Too often, combats in roleplaying games take plain in a featureless terrain in bright sunlight. This then reduces the combat to a contest of who has the biggest numbers - the most combatants throwing dice, the biggest to-hit or damage throw, and so on. In Conflict we suggest a more substantial approach. There are many aspects which can make combat more interesting, and make players and referee think - and make it more than a competition of dice throws and numbers.
For game purposes, the environment consists of weather, terrain and noncombatants.
Weather - and shelter
In the Western world most people have lived literally sheltered lives, always with sufficient and appropriate clothing and housing. Housing may be understood as very large clothing, and clothing as portable housing. Both serve the purpose of sheltering a person from extremes of weather, from getting frozen, cold, wet, hot or burned. Until a person has spent a lot of time outside in the elements it can be difficult for them to appreciate just how difficult protecting themselves from the weather can be.
Proper equipment to survive extremes of weather should generally be available, however carrying extra water for the heat, or extra thick clothing for the cold, being ready to build shelters and so on - this is more gear to carry on top of weapons and ammunition. And of course, it will be harder to survive wounds in more difficult weather. Come prepared.
In a recent skirmish between China and India, both sides withdrew after brief fighting - leaving behind wounded Indians who perished overnight - they were not equipped to rest wounded in the open at 5,450m above sea level at -20C.
|"This is some bad-assed bush. |
Buy it out here, and you're in a world of hurt."
Terrain - cover from fire and cover from view
This is the most obvious one. Terrain offers cover - cover from fire, and cover from view. In one memorable demonstration in the army, the instructing corporal placed a quarter-inch thick piece of sheet steel behind a bush, and another behind some sandbags - then fired a 7.62mm machinegun at each. "This fellah," he said, holding up the unblemished metal behind the sandbag, "is fine, but this fellah," he held up the metal behind the bush, riddled with holes, "only thought he was alright." And that's the difference between cover from fire, and cover from view.
Both are useful. Cover from view may be sufficient if it is large enough and the enemy does not know exactly where you are, for example fleeing into a large wooden building or a forest. It's also useful if the enemy doesn't know you're there at all and you are planning to appear in the open momentarily anyway, for example hiding behind a corner to jump out and ambush someone. Bear in mind, however, that cover from view is not an silence 30ft radius spell - they may hear you in the next room cocking your weapons, planning among yourselves and so on.
Cover from view may or may not also be cover from fire, but almost all cover from fire is also cover from view; bullet-resistant glass is the only exception which comes to mind.
Cover from fire is always preferred. The various permutations and combinations of cover and types of rounds striking or passing through it are endless and open to argument, and so the referee must decide for themselves in each circumstance, but essentially it comes down to two possibilities,
- object acts like Armour Class +0 to +3
- object completely stops direct attacks
For example, drywall would reasonably be at least as much protection as a leather jacket (armour class +1) and thus reduce the effects of attacks by weapon class +1, such as body, knife, light pistol and so on. But a heavy pistol (class +2) or assault rifle (class +3) would entirely ignore it. Sandbags would act like armour class +3, and stop everything except heavy rifles (weapon class +4, such as a .50 calibre). A metre of earth like in front of a trench or a pile of building rubble would stop every smallarm. Then of course there are explosives, which might blow apart cover - but even if they don't, will cause blunt wounds on those nearby, representing concussive effects.
The possibilities are endless, and the intelligent referee will place many and various types of terrain in their setting for the adventurers and their enemies to make use of and deal with. When in doubt, the referee should simply use some real world place known to them and change some cosmetic aspects of it. In this week's livestream with The Dungeon Delver we ran through a scenario of his character foiling a bank robbery at this location. The building and a truck acted as cover from fire and view, which he was able to use to sneak up on a suspect and disarm them - and which a second suspect used to ambush him. Considerations of the other two suspects having cover from fire and view, as well as all the civilians in the building, stopped him charging in through the front door guns blazing. This brings us to noncombatants.
Noncombatants - purpose, help and hindrance
We call them "noncombatants", since of course civilians may decide to arm themselves and participate in a combat. Most roleplaying games and first person shooter games entirely omit noncombatants, except perhaps in cutscenes. However, in most conflicts, noncombatants are actually the entire reason for the conflict. One party to the conflict wishes to kill or control the noncombatants of the other party. The suicide bombers want to kill noncombatants, and the special forces team wants to destroy their home base to prevent their doing it again, the foreign country wants to rule the contested territory with its people or drive them out and replace them with their own people, and so on. Noncombatants provide the purpose of combat.
Once the combat is about to begin, and of course in the downtimes in between, noncombatants may be a help or a hindrance. They may help by supplying food, housing, medical care and information to combatants. They may hinder by doing the same thing for the enemy, or simply by being in the way of someone who does not actually want to kill them. This is what held back Bill at the end of the bank robbery scenario. Charging through the front door with two men waiting to shoot him did not seem like a prudent course of action to begin with, and the fact that he'd be firing into a space with possibly dozens of noncombatants who were his fellow citizens didn't help.
Of course, the line between combatant and noncombatant is not always clear. Many guerrilla armies will recruit children, and the round fired by an 11 year old hurts just as much when it hits you as the one fired by a 30 year old. Some combatants will be unarmed, but still combatants - for example a local sitting with a mobile phone on top of a hill calling ahead to a guerrilla patrol waiting to ambush or mortar bomb the occupier's patrol is unarmed, but is still a combatant. However, an occupying force which goes around shooting 11 year olds and everyone they see with a mobile phone is going to be the guerrillas' most effective recruiting tool.
In general, noncombatants and those appearing to be noncombatants are a giant headache for military and special police forces, which is why most games both tabletop and computer omit them - and is why the Conflict referee should put them in.
Obviously, the NPCs and enemy of the milieu will make use of weather, terrain and noncombatants, too.
In sum, by taking the usual combat's featureless plain and adding to it weather, terrain and noncombatants, the referee will create a more interesting scenario for players, one which they'll talk and argue about for years afterwards.