Author Topic: DM/GM 101: Realistic Combat for the Ages  (Read 915 times)


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Offline Lord Palatine

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DM/GM 101: Realistic Combat for the Ages
« on: May 16, 2013, 07:56:07 PM »
First of all, I'm scandalously long between articles in this series, but there's been quite a bit keeping me busy, but enough of that, lets get on to the subject at hand.

If you believe Hollywood, ten guys will surround your character and fight that character one at a time.  Yeah... I can see that happening.  Well, maybe in a world run by screenwriters and with stuntmen (who could stomp a mudhole in the ass of the actor simulating their asswhoopin' without breaking a sweat) being paid to make said actor look like a badass.  Here's what happens when ten people surround anyone: the lone person hopes to get in a few lucky shots before they are on the ground being stomped like a colony of bugs.

Two-on-one the character can try and maneuver to reduce the number of back attacks and they stand a good chance if they are a superior fighter against two lesser ones.  Anything beyond two-to-one odds then its time to investigate the top speed and endurance of the character.  Hopefully the character looks cool running, but better to be uncool and running than the coolest bloody corpse in town.  When the numbers are against you they will do everything they can to methodically hack, punch, shoot or cut their opponent into small bite-sized pieces.  The character's duty is to survive and to do this they should avoid being outnumbered in the first place; yes, I know you won't always have this choice, but when possible avoid it.

A tactic that will help if a character is swarmed is a doorway or natural choke point, it can work in fights against the odds regardless of the size of the forces involved, if you can limit the numbers that can engage the characters at once.  Then again, sometimes there's the humble corner, fighting like a cornered beast is a two part metaphor, first of all they get mean because they've lost the flight option, secondly because it limits how many can come at them.

Movies are full of great examples of people that know nothing about combat writing and producing brawls that have nothing to do with reality.  In sword fights, for example, the combatants land more blows without the sword than with it.  Knee's, elbows, headbutts, and everything else you can think of.  The sight of a medieval knight gripping a sword one-handed and clanging away with their opponent are a fallacy.  A medieval sword is a two-handed weapon, usually one on the grip and one on the blade, but sometimes both on the grip swinging it like and axe of hammer because those quillions can ruin somebody's day with the rest of the weight of the pommel and grip behind it.  If you ever saw a medieval knight "sharpening" a sword if was polishing out nicks that could catch of hang on something, the blade was smooth and straight but it would be a long time before anyone made swords that needed a sharp edge.

Bows are something that Hollywood and game companies consistently get wrong.  If you see somebody standing there wearing street clothes and an inch or two of arrow buried "deep" within them, they did it wrong.  A medieval war bow could put an arrow completely through an unarmored person, and depending on range and the kind of arrow they could do a fairly good job on an armored person too.  One arrow from a wooden bow can bring down a bear, seen it done.  So, how much tougher than a bear is a human?

Of course you need heroes in gaming, but lets not go Matrix over it.  Hint, there was nothing I saw in Matrix that a person could do, therefore you won't see any of that silliness in my games.  There are things that people don't realize are possible in real life that might surprise the hell out of players though.  For example:

Most "bullet proof" vests won't stop knives.  There is more advanced body armor that might, but not in every case.  Knives cut, the energy of bullets can be spread and dissipated.  Another interesting fact, if you are wearing body armor that stops a bullet you're still pretty likely to be laying on your back feeling like you got kicked by a mule and waiting for the bruises to appear.  There are a lot of different types of body armor, even today, and what you see isn't always what you get.  Something can look the same and be very different.
But, as with medieval weapons there are lots of close fighting techniques, they can involve knives, handguns, clubs and you name it, all thrown against each other.  But, in many cases you won't see characters engages in very much hand fighting if the are carrying a loaded handgun.  And its drawn and aimed.  There are many cases where a person with a drawn knife at 20-25 feet engaged and killed an opponent with a holstered firearm.
There is a big difference between being a badass, and doing silly crap in movies that require special effects, flying wire rigs and stuntmen and multiple takes.  Showing Seeley Booth on Bones take one to the jaw and barely move before tossing out two good jabs and a straight shot that cracks and laying the guy out at his feet.  Or, for that matter it didn't take much at all to make someone like John Wayne look like a badass.  He said his bit, and then a fist the size of a ham punctuated the sentence.  No wires or CGI required.
Everybody finds themselves in over their head at one point or another, or it just wouldn't be worth roleplaying combat.  Who would be satisfied with a fight they couldn't loose?  Indiana Jones may have drawn and shot the massive individual swinging the big scimitar, but did he really look like he thought he'd accomplished anything.  On the other hand, you can get cocky and get yourself in over your head. Muhammad Ali may have been the greatest, but he really shouldn't have jumped into the ring with Gorilla Monsoon.
Save the showy and flashy stuff for an occasional treat, don't make it regular table fare.  Do you think that a pro wrestler is going to dust off aerial acrobatic moves if he's getting mugged?  If given the chance to fight at all I see some pretty routine moves aimed at ending the fight in a big hurry, or some really bad juju if the timing is off for a second.  Showboating belongs in scripts, not in fights.


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