We’re back and we’re resorting to violence again. Combat is a large part of roleplaying games, arguably disproportionately so. Even in Call of Cthulhu, a game where academics, librarians and antiquarians carefully search crumbling ruins and pore over forbidden tomes in search of knowledge that will either save or doom humanity, sooner or later most groups load up on shotguns and dynamite, reciting their favourite lines from eighties action movies and bringing fiery destruction to all they survey.
Unlike our look at the combat mechanics of 7th edition all the way back in episode 23, this is more of a general discussion about the role violence plays in games. Why is combat such a huge part of RPGs, and Call of Cthulhu in particular? Why do many games have devoted combat sections while modelling genres where violence is a rare thing? Why do most characters in RPGs fight to the death as a matter of course when fictional characters or real people rarely do so? Why do fights in games tend to be long, repetitive and mechanical, and how can we avoid this? We dig into these questions, as well as offering ideas for making combat scenes more interesting.
We also take a little time to give our impressions of a short film called Shadow of the Unnamable. Our friend in Germany and terror of six-inch nails everywhere, Frank Delventhal, sent us a copy of the DVD last month, and we finally found time to watch it as a group. It’s an engaging and faithful adaptation of The Unnamable, another of Lovecraft’s frequent warnings about the danger of befriending Randolph Carter. The special effects in the film are a cut above most independent Lovecraftian shorts, and it’s definitely worth investigating if you have a taste for the uncanny.
After our singing extravaganza last episode, you will be relieved to hear that there are no songs this time. In case you’re one of the lucky few not to have encountered them, these songs are our idiosyncratic and discordant way of thanking Patreon backers who have been generous enough to sponsor us at the $5 level. We had been threatening Chris Clew with a song, as he raised his pledge level last month, but we have relented. We spoke to Chris over the weekend, when we all attended the wonderful Continuum convention in Leicester, and his heartfelt thanks at not being warbled at have swayed us. A non-singing thank you to you anyway, Chris!
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Another good session and one close to my heart.
One of the things I’ve realised I can do well as a GM is run a relatively interesting combat mostly due to my habit of describing the combat actions. Well at least I can if I know the combat rules, I’m still working on the Shadowrun rules for example.
That said in a previous Cult episode I had players entering a house and taking out guards. Due to both ganging up and the most dangerous flapper in the universe the guards were very definitely getting the worst of it. When the players breached the last room and dropped one of the two guards badly enough that they had to immediately start medical aid or he would die. This caused the other guard to take one look and actually jump off the balcony in an attempt to get away. He’d just seen someone get punch so hard he went down and smashed his head open on a cabinet, and being both outnumbered and just a normal person the danger of falling one storie was far less than staying in the room!
Luckily my players have this as well. In a game sadly before we started recording, two players got jumped by a cultist with a knife, the first strike was an impale and the character hit went down… the other PC… left them to die in an attempt to survive.
One day I’d like to put a game together where the average morale of a creature or certain type of person (for example Dagon Cultist or Bored Mall Security) is taken into account but its difficult to get right without it involving lots of GM paperwork, plus its difficult to apply to PC’s as well. Maybe one day I’ll write my own game and make an effort!
I have certainly made a previous attempt in one of the LARPS I wrote. I made sure morale for the NPCs was explicitly set up so that fights were not always to the death, and their “morale broken” actions were preset, so for example a norseman might become despondant and be prepared to be captured as a thrall, while a Norman levy would turn and run.
For the PC’s it was a little more difficult, but I tried to solve this by having “terrifying” enemies (say a dragon) stop them from using certain abilities which meant if they were knocked out of the fight by such a creature the consequences were far worse. Which straight up made the PC’s more fragile against these enemies, and did actually have the effect desired, the players were much less likely to fight to the death against a terrifying opponent and much more likely to run away!
Cracking episode, lots to mull over and I’ll have another listen.
I had to rewind at the end of the section (3:10) where you were discussing ‘The Shadow of the Unnameable’ as I could have sworn that Scott said ‘and if you like your Lovecraft in shorts..’ whereas he actually said ‘Lovecraftian shorts’.
Lovecraft had long, shapely legs. I apologise for nothing.