Dungeons & Dragons Online

Had my first really good combat encounter that my RP-heavy party greatly enjoyed, and here’s what I learned

So most of my party (all but 1) greatly prefers RP to combat. They play TTRPGs to RP and have fun with me and the other players, play out the narrative, etc. Now, they don't swear off combat entirely and do want some, but they're pretty easily bored during combat and can sometimes dread it. My game thus tends to be around 75/25 for the RP/combat pillars (if we add exploration it might be more like 60/20/20). When we first started the campaign that was not the case, and it was more of the standard 50/50 but I quickly realized how much more the party enjoyed RP and have phased out the combat some.

We've had an extreme run of RP heavy sessions here recently, even more than normal, and have had 3 sessions in a row without combat. I was prepping for some tonight and was hoping to make it more fun and engaging, and we just finished the session and I succeeded! Everyone was laughing and enjoying it while it was going, not a bored person in sight. And after the session they all told me how fun it was, even my girlfriend who dislikes combat the most of anyone told me how fun it was.

So, what was the combat?

My players were sailing from one continent to another, their first bit of cross continental travel in our campaign. There were shenanigans during the trip, but when they got close to the continent I wanted to introduce them to a new enemy they'll be facing and dealing with on this continent, The Crimson Company, a goblinoid pirate organization. In my setting, goblinoids are pirates and sail the seas in search of treasure and supplies from the ships the sail back and forth for trade. In my campaign so far, the main enemies have been the robotic army led by a warforged wizard named Galastar. So the first thing of note is that it's a fresh face, dealing with hobgoblin and goblin pirates rather than mindless robots and a warforged.

They were fighting from their own ship, with the pirate ship trying to breach them from the side, so there was dynamic land with the ships sailing and the water surrounding them. I created a custom ship statblock and gave it to them, so on their turns they could use the cannons, pull the sails, etc and weren't just limited to their character options (really important for the martials). And rather than just be buckets of hit points, the goblins were essentially suicide bombers, led by the hobgoblin captain. On their turns, the goblins would load themselves up into the cannons and other goblins would light the fuse and shoot them at the party's ship as they went sailing through, screaming and on fire. There was plenty of opportunity for cool shit to happen, and cool shit happened indeed. The bard cast hypnotic pattern on some of the goblins and the hobgoblin captain, the captain proceeded to fail his save like 6 turns in a row and was just down horrendous and could not try and turn the ship to flee. The monk caught one of the flying goblins and deflected him back to his own ship and hit there (idk if that was RAW or not, and frankly I don't care. It was dope and the party loved it!). The druid cast jump on the fighter who jumped all the way over to the other ship and with his echo completely fucked up the hobgoblin captain and one of the last 2 remaining goblins at that point. Then, the final goblin seeing his captain get fucked up decided to just jump into the water and swim away.

I was using good descriptions of what was happening in combat and narrating it better than I ever had, and it was just all around fun. Afterwards, 2 of the goblins who overshot aka rolled too low and missed, boarded the party's ship while they were anchored and looting the goblin one. They stowaway'd in the bottom but one was noticed and tied up by the monk + thrown overboard by the fighter. The other one rolled a nat 20 on his stealth and no one noticed, he came out to attack during the party's short rest and unfortunately got fucked up by the druid hold person'ing him and setting up the fighter for a nasty slash. They could've kept him as a little goblin pet and learned more about The Crimson Company but oh well!

All in all, I learned that even players who don't like combat might just not be enjoying it because it's pretty standard die rolling and number managing. Narrating the fight pretty well (which I've tried before but wasn't comfortable doing well as a new DM) helped make it feel more real, and the dynamic battlefield and interesting shit happening like the goblin suicide bombers made for a great time for all. Sure, some parties just like the dice rolling and the combat and enjoy it, and that's great, but if you have a party not really jiving with the combat, maybe just spicing it up and making it much more dynamic will help. Easier said than done though, had to go through my growing pains as a DM!

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