Thursday, August 01, 2013

Narrating Combat in Five by Five

The Five by Five core rules, define the combat sequence as: 1) Players Roll to Interrupt,  2) Players take Interrupt Actions, 3) The GM takes Action for NPC characters, 4) The Players take Action for their characters, 5) Repeat as needed.

I wanted to take a moment to look at step 5. The exact wording is: "(5) If there are still combatants that wish to fight, return to segment 1." While that gets us where we need to go as a final step. I realize as I play Five by Five and move from "Player Actions," to "Rolling to Interrupt" that step 5 is severely lacking.

Step 5 should read more like this:

(5) GM narrates and either concludes (if combat is ending) or escalates the action. If the GM escalates the action he will call on the players to "Roll to Interrupt." ... return to segment 1.

Then I will want to add a new section header: Escalating Combat.

After all the players have taken action in segment 4 of the combat round, it's time to pause the action for a moment to recap the events and take stock of the situation.  
As GM go back over the actions in the round to help create a visual for the players of how their combinations of actions played out. Embellish the actions with graphic descriptions. It's much better to say, "Jon charged up on the Goblin screaming as he brought his sword down to split his skull open with a sickening 'krack'." then to say, "Jon hit the goblin." 
Paint the picture, and use this time to think about how the NPC's ... how the monsters that the PC's are battling, will react to what's happening. Monsters don't like being attacked or losing in a combat any more than the players do. Allow your monsters to get angry ... to rage against the players and retaliate. Segment 5 is your place to do this.  
Raise the stakes. Make things seem more dangerous (or maybe things actually do become more dangerous!) Remember, unless combat is ending, you are going to conclude this step by instructing your players to, "Roll to Interrupt." Give the players something to interrupt! ... give them a reason to worry ... a reason to leap into action Give yourself something to do in segment 3 by describing the impending threat in segment 5.

This is how segment 5 in the combat section should be described. I don't plan on making any drastic changes to the core rules document just now, but I will definitely include this information in my upcoming Five by Five Fantasy supplement.


Jeff Moore


  1. Thanks for the clarification. In our first playtest we heavily leaned on the mechanical side of combat, maybe because we were not familiar with the rules. However, it's not my preferred playstyle. I hope it will get better with time and your advice.

  2. I tend towards a bit more "mechanical" play myself. It's because of my old-school roots, and I think it shows in my game design for the most part. I wrote the above as much as a reminder for myself as anything. I think Five by Five can be both "mechanical" and "narrative" ... The idea being that each round zips along with a more or less old school ease and grace, but then the GM takes a moment to sprinkle on the flavor. I think you need this momentary "pause" to allow the combat situation to be imagined. Otherwise (at least in my experience) Five by Five combat runs almost too quickly.

  3. Wait a second. Did I read that correctly... "upcoming Five By Five Fantasy Supplement?" If you mentioned that before, then I missed it. I can't wait to see that, Jeff! :-)

  4. Back on Topic

    Prompting the players to the banter level needed for a strong narrative has been a real trial. It is the reason my Risus groups have sputtered to halts. Doubly so in PBP games. I wish I knew a shortcut, mostly it's time and effort. Or we switch to SKETCH for roll-playing.

  5. Thanks for expanding on Step 5.
    As well as an escalation juncture, I see it as a viable `interrupt' to continuing combat. The second combat in my Drakkeil campaign was a scuffle with some local toughs. After a couple of rounds I used step 5 as an interrupt to de-escalate the combat. This was great because combat only has two outcomes; victory or defeat if there is no alternative to the `wash and repeat' flow.