Friday, October 26, 2012

Cinematic Fights for Any Medium of Play

It can be done!

Let's say Brother Canus is strolling through the forest and encounters a dire wolf (HD 4 + 1).

Fight! But you want this to be choreographed, or you don't have the character sheet, or you're doing this pbp or whatever. Here's something:

In general, a 4e PC can withstand 4 good hits. The first two take him to bloodied, and he's got another before he's out of it. Remember this for later.

Don't roll init. Instead, threaten the PC with something (usually death, defeat, or capture), and set up that threat with increasing brutality, according to how many hits the PC has taken:

0 hits: apply pressure

1 hit: inflict pain

2 hits: draw blood

3 hits: induce misery

4 hits: traumatically injure

5 hits: kill

So, when I'm setting up the dire wolf's threat against Canus, who hasn't taken any hits, I'll only put pressure on him before asking how he responds.

Example: the wolf circles you, padding closer on the snow. Its tongue nearly scrapes the ground. What do you do?

After Canus takes a hit, I can inflict pain before asking what he does:

The wolf pounces past your guard. It hits your shield and rides you over the ice until you crash your head into the trunk of a frozen tree. Its mouth is open, about to snap for your throat. What do you do?

If he takes a hit there, our next setup draws blood:

He latches onto your ankle as you try to run. Blood streams down into the snow. He's not letting go. What do you do?

If he's got three hits, that's when things get really rough:

It's biting into your shoulder over and over again, ripping and tearing. You're covered in red. What do you do?

But how do you determine when the PC gets hit?

When the PC attacks a creature, ask the player exactly how he's attacking and have him make a relevant ability check (no 1/2 level bonuses!) *modified by the difference in HD between them*:

DC 18: it goes off just like the player intended. (A natural 20 always counts as this.)

Would the creature be incapacitated by this? Then it is. Ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, or if you're not sure, the creature takes 2 hits.

Does the creature now have 4+ hits? If so, then the attack went off like the player intended after all. Say what it's like. If it wouldn't kill the creature, ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, say how the creature is bloodied (2 hits) or made miserable (3 hits) by the attack.

DC 10: the creature takes 1 hit.

Does the creature now have 4 hits? If so, then the attack went off like the player intended. Say what it's like. If it wouldn't kill the creature, ask the player how he finishes it off.

If not, say how the creature is pained (1 hit), bloodied (2 hits), or made miserable (3 hits) by the attack.

Miss: inflict 1 hit on the player.

Say how the attack failed and how the monster pains (1 hit), bloodies (2 hits), miseries (3 hits), traumatizes (4 hits), or kills (5 hits) the PC.

With 3 hits or less, the PC suffers no lasting ill effects. The 4th hit means a lasting serious injury with mechanical reinforcement. The fifth hit is death.

Thus, against creatures with HD totals fewer than the PC's level, the PC is likely to hit DC 18 and immediately end the fight. Higher HD monsters present more difficulty.

If the PC does something other than attack that requires a check, on a failure you may treat it as a missed attack, or you may simply set up another threat. This shouldn't go on forever. Eventually, you'll have to hit the guy. The principle: make it feel real.

Example Exchange
DM: The wolf is circling you.
PC: I wait for it to lunge and stab it through the throat with my spear.

PC checks Strength (+4) minus 3 since the HD 4 + 1 dire wolf is 3 HD higher than the level 1 PC. So effectively a +1 check. He gets a 6 (5 + 1). That's a miss; so the DM brings the pain:

DM (marking 1 hit on the PC): the wolf's too quick. He plows into you, and you both go tumbling into the steps of the ziggurat. What do you do?


For a fight where one side outnumbers the other, you can just threaten with multiple creatures at once and apply the damage as it seems appropriate, or you can use my easy mass combat rules.

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