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How To Role-Play Combat

Written by: Umberto Giano & Vanatosis Arentire
Images by: Filipa Thespian & Vanatosis Arentire

Popular belief says that the metered system of combat is the fairest option in sim role-play. While the metered system does level the playing field, it isn’t the only choice. Role-playing combat is just as fair (and can be infinitely more interesting) as metered systems, provided the players understand and follow proper guidelines.

What is non-metered combat? The combatants actually role-play each step of a battle encounter. Popular in many free-form role-playing sims, each player alternates posting to each other the swings, kicks, punches, bites, etc. being thrown at each other. Non-metered combat may also include magical combat and spells (which will be covered extensively in a future installment of RP University).

An important side note before we continue with combat specifics: The Golden Rule for role-play in general is equally applicable to non-metered combat. All parties engaged in the proposed combat scene must be willing participants. You always have the option to refuse role-play. If someone becomes belligerent and attempts to coerce you into a combat scene after you decline, walk away and report him or her to a moderator/admin.

There are other factors to consider before undertaking combat, such as how this scene will affect the sim’s general storyline. For example, if a shaky, tenuous truce exists between the humans and orcs of your sim, will a battle between a human character and an orc destroy the peace? Remember, battles do not occur in a vacuum. Actions have consequences. Any combat that can potentially affect the general storyline of the sim should be cleared through the admins or executed in a manner that won’t impact the storyline.

The details or at least the general plot line of any combat scene should be discussed between all participants out of character (OOC) beforehand and continued via IMs during the engagement, so that everyone is on the same page.

When contemplating a non-metered combat scene, you should be realistic about your character’s abilities and limitations. A scrawny 120-pound human merchant with no fighting experience would be foolish to initiate a scrap with a hulking, battle-hardened orc warrior – especially in a hand-to-hand brawl. Without some extra advantage, the poor merchant will likely be beaten and robbed or ransomed at best, and in the worst case scenario, seriously maimed or even killed. To level the playing field, players with weaker characters should consider possible advantages such as superior weapons and favorable terrain.

As with any combat, metered or non-metered, there are limits which must be observed. If the merchant in the above scene has strict RP limits posted excluding capture, maiming, and/or death, then a realistic outcome will be difficult, and much more creativity is required.

Once the general plot is hashed out and all parties have established that the fight is on, you need to decide who will initiate the actual blows. This can be accomplished by mutual agreement, die roll, or a random action agreed upon by both players. Once combat begins, players describe their actions and reactions through emotes (covered in last month’s RP University article).


Non-metered combat etiquette:

All attacks do not automatically result in a hit. Opposing players must be given a chance to react in a realistic manner.

Bad example: Grugthak slams his fist into the puny human, knocking him to the ground and blasting
the air from his lungs. He then plants his boot on the human’s neck and pins him where he lays.

Good Example: Grugthak rears back and throws a huge fist at the puny human. If he hits him, the
force would be strong enough to knock him to the ground, possibly winding him. If successful, he would
attempt to put his boot on the human’s neck to pin him.

wolf 2.fw

If the player would realistically not see the blow coming, as in an attack from behind, then the HIT would be automatic, but not the REACTION to that hit. People react differently to being hit; some fall unconscious, and others get a painful knot and get very angry. Even in a surprise situation, you still must allow the other player to react.

This is called leaving the attack open-ended.

The good example demonstrates the way phrasing of an attack should occur. Grugthak leaves the attack open-ended, not actually landing the punch. He then provides what is called a continuation attack, a follow-up action that is conditional upon how the opposing player accepts the attack. Notice that this continuation attack is also left open-ended, allowing for the opposing player to take the first hit but then dodge or block the second.

Always leave your opponent the option to react, whether defending or attacking.

Bad example: Swiftwind knocks the pathetic orc’s blow to the side. He whips his blade from its sheath
and slashes the orc across his chest. Meanwhile, he chants his oath to the Woodmaiden, lashing out
with grasping vines to ensnare the orc. Once bound, he takes a throwing knife from his belt and launches
it at the orc’s eye, sticking it with a sickening ‘splut.’

Good Example: Swiftwind takes the blow to his chestplate and is knocked down. Thankfully, his armor
took most of the force or he would have lost his breath. He spies the orc’s foot crashing down and narrowly
rolls out of the way. He leaps to his feet, drawing his sword. “It’s on, orc boy…”

Each post is considered to be roughly 3 seconds of real time. In the bad example, note that Swiftwind deflects a blow, channels a powerful binding spell, draws two different weapons and throws a dagger. That’s one impossibly speedy human … or just a bad role-player. This may seem an excessive example, but it is sadly too common in role-play battles.

computer shot_002-cropped.fw

In the good example, Swiftwind takes the hit. Taking a hit is crucial in a fight – no one can dodge every attack, and no one can land every blow – to do otherwise is neither realistic nor fair. Even magical items may play a role in how well an attack works, but that still doesn’t mean that the weapon will hit every time or that enchanted armor will deflect every blow. Magic can enhance attack and defense, but it is never infallible.

Role-playing combat in which one player’s blows always land and the same player successfully dodges every attack is called god-modding or meta-gaming. Nothing ruins a good scene faster than a player who is god-modding. When faced with an opponent like this, IM the player and discuss it. If a resolution cannot be reached, then discontinue the scene and/or contact a moderator/admin. No fight is enjoyable unless it’s fair in terms of timing and reaction for all combatants.

Determining a winner and handling defeat.

RPG-1104-RPU-03of08-croppedDetermining a winner is one of the most challenging aspects of a battle. Players can agree on the winner via IM discussion or through random means such as dice. Everyone is expected to take their lumps, bumps, and bruises, and neither player should emerge from the conflict unscathed. While both parties will suffer injuries, the defeated character will sustain the most serious ones – possibly even permanent. This is not to say that the winner only receives a paper cut and some hurt feelings – injuries must be realistic. If you are playing with swords, for example, then gashes and slices should be had all around.

In the best non-metered combat situations, each opponent is in constant IM with the other as the battle plays out. If you continually communicate, not only will the battle be fair and controlled, but you may also end up with a new plot-line for your character. It’s fun to engage and fight an enemy, and, hey, your character’s arch nemesis just might end up your best OOC friend before it’s all over and done.

Reproduced with permission from Roleplay Guide Magazine.
April 2011June 2011August 2011Sept 2011Oct 2011Nov/Dec 2011January 2012 – Oct 2014

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About The Author

I am Filipa Thespian, Editor-In-Chief of Nu Vibez Magazine and Founder/Publisher of Roleplay Guide Magazine (now a part of Nu Vibez). Additionally, I am a builder/content creator inside Second Life (, am CEO of iMoogi Entperprises, LLC, owners of, and other brands and am a graphic artist/web developer/marketer and all around multi-media professional with more than 20 years of experience under my belt.

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