September 1, 2010

The Practice Fight

One thing I’ve done and seen done is the practice fight. This is an in-character fight that is meant to showcase the combat rules of a game system without the threat of death for the characters. Every game system does something a little different with their combat system and simply explaining them is not enough to truly understand how they work. The best idea is to provide the players with a sample fight. However, the best version of a sample fight is one that can be done in-character by the player’s characters. Within the last month I’ve had two instances of a “practice” fight.

The first was in my 4E sandbox game. 3 of the 5 players have not played 4E yet. They each had a set of rule books but I decided to include a practice fight session. The player characters all belong to the same adventuring party that has been tasked to explore a new land. On the way over they met another adventuring party with much the same task. One of the first things they did after landing on the new continent was to hold a mock battle between the two parties.
[I ruled all damage was a form of subdual damage that would go away after an extended rest, except critical hits. Critical hits did real damage.]

It was an excellent opportunity to let the players do a combat without their characters being in any real danger. The players were able to try out their encounter and daily powers and get used to the way movement worked. It helped set the groundwork for later combats. This way the next “real” combat would be more about utilizing their powers and abilities to the best advantage and less about simply knowing what they are.

The second instance was in the Gamma World game my wife is running. She has moved the campaign into space (since we already saved the world) and was introducing a subset of space combat rules. After spending in-character time learning our space combat assignments (each of us has a specific task on the ship during ship to ship combat) we were tasked to complete a combat simulation before we could “graduate”. We ran a mock combat utilizing ship movement and gunnery. It helped us to understand these new rules; rules she had completely house ruled, so there is not way we could have read up on them ahead of time. Now when we encounter a “real” space combat we won’t be wondering what we are capable of doing.

I highly recommend practice fights when you are using a new game system. You don’t want the players to lose their first “real” fight because they didn’t know the rules. Sometimes a practice fight could be nothing more than a combat wherein the characters out match their opponents. Yes, the fight would not be a challenge, but in this case, it’s more about learning the system rules than challenging the player characters. You can always bring the next fight up to the “normal” level of challenge.

Have you ever run a practice fight? What methods did you use to set it up on an in-character level?
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