Has anyone had a problem with people not “knowing where they are” in combat?

Has anyone had a problem with people not “knowing where they are” in combat?

Has anyone had a problem with people not “knowing where they are” in combat? Should we be drawing more detailed maps? Should we be describing the fiction more thoroughly? Has anyone else run into this? I love this game, and I’m looking for ways to play it better, thanks!

10 thoughts on “Has anyone had a problem with people not “knowing where they are” in combat?”

  1. All the time, but usually easily dealt with by reconstructing their last movements, making sense of where they ‘should’ be according to the fiction. It never really causes any problems and if there is a question of whether someone is in position to do something the one with the better argument wins (GM/Player through table consens).

    Minor teleportation is a standard movement for our PCs it seems sometimes, as I usually let my players do stuff that is fictionally interesting even if distances seem a bit too far.

  2. As with many things in Dungeon World, there’s no right answer here. Do whatever works best for your group.

    Personally, I’m a fan of sketching quick maps so everyone can get a sense of where things are. They’re not detailed maps mind; just scribbles. Dots, Xs, or Os for the combatants that get scratched out as they die or move around. Just enough of a map to say “You’re here and the lizardman chief is here” so everyone is on the same page.

  3. I try to narrate the scene as it stands when things change drastically or people are confused. So roughly every “round” of actions.

    Fighter leaps onto the back of the creature, punching it in the side of the head. “Ok, cool. So you’re up top, riding it the way a child tries to ride a dog, holding onto its hair as you wail on it. It’s still heading towards the ranger camped out in the narrow alley. Ranger, you want to keep firing? You might hit Fighter. Thief, the creature just passed behind where you’ve hidden in the stack of crates. You still want to try to hamstring it?”

  4. A way to avoid this is to make / describe the surroundings more clearly / vivid which has additional benefits.

    Say there is a huge collapsed pillar in the middle of the room over which the enemy climbs to get to our heroes. Two of the five enemies already passed that while the reminder is just about to get on top of it. Your fighter and paladin stand in first row right in front of the collapsed pillar and prepare themselves for taking the enemy on, whereas your wizard stands a few meters back at that huge dwarven statue that looks like it will fall over anytime.

    This gives you 3 beneifts. 1. More immersion since the scene is set better. 2. PCs know better where they are since they are “connected” to a specific place and can use them for orientation and 3. You can easily use the surroundings for soft and hard moves.

  5. When I run, I tend to use to minis to help establish relative positioning. I’ve got a ton of minis from my D&D4e days (and, I’ll admit, compulsive kickstarting). They help, but you have to avoid the temptation to treat the minis as the reality… they’re just a representation. To that effect, I make heavy use of “?” tokens (representing where they hear noise, or saw movement, or so forth).

    Even with minis, I try to do a lot of repeating and summarizing what’s happened recently, then making my move and asking “what do you do?” “Okay, so you just got tripped by one of the tentacles coming out of that skinny little horror’s shoulders. It’s about 10 feet away, with it’s tentacle wrapped around your ankle, and feel the bony tip of the tentacle stabbing and probing at the flesh of your leg. What do you do?”

    Another trick that can help with the chaos: when there’s a pause (i.e. it’s not immediately clear who you should address next), zoom out and describe the scene overall. Make a soft move (or a few, targetted at different characters). Then, go around and ask each player what they do, but don’t have them roll yet. Get everyone to declare their intent, and establish what move (if any) their actions will trigger, and let folks change their mind. Free-and-clear declaration. Once everyone is committed, then have them roll their moves all at once. Use their results and the fictional positioning to decide on what to narrate and resolve first. Maybe the fighter’s miss on a hack & slash can is a result of the ranger nailing his volley, sending a dead bad guy into the fighter’s path. That sort of thing. Zoom in as appropriate and necessary.

    I find this really helps clarify the scene and get everyone paying attention to what everyone else is up to.

  6. My group uses minis for combat so we know where everyone is. We don’t measure distance like in D&D, I just use my best judgement or what sounds more interesting when they ask if they can make it somewhere. “Well you probably can’t run over there before x happens, but if you defy danger to go through y…” That kind of thing.

  7. I have a love/hate relationship with sketches. What I’ve seen time and time again is that as soon as there’s a sketch, all talk winds up referring to parts of the sketch.

    This is fine as a sort of light-weight tactical map, but I find it very non-immersive, especially if the system in use doesn’t have much to say about distances and spatial arrangements. The devolved form of play we got into with one particular Regiment game was what I think of as, “I attack that dot.”

    Now, effective tactics requires a lot of information, and combat is a stimulus overload situation. (More is happening than you can perceive and integrate, so you often need to work with partial information.) Uncertainty is guaranteed.

    The battlemap is one way to go – everyone gets a bird’s eye view, and there’s no positional uncertainty. The rules (in some systems) latch onto the map mechanically, with 5′ adjusts, reach weapons, attacks of opportunity and so on.

    My own preference is to go the other way and play theater of the mind, but to a) keep the topology simple and permissive, and b) role-play out the act of perceiving.

    Role-playing perception: when someone says, “Wait, am I near Luke or not?” then that corresponds to them a) looking around for Luke, and b) not doing other things instead.

    A complete, bird’s eye view of the battlefield is a luxury, not a starting point! (In this style of play.)

    This emphasizes the importance of a having a plan, because part of the wonderful things about plans is that they save you from having to look around to figure out what your teammates are trying to do. (Whether they got it done is another matter of course.) You can also do really fun things with fear-causing monsters (imagine trying to maneuver in a restaurant kitchen as you try to disengage with a zombie, but you can’t look away from it!)

  8. Sketches and maps have this unfortunate side effect.  It squeezes storytelling AND tactical thinking into a 2 dimensional landscape.  No one thinks about jumping up or off the landing, or swinging from the curtain or the varying levels of elevation that are possible.  

    But yeah, sometimes a quick sketch helps everyone get on the same page.  I’m a good enough artist that I can do 3d maps (quickie isometrics), but not everyone is.  

    I think, often, when someone does something that seems really bizarre in a combat situation, they have not done a good job of showing intent and the GM has not done a good enough job of asking questions of the intent.  So pausing occasionally, like the soft more that Jeremy suggested is a great way to get everyone back on the same page.  

  9. Personally, my rule is to sketch enough that everybody knows where everybody else is, then stop.  Fog of war has its place, but usually I prefer not to slow down the combat by trying to play out questions at that level of detail.  And yeah, maps do inspire two-dimensional thinking, but you as DM can easily counteract that by describing interesting locations with lots of tactical options including heights.  If the players are slow to grab on (mine never are), just have your monsters start ambushing from balconies and dropping from the ceiling.

  10. In my own games, unless the fiction has already established some sort of restriction, I assume the characters can move or reach whatever they want (be a fan of the characters) So until they get “put in a spot” or something like that, I don’t deal with specific locations. However in specific cases where positioning is very important, we will sketch it out.

    For whatever reason, I find that the more visual aids you place in front of players, the more they will stop imagining and start playing a board game. This is why I stopped using miniatures normally in my games. I want the players to visualize what is happening in their heads, in the world, not what the pieces are doing on the table.

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