The DESUS has worked. It has not revolutionized anything, but the players have started to do cool maneuvers now and then. The system has encountered a minor setback, however: It requires interesting encounter areas to work. Frantically making last-minute balance evaluations on my selection of foes, selecting combat music, drawing the map and providing descriptions leaves me little time to add interesting terrain features to interact with. Especially since most of the latest combat areas have been in outdoors.
A long time ago in a website far far away, there was a FAQ for Star Wars Roleplaying Game. There was one detail I remember from the pages of text: “…you can make combat more interesting by letting every player describe a detail of the combat area; For example, an exposed power conduit…” That was the key to one sort of fusion energy: An endless sea of imagination for me to populate the environment with.
I gave the player an option to freely suggest terrain features and applied the good old improvisation adage to it: “Yes, and…” I try to never say no to their suggestions, and merely add mechanics. Last game, I had to improvise a combat area and attacking creatures while I was describing that one of the players saw attackers coming. Apart from a very basic game area (two trees, ground, one ancient warpgate…) I had nothing. Then I reminded the players of their right to add details. One of them suggested very tall patches of grass. I made them difficult terrain and cover. Another suggested a nest of bees. I made it hang on a tree branch, made it have an area where the bees attack if the players fail a Diplomacy check. In the encounter, one of the players took about 20 damage when they failed the diplomacy. The player then kicked the tree, making the nest fall, and then kicked it at a goblin shaman. The situation was funny and cool.
Combat does not happen in a vacuum. Environment is an important factor, and I heartily suggest that if you wish for a more exciting combat, ask the players to provide details.
A funny detail: One of the players had to skip the session, leaving me with the question on how to handle his character. I did not have the character sheet, meaning that I couldn’t run him in a combat situation. After a malfunctioning warpgate, the party was lost in an unknown place. One of them decided to scout around, since his character had a horse. I remembered the absent players character and exclaimed “Shuwe says ‘I have a horse too!’ as he gallops away to scout, beyond the borders of my combat grid” The wonders of patchwork player substitution.