are looking for more severe conditions/results you might want to use the critical hit and critical fumble decks. They can provide some rather cinematic moments. They favor monsters over pcs (because monsters are meant to die most of the times, but negative effects for pcs linger) but if you are ok with a more gritty feel i'd go with those for some more cinematic moments in your combats.


One of the problems with describing actions as a player is that it's hard to do so unless you know the results, which usually isn't until after the GM responds, which tends to put all the weight onto the GM's shoulders.


Lawrence DuBois wrote:

Except that I just spent half my post describing how they are associated. If you still don't see it, I can't help you.

It's like you're looking at a cubist painting and saying it's not abstract because abstract would be impressionism. There's more than one way to abstract something, and varying degrees by which to abstract it.

You merely prove you do not understand the concept.

An abstraction that creates game elements that do not correspond to the fantastical reality it is meant to model is exactly what a disassociated mechanic is.

Game rounds allow a character with slightly better initiative to charge 60' before one with the same move speed but slightly lower initiative can move 5'. The kludges used to mitigate the issue create greater issues, such as the reach gish builds being able to abuse them to fight and cast at the same time. 6 seconds is simply too large a quantum for a game where space is quantized at 5'. Real time is not quantized. Imaginary time is not quantized. Game time quantization is a disassociated mechanic. It is frequently impossible to rationalize game events into cinematic description because of this disassociation.

HP abstract together too dissimilar things and are frequently treated as concrete damage rather than abstract by among other things injury poisons, healing, and bleed effects. It is, again, impossible to rationalize game events do descriptive prose because of this disassociation.

An attack as a sequence of attacks works in a vacuum, but the iterative attack action economy paradox comes from this and there are at least two cases where two completely distinct mechanics purport to be abstractions of the same thing: feint and parry. It also clashes with the attack of opportunity mechanic which can allow a low skilled but dextrous opponent to make a many as 6 attacks a round, but that is already a disassociated mechanic caused by the mismatch between distance and time quantization.


On the battlemat question, perhaps middleground would be best. Set up the minis, but don't use a mat. That way you can have the freedom of description and ease-of-use of a gridless combat, but still easily visualize the scene and use spells/effects, handwaving who is affected as needed.

Using 3D terrain is a huge bonus :)


Honestly? In my experience one of the best things you can do to facilitate that is to get the players into describing their actions, or describe them yourself if they don't. "Your first roll hits, the second doesn't" Isn't as interesting as "You swing your sword low and draw it across his thigh, but as you move to strike high he drops to aknee, ducking under it before striking back aaaand..... *roll roll* drives his shortsword along your waist as he climbs back into a balanced stance"

Another thing? Pick up the crit and fumble decks from paizo. Personally, I ignore any damage modifications according to the cards, but the secondary effects stick, for the enemies and for the players. It adds sometimes very fun detail to combat, and how often does a combat finish without somebody, enemy or ally, getting a crit OR a fumble?

I also generally rule that if you do more than half the enemy's health in a single hit (minimum of 20) you are treated as having struck a debilitating blow as per the called shot rules, and I have the player roll for what area is struck, have the enemy roll a saving throw vs a DC of the original attack roll that hit them, and have the effect go into place.

The last piece of advice is that if your players come to you with a character idea in mind and it stretches the imagination a bit but isn't too bad? Make it work. I have a player in my game currently who is a throwing weapon specialist. How did I make it work? A mid level feat that basically says "Your throwing weapons are treated as having the returning property and return to you quick enough that you can make a full attack". This means he can invest in 1 weapon, just like the archer. An archer would do more damage than him, easily, but he is close enough and it's not broken, and he has fun. Another player is using a tower shield, he wants to bash with a tower shield, I told him it was fine if he got weapon focus (tower shield). He ended up picking up Equipment Trick, which I rule as generally allowing you to do silly things with your chosen item as opposed to requiring a specific feat chain for each set trick. He used his tower shield to slide across a grease spell and do a charge attack despite difficult terrain at a penalty to hit last session. It plays a little fast and loose with the rules, but my players aren't overpowered, they are appropriately challenged, the only difference is that I let them play things that appeal to them, as opposed to saying "Oooh, would love to let you play an alchemist with a spiked tower shield, but the rules aren't so fond of that. So...no." or "Ooooh, would love to let you take dervish dance and apply it to a weapon that isn't a scimitar, but the pathfinder doesn't like the idea of you effectively dex fighting with anything but a scimitar..."

In 5 years, when b&~#%$~#ting with your friends and remembering your "one time in a dungeon stories" are you going to remember the time when the tower shield alchemist used it as a snowboard to charge>crit the enemy wizard over a grease spell, or the time when the alchemist with the heavy shield (becuase the rules weren't a fan of tower shield usage) throw a few bombs at the wizard across the difficult terrain like he always does, but it was really a pretty solidly balanced encounter.

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