In some recent episodes of Fear the Boot, Chad has made the statement that role-playing stops when combat begins. He ascertains that the world somehow is put on pause while the dice are brought out, to-hit and damage calculations are made, and monsters are wiped from the field. Chad makes a very convincing argument, which you should check recent episodes for.
I will state up front that I think Chad is fan-tastic! He has a lot of good thoughts, and I truly enjoy him on the show.
However, I have to call shenanigans on this one. I have been in too many games where we role-played in combat to think that it doesn’t exist when the dice are brought out. Are we not role-playing when we make a skill check? Now, if you say that role-playing changes a bit, I won’t argue there. There is always a different vibe role-playing out of combat and role-playing in combat. But the role-playing doesn’t have to go away.
Need an example? In my current online game, I have a three-way battle going on. There are no real good guys and bad guys, just folks on different sides of the fence. Had I just rolled dice, we would all be pretty bored right now. However, I didn’t. We have a lot of banter going back and forth. One character is goading another, who is obsessed about his cause. Meanwhile a third is trying to stop the combat from escalating. It’s all very tense. It’s the type of epic role-playing that really helps to shape and mold the characters.
So how do you keep the role-playing going while in combat?
Imagine what your character is going through in combat, and then act it out. Is he afraid? Maybe he stutters a bit when combat begins. Maybe he begs the bad guys not to hit him.
Does he use witty banter? Think of Spider-Man here. Spider-Man often uses witty banter in combat, whether it’s to calm his own fears or to lure the bad guys into dropping their guard and making a mistake. This is particularly good for your roguish scoundrels.
Or perhaps your character is more on the serious side. Does he like to intimidate his foes? Personally, I’d be a bit scared if a dwarf yelled at me before going into a rage. Or maybe your character is very devout and swears an oath to his god before going into combat.
Also, be sure to play off of the other characters. When your character is surrounded by three ogres and the other player just dispatched his foe, feel free to say, “Hey, could I get a little help over here?” Or you may just say, “Not bad, for an elf.”
I will admit that there are some limitations to watch out for. You don’t want to be so busy bantering that you forget to let everyone have their fair turn. Many game systems allow you to have a free action during combat. Banter during that time. Sometimes, the banter may come up naturally in a combat, so go with the flow. Just remember that when the turn is over, let the next person join in.
I submit to you that role-playing and combat are not independent. With a little practice, role-playing can take your combat from being a matter of rolling dice to a scene straight out of Hollywood.