As in-character tempers flare high and plots come to a head, there will at some point come a time when everyone decides to leap into the fray. Next thing you know, a flurry of claws, guns, swords, and other implements of death are being hurled and you find yourself Storytelling a mass combat scene.
What makes combat “advanced”?
Advanced combat comes into play when there are more than a few people involved in a mass Player vs. Player (PvP) scene. Whereas in Player vs. Environment (PvE) combat rules can be looser and bent to accommodate dramatic timing, in PvP mass combat it is necessary to provide accurate, fair judgment for each player’s actions so they are not slighted by the impact of the scene. In any case where rules are being bent, this should be explained by the ST so players do not believe that that is acceptable in a rules specific combat in the future.
Premeditated player vs player mass combats, colloquially known as “Killboxes”, can be difficult to handle because of the large number of stats, numbers and health levels involved. Because of this, it is important to be prepared. Storytellers managing an advanced combat scene should have, at minimum:
- Paper and pencil
- Cards or dice (for pull systems)
- Access to appropriate rulebooks and addenda
In some cases, like with large scenes, presiding STs may want to use additional STs to help keep track of pulls, initiatives, or answer player questions while it is not their turn.
Mediating advanced combat
The ideal resolution to any advanced combat scene is via mediation. Mediation offers the opportunity to all parties to come to an amicable conclusion while not spending time on huge amounts of health levels and draws.
A typical mediation for mass combat involves suggesting how the scene might play out in a way that no one involved is an absolute loser. For example, one mass combat mediation might be that the pack of Brujah who attack the Toreador Primogen really rough her up and deal some major damage, but she is able to escape via Celerity.
If the parties involved refuse mediation, or it does not end the conflict, then the only option might be to start Initiative.
Managing initiative and keeping players on track
Killboxes are often very intense and suspenseful. Tempers are high and distractions are easy, so it is always important to keep players on track.
First and foremost, it is important that a Storyteller keeps track of initiative. The simplest way to do this is to count down from an absurdly high number and let players call out when it is their turn. However, some alternatives to this exist in order to keep chaos at a minimum. A presiding ST might write down the initiatives and address each player when it is their turn only while directing others to remain quiet until it is their turn. This keeps players focused and allows those who are waiting to formulate their next action.
It is important that players be respectful of each other during a killbox scene. STs should direct players not to speak when it is not their turn or when the ST is speaking. This helps prevent miscommunications because all players involved can clearly hear what is going on.
If the ST finds a particular mass combat scene to to something that might be disruptive, it is sometimes useful to isolate the scene. Some ways to isolate a scene and prevent others from stumbling into it (or being largely distracted by it) is to move the scene to somewhere quieter if it is available. this also allows the ST to be more clearly heard and may help keep players on track.
Mass Combat also often has characters who, for one reason or another, are not involved in the combat. Sometimes they are just audience, or in the wrong place at the wrong time, or just happen to be the only person in the room not murder-facing someone. These people can be invaluable.
One thing an ST can do is, if the person is knowledgeable is have them act as a narrator and help clarify what is going on in the scene. They can also manage the actions of players whose turns are coming up. Sometimes a quick “Can you check how much X power costs” takes less than a minute to find out and can be solved before that player’s turn comes up in the initiative roster.
Another way to keep a passerby from being bored is to offer a recap of the round. Explaining to the passerby what their non-involved character just witnessed can be entertaining and also give the involved players more of an idea of what has just transpired. This knowledge can dramatically change their next actions because they are now able to consider not only what they just did, but how their action affected the scene as a whole.
Difficulties almost always arise. Having rulebooks and addenda nearby can help with rules questions but sometimes the answer is not immediately available. In this case, sometimes STs have to make decisions on the spot to keep the scene moving. In doing so, the ST should direct the players to raise any concerns after the scene and, if necessary, the scene can be modified if an incorrect ruling was made.
Another difficulty might be a new player who gets inadvertently pulled into a killbox scene. Oftentimes, STs allow the player to fair escape if they should wish to, however this is not always possible. In cases in which players are stuck in a mass combat scene and may not know their sheet well, it is up to the STs’ discretion to help them if it keeps the scene moving forward. Sometimes STs do this by looking over the new player’s sheet and offering suggestions to the player for what they can do while not instructing what they should do. In the end the STs have to decide what is best for the scene and the players.
The purpose of Minds Eye Society games is to have fun, first and foremost. How an advanced combat scene is handled can often be tweaked for drama or suspense. However, it is important that an ST handling this kind of combat be certain to be consistent and fair. In the end, an ST should err on the side of caution, especially with killboxes, so that all players involve feel that the end result was judged appropriately.